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I Could Be Better, But

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Villanelle has never been one for feelings.

As far as she remembers, she had them as a kid, felt all the highs and lows of having a fairly average mother and father.

But that had been before she had lost them. She can’t remember the last time she really felt anything.

She feels now, though, and it isn’t worth it at all.

For a while, she had wondered if she was missing something. If she was broken in a way that made her special, better. She is almost sure now that there is nothing worthwhile about love, or hate, or pain.

She can’t seem to find that place anymore, the spot in her mind that is cool and empty and numb. She had always hated it, fought against it with everything she had: violence, sex, food, clothes. Now she would give anything to find that echo in her soul once more.

There is too much in her head and her heart now. She walks away from the body on the ground and out of the ruins. Killing has always been a way of getting herself to feel something, anything. Even if that something was only ever power or the briefest, bitterest taste of satisfaction. Now she is reversed. She shot Eve because she wanted to stop all of this feeling. Her anger, her sadness, that thing she had begun to suspect was love.

She knew where they were. The ruins were a tourist site not as heavily trafficked as the Forum or the Colosseum, but this was Rome; everywhere is crowded. They must have gotten lucky, the area they stepped out into has been blocked off to visitors. Villanelle steps down a flight of stairs in tight Roman brick and joins a public walking path seamlessly. There are hardly any security cameras, any witnesses, she is a ghost if she wants to be.

The shot had been clean enough. It wasn’t a decision made through pain. In fact, it was the only thing that gave her clarity. Killing was what she was good at, wasn’t it? Her skill in ending lives, destroying things, that was the only reason she was in this filthy city. No, the pain she felt, this mess of conflicting, too-long-repressed emotions came before during their argument and now that she is running away.

She made herself pretend that this was a job. It had been her job once, hadn’t it? Konstantin had told her to kill Eve and she had refused him. If she wasn’t so mad at him now too she might thank him. Part of him had always had her best interest at heart, even though she had rebuked him time and time again. She couldn’t decide whether he had ever seen her as a daughter, as part of the family he had betrayed her for, or if she had always come in second place.

She is alone now. For real this time. Villanelle can remember distinctly every other time in her life when she thought she had been lost, left behind, abandoned. Had any of those ever come close to this? When her parents died she had been alone on the streets of Ekaterinburg, but it wasn’t long before she was taken into foster care and dumped into the juvenile detention system. In prison, she was monitored constantly. There was never a moment when there weren’t eyes on her, even when alone in her cell. That first prison had had a security camera pointed at her cot. No matter where she moved in that tiny room she was always performing for someone. When Eve had stabbed her and she had been forced to keep moving forward or die, Villanelle had thought she was alone. She had nearly died in that man’s house (his name entirely lost to her memory), but the Twelve had found her.

Not once in her life had she ever been truly alone. No matter how terrible the situation she had managed to get herself into, no matter how scared or hurt she felt, there had always been someone watching over her. And maybe this would be a good thing. All of those people, the government, the Twelve, Konstantin, Eve, they had all hurt her. They had all sat there and watched while she suffered and carried out the gruesome tasks no one else had wanted to do but everyone agreed were necessary. They led her here, drove her to do it, and she had risen spectacularly to the occasion.

Villanelle liked killing and not one of those people ever really understood that. Eve certainly hadn’t, no matter how much Villanelle had deluded herself into thinking they were the same.

Just outside the park gates, Villanelle looks around at the parked cars and the empty bus station. She could wait for a ride or break into one of the cars, but this area is too public. A walk might be good for her too, even if she is an hour away from Tivoli on foot.

The sun is beginning to go golden in the sky above, she doesn’t have to worry about sunburn or heat. As she walks and the road becomes narrower and rural, the trees that line the road grow with lengthening shadows. She wonders if by some miracle a farmer in a tracker will come by and drive her the rest of the way to the train station, but that sort of thing only happens in movies.

Instead, she takes off her shoes and walks the dirt road in bare feet. A car does pass her by while she walks, the family inside gawking at this stooping figure in a bright red jumpsuit worth more than their old sedan. She puts up her finger at them, but she can’t be sure that any of them noticed.

She puts her heels back on when the road turns to asphalt again, and she can see the city proper nestled on the side of a hill. It is still a long way to go, but she has made progress, at least.

Part of her wondered if, after Eve rolled over onto her side and crawled her way out onto the street, after she made her way to a hospital, whinging and sobbing all the way, after all of that, would Eve think about Raymond’s blood on her hands? The way his brains had splattered against the wall and dripped down onto the tile floor? The blood would dry up around her fingernails and stay there for days without a proper manicure, a reminder even in the sterile hospital environment that she would never really be clean ever again.

Maybe that feeling, those memories, would well up inside of her. Would tear through the soft, sinuous threads of her heart. She would try to forget all about it, would pray to move on, to feel nothing. But Eve wasn’t like her after all, she didn’t want to be. The pain, the guilt, would eat her alive and only when she was nothing without it, only when the horror of what she had done consumed her totally, would she really understand.

Villanelle wonders if she has been too sentimental, allowing Eve to live. Being shot and crawling her way to safety will be no picnic, it might even be a close call as to whether she will live or not, but odds are she will be fine. Tired, sore, achy, and with a little scar on her belly to match Villanelle’s.

She should have killed her, Villanelle knows that. It had been her only hesitation in the moment, whether to aim towards her stomach or perhaps a little higher, ending this for good right there and then.

She would find the courage to do it eventually. She had never lacked it before.

The road begins to grow narrower and narrower, until it isn’t so much a road as it is a trail or a path. White gravel crunches beneath her feet and she is almost certain that she is walking on the private property of one of these farmers. She doesn’t care. Her phone tells her this is the right direction and she is prepared to wave the stupid device in the face of any farmer who comes to tell her off. She has the perfect personality in mind: some version of Billy who can’t speak Italian and is going to do whatever she wants until someone physically carries her away. She is entitled and rich, without a hint of self-reflection.

When the trail becomes almost too small for even a single person to navigate and she sees the world’s smallest bridge arch over her route, she begins to doubt the way forward. It’s too late to turn back now though. Golden afternoon is fading imperceptibly to night and the road seems to run in just the one direction. She has to keep moving forward.

The white gravel ends with the introduction of a solid pathway. Not a road, but a set of stairs in asphalt with a wooden banister. Villanelle wonders if she has mistakenly started some kind of nature hike. She has never been fond of the wilderness.

The flies are almost enough to make her stop and turn back. She has her gun, she can always take her chances squatting in one of the barns down the hill. But as the steps even out at the top, she sees Tivoli on the hill, much closer than before and almost level with her now. What’s more, there is a main road up ahead. The park she found herself in has a trail that runs along the road and will lead her into town eventually.

Her feet are sore as the path winds downhill again. She considers taking her shoes off again, but the rocks are even less inviting than her heels. They don’t stop her from seriously considering those options for a good ten minutes. The change in pain might even be good, something to keep herself from thinking, which is all she’s been doing this entire walk.

Villanelle wants to cry, wants to scream and rage, but she doesn’t have that in her. Eve had said that Villanelle wanted her to be scared, wanted her to be a mess, but that wasn’t exactly true. Villanelle didn’t want any of those things for Eve, she marveled at them instead. Eve’s emotions ran so hot and so deep all of the time. They guided her made her do brave and reckless things beyond reason.

Villanelle had wondered even as recently as today, if there was any hope of them being the same. She has a desire to feel and to love and to hate. She has a desire for all of those sentiments that might lend legitimacy and truth to her actions.

Aaron Peele had been like her to an extent. He didn’t have a drive beyond his desire for power, control, and the intelligence to achieve them. But he wasn’t interested in others beyond their use to him. He thought he understood her, thought he could control her, and was ultimately very wrong.

She cares about others, wants to love and to hate them with an intensity that matches the emptiness she inside of her. Aaron would never have understood that. He loved his internal void, craved the silence of his mind and his heart. He had never wanted to change or be changed because, in his mind, there could be no one more perfect.

Villanelle wishes she thought of herself as perfect.

She can’t be sure how long it takes her to come to the decision, but Villanelle decides to take off her shoes. She bargains with herself; she isn’t going to walk barefoot on the sharp rocks, but she also isn’t going to wear the heels for a moment longer. Her bare feet pad along in the cool, soft grass and Villanelle thinks she might cry.

Another day, she might have mourned the state of her outfit. Her jumpsuit has sweat stains under the arms and at the small of her back. The pant legs are slightly torn and dirty from dragging along the ground for miles. A thorn bush along the way had ripped a jagged hole in the fabric on her right thigh.

Without a mirror to confirm her suspicions, she can only imagine she looks as bad off as she had upon returning to England only weeks ago. The thought of that ordeal makes her head ache. She can’t be sure if it is the mere memory of that incident that brings about pangs of hunger in her stomach and a whole host of other discomforts or the situation she finds herself in now.

She winces at the thought of her now-closed wound and keeps moving.

The path is no longer as rural as it once was. There are houses to her right. She passes dogs in a pen. A boy smiles down at her from a second story window. At the very least she might be able to prey upon someone’s hospitality in the near future.

There is a difference between her journey back to England and the path she is on now. She has funds of her own, she is in territory that she knows. This walk is a minor setback. Once she gets back to Rome she will be finally, finally free.

When the path turns to pavement and then to smooth black asphalt, Villanelle breathes a sigh of relief. She is back in a city once more. She feels at ease here, surrounded by people and cars. Another twenty minutes of walking means nothing to her so long as she is within sight of civilization once more.

She has been alone in nature before. When she was little, her father taught her to shoot a gun in a forest miles away from their home. He wanted her to be able to hunt with him, to protect herself, and perhaps one day join the military like him.

She had gotten separated though. The woods stretched endlessly around her. Dark gray bark all around her and a cloudy sky above her. She had clutched at the rifle her father had left her, a scared thing all of four feet nine inches tall with a gun almost as big as her.

She had felt abandoned then and she had been scared.

Her father found her after two hours and by the time he found her she didn’t feel much of anything anymore.

Villanelle cannot place that memory in time. She can’t remember whether that happened around the same time as her parents died, or months and years before, or whether it had ever happened at all. Wasn’t it just like the psyche of a young girl to invent fanciful situations? Wouldn’t it suit a psychopath to have had a terrible and tumultuous childhood? It was rare that she lent any credence to that recollection. She knew her upbringing had not been the best, she didn’t need to invent trauma.

But that feeling, that sense of claustrophobia in wide open spaces stayed with her. She remembered it as the pathway had stretched off into mountains invisible. It was why she breathed easier in crowded spaces, in the largest cities in the world that she had called home for a time. It is why she breathes easier now even with her aching feet and the empty pit in her stomach.

She passes a fountain and a playground. She swipes a candy bar off of a stand and goes unnoticed. Villanelle is in her element here, even if this is a smaller city than she is used to.

Before she knows it, she is up and over the river, on a pedestrian walking bridge high above the dark green waters. The map tells her this is the Ponte Della Pace and the name seems to fit. At the very least, her growing proximity to the train station makes her feel very peaceful, even if the picturesque bridge and flowing waters do not.

The station is right there on the other side of the river. She hardly has to search for it. With the money she has saved in her accounts she secures a ticket back to Rome in minutes.

The train arrives in fifteen minutes and soon she is whisked across the countryside. She thinks of Eve as she gazes out of the window watching ruins and graffiti pass by without notice or recognition. Eve would have had a much easier time of leaving the city, even with a gunshot wound. Likely, someone would have driven her to a hospital and within an hour she would be stable once again.

Villanelle wonders if Eve will find it romantic when she discovers where Villanelle put her new scar.

She is angry with Eve, of course she is. After giving the moment enough space and time to breathe, Villanelle isn’t worried about all of those pesky emotions that plagued her in the ruins. She sees her relationship with Eve as it really is: something bigger than the both of them, something infinite and inevitable. And if Villanelle is upset by the way things played out, all she has to do is wait for tomorrow or the next day. Because someday soon they will meet again and it is only a matter of time before Eve decides she would rather be hers.

Villanelle wonders if she will take Eve back when that time comes. She doubts she will ever feel as optimistic about their prospects as she had today. Perhaps that is for the best, though. She is more realistic now, more pragmatic. When they find each other again, at last, it won’t be the product of some fantasy.

When the train arrives in Termini, Villanelle is faced with the wide station platform and the whole city before her. She has nowhere to go, nowhere to be, no one to tell her what to do for the first time in her adult life.

Perhaps today is a day for optimism and dreaming because suddenly the whole world has opened up to Villanelle and the possibilities are endless.

Maybe she’ll go to Cairo, Villanelle thinks as she stops at an ATM and withdraws some cash for fares. She’ll see the pyramids, lie low for a time, blend in with the tourists. She has never been, but she has always wanted to go.

Or else, maybe she’ll travel to America. She has never had much reason or desire, but perhaps now is the time. She will go to Los Angeles and perfect her valley girl accent or maybe go to New York in the fall for fashion week. Maybe she could go to China and finally put in some time learning Mandarin.

She needs to hide. She needs some time away from Europe and Eve and the Twelve. She is young. She is smart. She can take care of herself. All she needs is a way to make money as she goes. But really, it isn’t as though there aren’t people everywhere who need the services she can provide.

She’ll make her way through online chatrooms. She’ll make her own connections. The world is as bright and open to her as ever.

And for the first time ever, she is so ready to be alone.