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these mortifying ordeals

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x1.

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It is a cold and rainy London day, because it literally always is, and Villanelle is dead. Please hold your tears.

 

By the time her finger is on the doorbell, she is nothing again, like dreck scraped from dank prison walls. Beautiful dreck, but again, please, she is feeling the sting of personal loss quite keenly.

 

C’est la vie .

 

She has herself still, of course. Her shirt is beautiful and expensive like she is, her nails were done just the other day in a lovely shade of pearl, and she had made the time to primp her hair in a subway bathroom mirror while an unimpressed sanitation worker pretended to change the paper towels instead of watching her. She is used to being watched, no matter how much of her may or may not remain. And there is much of her - too much, too much too much Konstantin says. Blah, he is old and dead, but for-real dead unlike her.

 

“Tshcheslavnaya ,” he used to call her. He would have said something like, “ Rasstavlyai prioritety .” Something stupid, those were his favorite kinds of things to say after all. What could be a bigger priority than making sure she looked good before showing up on her doorstep after all this time?

 

A few seconds go by and Villanelle’s smile falters into annoyance. She reaches out again and jabs at the doorbell twenty, thirty, one hundred times - as many as it takes because London  is cold and wet and she is bored.

 

The door jerks open.

 

“What?!” 

 

“It is me.” Villanelle explains grandly, because it is. It always has been. Even when it is not - and that, at least, should be comforting.

 

But Eve does not look comforted at all. She just stares, face carefully blank and only an occasional blink. A very good poker face, well done, Eve. “What?” She cocks her hip to the side and Villanelle watches it happen like a slow-moving catastrophe. “Are you gonna kill me or something?” She asks with disinterest. 

 

Disinterest. Of all things.

 

A small frown pulls at her mouth and she looks closer, because the predictable is boring, but the boring is fatal. A closer look is better. Eve’s eyes are just a little too wide to be calm, knuckles a little too white against the frame of her door to be collected. Eve is just a light flavor of terrified and this is a good thing. It is good because if Eve is truly bored with her after all they’ve been through, it could have been fatal.

 

“What, like you have something better to do?” Villanelle pushes past her into the new flat Eve had gotten since Moustache and Rome and all of those inconsequential things. They have not seen one another in maybe one, two years. Time passes for her most days like a small, skittish bird alighting on different branches. Big moments and boring in between. Villanelle remembers these branches but she does not remember between and she does not remember why. But she remembers Eve.

 

And she is a little homeless at the moment. It is not so easy to be dead and alive at the same time, she has been finding.

 

Eve slams the door behind her and even at her back, Villanelle can hear the sliding of at least three deadbolts, two heavy chains, and the little electronic beeping of a big, scary alarm system. And the cocking of a gun. Villanelle grins to herself because how could she think they had become boring in the year apart? Villanelle’s smile keeps as she leaves Eve to her own devices and wanders around until the kitchen makes itself known. Eve may be bored, but she is never boring. And in that, we are saved.

 

“Your apartment is very ugly. Like an unclean hostel. Or a soup kitchen,” Villanelle flatters her, taking a little spin about the rickety butcher block island overflowing with ugly, mismatched pots and pans. A dying succulent sits in a little pot by the sink and Villanelle dutifully moves to send it into the great beyond. The great beyond is a garbage can under the sink. She has tried to explain this to Konstantin and he does not think it is funny. This would hurt Villanelle’s feelings if Konstantin was funny too.

 

Eve protests behind her, grabbing the back of her very, very expensive shirt and jerking the suede back. “Hey! What are you doing with that?”

 

“I am sending it into the great beyond.”

 

“Do that and I”ll send you into the great beyond,” Eve snaps, jerking the dead plant from Villanelle’s hands and placing it with great tender, surgical care upon the countertop. “Why do you have to touch my stuff?” She mutters, moving toward the coffee pot.

 

“It is dead,” Villanelle shrugs, leaning back against the sink and watching Eve put too little coffee grounds in a coffee maker with a terribly calcified pot, twenty years old at least. She almost adds, like me , but it is too soon for that, they have not even had terrible coffee yet. It is so hard to watch, but she sacrifices much for Eve. “I was helping.”

 

“You know what?” Eve hip-checks her out of the way of the sink rudely and begins to fill the pot. “Let’s agree not to help each other. It never ends well.”

 

Eve has gotten bolder. And meaner, like a cranky old person. It is very beautiful.

 

“It does not always end bad,” Villanelle defends. “I have done good things for you.”

 

“You have done bad things. That I requested. Let’s get that straight,” Eve corrects, not unkindly. “Just...don’t touch my plant. I’m fixing it.”

 

“Fixing it?” Villanelle eyes it doubtfully. It even has a bit of a smell about it, like the thing is rotting. “You can bring the dead back to life now, hm? You have come so far, Eve.”

 

“Keep it up, you won’t get any coffee.”

 

“This is not a threat,” Villanelle chortles, swinging open a pantry that looks like it was installed blindfolded. The door hangs sadly on a missing hinge when she lets it go, Eve calling behind her to be careful with it. There’s….not much inside. Many packages of dried noodles, a handful of apples, criminally cheap coffee grounds, seltzer water, whiskey, and Oreos.

 

Villanelle takes the Oreos and the seltzer water and leans back past the precarious cabinet door to catch Eve’s attention. “Do you have cranberries? Fresh lemon, lime, or orange? Anything?”

 

Eve looks up from watching the slow drip of the coffee pot, blinking like she’d truly been enthralled in the process. “What does this look like, the fresh fucking market?”

 

“It looks like a prison commissary,” Villanelle offers, honestly.

 

Eve’s expression somehow flattens further. “Literally why are you even here? Did you really just show up to insult my ugly apartment or are you here to kill me? Because if you’re here to kill me, I am actually begging you to get to the point. The ativan doesn’t cover stuff like this.”

 

“You know I have been to prison, Eve,” Villanelle ignores her. “I am just being honest - it is a favor . You are always mad at me for the not-truthful things.”

 

“Yes, that’s all I’m mad at you for.”

 

Villanelle grins at Eve’s back while she reaches up to the cabinets above the sink, groping around with her fingertips to try and hook a mug. It is a terribly placed cabinet. No one under six feet could possibly store anything up there unless they meant to never get it back and aren’t Londoners just so fun like that.

 

“This must be the ugliest flat in all of the united kingdoms,” Villanelle informs her dutifully as she comes up behind her. “I love it.”

 

Eve spares a brief glare over her shoulder, but plops back down on the flats of her feet in resignation, allowing Villanelle to reach over her head on tiptoes and hook a mug for her. She presents it with both hands like a grand prize, smiling wide and studying the annoyed set of Eve’s mouth. There are still nerves there, a careful kind of way she moves around her like they mustn’t touch . It’s not that she’s unaware she’s standing too close, it’s that she just can’t seem to help herself. For all the ways Villanelle has been accused of being inscrutable, never has it been so with Eve. It is simple:

 

Eve has never wanted Villanelle in any way that any person has ever wanted her. She knows her. And while Eve may fear her on a good day, she is not impressed by her. It’s like she wants to wrestle her to the ground and choke the secrets out of her until there’s nothing left and she can walk away. It’s an intoxicating kind of thing - she might let it happen.

 

“Give me that,” Eve mutters, yanking on the mug.

 

Villanelle hadn’t realized she’d been holding it hostage in clenched hands, but stiffly releases it so it tumbles back against Eve’s chest when she next gives it a tug. Eve gives her a weird sort of look and Villanelle smiles. “ Vsegda p azhalusta ,” she says quietly while Eve pushes past her to fill the mug.

 

Eve turns her back as she pours, several seconds passing in quiet adoration. For Villanelle. Eve is probably just thinking about coffee. Villanelle sometimes wonders if she would like Eve half as much if Eve actually liked her too. “ Mne tebya ne khvataet,” she adds, almost to herself. And because it is fun frustrating her, “ Ya vse vremya dumayu o tebe .”

 

Eve’s hand freezes where she was about to pour cream into her coffee, but it’s only just a moment before the glitch rights itself. She stirs in just that small bit of cream, then turns around with the mug in hand. “ Ya ni gavaryu pa rooski , ” Eve deadpans in sloppy Russian, sipping from her cup.

 

Villanelle grins and wags a finger at Eve’s unamused expression. “ Smeshno ,” she chuckles, moving to replace the seltzer water she’d taken with one of the many - many, shame on you Eve - whiskey bottles from the bottom of her sad pantry.

 

Eve seems on the verge of telling her off - or maybe Villanelle’s just been conditioned to think that is the state of being Eve exists in - but she doesn’t mention when Villanelle pours a very, very generous helping over ice in a too-large glass. Instead, she just shrugs and rolls her eyes.“ Smeshno? Ya ne izvesten etim ,” she deflects and Villanelle wonders, not for the first time, if this is what love is supposed to feel like. Wonders if she’ll ever know.

 

She’s been assured many times that she will not.

 

“When did you learn Russian? Are you trying to woo me, Eve?” She complains before taking a large gulp of very mediocre whiskey that’s much too late to back out of. Luckily, alcohol gets less bad the more you drink it. “Because it is working.”

 

“You came here,” Eve gripes, making some vague gesture at her hovel. “I’m just waiting for you to kill me or explain yourself.”

 

“Am I not allowed to visit?”

 

“Not really, no,” Eve counters. “Nobody’s supposed to know I’m alive, let alone here. And we don’t really do casual, do we?”

 

Villanelle looks Eve up and down, critical. “You come on very strong, Eve.”

 

She does not, of course - Eve comes on more like diet soda. Villanelle missed this, in whatever capacity she has been allowed by whoever decides she can or cannot love. But she can tell the conversation is wearing on Eve as they stand there in her ugly kitchen. Eve is like a small creature, hardy and brave but easily spooked into flight. She keeps making half-aborted reaches toward the obvious bulk of the handgun tucked in the back waistband of her pants. Villanelle wonders with no small amusement if she will try for it. What it will look like if she does.

 

“So what do you want from me?” Eve ignores her, because she is mean like that. “Piss off your handler? Leash in the wrong hands? Need some unsavory favor? Help finding a hit? Or is there a hit on me ?” She lists these things off as though they were normal. And they are, but usually only for Villanelle. Eve needs a vacation. “Are you gonna shoot me again? That hurt, you know.”

 

Eve needs a very long vacation.

 

“I apologized for that,” Villanelle defends herself, as is her right.

 

Eve’s eye twitches a little. “Uh? No? You didn’t?”

 

Villanelle thinks back carefully and is maybe forced to sort of contront that that might be true. “Oh. Well, I felt bad. In my head, I say: you know what? I should not have shot Eve. That was not nice. I should mention to Eve sometime, I am sorry for that,” She holds her hand out in a shrug as though to say, eto zhizn . “And I guess I forgot to actually say it to you. But I was sorry in my head.”

 

“Are you sorry outside of your head?”

 

“Very sorry,” Villanelle pouts out her lower lip and nods, perhaps laying it on a bit thick. “ Mne ochen' zhal' .”

 

Eve does not look entirely receptive. “ Chush sobach’ya ,” She grunts.

 

Villanelle laughs. “You stabbed me, remember? If you were sorry for that, you were also only sorry in your own head.”

 

“I definitely wasn’t sorry in my own head,” Eve assures her. “I wasn’t sorry anywhere. Now can we get to the part where you kill me or whatever? I’ve got a meeting pretty early tomorrow morning and it’s getting late.”

 

“I just need somewhere to stay. A day, maybe.” Maybe a week, a month, a lifetime, she doesn’t add, because who knows, really? Villanelle has never planned so far ahead. “And what are friends for?”

 

“We,” and here Eve gestures very pointedly between the two of them, “are not friends. And you are up to something.

 

Villanelle takes another too-large gulp of the whiskey and it’s certainly made her mouth a little numb to the taste, but it is not good. “I am sorry you had to find out this way, but this is what my friendships look like.”

 

“You don’t have any friends. Besides maybe Konstantin. But you tried to shoot him too, so it’s hard to say with you.”

 

“Konstantin is dead. Pust’ zemlya emu budget pukhom, staromu ublyudku .

 

“Okay, you don’t have any friends,” Eve shrugs, so mercilessly that Villanelle has to fight the urge to kiss her. She would probably get shot, but it would be worth it.

 

Villanelle runs a fingertip delicately around the sweating rim of her glass, trying her best to give Eve what she hopes looks like a sincere look. It is not, but she hopes it looks that way. “I have you,” she tries.

 

Eve raises one eyebrow, studying her carefully over the lip of her coffee mug. They go on that way for a long two minutes until Villanelle starts to wonder if she’s going to strain something. She’s never tried to look so sincere for such a long period of time.

 

“You can sleep on my very uncomfortable couch. With one blanket,” Eve dictates, holding up a finger before Villanelle can interject. “We are not friends. And if you kill me in my own ugly home, I swear to god I’ll kill you. Clear?”

 

Villanelle nods very slowly, very very sincerely. Cross her heart and hope to die.

 

____________________

 

 

Villanelle is put on a very ugly, very uncomfortable couch with exactly one blanket and no bedtime stories. Eve barely even looks at her as she throws the scratchiest blanket she could possibly find into Villanelle’s face and closes her bedroom door between them. The sound of several additional locks and deadbolts fills the silence until there’s nothing to fill it anymore. She thinks that Eve stands at the door for the next ten minutes, listening. Waiting.

 

She lasts about twelve seconds more before Villanelle is getting up from the couch and wandering around the apartment, poking into every cabinet and drawer. She is certain Eve can hear her - maybe even has the place on a thousand paranoid cameras and monitors behind her bedroom door. But Eve doesn’t come out to stop her, so Villanelle snoops.

 

There is a drawer in the kitchen filled entirely with pens and batteries that don’t work and the twist ties and clips off of loaves of bread. Villanelle is fascinated by this habit. What is the point of this? She must know in the morning, this takes precedence.

 

There are also many, many guns. Villanelle finds three without even really trying and she suspects if she wanted to, she could find more. And Eve is interesting without any of these things, but Villanelle wonders if she should have asked what Eve does with her days now that she no longer works for government spies. It seems no less fraught and it’s a bad time for her to be involved with anyone so fraught . Being dead is deadly business.

 

Overall, the apartment is ugly and without any secrets, really. Eve has gotten sneakier.

 

Eventually, Villanelle does tire. She pulls her single, scratchy blanket up to her chin and rests her sore back against very prominently deformed couch springs. It takes the weight off the roaring pain etched into her stomach and up to her collarbones, lets the tacky edges of the shit bandages she’d fashioned  shift back into place and settle under her shirt. Maybe that should be a relief, but when she’s lying down without anything to distract her, it all feels clearer, higher definition. It is terribly uncomfortable being stabbed that many times. While she stares up at the ceiling, which is also somehow ugly - really , it is just a ceiling, how have they managed - she wonders what a person is to do when they must be dead while they are alive.



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She’s snapped the man’s neck, quick and clean from behind, but it doesn’t matter so much anymore. He has already done the thing and she is too late to mean much of anything to him. 

 

Konstantin is lying on his face in a pool of blood in the hotel room he checked them into just that morning. My, my but they act fast. Villanelle cocks her head to the side, studying the slump of Konstantin’s shoulders and the way blood spindles and twists down the legs of the chair he must have been sitting in until it soaks into the fancy carpet. Villanelle furrows her brow and blows out a frustrated breath. 

 

What a waste. She had been breaking that one in for so long. 

 

She steps over the crumpled form of the cut-rate assassin dead in the doorway and wanders over toward the minibar, grabs the vodka and turns to lean against the counter as she surveys the scene. The cleaners will be there soon and it will be like nobody ever existed. If she paid attention to these things, she might even know why Konstantin was not needed anymore. Might know why and how and when - but that was never her part of the job. Those are the boring parts. 

 

She twists the cap off of a tiny bottle and sips at it, staring at the back of Konstantin’s head and trying to decide how she feels about it. There’s a stone in her stomach and her hands are trembling a little, though she doesn’t know why. 

 

“Eto ty sovsem nekstati, starik,” she says, Russian feeling weird in her mouth after so long. It’s like coming home. 

 

She hates home. 

 

Vaguely, she wonders if she is crying. That would be so weird, can you imagine? “Ya  ne razreshala tebe umirat’,” she says instead, because this all seems like his fault or at least partly his fault. 

 

She cracks another bottle and drinks that too and then she leaves him behind to be swept up and forgotten. 

 

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Villanelle wakes up before the gun is in her face, but she chooses not to appear awake until it is already there, trained on her frontal lobe. This is the part that Konstantin said would have controlled her impulses if she had one. He said she was born tragically without one, because he thinks he’s so funny. He was wrong, of course, Villanelle can control almost anything she wants, she just usually does not want to.

 

“Good morning,” Villanelle says calmly.

 

Eve’s hair is a little wild, but she seems more calm than the previous night. She has said her morning affirmations in the mirror, evidently, and they have provided her the clarity to try and shoot her in the face. “Morning, asshole.”

 

“You are so beautiful when you threaten me,” Villanelle says into the blanket over her mouth. She shifts a little, swallows a grunt of pain at the way her emergency floss stitches pull at her poor skin. Having a gun in your face is a bad time to show weakness, she has found. Doesn’t wish to find again. Maybe can’t afford to, she only has so many lives.

 

Eve cocks the gun.

 

“I’ve reached a conclusion,” she declares and Villanelle wonders if that should worry her.

 

It would be easy to disarm her, Villanelle thinks. Eve was not trained for this and a year and distance probably couldn’t have changed that much. But there is a large, frontal-lobe-controlled part of her that wants to see where this is going if she does nothing. “I’m not going to like this, am I?”

 

“I’ve decided you’re up to something,” Eve continues, gun steadier than it might have been a year prior.

 

Villanelle thinks about denying it, because she hadn’t really thought she was. But then? It is not a very good insurance policy to deny something that could change so quickly. Well intentioned today, gone tomorrow.

 

When she doesn’t respond, Eve pokes the muzzle against Villanelle’s forehead. “And I’ll figure it out, so you might as well tell me what it is.”

 

“I really did need a place to sleep,” Villanelle says. “ Chestnoe slovo, ” because it means almost nothing and Eve knows it.

 

Tvoe chestnoye slovo - chush' sobach'ya ,” Eve says darkly and oh, but Eve has learned many impressive tricks. Her accent is so terrible.

 

Villanelle laughs and bats the gun away even though it comes back to her head a moment later. “Your Russian is coming along, Eve. Have you been thinking about me? I am wondering what you have gotten up to since I last saw you.”

 

“You mean after you shot me?”

 

Villanelle gestures flippantly, because it is not such a big deal. Time and distance have removed the sting of it. Besides, neither of them meant it, she is sure. “After we disagreed. You think I’m incapable of feeling things and I show you you’re wrong. We both behaved poorly.”

 

Eve looks so badly like she wants to argue or maybe even pull the trigger, but the gun lowers to a more casual gesture down in the area of Villanelle’s chest. “Either way. You might need a place to sleep, but there’s something deeper here. There’s a reason you can’t go anywhere else. A reason you’re here and not somewhere else. A reason you’re at my door.”

 

“Reason, reason, reason,” Villanelle rolls her eyes. “You know what your problem is, Eve?”

 

“I met you.”

 

“Your problem is you think everything has a rational explanation. You think you can figure everything out. You think you can figure me out.” Villanelle pushes against the barrel of the gun, turning it toward the back of the couch. “I am here because I felt like it. I am here because I have nowhere else to be and I thought of you when I was sitting in an ice cream parlor, looking at a glass case and deciding between chocolate and strawberry. I am here for no reason.” She sits up and Eve makes no real move to stop her. “Does that frustrate you, Eve?”

 

“You frustrate me.”

 

Villanelle grins because Eve has missed her . “You frustrate me,” she teases.

 

“Don’t be gross,” Eve sighs, letting the gun drop to her side. She rubs a weary hand across her forehead and walks away, heading for the coffee pot. While she dumps grounds in the filter, she blows out a long, shaky breath. “Can you at least tell me why you have nowhere else to be?”

 

Villanelle casts off the itchy blanket and pulls her shirt back on, gingerly over the bandages. It's a tragedy Eve isn’t even looking, but then she is not at her most beautiful in this moment. Eve is paying attention to the water level in the coffee pot like that will save her coffee at all. After she’s walked the length of the kitchen to come up at Eve’s side and catch her attention, she paints a comically sad expression across her face.

 

“I’m dead,” she laments. And maybe Eve doesn’t get it, so Villanelle mimics a hammed-up version of crying.

 

Eve does not cry with her. She looks tragically uninterested and that hurts her feelings a little bit. “Who thinks you’re dead?”

 

“Everyone. Poor me.”

 

Eve just scoffs and jabs at the power button to turn on her shitty coffee pot. “How’d you manage that?”

 

“I think maybe you don’t want to know.” Eve snorts in agreement and Villanelle considers the conversation over. She opens the drawer she had found last night. “Why do you have a drawer of batteries and pens and the twist ties from bread?”

 

“Were you snooping in my stuff last night?”

 

Villanelle rolls her eyes. “Yes, you were standing at your bedroom door listening. What do the bread clips do?”

 

“Hold bread,” Eve deflects.

 

Villanelle wonders if some mysteries were never meant to be solved. Maybe bread clips are to Eve what Eve is to Villanelle: a thing with seemingly limited uses that she is enthralled by for all the wrong reasons.

 

“I have to go to work,” Eve says when the coffee machine starts beeping. “Can I trust you here?” A brief, almost nonexistent pause. “You know what? I can’t. But whatever. Do what you want, I’ll be back at six if you’re still here.”

 

And she’s gone very quickly after that with a travel thermos and at least one gun on her person, which is totally normal.



____________________



Villanelle goes to a park nearby. It is not, perhaps, the best time to be outside in light of everything that’s happened and all the people she may or may not have killed. Semantics. If they are looking for her, she will roll the dice. Eve’s apartment is small and besides a strange drawer in the kitchen and too, too many guns: not that interesting.

 

She sits on a bench drinking a hot chocolate and watching people she wished were Eve. Or anything more interesting than what they were. A man jerks his toddler son’s arm when the child tries to stop and put his hand in a bit of a puddle, just a little too hard so it probably kind of hurts. Oksana had a father who would do it harder . These things are not interesting, because she feels the yawning void of nothing most poignantly when she thinks about her father or the cryptic archaic wasteland of her home village. It is all so much nothing.

 

She watches a woman writing in a diary. She is trying too hard. Diaries are for people who think they are not saying enough important things, but very few people ever say anything of real importance. She should give up. She is not interesting.

 

She watches a teenage boy writing on the arm of a bench with a marker, tongue caught between focused, clenched teeth. It is rebellion nobody will ever know and so impotent as to be a form of conformity in itself. He changes nothing and he is not interesting.

 

She watches herself in the glossy reflection of a food cart as it passes her by. She is alone, nothing, wearing the same shirt as yesterday, a bored look on her face. Even she is not interesting and that is worth lamenting.

 

She sees Eve walking briskly in her direction, phone pressed to her ear and clearly not there for her. She’s passing through. Her hair is gathered back, her expression is stern, and her strides are long. She does nothing and she is somehow interesting. How does she do that?

 

Villanelle leaves her drink on the bench next to her to trail behind Eve toward the east end of the park. She cannot follow too closely, because Eve has learned tricks and she is probably very used to being followed. And even more used to being followed by her.

 

Eve looks over her right shoulder, but Villanelle is closer to her left, spared only by luck. As Villanelle passes a bench where an old man is reading, she takes the dark pork pie hat he’d settled on the bench next to him and forgotten to safeguard. This goes on her head and she does not even have the time to wonder how it looks. It is probably not her greatest.

 

Eve looks over her left shoulder and Villanelle pretends to be heading toward a drinking fountain. It is worth noting that whatever Eve might be up to, she still feels she must check her back and that is also interesting.

 

Villanelle ponders these things as they exit the park and round the cafe she had gotten her drink in that morning: in a world of very fleeting attachments and meaning, it is still of great mystery the way she wants Eve. Even after all this time! Almost having her guts pulled out in the keel of a fishing boat while on holiday really put her priorities straight, she thinks. Like only these things can.

 

She still wants. She wants with so much wound up something that she can barely crack her knuckles. And though she has tried not to think on it, tried to drown it in blood and champagne and good food, Rome is a good example of how little she understands this want . It is like the street dog she used to goad into attacking her father when he came home from work. The dog would chase his tail sometimes, round and round and round, out of reach, and Villanelle would wonder what he would do if he ever caught it. She spent so much time wanting Eve without knowing what that meant. She doesn't even know how she wants her. It is an amorphous shape on the horizon. She doesn't know what she will do if she has her.

 

To want is a strange ordeal. In Rome she believed that this want was the same she had for pettier things - rich silks, high fashion, the most expensive champagne, ice cream, sex - things you can buy or take. She put Eve in a position to have her - take her, maybe.  It did not work. It was a perfect plan and it failed. And she does not know why and so here she is again.

 

Villanelle watches Eve take a two top table in the front patio of another cafe and look around like she is waiting for someone. Smoothly, Villanelle takes a small table under the awning of a sleepy pub just waking up to serve fried lunch specials and curries, across the street and far enough to keep tabs.  It occurs to Villanelle she does not know why she is watching Eve, following her. She is chasing her tail again. These are also frontal lobe things, maybe, if she had one.

 

Ten minutes pass and then twelve and then a scrawny boy with too many elbows and not enough everything else comes up to ask her if she would like to order. She would not, but Eve is still sitting there across the way, so she tells him to bring her the most expensive thing on the menu. Of course, she will not eat it and she has no money, but he doesn’t know that.

 

At eighteen minutes, a pretty lady with a sweeping, elegant jacket approaches Eve’s table and Eve stands to grasp her hand. She is not prettier than Villanelle, but well done nonetheless, Eve.

 

No. Eve pulls out a large redwell filled with boring documents and begins pulling out papers to show the pretty woman. Boo. Not well done, Eve.

 

They are talking business and Villanelle is almost bored again, but it is worth wondering what business a disgraced, dead, former MI5 operative could possibly be engaged in. If the clock is anything to go by, Eve has had at least two meetings already and that is an awful lot of meetings for a person otherwise unemployed. There is a moment, maybe two, where Villanelle amuses the idea that Eve could be turning her in to old contacts - giving her up, stabbing her in the back. She’s already stabbed her in the front, the back would not be all too surprising.

 

But then...Eve does not share well. And as different as she purports the two of them to be, she has a similar inability to play well with others. No. If Eve is to rid herself of Villanelle, it will be her own doing, to her face.

 

After thirty-two minutes, boredom mounting, the woman with high cheekbones and obnoxiously perfect - but not more perfect than Villanelle - hair tries to make the action of pulling out a wad of cash in an envelope look discreet. There is no way to exchange a rectangular envelope over a cafe table during a business meeting in a way that approaches discreet. Villanelle has received hundreds of envelopes across tables in her life and not one was discreet. You want to know how to catch a government official taking bribes? Watch. It is always easy to see if you are looking. 

 

Eve takes her conspicuous envelope and shoves it in her purse like it is yesterday’s laundry and not a pretty chunk of cash as its thickness would suggest. She reaches forward to take the woman’s hand and appears surprised when the woman takes it to pull her forward and kiss both of her cheeks. Eve! This is progress!

 

Eve looks a little mortified, but such is the process. The sexy lady picks up her very, very expensive purse and bids Eve farewell. Another minute passes where Eve shuffles her folders around and then she’s turning and looking straight out across the street directly at Villanelle.

 

It is not as surprising as it should be and not as mortifying either. She is a chameleon of the highest regard and value but Eve is looking at her and that is better. The same impossible thrill of being seen shoots out toward her fingertips and her heart trips up in excitement. She chases her tail because it is so close .

 

She raises her hand and waggles her fingertips in Eve’s direction because she wants even if she does not know in what way. Existentialism is not one of the seven languages that she speaks. Could she learn? She is very smart.

 

When Eve begins stomping across the distance between them, that same thrilling consternated look on her face she always gets when Villanelle has done nothing wrong whatsoever makes her think maybe she should try. Maybe she should wax poetic. Maybe she should look at art and try to understand it.

 

No, that all seems a bit drastic.

 

“Good afternoon. Look at you, finding me. Not stabbing me. You have grown much,” Villanelle says resolutely, nodding like they are also about to have a business meeting.

 

Eve sits down so hard the chair creaks a little. “Was that interesting for you? Watching me meet with a client? Let me save you some time in the future: nothing I’m doing is interesting and following me will get you nowhere.”

 

“Clients? That sounds serious ,” Villanelle raises her eyebrows and grins over her sparkling water glass. “What are you up to with your clients ?”

 

“Whatever they’ll pay me for,” Eve mutters and then immediately shoots down the scandalous look Villanelle tries to pass her way. “Not like that. Low-level PI work. It’s hard to build a network when you’ve had to change your name and basically sign an NDA about your own life. I’m allowed to exist, but I’m not allowed to exist as I was. You know?”

 

“I do not,” Villanelle says joyfully. She has always existed as she is and does not understand what it would mean to not. “You are like a secret agent now, very sexy.”

 

“I investigate cheating spouses almost exclusively,” Eve says, flat. She’s about to go on, her mouth is open and everything, but the angular server boy comes back and looks between the two of them nervously before putting a large plate of surf and turf right in the middle like maybe the two will fight over it. Maybe they should, just to give him a show. Villanelle would let Eve win because women like that and she is a gentlewoman.

 

Eve looks down at the meal, then back up with a question in her eyes. Villanelle just shrugs and gestures at the plate for Eve to help herself. It is only fair, because Villanelle is certainly not paying for it. Somehow, even the way Eve saws off a rudely large portion of the T-Bone, spears it on her fork, and gnaws on it like a dog is attractive. Surely this is something covered by the existential language, it must be referenced somewhere.

 

“The sexy lady you met with. Her husband is stepping out on her? Men are stupid,” Villanelle says agreeably.

 

Eve grunts, not all that interested and waves her steak around a bit. “Her wife. She thinks she’s seeing another designer in the City. I think she’s probably right. Neither seems all that subtle, but I get paid for shiny photo prints, not relationship advice.”

 

Villanelle makes a long, thoughtful sound which Eve seems only a little wary of. “Interesting. Very interesting.”

 

“High praise from you,” Eve puts her skewered steak down and leans forward. “What’s interesting?”

 

“Interesting how she wants to fuck you,” Villanelle says simply. It is interesting, she is not lying, but Eve looks at her like she thinks she might be.

 

“Me? Real funny.”

 

Villanelle wags her finger disapprovingly. “ Ya ne izvesten etim ,” she teases in a very poor approximation of Eve’s voice. It is purposeful. Villanelle could do an excellent Eve impression were she so called upon.

 

Suddenly, Eve seems a lot more interested - leans even further forward and lets out a quiet huh when she seems to find no deceit in Villanelle’s face. “Interesting, indeed. What makes you think she wants to fuck me?”

 

It is quite possible that Eve is interested in more than just the theory of the thing. Possible that this is not a line of questioning that Villanelle should be encouraging. But it is also possible that Villanelle is blind stupid with the way Eve seems relaxed and engaged in spending time with her - time doing nothing and just being together. Which is most probable, though?

 

“She did not kiss your cheek like she was used to doing it,” Villanelle shrugs. “But it was an overthought motion. She’d been considering it since she arrived because she’s wanted to since before you met up. She’s been thinking about it since she saw you last.” Villanelle purses her lips and taps a thoughtful finger against her chin. “And she was not comfortable with how low-cut her shirt was, which means she just bought it and wouldn’t normally buy something like that. She bought it for you. And she kept recrossing her legs because she could not figure out what was most sexy. And she took thirty minutes to tell you something that could have taken five. And she insists on meeting up in person multiple times when these things could be handled easier ways. And she knows her wife is cheating on her and does not need to spend $2,000 to prove a thing that has almost no burden of proof.” She pauses. “Do you need more reasons? I have many.”

 

“Wow.”

 

Villanelle twirls her straw around and around the rim of her glass and shrugs. “I am very good, Eve, you should know this. But I take the compliment nonetheless.”

 

“Do you ever turn it off?” Eve asks.

 

When Villanelle looks up from her glass, Eve is leaned far across the table, head cocked to the side and wholly invested in everything Villanelle does. And what is a girl to do? Resist these things?

 

Dog, meet tail.

 

“My genius?”

 

Eve makes a disapproving noise, like she cannot deny this, but would rather not encourage it. “It’s like we all see in black and white and you see in color. I think I’m seeing something, but I’m seeing twenty percent of it.”

 

“You know what Konstantin says? Prismotris . Look closer, Eve. I am very gifted, but sight is not a gift.” Eve stays quiet for just long enough that Villanelle raises an eyebrow. “What?”

 

“I think that’s the first time I’ve ever heard you be modest. Did it feel weird? Did you like, hurt yourself?”

 

Ah. They are doing the teasing thing. It is like they are the friends Villanelle keeps trying to convince her they are. “I am very good at everything, Eve. I am very good at being modest, too. It is one of my infinite talents.”

 

“So, what do you think?” Eve goes back to her steak and Villanelle is left to wonder what she’s talking about. Some of that must show on her face because Eve swallows her mouthful and gestures impatiently. “Should I fuck her?”

 

Villanelle grins because this is another game they are playing and Villanelle is very good at games and even better at winning. “Hm. I could teach you if you want.”

 

“How to fuck her?” Eve laughs.

 

“Whatever you need, Eve.” And of course she means it, but she knows the answers to the riddles they speak in are not so simple. “But what I meant is that I can show you how to see. You will stop looking. Always looking. Instead, I will show you how to see.”




____________________




It is a good way to get free dinner, anyway. Villanelle is not so sure that Eve believes her when she says she has no money that is accessible at the moment - and maybe this would be a bluff well called, but Eve should know that the one thing Villanelle does not lie about is her finances. She is tragically destitute until she can find a way to be undead.

 

Eve is not much better.

 

“Someone just handed you £2,000 and you take me for sandwiches,” Villanelle laments. “You get only one sandwich worth of lessons from me. I am very expensive.”

 

“I’m aware,” Eve deflects. She probably is, anyhow, but the insult is still there. “My pay days are few and far between. Remember when you shot me and MI5 asked me to disappear in a casual way? Hard to find work like this. Be happy with your sandwich.”

 

“Do you know, it is very difficult to be sexy while eating a sandwich. It is ugly food,” she says, flipping open the top piece of bread to study its contents.

 

Eve takes a hypnotic, unsexy bite of her own sandwich and chews slowly. “You really don’t have any money, do you? What the hell happened to you?”

 

“I told you, I died. Are you not sad?”

 

“No. How’d that happen?”

 

Villanelle waves her off, pulling a slice of deli meat out of her sandwich to nibble on. “It is not interesting. The Twelve dissolved - cannibalized itself as these things do after a while. Too many cooks in the kitchen I think, but I do not care to know, really.” Eve watches these words leave her mouth, sandwich suspended above the table and leaking into the plastic tray under it. “I am what they call loose ends to be cut. You know, they do not stab me nearly so gentle as you. I used to be angry with you, but I think now maybe you stabbed me so sweetly. Very clean.” Next, she eats the pickles one by one.

 

“Back up,” Eve says, holding up one hand and letting her sandwich droop. “Stabbed? The Twelve is...gone?”

 

“The name is,” Villanelle shrugs, trying to shuffle the conversation along so they can get back to things that do not bore her to tears. “Eve, you think The Twelve is the big evil in the world? The big evil is the kind of people with the money and the narcissism to stand on each other’s shoulders. Today: The Twelve. Tomorrow: The Thirteen. By next week? Maybe The Fourteen. I do not know. The Twelve is like an outfit we wear. We can always take it off and put on another.”

 

“I’m not sure I follow.”

 

Villanelle nods, because sometimes she’s not sure she does either. The words she wants paint pictures in her head like ugly Russian countryside, but when she reaches for the English words they are like street-pedled bootlegs. Cheap and ill-fitting. “I am much smarter in Russian, you know? And French. Isn’t that hard to imagine?”

 

“Are you saying there are other organizations operating with the same influence and reach as The Twelve? How is that possible?” Eve murmurs and there is just that little spark of danger that always leaves Villanelle feeling like she plays mistress to Eve’s true passion. Eve flirts with the infidelity of Villanelle’s company, but is very lovingly committed to these darker, larger, scarier concepts. Frustrating.

 

Villanelle blows a large raspberry, drawing the attention of several ruffled customers nearby. “I’m saying that Influence-And-Reach is a big fat ugly white man wearing a nametag that said The Twelve yesterday and might say anything tomorrow. It is a name, Eve. Deep pockets don’t fill charity boxes, they trade people like me around because they hate rules . And I am expensive.” 

 

Eve lets her sandwich fall into the pool of dreck at the bottom of her tray, no longer invested. “So that’s it then, huh? We’re all just playing hand puppets with someone’s rich hand up our ass, huh? The Twelve dissolves their assets and moves on to the next big thing. It’s just...money.”

 

Inspired, Villanelle brandishes the top bread of her sandwich at Eve. “You study assassins to stop them. You want to stop us, Eve? Do not pay us so much .” Maybe it is not true, because Villanelle was raised with her father’s fingerprints in a clear ten-point match on her throat and killed him when she was too young to even tie her shoes right all the time, but she says, “If assassins were not the luxury toys of the rich, I might have taken up something that paid more. I could have been a doctor, Eve.”

 

“Yeah, right,” Eve snorts. “You’d be a shit doctor. You don’t feel anything.”

 

Villanelle feels something cold drip down her spine. “You’d be a shit assassin. You feel too much.”



____________________




Eve does not linger in the evening. She makes no comment whatsoever about Villanelle staying the night again or minding her business or not killing her in her sleep. Wherever her head has gone, it leads her to lock herself in her bedroom, turn on the loud hum of an old computer and descend into dull silence and keyboard clacking. Villanelle is left bored again without Eve’s attention and she turns on the television to watch some vapid fashion show competition. A girl designs a frock that looks like a bed sheet tent and is sent home in tears. Villanelle laughs a bit and drinks more of Eve’s whiskey and waits for something interesting or sleep to take her.

 

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Alaska is beautiful or it was until she was on her back with Bruno’s dirty hands shoved in her face, bouncing the back of her skull against the sloppy floor of her fishing boat.  

 

She should have known better, fishing is awful and so is being ambushed on holiday. But you try new things when you’re on holiday and you know what trying new things gets you? 

 

Murdured. 

 

Konstantin buried in an extremely expensive casket she had picked out in his favorite part of Moscow, The Twelve imploding on themselves while more and more operatives turned up dead and even more turned up traitor or just plain stupid, Villanelle feeling wistful that time of year. These were all good reasons to take holiday. And the summertime made her think of Eve and Rome and what can she say, she is a romantic? They were going to go to Alaska someday - they were supposed to. But Eve ruined everything by making Villanelle shoot her, the absolute nerve. 

 

It coincided nicely with the understanding that she was going to be strung up like a trophy kill if she stuck around any longer for the fireworks show The Twelve was making of itself. It was weird to be unemployed. Being a free agent was fun sometimes, but overwhelmingly boring and expensive. Many, many reasons to get on a plane to Ketchikan with the last of her cash and a keenness to find out exactly what a misty fjord was. 

 

It is basically a river, as it turns out. 

 

She wanders around alone in the expansive wilderness a lot, even though many people tell her not to. Maybe that’s why she does it, who can say? Alaska is beautiful, but it ends up making her glum after a while. Everything is so big and empty and normally she enjoys solitude, but it is summertime and Eve is dead or something. 

 

In a bar she meets a bear of a man who doesn’t smile, but somehow still laughs while he does it. Bruno tells her she is glum because she hasn’t gone fishing yet. Fishing is happiness, or something, it is hard to tell because his English is terrible and his everything else is worse. Villanelle agrees to go out on his charter boat and fish for salmon, because it sounds boring, but sometimes being boring makes her nostalgic for Eve. 

 

His boat is shit and he is bad at driving it, like he’s never done it before? These are things she has time to agonize on after he comes up behind her halfway into their first day on the sea with a thick forearm around her throat and enough chloroform to kill someone twice-over clamped across her mouth and nose. 

 

She’s able to mostly feign unconsciousness, but he does not relent until she’s actually pretty close to it. When he lets her drop to the floor of the hull, her brain feels like mashed potatoes, fully buttered. As though from under water, she watches him unfurl a leather knife roll filled with all kinds of fun toys she is sure she will hate. She does not play well with others and if she had to guess, she is starting to think that Bruno is also paid to not play well with others. 

 

“Twelve is liking to congratulate you on the retirement,” he waffles through somehow. “And to thanking you for service.” 

 

“Oh they can to-thanking me with baloons and cards instead,” she slurs, generating just enough energy to flop over onto her back to stare up at beautiful, stupid Alaskan sky. 

 

Bruno’s giant face appears over hers and he is still somehow laughing without a smile. She realizes belatedly that he is kneeling over her, straddling her hips and working open her thick thermal jacket. “Tell me how feels,” he requests, almost politely. 

 

Then he punches the knife deep into her gut and alright, alright, she is screaming. It is very difficult not to and much like space, it turns out nobody can hear you in the north atlantic either. 

 

“Not yet,” he clucks and then holy motherfuck he begins to drag the fully-imbedded knife up toward her throat and finally her stupid training kicks in. Or maybe it is just pure adrenalyn and survival instinct, she is about to be bisected so she is not feeling picky. 

 

Her hand comes up and she throws it like limp weight as hard as possible into the stark bridge of his nose with a satisfying crack.

 

Bruno sits back on her stomach with a controlled grunt, both hands going up on instinct to touch at his nose. Unfortunately, this brings the knife with him, carving up and out of her stomach shallowly to cut across her body into the skin at her collarbones while she screams. Her hands reach out, scrabble at the loose debris in the bottom of the boat until she grabs the handle of a tackle box and wrenches her shoulder across her body to smash it into the side of his head. 

 

Bruno hardly moves from off her, which is disappointing. But he has lifted up to suspend above her on his knees and she takes the opportunity to reach her hands above her head, blinded by pain when she touches the hull of the boat and pushes hard. 

 

Her whole body goes sliding out from under Bruno, right through his legs until she is free at last and she can try to hold her own guts in while she staggers for his knife roll. He catches her ankle as she reaches it, pulls her back down, but she’s already nabbed an oyster-shucking knife and boy is that bad news for him. 

 

He rolls her over before he sees her prize and then he can’t see it at all because it is lodged in his left eye and he is screaming even higher than she was. It doesn’t debilitate him. That is how she is on her back having her head bounced against the floor of the fishing boat while his blood runs down her cheeks and into her mouth. This is possibly the sloppiest assassination attempt she has ever had the pleasure of being apart of. 

 

It is embarrassing that it is working, though. 

 

She knows she’s going to pass out, it is a feeling she’s become intimately acquainted with. So she reaches up clumsily with pointed fingers and makes a grab for his right eye - actually manages to wrap her fingers around something and rip it out. Holy fuck she has ripped his eyeball out, that is so gross it is like a peeled grape. Kill of the year, easily. 

 

Bruno topples to the side, falling from her stomach and making noises like a small animal giving very loud birth. Villanelle gives herself a few hazy moments of peace and then a few more by rolling over and using the heavy metal tackle box to pummel Bruno’s face until the front of his skull collapses in on it. 

 

Fishing, as it turns out, is terrible. 



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x2.

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