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leavin' a wake, leavin' a big, big scar

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1. Admitting powerlessness over the addiction

They say admitting you have a problem is the first step. True to form, it takes Villanelle quite some time to admit, even to herself, that she might, just possibly, have the tiniest of problems. Maybe.

She leaves Eve face-down in the dust under the Tivoli sun and slips off her heels as she heads back the way they came. There is simply no way that she’s going to attempt to navigate her way back to the hotel in three-inch stilettos.

It’s not terribly warm in Italy this time of the year, but the Villa Adriana doesn’t have a lot of shady areas and the midday sun beating down on her has Villanelle sweating profusely and singularly along the center of her back in no time. She can only walk so fast in bare feet, but she pushes herself probably more than is advisable and makes it back to more familiar cobblestone streets in no time.

The getaway car is still parked right where she left it and Villanelle allows herself a small smile as she unlocks the door and slides into the driver’s seat, tossing her heels somewhere on the floor on the passenger’s side. She slides the gun out of her waistband and counts the remaining bullets before shoving it into the glovebox.

It isn’t until she’s already well on her way, heading north on the E45, that she actually has time to sit back and reflect on the events of the past few days. Unbidden, the image of Eve lying prone amidst the ruins rises to the forefront of her mind. She had looked so small, sprawled there like a broken-winged baby bird, beautiful hair haloed around her head. When Villanelle turned to leave, the blood was just starting to pool.

She wonders now if Eve had still been conscious at that point, what she had felt in that exact moment – fear or anger or something else entirely. She wonders if it hurt, which is stupid because of course it did. Villanelle’s been shot before, she should know. She wonders what Eve would have been thinking in the last few moments before she blacked out. Could she hear the click-clacking of Villanelle’s heels as she walked away? Could she feel the blood, warm and sticky and clinging to her god-awful turtleneck?

The speedometer nudges past 110 kph for a split second as something akin to outright panic bolts through Villanelle, jolting along her nerve endings and tying her stomach in knots. Because it’s just now hitting her, what she did.

She shot Eve in the back and left her there in the middle of nowhere, without so much as checking for a pulse.

Villanelle isn’t a psychopath, thank you very much, but even she would admit that her moral compass is often in horrific disarray. Yet she’s never once felt an emotion so strongly it threatens to give her a heart attack on the motorway. It seems that, no matter how injured and/or possibly dead Eve is, she manages to make Villanelle question everything she ever thought she knew about herself, even from two provinces and an hour away.

Villanelle has absolutely no idea what to do in this situation. It’s not like she can just turn the car around, speed back to where she left Eve bleeding out in the ruins of the home of some guy who introduced fucking beards to the Roman Empire.

There’s nothing left for her to do but dial 112 and phone the police or an ambulance or somebody to go and find Eve. Provided she’s still alive and breathing, that is, which is a thought that makes Villanelle’s breath stutter and her own heart beat a little faster in her chest.

She speaks to the dispatcher in broken Italian, which is ridiculous because Villanelle’s been fluent for at least a decade, then snaps the burner phone shut and tosses it over her shoulder onto the pavement rushing by under her wheels.

It’s jarring how upset she feels. How topsy-turvy with emotion, like her entire center of balance has been thrown off. She tries to pin down exactly what it is that’s making her feel this way. Is it because she shot Eve? Possibly, but Eve deserved to be hurt, what with all the horrible things she was saying.

Is it because she lost her temper? No, it can’t be that – Villanelle loses her temper on a near-daily basis. It just comes with the job.

Is it because she abandoned Eve, left her for dead with a gut shot in a foreign country? Just the thought makes her heart twinge again, painfully, so Villanelle marks it down as a maybe.

Underlying it all is the terrible feeling that she did something bad. Something morally reprehensible and just plain wrong. Something she’s not sure if she can come back from. And, oh. Maybe that’s it.

Villanelle thinks back to the events leading up to her shooting Eve. She thinks about saying “I love you” and Eve replying with a firm “No,” supplemented with an equally painful “You don’t understand what that is.” That had hurt dreadfully. Because no, Villanelle didn’t often understand human emotions, up to and including love. But something had changed recently. A door flung open. A light switch flipped on. The creak of old shutters being prized apart at the end of a long winter.

She did feel something now. She wasn’t yet sure what it was, but the closest word she had for it was love and the obvious object of her affection was Eve. Ergo, the “I love you.”

Frankly, Villanelle wishes she didn’t feel anything at all. She wishes Eve had put the hammer down and stepped away, had never cracked open the concrete box around her heart. Villanelle wishes she herself were stronger. She wishes she had stepped back and away, had left that Asian woman with amazing hair where she belonged – in a hospital bathroom, in Villanelle’s imagination, in her own safe, little life.

Villanelle realizes that something has to change. Whatever that something is, she doesn’t know. But she thinks now, with perfect clarity, that she’s taken a misstep somewhere and she needs to make amends for it. If she can’t fix her own life, rebuild herself and apologize to Eve – God, does she hope she’s still alive – and all the other things that come with “being a better person” as the self-help books say, then she needs to find someone who can do it for her.

Or, because the thought of asking for help makes her shudder, she needs to take some of the advice from those two whole AA meetings she attended, and get her shit together.

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2. Believing that a higher power (in whatever form) can help

 

So here’s the thing: Villanelle doesn’t believe in God. Which is a real bummer because like 90% of the stuff they talked about in AA was related, somehow, to A Higher Power. She knows if she wants to take any sort of guidance from the program and actually work toward being a better person (gross), she needs to figure out who or what she believes in first.

 

Her parents were Orthodox and so, as a child, Oksana grew up going to church once a week in a massive, grotesquely ornate building where she sat on a hard, wooden pew and tried not to fall asleep for a few hours. Sure, it was beautiful and serene and all that. But it was also deeply, horrendously boring.

 

Villanelle has been on the move for a few weeks now, crisscrossing her way through Europe on a meandering route back to Paris. If Eve is still alive, she figures, it’s best to be waiting for her someplace familiar, someplace she’ll know to go. She’d thought about London, briefly, until she realized, with a horrible sinking feeling in her stomach, that there was probably no way Eve could ever return to British soil. Not unless she was being extradited there for a murder trial.

 

It is with this in mind that she ends up at a public library somewhere north of Nuremberg and, at an absolute loss for what else to do, types the word religion into the searchbar. Google is infinitely, exorbitantly helpful and before long, she has a list of a dozen or so faiths that look promising.

 

She spends the next few hours in the library stacks, skimming through most of the religion section. Nothing really appeals to her but, all in all, it’s a rather successful day. She just hopes no stressed-out university student will be needing to borrow 12 Major World Religions in the near future.

 

Villanelle quickly learns that most religions, traditional or not, expect you to obey by a few cardinal rules. Chiefly, not committing murder. Or adultery. Or theft. Or a very long list of other things that Villanelle has certainly done, many, many times, and has no desire to stop doing any time soon. So that rules the majority of them out quite quickly. As does the fact that Villanelle could never be considered a natural rule-follower, someone made to obey and kneel and confess.

 

She almost swears the whole thing off, but then she gets to Paris.

 

Paris is as it always is. Which is to say, to Villanelle, it is home. French comes to her more naturally than almost any other language except for Russian, which she is adamantly opposed to speaking anymore. The hustle and bustle, the crowded streets and ancient architecture – it all feels so familiar and so right. As she ditches the car and walks down the cozy, cramped streets, she can actually feel her body relax – her posture is straighter, her muscles are looser, her skin, her whole being feels snug around her bones.

 

She stops at a bakery and buys a little box of macarons, candy-colored in pastel blue and pink and green, and eats them as she walks, one after the other. Gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins – she knows that now – but it just feels so good.

 

It takes the better part of the morning to walk across the city to her old apartment building. And even that is the same – once she steps inside, it is cool and dark and smells distinctly like old bones, like the wet earth that lives beneath the pavement.

 

Villanelle knows she shouldn’t be back here. Her old apartment was the closest thing to an actual home she’s had since she was maybe eleven. She technically wasn’t even supposed to be living there longterm, but she fell in love with it and stubbornly refused to hear Konstantin’s casually-worded suggestions that maybe she shouldn’t stay in one place all the time.

 

Konstantin was always worried about her safety. She wonders what he’d say if he could see her right now.

 

Of course, Villanelle reasons, this is actually the safest possible place for her right now. No one in their right mind – MI-6 or the Twelve or whomever – would ever expect her to return to the scene of the crime, to move right back on in and keep living here.

 

Villanelle checks the names on the P.O. boxes, thirty different kinds of handwriting on tiny strips of paper, some curled and yellowed with time. To her dismay, the label on her old P.O. box has a new name on it: C. Adams, in a plain block print written with a heavy hand. Only one box remains label-free which, Villanelle hopes, means the corresponding apartment is vacant. Ironically, it’s the one right next door to her old apartment.

 

She wonders if the universe is trying to send her a message, if this is what people mean when they ask for a sign from some deity. If it is, it’s a little on the nose, she thinks.

 

The lock proves difficult to pick, but once Villanelle finally gets the door open, the room is completely empty. Good. She wasn’t keen on having to kill anyone today.

 

The layout of the apartment is exactly the same as she remembers, a carbon copy of a different time and place. She can almost envision herself coming home to find Eve hiding in the bedroom, broken bottles on the floor just over there, champagne bubbling into the cracks between the floorboards. She can picture herself where the bed would be, oozing blood onto her duvet.

 

Villanelle doesn’t have much with her, just some odds and ends picked up here and there over the past few weeks. It’s not enough to fill a suitcase, but she does what she can with it, folding her clothes and stacking them on the shelf in the closet, lining her shoes up by the front door. She’ll have to go furniture shopping tomorrow or the day after. And she’ll have to get a job or something because she no longer has access to her bank cards.

 

A job. God. Can you imagine?

 

Maybe if she gets another burner and calls Konstantin, he’ll know what to do. She’s really good at crying on command, especially over the phone.

 

Villanelle lies flat on her back on the bare floor where the bed should go, closes her eyes, and laughs – a good, long belly laugh that makes her stomach cramp and tears stream down her cheeks. Here she is, living in near poverty, and she’s never felt so content. It’s strange and wonderful, all rolled into one.

 

She wonders where in the world Eve is right now. Is she safe? Is she hurt, still? Is she cooped-up in a hospital bed somewhere, pissed off and raging at Villanelle for all she’s worth?

 

God, Villanelle hopes she’s still alive. She hasn’t let herself think about it yet, about the horrifying possibility that she killed Eve and that the rest of her (probably very short) life is going to be empty and lonely. Just a glimmer of it slips through now, just enough to feel like a steel rod ramming straight through her gut, a full-body explosion of pain and anguish.

 

She should know, she killed a man in Venice like that once.

 

Villanelle closes that door again, promises herself Not today. She wonders instead if Eve is religious, if she believes in any version of God. Villanelle hopes, if Eve is actually dead, that she’s in some version of an afterlife right now, hanging out with a Higher Power or some devil-creature, not rotting away in a hole in the ground or being autopsied on some mortician’s cold steel table.

 

She projects her next thoughts as loud as she can into the void-like vacuum space where thoughts go. Are you there, Eve? It’s me, Villanelle.

 

Eve doesn’t answer. Not that she really expected her to. Ghost-Eve is probably just as pissed off as Living-Eve.

 

Villanelle tries again regardless. I hope you’re doing well, she thinks. Better than me at least. I don’t even have a bed!

 

Maybe it will work better with her hands folded, some stereotype of supplication that Villanelle is very definitely not. I’m sorry I shot you, she says, eyes closed, head bowed. Please forgive me, I’m trying to do better. And then, because she doesn’t really know how to end a prayer with anything else, Amen.

 

Is it sacrilegious to assign Higher Power Status to a (potentially) still-living human? Villanelle’s not sure, but she’s also not sure it really matters.

 

Eve’s the only thing she’s ever believed in anyway.

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3. Deciding to turn control over to the higher power

 

It’s raining when she wakes up the next morning, that kind of torrential, biblical downpour that drowns out all other sounds with the utter force of its tap-tapping against the windowpanes. It’s the kind of rain you could lose whole days in, cocooned in the cozy comfort of being indoors while it pours buckets and buckets outside.

 

Villanelle takes her time waking up. (It’s practically the only luxury she can afford at the moment.) By the time she’s finally well and properly awake, it’s almost noon and her muscles are stiff and warped from sleeping on the floor all night. When she reaches her arms up and twists into an experimental stretch, all of her her vertebrae pop one after another like fireworks. Or fizzy candy.

 

Did you sleep well? she asks the Eve in her head. The rain was very soothing, thank you.

 

Eve doesn’t respond, but a cabinet in the next apartment over bangs open and closed, so she takes that as an answer in its own right.

 

Villanelle has about €1,000 left in cash, which is not nearly enough to survive on in Paris, but is certainly enough to buy her breakfast. She dresses quickly, which is easy enough with only three outfits to choose from, and heads out into the downpour to find a café. And also maybe to buy an umbrella.

 

You know I don’t like to beg, she tells Eve as she spreads jam on a croissant. But I think I need your help here. At this rate, I'll be broke in a week.

 

The door to the café slams open as a couple burst inside, rain-soaked and laughing. The resulting clatter of the bell shakes Villanelle out of her thoughts and she looks up. And, oh. There on the window, just below the embossed “É” of “CAFÉ” is a plain, white sheet of printer paper that reads “AIDE DEMANDEÉ - HELP WANTED” in a bold arial font.

 

Villanelle picks up her cup of coffee, thoughtful. Oh, Eve, she thinks. You never fail to surprise me.

 

It continues to rain for the rest of the week. The streets begin to puddle and flood as the sheer volume of water accumulates. When Villanelle shows up for her first day of work, she’s dressed to the nines in a milky white blouse and expertly tailored black trousers. She maneuvers in four-inch heels around sewer grates clogged with bloated newspaper and cigarette butts and holds her brand-new umbrella high and proud.

 

It turns out that working at a café isn’t actually as bad as it sounds. Villanelle works eight hours a day Monday through Friday and makes more money than she probably should, considering all she does is take orders and push buttons on the espresso machine. It’s not nearly enough money to live on – that is, it’s enough money for most people to live on, but most people aren’t used to buying designer clothes on a regular basis – and she knows she needs to figure out a way to contact Konstantin soon and bully him into giving her her old job back without siccing Raymond’s second-in-command on her. But for now, for this moment in time, she’s okay with just stepping back and letting life take the wheel. Or Jesus. Or Eve. It doesn’t really matter as long as Villanelle can just sit on the passenger side and nap.

 

The Eve in her head is turning out to be a good influence. And a near-daily dose of humor. One morning, after a particularly rude customer interaction, she says to Eve, Give me a sign that I shouldn’t find out where he lives and kill him in his sleep. The man trips in the doorway on his way out.

 

Another time, her new neighbor decides to start vacuuming at eleven p.m. on a Tuesday. Please make it stop, Villanelle begs. A particularly loud thunderclap shakes the walls a few minutes later and the power promptly cuts out.

 

They’re all little things, occurrences that could be written off as coincidence or chance, but to Villanelle they’re the closest thing to a religious miracle she’s ever personally experienced. So surely that’s reason enough to believe Eve has some sort of divine power over her.

 

And plus, Villanelle is tired. She’s had to be the one in charge of herself for so long, always prepared, always in control. It’s about time someone else made some of her decisions for her. If Eve or God or whoever it is wants to take on that responsibility for a little while – well, by all means, go ahead.

 

It’s freeing, really, to just… let go. To lie down and throw out her hands and say, This is your problem now. And so she does. She keeps on living her menial, normal life and lets the rest fall into place where it may.

 

Life becomes a cycle of work-eat-sleep with not much time left for anything else. She becomes work friends with her colleagues and gets to recognize a few faces from the regulars who come into the café. She falls asleep every night to the sounds of cars passing on the street below and her neighbor humming something indistinguishable through the wall.

 

And it’s just so… boring. It’s so, so good and everything she never knew she wanted. Thank you, Eve, she thinks. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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4. Taking a personal inventory

 

Villanelle has one four-room apartment with a bedroom, a bathroom, a kitchen, and some strange living room/hallway/office/dining room combo. She has a new lock with a deadbolt that only she has the keys too. No one else has tried to move in yet, but she’s being practical.

 

She has a haphazard collection of furniture picked up from vintage stores before she had a job and from high-end furniture stores after she started getting a paycheck. There’s one four-poster bed and a heavy oak dresser in the bedroom, along with a dirty floor-length mirror in the corner and a handful of scatter rugs across the floor. She’s put up pictures on the walls and pretty little trinkets on top of the dresser. There’s a table and chairs in the kitchen, with a sunny yellow vase holding daisies to keep her company. In the living room, she has a sofa and an armchair, a coffee table, a television, and two bookshelves, plus a few other rugs and picture frames.

 

In her closet there are exactly seven dresses, twelve tops – six blouses and six T-shirts – and four pairs of pants, eleven pairs of underwear (only half of which are impractical, lacy things), two bras, three sets of pajamas, five pairs of socks, four pairs of shoes, two sweaters, and one multipurpose coat. There are also a few wigs and random items of clothing she’s picked up just in case she ever gets to try on a new identity again.

 

The bathroom is home to her carefully-curated collection of beauty products – creams and cleansers and makeup and bobby pins. She has two bath towels, two hand towels, and two washcloths, all in matching pastel pink. The shower curtain is blue and has little green cactuses on it. The bathmat is green as well and feels like fresh-cut grass on her feet every time she steps out of the tub.

 

The kitchen cabinets: two cups, two plates, two bowls, two mugs. Not because she really expects to have anyone over to her apartment, like, ever, but because she sometimes gets lazy about the dishes. The drawers are home to a handful of cutlery and not much else. The fridge is depressingly bare, a bowl of wilted vegetables and half a dozen various kinds of champagne the only things lining its shelves.

 

Villanelle hasn’t bought curtains yet. She keeps meaning to buy paint, too, and cover up the peeling wallpaper that lines every single wall, but honestly, she just can’t be arsed right now. Her only light source at the moment is a handful of half-burnt-out candles and the ugly fluorescent ceiling lights in the bedroom and bathroom.

 

Next door, there’s her omnipresent neighbor – Celeste, she discovered from looking through her mail one day – who Villanelle imagines to be an elderly French lady who spends her days knitting and warbling along to the songs on the radio. Villanelle hasn’t actually seen her yet (and believe her, she’s tried) but she can certainly hear her at odd times of day through the paper-thin walls.

 

Villanelle tried to break in once (just once, she swears) when she hadn’t heard anything from the apartment in a few hours and figured the old lady was either sleeping or out of the apartment, but when she picked the lock, there were at least three security chains in place keeping the door still mostly closed.

 

Paranoid old woman, she’d thought, a little angrily. But then, in a true What Would Eve Do moment, she imagined Eve chastising her. Don’t be a nosy asshole, she’d say.

 

Which, fair enough. So Villanelle reminds herself that she really is trying to be a good person and resolves to only search through Celeste’s mail once every week or so.

 

What non-material possessions does she have? Well, there’s the intricate knowledge of human anatomy, curated from years of killing people in creatively gruesome ways. And all the other skills that come with the job – the languages and accents and ability to morph her face into all manner of expressions. She has quite a bit of intelligence (if she does say so herself), a flair for hand-to-hand combat, and a tidy sense of humor.

 

What else, Eve? she thinks. What would you say are my greatest strengths?

 

Eve would probably have a whole list ready to go, though she’d be hard-pressed to admit it. Mostly things pertaining to Villanelle’s skillset and her ability to do her job without leaving a paper trail – well, at least until Eve got all up in her business. She might even begrudgingly admit that Villanelle is beautiful, but only at gunpoint.

 

Well. Enough other people have called her pretty, so it’s no skin off her teeth if Eve doesn’t say it too. But oh, how Villanelle wishes she would.

 

Villanelle has a couple hundred Euro to her name, which is an obscenely pitiful amount of money, but at least she isn’t (technically) broke.

 

Besides that… well, she’s got the Eve in her head. And Eve always looks out for her. Right? she asks.

 

She imagines Eve responding, Fuck off.

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5. Admitting to the higher power, oneself, and another person the wrongs done

 

Villanelle is not good at apologizing. She can, if she has to, especially if it will get her something she wants from the other person, but she never means it. Not really. She’s always heard that you have to love yourself first, before you can ever truly love another person. She wonders if it works the same way for saying sorry and figures, well, why the hell not?

 

“I’ve done a lot of bad shit,” she tells herself, out loud to the walls of her apartment. “I’ve stolen things. I’ve had sex outside of marriage. I’ve killed a lot of people.”

 

She shakes her head. “Maybe I’m just a bad person in general.”

 

Is that enough? It feels good to get it off her chest, at least. She’s sure there’s many, many things she’s forgetting – more trivial sins and wrongdoings she’s completely forgotten about – but it seems like a good start.

 

She decides to call Konstantin next. It’s been a few months, so surely he’s not angry with her anymore. She walks six blocks to the nearest, busiest railway station and cracks open the packaging on a brand-new burner phone. Konstantin’s number is Sharpied in bold, black lines across her hippocampus and she dials it by muscle memory alone.

 

It doesn’t even occur to her until the fourth ring that he might have changed his number or gotten a new phone. Or just that he might not want to answer a call from a random, unknown number.

 

Villanelle determinedly does not panic, only sending out a mental distress call in the form of Please, Eve, let him pick up. Thankfully, her prayers are heard and Konstantin’s familiar, gruff voice answers on the next ring.

 

“Da,” he says.

 

“Konstantin!” Villanelle lets a bubble gum-y girlishness seep into her tone. “It is so good to hear your voice.”

 

“Villanelle?” he responds. “Where are you? What are you doing?”

 

“I am well, thank you,” she says, in response to a question he (rudely) didn’t ask. “How are you? How is your family?”

 

“What do you want, Villanelle?” Konstantin sounds even more like a disappointed father over the phone.

 

“Answering questions with questions, are we?” she says. “Fine, I’ll get to it.”

 

Villanelle takes a deep breath. “I want my job back,” she says. “And I want to apologize.”

 

“For what?” Konstantin laughs. “You never apologize for anything.”

 

“For breaking into your house and for kidnapping your daughter and for locking your wife in a cupboard. And for shooting you. And for being a pain in the ass all those times you were just looking out for me. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done any of that.”

 

Konstantin is silent for a long moment.

 

“I’m sorry,” Villanelle says again, for good measure.

 

“Thank you,” Konstantin says finally, slowly. “But I don’t understand. Why are you saying all this to me now?”

 

“Because I’m working on being a better person,” says Villanelle. “I did… something bad, and I want to make up for it.”

 

Thankfully, Konstantin doesn’t ask her to elaborate. Villanelle’s not sure she’s ready to tell him about Eve just yet.

 

“Well, I don’t know if I can get you your job back,” he says. “You made some people very angry with that stunt you pulled in Rome.”

 

“Which part?” Villanelle asks, then laughs. “Just joking.”

 

“Yes, haha, very funny. I have kept them from coming to find you so far, but I think you will have to lie low for a little while longer.”

 

Villanelle sighs. “Fine,” she says. “I guess I’ll just call you again in another six months.”

 

Konstantin laughs, good-natured, but then his voice becomes very serious. “Stay safe, Villanelle. Okay?”

 

“I will,” she says.

 

“Good, good.” Konstantin goes quiet again and she wonders if he’s hung up. But then – “How is Eve, by the way?”

 

“Goodbye, Konstantin!” Villanelle sing-songs, then snaps the phone shut and tosses it in the nearest garbage bin.

 

After that, there’s only one person left to confess to.

 

If she’s being perfectly honest, Villanelle isn’t looking forward to this part at all. Ever since she left Eve in Rome, spread-eagled and bleeding out into the dust, she’s been pretty much trying to forget the whole thing ever happened. The glimpses that manage to slip through the cracks in her armor are enough to give her chest pains and, as a result, she has been keeping that Pandora’s box firmly closed.

 

But now it’s time. Villanelle blocks out a whole Saturday for the occasion, makes her bed and sits cross-legged on top of the covers. Alright, she tells Eve. Do your worst.

 

And just like that, the careful walls she’s been building all these months crumble like sand, all the demons hiding behind them flying out into the sunlight. All at once, she’s back in the ruins of the Villa, a flock of birds chattering off into the sky. The dry air, which felt blissfully cool just that morning, is now overwhelmingly warm. Villanelle finds it hard to breathe past the acrid wall of heat that’s suddenly settled in her lungs.

 

You love me.

 

No.

 

I love you.

 

No.

 

I do.

 

You don’t understand what that is.

 

She can see it all, feel it all. The incandescent, white-hot rage that filled her as Eve turned around and walked away. The single tear carving a path down Eve’s cheek like it was mocking her. The feel of the gun in her hand, its small weight sure and steady. The kick as she pulled the trigger. The bright blossom of blood on Eve’s sweater and the way she fell to the ground like a stone, like an ancient tree felled by one particularly well-placed blow.

 

She remembers the anger continuing to pulse in her veins as she walked away, retraced her steps through the underbelly of the city. She remembers climbing into the getaway car and driving away – free, unhindered by things like love and loyalty. Alone.

 

Back on her bed, in her apartment, Villanelle finds herself clutching her chest, trying to claw her way inside and find the piece of herself that is making her feel like this, that is making her hurt so badly. She wonders if she’s having a heart attack, but surely she’s too young for that.

 

Help me, help me, help me. But the Eve in her head is silent.

 

Villanelle imagines her anyway, imagines her saying, You deserve to feel like this after what you did.

 

But I don’t want to feel, Villanelle replies.

 

This is what it’s like to be human, Eve would say. You need to feel things and sometimes they’re awful.

 

I’m sorry, says Villanelle. I’m so fucking sorry.

 

She opens her eyes (when did she close them in the first place?) and looks down at her hands, turns them over in her lap. They’re shaking, trembling really, and all of a sudden they feel wooden, unreal. She stares at them, flexes her fingers, and it feels like she’s pulling the strings on a puppet. Have her fingers always been that small, that far away? Are these even really her hands?

 

Villanelle pinches her wrist hard, just to feel something. It hurts, but not enough. Not like it should. She pinches harder, watches blood rise to the surface of her skin and stain it an angry pink. She thinks about going to the kitchen and getting a knife. She wonders if there’s enough of her left in this body to bleed.

 

Helplessly, irrationally, she thinks I’m dying. The pain, the regret, the thought of Eve being dead – it’s too much, it’s killed her.

 

All this time she’s been holding on to the belief, tentative as it is, that Eve survived. That she made it out of the ruins, somehow, and found someone to patch her up. That she’s still out there, thinking about Villanelle sometimes and feeling her own brand of rage boil her bones into soup. But what if she didn’t?

 

What if she’s spent the last six months decomposing in a hole in the ground? Or worse, scavenged and rained on and dried up by the Tivoli sun? Surely someone would have found her by now, reported her to the police. Surely they would have conducted an autopsy, discovered the hole Villanelle’s bullet punched through her body. Surely there would have been an investigation, some attempt to seek justice for this unnamed body.

 

Villanelle forces herself to sit with that possibility, just for a moment. If Eve really is dead, what does that make her? What is she supposed to do with the rest of her life?

 

Eventually, when she’s been sat there on the bed long enough, utterly paralyzed, the Eve in her head makes a reappearance. That’s enough, she says. You need to get up now.

 

So she does. She makes herself stand up and hobble on shaky legs to the bathroom. She turns on the shower and sits under the spray as it heats up, turns the dial further and further until the water is almost-but-not-quite hot enough to burn. She shakes and shivers until her thermoreceptors start to register sensation again and her body begins to thaw out.

 

Villanelle is surprised to find herself crying – silent, heaving sobs drowned out by the thundering of water on porcelain. Her tears mix with the shower water and drip off the tip of her nose, warm as blood.

 

Later, when she’s out of the shower and a little calmer, she almost paper-cuts her big toe on a sheet of paper someone’s slid under her front door. ARE YOU OKAY? it reads, in the same block handwriting as the C. ADAMS on the letterbox downstairs. The little note makes Villanelle smile, hot tears pricking at the corners of her eyes again.

 

Yes, thank you, she writes in cursive on the back of the paper, and adds a little smiley face before heading out into the hall on bare feet to slip it under her neighbor’s door.

 

That night, she lies in bed and waits for sleep to claim her. I really hope you’re not dead, she tells the Eve in her head. Eve doesn’t say anything back.

Chapter Text

6. Being ready to have the higher power correct any shortcomings in one’s character

 

Villanelle’s done her part. She apologized, she repented, she had a fucking panic attack for the first time in her life. Now it’s Eve’s turn.

 

“It’s your turn,” she tells Eve one morning, eating breakfast in the butter-yellow morning light flooding into the kitchen. “You have to forgive my sins or something now.”

 

I think that has to happen in person, Eve says.

 

Ugh. Villanelle really hopes she’s not going to have to break into a morgue.

 

She calls Konstantin again on her lunch break, this time from an honest-to-god payphone next to a decrepit-looking hotel. “Hey,” she says once he picks up, before he even gets a chance to speak. “Do you know where Eve is?”

 

Konstantin exhales through his nose, a sound unnervingly close to a snort. “Isn’t she with you?” he asks.

 

No. I have no idea where she is.” Villanelle pointedly leaves out the part about how she shot her and ran way to France.

 

“What? Villanelle – ”

 

She interrupts him. “I don’t want a lecture, Konstantin. I just want to know where she is.”

 

“I don’t know where she is,” Konstantin says. “But she must be very good at hiding because MI-6 has been looking for her since you two disappeared.”

 

“And the Twelve?”

 

Konstantin tsk-tsks. “They are not happy with her.”

 

“Do you at least know if she’s alive?” Villanelle asks. This conversation is going in circles and she’s starting to get irritated.

 

“Villanelle, you didn’t.” Villanelle remains silent. Konstantin sighs. “If she was dead, we would know.”

 

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Villanelle says.

 

“Just trust me. She would have turned up by now. I don’t know where she is, but I’m very sure she’s alive.”

 

“How sure?”

 

“I don’t know!” Villanelle can almost imagine Konstantin on the other end, rolling his eyes in exasperation. “Let’s say 90 percent, hm?”

 

“Good enough,” Villanelle says and hangs up.

 

She tries Eve’s home phone next, just for the hell of it. She’s not expecting anyone to pick up, so when Niko answers with a tired “Hello?” she’s a little taken aback.

 

 “Ehm, bonjour,” Villanelle says. “Est-ce Françoise?”

 

“I think you’ve got the wrong number, mate,” Niko says. “Sorry.”

 

The line goes dead.

 

Well, fuck. What else is she supposed to do? Eve could be literally anywhere in the world right now and Villanelle has no idea where to even start looking for her.

 

It hits her a good three hours later, home from work and idly channel-surfing on her couch. Oh my god, Villanelle thinks to herself. I’m a fucking idiot.

 

You really are sometimes, says the Eve in her head.

 

“Shut up,” Villanelle hisses.

 

But really, why didn’t she think of it before? It’s a long shot but it’s the best option she’s got. She tries to think back and remember if Eve had her cell phone on her when they left the hotel in Rome. What are the odds she did? And what are the odds that no one’s been able to track her with it yet?

 

Villanelle picks up her own phone with shaking hands and dials Eve’s number. The phone rings. And rings. And rings.

 

It clicks over to voicemail, to Eve’s voice saying Hi, you’ve reached Eve Polastri. Please leave a message and I’ll get back to you. Villanelle’s thumb hovers over the “end call” button, but then she hesitates.

 

What the hell, she thinks, and clears her throat.

 

“Um. Hi, Eve. It’s me. I don’t know if you’ll get this, but I just wanted to tell you I’m very sorry I shot you and left you in Italy. Um. I hope you’re okay. Please call me if you get this. Or visit me if you’re near Paris. I’m back at my old apartment building. Apartment 3B. Okay, um. Bye.”

 

After she hangs up, Villanelle throws the phone across the room like it’s a live grenade. She doesn’t know what’s worse, the thought that it might start ringing any moment or the thought that it stays silent for days and days until Villanelle is forced to admit she’ll probably never see Eve again.

 

She settles back in on the couch and tries to focus on a French documentary about World War II.

 

Later, while she’s boiling pasta on the stove for dinner, she hears a very distinct, very English, very pissed-off “What the fuck?” from next door. Somebody’s having a bad day, she thinks. Not two seconds later, Celeste’s door is banging shut and somebody is knocking very loudly and very angrily on Villanelle’s own front door.

 

“Une seconde!” she calls, turning off the stove and wiping her hands on a dish towel. The banging doesn’t cease, but rather escalates in both ferocity and volume.

 

Villanelle flips the deadbolt back and unlocks the door. “What – ” but then she is struck speechless, for perhaps the first time in her entire life.

 

Because.

 

Because.

 

“Eve,” she manages to choke out finally. “What are you doing here?”

 

“No,” Eve says. “What are you doing here?”

 

Villanelle takes a step back and Eve immediately steps forward to fill the void. “What the fuck are you doing here?” she repeats.

 

“I live here,” Villanelle says.

 

“Since when?”

 

“Since…? I don’t know, maybe seven months ago?”

 

“What,” Eve says again, “the fuck.”

 

“You’re alive,” Villanelle says, for lack of anything else to say.

 

“Yep.”

 

“You live next door.”

 

“Yep.”

 

“You’re calling yourself Celeste? I thought you were an old woman.”

 

Eve looks the same as Villanelle remembers her, only just a bit more murderous. “How do you know – wait, did you look through my mail?”

 

“Maybe,” Villanelle admits. “But only because I was curious.”

 

“I can’t believe you,” Eve says. “I should kill you, you know? An eye for an eye and all that.”

 

“I would deserve it,” Villanelle says, “after what I did to you.”

 

That gives Eve pause. “What?” she asks.

 

“I shot you,” Villanelle says. “I left you for dead. I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. You can do whatever you want to me.”

 

Eve’s brow knits together as she just kind of stares at Villanelle. There’s hurt in her eyes, pain and rage and mistrust all rolled into one and Villanelle would do anything to make it go away.

 

“Whatever I want?” Eve asks.

 

“Anything.”

 

Villanelle closes her eyes and waits for the blow, or the bullet, or the knife. Something mean and coarse and sharp. She is not at all ready for it when Eve kisses her instead.

 

It’s not a very nice kiss. Eve’s teeth rip a gash in Villanelle’s bottom lip and blood fills both of their mouths as Eve licks at the wound. Villanelle’s head hits the wall, her shoulder blades following not long after. It hurts, but she lets it happen because she deserves it. She lets Eve punish her for her sins.

 

When Eve pulls back, Villanelle says, “You can hurt me, if you want.”

 

“I think I already did,” says Eve.

 

Villanelle tongues at the blood welling up on her lip. “This is nothing,” she says. “Nothing compared to what I did to you.”

 

Eve’s eyes flash, sharp and dangerous. “Go to the living room, then,” she says. “Get on your knees.”

 

So Villanelle does, just drops down in one fluid movement. Eve comes to stand in front of her and places one hand on either side of her face. “I’m so angry with you,” she says. “I wanted to kill you.”

 

“You could,” Villanelle says. “It’s what you’re owed.”

 

Eve just stares at her, face fixed in a mask of impassivity, though her eyes continue to glint with a furious sort of fire. She thinks for a moment, calculating, then says, “Close your eyes.”

 

Villanelle does.

 

“Open your mouth.”

 

Villanelle does.

 

A cold, heavy weight settles against her teeth. Villanelle’s eyes fly open and lock on Eve’s. There is no poker face now, just unbridled rage lay writ across her every feature. The gun in her mouth moves further toward her throat and she gags reflexively, tears streaming down her face. Eve watches her as she fights for breath, tries to calm the fluttering of her muscles.

 

Eve slowly, deliberately clicks the safety off and cocks the gun.

 

Villanelle can’t close her eyes and she doesn’t know if that’s a good thing. Is it better to die with Eve in her vision, as the last thing she sees, or with her eyes closed and only the dark to keep her company? Please, she thinks, begging Eve or God or somebody. Please.

 

Eve pulls the trigger.

Chapter Text

7. Asking the higher power to remove those shortcomings

 

Villanelle has often wondered what it would feel like to die. She’s taken enough lives of her own to have some idea of how it goes down from the outside, but she has no idea how it feels. She figures she might be able to hear the gunshot, feel the bullet shove her head back and rip a hole through her skull and brain matter. If she’s lucky – or, rather, unlucky – she might have a few seconds to process it all before she loses consciousness.

 

She doesn’t expect to go anywhere after she’s dead. There might be an afterlife for some people, but Villanelle doesn’t think she’s one of them. She assumes it’ll be like going to sleep, there and then gone, alive and then dead, everything and then nothing.

 

But she’ll have to wait to find out for sure, because Eve pulls the trigger and the gun clicks and no bullet comes out.

 

Villanelle must pass out or something because the next thing she knows, she’s waking up on the living room floor with Eve staring down at her, face twisted in a strange combination of worry, guilt, and fear.

 

“What happened?” Villanelle tries to ask. It comes out more like “Wuh huh.”

 

“Oh my god,” Eve says. “Oh my god, I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have done that.”

 

Villanelle shakes her head to dislodge the cobwebs growing over her brain. “Did you shoot me?” she asks.

 

“No! Oh my god, no. It wasn’t loaded.” Eve picks up the gun from somewhere on the floor and shakes it a little, as if to demonstrate its lack of bullets. “I just wanted to scare you but that – that was way too far.”

 

“Oh,” Villanelle says.

 

“Are you okay?”

 

“Yeah, I think so.”

 

She reaches up and scrubs the back of her hand across her face, collecting tears and mucus and saliva and some stray blood from her split lip. “Ugh, I’m a mess.”

 

Eve doesn’t laugh.

 

“That was a joke,” Villanelle says, like maybe she just needs an explanation.

 

“I’m so sorry,” Eve says again. She’s shaking.

 

Villanelle works herself up into a sitting position. “Eve,” she says. “It’s okay. I shot you first.”

 

Eve does laugh at that. “You did,” she says. “I have a nasty scar.”

 

“Can I see?” Villanelle asks.

 

“Maybe another time.”

 

Villanelle reaches out and strokes a finger over Eve’s knuckles, trying to suppress the quivering of her hand. “I was so angry,” she says. “But I never meant to hurt you, like, permanently. I didn’t shoot to kill.”

 

“I know,” says Eve.

 

“I really do love you,” Villanelle says. “I’ve been worried sick that something went wrong and you were actually dead. I had a panic attack about it.”

 

Eve’s nose crinkles up in disbelief. “You did what?”

 

“It was embarrassing and I don’t want to talk about it.”

 

“Fair enough,” Eve says. “Are you sure you’re okay? Your lip is still – oh fuck, you’re like gushing blood.”

 

“It’s fine,” Villanelle says, dabbing at her lip with her pointer finger. “It’ll heal.”

 

“Well, yeah. But it’s like all over your shirt.”

 

Villanelle looks down and groans. “Ugh, that’s never coming out. I’m going to have to throw it away now. You know I’m not made of money, Eve.”

 

“You’re not?”

 

“No. I can’t use my bank cards anymore unless I want to wake up dead.”

 

“Wait.” Eve pauses and looks around the room. “How did you afford all this, then?”

 

“I have a job,” Villanelle says, defensive. “I work at a café. I’m what you Americans would call a barista.”

 

“What, really?”

 

“Yes, really.” Villanelle pouts a little. “It’s been very difficult on my own.”

 

Eve shakes her head, curly hair flying every which way. “I’ve been next door the whole time, you idiot! Why didn’t you try calling me months ago?”

 

Villanelle shifts her eyes sheepishly toward the floor. “I’ve had a lot going on lately,” she says. “I’ve been very stressed.”

 

Eve laughs at her then, an outright chuckle. “You’re ridiculous,” she says, but the smile she gives Villanelle is fond.

 

“Anyway,” says Villanelle. “You’re one to talk. Adams, Eve? Adams? Was that really the best you could do?”

 

“It fooled you, didn’t it?”

 

And, well. Touché.

 

“Not to change the subject entirely,” Eve says. “But did you mean it? Your apology?”

 

“Of course I meant it,” Villanelle says. “Believe it or not, I really am trying to be a better person.”

 

When Eve doesn’t respond, she elaborates. “I never wanted to hurt you, Eve. Not really. I lost my temper and I shot you. And then I ran away without even checking to see if you were still alive. I know you don’t believe I feel things like normal people do and maybe I don’t, but I do feel things when it comes to you.”

 

Villanelle is horrified to feels tears threatening to spill over her cheeks and blinks furiously to keep them at bay. “When I thought you were dead, it destroyed me,” she says. She has more to say – wants to say more – but her voice breaks on the last word and she can’t hold back the tears any longer.

 

“Oh, Villanelle,” Eve says. “Please don’t cry.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Villanelle replies, watery.

 

“No, no. You don’t have to be sorry.” Eve clutches her hand – the one not covered in twelve kinds of gooey bodily fluids – and holds it in both of her own. “Just tell me what you need from me.”

 

Villanelle looks up at her through a film of tears (and Jesus, when did she become a person who cried so much?). “Just help me,” she says. “I don’t want to hurt you anymore. Just help me keep you safe.”

 

Eve nods and grips Villanelle’s hand a little harder. “I think I can do that,” she says.

Chapter Text

8. Making a list of wrongs done to others and being willing to make amends for those wrongs

 

Villanelle’s list of her (major) wrongdoings is divided into two columns: PEOPLE I’VE HURT on the left-hand side and HOW I HURT THEM on the right. She went out to a store that sells office supplies and bought a brand-new canary yellow legal pad just for the occasion, plus a 12-pack of sparkly gel pens to make the task just a little bit more fun.

 

So far she has:

 

1. Eve:

- Killed her best friend

- Stole her (ugly) clothes

- Threatened her with a knife (twice)

- Pretended to poison her

- Threatened her husband with a knife (once)

- Also locked her husband in a storage unit and killed his girlfriend

- Let her kill Raymond (necessary but bad for her conscience)

- Shot her in the back, left without getting help

- Made her cry (??? times)

 

2. Konstantin:

- Kidnapped his daughter and locked his (big!) wife in a cupboard

- Threatened to kill his family

- Tried to shoot him

- Actually did shoot him (once)

- Said I liked Raymond better (a lie, but necessary – don’t tell him)

- Made fun of his outfits (multiple times)

 

3. Anna:

- Killed her husband (not good, apparently)

- ???

 

4. Targets for the Twelve:

- Drowning

- Stabbing

- Shooting

- Suffocating/asphyxiating

- ??? Threatened their families

- Torture? (not sure, ask Konstantin)

- Mutilation (rare)

 

5. ?????????

 

It’s proven more difficult than she expected to actually write an extensive list, and only partially because most of the people she’s wronged are… well, dead.

 

Eve stops by around noon with a paper bag full of pastries covered in chocolate and powdered sugar and a lot of other good things. It smells fucking wonderful and the fact that she knows it’s a peace offering makes it all the sweeter.

 

“Aren’t you supposed to be at work?” Eve says.

 

Villanelle moves the chewed-up pen from her mouth and twirls it between her fingers instead. “I’m thinking about quitting,” she says. “Today I am home ‘sick.’” She coughs twice for good measure. “See?”

 

“What are you writing?” Eve asks.

 

“Can I have a pastry?”

 

Eve looks down at the bag she has crumpled in her fist. “What makes you think these are for you?”

 

“Can I have one?” Villanelle puts on the full works: pouty eyes, protruding bottom lip, the hint of tears threatening to be shed. “Please?”

 

“Yeah, fine.” Eve tosses the bag on the little kitchen table. “They’re for you anyway. Mostly. I ate one on the way back.”

 

Villanelle gasps, eyes open in a mockery of surprise. “Eve!” she says. “You ate my present?”

 

“It’s not your present,” Eve says. “It’s not even a present. It’s just…”

 

“Just?” Villanelle prompts.

 

“Breakfast. It’s just breakfast.”

 

Villanelle stuffs approximately half of an éclair in her mouth. “Thank you,” she says, muffled by cream and pastry dough.

 

“Gross,” says Eve, but there’s a hint of mirth behind her eyes.

 

The whole moment feels so weirdly domestic. Villanelle is taken aback for the just the slightest, barest of moments as she realizes – really fucking takes in – the fact that Eve is here right now. In her kitchen, alive and breathing. Bringing Villanelle breakfast, of all things.

 

I love you, she thinks, blinding herself with the truth of the words.

 

But that’s something that’s still too dangerous to say out loud, so she compromises. “I’m making a list of all the people I’ve hurt,” she says once her mouth is no longer full.

 

“Why?” Eve, bless her, has the decency to not look completely shocked. But only just barely.

 

Villanelle shrugs. “It’s what people did in AA,” she says. “You make a list of everyone that’s been hurt by your addiction and then you make it up to them.”

 

“What’s your addiction?” Eve asks.

 

Good question. “I’m not sure yet,” says Villanelle. “But I think it has something to do with all the murder and the anger. After I shot you, I… it scared me, how blind with rage I was.”

 

“Oh,” says Eve. Her hair is down today (but isn’t it always when Villanelle’s around?) and she’s dressed for the cooler weather that’s fallen over the city. She looks… soft, and Villanelle wants nothing more than to bundle her up in blankets and just hold her for a while.

 

“So,” Villanelle says, but her throat is clogged with emotion. Ugh, she really is a mess. She clears it and tries again. “So, I’m trying to fix that.”

 

“You’re not going to kill people anymore?” Eve asks.

 

No, Eve. I’m just not going to kill them out of spite. Or shoot them just because I’m pissed off.”

 

“Oh,” Eve says again. “Well, that’s… good. I guess.”

 

“Yes,” Villanelle says, nodding.

 

She steals another pastry from the bag and takes a delicate bite. “Now, does waterboarding count as torture?”

Chapter Text

9. Contacting those who have been hurt, unless doing so would harm the person

 

It’s almost fundamentally impossible to talk to the dead, even for Villanelle. She might have a thousand or so unique skills that the average Joe only wishes they could have but, unfortunately, clairvoyance is not one of them. So in the spirit (ha, spirit) of making an effort, she rips several sheets of notebook paper into little one-inch by three-inch strips and writes on each the name of one of her… victims.

 

God, that makes her sound like a complete psycho.

 

Villanelle has, to be perfectly frank, killed a lot of people, which makes it pretty hard to remember the names of each and every one of them. For the targets whose names she can’t remember, she writes down a short description instead. Soon her bedspread is littered with these little papers, a snowy landscape of names and “lady with bushy eyebrows,” “man with six fingers on one hand,” “German???”

 

As she jots down each name, she sends up a silent little Sorry and hopes their soul or whatever has found rest. When she’s done – that is, she’s used up about fifteen sheets of college-ruled paper and can’t think of anyone she’s leaving out – she gathers up all the strips and scoops them into a big mixing bowl, then heads out to knock on Eve’s door.

 

“I need a lighter,” she says when Eve slides back all her chains and deadbolts. “Or matches. I’m not picky.”

 

“Why?” Eve asks warily, already moving back to let her in.

 

Villanelle shakes the metal bowl at her. “Making amends,” she says.

 

Eve has the decency to nod understandingly, even though Villanelle can tell she has no idea what’s going on. “Sure, let me go dig something up.”

 

“Make yourself at home,” she adds, almost as an afterthought.

 

The apartment is weirdly both exactly like Villanelle remembers and completely different. None of her stuff survived the Twelve’s purge, but the peeling paint and bumps and bruises on the walls are exactly as they were when she left. It no longer feels like her home, but Villanelle finds that she’s completely okay with that.

 

When Eve comes back with a box of matches, she asks with forced nonchalance, “So what exactly are you doing?”

 

“Making use of that AA briefing you forced me to read,” Villanelle replies. She strikes a match against the box and watches the flame appear, bright and angry, then drops the match into the bowl of papers.

 

“No, really,” Eve says.

 

“Yes, really,” Villanelle replies. “This is step nine.”

 

Eve looks shocked. “Step nine?” she repeats.

 

“Yep.”

 

“Like out of twelve?”

 

Yes, Eve. Don’t sound so surprised.”

 

They both sit and watch for a moment as the flames eat up the evidence of Villanelle’s misdeeds, turning them to ash and smoke.

 

“I’m proud of you,” Eve says finally.

 

Villanelle turns to her with a sharply-raised eyebrow. “Really?” she asks.

 

Eve nods. “I know you mentioned it the other day,” she sweeps her hands out in some vague gesture, “this whole thing. I guess I just didn’t believe you. Sorry.”

 

“It’s alright,” says Villanelle.

 

“Well.” Eve claps her hands down on her thighs. “I’ll give you a moment alone.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“I’ll just be in the bedroom. If you need me or anything.”

 

Villanelle gives her a soft smile. “I’ll be okay,” she says, and she means it.

 

Alone in the living room, she sets the big mixing bowl down on the floor. It’s starting to get a little too warm to touch. I’m sorry, she thinks as each little curl of smoke rises into the air. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. By the time everything is reduced to gray ash, she feels… lighter.

 

She feels forgiven.

 

Eve, true to her word, is lying in bed when Villanelle comes to find her. She’s got a magazine folded up between her hands and reading glasses perched at the end of her nose. Something in Villanelle’s heart softens a little at the sight.

 

“I didn’t know you needed glasses,” she says, instead of something potentially more embarrassing.

 

“Oh,” Eve says. “I didn’t hear you come in. Are you done?”

 

“Yep.” Villanelle smiles. “One down, a million more to go.” She comes to sit on the edge of the bed, feet tucked up underneath herself.

 

“Am I next?” Eve asks, folding her glasses carefully and setting them on the side table.

 

“Maybe,” Villanelle says. “I’m still not quite sure how to say what I need to say to you.”

 

“Well,” Eve says. “I’m sorry for stabbing you. And for putting a gun in your mouth and making you think I was about to blow your head off.”

 

“What?” Villanelle asks, bewildered.

 

“It was wrong and I shouldn’t have done it.”

 

“No. Eve.” Villanelle shakes her head violently. “I’m the one apologizing. This isn’t a team sport.”

 

Eve laughs. “Alright, alright.”

 

“You can’t just co-opt my moment!”

 

“Okay! Sorry, I was just trying to make it easier.” Eve is smiling, grinning really. Villanelle loves her so much.

 

“Enough,” she says, more to herself than anything.

 

Villanelle crawls over to Eve and swings a knee over her lap, straddling her. “Are you going to keep talking?” she asks.

 

“I don’t know,” Eve says. Her eyes are bright and dangerous and it makes something in Villanelle’s stomach pull tight. “Depends on what you’re planning.”

 

“I’m planning to apologize,” Villanelle says. She bends down, back arched like a cat’s, and kisses Eve on the mouth, soft and gentle. A caress.

 

“You can’t just use sex to make up for shooting me,” Eve says against her lips.

 

“Why not?” Villanelle very carefully, very deliberately, lowers herself down so her pelvis is flush against Eve’s stomach. She grinds down just the slightest bit.

 

Eve draws in a slow, measured breath. “Because,” she says. “You have to use your words.”

 

“Fine,” Villanelle says. She adjusts her position and grinds a little harder. “I’m very,” kiss, “very,” grind, “very” kiss, “sorry for shooting you.”

 

“Thank you,” says Eve. Her voice is gravelly, rough around the edges with arousal.

 

Villanelle brushes their lips together to whisper, “Do you forgive me?”

 

“Hm,” Eve says, and it is only technically not a moan. “I’m not sure yet.” She pushes her own hips up and uses the momentum to flip Villanelle over, effectively reversing their positions.

 

“Ask me later,” she says, leaning down to press a kiss to Villanelle’s forehead before clambering out of the bed. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got work to do.”

 

Villanelle’s midsection is cold without Eve’s weight against her. Head fuzzy with hormones and the taste of Eve’s kisses, it takes her a moment to catch up. But then –

 

“Wait,” she says. “What work?”

Chapter Text

10. Continuing to take personal inventory and admitting when one is wrong

 

Villanelle’s been up since five, working since seven. It’s almost noon now and the line of people and their coffee orders seems to be endless. She has a headache and a crick in her neck and she’s about four seconds from bleeding through one of the most heavy-duty maxi pads the pharmacy had to offer (“lasts ten hours,” my ass, she thinks), and the crush of harried Parisians might just be the thing to send her over the edge.

 

Just when it seems like there’s a lull in the flow of customers, the bell over the door chimes out, bright and merry. I’m going to kill whoever that is, Villanelle thinks before pasting on a bland customer-service smile.

 

“Just one moment,” she says from where she’s crouched behind the counter, “organizing” the display of baked goods and strongly considering just staying down there forever. Take a breath, Eve would say. Count to ten.

 

She does, fast. “Alright,” she says, standing up. “What can I – oh. Uh, hi.”

 

Eve looks up at her with a cautious smile. “So you really do work in a café,” she says.

 

“Yep.” Villanelle opens her eyes wide and makes a show of looking around. “Nice place, isn’t it?”

 

“It’s great,” Eve says.

 

“Are you going to order something?” Villanelle asks.

 

Eve laughs. “No, actually. I was just wondering - when is your shift over?”

 

Villanelle glances at the unnecessarily ornate clock hanging behind the counter. “Ugh,” she says almost unconsciously. “Like another four hours?”

 

“Love the enthusiasm,” Eve says. Villanelle just shrugs. “It’s been one of those days.”

 

“Right, well,” Eve says, shouldering her bag as the bell over the door chimes again and a gaggle of high schoolers come through, laughing and shoving each other. “I’ll stop by a little after six, if that’s okay?”

 

Villanelle nods. “Sure.”

 

It doesn’t even occur to her until after Eve is long gone that she has no idea why exactly Eve wants to see her. It doesn’t occur to her until much later, as she’s walking home and thinking about whether she should pick up some flowers or wine that Eve was asking her on a date.

 

Half-past seven finds Villanelle occupying one end of the living room sofa, Eve on the other side and their feet tangled together somewhere in the middle. They’re both a little wine-drunk, even with stomachs full of Italian takeout. Villanelle is learning very quickly that tipsy-Eve is a very honest Eve.

 

So far there’s been such enlightening tidbits as “My maiden name really was Adams and, yes, everyone in Sunday school made fun of me for it,” “I actually had a girlfriend in college,” and “I always hated Niko’s mustache but I never had the heart to tell him.”

 

It’s strange. Villanelle always assumed she knew most of what there was to know about Eve – more so than Eve knew about herself, at least – but she’s slowly beginning to realize that might not be the case. It’s odd to think about how little one actually knows about another person, how inaccurate their view of someone else’s life.

 

Villanelle wonders if Eve ever thinks about her like that, if she ever wonders what layers she’s yet to uncover. She’s almost certain she does.

 

“I’m sorry I made you kill Raymond,” Villanelle says some time later. And wow, it turns out she’s also an overtly-honest drunk tonight.

 

Eve sighs. “You didn’t make me do anything,” she says.

 

“Yes, well. But still.”

 

Eve sits up a little more, leans forward against her bent knees. “I mean it, Villanelle. I would do anything, kill anyone for you, okay? If your life was in danger, I wouldn’t hesitate.”

 

Villanelle feels distinctly chastised. She wants to argue, but figures it’s best to maybe let this one go. If Eve’s forgiving her for… that, she’s not going to push it.

 

“You should say my name more,” Villanelle says instead. “You don’t do it nearly enough.”

 

“Okay,” Eve says, laughing. “Villanelle.”

 

And fuck if that doesn’t get her a little hot and bothered.

 

Villanelle clears her throat and takes another sip of wine. “What else can I apologize for, then?” she asks.

 

“What makes you think you need to apologize for anything?”

 

“I know I do,” Villanelle says. She shrugs. “I’ve done a lot of bad stuff, ruined your life and all that. Let me just say sorry for something.”

 

Eve leans forward more, inhibitions lowered to the point of being nonexistent. She cups Villanelle’s face in two warm, slightly sweaty hands and says, very firmly, “You’re forgiven.”

 

“For what?” Villanelle whispers. She thinks she’s in immediate danger of forgetting how to breathe.

 

“Everything,” Eve says. “All of it. I forgive you.”

 

When she pulls back, Villanelle feels like she’s being ripped in two.

 

“Now,” Eve says. “What else do you want to talk about?”

 

“I love you,” Villanelle says. Blurts out, more like. And oh god, she’s done it now. “Sorry,” she adds.

 

Eve’s brow furrows in a way that reminds Villanelle uncomfortably of her mother. “Why would you be sorry?” she asks.

 

“Well.” How do I word this without pissing you off, Villanelle thinks. “The last time I said it, you… weren’t very happy.”

 

“Well, yeah!” Eve laughs, harsh and a little mean. “You had just tricked me into killing a man with an axe – ”

 

“I apologized for that! You said you forgave me!”

 

“I did,” Eve says, exasperated. “I do. I’m just saying, that was the context. That’s why I responded poorly.”

 

Oh. That makes a lot of sense actually.

 

“And,” Eve continues, “I was pretty sure you were just saying it to get me to do what you wanted. I didn’t think you meant it.”

 

“Well, I did.”

 

Eve looks at her like she’s searching for something in the lines of her face. “Okay,” she says.

 

“And I do now,” Villanelle clarifies.

 

“Alright.” Eve nods. “Alright then.”

 

The conversation turns to something else, and then something else again. They go to bed, eventually, in their separate beds in their separate rooms in their separate apartments. Villanelle wakes up early the next morning, something troubling her enough that she can’t go back to sleep. She stands at the sink as the morning sun creeps into the room and slowly washes out the wineglasses.

 

Oh, she thinks, watching dust motes swirl in the buttery light.

 

Eve didn’t say it back.

Chapter Text

11. Seeking enlightenment and connection with the higher power via prayer and meditation

 

Eve walks into the apartment one afternoon to find Villanelle lying flat on her back on the living room floor, eyes closed and focusing on her breathing.

 

“You have a key?” Villanelle asks.

 

“Yes.”

 

“How?” Villanelle cracks one eye open. “And since when?”

 

Eve sits down next to her. “Don’t worry about it,” she says. “Are you… napping?”

 

“It’s shavasana,” Villanelle says, sitting up and promptly giving herself a headrush. “I’m not sure yoga is working for me.”

 

“What exactly are you trying to achieve?”

 

Villanelle curls her fingers into air quotes. “Prayer and meditation,” she says. “I’m not too keen on actually praying.”

 

“Is this for your – ” Eve seems to have trouble finding the right word. “Thing?” she settles on, eventually.

 

“Yes.”

 

“Mm.”

 

“You know, I tried praying to you. Back when I thought you were dead or whatever.” Villanelle focuses very deliberately on casually stretching out her calf muscles for the next few moments, like she hasn’t just admitted something very personal and potentially embarrassing.

 

“Oh,” Eve says. “That’s. Um. Thanks, I guess.”

 

“You’re welcome.”

 

“Did it… work?”

 

Villanelle cracks her knuckles. “It worked better than yoga, that’s for sure.”

 

“Well, I’m sure there’s plenty of other things you could try,” Eve says diplomatically.

 

“Is that why you’re here?” Villanelle fires back. It’s a joke, but it seems to touch some peculiar kind of nerve because Eve flushes pink and looks away.

 

“Not entirely,” Eve says.

 

Oh, this is too good. “Eeeeve,” Villanelle wheedles. “Tell me.”

 

“I’ve just. I’ve been thinking a lot about the other night,” Eve says. “All those things you said, I – I realized that maybe what you said in the ruins was true. About me.”

 

“What did I say?” Villanelle asks with a touch of put-upon confusion in her voice. Like she doesn’t remember exactly what she said.

 

“You love me,” Eve says. “And I think I love you, too.”

 

The way she says it, Villanelle can tell she means it. Can tell it costs her something to admit. Villanelle isn’t sure what to do with the syrupy mess her heart is melting into. “Oh, Eve,” she says, because sometimes a joke is the best way to break the ice. “You came over because you’re horny?”

 

Eve stammers out something unintelligible. “Those aren’t words, Eve,” Villanelle says.

 

“Oh, fuck you!”

 

“Sure.” Villanelle makes a show of looking around. “Here?”

 

Eve sighs. “You know what? You’re hopeless.” But she’s smiling, so Villanelle knows she’s not really mad.

 

“You don’t need to be nervous,” she says. “Eve, you’re gorgeous. You try to hide it under your frumpy coats and your hideous sweaters but underneath it all…” she shakes her head. “You’re beautiful.”

 

“Shut up,” Eve says, and it’s so fond it almost gives Villanelle a headache.

 

Villanelle scoots over so she’s sitting, legs crisscrossed, in front of Eve. “So who do you want?” she asks.

 

“What?” Eve asks..

 

“Do you want it rough?” Villanelle asks. “Do you want me to hurt you? Make you bleed?” She curls her lip into a sneer and watches Eve’s eyes darken. “Hmm. Or maybe you want me to be gentle, tell you how good you are. You’re so special, Eve. Let me take care of you.”

 

Villanelle reaches up to push Eve’s hair out of her face, tuck a stray curl behind her ear. “Just promise me you don’t want missionary. I lost my massive collection of dildos when the Twelve cleaned out my apartment.”

 

Eve laughs at that. “Pity,” she says.

 

Villanelle nods her agreement, solemn. “Alright,” she says, studying Eve's face. Time to pull out all the stops.

 

“Let’s see. Maybe you want to play the professor and I’ll be the student failing your class.” She turns her voice tearful and nervous. “Please, miss. I’ll do anything if you let me pass. No?” She lets her next words come out breathless and shaky. “What about the twenty-five-year old virgin, begging you to please go slow, I've never done this before.” Sly and self-possessed. “The cheating wife whose husband is out of town for the weekend. What he doesn't know won't hurt him, right?”

 

Eve’s breath is coming quicker, her chest visibly moving even as she tries to remain impassive. Villanelle wants her to fucking lose it.  

 

“Come on, Eve. What do you want? I’ll let you do pretty much anything.” Villanelle starts ticking things off on her fingers. “Biting, spanking, choking. You can tie me up, you can call me names. Hell, you can stab me again as long as I get an orgasm out of it.”

 

“I want you to shut up,” says Eve, voice low and dangerous. “I want you to crawl to the bedroom and I want you to sit and wait quietly for me there. And then when I come in – ”

 

“Yes?” Villanelle is so excited.

 

“I want you to be yourself,” Eve says, gentle. “Just you, Villanelle.”

 

Later, sitting on the bathroom tile under the muted glow of the streetlights outside the window, Villanelle will get her chance for divine connection. For as real as Eve is – the actual, physical Eve she gets to see and talk to (and fuck, apparently) – she sometimes wonders if there’s some truth to the not-Eve that lived in her head for all those months.

 

Thank you, she tells this Eve now. I am so happy.

 

Villanelle waits. It’s a Saturday night, almost one in the morning, and every now and then she can hear a group of twenty-somethings in the streets below as they shout and laugh at one another. She counts out ten cars as they pass by, whooshing like meteorites down the dark streets. After that, she kind of has to admit to herself that the Eve in her head was just a figment of her imagination. A coping skill of sorts.

 

Amen, Villanelle thinks, closing out the connection for good.

 

She gets herself a drink of water from the sink, collecting it in her palms and slurping loudly like a dog. She is completely naked and it doesn’t feel strange at all. She’s so thirsty the water tastes almost sweet.

 

After another moment, Villanelle goes back to bed. Back to the warmth of Eve’s body against her own, the twin scents of sweat and sex still lingering in the air. The windows are open just a crack and the same noises as she heard in the bathroom drift up from the streets here.

 

Eve shifts a little in her sleep and murmurs something indistinguishable. Villanelle decides to talk to her – the real her – instead.

 

“Thank you for always watching over me,” she whispers to Eve’s sleeping form. “Please help me to be better.”

 

Eve snuffles and kicks her foot out, connecting hard with Villanelle’s shin. There's definitely going to be a bruise there in the morning.

 

Amen.

Chapter Text

12. Carrying the message of the 12 Steps to others in need

 

“You should stop drinking so much,” Villanelle tells Konstantin next time she talks to him on the phone. “I know you always have those tiny vodka bottles in your pocket. Don’t think you’re being discreet.”

 

“What?” Konstantin splutters for a moment. “I thought we were talking about you. Don’t you want your job back?”

 

“Of course,” says Villanelle. “I’m just looking out for your health. Alcohol does nasty things to your liver.”

 

“Villanelle…”

 

“Konstantin...” she says, equally placating. “I want you to be well. Is that a bad thing?”

 

Konstantin sighs. “No,” he says. “Thank you. I will… consider it.”

 

“Good!” Villanelle says. “Oh, is your daughter home? I had a few things I wanted to discuss with her too.”

 

“No,” Konstantin says firmly. “Absolutely not.”

 

“Pity.”

 

“She doesn’t need to hear any life lessons from you. Just keep your head down and I will call you when I have more information, okay?”

 

“Sure, fine.” Villanelle hesitates for a moment before adding, “Eve says hello by the way.”

 

“Is she with you?” Konstantin asks.

 

“Yes.”

 

“How is she?”

 

Villanelle looks over to where Eve is lying stretched out across the living room sofa, headphones nestled firmly over her ears. “She is fine,” Villanelle says.

 

“I’ll see what I can do for her, too,” Konstantin says. “For you.”

 

“Thank you.”

 

“Take care of her,” he continues. “Don’t let her break your heart.”

 

Villanelle laughs. “As if.” Then – soft, genuine (see, she’s learning) – “Thank you.”

 

After she hangs up, Villanelle stands in the kitchen and just kind of watches Eve for a while. Eve's been obsessed with audiobooks recently and she’s listening to one of the Harry Potters or something right now. Villanelle, for the record, can’t really get behind the audiobook craze. She ends up bored or distracted or too-focused on the narrator’s voice instead of the actual words, and then she has to go back and listen to the last section all over again, and by then all she wants to do is make a sandwich and take a nap.

 

It’s a whole ordeal.

 

Anyway. Eve is busy and Villanelle is bored, so she does what she does best and walks over to the couch, plopping down right on top of Eve’s shins.

 

“Ouch!” Eve says, yanking the headphones off her ears. “What was that for?”

 

“I’m bored,” Villanelle says.

 

“I thought you were on a business call.”

 

“I was.”

 

“And?” Eve tries to free her legs but Villanelle has them pinned securely. “Ugh, why is your ass so bony?”

 

“It is not!”

 

“It really is.”

 

Eve wriggles a little more forcefully and, because Villanelle is currently preoccupied with (and, frankly, a little hurt by) Eve’s comments, she’s able to successfully disentangle herself. “There,” she says. “Now, what did Konstantin say? Are you going to be working again?”

 

Villanelle shrugs. “I don’t want to talk about it,” she says.

 

“Oh, come on.” Eve sighs, loud and long-suffering. “Don’t get upset. I was making a joke! Your ass is great.”

 

“Whatever,” Villanelle says, flippant, like she doesn’t actually care what Eve thinks. But then, because she loves Eve, she acquiesces a little and adds, “He said he’s trying, but he says that at least once a week so who knows.”

 

“So back to the coffee shop it is?” Eve laughs. Villanelle doesn’t.

 

“Oh, what now?” Eve says. “Spit it out.”

 

Villanelle really, really doesn’t want to tell her. “I… don’t work there anymore,” she says carefully.

 

“What, like you got fired?” Eve fires back.

 

Oh, she loves Eve but sometimes the woman is too perceptive for her own good. “Unjustly,” Villanelle says by way of answer.

 

Eve tosses her head back and laughs, raucous and loud and full of mirth. “Oh my god,” she says. “What did you do?”

 

Villanelle sighs. “I thought it would be better if there were fewer people out there with a serious caffeine addiction, so I started giving everyone decaf. It would’ve been fine if my stupid colleagues didn’t snitch on me.” She crosses her arms and gives the floor a death glare, petulant.

 

Eve, to her credit, doesn’t laugh at her again, though her face is doing a strange dance as she fights to keep her expression neutral. “Oh,” she says after some time. “So you didn’t kill anyone then.”

 

“No,” Villanelle says. “That’s the job I’m trying to get. Again.”

 

“Well, I might be able to help with that,” Eve says. “I’ve been doing quite a bit of research and – oh, where’s my laptop?”

 

As she rummages through her bag and pokes around the couch cushions, Villanelle clicks her tongue a little and sighs. “Eve,” she says. “I think you might have an addiction, too.”

 

“What?” Eve pokes her head out from deep in the recesses of her bag, an expression of mild bewilderment affixed to her face.

 

“Your work,” Villanelle explains gently. “Any work. You don’t even have a job and you still don’t know how to quit.”

 

“You’re ridiculous,” Eve says. “Not everyone is addicted to something. Sometimes passions are just passions. What are you gonna do, take away my laptop and my coffee now?”

 

“Not funny,” Villanelle says.

 

“It kind of was.”

 

Eve finally locates her laptop and thunks it on the coffee table. “Anyway,” she says. “I’ve been working on getting your job back, so a thank you would be nice.”

 

“You’ve been…” Villanelle shakes her head. “What?”

 

“Well I thought obviously Carolyn’s got a role in the Twelve, more so than she’s letting on. And I figured there was always the Konstantin connection to work with. So I just,” Eve waves her hands around, “figured I’d lay low and contact her when it was safe and, ideally, get some semblance of my job back.”

 

“You want to work for the Twelve?” Villanelle asks.

 

Eve grimaces. “Not at all. But I do want to make money again and not have to worry about some hitman trying to kill me every time I open my door. So.”

 

“How have you been making money?”

 

“You don’t want to know,” Eve says darkly. Villanelle feels distinctly caught off-guard for the longest thirty seconds of her life, but then Eve laughs. “I’m just kidding. Savings.” She shrugs. “But I’m almost broke.”

 

Villanelle raises an eyebrow. “Eve, you surprise me more and more every day,” she says.

 

“Do you want to hear the results of my months-long operation?” Eve asks.

 

“Of course,” Villanelle says. “The abridged version, please.”

 

“No such thing,” Eve says with a grin.

 

They spend the rest of the afternoon huddled together around the soft glow of Eve’s computer screen, Eve clicking through documents and emails and screenshots of text conversations while Villanelle tries not to be too starry-eyed at the evidence of all Eve has done for her. For them.

 

It is astounding to think that all this time, while Villanelle has been slogging through her own, self-imposed version of recovery, Eve has been working exponentially harder to actually recover the parts of her she lost when Villanelle came into the picture and tore up her whole life. I don’t deserve you, Villanelle thinks, and is humbled by the truth the thought carries.

 

“Eve,” she says slowly, after a long, long time. Eve’s voice has long since petered out and she’s just jabbing at the screen now when there’s an important piece of information she wants Villanelle to see.

 

Eve tilts her head a little to the side, a gesture that could mean Yes? or Are you really interrupting me again?

 

“Why?” Villanelle asks. Simple as that.

 

“I had a lot of free time while I was convalescing,” Eve says croakily. “Healing your own bullet wound is actually really boring.”

 

“You – ?”

 

“Don’t,” Eve says, sharp as her weakened vocal cords will let her. “I’ll tell you sometime. Everything. But not today.”

 

And, hey. Fair enough. “Okay,” Villanelle says. “Thank you.”

 

Eve nods.  

 

Villanelle stretches a little, mentally shakes herself off. “So,” she starts. “Is your master plan having any success?”

 

Eve laughs a gravelly version of her usual laugh. “It’s not a master plan,” she says, then shrugs. “It might work out. We’ll see.”

 

Villanelle, against all odds, finds that she’s perfectly content with that answer. She moves the laptop out of their way and scooches close to Eve, resting her head on her shoulder. “Okay,” she says. “Okay.”

 

Eve tucks her own head on top of Villanelle’s as much as she’s able, the pair of them cuddled up like a human Jenga tower. “My voice is fucked,” she says.

 

“It sure is,” says Villanelle. “It’s a good thing you’re so pretty.”

 

Eve laughs, the rumble vibrating through the top of Villanelle’s skull. “You’re ridiculous,” she says.

 

“I know.”

 

“Do you want to watch a movie or something?” Eve smiles and Villanelle can feel the curve of it against her scalp. “I know you’re, like, addicted to weird old French films.

 

Villanelle sighs, pauses, tries to be the bigger person. Fuck it, she thinks. “I will murder you in your sleep.”

 

Eve pokes her in the ribs. “I’d like to see you try.”