Chapter 1: Can you feel this?
“Can you feel this?” Villanelle asks, poking him in the arm with her toothbrush.
“Stop it.” He flicks her hand away and takes her by the shoulders to face the small, gilt edged mirror perched above the bathroom sink. It had misted over with the steam rising up from the hot water running out of the tap. “You have a new job.”
She spins on the spot and her lips pout around the toothbrush between her teeth and the foam bubbles over the soft pink. She matches the decor, the pink sink and the pink tiles and the pink tub fitted along the wall. Her eyes are wide with excitement and glint golden like the taps. Her eyes drag over his blue woollen coat, wondering which of his pockets contain her new postcard.
“Quickly. You’ll have far to travel to complete this assignment. Further than last time anyway.” Konstantin chides her again and turns away.
He pauses at the door to watch her spit delicately and then take the bottle of mouthwash and gargle obnoxiously in his direction from the other side of the mirror. She rinses and spits again in the sink, shutting the bottle closed with a click.
“What?” Her eyes are wide, as though he’s the one with the problem. “Oral hygiene is important... I read that in a magazine.”
Konstantin snorts as loudly as he can in the hallway and the noise echoes in the emptiness. Villanelle is not one to accumulate furniture, only clothes and shoes and little bottles of perfume. The woollen dress she is wearing looks thick and warm, needed in the cooling autumn days that were tinged with lingering morning mists. It reaches up over her neck but comes just past her elbows, contrasting her pale forearms with the black, expensive-looking fabric. Her feet shift and the floorboards creak, his eyes catch the movement and when he looks down he sees she’s standing barefoot.
Getting back to his delivery, he reaches into his inside coat pocket to pull out a new postcard. The same as always, it showed a landscape of some sort. The colours were bright and vivid, with a sky blue sea and a deep and vivid backdrop to the whitest, fluffiest clouds. Dotted around a small but full harbour were boats tied to their moorings, arrested in their gentle bobbing. An idyllic little country seaside harbour with soft pastel coloured houses dotted across the surrounding golden tinged hills.
“Cute.” She quips, plucking the card out of his hand and studying the perfectly composed picture.
She leans up against the other side of the hallway and tips her head back, lifting the small card to the light. Then she brings it close to her face, as though she could enter it nose-first. “When?”
“Tomorrow.” Konstantin informs her sternly, and she reaches out her hand to poke him in the chest but he grabs it. “No. No playing, Villanelle. You have a job to do.”
Her eyes widen comically and she looks younger than her years and her experience. Then the whining seeps into her voice, “But I get bored, job, Paris, job, Paris, job, Paris. I would like a break.”
“Job first. Then we’ll see.”
Her eyes narrow and he considers the options on the table again. If she is happier, she performs better. She is prideful in her work, although like with anything if one does not want to do a good job, it will not happen. It is not as if she is merely a killing machine, no matter how thick and fast she is called up by those higher powers holding the puppet strings across continents and crimes and giant piles of money and bloodless, lifeless bodies.
“Tell me, where do you want to go?” He crosses his arms and she leans up against them with her own, a mirror to a man much larger than her.
Her nose almost reaches his chin, but brushes against the thick fabric of his coat and he sees the white flash of her teeth. “Somewhere with snow.”
“Ah,” he tuts, brushing her off. “But you were already in Switzerland last month.”
“But not to ski!”
Like a child, there is petulance in her voice, but the way she tails him into the kitchen is like a child brimming with excitement. He is unsure he wants to pit his authority against her persistence. Villanelle works methodically, if he did not pick his faux battles with her, she would wear out her own reserves of patience; something he had worked hard to build to the meagre amounts she currently possessed. It would be easier to let her win a non-existent quarrel. Besides, a short weekend in the Austrian mountains would also mean she could perfect her Austrian German. It was lacking something at the moment.
“Okay. We’ll see.” He repeats, turning to face her with a passive look on his face. “But first, you have a job.”
He points to the card held loosely between her fingers and she throws her hands in the air. “Okay. Job, Paris, holiday.” She sucks a deep breath in, “Can you feel this? It is a holiday mood.”
He suppresses the urge to redirect her attention to the job at hand and instead nods genially. “You leave in thirty minutes. Get ready.”
Villanelle snaps to attention, hand flying to her forehead like a razor before flicking away to her side lazily, “Alright, old man.”
He stands there with his hands in his coat pocket, just about to shake his head yet again when she side-eyes him while walking back into the bathroom with the postcard folded and pressed into her dress pocket. “Maybe it is you who needs a holiday.”
Chapter 2: People like you have no imagination
“People like you have no imagination.”
Elena scrunches up her face and slices a hand through the air sloppily, almost hitting Eve in the face. She does catch the edge of the lampshade behind the sofa and it teeters on its base, swinging the dim circle of light over their washed out faces and tight lines of grief that clung around their mouths and eyes.
Instead of registering the almost knock-out, Eve just tips her head back and nods furiously along with her. She pulls the weight of her grey cardigan back up her shoulder from where it was slipping down and swipes a black tendril of hair out from her face. “He would say that! He really would.”
She carries on nodding far longer than needed and suddenly realises that she is fully on her way to being drunk. Good, she thinks to herself.
It had been two days since the funeral and the closed casket had been lowered into the ground in silence. Inside her own home, Eve’s ears still rang with the sound of Bill’s baby crying in her mother’s arms and when she closed her eyes she could see how Keiko’s tear stained cheeks turned wet again when she had stepped up to throw her fistful of dirt onto the coffin. Two days had passed in an unceasing manner and the ragged feeling she had choked on when she struggled to cut through the nightclub crowd to get to Bill continued to claw up her throat and haunt her.
“-isn’t it? Eve...Eve? Earth to Eve.” Elena sing-songs at her before frowning again.
The look of concern on her face keeps reappearing but Eve had taken to ignoring it. Elena knew better than to ask; it had been her idea to have this quiet wake. Just the two of them. Both who had known Bill and had worked with him for years, and more importantly, had known how he had died. By doing his job and tailing the female assassin.
Even now, the very presence of her taunted Eve in the back of her mind. The fact that she had been followed to the train station, that she had been within feet of her in the nightclub. She had seen her face again, and those wide, empty eyes that dropped down to some dark, murderous depth. Her stomach flip-flops even though she was sat on the sofa, feet cross-legged, in the comfort of her own home with her best friend beside her.
“Huh?” Eve blinks slowly, looking down at the chipped mug in her hands and feels her jaw ache from being clenched. Too much wine or not enough wine?
Circling back to her point now that she knew she had Eve’s attention, Elena slumps down further on the sofa. She had driven over in her pyjamas, a loose white top and a pair of trackies. Eve hadn’t bothered to change out of her pyjamas from the night before, wandering the house wrapped in her cardigan and still feeling cold enough to put the heating on, despite Niko complaining it was in double digits outdoors.
Elena draws in a deep breath and barrage a of questions tumble out of her. “Why was Frank even up there? Who had thought that was a good idea? All of his blithering about him being a good man.”
Eve snorts loudly before interrupting, “Should have started off with-” She clears her throat to put on her best Frank-with-a-rod-up-his-backside accent, “W hen Bill last spoke to me, he desperately wanted to call me a dick-swab .”
“Ha!” Elena draws the word out as she shifts, pulling her legs up onto the sofa and twists to lean against the back. Her feet were socked and she tucks them underneath with a failing sort of grace. She slops the last dregs of her drink onto one of Eve’s cushions; the nice one with the corduroy cover, and follows it up with an apologetic pull of her lips to one side and a bit of half-hearted dabbing with her jumper sleeve. “That would have been something.”
“You know, he was really annoyed when I beat him to the punch. You should have seen Frank’s face.”
Eve tries to shake off her heavy thoughts again by reaching for the bottle and pours herself another glass of wine. Her head would spin for the whole of the next day but in the moment, she just didn't care. It would be a two-egg on toast problem for Niko in the morning, and normally he’d grin and bear it like a champ, although since returning from Berlin there were less grins between the two of them. Yet he had taken it upon himself to faux-whisper an offer to drive Elena home in the morning as he left for the bridge tournament.
“You're right, that would take imagination.” Elena nods sagely.
They sit in silence for a moment, one reliving the memory and the other picturing the scene behind her closed lids.
“He joined Carolyn’s team because I got fired. It’s my fault, really.” Eve confesses and pulls her hands up to cover her face.
The sofa shifts and Elena’s arms wrap around her shoulders, “No, it wasn’t your fault. It was that assassin bitch and you know it. Bill would tell you the same thing.”
Eve listens as Elena carries on with a stream of soft words and leans to rest her head under her chin and pretending to take some comfort in it. Then Eve downs her mug of wine and takes the initiative to crack open a bottle of vodka Bill had gifted her last Christmas. It still had the gift tag sellotaped to it with a faded message scrawled across in his handwriting.
Go absolutely nuts -Bill.
Chapter 3: How can I trust you?
Now we start the post series drabbles ;)
“How can I trust you? I stabbed you, and you nearly shot me in your kitchen.”
Eve wrinkles her nose and presses the phone closer to her ear, feeling the heat from the battery burning the soft skin and heating up against her cheek. Her stomach rumbles and her food is waiting on the table, the smell of the casserole wafting up the stairs to where she’s escaped Niko’s sharp hearing.
“What?” Oksana blurts out from the other end of the line.
“How can I trust you?” Eve insists because she has to find a way to get rid of the burning feeling constricting her chest.
She has to know, because she would be doing just that. Putting a hefty measure of faith into the hands of a murderous, beautiful, assassin. It was madness and Eve wanted to groan loudly, chuck her phone down the stairs, and maybe throw herself under a bus...all at the same time. She takes a deep breath and continues pacing around the landing in the lingering silence. The soft carpet brushes against her toes and she takes comfort in the familiar, worn down in the strip along the middle.
“If you want me to accept your apology, then you must. Otherwise, I can put the phone down now.” Oksana’s voice grows quiet, like she was about to leave the phone behind wherever she was.
She could be on a train. Or maybe in a cafe. There was background noise on the line, a soft chatter around her. Eve could maybe picture it; Oksana in some chic shirt and jeans, looking the picture of any young woman while sipping her frothy cappuccino in a dainty cup as the street lights grow brighter in the dimming streets. Oksana, who might be holding a grudge from an assassination attempt on her life and calling the woman who almost pulled it off in order to set a new game in motion.
“Where are you?” Because she just can’t help herself.
“Right now?” The question seems to have thrown her, and she hesitantly answers as vaguely as she can. “In a cafe.”
I knew it! Eve resists the urge to crow the words out loud and down the phone line. She does not resist doing a little jump that makes the floorboard creak loudly when she lands.
“Okay, okay.” She puts a hand on her chest and takes another breath before reaching up to sink her fingers into the mass of her hair. “If you’re serious about this information drop, then let’s talk it through. What this would mean?”
“It would mean, I drop off the file and then you go and pick it up, read it, and arrest this man who is muscling in on my work.”
Oksana rattles each step off, like ingredients for a cake. What she’s offering was information for a tip off relating to one of Interpol’s most wanted. It was something that Eve could really do with. She knew she needed leverage to get back her job in Carolyn’s department, and this could make it happen. Eve could make it work.
“Oks-” Eve starts.
The other woman repeats again fiercely, just as she had at the beginning of the call. She was drawing up lines between them where there had been a fragile trust and a breaking of boundaries. She feels distant and it makes Eve crave to see her more, although what she would do if she was in front of her, she really had no clue. Apologise, I’d apologise for sticking her with the knife.
Eve snaps back to words and corrects herself quickly, “Villanelle, why did you call me for this?”
There’s silence for a long, long minute and Eve has to pull the phone from her ear to check that she’s not been hung up on. That Oksa-Villanelle had not left the phone behind on the coffee shop table and disappeared into the wind again like the ghost of a girl she had left behind in that Russian prison.
“You found me once,” she states plainly. “I trust you to do that to him....And baby, you are brave, you stabbed me with a knife.”
Then she really does hang up. But there was something like a slight tint in her voice, mixture of pride and envy, it’s hard to pin down and goes on to waltz around Eve’s thoughts for the next six days.
Chapter 4: Will that be all?
Carolyn’s mouth is a thin line and her eyes are narrowed down to slits as she glares at Eve. Tesco’s would not have been her first choice as a location to confront her former, and quite possibly corrupt, former boss. But needs must. And her need to get back inside the team and have access to MI6’s databases had been her top priority for the last three weeks. She had agonised over how she’d approach her, thought about it while she was brushing her teeth to putting the bins out at night, yet she didn’t think it would have been during the woman’s weekly shop.
“I don’t want to hear it. I don’t even want to see you.”
Carolyn hisses across the packets of pasta on the display and side steps to walk past her. Even in her downtime she looks crisp and professional, her work suit hardly crumpled from a long day of meetings. It reminds Eve of that one joke she had cracked in Kenny’s company, comparing her to a vampire sleeping in a coffin all dressed up, always ready for business.
Eve blocks her path and slings her satchel around to her front, fumbling with the zip. Her fingers don’t work quick enough, but eventually she reaches in to pull out the folder. She thrusts it out at her, “I have information that you are really, really , going to want to take a look at.”
“Why should I?” Carolyn spits back, and drops her basket onto the floor where it rattles and the bottles of sauce and wine inside clink together, threatening to crack.
Eve feels a gulp in her throat, like she’s got Villanelle’s hands around her neck again because she’s standing before her one time idol. It still puts a shiver down her spine when the older lady turns her authority vibes back up to eleven and stares her down under the harsh supermarket lighting. It was one thing for her to use in Russia for clearing a path for her investigation, it’s another thing when Eve’s facing the business end of it.
“You went against my orders, and you flew off to Paris. Digging around when I had specifically told you not to.” She stabs a finger in the air and draws in a deep breath, “And you brought my son into this.”
“You did that yourself.” Eve replies quietly, feeling the need to say something.
“He would never had dared to go against my word before your mess.”
Eve lets it hang in the air, because it would be useless to repeat what she had just said. Besides, Kenny made his own choices. They wait in silence, staring at each other and luckily it’s late at night so there’s not many other people around. A call goes out of the speakers, a shelf-stacker pulls his full cage of fruit and vegetable boxes along past them, and at the end of an aisle a mother pushing a baby in the front seat of the trolley sings quietly about hot cross buns.
Carolyn waits and waits, and then finally snatches the folder from Eve. She opens it there and then in the middle of the aisle and Eve sincerely hopes that no one catches sight of some of the photographs included inside. All of them were gristly and a few were just downright disturbing. Villanelle was right when she said she had competition.
“Methodical, egoistic, and very violent. He’s strong. And he doesn’t clean up after himself in any way, happily leaving DNA and witnesses behind. It’s a performance. There’s been at least fifteen connect murders across southern Europe, and potentially another ten in Italy, Croatia, and Bulgaria. Someone needs to stop him.”
“Will that be all?” Carolyn looks up and frowns at her, the lines around her face sink in deeper, making her look even more severe.
Eve’s mouth opens and closes twice without any sound before a short, “Yes.”
“There may be some merit in this, but if you think this means you’re back for good, you’ve got another thing coming.” She tucks the folder into her handbag before stooping to pick up her basket. “I’ll be in touch if I need anything. Don’t try to contact me again.”
“I’m working on more data.” Eve replies with another little nod, feeling a rush of relief as the other woman walks away down the aisle. “My number’s still the same!”
Chapter 5: Take what you need
“Take what you need.” Villanelle had told her that morning as she swung the steering wheel around and drove the car into the ditch with enough force to make the bonnet crumple like a piece of paper.
It had steep sides and the car went down bonnet first until the back wheels were spinning uselessly. Then Villanelle climbed out the back passenger door and hoisted herself up to the roadside again. Her boots squelched in the soggy, waterlogged ground as the rain from the past few days made its way downhill and saturated the grassy lands around.
They had met inside Gare du Nord in Paris and had sat at either end of the train, talking on their phones. When they got off in Brussels, Villanelle had strode down the platform and overtook her, turning around only once to catch her eye as she stepped through the barriers. Follow me, Eve had thought, and she did, all the way to a small, third floor apartment in the same district and through the front door she had left open. Their conversations had gone from stilted to relaxed as they travelled from Belgium to Italy, stopping off in Milan for one night before flying to Barcelona.
Now Eve is running for her life and she reaches the town’s square out of breath with her lungs burning. Honestly, there could be a problem with them, or it could be that she's not ran for her life through a winding maze of streets while being chased by Europe's most wanted assassin. Church bells chime out as the hour strikes and there are a few people milling around the shop fronts. All of them were easy to mark as locals and were staring at the sprinting tourist. Eve's trainers skid to a halt on the damp cobbles and she catches her balance just in time, heart thudding, as the bus towards the Andorran border pulls away from the stand not fifty metres away. Her stomach lurches what feels like fifty feet downwards.
The whole way to the square, Villanelle had been urging her on, faster baby, faster, but now the bus was gone and with it their only escape route out of this gorgeous little, historic Spanish town.
Villanelle’s voice drops low, “He’s not alone. There are already here, two of them. Look at his shoes.”
Eve’s eyes whirl around until she spots what has Villanelle’s shoulders squaring up. She looks at scruffy shoes, normal trainers, and over old and new boots before her eyes land on two men with a rim of mud caked along the edges. The men are blank faced, and although they seem to be standing and conversing between themselves their feet shift and turn as Eve and Villanelle move across the square. They are ready to hit their marks.
“Now what?” Eve huffs out in frustration, bending over to lean on her knees.
Villanelle circles her before backing off a little to the side, eyeing the locals closest to them. She had a look in her eye that puts Eve’s teeth on edge. “Now?” She repeats over and over as she paces behind the bus stand.
She suddenly comes to a stop and turns to face Eve. Her eyes are unclouded and she speaks with determination. “Now, I return the favour.” Villanelle produces a knife from somewhere within her beige summer coat and points it towards Eve.
There was a loud exclamation from the few people loitering near them. One man with wide eyes dithers, wondering whether to rush the petite blonde holding the knife or to draw back and away from its wicked sharp edge.
Eve takes some satisfaction in being far more composed. At least on the outside. Her heart stutters, ever the traitor, not having returned to its normal rhythm since all the running. She’s been here before, on the receiving end of Villanelle’s crosshairs. “What do you mean?”
“They expect me to kill you.” Villanelle says, shifting so that Eve has to back away towards the centre of the square, towards the men watching at the other side. In the alleyway behind, she sees a dark shape move and knows that it’s the Twelve’s assassin.
“But you don't have to. I came here for you!” Eve attempts to remind the other woman but is cut off with a look and when Villanelle’s expression doesn’t change she realises that she could be in trouble.
She waves her hands in the air, gesturing for someone to help. For someone to act. She’d take any kind of surprise or distraction would do for her to get a few feet away from the gleaming knife. She hadn’t travelled all this way for this. But no one moves closer to intervene. Out of the corner of her eye she sees one man on the other end of the square pointing at her over and over, with his other hand holding his mobile to his face.
Police? Don't be silly, they won't catch her or any of the Twelve’s hired hands.
Villanelle waves the knife and coos at her, “Don't be silly baby, I have to. I do my job.”
Panic sets in, clamping around Eve’s legs and turning them to jelly. She’s dumbstruck at the thought of dying and her brain throws out one random thought after another. She struggles to come up with an appeal that might stop her.
“Think it through, you asked me to help for a reason.”
There’s a flicker of something in Villanelle’s almond eyes. It disappears almost instantly and her eyebrows furrow. “Think of it this way, you already stabbed me, now I get my revenge.”
She flicks the knife between her fingers effortlessly and when she steps forward and closes the distance between them, all Eve can do is tremble. Her thoughts speed faster than light, all of them realisations and all annoyingly instantaneous.
This was always going to happen, she was always going to do this. I stabbed her and now she stabs me. I’m going to die, oh no, I don’t want to. I wanted to know her.
Villanelle’s face was all Eve could see, it fills up her vision. The square and the other hit men blur and fall away when her lips move close to Eve’s cheek. Villanelle’s whispering tickles Eve’s skin.
“Don’t worry, baby. They will come after me, because I am good at my job.”
The knife was cold and it was sunk into her skin before she even realises it had happened. The pain was there, so demanding and yet she still twists on the spot to watch Villanelle sprint off into a side alley. Her arms pump her forwards gracefully and efficient, golden hair bouncing off her shoulders, beige coat melting into the shadows.
Eve falls to her knee. The locals began to move towards her in slow motion, limbs dragging like their cutting through seawater instead of air. There’s muffled shouts and a woman’s scream echoing off the olden bricks. The canopies above shop windows flutter in the evening breeze. Someone takes her hand and she can feel the ground pressing against her face, where Villanelle’s whispers had been.
She doesn’t know any Spanish beside the basic tourist phrases but any idiot could recognise the word for ambulance, especially when it kept being repeating it over and over again. Her head is lifted up and a bundle of fabric is pushed under her head as a pillow. It’s uncomfortable and does nothing but threaten to put a crick in her neck. It certainly can’t help stop the pain in her side that is flooding through her veins like burning ice. She glances down to where her hand is pressed around where the knife handles sticks out, turning her light waterproof coat very crimson and very wet.
There’s an awful sound coming from somewhere nearby, a ragged kind of tearing or huffing but it fades as the crowd draws closer and blocks out the rest of the world. The last image she has left before she blacks out is Villanelle disappearing backwards, down the alleyway with the three hit men chasing after her.
As her eyes shut, Eve’s thoughts echo with the last words she had said, “They will come after me, because I am good at my job. But today I will be not so good and you will be taken to the hospital. I will come find you when they are dead.”
Chapter 6: I've heard enough, this ends now
“I heard enough, this ends now,” Niko huffs out.
His face is pale and drawn under the hospital lights, but hers is paler and her hair is strewn out on the generic pillow that smells weird and musty and all she wants is to go home and be in her own bed with a shred of comfort of things being in the right place. And that includes having Niko there with her, but it’s looking more and more like a pipe dream.
“You can’t keep doing this. Bill died in Berlin, chasing after her. And you went off to Spain, for what?”
His voice gets louder and louder until he’s almost shouting but the stern looking nurse in the corner in the green scrubs shoots a glare at him. Niko shifts in the plastic chair and huffs out another breath. He had been there when she woke up, sleeping at the side of her bed with his hand reaching out over the closer to brush against hers.
“For what, Eve? She stabbed you. She killed Bill. She came into our home and you keep telling me she’s dangerous with a murder count higher than..than..god knows what. And you still did this.”
“Niko-” She tries again to explain it again, this time in a different way.
“No, I can’t do it.” He presses his hands over his face until the skin around his eyes is white. When he lifts his hands off there’s ghost fingermarks on his face. “I can’t do this anymore Eve, it’s like you have a deathwish. And I don’t want to stick around to see how this turns out.”
Eve swallows, “I don’t know what to say.”
“Neither do I. But I know I don’t want this.” He moves to stand but a final thought seems to make him pause and he slowly takes her hand in his larger one. “I know you, and I can see that your fascination with her is...overwhelming. You have to think about this properly. How it’s going to end.”
He left it at that and stood.
“Niko-” Her protest dies a death in her dry mouth.
He draws away and doesn’t meet her eyes, “I’m catching the next flight home. Elena texted to say she’d be here by the time they serve dinner. I’ll be out of the house by the time you get back to London.”
Niko leaves quickly, plucking his coat and backpack from under her bed. Then the door to the ward swings shut after him and it’s just the other people shifting around in their beds after dinner talking quietly to their visitor and the po-faced nurse on her rounds.
The thing is, he was wrong for thinking what he did. She had thought about it properly. Then for a moment she had doubted, she had really thought Villanelle would take the easy way out and add her name to a long list of assassinated targets.
Eve was the one who had been wrong about her. She wouldn’t make the same mistake again. She drew a raggedy breath and reached for the cup of water Niko had left on the table. All she had to do now was recover, and wait for Villanelle to come back.
She could do that.
Chapter 7: No worries, we still have time
“No worries, we still have time. You’ll get home, have a few weeks off, and it’ll give Carolyn enough time to cool down too. You’re good at what you do and knows that. She’ll respect that you were chasing a lead. Kenny’s been working on it to.”
Elena was working hard in her role as reassurer, as though her words would help bend reality and shape it so that Eve could so easily put behind the jaunt to Spain.
Unfortunately for her, Eve kept missing her point. “I just can’t figure it out. It’s been two weeks.”
“Well, you’re still alive, aren’t you.” Elena’s motivating chit-chat had spanned the length of the morning from her discharge at the hospital, all the way to the airport check-in desk and then continued right onto the plane.
True, it was two weeks since she had been rushed to the hospital, and Eve was finally ready to stand up without assistance. Even though she could have made it into a taxi by herself, truth be told the company was sorely needed since Niko had left. She couldn’t help but feel abandoned in the weak light of the following morning, watching the sun come up across the hills Villanelle had driven them through less than a week before.
Small talk with Elena was always easy, and her banter had quickly returned along with her strength to stand unaided. “Did I ever mention that you were the best assistant ever?”
Elena gives her a look as she buckles her seat belt up and lays on her sarcasm pretty thickly. “Yes, you can give me a raise at my next performance review meeting. And besides, I’m like your only assistant. As if anyone else is going to schlep over to Pret to get your pain au chocolat in the mornings.”
“You never do that, I steal yours.” Eve corrects her, absently resting a hand over her side, over her new cardigan that Villanelle had thrown at her head on the second day because she had been complaining about the weather. “And I don’t think anyone else’s assistant buys themselves one on their boss’s expense forms.”
“What can I say, I’m a forward planner.”
Eve leans back slowly, feeling the muscles in her side tugging and stretching the skin around the stitches. They’d dissolve in time and eventually leave a scar. We’ll match.
She tips her head back to the hard economy-standard headrest and looks out the window as the plane’s engines thrum and they take off from the runway. Her stomach lurches as the ground drops away and the airport recedes to a toy-sized cluster of buildings surrounded by squares in different shades of green.
“Two weeks, and she hasn’t come back.”
She doesn't want to think about it. She really, really doesn't. The worries just keep rising to the front of her mind almost every waking minute of her day. If things had gone well, then Villanelle would have come back straight away. A day or two to shake them off if she couldn't. A week to recover if things had gone side ways. But two weeks? Two weeks could really only mean one thing. And that's the thing Eve doesn't want to think about.
“Maybe…” Elena pauses but then decides to go right ahead and speak her mind, “Maybe it’s a good thing. You stabbed her, she stabbed you. She’s gone. So, all it’s evens stevens and maybe the bitch won’t come back again. You probably shouldn't even have come here, it was such a bad idea. But that doesn't matter now, right?”
Eve blinks and doesn’t reply so Elena shrugs, reaching the end of her patience for that morning. She reaches for her headphones and pops them into her ears leaving Eve to look at the wispy clouds turn dense and bright white as they climb higher into the sky.
“But she promised.”
Chapter 8: I know you do
A little niggle under her skin had her booking her flight to London via Hamburg and she stands in the cold drizzle on the slate doorstep and raps her fist very politely on green front door. Konstantin twitches the curtains up in the window on the first floor and a few moments later he opens the door to her.
He is thinner than he was before, dressed for the winter in a thick jumper and trousers. When she looks down she sees he is wearing slippers. “Villanelle, have you come to finish me off?”
“I have come to visit you. I have brought you grapes.” She holds up a large grocery bag filled to the brim with cartons of red and green grapes.
He stands in the doorway and points at the shiner developing around the pale skin under her left eye. “That’s a big bruise.”
Villanelle leans forward and whispers conspiratorially, “You should have seen the other guy. Come on, they don’t have seeds.”
He eyes her unwavering determination until his nose turns numb and her blonde hair is drenched with the rain pouring off the broken guttering above the porch. “Okay, fine. Come inside.”
“Good. It is cold out here.” Villanelle steps in and slips out of her coat, hanging it on the hook like any other ordinary house guest.
She follows him into the small living room. It’s decorated better than his white picket fence house by the lake. This place had more colour, with pale olive paint covering the walls and a few homey knick-knacks in the bookshelves and a fluffy red rug on the floor. It’s not hard to imagine him spending his days recovering here. She stands there assessing the decor until he waves a hand to take a seat.
“How are you feeling, old man?”
“Like I have been shot and my age is getting in the way of a speedy recovery.” He replies truthfully and eases himself into an oversized armchair. WIth a grunt, he props himself up with a green velvet cushion.
Then he turns his full attention to her. “Why have you come here? You were in Spain with her. You killed both of them, I assume?”
“Three of them.” Villanelle gives him a shrug, but there’s a hint of pride in her voice. “I am your favourite outside of this house. You still keep an eye on me.”
“Don’t get cocky,” Konstantin shakes his head. “They are taking you seriously. I am not in their favour anymore either. I have moved my family here by taking a smaller role. Your little stunt helped convince them. But they blame you for the larger mess.”
Her eyes turn wide and she looks around listening for noises in the kitchen or the sound of light steps upstairs, but it is quiet. “Are your fat wife and little brat here now?”
He pulls a face, “I told them to go out to the movies.”
“Oh, I would have liked to have seen the brat again. I could tell her she is very, very stupid and annoying.” Villanelle tips her head at the idea, imagining the little redhead stamping her feet.
He gestures to the bulky-looking navy holdall on the coffee table between them. “You have killed too many of their own men for the Twelve to ignore you now. We will not be able to meet again like this.”
She gives another one of her perfected, blasé shrugs, “Creative differences.”
“Creative differences won’t be your saving grace. They will not stop until you are in the ground, Villanelle.” His voice becomes a little softer, and he speaks again, “I am saying this to be kind to you. You are a dead woman walking.”
Villanelle snorts again and stretches out her arms on the sides of the chair, her confidence fills up the room quicker than hot air and lingers in the sharp glare in her quick eyes. “I am death walking. And if they think they can kill me, they can keep trying. I don’t want to work for them anymore.”
“Despite everything they did for you? You lived a nice life. Bought all the fancy clothes you wanted, Flew all over the world. Learned to become the best at what you do because of their training and care.”
There’s a strange note in his voice, and Villanelle leans forward and stares and stares at him. Realisation hits her like the first raindrops of the afternoon, cool and small and like a delicate sprinkling spreading over her head.
“I do not mean you, old man. I like you.”
Konstantin presses his thin lips together and nods to himself. “I know you do.” Then he gestures to the bag, dismissing her for the last time. She smiles genially at him as she stands, the familiar motion tugging the corners of her mouth up and up so that it was wide.
But when she leans down to grab the bag, her eyes were warm and it catches him off guard because she always found some way to surprise him. Usually it was pretending she was dead, or dressing up to look like him, but she made an effort either way.
He thinks about it later on while making his way through a bowl full of grapes. Villanelle was an excellent actresses with the ability to fit into any situation better than a chameleon. Yet, she was also being hunted down and shouldn’t have come out in the open to see him because he was under observation. They had put two men to watch him night and day so it made no sense for her to come back, she could have got everything he had put in the holdall by herself.
Ah, clever girl, she almost had me fooled.
Chapter 9: You shouldn't have come here
“You shouldn’t have come here.” Eve says when her brain reboots and steps into the office towards her.
The room smells like damp carpet and the condensation collected on the edges of the windowsill adds a distinct odour of mould. It’s in an unloved part of the building, which is itself a throwback to eighties building regulation code and another reason why the bathroom is halfway down the hall. It’s not even shabby chic. The office was also the last place Eve would have expected Villanelle to be in, and also why Villanelle was quite happy to surprise her there after three days of shaking off a tail she had picked up in Hamburg. She had led the poor man on a merry trail around north Germany before circling back and leaving him at the bottom of the Elbe, right behind the fish market beside the harbour on Sunday morning. She had then picked up a postcard in the market with the intention of sending it to Konstantin to let him know about what she had done so that he could pass on the message, before buying a large basket of fruit and sitting in the beerhall eating her way through the apples and lychees while the band played awful German drinking songs. It had been a good weekend, only made better by the knowledge that she would be seeing Eve again.
Kenny shuffles back enough so that the pizza box he’s holding in his hands isn’t digging into her back. “How did you get in?”
He leans to look at the door lock, checking for signs of scratches from lock picks and then looks back at Villanelle, who’s sat in Eve’s chair with her feet up on the desk, lounging in the office of the team who had once chased her across half of Europe.
Eve smiles down at the sight of her, hovering at the side of the desk before sitting down on the edge. Then she frowns and drops her handbag to the floor to lean in and take a closer look at the fading black eye, reaching out her fingers to touch the bruised skin. Villanelle jerks back, half-hanging off the chair and holds the awkward position until Eve backs off with a sheepish look.
“She’s the one who killed your friend Bill. She killed Frank, and Nadia.” Kenny breathes, eyes still wide and knuckles turning white around the pizza box. His back is to the open door and he looks like he’s about to turn tail and leg it if he’s given the chance.
Villanelle doesn’t blame him, but she’s got her feet up on the desk for a reason. It makes her look relaxed. It’s harder to lunge at someone when you’re almost horizontal. She puts on her most friendly voice, the one with the rounded out, home counties accent. It makes her sound like an English rose, all strawberries and cream. Also not threatening.
“I also killed Xander Palacios, Interpol's most wanted man. What can I say? I am an assassin and I’m good at my job. You’re good at yours, aren’t you? Little hacker Kenny.” Villanelle smiles at him, all teeth and twinkling eyes and Kenny gulps loud enough for Eve to hear.
“Don’t be a dick, Villanelle. Kenny, don’t let her wind you up.” Eve says to them in turn while standing up to shut the door behind him.
Villanelle returns to her normal accent and crosses her arms, “I’m not being a dick.That was being friendly. I even complimented him.” She turns to Kenny and asks, “It was you, yes? You helped to find me in Paris.”
Kenny rolls the closest chair over towards the door and sits down, keeping his arms crossed and his windbreaker jacket swishes noisily with his every movement. “She’s a serial killer!” He speaks directly to Eve, ignoring the assassin sitting opposite him.
“I don’t kill everyone.” She pouts at Eve. “You’re not the first person I haven’t killed. Konstantin is alive. He is living in Hamburg now.”
Eve looks incredulous and leans forward in her chair. “He’s alive?”
Kenny frowns, “I thought you said she shot him?”
“Yes. I did.” Villanelle looks at the two of them in turn incredulously, before swinging her feet of the table and reaching across the room. Kenny freezes and Eve’s eyes follow her as she pops open the takeaway box in his hands and takes a slice from the margherita half of the pizza. “What? I’m hungry. The food was shit on the plane.” Her eyes bug wide, challenging both of them to say something.
Eve shakes her head and copies her, taking one of the pepperoni pieces and then jerks her head at the box until Kenny turns it around and picks up one of his own. They eat with the sound of passing traffic breaking up the sounds of them chewing.
“Why did you come here?” Kenny asks, after half the pizza’s gone. “It’s not like you’re welcome.”
“That’s not very nice, is it, little hacker Kenny?” Villanelle’s tone turns sour and the young man shrinks a little in his seat.
But she appreciates that he doesn’t break eye contact.
“Yes, why did you come here?” Eve wonders aloud, “Not to London, but this office. There are cameras everywhere. Someone will have seen you. We’re going to have to do some explaining soon, I guess.”
“I have some information...on the Twelve. They do not like me. A lot.” Villanelle wipes off some tomato sauce from her hand on one of the napkins and tosses it into the bin near the door. She frowns as she speaks, looking serious for the first time since they arrived. “They will keep sending people to kill me. I do not enjoy having to run and hide. It makes shopping for nice things hard. I’ve not bought a new dress in three weeks.”
Her face drops into the lament and she looks out of the window, supposedly imagining the number of shops within walking distance and the sore fact that her wallet was empty save for a few Euros and a couple of notes she had swiped out of an unguarded wallet from a man's back pocket on the underground. She wanted nice clothes so badly, it was like an ache in her heart that could only be fixed by silk dresses, a good fitted jacket, or leather boots. Or maybe some cool sunglasses.
“Why would you give that information to us?” Kenny persists, ignoring the dress comment.
“Good question.” She reaches for another cold slice of the pepperoni, tearing the crust away and licking the flour off her fingers. “Did you not understand that they keep trying to kill me. I know too much. They think that because I sometimes dress up in a fluffy pink dress and smile nicely that I do not have eyes or ears. I am no pumpkin. I will give you this information because I do not like them either.”
“Okay…” Eve nods, considering how to present a new informant to her disgruntled boss. She turns to Kenny, “Any ideas how we could make this work?”
He gives a shrug and wipes the grease from his hands on his jeans before pulling out his phone. “I don’t know. I’ve maybe got something, I guess. But Carolyn’s not going to be happy.”
Chapter 10: You think this troubles me?
“You think this troubles me?” Villanelle squares up to Carolyn, bouncing forwards on the balls of her feet.
The older woman’s neck is arched like a swan and she is fury in statue form. Her brown hair is tinged by the dull lighting, making it look like the tips are made of copper. Villanelle is a contrasting mirror to her, stepping up with her smooth skin and her wide, open, unblinking eyes. Dressed in fitted black jeans and a jumper with the collar of a white shirt peeking out, she could be any woman walking around on the streets of London.
But at the moment in this face-off, Eve’s not sure who’s a danger to whom.
“Do you think I am scared of you?” Carolyn asks steadily with Villanelle’s face inches away from her own.
If looks could kill...
Eve thinks she should say something, anything to cut the tension in this small, standard issue conference room. She’s glad there’s a tinted glass wall facing out into the corridor, because if anyone could look in to see what was going on, well she wasn’t sure how well it would go down.
She leans forward to tap Carolyn on the shoulder and then thinks better of it as her department lead violently bristles on the spot. Her hand hangs in the air as she speaks, “Villanelle’s brought us a list of names and places. Carolyn, we can do a lot with this.”
“We could do a lot with her.” Carolyn’s lips turn up in disgust. “We can start by throwing her in a cell.”
“I did not come here to be taken to the hole.”
Villanelle crosses her arms in the face of Carolyn’s scowl. Every line of her sleek body radiates a barely restrained yearning to slam the MI6 boss’ head into the table. Her own face has healed over the past week and she looks healthy and well rested having slept in a proper bed for several nights in a row. She is more composed than she was in Spain, less ragged and wild looking during the chase, and Eve guesses that the wound she inflicted had healed up well enough.
“Maybe not, but we can still do it.”
The older woman jabs a finger at the assassin’s chest and Villanelle’s arm twitches, the muscles flexing under her pastel pink jumper. Everything to alleviate her annoyance was in range, but instead she turns around and puts her hands on the chair behind her, ramming it into the oval table that takes up most of the space in the room. She walks around both of them to face the glass wall in silence.
“But we have her list!” Eve stands her ground, taking up the room and whispering fervently. “With her in the field, we could do more.”
“You must be mad!” Carolyn turns on her, “Work with her?”
Villanelle takes a few seconds of staring at her reflection to compose herself, and then turns back around again to face the others in the room. “I am not scared. I have more information on the Twelve than all of your team put together. My offer is generous and I’ll work for you on this, but I’m not going to prison and you will not come after me.”
Eve clears her throat, “We’ve been working on more leads. Ways to connect the Twelve together. It’s going to take some time, but it’ll be quicker with Villanelle.”
Villanelle perches on the back of one of the black chair and lifts her legs off the floor to swing them. “Besides, I have already helped you to find Xander Palacios.”
“We found him at the bottom of the Elbe.” Carolyn points out tersely.
“At least you know where he is now.” Villanelle shrugs, exchanging a look with Eve as if to mark out how helpful she was being.
Carolyn takes some time to study the wood panelled wall behind Eve, as though the fine lines swirling in the grain have the answer. She considers her options very carefully before she clears her throat to voice her decision. It is a fine balance, weighing up the possibilities of what the assassin could bring to her team and how much of a loose cannon she was. The impact could be disastrous, she was being hunted by her former employers who hated how much of a mess she had made.
She lets out a long sigh and nods in conciliation, “Fine. But if this goes tits up then on your head be it. This unit is going to remain unofficial and off the grid, and I will maintain complete deniability. If they ever knew what you were working on you’d never get a job within ten miles of this place.”
Carolyn snorts loudly at the very idea, then points at Eve just as Villanelle pivots on the spot, directly behind Eve's shoulder, looming like a well dressed demon. “Don’t you dare think think you’ve got some balls because you got what you wanted.”
Her face turns grim as she heads for the door, “Go and get some work done. And keep her bloody well away from me.”
Eve nods away, allowing herself a triumphant smile once the door shuts close. “Well, that went well.”
Villanelle raises a delicate eyebrow as Eve leans up against the glass wall. She’s like melted toffee, relaxing in on herself now that the confrontation was over and the battle had been won. The lines around her eyes from where she had been frowning were now shallower. Even her mouth, which had been pressed into a thin line was now plumping up again, her bottom lip jutting out ever so slightly, like a hook for Villanelle to catch herself on.
“It’ll work. We’ll make it work.” Eve said confidently and this time Villanelle nods along, mirroring the determined look she sees in the other woman's dark eyes.
“Aber ich werde nie vergessen!”
Villanelle had come to drop off a note to Konstantin, yet it was the annoying brat who had greeted her at the door. She had bad manners, and she had not invited her in, but Villanelle could overlook the ignorance of her young years. It was a very generous move for her, but they had shared chips and scammed several women on their last meeting so she felt there was a tangible bond between the two of them.
“Go on, take it. It is important, your father will want to read it.”
Villanelle puts on her biggest, sweetest smile. It makes her cheeks hurt after a few moments and lips are stretched too much for to be held comfortably. Her smile dims. She flaps the envelope in the little girl’s face until Irina snatches it off her and jams it into her school blazer pocket. She looks even more like a tomboy with the buttoned up white shirt and yellow tie. It is an awful uniform for a private school, but Villanelle takes comfort in the fact that she never had to wear anything that disgusting. She would have looped her tie around her teacher's neck and pulled if her school had those colours.
"I will give it to him. Go away." Irina reaches to shut the door but she's blocked by a boot resting on the varnished green door jamb.
“Ah, ah wait," she says lightly.
Irina gives another scowl and huffs loudly, "What is your problem?"
"What is your problem?" Villanelle mimics, "I have a gift for you.”
She hands over the small box, very neatly wrapped with a silver ribbon. Inside on a blue velvet cushion are small pearl earrings and Villanelle is quite pleased with herself for thinking of stopping off for the present on her way. She had enjoyed their afternoon together, so she reasoned it was polite to bring a gift this time around.
Irina tuts loudly, stuffing the box into her pocket. “Does it look like I have my ears pierced? Du bist die schlechtest. Ich hasse dich!”
“Ich auch, tiny brat.”
Villanelle stretches forward to ruffle her short ginger curls until they’re a tangled mess. Satisfied with the disgruntled look on the girl’s face, steps back off the front step and tips her head to the side. She calls brightly over her shoulder as she shuts the gate, “They’ll look good on you. Tschüss!”
The door slams shut in reply and the door knocker rattles a goodbye as she strolls off into the late afternoon sunshine.
Aber ich werde nie vergessen! - But I will never forget!
Du bist die schlechtest. Ich hasse dich! - You are the worst. I hate you!
Ich auch - Me too
Tschüss! - Bye!
A bit of a short chapter, but still fun
Chapter 12: Who could do this?
“Who could do this?”
Elena leans forward to her screen and tries to make sense of the image slowly depixelating. Her nose almost touches the warm display and the colours spread out from their singular boxes, bleeding out into shapes and forming the image the crime scene photographer had sought to capture and preserve.
Once it becomes sharper, she leans back into her chair and covers her eyes with one of her hands, peeking out from between the fingers. The photo displayed shows a man splayed out on his back with deep gouges carved into his face dragged down his cheeks. His cheekbones peak out from beneath the torn skin as little dips of white. His dislocated arms stick out at impossible angles and Elena tries to cover her eyes again when she sees his bare legs have shattered knees with bits of bone sticking out from the congealed blood.
“Oh, that’s gross. That’s really, really gross.”
Kenny rolls over from his computer screens to take a look and immediately regrets it. “Wow. Okay.”
Elena grimaces as he rolls away quickly and minimises the screen. She reaches for her notepad to compare her notes of the data gathered from other unique murders. There were pages and pages, and she was slowly compiling the numbers into a database. Already she had worked out an algorithm to search European shared databases for specific markers in reported murders because their unofficial-official team needed leads and any organisation with a murder list as long as the Twelve’s would hire assassins who would have a method to their madness.
Another silence descends in the room, bobbed along by the occasional keyboard clacking and Eve's humming. Their office was a quieter one compared to her old department where the open plan layout had her bumping into twenty people before she had even made it to her desk in the mornings. She flicks through her notes, highlighting away where there were matches and setting aside key differences to be picked apart later on.
Then she makes her announcement, “That’s the third murder this week in Rome. The exact same pattern according to the police reports. With one of those postcards left behind.”
“And vicious.” Kenny gives a little shudder from behind his screens.
“It's just really strange. It's not that we can't find anything to connect them to each other, it's that there's too many connections.” She braces herself, maximises the window again and takes another look.
“Uh-huh.” Eve mutters from the other side of the room, flipping between papers.
Carolyn looks up from next to her and purses her lips, “First Palacios, then Lavinson, and O’Connor. What have you got?”
“All are linked to the Twelve.” Eve chimes in, “Most likely they were employed as hitmen. But they operated individually and weren't likely to have crossed paths.”
Elena carries on, scribbling on her notepad. “They’re methodically carried out, almost like whoever it is, they’re ticking off a list, staging the scene.” She pauses and leans back to look at Eve with her lips pressed thin, “And with the postcard and level of violence to the bodies, it's clear they're sending a message. I mean, look at his knees.”
“She’s awful.” Kenny agrees and the room falls silent. “Oh. Oh no.”
“What?” Elena twists her head. “ She’s awful?”
“Yes...she.” Kenny replies haltingly. “I- er…”
“ Kenny. ”
Elena kicks her chair back and away from her desk so that she can eye each of them in turn. Carolyn has a dispassionate look on her face, while Eve and Kenny both look at each other shiftly. Ever since they had returned from their Russia trip with Carolyn to find Nadia, they had been exchanging odd looks or comments that didn't make sense.
It makes her stomach lurch more than the photographic evidence on her computer screen. There were secrets in the room, and no one had shared them with her.
“We know who’s been doing the murders.” Kenny blurts out.
His fingers fall silent on the keyboard and there’s the stillness in the room that echoes back on them. Carolyn clears her throat and stoops to collect her bag while eying the three of them in turn. The coming fallout is exactly the sort of thing that she avoids; the internal dynamics of a team are of little consequence to her so long as the work is done by the end of the day. The look she shoots at Eve puts any future blame squarely on her slumped shoulders.
She speaks in her usual clipped tone and it’s even more perfunctory than normal, “Eve, sort out your team and send me your report by the end of today.”
Kenny returns the nod his mother gives and watches her leave, looking at the wistfully at the door before turning back to Elena’s expectant face. “Yeah. It’s her. Oksana. Villanelle. Whatever you want to call her.”
“She’s working as an informant.” He pulls a face, unsure of how much to say.
“Is this because I didn't go to Russia?” Elena turns to Eve, looking for a better answer.
“What, no?” Eve looks at her computer and then at the floor before finally looking back at Elena. “No, I didn't tell you because you hate her. You'd hate working with her, or well, knowing that we’re working with her.”
“So you thought you'd lie to me instead.” She states bluntly. “I thought we were better than that. I jumped ship with you because I thought you were my friend.”
“We were trying to protect you. The less you know, the better.” Eve's voice was steady, the American tinge to her voice leaks out as she turns defensive.
“People? I work here. Or at least I'm supposed to.” Elena puts her head in her hands and groans, unsure of what to think. Then she grips the arm rests of her chair, ready to stand, “I need some air.
“That's not exactly all of it.” Kenny shifts uneasily in his seat, before rolling himself in front of the door to block her potential exit. “I think we should tell her the rest.”
“I know.” Eve sighs and reaches into her handbag for a slightly grubby, well used notebook.
Chapter 13: Try harder, next time
“Try harder, next time.”
Elena shakes her head trying to process that her department head, recruited by MI6, was dealing under the table with the Russians, and was passing all of that collected information to a very secret and very corrupt criminal organisation called The Twelve, which she had her unofficial and off the grid team at MI6 investigating so that any leads could be buried before they came to light.
“Really. I mean it. You guys are awful at keep secrets.”
“I told you she thought something was up.” Kenny mutters miserably under the force of her glare.
He had been expecting this conversation for a few days. Eve acted as if she’d been jolted by a livewire each time it buzzed with an update, and the late nights he had been pulling as Villanelle jaunted across north Italy had left him with puffy circles under his eyes and an energy drink craving each morning. Elena had upped her office banter to rib him about the cans under his desk that rolled in their plastic bag whenever he stretched his legs, and he hadn’t even been able to explain.
“Your excuses are shit, Eve.” Elena adds, swallowing anxiously. It doesn’t help her dry throat and she reaches for her mug of cold tea, cradling it in her palms knowing it would taste disgusting but that it would also stop her fingers twitching. “I can't believe you didn't tell me.”
“I know, I know. But I wasn't sure how much she suspected, after her finding out we knew about her meeting with Villanelle alone.”
“Still...a double agent. A triple agent?”
Elena considers it all, the new information swirling around her mind. It would mean that Villanelle’s recent work could be viewed in a different light. It wasn't assassin against assassin or a criminal organisation getting rid of a weak link. It was a hunt, with Villanelle flushing out her equals. This unofficial team was actually working behind its benefactor’s back to catch her in the middle of her dodgy dealings. If Villanelle could be trusted in telling the truth about why Carolyn had gone to see her privately, then it meant that the Twelve considered the blonde killer a true loose end, threatening to unravel their hard work and criminal monopoly across Europe.
It makes Elena's head spin to think about the extent of double-dealings. This was almost comical spywork, things relegated to cheap novels. It was everything that had drawn her to the service from her childhood interest, and one of the reasons she has chosen computer science for university.
She purses her lips, “Are you sure she's your mum?”
Kenny's eyes bug out in surprise and he splutters, “Yeah, yeah. She is my mother. I mean, of course she is.”
Eve snorts loudly, pushing her notebook across to her assistant and Elena laughs loudly as she takes it, flipping over the pages to see what connections had been made and what lines of investigation they had lead to.
It would take her a while to get over the shock and the feeling of betrayal from their half-truths turned whole. They were right, she wouldn't be able to look at Carolyn in the same light. Her one-time idol of the Russia desk was tarnished irreparably by this. Yet, now that she had her eyes fully opened, she could help better. Elena had followed Eve into this team along with Bill, trusting that she had something better to work on, something that would make a difference and help save lives. That was a good enough reason to stick around.
“I want in on it all. You’re putting me in the field.” Elena says like it’s a done deal and Eve hums along, knowing she can’t refuse.
Chapter 14: Some people call this wisdom
The man huffs and puffs, wincing with every breath, and even then he still keeps talking. “Some people call this wisdom. I am not afraid.”
“You are not very wise.” Villanelle says with a disinterested air, confused at his deliriousness. She feels she want to make a point, even if he's only going to live for a few minutes more. “If you were, you would have ran.”
She is hardly pensive in the face of her mortality. She knows how fragile it is, how it rests on the give of skin breaking to let a sharp knife past, or a nerve so simply severed. Bones crack under the right amount of force and her own heart thumps with the adrenaline churning through her veins when her target gasps their last lungful of air.
But at the same time, she’s never thought of herself in the same way as her marks. They are breakable, awaiting their death, while she is a constant presence and as ephemeral as Death. It is her job, and she is very, very, very good at it. One day she may not be, but she is clever enough to plan for her chickens before that time comes. They will be well dressed chickens with enough good shoes and expensive makeup to last a lifetime.
She steps forward, shifting her weight from the leg she had landed on when he had thrown her down the stairs. Blinking the blood from her eye, she lets the rivulet trail down to her chin, plinking onto the floor. It doesn’t matter if she leaves evidence behind. Everyone knows who she is now, and she is enjoying the spotlight. This time around, she plans on leaving a bigger message.
Look at what you’ve done. Look at what you made, and then did not appreciate.
The snivelling mess on the floor was an assassin too. Used by the Twelve along the Mediterranean coastline to enforce their traffickers. He should have been quicker, stronger. Now he lies on his bedroom floor broken beyond repair and hope, his brown-red hair stuck to his scalp, matted with blood. She had caught him running up the second flight of stairs, and sliced at his ankles, causing him to crash down and smash his nose. It had been a good sound, especially since her ears were ringing from hitting the floor when he had thrown her over the banister from the first floor landing. The shitty strip of rug in the hallway did nothing to cushion the impact.
Villanelle had judged the two storey apartment the moment she walked in. It was heavily decorated for someone who jetted off at the whim of a phone call. There were crappy little trinkets on every surface, souvenirs from countries visited for hits. He had let her in because she had pretended to be his new handler. Her serious face and fine suit helped convince him that she had information on a new job. And she had taken the time to falsely compliment his snowglobe collection, before cracking him in the chest with a large one containing a miniature of the Sagrada Familia.
He lies on the floor and moans, and tries to reach for his gun on the bed, leaving bloody hand prints over the silk covers. They slip under his wet fingers and Villanelle lightly knocks his hand away before stepping on it with her full weight, feeling the joints crack and spread under her polished black shoes.
“I am the best. You should not have pissed me off.”
She aims another kick at his head and the man groans on the floor. Then she spits at him for a lack of words because her throat is tight with anger. Her hip twinges and she ignores it, pulling out her new knife. It has a serrated edge, built for cutting through meat, ideal for a butcher. She leans down, and tweaks at his broken nose.
“You were stupid to think that you could win. I have new friends now. We have good office banter, I will tell them all about how you screamed."
She cuts through his clothes quickly, turning his shirt and trousers to shreds before moving onto his white vest and underpants, leaving his socks and shoes on. She pokes at his hip with the knife, letting the blade bite into the skin in exactly the same place it hurts for her.
“Do you know what I am known for?”
The man swallows and his throat spasms, his breathing turns shallow. There's only the whites of his eyes and they fill his face.
Villanelle smiles widely, pleased for it. “You do! Good.”
She takes her time. Before he begins screaming blue murder, she quickly kills him to stop curious neighbours knocking on the door, and then continues to make a mess, just to bolster her reputation. Each of her kills that week had steadily gotten worse.
“That will bruise badly. Maybe I will show Eve.” She rubs at her side as she stands, sighing loudly. Then she winks conspiratorially at the dead body and whispers, “I still want her to touch me.”
Before she leaves the apartment, she turns over the place quickly and methodically, just to confuse the local police further. She giggles to herself as she stabs the pillows on the bed, sending stuffing and feathers everywhere. Finally, to complete her message, she pulls out a blank postcard depicting Milan’s Duomo, its white marble spires glinting golden in the afternoon’s warmth, and leaves it resting on his bloody torso, just below his belly button.
Then Villanelle slides the dead man’s mobile and laptop into her backpack, ready to leave for the train station. She takes a second to swipe the blood trickling down her face, wiping it off onto the wall and adjusts her suit jacket in the floor length mirror by the door before shutting the door behind her with a soft click.
“I thought you had forgotten.” Villanelle's eyes were wide with true surprise, and her mouth hung open comically.
“No.” Eve shrugs lazily and for the first time it looks like Villanelle is speechless. "I figured, when you said that I should wear it down."
She had found Villanelle in her bathroom when she came home from work with most of her toiletries scattered across the tiled floor. Clustered around the sink were her hair products with Villanelle herself perched on the edge of the bath, staring so intently at the back of the shampoo bottle.
“I wanted to know what makes your hair smell nice. You have great hair.” She had said with such unabashed curiosity it made Eve flush and reach up to touch her scruffy ponytail.
The last time she had been in the house, Eve had been half drowned in the bathtub and then played host to the unhinged, hungry assassin. She blinks away the memory of Villanelle's face above hers, her vision flooding over as she was held down in an effort to silence her screams. It was not an experience she wanted to repeat.
“I got it on sale.” Eve finally found her words again, wondering absently if there was any lasagne in the fridge.
The lights flash and then a giant thunderclap echoes around the small room, bouncing off the water stained tiles.
Villanelle's stomach gives a poor imitation of the noise and she smiles genially at Eve, like she hadn’t once held a knife to her throat or menacingly chased her around the house. “Do you have food?”
“There's pizza in the freezer.”
Eve nods to herself and backs out of the bathroom, walking into her bedroom to dump her bag and change out of her work clothes. She kicks off her shoes and shucks of her trousers before reaching up to untie her hair. Then her hands freeze on her head because she can feel her skin prickling cold, like she's standing under the shower and waiting for the water to hit. Spinning around, her mouth is open ready to say something, but there’s no one in the doorway.
She hears the freezer door shut and drags her hands to her face, ready to laugh at herself, and quickly changes out of her wet clothes. She moves quickly, although she's not sure of the rush. Over the past few weeks, the two of them had gotten closer and although she'd be mad to say that they'd forgotten what had happened in Paris, they'd found a way to move around it. It mostly involved Eve overstepping in some way and Villanelle shutting her down, but she could now make out where most of the battle lines were.
Calling her Oksana was a no-no, and she hated being touched, even to the extent of being tapped to get her attention. But she didn't seem to mind being over familiar in their conversations, still preferring to call Eve baby ever now and again. It was strange, but not unwelcome, and the woman herself was a mystery box of surprises. What had happened to her to inspire her love for murder? How on earth had Konstantin been able to shape her career as an assassin? How close had she been to Anna? Why had she left Irina and Konstantin's wife? Was there a moral compass in there somewhere, a glint of human decency behind her distant, cat-like eyes that could hone in on a person so sharply it felt like a blade of ice? She had these questions and more, so many more, enough to fill her notebook twice over.
Coming down the stairs, Eve hears Villanelle setting the table. Plates, glasses, forks and knives all laid out for the two of them. She's stuck to their old seats, from that one coercively shared meal, and even opened up a bottle of red wine.
“Oh, you didn't need to do that, I could have.” Eve points out, feeling like a bad host in her own home.
The background noise from the TV catches her attention and Villanelle moves over. Eve steps back to let her pass, confused at the look of wonder on her face. She picks up her glass and follows, plonking herself down on the sofa.
“Is this a good movie?” Villanelle wonders aloud as the pastoral scene continues.
“It's a funny one.”
They watch the opening credits roll in silence and Eve reaches for the remote to turn the volume up.
“I've never watched it.” Villanelle confuses, sipping her wine delicately.
“Oh, it's good. At least I think it has a good ending. It can get a little strange at some points.”
Villanelle dithers on the spot, and when the oven beeps, she pivots and hurries over to put the pizza on the tray, slipping it in and setting the timer with a quick flick of her wrist. Then she picks up her glass and sits down on her chair at the table, turning it to face Eve.
“I-” Villanelle begins, and Eve half turns her head, eyes still watching the screen.
“You can stay and watch the movie, if you want.” Villanelle nods at the offer and they carry on watching in silence until Eve feels she has to point out something super obvious. “There's a better view from the sofa.”
Eve shifts over and Villanelle sits down beside her and comments, “This is nice.”
Villanelle drains her wine glass by the first sword fight, giggling along at the funny bits and when the oven timer pings, Eve stands and dishes out the pizza. She brings the plates over to the sofa and watches Villanelle wolf down her half. She nibbles at the greasy pepperoni slices and sips at the rest of her wine.
“Oh! I see what’s next.” Villanelle giggles, then tips her head to parrot her new favourite line, “ Inconceivable!”
“Yeah, that’s a thing.”
“You were right, this is a funny movie.” She grins with approval and places her empty plate on the floor beside her wine glass.
Then she tucks her feet up under her, leaning onto Eve’s shoulder. She seems entirely at ease sitting there, and for a split second Eve think that this is what Villanelle would be like if she lived a normal life, if she was an ordinary person with an ordinary job, with ordinary, boring desires and motivations. Yet she can't ignore the fact that she is sitting beside a self-declared psychopath who truly desires to kill and enjoys it enough to continue to make a living out of it. And that was all without considering her lack of moral compass. Eve's stomach flip-flops, but there's not much she can do now, so she reaches for the wine bottle and tops up her glass generously.
The movie carries on, and they laugh together and at some point after the Rodents of Unusual Size and before the castle is stormed, Eve realises that Villanelle’s hand had been creeping closer and closer. Then, at the heroes final escape where the music chimes and twinkles, her attention is jolted away from the screen and to the fact that Villanelle’s finger is grazing the back of her hand. Eve turns it over slowly, and lets Villanelle’s fingers inch forward, closing her palm slowly to catch them in her grasp.
Whoaaa we're halfway there! Also, I'm totally surprised by the amount of people reading this, (it's inconceivable!), you're amazing!
Chapter 16: This is gonna be so much fun!
“This is gonna be so much fun! I am going to try everything on now.”
Villanelle kicks the office door shut behind her and battles with her shopping bags to the corner she’s made her own. She’s got ones twice the size of her torso, filled to the brim with layers of pastel coloured crepe paper to protect the new clothes inside. Then there were the pretty dresses in the slightly smaller, but still large bags. There was a wool coat, Eve-sized, with a cute tartan lining to help keep the Thames chill out. She had even reluctantly picked up a pair of burgundy leather gloves for Elena and a new blue scarf for Kenny. It was small pickings compared to the gifts she liked to get to surprise Konstantin, but the looks of surprise would be much sweeter.
She knocks over pen holders, a whole stack of printed lab results, and when she passes by Kenny’s desk her hip smacks against the side sending all three of his computer monitors shuddering on the tabletop. When she finally reaches her chair and turns around to brush her hair off her face, she looks amused to see them all staring at her with varying shades of annoyance.
“What? I was gone for my lunch break.” She feels a little defensive, especially after Eve had given her a talking-to when she disappeared on a break for three hours for a long lunch and an ice cream in Hyde Park. “It’s been fifty-eight minutes. I was back in time.”
“We’re coming up with a game plan.” Elena explains, “So, just sit down without making a mess, for once.”
Villanelle huffs, affronted by the order. But she’s still intrigued so she dumps her shopping down and grabs a chair to join the three of them.
“We are agreeing how best to pick up leads on the Twelve. You’ve given us a lot of good information, but some of its disparate or hearsay. We need to gather solid proof, and that involves getting out there.” Eve begins with a quick catch-up, “Elena has been looking into some potential follow ups in France and Italy, and we’ll have to convince Carolyn that we need to go out there, but I think if we pull together it’ll work.”
“I do not do teamwork.” Villanelle is keen to make it clear from the outright. “Teams are stupid and slow.”
“We know what you think of group work.” Kenny says flippantly, tapping away at the tablet in his lap, “You killed the last lot you were working with.”
He seems to catch himself in the next breath and his face falls immediately. She can tell he regrets it, and she can also feel lungs arresting in the room as Eve and Elena hold their breath.
She understands that they are unsure of how to bring her into this team, despite how desperate they are to have her around. She does not fit easily, nor as quickly, as they have taken to each other. Eve and Elena have shared looks and inside jokes that make most of their conversations double-layered. The only person she ever had for that was Konstantin, and he was always a fleeting presence, staying at her apartment for an hour or two before leaving her to get on with the job. Although she liked their long standing tradition to pretend to be dead for him.
Villanelle takes the opportunity to exchange a smile of equally flippant standards with Kenny. “I can play nicely, sometimes.”
“Yeah, well you’re going to like this idea.” Eve sets about moving their conversation forwards, dragging the computer monitor around to show her a satellite map of a small town in the French countryside. “We’ll be trailing Fredric Briant. He’s known for links with the black market and seems to be a well used supplier. That’s when you go in, Villanelle, and plant the bug. We’ll get access to anything he says inside those four walls, including the names of his contacts.”
“Where is Carolyn?” Villanelle asks, expecting the matronly lady to have some sort of objection to sending Villanelle out by herself. “Is she not a big team player?”
Eve’s mouth opens and closes like a cute little goldfish, “We’re...not telling her.”
“Oh?” Now she’s interested. Villanelle leans forward, looking at each of them in turn.
There is something here, trapped within the small, run-down office. It’s caught up between the three of them and it weighs heavily in different shades. That is as much as she can see, but now she pays attention, and thinks back over the last few days.
There was the way in which Elena turned to watch Carolyn leaving the room, eyeing the woman up with a look of pure determination. Kenny had taken to shuffling around and away from her, and Eve had nodded along to each instruction with clear eyes and longer gaps between her words. Instead of tumbling forth like a stream of consciousness, she was more measure, almost professional apart from the clothes and the general air of absent mindedness.
Now that Villanelle thinks about it, Carolyn was more of an outside than she was.
“Because she’s a traitor bitch.” Elena says bluntly, crossing her arms.
It was a simple question of pride for Elena, as it was still smarting from going through the pile of evidence that Eve and Kenny had collected about Carolyn’s double-agent work. Kenny had explained how he had even passed over scanned copies of her old letters to Russian agents during the Cold War. Then he had gone back home and turned over her study while she was away on a trip to Brussels. Now that he was looking for something more specific, he had found things and ran copies, took pictures, cracked her second secret safe and copied over old hard drives and CDs she’d kept over the years. Not that she’d give that information to Villanelle; it was strictly on a need to know basis between the three of them.
“Potentially.” Eve tacks on, hedging her bets.
“Probably.” Kenny chips in, shrugging his shoulders. He reaches down to toe at the papers on the floor, shuffling them closer into an easier pile to pick up. “She was really quick to send us back from Russia after you escaped from that prison.”
Villanelle swivels her chair around to him and raises her eyebrows in surprise. Her face falls open and she looks at him in disbelief. “You would go against her?”
“If she’s done what we think she has, then yeah.”
He doesn’t squirm on the spot like Villanelle thought he would, he never seems comfortable in his skin when she is around, although he takes direction from Eve well, and makes mooney eyes at Elena when he thinks she’s not looking.
Villanelle feels like she has to restate her feelings, now that her attention had shifted from large pile of designer clothes that had genuinely delighted her up until fifteen minutes ago. “This will definitely be fun.”
Chapter 17: I'll tell you but you're not going to like it
“I’ll tell you but you’re not gonna like it.” Kenny says grimly to Elena who has an earpiece tucked away under her thick, black curls. “It’s all...worse than terrible.”
She had taken a seat in the outside section of a traditional Italian restaurant. Inside, large families were dining early, children tucked into high chairs and large dishes scattering the long table tops. There was a warm glow from the candles lit and set on each table, and wine glasses reflected the light from the faux crystal chandeliers hanging from the low ceilings. To them, she’d look like a lone, adventurous tourist, complete with a stylish outfit for her holiday snaps and a slash of bright red lipstick.
Her food was ordered and delivered and she continued looking around at the street outside. Her dark eyes repeatedly passed over the same building opposite. Downstairs was a bridal wear shop, and the five floors above it had been converted into several high-priced apartments. Each had its own balcony, but the one belonging to Delmar Soza, money man to the Twelve, was bare of flowerpots, deckchairs, or bicycles.
Elena had followed him all day long, from the moment he had left the apartment in the morning. She had tailed him across town, watching him meet three separate groups of people, and made meticulous notes to accompany her slyly taken photos. Eve had called around lunchtime, halfway through her own task of planting a bug in another mark’s home, and she’d given her a quick report of what she had seen. Nothing that screamed of high crime, but again, they’d need to compare her pictures to the new database Kenny was building. Soza had returned home by sunset and in their drive by, she could see into his living room, the lights on and the kitchen window open to let steam out from cooking dinner. It had been easy enough to pick a new vantage point at the restaurant opposite.
A simple clarity had descended on Elena once she left the car and by the time she had walked down to the restaurant and was seated at the table; she felt both hyper aware of everything around her and completely determined to complete her observations. Her heart thumped faster than usual, but it was in a new fixed rhythm. She felt her toes grip inside her trainers, and another rush of adrenaline shot through her veins. She countered it all with another subtle deep breath, holding it for the count of eight and letting it go gently.
She hadn’t felt like this for a long time, perhaps not even since she had sat in her job interview with Eve and Bill on the other side of the table, with a potential offer of a place on their team. An assistant role was how she had gotten in, and she knew she’d have to work her way up from there. She had taken the job and left Sheffield’s hills for London’s vast arrogance, a city where you could only matter to yourself and to those who knew your name. Today was a turning point in that neglected plan, she’d be able to show what else she could do - as long as she kept her head.
Kenny sits in the rented car, a street behind and rolls back his seat. It clunks loudly into place and then settle with a soft thud which worries him. But it gives him enough space to open up his laptop and work. He puts his phone on loudspeaker up on the scratched dashboard, leaving his hands free to check on the two teams’ work. Elena’s job was easy this evening, all she had to do was keep an eye on Soza. As long as he didn’t try to run, they wouldn’t have a problem.
“Villanelle’s done it. She’s planted the bug. They’re on their way here, the eight-fifty train. We’ll be able to tag Soza before midnight and then catch the morning flight home. I’m going to reserve the tickets for us now.”
Kenny’s laptop pings at him as he gets the first packet of transferred data. The download bar slowly fills with blue, and he opens up the first folder of information to go through the files of what he’d managed to hack into so far. Briant was what Villanelle had called a 'keeper', that meant he would know the names of the Twelve.
“We’ve got more than we bargained for. Briant’s saved all his old records, like a trophy. He’s got one going back to the eighties. We’ve got...GBH, ABH, knife crimes, and work connected to street gangs. Enough car thefts to make Grand Theft Auto look normal...er, that’s an old video game where you just steal cars. Anyway, it looks like he was in and out of prison several times in the early nineties, in France, Italy and Bulgaria. I’m betting that's where he made his contacts.”
There a pause on the line and Elena picks up her fork, twirling the pasta carbonara around. The white sauce was thick and creamy, and although she wasn’t hungry, the dish was very tempting. She could hear Kenny’s steady breathing on the other line as he read through the new data.
“Right, and we’ve got a whole phone directory of names. Anyone who’s anyone knows this Fredric guy.”
Kenny sighs and Elena’s come to recognise that noise as something he uses to pause mid-thought before bracing himself for delivering some bad news. She’d heard it when he’d called her in the middle of the night to say that Eve had been hospitalised in Spain.
Originally, she had attributed his awkwardness to his age and the fact that he seemed more distant to things from working behind a screen, but the truth was he was good at connecting the dots, it came very naturally and she admired that about him. He was a strong addition to their team, and he had the guts to be secretly working against his own mother too, all the while keeping his head about it. Eve had been so good to her, forever championing her under Frank’s team and pushing her to do better, she could return the favour for Kenny, even if he did get a bit computer-weird every now and again.
She hums encouragingly to herself, a sound that the other diners and waiters indoors wouldn’t think was out of the ordinary, and Kenny clears his throat in her ear.
“When I say anyone, I mean it. There’s names of human traffickers running migrants out of North Africa in leaky inflatables, members of Italian-organised crime across the Mediterranean, drug runners from Siberia to Glasgow, mercenaries Eve connected to the Twelve...I could go on.”
Elena’s stomach twisted viciously and she put down the fork, the pasta easily forgotten in the grand scheme of things. Then she thinks of their pokey little office hanging off the end of Trafalgar Square, an imposter to its more glamorous surroundings and reminds herself of the evidence they’ve collected so far.
She pulls out her phone and taps at the screen, for the sake of it, before lifting it to her ear. Her eyes linger on the pair of lit windows in the building opposite as she does another quick sweep of her surroundings. “You were right before, Kenny. I don’t like it. But we’re doing good here in the grand scheme of things. We’ll get these bastards too.”
“You should have seen it.” Villanelle leans forward and swipes another handful of Maltesers, tossing them into the air one by one and catching them neatly in her mouth.
She finally tips her head forward and grins at Elena, the little malt chocolate balls filling up her cheeks until she smashes her teeth together and grinds them to chocolate dust.
Two weeks ago it would have unnerved Elena. Now she just rolls her eyes at the bad manners.
“Chew with your mouth shut.”
“Okay, okay.” Villanelle spins on her chair faster and faster until her hair starts escaping her bun and trailing down the nape of her neck.
The two of them were waiting for an email to come through, granting the team access to a new European criminal database. It would mean they would be able to cross reference more of their new links with old records and cold cases. Eve had already left to drop off another report to Carolyn, and then another to Walkes, and Kenny was out sourcing some new equipment, so it had meant Elena had been left on Villanelle-sitting duties.
Between the three of them, they had come up with a few simple rules for her. The first being being that she wasn't allowed to harm anyone, unless they were intent on harming her. The second was that she had to keep them apprised of her whereabouts, and the easiest way of doing that was to spend her days in the pokey Trafalgar office. Another rule was that she could only use half of her modest stipend as an asset for expenses. The rest was to be saved for food and rent.
This rule was taken surprisingly well, but Elena was suspicious for that reason alone. She was in half a mind to do some tracking on the prepaid card Villanelle had been given, just to see if things matched up. She had far too many new coats and jumpers and boots, designer things, to keep her small balance in the black. Elena had given it some thought in her spare time, that perhaps Villanelle had mugged a little old lady of her weekly pension, although it just didn't seem her style. Holding up a jewelry store and walking out wearing absolutely everything that sparkled seemed more appropriate.
Elena had also formed the same opinion as Carolyn, even if she didn't hold her former role model to lofty heights anymore, which was that Villanelle was the kind of asset who needed to be tagged and held securely. But Eve was of a different opinion and her boss had made it very clear on how Villanelle was going to work with the team. For the time being, the strange woman did seem to be cooperating, but Elena wasn't going to hold her breath.
She was broken out her silent review when Villanelle throwing a chocolate ball at her. It bounced off her nose and rolled quickly across her desk between her keyboard and dusty wires.
“Are you listening? I walked through them all with all the screaming, and the running, and the police. So easy.”
Elena glances at her in disbelief, unwilling to believe that Villanelle had conducted a double assassination in daylight and had walked out of it without being stopped or questioned by anyone.
“You should think about your best disguises if you ever want to leave this office properly.” Villanelle muses, looking at Elena intently.
Elena pretends to ignore her and refreshes the browser repeatedly. Her email inbox loads up again slowly. Still no database access.
She draws her hands away from the keyboard and rubs them together for warmth. All the lease holders in the building had been sent a letter to say that the boiler wouldn't be switched on until the end of the month. The four of them had taken to wearing double the amount of clothing to keep warm because Carolyn was yet to provide them with an electric heater. Today, Elena had pulled on two pairs of socks, along with a fur lined parka and her warmest jeans. Villanelle, on the other hand, wore a emerald green cashmere jumper and black leggings and had draped herself in a thick wooden shawl.
“What do you mean?” She eventually says, unwilling to strike up a light conversation with the serial killer in close confines.
“If you want to stalk a mark, then you need to work at not being recognised. Your tourist clothes were boring and easy to spot. Better to look like a local. Pretty clothes in Paris, awful shoes in Cologne.” Villanelle frowns delicately and waves a hand dismissing the thought of practical but ugly trainers. “Blending in is the easiest way, people look at a uniform first before a pretty face. White shirt, black trousers in any restaurant or party. Not brand new holiday dresses.”
Elena nods blandly, “I know that.”
It had worked well enough for her to tail Soza, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that Villanelle was attempting to give her helpful advice. Worse was the feeling knowing that she would probably have to take it on.
“You'll need a wig, any colour. And maybe change the way you walk.”
“Nothing eye-catching though.” Elena adds sarcastically, feeling uncomfortable with the other woman's full attention on her.
Villanelle swivels around again on her chair before rolling out from behind her desk to skid to a stop in front of Elena. She smiles encouragingly with an open smile and warm eyes, as if she was giving genuine, helpful advice. A half baked thought about finding lions playing in the wild cute flashes across Elena's brain before evaporating into nothingness.
“I think you should also think about how to get out of sticky situations. Sometimes, you can't help it. I do not have these very often, but it is an important thing to know.”
“Like setting off the fire alarm?”
“Like a real fire.” Villanelle corrects with some disappointment, turning away from her to grab another handful of chocolate. “It takes longer to put out.”
“Right.” Elena draws the word out and Villanelle silently copies her, clicking her teeth together. “What are you doing?”
“Practising,” she says back, her voice taking on a northern twang that evoked the sound of home for Elena. “Are you going t’ go down to the head office and ask to be James Bond? Or d’you think they'll offer it to you straight up?”
There was a sudden sharp disconnect between Elena's mild horror and the blank look on her face.
“Freaky, huh?” Villanelle twitches her eyebrows up and grins wickedly.
“Yeah, just a bit.” Elena admits with a wry, awkward smile.
Villanelle’s grin grew wider and when she speaks again, her accent is her normal one; English spoken by a Russian native. “Lots of practise. My French is perfect. I'm working on my English more now, you are more helpful than you think.”
That's what we’re all worried about, Elena thinks to herself.
She settles for asking, “Anything you're not good at?”
“Not much.” Villanelle hesitates and then get face darkens, “My Chinese could be better.”
An alert chimes from the computer and Elena reaches over to open the new message. “We've got access to the database.”
Villanelle pulls a face while sagging down in her chair. Her chin rests on her chest and she crosses her eyes. “Ugh, I am bored already!”
Elena sighs loudly, knowing she wouldn't hear the end of it. “Fine, come and make yourself useful. Let's see if you recognise any of these faces.”
So...... I have two upcoming chapters sometime next week and I have no clue what to put in them ...any location suggestions or characters to have a chat?
Chapter 19: Oh please, like this is the worst I have done
“Oh please, like this is the worst I have done.”
Eve huffs aloud after Villanelle breaks cover and leaves her yelp of concern behind in the alleyway.
“I don't know, I think following Villanelle into sniper fire comes pretty high!”
Kenny’s voice is tight down the comms and if Eve had enough room to shrug her shoulders, she would have. But the way things stood, she was pressed tight to the wall, unable to move forwards or go back. It turns out that they had been expected in that small French town, while chasing down another lead on the Twelve, and a trap had been set for them.
Villanelle darted quick and zigzagged low. The sniper was using a suppressor to quieten their shots and the bullets pop quietly onto the dewey ground around her feet, tracking her as she went, but aside from that, there was no other noise in these sleepy streets. The locals remained oblivious indoors, and as the sun set it was the time to relax and spend the last few hours of the day with family and friends and good food.
She crosses the wide street quickly and runs into an apartment block, legs pumping fast. Out of view, she takes the stairs two at a time, legs stretching out with ease, flying up the four levels. At some point, her earpiece falls out and dangles down on its wire, bouncing off her collarbone. The line broadcasts the sound of her breathing to Eve and all the way back to the Trafalgar office, yet anything she does from now onwards is out of their hands and oversight.
“I don't know where she's gone.” Eve says, trying to look around the corner.
Kenny’s panic is less understated. “What do you mean she's gone?”
Eve winces when the bullets crack into the bricks near her face. She covers her face with the droopy sleeves of her grey jumper, and feels her trainers getting damp from soaking up puddle water.
“I mean, she's run off into a building and I'm still here.”
Inside the building, Villanelle makes quick time and reaches the fire escape leading to the roof. Without breaking her stride, she runs across rooftops, leaping over the gaps between buildings. She reaches the building on the other side of the street and then shimmies down a drainpipe to launch herself legs-first into a living room on the top floor.
She lands on her feet and bounces on overstuffed fabric of a sofa before rolling off it and edging towards the front door. Her presence stuns the family sitting down at the dinner table in the next room. Inside the kitchen the woman catches sight of her first and she drops her serving spoon back into the pan, splattering tomato sauce onto her apron. Beside her, her husband’s mouth hangs open wordlessly. Villanelle peers at them through the partitioned wall and their toddler, a little boy with tomato sauce smeared across his face, blows her something between a sloppy air kiss and a raspberry.
“Your food looks good. I would stay, but I have to save my girlfriend.”
Having excused herself, she stepped out into the hallway and takes a deep breath to center herself. Then she jogged down the corridor while checking her position relative to the where the gunfire is coming from. From behind each door, there are the sounds of evening dinner taking place. Low mutterings, kitchen noises, children playing loudly, TV’s and radios playing. The last door at the end of the corridor is plain white with a rusty door knocker. All of the other sounds of life have faded away and she knows that the sniper is inside.
Villanelle presses her ear to the flaking wood and hears nothing. She takes four steps back to the other side of the narrow corridor and leans up against the wall, coiling her muscles and bracing her shoulders. With a shake of her head, she throws herself against the door, and the rotten wood around the door frame crumbles.
Falling into the flat, Villanelle uses the momentum to propel herself forwards. She sees the barely furnished room and the large window overlooking the street outside second, her attention drawn to the gun aimed at her head first.
She also sees the middle aged woman with tied back blonde hair and the puckered scar running down towards her collarbone, and it's like seven years hadn't passed at all.
“Ah, Claudia. Ça va?”
The sniper frowns, unsure whether to shoot the intruder. “Do I know you?”
“We worked together once. A very long time ago. You bought me a sandwich afterwards.”
Claudia frowns at the familiarity and her attention is thrown for a split second. But that moment is enough and Villanelle strikes out with her leg to catch her square in the gut, driving the air out of her and sending her crashing to her knees on the bare floorboards. Another punch knocks the gun out of her hand. A third and final kick knocks her sniper rifle over, the business end of it finally pointing away from Eve.
Claudia rolls over and shuffles backwards on the floor to give herself enough room to kick back at Villanelle's shins, but misses.
“That's no way to greet an old friend.”
Villanelle smiles benignly and then begins her assault. Claudia's face quickly turns into a bloody mess. Villanelle cracks her jaw, cheekbone, and kicks her face until her nose breaks, listening to each sound with a grand sense of satisfaction. Claudia's head tips to the side on the wooden floor, knocked unconscious and drooling blood from her parted lips.
With ease, Villanelle bends to pick up the dropped handgun and leans back on her leg to shake out her hand. There’s blood all over it and she wipes it off onto her leggings. Then she brushes her hair back from her face and stands up straighter.
“My name is Villanelle. You shot at my girlfriend. Prepare to die.”
“Stop!” Eve ran into the room, breathing heavily from running as fast as she could once the bullets stopped, “Villanelle! We need her testimony!”
Villanelle rolled her eyes and stamped her foot. The sound echoes off the walls and the floor. “But I want too.”
Eve reaches out her hands as she steps closer, and Villanelle looked at them in surprise, slowly lowering her gun as she saw the scrapes on her palms. “You're hurt.”
“Your hands. She did this, I'll kill her now. One minute please.” She raises the gun again and Eve’s stomach lurches.
“No, I'm fine! I fell running up the steps. It doesn’t even hurt, see?”
Eve moves forwards and slowly rests her fingers on the top of the gun, moving it downwards until Villanelle's grip eased. She carefully takes it from her hand and drops it onto the windowsill.
Villanelle tips her head down and presses her lips together before taking Eve's hand in hers, running a finger lightly over the shredded skin and smeared dots of blood. “Poor baby.” She comments sympathetically with a pout and Eve hums, leaning in too.
“You were really going to kill her?” Eve looks over her shoulder at the sniper’s prone body.
Villanelle met her gaze, “For you, yes.”
Eve doesn't think then. She just presses her lips to Villanelle's and that's all she feels for one blinding moment. She closes her eyes and her heart thumps faster in her chest. Villanelle is an enthusiastic kisser and pulls her closer, wrapping an arm around her waist with her fingers digging into her clothes.
It ends as soon as Eve reaches up to touch Villanelle's cheek, fingers grazing the soft, plump skin. The wetness on her palms are tacky on Villanelle's skin.
Immediately Villanelle freezes. She jerks backwards to break the kiss and her arms follow as she lets go of Eve.
“Oh, I didn't-” Eve mumbles, watching as Villanelle closes herself off again with only a hint of warmth in her eyes remained.
Villanelle clears her throat, reaching for the gun on the windowsill. When she turns back, she's playful again with her arms hanging loose by her sides. “I've been thinking about that for a long time,” she tells Eve mischievously.
Eve blanks and then realises, shifting on the spot. “Oh, right. Okay.”
“I bet you thought about it too.” Villanelle quips as she walks around and kicks Claudia's leg. The woman groans but her eyes don't open.
Eve follows her closer, and then surprises herself by answering truthfully. “I'd be lying if I said I didn't.”
It irks her to say it, here and now with an unconscious woman lying on the floor and a loaded gun between then.
Villanelle smiles smugly and rocks back on her heels. “So, what do you want to do with her then, if I can't shoot her in the head.”
Again, Eve's stomach lurches. It's the thought that Villanelle would kill someone without hesitation, and would pause for her sake alone. Someone she knew, and had worked with. Not too long ago Eve had voiced her desire to know everything about her; to know what went on inside her head. Now, she feels less like it's forbidden knowledge and the weight of it is heavy and unceasing.
“Eve, this is on your private line so don't say anything, but I've got a match on the face you sent through this morning. Claudia Vandenburg. She's got links to the Twelve. But more importantly, her name was on the list Nadia slipped under her cell door.”
Eve keeps her face blank and thinks quickly on how to phrase her new plan best. Then she bends down to grab the sniper’s legs.
“Okay, help me lift her up to the sofa. When she wakes up, I'll question her and we'll get what we need.”
“I hope you have a speech prepared. I’m Rosemary Walkes, and this is my assistant, Augustine Chisholm.”
The woman inviting them into the room was squat with beady green eyes and an off-cream colouring to her face that made her look more froggy than she could have hoped. Her hand snaps inwards and Eve shuffles forward. She suddenly finds herself considering what the woman looked like as a child, bringing to mind a bizarre image of shoulder-length blonde hair and the very same, large eyes.
Walkes gestures to the lanky man in the navy suit beside her. It was a cheap one, short at the wrists and too long at the waist. An overworked and underappreciated civil servant, the same as the rest of them, only he works with the purse strings. His mouth gives a little twitch, something along the lines of a fake smile, and Eve feels Elena tense beside her.
“Eve Polastri, and Elena Felton. Thank you for meeting with us.” Eve introduces them, letting her voice twang back into its old American vowels for the sake of throwing them off. There was no sense in competing with their crisp accents.
They all shake hands briskly before taking their seats around the small conference table, where Walkes begins to speak before Eve could explain, “I understand that you’ve been working under Carolyn Martens. An unofficial team?”
Her green eyes narrow and Eve rolls her shoulder back under the stare that pins her in her seat. Asking for money and backing from then was going to be like getting blood out of a stone, but she and Elena had prepared as much as they could before making contact.
Walkes tipped her head and her number two slid a file across to her. “I received your report last week and Claudia Vandenburg’s statement, and I have to say it did surprise me. In all my years, never has an unofficial unit made contact. Is there something you don’t understand about being unofficial?”
“No.” Eve says, and clears her throat again and then begins her argument.
Walkes’ face steadily turns sour at the mounting evidence Elena passes back over the table to back up every single word, but she agrees quick enough, “Alright. We could give you the greenlight on this information. But there are conditions.”
“Utter deniability.” Chisholm puts forward, and he passes over a shiny new hard drive from his briefcase. “And we get every scrap of data you have.”
Again? Eve wants to roll her eyes at how ridiculous it is, but she nods. They wanted the work done, they just didn’t want the method to backfire on them. Their lack of confidence was underwhelming, but Eve had enough conviction to get her team through.
“What are your long term plans?” Walkes turns her attention back to Eve. “If you expect us to prop you up, what can you do in return?”
Eve's careful to keep her face straight under this new line of questioning. Anything could tip the scales out of balance now. She clears her throat and states something that she’s only mentioned to Elena once.
“I want to run a team dedicated to investigating organised crime. We can profile these leads, like Villanelle and bring them in. We can pick these networks apart, piece by piece.”
Chisholm narrows his eyes and turns to Elena, “And what do you have that we don't? What makes you think your little team of four can get enough to bring down the Twelve?”
Elena does blink, “We discovered the links in the first place. We’ve found out just how expansive their network is. How it’s even built in-roads here. And we can run a unique asset.”
Walkes nods blankly, but Chisholm snorts, “Your Russian serial killer? You want us to open up another line to a larger budget, for her to run rings around for you?”
“I think, when people like her are hired by governments, they're called special ops agents.” Eve points out, finally worn down by Chisholm’s holier-than-thou attitude.
Walkes appraises her for a long, tense minute and then pushes her chair back and rises, stretching out a hand. “Polastri, you’d better keep secrets well. We’ll give you the backing and the funding. Just make sure that it’s sorted quickly. We’ll take care of Carolyn.”
They shake hands and Eve gives her a curt nod. Chisholm doesn’t say a word as he stalks off after her.
Elena barely waits until the door is shut to slap Eve on the arm in relief. “We did it!”
She leans back in her chair, sagging against the hard stuffing and breathes out, her exhilaration fading as the idea of circumventing the double agent takes hold.
“Don’t celebrate yet, we’ve still got work to do.” Eve says, quickly gathering up her papers and the hard drive, stuffing them into her handbag. “We need to get back now and start proving things.”
Elena grabs her arm before she opens the door and Eve’s jerked back to face her. “Were you being serious, about where this team’s going in the future? Because this is serious especially if you are thinking of keeping her around, after everything she’s done. And you know how she’s fixed on you.”
“I know. I know, Elena.” Eve sighs and leans back against the door with her face transformed into a wince. “You don’t think I know? But imagine how much damage she could do working for the Twelve, or someone like them. They’d crawl over each other to employ her. You know what she can do. At least this way, she'll be working with us...and we want to save lives.”
Her friend only groans and covers her face. “I’d like to agree with you, I’d love to, but think about it properly, Eve. This place is too far in the shadows to keep things as clear cut as we'd like. Look at what happened to Carolyn.”
She removes her hands from her face to see Eve staring back at her grimly.
“Sometimes you just need someone like Villanelle. Elena, we can use her better. I know that much, and I’d really want you here.” Eve stops to laugh to herself as an errant thought occurs to her, “Bill would have liked the idea. It's way too messy and stupid. And dangerous.”
Elena groans loudly again and then nods, flapping her hands out in faux exasperation. “But it’s a good one. I’m in, already, if you hadn’t realised. So, how are you going to tell her, that you’re her new handler? Because I would love to be a fly on the wall for that conversation.”
Eve hoists her bag higher on her shoulder and turns to the door, shaking her head and fumbling for the door knob. When she finally answers Elena, her words are hastily thrown over her shoulder, “I'm not. Imagine if I did. She can't ever know.”
I know this chapter's been delayed, and to give you a warning that if you've got this far, I'm probably not going to be able to keep up with the one a day thing anymore. Work's gotten super crazy busy and by the end of the day I'm too tired to write lots, but I've promised myself I'll finish all 31 chapters, it'll just take a bit longer than I hoped.
Chapter 21: Impressive, truly
“Impressive, truly.” Villanelle comments, standing with her hands in her silk pyjama pockets on the doorstep of shitty new apartment. She takes in Eve’s baggy teal jumper and her plain black jeans, and turns her nose up at the scuffy black pumps she’s wearing.
Eve distracts Villanelle from her assessment by shaking the plastic bag in her hand. Inside, a single plastic carton rolls inside and the sound of liquid sloshing around breaks the silence between them. “I brought chicken noodle soup.”
“Oh good, that's nice. Why are you here?” Villanelle casually leans up against the flaking door with half her face obscured behind it.
Eve rolls her eyes at her and pulls her phone from her pocket to wave it in the air. “You said you were sick. I came to check on you. Can I come in?”
They remain there in the doorway, smiling agreeably at each other.
Villanelle narrows her eyes, “I’m not ill.”
“I figured.” Eve shrugs and pushes past her into the flat.
The hallway was a bland magnolia, the floorboards bare and splattered with paint, and there was an empty row of coat pegs on the wall. Aside from that there was no real touches to say that someone lived there. But Villanelle had left her mark in the neat row of perfume bottles on the kitchen table at the end of the hallway.
Eve clears her throat and follows Villanelle to the living room. A thought strikes her and then falls out her mouth. “You know, just to set things straight, I wouldn't try to kill you with a knife.”
“What?” Villanelle turns back, dumbfound.
Now that she's gone and mentioned it, she has to explain herself before things got weirder, and Eve dithers until her words fall out of her mouth. “Well. If I had to choose how to do it, properly, it wouldn't have been with a knife.”
Villanelle remains attentive as she lies down on the plush pink sofa, stretching herself out so that her head rests on one end and her toes brush up to the other. Eve flops down into the only other seat, in the patched armchair opposite. She rests her handbag on her lap and looks around the room. The floor behind the sofa was covered in both large and small shopping bags, their insides full of tissue and fabric spilling out. An empty champagne bottle stuck out from the plastic bin beside her armchair.
“You really want to know?”
“If I had time to plan?” Eve thinks about what she once told Niko, and his reaction, and then measures it against how she thinks Villanelle would react. “Saritoxin and then maybe getting rid of the body in the least obvious way, chopped into bits, blended and tipped down a public toilet. Maybe a restaurant or a busy train station. Somewhere the evidence would just, disappear.”
Villanelle’s eyes widen with pleasure, “That is good. Very good, very clever. Although you have thought more about how to get rid of my body than how you’d kill me.”
They sit together in silence and Eve remembers how Niko had thought it was weird, how he hadn't realised that there'd be a message in the method, a calling card to say, this is me, this is how I work.
“Yeah, I guess. You?”
Villanelle blows a giant raspberry into the stale air and pulls her hands up to rest on her chest. “Me?”
“With anything, I guess.” She mimics Eve’s words with a lazy smile. Then her features fall into seriousness as she considers it properly. “Sometimes I use knives, sometimes guns, or poison. Or even my bare hands.”
She wiggles her fingers in the air at Eve with a cheeky smile.
“But...if it was personal?”
Then Villanelle rolls onto her side and props herself onto her elbow, “You mean you?...I’m not sure.”
There’s a bunch of questions whizzing around Eve’s head in the face of that revelation.
Do you think you couldn’t? Is it because you promised before that you wouldn’t, before I stuck a knife in you. You shot Konstantin even though you didn’t want to, but you did it so he’d maybe have a chance to survive? Your French boyfriend died. Nadia was terrified of you, and you tried to kill her twice, even after your shared history?
And Anna...poor Anna...who couldn’t kill you...
“I asked Konstantin how he wanted to die, he said pills, so I let him.” The nonchalance in her voice wavers, turns softer and Eve presses on.
“Do you regret any of it?” She studies the calm and composed look on Villanelle’s face. It seems like she’s looking for something, searching for it in her own face. It’s strange the way her eyes change from open windows to inaccessible depths. All the answers are flooded and they sink where light cannot penetrate.
She expects Villanelle to answer back with an immediate ‘no’, expects her to put it down to being good at her job.
“I don’t…” Villanelle’s eyes cloud over and the words slot in place in Eve’s head just as she imagined it. “I don’t know.”
Eve shifts in her seat because the more she wades into Villanelle’s behaviour, the murkier things get. It leaves her feeling more confused about how things will turn out. It’s been her job for years to pick apart a person’s behaviour, to go right ahead and profile them on their past and in turn predict their future. All for the aim of catching them. Villanelle lives entirely in the moment in some of her choices, and yet she dictates to herself on others from these long held behaviours encouraged by Konstantin and the Twelve, even to the point of hunting down her one and only friend.
They sit in an awkward silence, until Eve feels the need to break it. “What were you planning on doing today, if you're not sick?”
“Hangover.” Villanelle smiles wistfully, her teasing mood floating back to her expressive face. “I was thinking of having a lazy day today.”
“Do you want to come in to the office, in a bit? Kenny’s turn to pay for lunch. It’ll probably be pizza, but still.” She offers brightly, now having something to mull over further in her free time.
Villanelle muses the idea, then swings her legs off the sofa and stands in one fluid movement, “I will come to the office but baby, you need to change your clothes. I have a nice dress for you, office appropriate. Come, follow me.”
Chapter 22: I know how you love to play games
“I know how you love to play games.” Carolyn’s voice is light over the crackle on the old landline, and she drums her fingers in a staccato on her desk.
All her things had been shuffled around since her last trip abroad when Kenny had taken it upon himself to help with the tidying up. The hoovering had picked up most of the dust, but there were papers stacked on top of each other all out of order, and some of her books had been replaced onto the shelves behind her desk. At least, she had consoled herself, he hadn’t made as much of a disaster in her en-suite, she was still trying to find her conditioner where he had so helpfully put it away.
She’s very good at playing the game, no matter her compliments. The weight of the spider’s web has seemed to change, and now when she reaches out to spread her feelers, she finds that answers are no longer to be found in the same places. Despite that, she is still good at fishing, and Konstantin always had easy buttons to press.
He sighs heavily and the crackle on the line worsens, “I'm old and almost retired. It doesn't mean much to me about who’s winning now.”
“Still.” She draws the word out, taunting him.
This time round, he wasn’t rising to the occasion, unwilling to flash a hint in the dark for her to corroborate her ideas against.
He clears his throat and she can imagine him settling back into his chair. “Still...I was only playing with a single set of cards. Your decks are shuffled, Carolyn. And when that happens, mistakes are far easier to catch.”
She tamps down her irritation, resists the urge to break her cool. There's a long silence down the line before she speaks again.
“How did you do it? Keep her on a leash as her handler?”
Now he laughs loudly, and she purses her lips and pulls the phone away from her ear until he stops to speak. His gruff voice is brighter, so full of amusement, as if he’s telling a good story rather than years of hard and stressful work.
“So many times I had to explain, even beg for forgiveness for her actions. One time I told her she was not listening to me, and she chopped off her target’s ears and threw them at me when I visited!” Konstantin chuckles to himself again and the sound slowly evaporates over the thousands of miles between them, “But I treated her like a person and not an asset. Villanelle is good at her job, always has been despite everything else. What she is makes her good.”
“We all know that.” Carolyn mutters darkly, thinking of the mess her unofficial team has managed to dredge up, and the lines of inquiry that spiral outwards from it.
She wonders idly, checks herself, and then asks him anyway, “Did you ever sleep with her?”
“Never.” His voice is stoic, “Villanelle still finds that funny. She thinks very highly of herself, as you have probably seen.”
“Is she still in contact with you?”
“No.” Konstantin lies, looking over at his daughter working on her homework and seeing the new pearl earrings gleam on her ears in the hazy afternoon light. She looks up and sticks her tongue out at him, and he wrinkles his nose in good humour at the sight.
“You haven’t heard anything? You’d tell me, wouldn’t you. We’ve been on the same side twice over, all these years.”
He thinks of the things he had heard before he moved his family to Germany, of the whispers of people disappearing and others being imprisoned. Of very bloody murders and data splayed out on international agencies’ databases. He still has contacts who pass over information, a handful of people he trusted enough to believe when they say that have confirmed sightings of Villanelle, and even more surprisingly Eve, in the French countryside. That particular conversation had matched another who had passed on a rumour of the last confirmed location of Vandenburg, one of Villanelle’s older sisters who also spent time working for the Twelve.
“No, I haven’t heard anything.” He lies again, tipping his whiskey glass from side to side and watching the amber liquid swirl around. “Sorry.”
Chapter 23: This is not new, it only feels like it
I am back! Properly. Promptober is over, but this fic has an end so stay tuned.
Also, I am dumb, I posted up the last chapter but then I realised I hadn’t edited the publishing date for it, so I’m not sure a new chapter email went out, so...if you don’t remember reading a chat between Carolyn and Konstantin, hit that Previous Chapter button.
Villanelle slumped against the wall, hands in her trouser pockets, with a broad, genial smile on her lips. She had dressed well from their night out with a fluffy, cream coloured coat. Her deep green top shimmered underneath, and the sequins looked like emeralds. Now that they had come in from the cold, her nose had begun to turn red and her cheeks were bright and flushed from the cold.
It had been a nice night. They had gone to dinner at a night food market, and shared a bottle of wine sitting in a small boat tied to the side of the lock. It rocked gently each time the canal boat drifted by, and they had shared another bottle of wine after dinner. It was almost a date. Villanelle smiles to herself as she can see the same thought dance across Eve's face, through the frown that appears and the sharp clack of her heels.
Eve did berate herself as she shrugged off her own grey woolen coat and went to stand beside the clanking radiator. Lately she was having to catch herself more and more as her thoughts strayed off course. She’d move closer, and then pull back. Villanelle knew what this was like, Anna had done the same, drawing closer and closer to see what was special until she realised that Villanelle had the same intentions.
The fabric of Eve's black and white dress was thick, but she was still cold. She presses her hands to the radiator and didn’t pull away until their burning hot. Villanelle hangs up her coat and watches out of the corner of her eye as Eve smooths out her dress for something to distract herself. Smiling to herself, Villanelle kicks off her heels and lowers her feet to the still uncarpeted floor.
“Well, that was a nice evening.” She scrunches her nose up at her face in the mirror, watching her skin slowly turn from blotchy pink back to smooth porcelain. “But I can think of something nicer.”
She wastes no time in stepping up closer and closer until Eve’s legs are pressed against the radiator. She knows Eve can feel heat seeping through the dress, barely able to stop it from burning her legs. Her breath tickles Eve’s face when she speaks again, “Do you want me to show you?”
Up close, Villanelle’s eyes are wide and her pupils are so dark; Eve stands pinned under her gaze. It’s that focus, the feeling of all Villanelle’s attention on her. As if she wanted to pick Eve apart just as badly as she’s wanted to do from the moment they fell into each other’s orbit.
“Show me what?” Eve breathes back, and Villanelle sees her own reflection twice over in her dark eyes.
Villanelle raises her hand and brushes a dark curl from Eve's face before running it down over her high cheekbones and around the side of her mouth.
Eve shuffles forward so that the backs of her thighs wouldn’t be set alight from the flat’s shoddy central heating. It puts her flush against Villanelle, and she takes the opportunity to snake an arm around Eve, sequins clicking against each other and throwing little green circles onto the wall behind her.
“Show you what we could have done in Paris, if you hadn’t been so angry. I don’t think you’re angry now. I think you like me better now.” Villanelle licks her lips, “And I like you, Eve Polastri.”
Villanelle closes the distance between them and her lips are cold but her breath is hot and all she can feel is her heart thumping in her chest so loudly. The kiss is too short and too long at the same time and when she draws back to look at her, she takes the breath from Eve’s lungs with her. There's a low groan and Eve shudders when she realises the sound was hers.
Villanelle would have smiled, if she wasn't she distracted by the idea of making the sound happen again.
“I like how you look at me.” Villanelle whispers and doesn't have to wait longer for Eve to act. She draws her neck closer, sucking gently and then harder and Villanelle smiles grows until her teeth slip out from behind her lips.
She sighs delicately, feeling the heat grow in the pit of her stomach. “I’ve thought about this a lot. Every time I touch myself.”
This time Eve reaches around and tugs at her top. The rows of sequins fold into each other as she pulls it up and over her head. Eve's hands come back down hesitantly, slipping over Villanelle's back. Villanelle nips at her lips and kisses deeper with one hand slowly pulling the zip of her dress down. When she had seen in on the hanger, she had ran her fingers over the fabric, wondering about the fit.
Curiosity infused Eve and when her right hand travelled forwards over soft skin until it reached the scar she made, Villanelle pulls away, breathing heavily and Eve gulps in much needed air too. She traces the ridge of scar tissue slowly, up and down, with a feather light touch as Villanelle unfreezes and kisses a trail down from her jaw to her collarbones.
It’s nothing and everything. You made that scar. Changed me. I hated you for it.
She stiffens again, just for a heartbeat, before softening again and moves her lips from Eve’s neck to ask, “Why do you like me?”
“You...are special in a way I didn’t think was possible. I know so much about you, I’ve learnt how you think and yet...you still fascinate me. Underneath, under the names you give yourself and the way you act to protect yourself, you’re someone with a heart looking for a home.” She presses her lips to Villanelle’ swiftly, before laughing awkwardly, “But, I...didn't think this would happen in Paris.”
Villanelle pulls herself closer, moulding herself into Eve’s body. Her fingers cling into soft flesh and hook around the sturdiness of Eve’s hip bones, tugging the dress over her shoulders. She tips her head to the side to string together her last coherent sentence of the night and her blonde hair fans out behind her shoulders.
“Maybe not, but this is is not new, it only feels like it.”
Chapter 24: You know this, you know this to be true
“You know this, you know this to be true.”
Eve speaks like her lips and tongue are numb when she replies. Her mouth moves slowly, syrup-like, voice ebbing up her throat on her shallow breaths. “Yeah.”
And she did know it.
But she had also felt that hot spark of complete power and control concentrated in the palm of her hand. Gone now, but like nothing she'd ever known.
Is this what it's like? Is that what she feels?
And then she'd seen him teeter on the spot with a look of surprise flaring up behind his blue eyes right before they turned dull. He was was of mirth, laughing, right before she had pulled the trigger.
The horror of that likeness had the gun falling out of her hand and to the ground.
And she half wished she could take it back.
Villanelle was still talking now, even if her voice sounded far off, like she was speaking from underwater. She was composed, as ever, shaking off the incident like it was a missed bus or a minor inconvenience, instead of another deliberate attempt from the Twelve to rid her from their books. They were persistent, perhaps finally realising how much damage their former employee could do.
“Eve, you had to shoot him or he would have shot you.”
Her eyes widen with the fact, trying to impress the matter on her with the least amount of fuss possible, her hands smooth down Eve's curls and she smiles genially. Although she speaks softly, it still sounds like she has a thin grip on her patience, as though she was convincing a child.
“You did what you had to do, you know that.”
“He was going to shoot me.” Eve hears her voice echo the words back but she still can't feel her feet, and when she looks down again at the collapsed tangle of limbs, her knees tremble and threaten to buck.
“Yes, he was.” Villanelle kisses her softly on her forehead, her fingers digging into Eve's arms dangling by her side. She sweeps in front of Eve with her lips pursed together in a pout but she’s fizzing up with the heady rush of excitement and adrenaline. “That's the fourth one they've sent after me. They must miss me a lot, now that I'm here with you. They think I know all their secrets.”
Her sharp eyes narrow and she blurts out a short laugh, “Pah, I knew him too. He was one of the brothers, a bit older though, he got too slow, otherwise he would have killed you.”
She continues to move, hands flicking dismissively at the body. She circles around Eve to draw her arms up around her shoulders in an embrace. When she rests her chin on Eve’s shoulder to look down at the sprawled legs, glassy blue eyes and pooling blood in front of them, she whispers in awe of herself. “Fourth one. Do you think they’ll send a fifth?”
Eve feels locked to the spot, unable to look away, knowing she was seeing something different. He was older, with grey at the temples and deeper lines around his mouth and eyes, and a strong tan that emphasised the good looks that lingered from his youth. He was also dressed more plainly, banking on the ability to slip into the crowd with a pair of jeans and a plain black blazer.
Compared to every other crime scene she's worked on; the grim, gory, perfunctory, outlandish, performative, or basic, this just looks like a mess. Her mess.
Eve stops breathing at Villanelle's next words, “Shush, shush. Listen, you can hear his last breaths. You wanted to know, what I felt when I killed someone. What I love about it so much that makes me so good.”
Together they listen to the half gasps. The burbling of blood caught in the assassin’s chest, now staining the floorboards underneath. The final wet rattle of air in his lungs as he twitched and stilled.
“I know now.” The words escape Eve’s mouth and dissipate into the air. She’s rooted to the spot, trapped between her own horror and the strong pulse thudding away in Villanelle’s chest behind her.
There’s a haze of clean up from Carolyn’s contacts not long after and they still manage to end the evening curled up on the sofa with an old black and white horror film on in the background. It had been Villanelle's evening to choose and she barrelled forward, sticking to her earlier plans, unwilling to bend to unfortunate circumstances or assassinations. Eve lets her, happy to step out of her own mind for a few short hours, until she had to put on her work clothes in the morning and make her way to the office to add another picture to the wall of persons of interest in their investigation.
With Villanelle’s head resting on her shoulder, Eve feels the air of contentment rising off the young woman. Villanelle in a good mood, undistracted and feeling generous, plays the part of the girlfriend well. It's what she wanted. This magazine cut-out of life, copied and glued in around the edges of her life, along with her fancy clothes and the heady thrill of her cool job. She flitted around the kitchen, pulling together dinner as if it was a treat. Poured wine and held up a spoonful of sauce for tasting. She had chattered along about innocuous things too, and all the while her eyes drifted back to the spot between the hallway and the living room where a dull grey rug covered up the ruined floorboard and the smell of bleach.
It’s suffocating, not having that level of understanding from someone so close to her, who was there in the moment. Who saw what she did, but couldn't see what she now felt.
Consequences, thinks Eve, don't exist for her.
Does it mean she's a monster in the making now cut loose from the ties that had controlled her... or already there, ready made?
Is she too far gone?
Eve sinks deeper into the sagging couch and forces herself to take another even breath despite feeling like she's been coated in tar; a bird in the middle of an oil spill, struggling with the idea that there was someone else's blood on her hands and unable to sit beside the woman who lived for the thrill of it.
She snaps halfway through the second film.
“I need some air. I need to be alone. Don't wait up for me.” Eve makes a handful of mismatched excuses and grabs her coat on the way to the door without looking back at the rising tide of Villanelle's confusion she's left behind her on the sofa.
Chapter 25: Go forward, do not stray
“Go forward, do not stray.”
Villanelle slips heavily into her native accent, taking on the persona of an elderly lady with a hunched back and years of worldly wisdom. It was a game to her. Her blazer crinkles as she shuffles across from the pinboard, holding an invisible cane in her clawed hand, her face twisted in mock pain.
“Why?” Eve’s patience was slipping, it had been for days. She stood by the window with her arms crossed, wearing the frumpiest cardigan Villanelle had ever seen.
“What do you mean why? It's good advice.”
She reaches her chair and continues to plays dumb, flopping down and throwing her legs up and out to increase the violence of each spin the chair makes. With every turn, Eve’s face flashed before hers. The frown lines around her eyes seemed to carve in deeper and deeper each day. Whenever she tried to make a joke, Eve would snap at her or fume silently.
Villanelle could see the words right there, on the tip of her tongue, you’re being a dick!
But Eve settles on the less confrontational, “Because it’s important, that’s why,” and she feels the heavy lump of disappointment somewhere in her stomach. It would have been easier to have an argument, instead of looking for hidden meanings and make second guesses.
She throws her hands up in the air and paces in the office, wearing a track in the old grey carpet while Villanelle sits in the corner with her hands folded on her lap. She circles her desk again and her hands reach out, curled slightly just to try and grasp at something tangible. There had been something on her mind that had been annoying her more lately, a little niggle in her brain keeping her up at night for longer and longer. Villanelle could hear her uneven breathing when they lay in bed at night, and Eve would pretend to sleep, while she would turn towards her and stretch out an arm to hold her closer.
Mine. You are special to me to, Eve Polastri.
She's broken out of her thoughts when Eve turns around to ask, “Why did you get rid of your old name?”
Villanelle rolls her eyes and then shuts them. She sits as still as a statue and holds her breath, counting silently for one minute, then two, and then three. When she finally opens her eyes again, there’s a look of defeat in them, although she cannot see it herself. “I’ve always liked Villanelle.”
There's a lie there, but when it falls out of her mouth it's only the truth she knows.
“But you already had a name, Oksana. You had a whole life.”
Eve presses on that faint bruise of the past, keen put her fingers against those sharp and broken edges that Villanelle had left behind her. This was her speciality, this is what made her feel close. It was like she could step inside of her skin, palm to palm, and then look deep into her eyes and find exactly what was hidden.
But Villanelle was also very good; she prided herself on it. Life was a book with pages turned over, and you could only ever have two open at a time. Everything else was been and done, long gone and lost, unable to be re-written. She too knew how to hide things away between the lines, where they could never be found. She could lock her own history up deep inside her heart and never let it have the power to haunt her. It was an easy thing to do.
“Not exactly.” Villanelle allows herself to smile and leans back, feigning ease. “Oksana died there in that stinking prison.”
Only Eve doesn’t seem to want to take her word for it. She nods to herself and continues her circuit around from her desk and comes to sit on the side of the table beside her. She leans against her arm, soft and offering comfort. “Villanelle, you can tell me.”
Villanelle nods in the face of her encouragement and her fingers twitch in her lap. Aside from that, she’s still perfectly composed when she begins her explanation, pried from her lips and unwillingly given. “Everything about my old life died there. I've had a life of doing bad things very well, from such a young age. I worked to turn myself into someone new. Now, it doesn't matter to me what name I have. I could call myself Natalie and still be me. ”
She would admit, if questioned, how she likes Eve like this. Flushed and attentive. Eve would have been been like this when she was trying to find her. Leaving behind the trail of breadcrumbs, little hints of longing, trailing her across Berlin to glimpse her gorgeous hair. Now she gets to see first hand and feel the full attention of Eve picking apart her quarry, and it would have been delightful if she was asking the right questions. It leaves her warm and her blood zings in her veins, and maybe she's blushing but that's not a problem. It would look like embarrassment.
“What happened to you?”
Eve prompts her again, intent on stripping away layers, unlocking the puzzle that is Villanelle and finding the truth laid bare before her.
If only it worked like that.
“I was given a new name. Konstantin gave me a way to make lots and lots of money.” Villanelle pushes back, her fingers still and she crosses her arms. She allows herself to rub at her hidden thumb ring against her forefinger, feeling the cool metal turn warm again, away from Eve's prying eyes. “Why wouldn't I want to be Villanelle ?”
Eve dips her head down closer to meet Villanelle’s flinty eyes, and they're full of concern and curiosity. “That’s not what I meant.”
“I’ve been picked apart by psychologists, again and again. I know what they wanted too. They always used to ask me that, what is your name, Villanelle?” She scoffs and rolls her eyes, and Eve leans back at the anger in her voice. “What they really meant was, who are you? Well I know who I am.”
Now she stands tall, and the walls of the office are too small to contain her. Eve shrinks back, taken aback by the change in her demeanour. “I am an assassin. A woman who kills people. That is who I am, and that is what I like. You know who I am, Eve Polastri. You knew it long before you met me, and now that you know me better, what do you think?”
Eve nods and nods and nods her way through the rest of this conversation, this heart to heart that-could-have-been and Villanelle finds that the more she speaks, the more Eve doesn’t seem to believe her. So she leaves Eve fume to herself by jamming her hands into her trouser pockets and strolls straight out into the pouring rain without an umbrella. She walks up to the end of the road with a sinking feeling in her gut, wondering if she was right in believing that Eve was better than her questions.
Konstantin had not pried. He was proud of her, he loved her, maybe even more than his fat wife, and his very annoying child. He did his job well, took her to the therapist when he was told to, and watched with a half-hidden smile on her lips as Villanelle answered their banal questions. They had asked questions like Eve had today. If it was the man, she would put him off with answers about her period. If it was the woman, with her ugly eyebrows, she would list the latest additions to her bed and watch her squirm. And Konstantin would laugh when they left and maybe buy her an ice cream on the way home.
Villanelle snorts to herself as she waits at the traffic lights, ignoring the crowds of tourists milling around with their umbrellas smacking against each other. Her hair turns slick from the water dripping, sticking to her face in sodden strands. The rain drips off her forehead and rolls down her cheekbones, trailing their way down past her nose and falling off her chin like big crocodile tears. The sky rumbles and darkens, and she tastes electricity on her tongue, barely a distraction from her introspection.
Because she did not care what anyone thought of her.
She knew who she was.
She could prove it because Konstantin also knew who she was.
And little Irina had seen something in her too, even when she had held a gun to her head and told her to get out of the cupboard. That little brat had thought she was a good person.
Yes that was exactly what she said, sad looking, but a good person.
So why couldn’t Eve see that?
Chapter 26: But if you cannot see it, is it really there?
“But if you cannot see it, is it really there?”
Kenny pauses to shush her as the back door creaks open, and when he turns back his eyes are wide at the loud noise the rusted hinges make. He swings the torch in front of him to cut a faint golden beam through the darkness. It was enough to pick out a path around the abandoned furniture and cracked tiles. Villanelle snorts and grabs the torch off him. Then she pushes past, stepping right into the old building and waves her arms about to cut through the cobwebs over the half collapsed archway on the side of the atrium.
“So, is this it? The old Russia office?” She takes in a deep breath, tasting the stale air, “Yes, smells just like home.”
“Shush, shush!” He catches up to creep along beside her as though the unlit building and the thick layer of dust on every surface were all a smokescreen. “What I meant was, the old blueprints and the original blueprints didn’t match up, and there was an old storeroom kept off the records. It should be behind this wall.”
Kenny steps up to it, still glancing around in the dark and leans forward to brush a hand over it. It turns his knuckles black with the grime when he knocks on the drywall. Behind it lay further evidence, stretching back across the years, and it was the final scraps of truth they need to link the Twelve’s players to the original seeds of the organisation.
“Here, allow me.” Villanelle shoulders past him and pulls out a hammer from her backpack. She drops a little curtsey in his direction before standing tall and drawing the hammer back. With well aimed, powerful swings she shatters the false wall and Kenny joins her with a crowbar of his own, wincing at the crunching sounds echoing off the damp, mold covered walls. The plaster falls in chunks, and the rotting wood splinters behind it to leave a musty smell in the air.
Once the hole is wide enough, she slips through and he ducks inside after her. “Is this it? Old papers?”
Villanelle's disappointment was plain to see, illuminated by the torchlight.
“What were you expecting?”
She looks around at the rows of tables and the wall of filing cabinets. Some of them hang open and there’s a skittering sound as a disturbed rat flees from the unwelcome visitors. “Something...more.”
“Yeah, don’t we all.” Kenny deposits his crowbar on the table and wipes down his hand on his coat. “This is disgusting.”
“Really, I thought it was a palace?” Her eyes widen as if she’s taking in the grotty room for the first time. “Let’s get your dumb papers and go.”
“You know what we’re looking for?”
She tips her head to the side to stare at him with wide, glassy eyes.
“Okay, fine then.”
They set up their torches and work in mostly silence, apart from the occasional strangled shriek from Kenny uncovering nests of spiders in cabinets, or a family of rats hiding behind one of the storage boxes. They pull together scraps from old memos and old meeting notes, linking the names that have been pinned to the walls of their own office.
“I’ve got another Martens here.” Villanelle flutters the paper in the air, “Your mother really got around back in the day.”
Although she had her back to him, she knows exactly how his grimace looks on his face. “I know. Just add it to the pile. We’re luckier than I thought, we’ve got mentions of Sergei and Katya over here too. And Manuel Javier.”
“Gibraltar Manuel Javier? I have three more papers here for him.”
“No, the Morrocan one I think, in a memo about Casablanca and projecting travel times of deliveries. Looks like they were running guns up and down the coast.”
“Fun.” Villanelle notes, and returns to her sifting.
The huff of air behind her was almost unnoticeable, however she had very good hearing and she couldn’t ignore the way it set her teeth on edge.
“What is your problem?”
“Nothing?” Kenny shoots back quickly, sarcasm laden.
She spins on her heel and strides up to him, slamming the drawer he had wrangled open. “You asked me to come here. To protect you from the big bad monsters in the dirty building.”
Kenny makes a disgruntled noise, refusing to look at her, and tried to open the drawer again. His fingers tighten on the groove in the drawer until his knuckles turn white .
“Do you like me?”
He stops rattling the drawer to look at her in horror. "Like you?”
Kenny parrots it back dumbly, and she’s half tempted to knee him in the stomach. But he turns and shakes his head.
“So you don’t like me?” She asks for clarification,
“No, I don’t.”
Her face is impassive and blank, and in the half-light its difficult to read her expression. She stands there, inches away from his face and he’s uneasy, unsure if she’s going to bare her teeth and claw her hands and leave him there on the ground like she’s done to so many others.
Only she doesn’t.
Villanelle just smiles and nods and turns away, and he feels like he’s had a lucky escape. Relief thuds its way through his veins and his heart stutters and finally returns to its normal rhythm
“Then why does Eve like me?” She whispers to herself, a frown creasing up her face. “She said I fascinate her.”
“She'd look for anyone if they did what you did. She was obsessed with finding you." Kenny’s voice gets swallowed up by the grimy walls but Villanelle doesn't seem to take notice and continued to jam papers into her backpack.
The work in silence, he fills up his bag and so does she. With a handful of perfunctory words, they agree they’ve got enough and decide to head back to the office. Villanelle lets him leave first, to step out into the clean air and so when she speaks, it’s only to the abandoned walls and the few, brave rats in the pitch dark.
“She said she sees something in me. But now I'm beginning to think she wasn't telling me the whole truth.”
Chapter 27: Remember, you have to remember
Remember, you have to remember.
She’s been telling herself that all the goddamn time and it was leaving scars in her head, burned in where the record hasn’t changed. Now her fist trembles when she goes to knock on the door and in her other palm, her fingernails are digging in around the plastic rope handles of the gift bag. She tells herself she's not afraid, but who's she kidding if she's not admitting she's been a chicken about confronting this.
“Oh Eve, come in, it’s too cold. Quick, quick.” Keiko flings opens the door swaddled up with her baby girl.
Keiko hoists her up higher and Eve falters for a spot second because the sight of little Hannah is jarring; she’s grown bigger since the last time she saw her, complete with a full head of fine black hair.
“I thought you might have been around a few days ago, but it doesn’t matter. It’s great to see you, Eve.” Keiko leads her into the kitchen and plops her baby down into the highchair and side eyes the mess around her before explaining, “We’re just finishing lunch. Did you want a bite to eat...or drink?”
“Just water’s fine. I can get it, don’t worry.”
Eve catches her breath and steps past her. She leaves the gift bag on the counter to pick a glass from the drawer and fills it up with cold water from the tap. On the cabinet above the sink is a shelf full of mugs, and she sees Bill's favourite, chipped and coffee stained, with a small ring of dust collected around the bottom.
Keiko sets about putting a final handful of apple slices in the tray for her daughter before leaning against the counter and watching Eve sip her water.
Eve coos at Hannah, and slides over the present bag. “It’s only something small.”
“The present.” Eve nods at it. “I would have come earlier...but we’ve been so busy at work.”
“That’s alright, she doesn’t know, does she?” Keiko reaches a hand out to brush her daughter’s hair back from her mouth. “I am glad you’re here.”
“Thanks.” Eve drained her water in the hope it would do something for her dry mouth but all it did was hurt her teeth. “I wanted to ask you something, about work...if you don’t mind.”
Keiko shakes her head, “Go on.”
Stepping closer, Eve fiddles with her cardigan zip before slumping against the counter opposite her, and forces herself to remember why she had gone there, willing herself to speak her question. It had been plaguing her late at night, just at the edge of consciousness, the question would hover at the forefront of her thoughts and play havoc with her conscious.
“I was wondering why I had taken this new job, with the Trafalgar office. And I figured it out for me. But I wanted to know what Bill had really been thinking, you know, when he left Frank’s department. He must have told you something...something more.”
Her words get quicker and quicker until she stops dead and the silence in the kitchen and the empty rooms above them threatened to crush Eve’s resolve. It was never this quiet. Not with Keiko and Bill. Together they were good at filling up the space. Between them things were full of life; drawers rattling, glasses clinking, odd noises of agreement and half sentences already finished before they were begun.
Eve bears it for as long as she can before more words escape her, “Because Frank was always a prick, and Bill could have left at any time. He didn’t need to have jumped ship because I was thrown out. That was a shitty excuse and I know it, and he knew it, and you obviously do too.”
“I know.” Keiko held back a sigh and instead reached for the tea towel and chucked it at Eve as something for her to do instead of standing there and wringing her hands. “But he did the things he wanted to do.”
Eve stares at her, trying to pick out a tell-tale sign that pointed the blame at her. When she can't see one, she needles on. She tries to keep the twist in her words leaking out, but it still sounds like a whine.
“He could have sat out a couple more years working with Frank and then retired. It would have worked for him. He didn’t have to leave.”
“What do you want me to say?” Keiko asks, looking past her to the little girl turning apple slices into dribbled apple mush. “I can tell you that he was tired of it all. He was, but the money was good and he felt he could help.”
Eve listens carefully, trying to hear the blame in her voice, but she can’t. Keiko was too practical for that, maybe even more now as a single parent. She hates that Carolyn’s words about saving lives echo here, that Bill had probably sat here with his wife and talked things through about a flying visit to Berlin, because he was the one with the contacts and Eve was the one dragging him out there. He probably played the martyr well, even promising to come home within a week.
Eve can’t help herself when she tells Keiko, “We’re close. I can’t say much. But we’re very close to finishing what we had started.”
Keiko nods and to Eve’s relief she doesn’t ask anything and distracts herself by opening the gift bag. Then it's like the air between them twangs and things shift back to the way they've always been when Keiko proceeds to quiz her on how her life had been going, and offering her a catch up on the little milestones Hannah had made since the last time they had met at the funeral. At first, Eve lets the conversation wash over her, but then slowly, she starts asking questions. As the afternoon slips by, she’s able to let her eyes linger on the squealing girl with her chubby fists and soft cheeks, who has her father’s ears and her mothers eyes.
Eve says her goodbyes as the sky begins to darken, citing the wait for the bus and the threat of rain. She pauses in the hallway just before opening the front door and imagines her friend standing there by the foot of the stairs, waving her off home with a wry smile and a bad joke about the bus.
Only this time it's different as she pictures him with a frown on his face and a hard look in his eyes, and it makes her stomach churn.
“I know, Bill. But I’m trying.” Eve whispers before opening the door to step back out into the world.
Chapter 28: I felt it. You know what I mean
“I felt it. You know what I mean.”
She leans in close to the woman, traces the line of the honey-blonde hair in a caress and then darts across to tap the image of the delicate nose. She is like peaches and cream, with spun sugar on top, delicious.
The glass clicks under her fingernail, and Villanelle smiles at herself in the mirror
“I used to, at least.”
She sighs heavily, with the realisation that it was a fleeting feeling nowadays. She used to get such satisfaction from murder. Her heart would drum out a tattoo, her blood would sing in her veins. Her lungs would flutter and every single nerve ending would be a spark thrown out from a fire, hot and golden and burning. There was nothing to savour anymore, the hunt had disappeared along with the postcards she'd sit in unbridled anticipation for.
“Now, it is different, isn’t it?” She acknowledges, her voice dropping low, conciliatory. “You are an unhappy lady, and that will not do.”
Villanelle considers the reasons why, and it’s quite plain to see because they were the three things that encompassed her world. She could list them off in quick succession, cramped into one lungful of breath, “Job, flat, money.”
She could only remedy the last one, dipping her hands into open bags and pockets on busy trains during rush hour. One short journey, and her pockets would be much heavier. The shit flat was something she hadn’t even bothered to fix, having distracted herself with the first, the fake job, the way Eve had brought her into the fold of her team and tried to make her play nice with the others.
Her cheekbones catch the afternoon sunlight leaking in through the skylight in the hallway, and her breath fogs up on the glass. The sight distracts her and Villanelle swipes a finger through the moisture and then uses it to smooth back her eyebrow before quirking it higher. She always enjoys this little game with herself, looking for hints of betrayal behind her eyes, or a curl in her pretty lips. Her reflection only gives her what she wants, which is good, there is no betrayal here. Only herself.
“I like Eve. Clever, funny Eve.” She tells the woman in the mirror, as if she could scold her reflection on all the misgivings in her life. “But everything else here is all boring and stupid.”
The woman in the mirror scowls back at her, angry, annoyed, sick of everything and...finds there is determination lurking in the corner of her smile. So dependable. Her eyes flash and her cheeks heat up with the promise of excitement. She fixes her problems herself by breaking bones and flipping bad situations until there was a clear path ahead.
“I miss Paris.” Villanelle declares to herself in the dead quiet of her London flat.
The radiator clunks back, but besides that there is no other response.
It’s true, she’d give anything and murder anyone to be back in her own home, to have a new postcard pressed into her hand with details of her next job. Preferably with Konstantin giving that information, and not someone like the patronising bald guy she’d had to shoot. She could ever overlook the fact that her own blood had been split on that floor.
And yet...she’d burnt that bridge quite viciously after sending back four of the Twelve’s assassins in body bags. They didn’t want her back. She wasn't going to beg for them to take her back anyway. She would never do that. But she would never have to either, now that Eve's team had chased the Twelve around their usual stomping grounds and scrabbling for the shadows.
“I did that! Konstantin did say, Villanelle you are so special. I made it happen.”
She's beautiful when she looks proud, brimming over with a golden glow exuding from every pore. Her mouth twists up into a triumphant smile before she slides her finger down to smooth away the fine line under her eye revelling in the feel of the smooth and even skin the skin. She rests the tip of her finger lightly on her chin as she thinks on, caught up in a myriad of possibilities. Her eyes darken as she tilts her head away from the light, tasting the truth of her narrowed options on her tongue.
“But now what?”
It doesn't take long for the answer to float to the top of her thoughts.
So Villanelle stretches her shoulders out and scrapes up her hair in a messy bun before turning her attention to the bags of shopping around her bed, ready to sift through and sort what she wanted to keep.
Chapter 29: At least it can't get any worse
ohhhhh myyyy gooodddd, finally they talk. Villanelle is so evasive, I think this was the hardest chapter to write, but also the longest.
Also, sorry for the delay.
“At least it can’t get any worse,” Eve tells herself as she sits on her own bed and drains her mug of wine, until there was only a drop left that swirled around the bottom that would leave a stain for her to scrub out in the morning. “I think.”
Every time she tried to broach the topic, Villanelle would spin away, taking the conversation off onto a different tangent with her. She had shed her past like a butterfly sloughs off its cocoon, but it was like prying blood out of a stone to figure the reason behind her avoidance. Eve was sure that her answers lay trapped in the past like an insect fossilized in a shard of amber.
She was still looking for the woman behind the deadly smile, the woman who was sent to prison damaged and came out transformed. Underneath her marble exterior, there had to be something else. Every time she looked at Villanelle, she searched her face for a hint of remorse, or maybe doubt, something to prove that she was like the rest of them; everyone else who would feel a shred of guilt for taking a life. Or unsettled. Or maybe even a little put out.
But Villanelle’s entire identity was superimposed on her by others. A shadow cast over to hide her edges and dips. Eve sees it has left her with a hollow inside, which she has filled with largely superficial things but clothes can only do so much to distract, and the personal touches to her Paris flat with the golden taps in the bathroom couldn't truly change things. For someone who lived in the moment, Eve truly struggled to find Villanelle there.
“I did exactly what Anna did, didn’t I? Idiot! Stop dancing around things like a drunk elephant!”
She can’t seem to shake of the feeling of guilt, for doing something wrong. Her past year was a haze of things she would never have believed herself doing in any shape or form.
“Unique circumstances? Really? That’s what you’re going to put the blame on.”
Eve shifts in her bed, pulling her knees up, before reaching for the freshly opened wine bottle to drink straight from it. The liquid coats her tongue and leaves a bitter aftertaste. She flops back further into the pile of cushions and rubs her dirty socks against one another, peeling one off with the other foot and flinging them towards the laundry basket. It misses by a mile and she sighs at herself.
“Or am I...just tempting fate thinking like that.” Eve muses philosophically, “She’s here now. And believes me when I say I want to help.”
She groans loudly, letting it turn into a laugh and the sound echoes back around the emptied bedroom. Usually, when she used to do this thinking aloud, Nico would let her prattle on and on until he got tired of her circling a certain thought and repeated it back to her face straight up. He made a good sounding board even if he was clueless about her work. Now, she kind of wishes he was here if only to bounce a few more ideas off him to see what sticks.
Taking another swig on the bottle, Eve nails down that wish before it can gain any substance. She can’t ask Nico, because her world had narrowed down and he wasn’t a part of it any more, it was only her and Villanelle.
“I know she’s hiding something, protecting herself about something . I just need to figure it out.”
There's a buzzing noise somewhere underneath the covers and she’s distracted by the scramble for her phone.
“It's you! Were your ears burning? No, but I have got a bottle here. Come over if you want?”
Eve hangs up and tosses the phone back on the bed so that it sinks into the duvet. She turns her nose up at the wine and and decides on making herself a mug of coffee. She rehearses her words as she pours the milk in and shuffles back to her still-warm spot. The heady, nutty roast shakes off some of her tiredness and she finds her thoughts pulling together. No less than fifteen minutes later there's a creak on the stairs and she hangs off the bed to look out onto the landing with a mock scowl on her face that pulls her sharp eyebrows together.
“Didn't I give you a key?”
Villanelle feigns ignorance with a wide eyed, surprised look as she replies, “No, but I did use the front door and I took off my shoes.”
“Well done you.” Eve rolls her eyes and lolls back on the bed. “That’s something we can work on, maybe.”
“When would I need a key?”
Villanelle smiles in the face of Eve's confusion and then takes her invitation to sit down from Eve patting the side of the bed. She reaches over to take the bottle and sips from it while eyeing the mug in Eve's hand.
“Coffee and wine, Eve you play a dangerous game.”
They sit in a companionable silence and Villanelle inches closer and closer until she's leaning up against Eve's shoulder. Despite all of her directness, she's still hesitant about certain actions, yet slowly but surely Villanelle tips her head down until her cheek is flush against Eve's neck. The weight of her is solid and she's warm. Eve relaxes in the presence of a softness in her that's so rarely glimpsed under her flippant air.
“What do you want, Villanelle?” Eve asks eventually.
When she looks down Eve sees a flash of emotion crossing Villanelle's face, she thinks it looks like fear. But it was so quick she's not sure and feels like its only polite to put it down to the odd angle and decides to let it pass.
Villanelle blinks the shred of weakness away and instead hums as she looks back up at Eve, “I want...tapas.”
Shaking her head, Eve just laughs and takes her hand to pinch at her soft palm before clasping it in her own.
“Okay, I know, I'm being a dick.”
“Humour me?” Eve asks, knowing that Villanelle found it hard to resist the hint of a game.
The lure is bitten easily when she smiles and answers, “I do find you very funny.”
Eve shuffles closer, resting her cheek on her head. “Come on.”
“You know me, Eve.” Villanelle whispers back into her neck and sends her pulse thundering. “Because you can see me.”
"That's not all, is it?" Eve prodded further, wanting to get to the crux of it all in one go by wading straight into the chilly, uncomfortable waters and refusing to shift course despite feeling extremely cosy in her own bed.
Villanelle gives her a long, hard look and finally relents. Maybe it was her persistence, but Eve wouldn't want to take the full credit, because it wasn't all hers. Deep down she knew that Villanelle wanted to share her secrets, if only for someone else to appreciate her for them. It was the very same flourish she carried in every action she did.
“There was a woman in the same prison truck I was put in to take me out of the jail in Russia. She had an ugly headscarf, very dumpy looking lady. Anyway , there was shooting and the guard made the doors went boom and we got out.”
Adjusting the blankets as she waits for Villanelle to take a long sip, Eve watches as the wine paints dark lines when it runs into the fine cracks on Villanelle's lips.
“We found the incident report for that, she was dead at the scene. One of the many casualties.” Eve interrupts, wanting to fill the silence.
Villanelle nods before continuing, “We got out and the other prisoner was looking around. Big eyes, mouth hanging open. She was in shock. I told her to run, there was enough time, I thought I was being nice . But guess what she said to me?”
“I don't want to be free. Can you believe that? She got shot in the head by the woman who was pretending to be the guard. I don't want to be free.” Villanelle mocked, screwing her face up in disgust.
Eve doesn't dare to hold her breath now that she thinks she's found what she was looking for and simply asks the first thing that comes to her mind. “Is that what you want? To be free?”
Villanelle is slow to nod, but she does without another word. Eve feels her shoulders against her chest and how they've tightened, like a compressed spring. She's clamped down on herself, unwilling to give another inch when she's taken so many steps in a different direction, but Eve wasn't willing to turn back.
Rock, meet hard place. We'll have a whale of a time.
“You know the Twelve won't be able to look for you now. You're practically as safe as could be here working for MI6. They're running for the hills. I'll back you, you know. They won't bring you in, not now we've bargained for a clean slate.” She pauses, watching Villanelle finish off the wine and deposit the bottle on her bedside cabinet. “But that's not what you meant, is it...to be free? What is it that you want?”
It's easy to offer the question up. But it's unnerving to see Villanelle's mouth opening and closing wordlessly, a childlike reaction to avoiding a question, and she slumps further down until she's lying flat on the bed beside Eve with her eyes shut.
“You must want something.”
Eve places her empty mug on the other side of the bed before wriggling down into the covers to lie beside her. Her voice grows quieter and she reaches out a hand to brush back some soft strands of blonde hair away from Villanelle's face. She's stripped down, and behind it there is something raw and flinching and vulnerable. It’s the closest Eve had felt to her, and there’s a lurch in her stomach from finally being proved right.
But there's no reply and she's hesitant to let the silence slip back into their conversation and fill out the space between them. If she allowed it, then this would fall away and Villanelle tuck her secrets away once more.
Eve shifts so her arm doesn't get pins and needles under her head, and sighs quietly. “I think, whatever it is that you want, you could have. You're clever, you know that, I know that too. It must be something that's been on your mind.”
Villanelle doesn't open her eyes right away, but when she does speak, the words are exhaled like a long held breath. “Do you think I am good?”
It's a stunner of a question and she's glad Villanelle can't see her because her mouth drops open. She recovers quick enough to ask back, “What makes you say that?”
Villanelle's narrowed eyes flick open and the depths of them tilt and shift in the low light. Eve can see the long drop down, curtained by her thick eyelashes. She chews on her lip and then gives a tight smile.
“I was told that good people look sad, and because I was sad I must be good...or something like that.”
Eve smiles back and runs a hand down her arm, “You can’t be good, it’s not something that’s fixed. You could do good though, I think, if you wanted to.”
“Hmm. Childish things.” Villanelle’s lip curls up and she rolls closer to Eve, sinking into the drowsiness the wine and warm bed offered. “What do you want?”
On the edge of sleep herself, Eve draws the covers up closer as she mulls over her answer before whispering to the soft snores emanating from Villanelle’s half open mouth, “I think I got a piece of what I wanted.”
Chapter 30: Do we really have to do this again?
“Do we really have to do this again?”
Villanelle sat with her arms crossed and her back flush against the wall. She was irritated from waiting, being the last one of the team to go in, and even the knowledge of Eve travelling over to brief her before the interview with Walkes and Chisholm wasn't alleviating her mood.
"Because this is very boring. So boring I might die. Right here, on this stupid bench."
Eve flops down on the bench beside her, ignoring the sarcasm and letting her legs kick out. It was a shitty bench, whoever chose the office furniture clearly wasn't looking to extend comfort or practicality to the employees or visitors. She hastily unzips her coat because it was much warmer indoor than outside and huff out a sigh, “Hi Eve, how are you? Was the tube to get over here awful? Yes it was.”
When she only receives a slow blink from Villanelle, Eve just takes the easier route and answers, “Yes, because they want it all on record. You’ll have to tell them everything.”
“Everything?” Villanelle raised an eyebrow suggestively and Eve shakes her head, tossing her curls from side to side while trying her hardest to not imagine Villanelle spilling the beans on everything.
“No, not everything. Just, what we talked about before.”
“If you say so.”
Eve clamps back on the wavering idea and jams it away, nodding in agreement as if she really would take direction from her. Her stomach churns more, much more than on the jolting train ride, because they had all been pulled in to give their statements on how the investigation had unfolded and now it depended on Villanelle.
When Villanelle rolls her shoulders back, Eve watches because it looks like she’s readying herself for a fight. She catches her eyes on her and winks, before stretching her arms out for the sake of it. When she turns back to look at Eve, she rolls her eyes, "You look like you have to go answer dumb questions."
Her lips soften from a hard pout to a more gentler smile and she reaches out a finger to brush over Eve's fidgeting fingers.
“Will you come inside?”
Eve hears the playfulness in her voice exactly as she’s meant to. It’s a half-taunt, a sort of come and watch if you want, but she’s been careful about where she’s been treading. She knows better than to step into that trap.
The door in front of them swings opens before she can reply and and Elena walks out looking tired and drained yet with a glint of accomplishment. It reminds Eve that if she trusts Elena to do her job, she could offer the same level of trust to Villanelle.
Eve gives her hand a quick squeeze and lets it drop as she stands. “No, I’m not allowed. But good luck.”
“Luck? I don’t need any luck.”
Villanelle breezes past Chisholm who held the door open for her with a bored expression slapped on his face. His tie was loose and his suit jacket missing, making him look more like a harried lackey than an investigative lead.
A thought seems to catch hold of Villanelle and she pauses on the threshold to turn back with a severe glint in her eyes. "Will Carolyn hear this recording?”
Eve nods encouragingly at her. “Yes, it’s going to be used in a closed court.”
"So you have to tell the truth." Elena tacks on bluntly.
Eve ignores the two of them throwing glares at each other and tries to catch Walkes’ eye behind Villanelle. Sat behind the desk with two tape recorders to her left, the woman looked as though she was cut from marble, unflinchingly sombre and professional compared to Elena and Chisholm who were feeling the strain of the long day. There were three files on the desk in front of her and she slides over the closest blue one and flipped it open, tapping the desk with the end of her pen. Chisholm makes a noise to usher Villanelle in and she glares at him but bounds forwards, plopping down into her seat opposite Walkes, who barely blinked at the change in witness.
Walkes finally looks up when Villanelle leans forward to crow into the microphone, “Enjoy the hole Carolyn!”
Eve barely manages to suppress a loud snort and is relieved when Walkes heaves out a sigh and sits back in her chair. She fishes out a cigarette from her jacket pocket, and slips it between her teeth unlit and lipstick smeared. Chisholm shrugs his shoulders at the two women in the corridor before shutting the door in their faces without a single word.
“How’d it go?” Eve asks Elena as she sits back down on the bench and shuts her eyes. “Mine was pretty brutal.”
Elena slumps down beside her and drops her handbag to the floor to rub her eyes with the palms of her hands. “Same, but I gave as much detail as I could. They’ve got all the evidence. This is almost a debrief before they make their final moves. The information’s been passed out already, sent to every other external agency, Interpol... the cat’s mother...Eve?”
If she could see her own face, she’d know that there was something wrong with it. Elena was too good an assistant and friend to let it slide so she sighs loudly and thinks about her answer carefully.
“It’s nothing. I just thought...you know things would have gone better.”
“What were you expecting? Walkes to put on a firework display, a badge from the Queen?” Elena leans up against the wall and laughs. The sound is hollow and light and she can tell that the only thing Elena wants is a giant glass of wine.
When she catches her breath back, Elena shakes her head and carries on, “Kenny mentioned that yesterday, wondered if we might all secretly get a pay rise or something. I told him to jog on. What a dreamer.”
Eve pressed her lips together, “I wasn’t thinking of a pay rise. I was thinking about her.”
If her eyes could, they’d bore a hole through the solid wooden door and watch Villanelle giving her statement of events, explaining exactly how she’d been tracked down, how Eve had found her, and how she’d worked with Carolyn Marten’s unofficial team to doublecross the boss and use her to piece together other major players working for the Twelve, past and present.
“I’d tell you what I think, but you already know.” Elena quips, clicking her teeth shut and biting her tongue.
Eve rolls her eyes because it’s worth more than words and then caves, because what wouldn’t she give for a second opinion from her best friend. "I do know. But I know her too. And something’s off.”
“What do you mean off?”
Elena’s voice turns hard and despite how tired she was, Eve can tell she’s in analyst-mode, looking for answers and tugging on threads.
“I’m not sure.” Eve drops her head into her hands, not wanting to unravel here and now in the corridor, feet away from Walkes and Chisholm, and Villanelle. “But I’m going to wait for her.”
“Suit yourself.” Elena shrugs and stands, knowing when to let go. “But drinks are on you later.”
“I’ll buy you your own bottle.” Eve agrees and waves her off down the corridor, settling in to wait for it all to be over.
I’ve waited so long for this
Eve reaches out to touch the scrawled note on the mirror in red, red lipstick. It’s long dried and crumbles under her fingers.
It was clear to see that Villanelle had left without a trace but Eve had still ransacked the flat in her search, checked the drawers and cupboards, pulled off the sofa cushions. She had even gone as far as to strip the sheets off the bed in the hope there’d be a scrap of paper, a receipt of something, a ticket stub left behind.
There was nothing.
It was one thing to chase her down and another to play along with her game to make her stay in London. But what really felt like a suckerpunch was that Eve thought she had cracked it. Villanelle was obsessive, taunted her, and ran rings around the team. Despite all of it, Eve had thought that whatever it was between them would have been enough to keep her here.
Or at least for longer.
There’s no quiet chuckle, no honey blonde haired woman with a mischievous smile peering out from a kitchen cupboard having folded herself in there to hide. She was too good for that.
Eve slumps down in the hallway, boots brushing against the grey rug. As she pulls her legs close, she thinks if she’s only delayed the inevitable and tries not to feel the ache in her chest or the heaviness in her bones.
Would she only get herself killed, some new threat ordered by the Twelve? Or even a retaliation from a past assassination lurking somewhere in the shadows of London, or further. Villanelle had more than enough enemies by willfully pissing off everyone and anyone where possible all in her need to sate her desire to be acknowledged.
Those thoughts are easy to consider. They’re simple and obvious, and are cauterised of hope.
It still catches at her heart, those other quieter potentials. Somewhere behind her ribs, between the soft tissues and the traitorous lump of muscle, something else is tucked away. It takes time for it to emerge, and fights with Eve’s burning intentions to rise back to her feet and leave the abandoned flat. She could simply lock the door behind her and forget, having done what she’s done and there being nothing else to do.
She dares to breathe it alive, like oxygen to dying embers. It flickers and then flares, “Did I give you food for thought?”
Elena had once wondered, staring up at the noticeboard from her desk when they were working to connect the dots before Berlin. She was bored and tired and slumped over her arms with her nose touching the table. They had gone over various motives, picked apart all the sexually related theories and by god there were a ton of them. Only Elena had flung out another final caffeine addled thought, “Freedom. That’s something everyone wants, in some shape or form.”
Eve had dismissed it then as they’d rattled through the potentials, but it didn’t sound so much like a wild card now.
“Did you figure out what freedom means to you? Is that what you waited so long for?”
Again the empty flat remains silent and her thoughts bob around her head like merry-go round horses. She feels sick and dazed, and her wounded pride feels like an invisible welt.
I made you a promise once, that I’d kill the thing you loved most, Eve thinks as she pulls herself up to her feet.
The bare floorboards creak under her weight and then settle again. When she turns, Eve sees her reflection in the mirror; her crumpled face, pale skin, and messy tangle of hair that was dying to be brushed.
I really thought that your satisfaction was in your killing. Did I do that when I helped break your ties to the Twelve? Did I break your habits, make you think there was something else.
She asks her final question to the flat, her voice rising with anger. “Has it been the same since? Because I haven’t, you’ve changed me when I wasn’t looking. I’ve got blood on my hands and I let you in, to my head and my heart. That’s on you. It’s all us.”
Her words hang stale in the air and Eve chokes down a frustrated scream, realising that the only reply she was going to get for any of her questions was on the mirror.
The last part of the message that Villanelle had left for her on the mirror shudders when she slams the front door shut behind her in a bid to leave the taunting words behind her.
See you around, baby! X
At St Pancras, a woman with long red hair took quick strides across the platform and swung herself onto the train with only a small, black suitcase in hand. Her deep green dress swirled around her legs and the breeze in the air ruffled around her shoulders. She had enjoyed a glass of champagne from the small bar further up the platform before rising from her seat at the final call, and now she appraised her first class surroundings.
She caught the reflection of the conductor shuffling down the carriage in the window, making his final checks, so as soon as she sat on the plush seat in her private compartment, she took out her new fake passport and ticket to display it on the side table. Her lack of bulky luggage makes her look like a businesswoman on a quick jaunt across the water, but her dress was far from prim. Some things she couldn't change, other things she wouldn't want to.
She stuck her tongue out at her reflection and laughs at the idea of the woman in the window, only turning when the conductor slid open the the door open. It's a little surprising that she finds he looked a little like Konstantin with his grey beard and bulk, despite the boring blue uniform with the striped tie.
"Ticket please, miss."
“Natalie.” She handed over the paper with a soft smile, and he nodded at her, listening to the soft French accent couching her name. “I’m Natalie.”
“Well, we hope you enjoy your journey, Miss Natalie.”
The conductor churned out the words as part of the same routine he would use for all the passengers in the carriage with a clipped tone. He passed the ticket back after a moment, satisfied that she was sitting in the right place with a bland, professional smile.
“I will, and it will be very fun once I know where I’m going.”
Natalie flashed a perfect white smile at him and leaned back in her seat after he slid the door shut. She flipped through the papers tucked underneath the window, plucking out the menu to muse on the dinner options. Further down the carriage doors were slid open and shut, and people hurried up and down the passageway to find their seats. She ordered a bottle of champagne from a passing waitress and opened her bag to take out a fashion magazine.
Finally the train whistled and shuddered as it began to peel back from the platform. The sudden movement made her look out of the window and back towards the barriers where people huddled around the boards looking for announcements and sobbing farewells. Natalie squinted, running her eyes over the blurry faces and tried to pick out someone with a mass of black curls in a pale blue coat waving arms frantically to reach the train and screaming loudly, but when she blinked all she could see was a mass of colour at the very end of the platform. As the train picked up speed she turned away from the glass and smoothed glossy length of her new wig over her shoulders, taking the long journey to consider her future.
Yes last chapter! A month late but finally done.
To the bunch of you who subscribed, to all the readers and anons who left kudos and comments - thank you so much, it been super encouraging and honestly makes my day :)
I'm off to go read the books and wait for series 2!
Chapter 32: Coda 1
So, everything up until here was written pre S2.......and it’s surprisingly not as cannon divergent as I thought it would be. Maybe not in the same order, but I’ve got similar bits, whoo!
I can't help myself so there's going to be a handful of short Coda chapters, now that I’m caught up with S2, which will bring it around a little bit. I am also dying to tie up some loose threads.
"She looked at me." She ponders on the right phrase, spoon hovering over the next bite. Her eyes are lost in the memory of it all, Eve’s bright, dark eyes looming over her. Even just thinking about it could blot out the rest of the world. Then she sighs heavily and drops the spoon, pouting hard. "Like I was special."
Konstantin snorted and then smothered the noise with a sympathetic look. "You are special. I have told you that a dozen times. No, a hundred times."
Her long black hair slides over her shoulders as she shakes her head, adamant that it’s Eve, all Eve. "It was different. I don't know how to explain it, but she does think it. She always knew it."
There’s pride in her voice, something that even the hundreds of miles between them haven’t been able to erase.
Konstantin is insistent too. Insistent on being a drag, "But she never explained it?"
"No." She picked up her spoon once more. This time it had a healthy scoop of the chocolate mousse with chocolate sprinkles and she popped it into her mouth, her smile softening with the taste of the rich dessert. “But I know it. And she knows it.”
Konstantin drained the last of his coffee and set down the small cup. He looks like a rumpled old man with his untrimmed beard and raspy voice. Under the fluorescent lighting, his skin looks paler and the bags under his eyes are horrifically puffy. "Why are we here?"
"It's good, no?" She gestures at the half-eaten mound of chocolate on her plate.
"Why did you call me to Hamburg, in the dead of night for a breakfast chinwag. I had to take two trains to get here."
"Plural, for you." Her eyes sparkle with humour, and he frowns in confusion until she explains, "You have many chins."
He growled under his breath and slid his chair back, ready to leave. "You called, I came. And you are not in a position to make these kinds of calls. You're on the run from the Twelve, on the run from MI6. Technically, you're even on the run from me, if any of them found out..."
It’s part of their little game, she tugs one way, he yanks the other, and they see how long it can go on for. But he is grumpier than usual, even though he was pleased to see her waiting for him on the station platform. He had waved from inside the train. Well, not quite. But he had patted her on the back when she hugged him, arms wrapping around his bulk like old times.
Her eyes narrowed to slits and her voice turns slow and she drags out her words to hammer home his stupidity. "They're looking for Villanelle, not Natalie."
"You don't think they know all of your pretend names?"
"This isn't pretend!" She drops her spoon and it clatters onto the plate, noise ringing out. Huffing out a loud breath, she picks up the napkin and dabs delicately at the corner of her mouth.
"Fine. Answer my question, Villanelle."
"My name. Is. Natalie." She makes a show of looking around the coffee shop suspiciously. "Anyone could hear you. You really don't get this, do you? And no, you answer mine."
He leans forward, and his fist thumps against the white tablecloth. "No, you do it."
"I asked first!" She spits back, causing the two women at the table closest to them to turn their heads away and pretend they weren’t listening.
"You didn't, I did."
"I asked when you sat down."
"What? Which question was that?"
She laughs in delight and leaned back in her chair, "You're getting old."
Her gaze flits around the busy room and then away to the glass shopfront and onto the quiet street outside. All the boring people mulling around between the ornate buildings along the Alster are damp with the early morning rain. There are some brave tourists, battling the elements to take their snaps and equally some people trudging in and out of the train station to get to work.
A woman with black, curly hair fights against the wind to pull her hood up, and Villanelle watches as she round the corner with a wistful look. When she speaks again, it’s less of a bark and she’s lost most of her bite. "Do you think I should go back?"
"Because you think she thinks you're special?" Konstantin huffed and drummed his fingers on the table. "I told you, you could do so much better for yourself. But you get distracted, and sloppy. And you chase after shiny things. The dresses, the jewellery, the women."
"And the men.” She tutted and her hand slipped down to touch the buttery soft silk of her green jumpsuit. “I like nice dresses. I've always liked nice dresses."
"So what? She hurt you, you hurt her back. She lied to you, you tell bigger lies. It's always a game for you. And then you get bored. Or you don't like the rules." He splayed his hands out on the table, "I know you. I've seen you do it so many times I can’t even count them anymore."
She sits quietly, spoon replaced and resting on the side of her plate. When the waiter comes back, he whisks away her half eaten dessert without a squeak of protest. Her eyes glaze over, and she's gone again, drifting on thoughts a million miles away. It's like finding a shed snakeskin, all papery thin and interlocking armour discarded for some new disguise.
"Villanelle, why am I here?" Konstantin asks again as the minutes tick by, ever generous with his patience.
She blinks, the facade cracks. The wrinkles around her mouth deepen and crease downwards. He thinks, just for a moment, that she's not herself, like something else has crept into the shell or someone else is hiding behind her glassy eyes. Something soft, with an exposed belly or throat.
"I want to go back. You can make it happen."
"Back. I've been running for too long."
He feels the urge to warn her, just like old times when the lines between them were purely handler and assassin, not friend, mentor, annoying almost-child. "You want The Twelve to find you?"
"No, they won't."
This time she does argue back. It's not a childish prod or a whine. She tips her head down, suddenly realising her plate is missing, but once again her eyes lose focus, as if she's thinking on something too big to comprehend. She dredges the thought up, slowly but surely, and Konstantin feels the tips of his fingers tingle, thinking that this is not normal for her.
She seems more grounded, more comfortable in herself. There is the girl he knows, cresting on waves of mischievousness and sheer boredom, there was the younger girl he was put in charge of, hands balled into fists and an inhuman limit to her determination.
The woman who sits in front of him now is not quite either of them.
"They'll be hunting down Villanelle. And they already fished out Oksana from her shitty home and her shitty life. Broke her, poor girl." She pouts and bats her eyelids. When they reopen, they’re like liquid lava, deadly and undeterred. "But Natalie , knows better."
He gives in just like she knew he would. "If you are sure...I’ll help. What are you going to do?"
"Something I should have done a long time ago."
Chapter 33: Coda 2
Villanelle steps into the old house. It’s empty. The owner is out at work, the car gone early in the morning to avoid the rush hour traffic. Wiping her feet on the doormat, she turns and shuts the door behind her, listening for the creak of the hinges. It closes silently. It’s a new door and she lets her nails draw over the plastic, recalling the scratchy wood grain she once hated the sight of with every fibre of her being.
There are some things which haven’t changed, neither claimed by the obsolescence of the passing years or worn out from use. She heads upstairs first, back to the space that was solely hers. The wallpaper in her bedroom was painted over. Underneath the light switch, the wallpaper peels back and she picks and picks and picks until she can grasp it between her fingers and pull. It wrenches free and tears loudly. It flutters to the ground and she steps over it, taking in the sight of her old bed having been taken out and replaced with a large sofa, her wardrobe swapped for a home desk and computer. She walks across the small room to the window, hands drifting to the bottom of the windowsill and feeling for the indentation left by her head smacking against the wood.
Her fingers touch the dip, and her memories trickle back. She steps back immediately, rubbing her arms to rid herself of the goosebumps. A time long gone and a memory long buried. The other bedrooms hold no relevance for her. Children came and went and she made no effort to make friends with them. They didn’t either bother with her either, especially when she was confined to her room after stabbing a child in her class with a pen.
Before she headed back downstairs, she passed the open door to the bathroom. Her mouth tipped up into a genuine smile because it seemed like the new owner liked the old style enough to keep it. It was largely the same, the bathroom tiles a soft, dusky pink and the gold ribbon running around the room which had been peeling off during her time was now properly restored. The mirror was large, and she turned her smile to face it, just as she had done when she was a young girl, practising her different expressions.
Her lips twitch upwards, her eyebrows hang lower. Her nose scrunches up. Her chin is thrust forward. A frown, a look of tender love, a haughty downturn of her mouth, the steel in her eyes shines, the apples of her cheeks redden. In seconds she can transform from a young, innocent child, to a world-weary widow.
Her skin creases with the movements and when she relaxes her cheek muscles again, she sees the faint impressions linger on her soft skin, and there at the corner of her mouth, a wrinkle.
"No, no, no no." She rubs at it furiously, and when it doesn't disappear she raises a hand, fist balling up and ready to strike at the offending glass.
But she catches herself and leans in closer to the mirror, until her forehead meets the cool surface and her eyes are like tunnels that could lead to another world. If only she can slip past the barrier and step into the mirror. There, the world would turn on the axis she set. Everyone would play by her own rules.
In that world, little Oksana would not have been swept up to work for the Twelve. She could have cried a little harder, and apologised a little more. The jury wouldn’t have convicted her for the fire and the judge would have sent her to a nicer house, not a smelly orphanage run by a man who wanted to collect children so that he could collect the monthly payout from the town hall.
Her eyes water from staring at her own reflection.
“Oh, but what would you have done then? Little Oksana, Villanelle showed you the world, and that one little, teensy murder was something you got good at.”
A grimace creeps onto her face and her hand shoots out to grasp the bathroom tap. With a violent twist, she yanks it off. The golden handle is cold in her hand, but warms up almost instantaneously. She pockets it and then wipes at her eyes before swaggering downstairs into the kitchen. Here, she circles the room just the once. It too had been renovated. Clearly, the new owner wasn’t short of money if they could afford marble counter tops and a fancy coffee machine.
She stops in front of the cooker and reaches out to twist all the knobs on. It hisses like a nest of snakes. Then she finds a roll of kitchen roll and wads up a few arm lengths before jamming it into the toaster and weighing the toggle down with a heavy plate resting up against the wall. Closing the front door behind her, she shuts her eyes and breathes in the sweet smell of clear air.
On her way back to the rental car, she kicks and kicks and kicks at the small sign on the side of the front wall that notes the house was once a state-run orphanage until the plastic buckles and clatters to the floor.
Eve is woken from a deep sleep by her phone’s shrilly ringtone sounding loud in her ear.
“Stop, please, stop.” She tells it while fumbling around for the small rectangle hidden under the cushions and the folds of the thin blanket she had mostly kicked off.
It was the middle of a heatwave and far too hot to be sleeping upstairs. Even after opening every window in the house, and being half-tempted to leave the front and back door open despite living in London, she had ended up sleeping on the sofa because the living room was closest to the freezer and the stack of ice lollies she had stockpiled.
She picks up the call to a hesitant, “Eve?”
“Kenny? Why are you calling me at...three in the morning?”
He’s awkward about it, but quick to the point. “I’ve just picked up something on an old keyword alert. Local Russian news, gas explosion on the street. A single house was destroyed. It’s her old orphanage. Villanelle’s, I mean.”
"What does it mean?"
Eve swings her legs around and plants her feet on the cool, wooden floors. It does nothing to keep the shiver running down her spine, even though she’s already lightly sweating from the effort of moving. The air indoors is cooler than outside, but it’s still muggy and thick. She stands and heads to the sink, pouring herself a glass of water.
"If she’s gone back. If she’s behind the fire....I think it means she's starting over. Clean slate."
"Does it mean she’s she coming back here? Do I have to tell mum?"
"I don't know.” Eve replies honestly, feeling the suddenly exposed edges of the gap Villanelle left behind when she disappeared into the night. She chugs the whole glass of water and then sets it down by the sink. “Go back to sleep Kenny."
“Alright. I just thought you should know. Night, Eve.”
Eve frowns in the dark, feeling light headed and heavyhearted. Her thoughts spiral back down to familiar territory. Where is she? What is she doing now? where can she go? Is she safe? Are they looking for her? Will I see her again?