"Like all strong people, she suffered always a measure of loneliness; she was a marginal outsider, a secret infidel of a certain sort."
"People who cease to believe in God or goodness altogether still believe in the devil."
--Interview With the Vampire
Villanelle has never found it difficult to cull the sheep from the flock.
This was true even when she was a human, when breathing came easily and she hungered only for food. Something about another’s weakness quickens an impulse in her, a deep-rooted desire to exploit everything they’ve laid bare.
It doesn’t help that she wields her beauty like a weapon, in a way that women have been warned against, in a way that they are not supposed to. She brandishes it like a knife. Her eyes have all the whimsical innocence of a child and absolutely none of the naivete; they’re wide-set, innocuous, guilelessly hazel. She practices this look as she’s practiced everything else and revels in strangers falling for her ruse. They’re honest and stupid and she’s neither; whose fault is that?
The musk of night has settled into her skin by the time she’s spotted the woman hesitating on the Moscow streets: a foreigner. She’s always preferred brunettes, so this one will do.
Villanelle moves towards her, head tilted curiously, and it’s clear that she’s the type of person who looks at others as if sizing up their worth and diminishing it at the same time. Hunting is never really about them.
It’s an exercise in vanity, and a way to take the edge off. That’s all.
“You look lost,” she says to the woman in blunted English, exacerbating the edges of her own accent. “Are you?”
She’s younger than Villanelle thought, up close. Her eyes have the startled sweetness of a deer’s and her straight chestnut hair is loose down her back. Even here, in the dusky fog, surrounded by exhaust and fumes and cigarette smoke, Villanelle can smell traces of her perfume: something delicate and secretive and hidden, like the underbelly of a flower.
“Yes,” says the woman in a relieved American accent. Just as Villanelle had expected. “Could you help me?”
“Where do you want to go?” Villanelle knows perfectly well how the lamplight is catching on her hair.
“Here,” says the woman, pointing at a map she holds in her hands. “Just here.”
“That isn't far. I can show you.” Villanelle smiles without showing her teeth.
“Thank you,” says the young woman, and if Villanelle were someone different, she would feel badly--feel badly because she senses how easy it is for other people to trust, to place their safety in someone else’s hands without mapping out the consequences.
But she isn’t someone different, so she doesn’t.
They start off down the streets, Villanelle moving through the dark with an easy grace that suggests long familiarity. These are her hunting grounds; this is where she measures, culls, takes stock of her prey. She tilts her face briefly upwards, notes the gathering gray in the sky, that she can feel the cold on her skin.
“We are almost there. Good food, you know. Lots of nice tables by the windows. Are you meeting someone?”
The alley is so dark it makes the sky, scattered with a web of oily stars, look pale.
“Uh--yes. My boyfriend.”
“Oh, that is sweet. I have no boyfriend.” This is said with cocky ease, digging her fingers into the edges of the young woman’s kindness, tugging a response out of her.
“Really? But you’re so--” They both know what she’s about to say, and it makes Villanelle smile again. She hides her teeth behind her fingers.
“We are almost there.”
“But it’s so dark.”
“I'm good at seeing in the dark. Take my hand.”
The young woman almost flinches when she feels how cold Villanelle’s skin is, and shivers a little as Villanelle runs her thumb over the surface of her palm. “Oh,” she says in surprise, and Villanelle hopes, not so distantly, that she’ll hear her say that again.
“You are…” Villanelle pulls her underneath the shadowy eaves of a closed-up coffee shop, rearranges the stranger’s coat on her shoulders. For the first time, she allows herself to look at the other woman’s neck. “Very pretty, you know.”
She means her throat (bronzed, with a quickening hollow at the base), but the rest of her is lovely too.
Something is stirring in her gut again, the place where her blood used to thread, and within that frenzy, an ages-old desire, a hunger that hearkens back to thousands of years of her kind. That ancient loneliness, the pride of the hunter who only hunts alone. She leans forward slightly, brushes the coarse hair off of the woman’s shoulder, sees the faint blush like wine beneath her skin.
It’s not Villanelle’s fault, really. She has this effect on plenty of people.
“Oh… yes. Very. Can I?”
And then Villanelle is leaning forward, pressing her mouth to the vulnerable skin of the young woman’s throat, feeling her sag against her. She knows exactly where the jugular vein is, exactly where to bite, exactly how the rush of it will feel in her mouth and how it will stain her teeth a brackish crimson that darkens to black. She doesn’t want this woman to die, not because Villanelle is kind but because she isn’t, not particularly.
It’s always amazing to her, how red their blood is.
The young woman lets out a gasp, first of shock then of weakness, and then of something that hinges on desire. It’s usually like this. Villanelle knows what a vampire bite does to humans not strong enough to resist her.
The young woman trembles and even Villanelle can’t tell if it’s from fear or surprise or want. It’s almost tiresome, she thinks, how easy it can be.
“Hmm.” Villanelle draws back, feels the coppery taste in her throat and swallows. It tastes of ambrosia, even with the bitterness, and something ignites in her veins, sets a fire low in her belly. For the briefest of moments, she feels alive as she watches the blood trail down the young woman’s bronzed throat. “Have you ever tasted your own blood? Do you… want to?”
And that’s all she has to say; the young woman is nodding and Villanelle is leaning forward to kiss her. Villanelle’s hand sweeps underneath her skirt, feeling a different sort of wetness there already, stroking gently before slipping a finger inside of her. Why do they always have to be like this? She wonders faintly, opening her mouth and letting the young woman suck along her lower lip. Why don’t they fight?
But Villanelle has long ago given up on the prospect of finding someone else like her.
Villanelle emerges from the shadows heady with the blood-rush, pupils dilated, licking the coppery taste from her teeth. It’s the darkest point of night, just before dawn, unnaturally still. But she’s careful--she’s always careful--and so she sees the woman standing across from her underneath the streetlamp, the light spilling a gleam onto her curly black hair.
Villanelle, temporarily sated though she is, pauses. She slips one finger into her mouth and sucks along the length of it, fixing her eyes on the black-haired woman while tasting another. For a moment, she is frozen.
And then the woman across the street does something that no one ever does. She meets Villanelle’s gaze.
Buffeted by her dark eyes, Villanelle does nothing. She tells herself it’s because she’s stupid with the taste of blood, because she’s content, because the hunger has abated for the briefest of flickers in her deathless eternity. But it’s not. It’s because of something else.
It’s because this woman is not a sheep. Villanelle has long prided herself on discerning the weaknesses in others, and in this woman there’s only a dark yawning space, a gap that Villanelle instantly wants to probe, touch with her fingers. She licks her lips and continues to stare, daring to meet her gaze, and then the black-haired woman abruptly turns and dissolves into the dark winter predawn.
Pink is peeling away at the edges of the sky, and it would be dangerous to follow when she’ll soon feel sunlight’s knife upon her skin, but Villanelle has safehouses throughout the city.
What’s the point in not-living if you can’t have fun?
Tracking someone isn’t quite as enjoyable as draining them of life, but it’s not un enjoyable.
The black-haired woman is wary, and Villanelle spots something at her hip--a holster, maybe, though what kind of gun it is she doesn’t know. But she does have an idea.
Her curiosity feels like a boil that must be lanced, an insect bite vigorously scratched. Dawn is close to skittering across the sky and she can feel the unwelcome rise of heat beneath her skin.
There, then. A hotel, miraculously upkept, thrusting its turrets into the bleak gray-limned morning, the stars still veiled in the sky. The black-haired woman is about to turn--Villanelle sees it--and so she reflexively draws back into a stone alcove and watches. Those eyes, again. That hair. It reminds her of…
Then the strange woman is pushing through the revolving doors and Villanelle is following, just as morning spreads its pale fingers across the world.
Impulsive. Konstantin has told her she is impulsive, multiple times. But Konstantin, Villanelle is fairly certain, isn’t as smart as he thinks he is.
Besides, she knows she’s impulsive. Impulsivity can be an advantage as much as a disadvantage, and Villanelle has honed hers to a fine-edged point.
Strange, how deep her instincts to hunt are threaded now, when even as a human she was a predator. Whether cobbled sidewalk or planked dock, plush carpet or glossed wood, it is always the same, and something ancient in her is growing tired. She supposes she should tell Konstantin, but she won’t, and he wouldn’t understand even if she did. In the stark light of morning, eternity just seems like a terribly long time.
The halls are dark, her coat and hood covering her skin, the spill of hair like honey. Villanelle treads silently, hand reaching for the knife at her waist as the black-haired woman turns a corner and pauses beside her room door. Burnished oak. Villanelle can make out this woman’s perfume now, just as she’d smelled the scent of her eager victim earlier, and see the cut of her blouse beneath the coat, the small green-veined wrists.
Then the door is swinging open, the woman is turning once more, drawing her gun from the holster just as Villanelle steps forward to press the tip of the knife underneath her chin. And she wasn’t wrong, she sees. She knows what this woman is, and she knows why. An unmistakable glee rises in her throat, the gurgle of a child's laugh.
Villanelle smiles--she absolutely, right now, cannot help it--and shows all of her teeth.
My goal is to update this weekly. It obviously won't follow the exact plot of the show but will have a similar dynamic, as assassins and vampires aren't all that different, in ways.
For an astonishing moment, the world stops on its heel. How wonderful it is, Villanelle thinks as she looks at the other woman, when the hunters become the hunted.
Villanelle examines the stranger carefully, even as the knife pearls devastatingly red on its edge and she has to consciously swallow, stop herself from leaning forward. Humans don’t understand the intoxication of the blood-rush, she’s sure of this. You’re never closer to life than when you’re bringing someone else to the edge of it.
“It’s not smart,” she says in Russian with all her typical bluntness, “To prey on a predator.” And she watches with unmasked delight as the emotions unfurl on the other woman’s face.
“I don’t--” The woman speaks in American English, with an accent that makes Villanelle think of ceaseless deserts, warm tumbling summers. It’s such an unfamiliar image, so contrary to her own world of starving winters and moth-brief autumns, that it intrigues her.
“This is a very nice hotel,” Villanelle continues in English, resisting the sinew-deep pull to dig the knife a little deeper. To the other woman’s credit, she is holding herself together fairly well, more composed than some of her fellow brethren, yet Villanelle drinks in the delicious moment of her vulnerability to study her regardless. Her cheekbones are broad, lovely, the dark eyes penetrating as a searchlight, and Villanelle feels that skip within her chest again. “I’ve never been here before, so thank you. What is your name?”
The woman says nothing, and Villanelle clicks her tongue against the roof of her mouth.
“Don’t be rude.” She tilts her head, tries to draw her eyes away from--what? The woman’s throat, her hair, her eyes? “I’ll find out if you don’t tell me. You should know everything they say about us is true. I’ll hurl stones at your roof and sit on your chest while you sleep.”
Villanelle hasn’t seen her reflection since she was turned, but she knows how she appears, with the easy grace of a cat and the slyness of her tilted head. She knows her teeth are stained sinfully red and that every smile brandishes her fangs like the knife she holds underneath the woman’s chin. Caught in the amber of her twenty-six year old beauty, she will never change, never grow old, never decay. The world will grow tired and weary, but she won’t, and sometimes the realization almost sparks a paroxysm of fear within her chest. Almost, she thinks, as if her heart still beats.
It makes her resentful, to sometimes desire that old quickening pulse again. It makes her angry to want to want something.
It’s strange to desire anything but blood.
And that reminds her… she does desire the blood, of course, and a little more than that, so she twists the tip of the knife with expert coolness at the hot-running jugular vein. Just as she’d done with the young woman earlier that night, but she’d been different. That had been different.
The hunter gasps out a name unknown to Villanelle, and the swift intake of breath afterward makes something coil hotly in the pit of her stomach. “Eve. Eve Polastri.”
“Eve Polastri.” Villanelle says the name with delicious wickedness, relishing the way it tastes at the back of the throat: none of the coppery tang of blood.
Eve, she thinks. Like the first woman, the wife of Adam, who was tempted and sought that temptation and fell from the garden of grace.
Who lost her innocence on the word of a coy-tongued serpent.
Villanelle runs her tongue along the surface of her teeth and says, “Put down the gun please.” She knows the bullets are silver, and she knows what they’ll do to her; she also grasps that Eve might not hesitate to use it. Hunters rarely do. They loathe her kind with the kind of loathing that is edged with desire; beneath their hatred lurks the hot murk of want. Villanelle doesn’t blame them. She had the same kind of strange, uncomfortable beauty as a human that she does as a vampire, but now it’s amplified. Villanelle is all sharp edges and doe-like eyes, the contrast nearly impossible to resist.
Eve, to her credit, apparently isn’t stupid. She unloads the gun carefully, places it on the table near the door. The inside of the room is dark, strangely tepid for a Moscow winter. Villanelle likes it.
“Well, thank you, Eve,” says Villanelle with feigned familiarity, never one to toss aside the opportunity to be theatrical. Her eyes are drawn again to the column of Eve’s throat, the pulse she has there that Villanelle doesn’t.
“I know who you are,” Eve manages, as Villanelle maneuvers them further into the dark room, shutting the door with her foot. It locks behind them.
“Who I am? Or what I am?” Villanelle’s eyes adjust to the dark immediately, like an animal’s; she knows that Eve’s won’t.
“Both,” Eve says, and beneath her fear there is a strange boldness, that yawning ache that Villanelle sensed in her the moment their eyes met across the snowy street. A terrible yearning. “I know you’re a vampire. I know your name is Oksana Astankova. I know you’re terribly bright, and good at what you’re told to do, and better at what you’re not. I know who your Elder is, and I know who turned you.”
It’s only the last that shocks Villanelle. The emotion is so unfamiliar to her--indeed, emotion is so unfamiliar to her, that horrible rupturing of her violent boredom and playful cruelty--that it suddenly feels as if each of her nerves is exposed, humming along the edges.
And beneath that surprise, the dismantling of her facade-which-isn’t-a-facade, the inertia that comes only with the idea of living out an eternity alone. Something rises hot to the surface, the appropriate response to your vulnerabilities being laid out in a row, arranged indifferently for the firing squad. Villanelle blinks, and licks her lips, the space between her shock and her anger lasting for but a moment.
“Do you always taunt the vampires you hunt?"
"Do you always taunt the humans you kill?"
"Yes?" Villanelle sighs a little, wonders if she should slide the knife to the carotid artery or if she should make Eve think she's going to slit her throat from ear to ear. That's the only way to do it, really. But she's not. She can't, and she doesn't know why. "Is it any of your business?"
"You're my business."
Villanelle can't deny the pleasure that threads through her when she hears this. "And you're mine now, Eve Polastri. It's too late for you to back out, but... I will still let you leave. For now. Does that make you happy?"
The other woman's expression goes blank with relief; Villanelle smiles, tilts her head, catlike as ever.
"By the way. I like your hair."
She used to love the sunlight, would bask in it for hours like a leopard. She would let it seep into her skin and cling to her honey-blonde hair like dew. By the age of twenty-five Villanelle had seen half of Europe and she loved that the sun was the same wherever she went.
And so, coincidentally, was the moon. But she never thought to notice that.
After Eve leaves she wraps her hand in a cloth and picks up the bullets, flushes them down the toilet. The gun she’ll take with her, because she suddenly doesn’t want to part with it, and she knows (of course she knows) how to fire it.
Villanelle steps too close to the light as she shutters the blinds more fully, feels the hot hiss of sunlight on her moon-pale skin and swears eloquently. She’s never so careless, not usually. Impulsive, yes. Not careless .
Then she wraps herself in the blankets of the great bed, feeling a strange loneliness, the silk of the sheets like water. She closes her eyes and sees wild dark hair without a face, crosses her arms over her chest as if she's somewhere deep under the earth.
Villanelle usually sleeps like a child, or like the dead. This morning she doesn’t.
When darkness rises again in Moscow so does she. Her anger is a chemical reaction, and she discharges it like a gun without the surprise of a recoil. Other people--humans--bear the brunt of her irritation, not her.
And yet she couldn’t unleash it on Eve Polastri.
She leaves the hotel just as the clock’s hand twitches past midnight. Vampires, they like to say, favor black. But Villanelle, mercurial and moody as she can be, only fades into the dark when she hunts. She favors carefully tailored clothing, well-cut blouses, the slip of fine fabric through her fingers. She isn’t entirely like her undead kin, but then she doesn’t want to be. If she has to live forever, she might as well do it in style.
Ah , she thinks. That reminds her.
She sits on the Metro nearly alone, watching a little girl sleep with her head pressed against the arm of her mother. Villanelle vaguely remembers having a mother, once. But then she supposes every vampire had a mother.
The winter air is cold and thrilling when it touches her face again, the kind of weather that gives Villanelle an atmospheric chill. The moon wanes in the sky, draws cheekily back behind a smog of cloud, pulls forth again as she walks. She wonders if Eve Polastri’s skin feels as warm as she imagines it does. She wonders if she’ll ever take her as a victim when Eve Polastri does not seem very much like a victim.
She arrives at her destination at a quarter to one. The enormous church looks empty; there doesn’t seem to be anyone inside. Dust settles on the pews, the altar, the offering bowls. The light through the stained glass windows has gone silent, but in darkness Villanelle is always strangely radiant.
No Mass has been held in this church for years, and she has a feeling that its former priests, the nuns and the monks have no idea what it’s been turned into. It was clever of him, Villanelle admits to herself grudgingly. No one would expect to look for the unholiest of creatures within a space like this.
She finds him where she knew he’d be, in the alcove where they always meet at this time, grizzled white head bent over a book.
“You have something to tell me, apparently,” Villanelle says with deceptive casualness as she draws near, and Konstantin looks up at her.
Konstantin is an Elder. He didn’t turn her, God no, but he accepts her for what she is and puts up with her dramatics, which is more than she can say of some of their kin. Villanelle supposes she should be grateful, but she isn’t, and there’s no use trying.
“I’ve been waiting for fifteen minutes,” he returns.
“What are you reading?” she asks, ignoring the rebuke. “I hope it’s not the Bible.”
Konstantin slides the little book into his jacket pocket and says nothing of it. “There are hunters out tonight. You should be more careful.”
“Yes,” Villanelle says, “I know that now, you know. Not because I’m careless, Konstantin. But because you need to tell me something.”
An exhale, then, as if he’s letting go of a heavy weight. “Tell you what?”
“Tell me who Eve Polastri is.”
This came sooner than expected. Also, I promise the next chapter won't end on a cliffhanger.
I'm still researching vampiric folklore/mythology and trying to invent some of my own rules for this world, so if anything seems inconsistent or off feel free to point it out.
Chapter 3: to be human
So I was pretty much blessed with the readers of this fic because two things happened --
1) the wonderful sheepyshavings looked over the majority of this chapter and gave me much needed critique (if there's a mistake in the second half it's likely because I didn't let her get the last word in) and,
2) Andy from Tumblr drew some amazing fanart and posted it on twitter here. She also granted me permission to post about it, so check it out because it's beautiful :)
As an aside, I do NOT speak Russian (not even a bit, I am no Villanelle) so if these translations are screwed up, well, that comes up with the territory.
also, my Tumblr is aamainiris if you like Killing Eve (why wouldn't you, if you're here?) or want to hit me up for whatever reason!
aaaand here we go.
Death before dishonor. Villanelle runs the words over in her head, tasting the bittersweetness of them, trying to determine where they go wrong-- Malo Mori quam Foedari . She doesn’t know Latin as she knows the rough edges of Russian, the dips of French, but she knows enough to know the implications. The hunters would rather die than become one of her kind.
Идиотский, she thinks at once. Idiotic.
The candlelight paints her bone-white skin gold as she sits there looking at Konstantin, hovering on the edge of his reply.
“Eve… Polastri.” He sounds reluctant to say more.
“Yes,” she says emphatically. “Eve Polastri.” She likes the way the name uncurls in her mouth like a sigh.
Vampires have lived on the edges of society for time immemorial, for as long as humans have dedicated themselves to persecuting those they don’t understand. Villanelle knows this, and honestly, she doesn’t particularly care--it just magnifies her own belief that her own kin are something superior, something apart . There’s no shame in being a creature of the darkness if the darkness embraces you in return, after all. Maybe even Konstantin would view this a superiority complex.
Again, she doesn’t particularly mind.
In the luminous flickering light, she recognizes that he looks so… old. Of course, Villanelle knows, he is--far older than her. But that doesn’t mean he should look it.
She clicks her tongue against the roof of her mouth. “What do the Americans say? Cat has your tongue, uncle ?”
He hates when she refers to him this way, she knows, so Villanelle makes sure to do it as frequently as she deems appropriate. Which is often. When Konstantin found her as a fledgling, pale and weak and cast astray to the fringes of the city, living off of the blood of animals and curling away from the knives of Moscow sunlight, he was strangely kind. Gruff, but kind. Villanelle can still remember the altar icy against her back when she leaned up against it in the great church, the profound weariness in her limbs. It’s as if, she thinks now, it’s impossible to understand life until you’ve walked hand-in-hand with its shadow.
Her first taste of human blood, which Konstantin offered her in one of the dusty chalices from the furthest alcove, was like feeling sunlight again. Drinking warmth. Even now she remembers it: the rush to her head, leaving her dizzy, reeling through her like a whirlwind. Once she tasted it in the back of her throat, coppery and metallic and warm (far warmer than she was), there was simply no returning to her vampiric vegetarianism. Ever since being turned, Villanelle had felt so cold .
She didn’t realize it until then, how to take someone else’s lifeblood was as sweet as taking a life itself.
Now Villanelle looks at Konstantin as an attentive cat would, head tilted and eyes wide, alert with expectation. She has Eve’s gun in the pocket of her beautifully-tailored coat, and if Konstantin knew this, he would never let her hear the end of it. But Villanelle views it as a token, the embodiment of memory--she feels as if she keeps the gun, Eve will somehow return to her to take it back.
And attempt to kill her, of course, but that thrills Villanelle along the marrow of her bones more than anything.
“Oksana,” Konstantin begins chidingly, and at once Villanelle frowns. Konstantin is the only one who knows her old name (other than Eve Polastri, apparently), and she consistently regrets telling it to him. Death is a sort of rebirth, after all, a baptism into a new state--she is not who she was, like any vampire, and to take a new name for her own was a sort of power. “You shouldn’t ask for things you don’t want.”
“But I want everything,” Villanelle replies bluntly, and it’s true.
“Of course you do.” Konstantin’s eyes are drowning in the soft glow of the candles now, strangely dark for all the light. “She’s a hunter, Oksana, one of the--”
“One of the Brethren?” Villanelle is picking at her fingernails, ignoring the familiar use of her old name.
“Yes,” he says. “One of the best.”
“She is American. What is she even doing here? She could be hunting her own country’s vampires, couldn’t she?”
“The Brethren think you’re slippery.”
He looks displeased at her obvious satisfaction. “It’s not a good thing. How did you get away?”
At this, Villanelle sighs. “I didn’t get away, uncle. She got away. You should think more of me. When have I ever disappointed you?”
Konstantin chooses to let this pass. “You could have killed her?”
Villanelle shrugs. “She is just a human.” She doesn’t agree with this statement, not really, but this is yet another truth she will tuck away, hide from the Elder vampire. There are some things Konstantin doesn’t need to know, that he wouldn’t understand even if he did.
“You should have taken advantage of the situation.”
“Take advantage of her disadvantage?” Villanelle smiles cheekily.
“Yes,” Konstantin says. “Why didn’t you?”
“I felt bad for her,” Villanelle says.
“So?” Villanelle brushes at some of the hair that has fallen into her eyes, tucks it behind an elfin ear. “We all lie.”
“You should not lie to me.”
Villanelle makes a face and turns from him, wondering how the hell her life--her death--became this way, tethered to an Elder vampire who treats her like a petulant child. Even if she does act like one. Sometimes.
“The Brethren can’t catch me,” she insists, looking back at him. “When have they ever been able to catch me?” Except for when they did, she thinks. But Konstantin doesn’t know that.
“She is not entirely like the others.”
Finally , Villanelle thinks. “How is she not ‘like the others’?”
Konstantin looks wary, as if measuring the weight of his words, but eventually he speaks as Villanelle knew he would. “She is one of the trueborn, birthed into the Brethren. Her life revolves around the rituals, the mythology, the hatred for our kind.”
“That does not sound like much of a life,” Villanelle says, and again feels that unfamiliar stab of envy, that Eve has a life at all.
“It is all she knows.” And this is all I know, now.
“Why would she come after me? Why her?” This is what Villanelle truly wants from him.
“She is like you. Never more dangerous than when cornered. You don’t send a hunting dog after a cat, Oksana. You send another cat.”
Villanelle’s eyebrows raise, all perfect animation. “Did you know that she knows my name?”
For a moment it is as if he can’t look at her. “She knows your old name?”
“I know,” Villanelle says, feigning a pout. “I wanted it to stay between us too.”
“She knows about you as well. She knows--” Villanelle almost says everything, tripping over her own words, but keeps herself from stumbling at the last moment. “She knows you’re an Elder.”
“The trueborn are very well-informed.”
“ Apparently ,” Villanelle drawls, sensing once more that Konstantin isn’t telling her everything, and that there will be no point in trying to pry it from him right now. At times he is infuriatingly impenetrable -- Konstantin seems to be one of the only ones immune to her charm, alive or undead, and the gruffness he wears like a shield only makes it worse. “Anyway. If you need nothing more from me --”
“Do not go after her,” he tells her warningly, and Villanelle brightens.
“But I’m not the hunter in this equation, Konstantin,” she says, all feigned sweetness now. “I’m the hunted.”
Night hovers over Moscow like a fugue when Villanelle emerges from the church. For a moment she stands outside on the street, unmoving, wide pale eyes fixed on the streetlamp across from her. Almost wishing that Eve -- is she so familiar with the other woman, already? -- could be standing underneath it. Villanelle cocks her head, runs her tongue over her teeth, tastes the vestiges of blood.
She knows where to go, if she’s feeling extraordinarily bold -- and, naturally, she is. When is she not?
The Brethren gather in the belly of an old hostel, deep in the bones of the earth, where neither vampire nor unaware human can stumble across them. Not without a purpose. Villanelle was brought there, once, spitting and shivering with rage, weakened and pale. But that was before Konstantin, and after --
No , she thinks, she’s not going to think about that right now. Villanelle is as good at living (well, not-living) in the present as she is at doing everything else.
Almost everything else.
It’s a forty minute walk, but the night is still deep, and she knows that morning will come slowly. Besides, she wears the cold like she does her own skin. It hums on her exposed hands, lights up her nerves, washes her in a strange milky glow. The composite of her features have translated well into death, fey and unreal, the pout of her lower lip almost obscene when Villanelle teases it into place.
And of course she knows this. Beauty and blood were once enough for her, too, but suddenly she hungers for something else. Something new.
She drifts through the night like a ghost barely remembered, shielding her harsh loveliness with the hood of her coat. In her pocket, she fingers Eve’s gun, remembers that a single well-placed silver bullet from the other woman would have ended her. That it still could. But Villanelle doesn’t think about that for very long, nor about Konstantin and his inevitable exasperated rebuke. The Brethren captured her once and they won’t do it again. Slippery. Yes, like they’d said, Villanelle is slippery, serpentlike, growing tired of one infatuation and then going onto the next, never satisfied, always craving. But that’s the nature of what they call her disease.
Less a disease, she thinks huffily, than a cure for a finite life.
The hostel is run-down, ramshackled, weary like a drunk old man. The windows aren’t shuttered, though, even though Villanelle knows she can’t enter. She sees the sanctified cross (blessed, pure) hanging over the entrance in a mockery of faith, is entirely aware that they’ve scattered wild rose and hawthorn along the entranceways. Vampires may enter churches if they are no longer in use, if the buildings have been turned themselves, but wild rose and hawthorn will always be a ward.
So she’ll wait for Eve to emerge. Villanelle knows she isn’t particularly patient when not hunting, but what is this if not a hunt?
Besides, there’s a safehouse run by Konstantin not far from here. When night draws thin over the earth, she can retreat, slip into her usual lonely slumber.
Even if she doesn’t want to.
Villanelle fades back underneath the eaves of a nearby restaurant, sinks into the shadows like teeth into flesh. She can wait. If nothing else, the knowledge of a deathless existence has taught her this much. The Russian hunters like to call her kind the обозреватели, the watchers, or at times the непрощенный. The unforgiven. Villanelle doesn’t find much comfort in her mother tongue -- much prefers the birdsong of French -- but she goes back to that word regardless, again and again and again. Непрощенный. What sins, she wonders, does she have to be forgiven for? Children of Satan, the hunters call them, but Satan was once a child of God also, so what does that make her?
Time passes slowly, as it always does, and Villanelle is aware of the little jumps and leaps of it, how pointless it is to keep track of such a thing when time is the only surety one has. Anna told her once that time wasn’t real, not in the conventional sense, that past and future were irrelevant and the present all that existed. Optimistic for a vampire, Villanelle had mused as they sat there on the rooftop, peering at the night sky wrapped in a sable cloak of stars. The stars seemed closer when she was with Anna, the sunlight, when it dawned, not so severe. But that was then, and this is now, and Villanelle knows well the pain of losing something you can never replace.
Eventually the door to the hostel swings open in the stillness of the predawn, and Villanelle leans forward a little even as she pulls the hood up to cover her distinctive features. It’s Eve, and beside her a man that Villanelle has never seen before, not even among the Brethren. Something tenses inside of her, cold and strung tight as a bow. Like a predatory animal she freezes, always even more powerfully aware of being watched than of watching another herself.
But Eve doesn’t look her way.
The man -- older, tired-looking -- departs down the street as the faintest edges of sky are flushed with the first touch of light, and at once Eve turns, measuring her surroundings carefully. Villanelle doesn’t move, and for a moment, neither does the other woman.
Then their eyes lock again and something pulses in Villanelle’s chest. She feels so seen , and in more ways than one. This is dangerous, all of it, but not so dangerous that she can’t escape, she’s sure. Outside of the hostel they are on carefully-preserved neutral ground, and hunters know better than to shoot a vampire in public just as the city is coming awake once more.
Something passes over Eve’s face with all the vividness of lightning, and at once she crosses the street to Villanelle.
“What are you --”
“I took something of yours,” Villanelle says simply, paler gaze fleeing to the other woman’s dark one. There is something in Eve’s eyes, she thinks, something almost as old as she is herself. “I'm not rude. I wanted to give it back.”
“You have to be kidding me,” Eve snaps, and Villanelle sees her fingers curl around themselves, forming fists when it’s her words that land like blows. “You came here to give me back my gun?”
“Well, no,” Villanelle admits with a slow smile, a flash of vampiric teeth. “That was a lie. You shouldn't be surprised when I lie to you, just like I won’t be surprised when you lie to me.”
Heat rises in Eve’s cheeks like she’s been slapped.
“I have questions for you,” Villanelle continues, “That I know you will not answer. Not yet. That doesn’t bother me.”
“So you stalked me?”
Villanelle shrugs. “You stalked me. So what? Now we are on even ground.”
“We will never be on even ground,” Eve says, more faint heat rising to her face now, and Villanelle thinks gleefully that the other woman is even more alluring when she’s angry.
“We won’t?” Villanelle’s expression turns puzzled, but she’s fully aware that they both know it’s a farce. “I think we will be. In fact, I think we are and that you hate it, much more than I do.” How aware she is, that to make another person angry makes them horribly, dreadfully vulnerable.
“You know,” she continues, “You interest me.”
“I interest you?”
“Yes,” Villanelle says, and she knows how she looks in that instant, dewy-eyed and vulpine-jawed, clever and innocuous at the same time. “You know what I used to call myself.”
“What you used to call yourself? It’s your name, Oksana, nothing more.”
“My name is Villanelle.”
“Your name is Oksana.”
Eve suddenly seems aware that this childish argument could go on for quite some time, and says instead, “I’d like to know why, actually. Why you chose the name Villanelle.”
The question is disarming, in a way that Villanelle either won’t or can’t answer -- she isn’t entirely sure which. For a moment she feels as if she’s faced with Konstantin again, closed in by someone who can never understand the nuances that drive her, and something skips involuntarily in her chest. “And I would like to know how you know so much about me.”
But that, too, is something that will not be answered. They have to hold their advantages over the other, circle like wolves, press on the nerves exposed and be grateful for it. Villanelle thinks, briefly, of all the star-crossed lovers she’s ever read about -- before she was turned, she consumed books whenever life granted her the pleasure -- and wonders if fairytales have their roots in reality as some say. It’s so preposterous, she knows. Almost preposterous enough to be true.
She isn’t going to tell this woman why she chose her name just as she will never tell anyone -- anyone -- of her capture by the Brethren, of the bone-white daggers that left imprints in her skin but could find no willing veins. Of the ropes chafing her small wrists and the silence between the hunters as they contemplated, without words, how to rob her of the only thing she had left.
Непрощенный. Unforgiven. Children of the Devil.
Again, Villanelle wonders -- if you’re a child of Satan, does that mean you’re a child of God as well?
Chapter 4: beloved by Death
shoutout to sheepyshavings for being my beta reader, helping to cut through my meandering prose and assisting me with getting this fic on track plot-wise. yes, it's all figured out, and hopefully it will be fun.
stay if you like religious allusions, a lot of cat-and-cat games, and villanelle being torn between a ruthless vampire and kind of a softie.
thanks again for reading, and I apologize for the wait -- it was mostly figuring out the plot, I won't lie.
The flesh must guide the soul, Konstantin told her once. It was when they were in Marseille, fleeing the Brethren, and Villanelle fell in love for the second time. Not with a person, but with a place.
Konstantin said that it was the safest locale in France to hide, the sunniest city, humid in both winter and summer and the unlikeliest place for two vampires to take refuge. In those days Villanelle was just a fledgling, bird-boned and thin-skinned, unfamiliar with the concept of rising along with the moon and sleeping with the sun. They rented rooms along one of the jagged inlets and Konstantin began to disappear for entire nights at a time, citing one responsibility or another, some task left unattended to by their fellow kin. He seemed to know everyone, Villanelle had mused, and nodded with mock solemnity as he warned her not to leave the safehouse while he was gone.
Then, as soon as he disappeared, so would she.
Marseille was the sort of place that belonged to the gauze of evening, to the predawn and the moments after awakening when one could no longer tell if what they dreamed existed only within their head. It was December then, her first Christmas as a vampire and her first winter where the cold air felt like a balm on her skin. She and Konstantin spent Christmas Eve in a little restaurant on the coast, drinking Bordeaux (grudgingly, she admitted that he knew his wine) and pretending to eat the food they’d ordered by pushing it around on their plates. Pastries, Salade Niçoise , shellfish. She was still suspicious of him, still wary, not so naive as to be grateful for his unspoken kindnesses. No one gives you anything in the world without taking something away.
Anna, she’d thought uselessly at this, the ache in her chest which she poked and prodded at constantly as one does with a loose tooth. As if to make sure it was still there. Anna. She missed the conversations they’d had that lilted like poetry, watching the candles gutter down to nothing in the solitude of the morning, the memory of the first time the other woman had taken Villanelle into her bed. Before all this -- before her -- Villanelle chose her lovers like an animal stalking prey, always so obscurely displeased when they fell into her lap. Always unsettled by how gentle most of the men and women were, as if she didn’t want the imprint of their teeth in her skin.
Christmas passed, and the dreariest months in Marseille weren’t so dreary at all. Villanelle no longer missed the daylight; she no longer missed the sun. She no longer missed her life. There was, really, only one thing (one person) that she did still miss.
Sometime in mid-February Konstantin returned an hour before dawn -- by this point, Villanelle was quite adept at measuring the time by judging the color at the edges of the sky -- and she was waiting, expectant, flipping through a dog-eared copy of The Count of Monte Cristo . She’d gone and explored the hidden alleys while he was gone, slipping back into the old hotel just night reached its stillest point.
That instant ended up being one of those moments she looked back on often, after everything was different. Her mother’s death. Her father’s disappearance. Anna, the glint of devilish canines so white against her lips. Anna, dying in a shallow of blackened blood. Anna. And now this. One of the points around which the rest of Villanelle’s existence would turn. Like most events of great import, it passed fleetingly, insignificantly, yet later she was able to pick out every detail: Konstantin’s sigh as he set down his hat, the weary gleam of his eyes as he turned them onto her, the way every part of her body went taut as a bowstring when he spoke the words.
He told her he would find out who killed Anna, and then he told her about the Collector.
The first thing that came to Villanelle’s mind when she saw the ancient vampire, stooped and withdrawn in the congealing darkness of the basilica’s crypt, was an utter lack of surprise. Konstantin had coached her beforehand, saying in no uncertain terms that the Collector had all of the prestige to be held in France, along with much of the power; that he ruled their kind with deference to none (here, Villanelle had snorted at the dramatics of it all); that it was his business to see that fledglings were initiated into the fold with as much grace as they could be allowed.
The Collector was nothing like the glamorous undead that had drifted through her gothic childhood stories, but she hadn’t expected him to be. He’d been turned when he was an old man himself, and eternity hadn’t treated him kindly. Bizarre, Villanelle thought, to be so close to death just to be pulled back from the edge of it.
The crypt was Romanesque, stolid and sad and lovely, with all the harshness of earthly splendors. The Collector looked strange among them, ancient even among the ruins, and he was dressed in a shroud of black. Villanelle might have laughed at the absurdity of it all, and she would have, if Konstantin hadn’t pushed her forward by the shoulder and muttered to her disparagingly in Russian. A language the Collector didn’t know well, she guessed at the time -- and later learned was correct. Sad, to have had an eternity to learn all the tongues in the world and spend no time doing so at all.
“Newly turned?” the old vampire asked Konstantin, before turning his eyes on Villanelle.
“Seven months ago,” said Konstantin.
“What is her name?”
“It’s Villanelle,” she said at once, not bowing her head in respect to the ancient vampire, though he stood half a head shorter than her with his crippled back. It was the first time she’d said it aloud.
“My name is Villanelle.”
She was a vampire, the Collector told her two nights later, so she must hunt. No more drinking harvested blood from chipped goblets for sustenance. No more starving away the long nights. And most importantly, no more feeding on animals in the streets.
Villanelle learned quickly that vampires could be peculiarly abstemious in ways, with the tendency to indulge in wine (a mockery, she has always suspected, of the Church that loathed her kind so) but never in food, and never to excess. Blood was the purest gratification they allowed themselves, the ichor in their veins. And so when the Collector told her, in painfully ragged Russian -- apparently unaware that she spoke French -- that she would learn to hunt from one of his acolytes, she raised her eyebrows and said nothing. How hard could it be for someone like her?
Not very, apparently.
Her first hunt was like coming alive again. The world wheeled around her in a strange delirium, the starlight humming on her exposed skin and setting the honey-gold of her hair to its own particular blaze. As a human, even at her most perceptive, she had never felt like this. She had never known it was like to hold the universe in the palm of her hand, to catch the eye of the people around her and know, instinctively, what flushed beneath their skin. In the end she slipped out from underneath the eye of the acolyte assigned to her and stalked the streets herself, hood thrown back, marvelously alive .
Her first victim was willing.
And so was her second, and so was her third.
They all would be, she thought, until she came in contact with the Brethren again. Until her revenge was laid to rest.
As if any such thing could ever happen.
Sometimes Villanelle still thinks of the Collector, stooped, deceptively weak. Wrapped in a shroud of darkness to shelter him from the glare of the world, the light too heavy for him to carry.
Konstantin never did tell her why the elder vampire had chosen that name.
Now, once again in the fog-haunted streets of Moscow, Eve stares at Villanelle with something almost akin to genuine curiosity. As if she is not as much of an animal to Eve as Eve’s kind are to her. As if their two respect bastions hadn’t long ago reverted to Old Testament justice (there is something especially satisfying about it; she got what she deserved). In their world, it makes sense. There is no forgiveness for the damned.
Stupidly, Villanelle thinks of Anna. She thinks of her little nested apartment and how the older woman would watch the stars wheel through the little dormer window. She thinks of the books that smelled of age, of all the unspoken lives they contained in them. She wants to see her face, touch the dark hair that smelled always of those little French cigarettes (Villanelle has never liked cigarettes--as a human she was too vain, naturally, to potentially risk her beauty), trace the hollow between Anna’s breasts. She wants to turn back the clock’s hands, which is ridiculous, because she of all people knows the futility of fighting the past. Of the stupidity of acquiescing to the future.
Villanelle hates conceding to sentimentality.
“Don’t waste my time,” Eve says finally, as if something within her has snapped, broken like a trance. But there is little irritation in the words: just, strangely, an old weariness. “I know what you are and I know what your kind does.”
“Oh, yes,” says Villanelle. “This is an all elaborate mind game. My life--I’m sorry, my death--revolves around fucking with yours. A complete stranger.”
“Yes, that is generally how you describe someone you do not know.”
“It would be easier for us to be strangers,” Eve says bluntly, “But I’m far more of a stranger to you than you are to me. I could’ve taken you by surprise.”
“You should have put me out of my misery, then.” The layered phrasing doesn’t escape Eve, Villanelle knows, but nor does the other woman comment on it.
“I was instructed to gather as much information on you as I could.”
Villanelle sighs. “But why? I am not special.”
“Do you really think I’m going to tell you that?” asks Eve, and for a moment Villanelle imagines that they can see the coldness of their expressions on the other’s face.
“I could kill you, too,” says Villanelle. “It’s a skill of mine. Stalking, slaughter, sex--”
“But you don’t want to.”
“Tell me why you chose that name, Oksana. Then maybe I’ll tell you how I know so much about you.”
Something closes up inside of Villanelle at once, that place that’s coalesced into her icy outer disdain for the world at large--all its sheep and lame dogs and its prey. She says nothing.
Mornings come slowly in a Moscow winter, and Villanelle can see the pearly warmth beginning to haunt the sky. As always, this part of the city before light feels like a vacuum of sound and music: sterile and harsh and frozen. She can smell snow. Always, in this city, the smell of snow. She hates it.
She wishes she was in Marseille, but Anna’s life--her death--ties her here.
Eve lifts her face to the sky just as Villanelle does, and Villanelle knows she’s regretting it, crossing the street to speak to converse when she knew all along it was too risky to attack her just as the city lifted itself from slumber. Villanelle can’t help but smile, brushes her fingertips along the gun in her pocket, as if to make sure it’s still there.
“Good morning, Eve,” she says, before starting to turn away like a child, enjoying as always to have the last word. “You should sleep. You look so tired.”
There is the ruptured sharpness of frustration in Eve’s voice, and Villanelle looks back. The other woman is standing there with snow settling into her hair.
“I just wanted to know,” Eve continues, with a strange vulnerability that Villanelle can’t trace. “I wanted to know which one of my people killed Anna.”
Villanelle’s lips form an ‘o’ of surprise, because of all the responses she could have imagined, this wasn’t the one she’d been expecting. Why is Eve looking at her like that suddenly, like she’s worthy of more than scorn, like she’s a human? And does the other woman truly not know which one of her Brethren killed Anna? Is there really such a rift between the Brethren’s higher-ups and their hunters? Like -- she can’t help but think, uneasily -- like that between the Elders and their acolytes?
Villanelle cocks her head to the side. “You should be asking your betters that, not someone like me.” But even as she says it, she feels a strange thrill, as if the possibility of revenge has been wedged open at last, a doorway beckoning in light. Playing the hunters against one another has never seemed to be an option, before -- but maybe she’s been wrong.
Maybe she’s always been wrong.
There is something almost like pity on Eve’s face at Villanelle’s words, and something inside of her very nearly flinches. The humanity in humans has always been difficult to tolerate.
“If you find out which of your brothers or sisters killed Anna,” Villanelle continues, clinging once more to the upperhand, “I will tell you why I chose my name, and you can tell your scary boss all about it. We could be useful--”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Eve returns, and there’s the old scorn rising again, flushing her cheeks in the cold. She’s not used to this sort of winter, Villanelle thinks, or to me. “ We’re not going to forge a friendship over this.”
“Oh, I think we will,” Villanelle says with a canine-edged smile, as she watches the white flakes sift through the branches above her head. “Let me surprise you. I’m good at that.”
Villanelle was born into the winter, but she doesn’t particularly enjoy it: the faintly metallic smell of snow, the clarity of the cold. And now as she ducks into the safehouse, it’s not Eve she’s fleeing from, but the light.
The place is juxtaposed between past and present: copper kettle sitting unattended on the unlit stove; the frozen little windows designed to let in hardly any light, heavily shaded; the bed in the center of the main room, draped in diaphanous gray silk. But as soon as she turns the key, Villanelle knows there is something wrong, hunter’s instincts gone bright with a beautiful trill of fear. So unfamiliar, she thinks: like snow in a desert.
There is a woman sitting on the bed, alone, unarmed. The shadows drape her in a dusty gloom, but Villanelle’s sharp eyes can make out the bones of her face. She is older, with the sort of regal, well-learned knowing afforded to women who have lived their lives with careful consideration of the consequences. In other words, nothing like Villanelle at all.
For a moment, Villanelle doesn’t breathe, but the woman exhales at once.
“I thought I would find you here.”
A hunter. And somewhere in the fog of memory Villanelle can summon her up like a ghost: face lurking in the dim recesses of the room while the ivory blades were pressed to her skin, the ropes chafing her thin wrists and the hands that tipped her head back, trying to force the holy water past her lips. Purification, the Brethren had said. The attainment of martyrdom. Bullshit, Villanelle had thought through her distant terror, even as she felt a thumb trace down the line of her throat. As if to measure the willingness of her flesh.
“Two of you,” Villanelle muses, as if it’s a very ponderous thought indeed. “Two of you in two days, and you could not manage to put me down?”
“We’re not done speaking yet. We’ve only just started.” The woman dips her head slightly; Villanelle sees the reddish gleam of boy-short hair. “How are you, Villanelle?”
“I remember you.”
Arched eyebrows raise. “I’m surprised you remember any of that night.”
“Oh,” says Villanelle, running her tongue over her teeth, “I think you wanted me to remember.”
There is a poignant pause. Then;
“I’m here to warn you,” the woman continues, and Villanelle wants to sneer. “I’m here to warn you that toying with us will no longer be tolerated.”
“You took something of mine,” Villanelle says, vacant-eyed, very still in the dark little room. “Now I am going to take something of yours.” She extends her arms, where the scarring glints brilliant white, like the underbelly of a fish. “Are you going to try it again with the knives? Or are you going to shoot me here?”
How does the woman know about the safehouse? Villanelle can feel something like blood pounding in her head.
The reddish-haired woman smiles thinly, showing no teeth. “Come now. There’s no such thing as a safehouse in this city.” But Villanelle doesn’t buy it, not quite. “I don’t engage in bestial murder. I’m not--”
“You are not like my kind?” Now it’s Villanelle’s turn to smile, and she does so with such satisfaction that it makes her light-headed, airy with relief. “I think you are more like me than you’d want to admit.”
The woman’s eyes glint; Villanelle can see it, void of the downy softness present in most humans’. And she knows that in the moment they can agree, at least, on this.
“Be careful,” the older woman says. “You’re treading on thin ice.”
“It’s winter in Moscow,” Villanelle scoffs. “We all are.”
“You weren’t so defiant before, you know.”
“And you are much bolder when you’re accompanied by a dozen of your hunters and their various -- tools.”
That smile again, just the barest lift of the woman’s lips, so much like Villanelle’s own catlike grin.
“Watch yourself closely,” the woman says slowly, rising from the bed, and Villanelle can see that she wears a cross around her neck. Stupid fucking archaic ward, Villanelle thinks. “We aren’t done with you yet.”
And I’m not done with you. Villanelle recalls Eve on the street, the white of the snow against her hair. The faint blush in her cheeks like the stain of wine. That lingering curiosity in her dark eyes.
She has an eternity for revenge, Villanelle knows. If loneliness is her punishment, then this will do for now.