I adore you, can't you see, you're meant for me?
She chokes a little when she enters the bathroom. The steam rises in thick, sticky clouds to meet her, rushing right past her to leave her dizzy and disoriented. It takes several seconds for her eyes to adjust.
The first thing she sees is grey light streaming through the window. The second, is Eve, huddled and still in the ceramic bath. She’s turned away.
Villanelle watches the wet expanse of her back. It rises and falls in interrupted rhythms, but no sound comes from her.
Something heavy settles within her at the sight. It buries inside her chest like a wounded bird, fluttering hopelessly right against her breastbone. She purses her lips together and takes great care to shut the door as quietly as she can, waiting to see if Eve might notice her. She doesn’t.
She pads barefoot across the tiled floor, stopping when she’s at the lip of the tub, feet away from Eve’s curled body.
There is only a rippling stillness. The gentle slosh of water. The drip of the tap. Eve’s jagged, fitful breathing.
Villanelle follows the planes of her torso – she counts the glossy streaks that slide between her shoulder blades, the tips of her hair flat where the soap’s bled into them. She reaches for her, longs to wipe the skin there, resigned to curling her fingers around the cool ceramic instead, knuckles whitening with concern.
She watches Eve stiffen. It makes her wish she hadn’t intruded, hot with guilt and guiltier still, when Eve tightens her grip around her knees and buries her face in them. The bow leaves her neck exposed. Villanelle crouches to her.
“Eve,” she whispers.
She looks on as Eve shakes her head. She must be cold. The fine hairs on her arms are prickled with goose-bumps.
The water is frigid when Villanelle dips her hand in, just like she predicted, fingers curling and uncurling to chase the dying bubbles on the surface. She wishes she could appreciate it – the beautiful translucency of it, Eve’s thighs and lower back bare beneath it all, pale where the Roman sun couldn’t reach, waiting for Villanelle to put her eyes on them, her hands, her mouth.
But Eve’s nakedness brings a cracked, bittersweet feeling that Villanelle can’t name, a scrabbling, hopeless something.
She listens to Eve’s quiet sighs blossom into sobs, taking root from the base and rattling up through her until she’s crying and crying and God, Villanelle would take another stab to the stomach any day over this.
She lets out a heavy breath as she rises. The belt comes off first, clinking to the floor as she makes quick work of her blouse and trousers, a neat, red pile that she side-steps to get to the tub. She places a hand softly on Eve’s back, nudging her forward as she climbs in behind her, smiling to herself as Eve’s head flies up at the intrusion.
“It’s okay,” she steadies herself on Eve’s shoulders so she can settle down without rocking the water too much, “it’s just me,” she says again when Eve tries to scoot down, stopped by gentle fingers against her arms.
Villanelle feels the water slice through her. She focuses on catching her breath, the clawing cold soaking through her bra and underwear. She had thought, for a moment, about removing them. It hadn’t quite seemed like the right time.
She regrets it now, a little, chafing and uncomfortable even as she guides Eve to sit between her legs, her body slippery and moving, like a fish. It’s worth it though, for the proximity it brings. She holds on tighter, linking her arms around Eve’s torso.
“Don’t cry. I'm here.”
She’s not sure if that’s a good thing: being there. Eve certainly hadn’t given any indication either way. When she nuzzles her face into the sunken curls of her hair, Eve doesn’t flinch, and that’s something.
Villanelle rests in the soft darkness of Eve’s neck, inhaling the lavender from whatever bath product Eve had used, the cherry blossom of Eve’s natural scent, the metallic acidity of gun smoke and blood. She’d noticed it on Eve’s fingers, wedged in her nailbeds, the way Eve had stared at them with hollow eyes and mouth agape.
She reaches around to take her hand. It comes away easily from her shin and Eve lets it be held beneath the water, away from view.
Villanelle squeezes her there, tight between her knuckles.
The morning stutters in jagged flashbacks, dream-like and crackly, growing more vivid the harder Villanelle focuses: the bang, of the gun and of the body hitting the floor; the glee she had felt knowing it was Eve’s doing; Eve’s brown, fevered eyes staring back at her; Eve’s body on autopilot, rigid in Villanelle’s proud arms as she’d guided her down the stairs; the distant, echoed footfall of agents on their heels; the slam of the car door and the thrill of it; the hot, hot, unrelenting sun and the stench it had carried.
Villanelle closes her eyes and ghosts her breath lightly against the curve of Eve’s shoulder.
The sobs wane gradually beneath her hovering mouth, Eve’s body turning loose with tiny aftershocks.
Between Villanelle’s vertebrae, the lip of the tub is sharp, digging in with the added weight of Eve reclining against her, but she doesn’t mind. She welcomes it – the physical pain it brings, the dull throbbing in her spine a distraction from Eve’s head as it tilts to rest against her shoulder.
They’re almost cheek to cheek. If Villanelle wanted, she could turn to brush her mouth against a temple, or an ear, maybe.
She looks on, silently. There are tear tracks on the high apples of Eve’s cheeks, flushed with humidity and exertion. Her throat bobs each time she swallows, out of sync with the pulsing of her carotid. Villanelle lets herself indulge, briefly, in what it might be like to kiss her there – would it help? Would Eve be angry with her? – then reminds herself, not now, not yet, not here.
She takes the sponge from the copper holder to soak it.
“I am going to wash your back, okay?”
Eve grunts – the only indication she hasn’t fallen asleep, though Villanelle certainly wouldn’t blame her for it. Murder – it can be exhausting, she knows. And pleasurable – Eve hasn't made it that far yet, clearly.
She works over the tight knots – dozens of them buried in the sinewy muscle of Eve’s back. She pushes the sponge, and then her thumbs, into Eve’s rotator cuffs, her paraspinals, touch turning soft when she reaches the notches of her ribs. She cradles her there, sure that bruises will later bloom from this morning’s fight, if they haven’t already. She makes a note to tend to them when the time comes.
She lets the sponge drop into the water and allows Eve space to lay back into her. Her chest aches when Eve reaches blindly for her hand.
“We will have to get out eventually,” she reminds gently.
“You will get prune-y.”
“After this morning?” Eve’s voice is hoarse, vocal cords raw from straining, “Honestly? I’m still looking for a fuck to give.”
Villanelle laughs out of sheer relief. In four hours, it’s the first time she’s heard old Eve, not broken Eve, her Eve. “Did you find one?”
“Not a single one.”
“Very good. Tell me when you do. I will keep you safe while you look.”
“I know,” Eve mutters grumpily. But her grip tightens and Villanelle lets it happen, finally flooding with some semblance of warmth when Eve pulls her forearm, snug and firm, across her stomach.