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these mortifying ordeals

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+11 months.




It’s always the same routine and it goes something like this:


Wake up deluded, confused, adrift, try to catch the decaying ends of whatever pleasant dream, fail , mourn but mourn quickly, she can’t keep doing this, roll her aching back until she can turn on her side and face the wall next to her metal cot, peruse the vivid array of postcards from dozens of countries, smile at the cheesy traveler slogans on each one, run her fingers over her favorites and try to hear the handwritten notes in her voice, roll stiffly onto her back again through a groan and phantom muscle aches that never quite seem to leave her, she’s better but she’s not better , the doctors don’t think she’ll ever be better like that but then they don’t really know her very well, fish the plastic Walkman from under her thin pad of a mattress, fit the wonky headset as best she can over her ears, crank the volume on her only CD, and-


“You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life, ooooh~”


Until she can’t stand it any longer.


It’s catchy, it’s delightful, it’s delirious, she’s listened to it 6,347 times since it arrived with a bow on it, no note, no warning, worn holes in her brain for it, it’s the greatest song ever written, it’s the worst song ever written, it’s-


See that girl, watch that scene, digging the dancing queen!”


But she’s been trained extensively in the art of resisting torture, this is nothing. They’re stranded on the same island, the two of them. They’ve been through so much together.


She serves a very important purpose, this ABBA, and it’s drowning every single thought she’s ever, may ever have until it’s not what if and if only but rather-




Holy fucking matrimony.


Ad nauseam until the limit reveals itself to her. It’s a gift after all. And she never thought she’d evolve quite in this way, but she’s become a sentimental kind of lunatic. A rare and beautiful freak of nature lording over her dragon’s horde of worthless treasures. It’s displayed grandly, bright and cheerful and psychotic on every wall of her seven square meters, look, but don’t touch. Admire. Respectfully:


A fussy little wooden puzzle she can now solve in just under six seconds, a jackalope headmount from somewhere called Wall Drug that sings a haunting song if she presses the button underneath it but she doesn’t because she’s already tiptoes over the cliffside - only her heels pulling weight back on sanity-, a collection of spoons and straws that change colors when she eats or drinks with them, shot glasses from a dozen states, a hideous painting of the “Virgin” Mary she doesn’t have the heart to take down, equally disturbing street art from São Paulo of a sad clown, a goofy loch ness monster figurine, a snow globe from Oslo, a bobblehead of Al Capone from Chicago, free weights she’s worn her fingerprints into over hundreds of thousands of reps, a small collection of gruesome movies she only gets to see every other Friday in front of a grainy television, and coloring books she’s filled to bursting, every last corner of every last page, her favorites tacked to the walls like look what I made to nobody in particular. To name a few.


Do not touch.


She has made this very clear to everyone, violently so. It’s been established.


-then: climb out of bed, stretch, wonder why it still hurts after nearly a year, it’s not like she died or anything, splash metal-heavy water in her mouth and face, tie her limp hair back - ugh , she can’t stand to see what’s become of it - roll the pants of her jumpsuit up to her knees, peel the top down and knot around her waist, pull ups from the bar they are no longer convinced she’s going to hang herself from, weights, headstands, honest to god juggling, of all things - she’s learning , be nice, music-


“Friday nights and the lights are low-,” not loud enough-


“-LOOKING OUT FOR A PLACE TO GO-,” oops, too loud-


- definitely no dancing, not even a little bit when nobody’s watching, okay? None, she promises. A book in Korean, she’s picking up more and more each day. Breakfast always, always late because they don’t like having to interact with her, fight audibly about who has to do it, who has less to live for.




She sits cross-legged on the floor in front of the door and waits for the hatch in the door to open and-


“-with a bit of rock music, everything is fine-”


“Stand back,” he says. It’s Brody , she knows by his listing voice, drunken vowels. That’s his real name! Is he a guard or is he a surfer? Rock on Brody.


She stays back this time - though the routine differs here depending on her mood and how naughty she’s feeling - and Brody slides a tray of reheated frozen fried-egg patties and coffee sachets into her cell. Then careful, careful , like brain surgery he wiggles a tin cup of hot water onto the ledge and they’re such good friends now she doesn’t try to throw it in his eyes anymore. Hasn’t in days.


The eggs and fake coffee change hands peacefully, good behavior , if the English government asks after her. But they won’t, because she technically doesn’t exist and is definitely not in their prison, off the record. She is definitely not eating their eggs, which used to be cereal like everyone else, but she didn’t like the cereal, wouldn’t eat it, and she is what the guards jokingly call connected . Privileged, as it were, though it’s all very hush hush.


It’s why she’s been allowed so many valueless contraband tchotchkes - nay, treasures, gifts , any of which she could use to kill a person a dozen different ways, but there’s trust there, bless them. Trust!


This trust is in the comfort of impossibility. Trust that there’s no human way to escape the otherwise evacuated, triple-layer concrete, steel reinforced wing they’ve hidden her away in no matter how many people she kills with repurposed travel souvenirs.


But trust nonetheless!


Besides, if she were truly connected, she wouldn’t be receiving breakfast through a hole in the door. Villanelle sips at her lukewarm coffee-flavored water and-


“-feel the beat from the tambourine, oh yeah~”


Oh she feels it! She has been feeling it for months! She feels nothing else! There is no dancing with the tray, still, none whatsoever. Then eating. Then drawing on the floor in the corner because the coloring books are full and they know better than to try and come inside and touch her things , then -


“Hands under the door, Astankova.”


“Okay, Brody.


“Officer Simons.”


Officer Brody.” She flashes him a peace sign through the hatch in the door and he tries to crush her fingers in it as it closes.


The music cuts off, she stows it away, do not touch .


They didn’t take her seriously until she garotted a handsy probationary guard with the headset cord and even then it wasn’t taken from her, he was fired. She’s a brand of untouchable they’ve never encountered in isolation, under the heavy mantle of absolute authoritarian vice and she cannot bend . She’s deadly and they can’t touch her.


They don’t know what to make of her and that suits her just fine.


Hands under the door, handcuffs tight, very tight because they can’t have another incident with loose cuffs - it was a joke, they are so unfunny. Door open, chains about the ankles and tied to her waist like it’ll help if she gets cantankerous. But it makes the guards feel better and anything for them.


They’re one incident away from the Hannibal Lecter mask - she’s asked for it, but they don’t think that’s so funny either. They complain to Carolyn that she shouldn’t be allowed the movie, part of her growing collection of gruesome classics, but the gifts are not negotiable. Out of their hands. Out of Carolyn’s, to some extent. They’ve already been bought and paid for. Don’t ask questions.


But she’s not supposed to talk about Hannibal Lecter, it upsets the guard rotation, they’re sensitive.


Next, one hour in a different cell, but this one’s outside, chicken wire and dead grass and no Walkman, it’s quiet and boring and she can hear wind, cars honking. Quiet, but the real kind of quiet. She never remembered the outside smelling so good, but it does. It’s called yard time and they think it’s humane, but she has to use the bathroom one foot from where she sleeps and hasn’t been touched kindly in a year, so what exactly is ‘humane’ .


They bring her lunch outside now because she asks for it that way - privilege - and it comes in the form of a sandwich, which never fails to make her laugh. Aye, sandwiches, of all things. Then boredom until dinner of baked fish and slimy, overripe fruit, blah, blah, masturbation, blah, more masturbation, boring until bed.


She outlasts it, resists until the walls close in and her feet go cold and the back of her ribs hurt and - it’s so quiet, what else is she supposed to do? You must understand, it’s not so much a choice as a - 


- she digs it out again under the cover of darkness. Nobody can know. She twists the cord around her finger until it goes numb, releases it to pins and needles, then starts winding it up again as she stares at the postcards covering her cell and-


You are the dancing queen, young and sweet, only seventeen!”


Actually, she has no idea how to dance, she’s 28 years old, she’s not sweet at all, and she is staring down the long, long, infinite barrel of a life bid, she may never taste good food again or touch another person or feel choice soft like silk through her fingers, and her breathing gets heavier, tight as she lays there, but-




Villanelle bobs her chin as she drowns her eardrums until they buzz and crackle, closes her eyes, and it’s still not dancing, okay? It’s insanity masquerading as rhythm.


It rocks her to sleep, kisses her forehead, haunts her dreams.


She pretends so.


And she will again the next morning.


Villanelle wakes up in a hospital bed, which is probably for the best. To this point, she’s spent a disproportionate amount of time in hospitals compared to the frequency with which she mortally injures herself. This is progress, yes?


Dare we call it character growth? Mm, no. No thanks.


The machines taped to and stuck under her skin make many varieties of annoying sounds, but when she tries to pull them off, they make worse sounds so there’s a life lesson in there somewhere. She’s too high to figure it out, let alone how to put the machines back and make the noise stop. Oops, oh dear.


She tries to bring her other hand up to help, but it’s jerked back, restrained. Handcuffed! To the bed! Like a murderer or something.


Very disrespectful, considering she remembers leaving explicit instructions for MI6 to be kept away from the paddles. A DNR specifically applied to lifesaving actions taken by one Carolyn Martens. The bill will be astronomical and she is running low on...funds.


Villanelle jerks her manacled wrist around, strains against it weakly while it rattles on the plastic bed railing. She growls, but it comes out kittenish and this is all rather embarrassing. There is a colostomy bag attached to the bed and she thinks someone had to manhandle her into hospital underpants.


This is why she wanted to die!


Konstantin stoops into her line of sight, eyes narrowed while he studies her. “Welcome back to the land of the living.”


“Took a wrong turn,” she grumbles, swats him away so he steps back a pace out of reach. “I’m dying now, goodbye.” She closes her eyes and hopes.


“It’s too late for that.” He plops his hand down on hers, trapping it on the guard rail and smiles. “And we both know you deserve this.”


“You don’t want to start a conversation with me about who deserves what,” Villanelle rasps, ripping her hand out from under Konstantin’s and casting about for some water. Annoyingly, he anticipates her and reaches for the pitcher on her side table, filling a glass and holding it out for her.


She takes it, but not without a scowl. That’s how she’s been trained to take it.


“So who’s dead?” She mutters, wiping a hand under her chin to catch what had slopped over in her haste. “I blacked out for a minute.”


“For a week?”

“Are you telling me or asking me?” Villanelle wheezes, shifting her hips and braced back to try and find some comfort. If she’s going to have to see Konstantin’s face, she’s going to be needing more morphine.


Konstantin raises an eyebrow, leaning down over her. “Do you understand how crazy it is that you’re still alive?”


“I can’t be killed. Nine lives, something about cats. You know this.”


“You did die, though. Like, twice.” He grimaces and gestures down the length of his sternum. “You were like a peeled banana. They had you almost in half!”


Villanelle rolls her chained wrist flippantly. “Okay, seven more, big deal. Is there jello? I’ve always wanted hospital jello, but nobody ever gets me to a hospital when I’m dying.”


Konstantin slumps over, folds his arms along the bed rail and rests his chin on top of them like he’s trying to figure her out. “How often are you dying?”


“I’ve had a very busy summer, Konstantin,” Villanelle chortles. “Go get me jello, I’m still mad at you.”


Konstantin rolls his eyes, tries briefly to reach out and pull the sheet back up her body, but she slaps his hand away and he gives up. “I’m trying to help.”


“I don’t want help, I want jello.”


“You think I’m allowed to go anywhere?” Pointedly, Konstantin raises his wrist and it’s also chained to the lower frame of her bed on the underside of the rail. Truly this is both of their worst nightmares.


“Is it too late for me to die?”


Konstantin nods glumly and that’s that, she supposes. “There are eight, maybe ten armed agents in the hallway and they’ve barricaded this end of the wing to the public. We are like, eh, royalty, yes? Star treatment. Like the queen,” he says with a goofy bounce of his eyebrows and good, at least one of them is having fun. Next time, she hopes it’s her.


“The queen wouldn’t be wearing hospital underpants,” Villanelle mutters, lifting up the neck of her gown and peering down the length of her body. “Oh my. Have you seen this?” She laments, offering the opening of her gown for him to see.


Konstantin jerks his chin away, one hand held up like it’ll stop her. “I don’t want to see! Have some dignity, would you?”


“What dignity? I owe Carolyn my life - I won’t be experiencing dignity ever again! Now come look at my underpants. I’m so stapled, Konstantin. It’s arts and crafts in here.”


“You’re not taking this seriously. We’re going to prison , Villanelle. With bars and jumpsuits and communal showers,” he hisses, shaking the bed rail.


Villanelle pouts her lower lip out and pinches his cheek as long as she can get away with it. “Oh, baby’s first prison stint. I know how terrifying you are of sharing. I’m going to bully you so hard.”


“Stop,” he spits, straining his shoulder to escape her even as he’s held fast by their cuffs. “If you hadn’t gotten yourself shot, we wouldn’t be in this mess.”

“I didn’t ask for your help. And if you hadn’t tried to have me murdered in Alaska, this mess wouldn’t even have existed for me to put us in.” Villanelle’s fingers probe sloppily around the base of the bed rail for the release while Konstantin laughs rudely in her face.


“Well if you hadn’t gone and fallen in love with her, we’d be fine!”


Villanelle locates the release and when the rail falls, it nearly dislocates her shoulder as it pulls her down, down, her stitched skin screaming with her. She’s squawking and flailing, but so is he and she’s more than willing to sink the ship to kill the captain.


“It was an accident! I’m sorry I had a feeling!” she calls down to him through clenched teeth. He’s kneeling on the floor trying to untwist his wrist from the lowered rail and that’s just where she wants him. On his knees. “I can promise it won’t be happening ever again. Fool me once, die and go to prison forever, apparently. I am most terrified of what it’ll look like when I’m fooled twice.


“So much good your sorry does me now.” He glares up at her and it’s rather impotent when all she can see is his sunken eyes above the mattress.


“I’m not sorry to you! I’m the one in a hospital bed. And you were only sorry for Alaska because I was dying.”


Konstantin tips his chin up over the mattress and smiles sarcastically, peels his lips back like an arsehole. “You’re right. It clouded my judgment. I’m no longer sorry.”


Villanelle smiles back, even less sincere if that’s at all possible. “You know what? I’d like to thank you. My hatred for you must have been the motivational spite I needed to live. From the bottom of my exploded heart, thank you Konstantin. Thank you and get bent.”


“You’re so dramatic. Your heart didn’t explode, it just stopped a few times. What’s your least favorite flavor of jello? I want to make sure they have enough on hand.”


Villanelle flicks her wrist and tosses the contents of her water cup down into his face just as Carolyn breezes into the room. While Konstantin mops at his face and writhes to untwist himself from the bottom rail of the bed, Carolyn pulls the attached clipboard from the foot of Villanelle’s bed and peruses it with vague interest.


“That’s private,” Villanelle pouts.


Carolyn doesn’t look up from the chart. “No. You’re in custody, nothing’s ever going to be private for you again.”


“Does her medical chart explain why she’s an annoying, selfish brat?”


“Check under ‘history of backstabbing friends’ . What does it say about backstabbing friends? Go on, check,” Villanelle encourages her.


Carolyn lowers the clipboard slowly and regards them without amusement. “Do I need to separate you? I thought I was providing some comfort, allowing him in here.”


“I thought you were trying to have me killed,” Konstantin mutters.


Villanelle privately thought that as well, but she’s not going to be publicly agreeing with Konstantin for the foreseeable future. Not where just anyone could hear her.


“It’s really very hard to talk to you while you’re on the floor,” Carolyn observes and the way Konstantin flushes angrily almost, almost lessens some of the animosity Villanelle feels toward her. But there’ll be no reconciling after this, she’s afraid.


A nurse comes in wearing a bulletproof vest of all things, bulky, pointless. Villanelle can hardly keep her eyes open, is beginning to hallucinate fairies in the fluorescent lights perhaps, and still she can think of at least a dozen ways to dispatch of the rosy-cheeked girl in under a minute and none of them would be hindered by an inch of Kevlar. The poor thing.


Villanelle smiles sweetly at her, wonders what lies she’s been fed about the danger of her assignment, if there was an informed choice or just a lamb sent to the lion’s cage. She sees a wedding ring on the girl’s finger and wonders if there’s someone waiting for her at home, someone who’d cry if she didn’t return.


She doesn’t often wonder about these things, but everything seems closer since she’d reached out and felt the ends of it all with her fingertips. Nothing’s as far or as grand as you might guess. 


The nurse quietly takes vitals and untangles them both as she rights the bed rail. Carolyn personally takes over the relocation and reattachment of Konstantin to the radiator where he sulks. Normally Villanelle would be very happy to watch this, but her attention catches on a vase sitting on a nearby table with white roses and a pretty pink ribbon.


Villanelle raises an eyebrow and glances between the roses and Carolyn. Did she…?


Definitely not.


“Are those for me?” She asks the nurse.


The nurse jumps nearly half a meter in the air. Boo!


“What? Huh? I -” the nurse skitters back two steps and crunches her knuckles together as she rings her hands, twists the understated gold band on her finger like it brings her comfort. It takes her a long minute to see she’s been asked a perfectly civil question and she tears her wide eyes from Villanelle’s to glance at the roses. “Oh! I guess so? The night nurse must have brought them in.”


“May I see them?” Villanelle asks with a polite smile.


The nurse looks well and truly petrified, but she’s driven by basic decorum, powerless against her better nature, it’s such a reasonable request, isn’t it? And she’s such a lovely girl with a lovely person waiting at home. It would be such a shame if anything happened to her.


Carolyn’s busy arguing with Konstantin. Or rather, Konstantin is arguing and Carolyn is looking at him like she’s trying to figure out how to turn him off. Villanelle couldn’t care less, they’re distracted and that’s perfect.


Careful, careful, the nurse lowers the blue glass vase into Villanelle’s upturned palms, hands flying back the second the weight’s been transferred. It’s okay, Villanelle has been known to bite. It’s not her job to know Villanelle means her no harm because what we mean and what we leave behind us are two very different things. Mutually exclusive in the worst of us.


Villanelle runs a careful finger over the velvety petals of one of the roses, slips it under the chin of the bloom and tips it close to her nose so she can smell it. Her eyes flutter closed when she does and she wonders what she looks like to the nurse watching her. Maybe she looks delicate. Soft. Lovely, too.


Hm, maybe not.


Maybe she now looks exactly what she is and the veneer of love doesn’t shine it the way she thinks it does. Maybe they never turned her insides back in when they were done splitting her open and everyone can see it now. Everyone knows exactly what she is.


Mortifying, yes?


Villanelle reaches under the pink ribbon and tugs the little square of floral cardstock from the tie, twirling it in her fingers briefly, before she glances down.


you’re an idiot x


A smile curls the corner of her lips, wrinkles her tape-splinted nose and rumbles low, sweet laughter in her throat. She allows it for a moment, just one delicious moment, then her face goes slack, serene as Carolyn turns back around and zeroes in on the bouquet. Villanelle has already tucked the note under her thigh and blinks innocently back.


“Where did those come from?” Carolyn asks with wide eyes.


The hospital shuts down. The night nurse is found locked in a closet on the third floor without his pager, a nasty lump on the back of his head. The flowers are confiscated, never to be seen again, suffocated in an evidence bag and smothered until dead.


And when they ask, no matter how many times, no matter how many ways, no, no, no. She didn’t see anything. She doesn’t know anything. Why? Who would want to see her, who would risk something like that?


Nobody will say it out loud, so neither will she.


The most diabolical torture, by far, is the way she’s been trained to perk up with pavlovian glee when Carolyn visits. It’s really, in the long, complicated landscape of diabolical things Carolyn has done, more than a little cruel. If Villanelle wasn’t so vested elsewhere, she thinks it might be very sexy how much Carolyn despises her.


That position has been filled, though, but thank you for your interest.


Every few weeks, the guards interrupt the routine, come to her when she thinks she’s alone and the record scratches. Literally, she has to tear the headphones from her head and make sure they understand that she was not dancing, she was merely moving in a manner that partially complemented the music she was listening to.


They don’t care.


Carolyn is waiting for her in a small conference room at the end of the hall and she gets suited up, crowned and wreathed in chains and frog-marched down the hallway like they’re afraid she’s going to explode at any moment. It’s lost its charm.


Villanelle hasn’t even killed anyone in almost a year, they’re overreacting. The colored pencil embedded in Mark’s thigh last month was a bit of light ribbing, he had no sense of humor at all. And she’s paid, now she only gets soft-tipped markers.


When they get to the room, Carolyn gives her a serene look through the glass and Villanelle jerks her hands up, flexing her fingers like claws, and pulls a scary face. Carolyn doesn’t laugh, but Villanelle’s learned not to take it personally. She’s very funny, Carolyn’s just broken.


“I see you’re coping.”


“Look harder.”


Carolyn narrows her eyes theatrically and her subtle attempt at humor is so absurd, Villanelle finds herself helpless not to laugh. Forgive her, she’s had a dull year.


A small smile barely lifts the corner of Carolyn’s mouth and it’s one of the few times Villanelle doesn’t passively consider strangling her. Treading such a thin line between Stockholm Syndrome and rapport, the two of them.


Carolyn’s hand is resting on a funny little thing, red plastic frame, blank white screen and tiny white knobs and nothing either of them can or will say to each other matters anymore. Villanelle stares at it, enraptured. She knows it’s for her, why bother pretending she’s not dying to get her hands on it?


“What’s that?” She asks, stomping down hard on the eagerness in her own voice. It doesn’t work, she wants to snap the links of her chains to reach out and snatch it out of Carolyn’s hands.


Carolyn glances down to the contraption like it's of no consequence and shifts it a few inches further from Villanelle. “You’ve never seen one? It’s called an Etch A Sketch. Annoying, dull things.”


Rich coming from Carolyn.


Villanelle herself is long past the point of caring what kind of crazed look she’s giving the thing. There is very little joy in prison, has she mentioned?


“That’s for me right? Give it!”


“I will,” Carolyn promises, but she’s pushing a thin portfolio across the table instead and Villanelle knows when she’s being baited. But knowing it’s bait just doesn’t help very much when you’re starving to death. “We’ve tracked where the last postcard came from. You can have it now.”


Carolyn pulls a colorful piece of cardstock out of the portfolio and slides it the rest of the distance across the table between them. Villanelle’s hands can’t help themselves, they come up in her excitement, but stop abruptly a few inches from her waist and she has to settle for leaning over the table eagerly and staring at the front face of it.


The card is printed with an image of a cute, exotic-looking parrot superimposed over a seaside city. The parrot looks like it’s saying, “ Acapulco!”


“Oh yeah? I bet it was hard,” Villanelle nods, widening her eyes.


Carolyn sighs and yes, they’re all very tired of her so many words later. “It was sent from Belize and she hasn’t been there in nearly a month.”


Villanelle rattles her chains and jerks her chin to the side eagerly. “Okay, I don’t care. Can you flip it over?”


There must be something pathetic about her eagerness, that after just a small pause, Carolyn reaches forward and flips it onto its postage side for her without comment. There’s only two lines next to the address of the prison, barely enough for a greeting. It’s been filled in Eve’s messy print:


I’ve confirmed that paddleboarding is stupid. - E


Villanelle barks out a laugh, reads it over and over, soaks it in until her nose is almost pressed to the message. Eventually Carolyn clears her throat, tapping a finger in quiet impatience against the table.


Even in this, they’ve developed a routine, nothing is without rigor behind bars.


First: the postcard.


Dead end, months late, covered in MI6 fingerprints, every inch scrubbed for clues. And Villanelle wonders if the inanity of the message is really for her or if it’s for Eve herself, sitting somewhere sunny, chuckling to herself every time she remembers there’s an agent making full government wages, sifting through hay for a needle that doesn’t exist. Villanelle likes to think it’s for her, it’s addressed to her. Not everything’s about you , they say, but some things just are.


Second: the gift. 


Villanelle never really envisioned herself as a kept woman, but things change very quickly in prison and she wears it so well. A missed calling, if you will.


“Don’t tease me Carolyn. Give me my gift.” Villanelle demands, whines perhaps - why don’t you prove it.


Carolyn finally relinquishes the Sketchy Etchy thing, slides it across the table next to the postcard and Villanelle studies it excitedly. “There’s that and we’ve negotiated dessert for you.”


“Oh, tonight?”


“Every night. I’ll have feasible options presented to you shortly.”


Villanelle gives her a sly look. “When will the not feasible options be presented to me?”


“When you’re finished serving your two-dozen whole life orders.”


Villanelle purses her lips, squints, and considers Carolyn critically. “And when is that? July, maybe? August because I stabbed Mark? He really can’t take a joke.”


Carolyn lets out a long sigh, slips the glasses from her face and rubs at the bridge of her nose with tired, clumsy fingers. It’s a weirdly human gesture between the two of them when she leans in across the table on a forearm and points at the Sketchy thing. “You twist the knobs.”


“I do. Often,” Villanelle winks, laughs at the puckered look on Carolyn’s face. Before she can take anything back, though, Villanelle scoots forward in her chair and gestures down at it with her chin. “Show me.”


“You’ve never seen one?” Carolyn asks, faintly amused.


Villanelle shakes her head, watching carefully as Carolyn reaches out and begins...twisting her knobs. Please understand there was not a better way to describe this, move along.


Right under her nose, Villanelle sees the dark line scroll slowly along the bottom then swing upward as Carolyn manipulates it into a sloppy smiley face. Villanelle lights up, scooting in so close her forearms dig into the table and Carolyn leans back just a small, nervous bit out of range. “How does it do that?”


“It’s aluminum powder getting scraped off. Then you just...” Carolyn trails off and lifts it between her hands, shaking it gently until the image fades and disappears.


“Oh!” Villanelle delights. “ Smotri-ka!”


Carolyn pushes it back toward her. “Well, it’s all yours. I’ll try not to temper your enthusiasm. You’ve been in a box for almost a year, after all.”


“And I’ll try to forget you put me here,” Villanelle murmurs, shooting Carolyn a wicked little look. Between the two of them, she thinks they’re both more than aware that the box protects them both. For now.


Third: the price.


“What did she give you in return?” Villanelle wonders idly, straining to hook her elbow around the back of her chair with her wrist still anchored in her lap. She blinks innocently at Carolyn until she gives in. It is part of the routine, after all.


Carolyn drags a finger idly along the top of her portfolio like she’s deciding how much to divulge. The irony is that Carolyn still thinks any of this matters to her - ever mattered to her. It’s a, eh, tangential thing. Villanelle cares about one thing and one thing only.




Ha! Just kidding, two things.


“A name, a location, an account. The usual.”


Villanelle smiles, nods sincerely. “But not enough . Just a taste, yes?” She rounds her fingers, curls them with a serene smile. “Eve is...complicated.”


“Complicated,” Carolyn echoes, doubtful.


“Eve is... withholding .”


Carolyn narrows her eyes. “How withholding? Christ, she never had sex with you, did she?”


“Eve is...vast,” Villanelle concludes, ignoring Carolyn and nodding to herself. And no, she will not, nor will she ever be elaborating on or even admitting to the notion that she died twice and went to prison for a woman too sympathetic to Villanelle’s feelings to let them fuck. Christ, it wouldn’t have even been fucking, it would have been…


Bleh, she can’t say it. That’s just not something she’ll be sharing, thank you. There is only one thing you take with you when you die and it’s secrets.


Carolyn raises an intrigued eyebrow. Yes, Villanelle is intrigued too, it makes no sense.


“You could be waiting a very long time for everything Eve knows. Forever maybe. Several whole life sentences,” Villanelle shrugs, gestures around her.


“I don’t think she’ll ever give me everything,” Carolyn agrees, crossing one leg over her knee as she leans back in her chair, staring at some point off to the side.


“Why would she?” Villanelle scoffs. “Having something you need is her only leverage. It’s all she has to trade.”


Carolyn goes back to massaging her temples, then the center of her forehead, then back to her temples like she can’t decide where the headache is worst. “I’m trying to help her.”


“Well. You probably should have led with that last year,” Villanelle chuckles. “Would have saved me a lot of personal grief. But then, I suppose last year you didn’t know Eve had figured out much more than she led on.”


Carolyn pushes so hard into her eye sockets it must hurt. “Did you know?”


“I don’t know how many different ways to explain to you that I didn’t care,” Villanelle exasperates. “I still don’t. But knowing now that Eve apparently identified every member of the Twelve and their associated accounts and transactions, friends, enemies, skeletons? That she ran off with plastic flash drives full of dirt on some of the most powerful people in the world? That they let her in and she robbed their secrets blind? Come on, Carolyn. I know you hate jokes, but it’s very funny.”


“From Eve, no less,” Carolyn marvels.


Villanelle shakes her head, faintly amused. “Eve is very funny. Nobody believes me and now look where we’re at.”


“It does have a certain ironic tickle,’ Carolyn mutters, but she must not be very ticklish.


“I warned you not to underestimate her.”


Villanelle watches Carolyn digest these tragic, humorous things on her own. The conversation itself is never more than droll, sarcastic, dull. But Carolyn is the only person who will look her in the eye and say her name. The only tie to her , so she balances the beam, wobbles between the thirst for every scrap of information Carolyn has to share and never, ever letting her see the scars from it. If she sees them, she’ll know they haven’t even scabbed yet, they’re still weeping.


“So what does she want?” Villanelle asks casually. “Stop being so proud! Just give it to her. There’s far worse people you could be buying information from.”


“It’s not so simple.”


Villanelle rolls her eyes heartily and gestures as best she can with one shoulder. “Of course it is. If she can put a price on something priceless why wouldn’t you pay it? She’s an idiot to take anything at all. No matter what you give her it’s a good deal for you and you alone.”


“I told you,” Carolyn enunciates slowly, clearly. “She doesn’t want anything I can give her. She wants you.


“Conjugals? Wow. Be a good friend, Carolyn.”


“Not - no,” Carolyn sighs. “A full trade. She wants you.”


“Oh. Me, like -” Villanelle bobs her chin, weighing the information. “Oh,” she settles.


“You get it, right?” Carolyn asks.


Villanelle nods slowly, waits until Carolyn looks up again and then they’re both nodding slowly, in synch. As they nod, Villanelle feels a smile take over her face and then, she’d swear it, though nobody will ever believe her, Carolyn laughs . It happens, you’ll just have to trust this.


“That’s unfortunate,” Villanelle laughs along. “How wreckless.”


Carolyn sighs and if she ever held genuine fondness for Eve, it might even shine through. “You have no idea.”


“If she’s trading these scraps for the, eh-” Villanelle snaps her fingers, grasping.


“-Etch A Sketch,” Carolyn supplies.


“-for the Sketchy Sketch, then you have to wonder how little she’s actually given you. Just a taste.” Villanelle’s smile turns smug. “Can you even imagine how much information she’s sitting on right now?”


Carolyn sighs, staring down at the portfolio in front of her. “This is a nightmare.”


“Try waking up in prison. I’m biased, but I think you should give her what she wants. Which is me. I should receive two-dozen pardons and reparations in the form of large amounts of money. A statue would be nice. Would a statue kill you?”


“The statue wouldn’t,” she says flatly, raising a pointed eyebrow. 


Villanelle plays it off and slouches back in her chair like she couldn’t care less, it feels important to the game they’re all playing. “Well. You need what she has. And you know just where to find me when you make up your mind. In the meantime, I want ice cream.”


“Ice cream?” Carolyn echoes faintly, she’s already trying very hard to dissociate from the conversation.


There is no escape.


“Strawberry,” Villanelle adds.


“Strawberry,” Carolyn agrees with a heavy heart. “Fine.”


Villanelle’s under no impression that they’re going to find good ice cream for her, but she’s sure Eve understands the grander scope of the gift she’s given. The gift is not the ice cream or the meaningless privileges and choices and distracting little scraps of entertainment. Carolyn understands too, it’s why she loathes it.


The gift is demand. Agency. The last bits of power left to her. The gift is that Villanelle deserves to receive none of these things, can’t be trusted with any of them, but they must give it! A prisoner with agency, who ever heard of such a thing? Villanelle makes sure they have and they never forget.


“There’s one more thing,” Carolyn says tiredly, propping her cheek against her fist and watching Villanelle with bruised, but calculating eyes. She wants to see her reaction.


“For me? You shouldn’t have,” Villanelle baits her.


“A phone call.”


Villanelle frowns and sits up straight. “What kind of phone call?”


“She wants to talk to you. I couldn’t refuse her again, not with what she was offering.”


They both seem to stall at that, attention drifting and nothing but the overhead hum of fluorescent bulbs filling the conversation. Villanelle scrunches one eye shut and focuses the other on Carolyn looking for some sign of deceit.


“Really?” Villanelle finds herself asking, like an idiot.


Carolyn does her the kindness of ignoring the stupidity of the question and just nods.


“But you’ll be tracing it,” Villanelle clarifies.


Carolyn gestures dismissively, twirls her finger like it’s all meaningless to her. “We’ll try. But I’m sure we won’t get anything useful. She didn’t even ask us not to.”


“You know,” Villanelle says smugly, leaning forward to smirk at Carolyn across the table. “You were so worried about what I was turning her into, you forgot to consider what you were turning her into. You’ve created a monster, Carolyn.”


“I would agree.”


“Well,” Villanelle does her best to spread her hands magnanimously where they’re chained at her waist. “Finally something we agree on.”


Fourth and finally: the offer.


“Have you changed your mind about my offer?” Carolyn asks with little enthusiasm. She has to ask, but they both know it’s not likely to yield results different than the last dozen times she’d asked it.


Villanelle has made her stance on the matter clear. “I have not.”


“No, I don’t expect you have,” Carolyn agrees. “Do you mind if I ask you why? It might convince me to stop asking.”


“Eve will be found when Eve wants to be found. I won’t be helping you.”


As always, Carolyn seems stumped, suspicious, she is so far from seeing what’s right in front of her. Occam’s razor, they look but they do not see.


“You know I love her, right?” Villanelle asks in good humor, shaking her head as Carolyn goes still, freezes in place. “Like for real. Nobody ever believes me, do they? Suit yourself, but I won’t use that for you or anyone else, no matter how badly you think I want out of here.”


“And how badly is that?” Carolyn muses.


“Like I’d chew through the walls with my teeth if I could! But that’s the thing about freedom: it can’t be gifted back by the people who took it from you. It can only be taken back.”


“And if it can’t be taken back? If the cage can’t be opened?”


“You think this is a cage? To me, after everything? I have never felt more free. Goodnight, Carolyn.”


When she’s been returned to her cell, hands free but not free , she finds herself in a rare mood. In the backdrop of her life, none of this is new for her. She knows how to build routine, obsessive to the point of sick because a person can live and die by the tenets of a strict routine in isolated imprisonment. Obey , but only that which you demand. And survive.


Anyone who knew what it took to survive these things wouldn’t deign to accuse her of being without discipline. Villanelle has spent so much of her life locked in a box, she knows discipline like a priest knows scripture. It’s written on every locked-in wall of her brain, over and over and over, one, two, three, again, again, again, repeat . Repeat. Repeat.


If she seems impulsive, it’s catalogued pattern. If she seems cruel, it’s a script she was read so many times, she doesn’t know words that don’t come from it. And if she seems lost, it’s a map she didn’t draw. We are not choices, we are routines keeping us from madness. Even the routines that resemble madness.


We are until we aren’t.


When the routine stops, when you stop, decay sets in immediately, full rigor in hours. Maggots in your brain and livor mortis under your heels, deep purple pooling in your dangling hands even as you’re standing, even as you think you’re drawing breath. Time stops when you do.


Cage death.


So it’s a rare mood, indulgent of her to stop when she finds herself alone again and sit herself on the edge of her cot, mind slowing to where she is and what she’s feeling. It’s a dangerous kind of pause, a dangerous awareness, but nothing excites her quite like danger. They have that in common, the two of them.


A phone call, hm ? Isn’t that something.


Villanelle fingers the dull corners of the postcard Carolyn had left her with, rotating it in an easy pattern between delicately perched fingertips. She thinks of Eve often, of course. Too often, maybe, that’s never been something she could help.


She’s wondered before, stopped to consider just how intentional Eve’s branding has been. Eve is stamped across every inch of the cell, every spare thought, spilling out of each carefully packed box in Villanelle’s brain, stitched down her sternum in lumpy ropes of scars and written out onto the floors in soft-tipped markers. It could be called cruel. It could be called sweet. It could even be called unintentional. But above all, she’s branded .


Villanelle smiles to herself, scrunches her nose. They won’t call it anything at all, that’s not what they’re good at.


With a few little pinches of sticky tack, Villanelle chooses a patch of blank wall next to her bed and affixes her newest postcard to the collection, rolling over to lay on her back and admire it. None of them say anything of importance, just little innocuous bits of Eve’s life and travels and Villanelle thinks it’s a shame Eve has nothing of hers to hang on the walls of her hotels as she drifts across the globe. Nothing Villanelle writes gets sent, Carolyn is a terrible liar.


She’s never really been all that sentimental, but these ordeals have done things to her, whether she likes it or not. She’s not sure she likes love all that much, but it rarely considers her feelings in the matter.


Fate and choice are tricky things to believe in when a person’s spent their life pressed under the heel of one, backhanded by the other, never sure which was which or when to duck. But the more she thinks, the less she knows.


That’s the problem: thinking.


When have the two of them ever needed to think? Love is about knowing.


Villanelle takes the evening away from routine, props her extra pillows under her shoulders and bites the tip of her tongue between her teeth while she shakily sketches what almost resembles a bird in the black and white plane of her new gadget. Hideous!


She is so talented, what a waste putting her in a cage.


She lies awake too long, brain skipping like a dulled needle on a record.


Sometimes the dreams aren’t real at all and those are best. Picturesque nonsense. She can breathe.


She’s sitting with her legs dangling out through the iron banisters of a partial likeness to the hotel balcony in Brussels she’d stayed in after she’d killed the man with the watch, though every part of her in the dream understands it to be home, a place she lives. A place she loves. A thing you know without knowing, no matter how untrue it is. Dream logic.


She’s wearing a silk robe, she must be, she feels it on her shoulders, fluttered open and loose to expose her navel and the smooth, unscarred length of her sternum. Her hair hangs down her back. When she swings her bare feet in sloppy arcs, sometimes her knee knocks messily into Eve’s and they don’t say much of anything at all. They don’t trust each other to speak, because there’s no rules where they are and that’s a dangerous way to speak to anyone.


It’s morning, but barely.


Villanelle realizes she’s smoking, looks down with vague interest and taps it once to slough off the long, fragile smoldered outline of ash that’d burnt down as she sat unaware. When she turns to raise an eyebrow at Eve, they’re both wearing the same expression.


“What? You smoke,” Villanelle defends herself.


Eve shrugs. “Prove it.”


Villanelle grins. “You thought you were hiding it? I could smell it on you. I always knew.”


Eve shrugs again and looks back out over the balcony.


“Why did you try to hide it?” Villanelle teases. “Why did it matter what I thought?”


“I don’t know,” Eve says and Villanelle thinks it might be honest, it really might be. “I think I just didn’t want you to know me like that. I didn’t want you to know me at all.”


“Well,” Villanelle chuckles, shaking her head and flicking the cigarette far, far out so it lands somewhere in the mosaic puddle memory of a garden she must have liked somewhere, sometime and borrowed for the fantasy. “You should have hidden it better, then.”


The garden is empty, the world below their swinging feet is empty, it’s just them. They understand this to be true. Nobody will come and they like it that way.


Eve lets out an unexpected bark of laughter, full-toothed grin as she rolls her eyes, but it’s not directed at her. “I really should have. What a mess.”


“We’re not so clever.”


Eve concedes. “We’re not.”


“Do you think anyone’s noticed?”


Eve weighs the answer until evening gets tired of waiting for them, impatient. The sun goes down and in the dream they understand that to be normal too. Eventually, Eve gives a dismissive shake of her head. “Nah.”


They remain there all night and don’t say anything at all.


Villanelle wakes up feeling peaceful and that’s always a bad sign. The routine dictates that she feel irritable, manic, two steps and a trip from headlong into full psychosis. Routine is so important, see.


But she can’t shake it, the inebriating high of a good dream. It only lingers like a taste - a memory made of parts not articulable, but whole. It doesn’t bother her so much.


She leaves her Walkman where she left it, wedged between her mattress and the wall, and goes about her usual pullups, sets of calisthenics, weights, the usual, but the unusual is in the quiet of it. The Walkman is turned off and no-




Okay, just once, then no more, she promises.


The lack of sound makes her head feel fuller, buzzing, cluttered and clear at once. Like too much light in an ugly room. She wishes to see less.


They bring her to the showers before she’s even brought breakfast and it’s something about timezones and instructions and it’s amazing how Eve is in control of her life no matter where she’s plopped her finger down onto the spinning globe. No matter how many layers of authority and iron between them, now that is power.


Villanelle shivers.


The water’s always cold in prison, just a few degrees south of unbearable to the touch and that’s meant to be humane too, she supposes. But this morning she doesn’t mind so much, takes her time under the harsh, guttural spray while it beats on the crown of her head and spills down her cheeks and her teeth are chattering, but she smiles.


Eventually the officer calls in to her, some stout, sour woman with fried hair who always gets called for shower duty and resents Villanelle heartily for it. The nerve of her to be a her.


Villanelle calls back that she has to look good for her date and the guard says something rude that gets lost under the thunder of the tap when Villanelle melts back into it. Routine washes down the drain and it’s a dangerous armor to shed, they’ve told her she won’t go anywhere maybe for the rest of her life.


Safe doesn’t interest her. It doesn’t interest either of them.


See, Villanelle’s spent a lot of time imagining what she might say to Eve when she sees her again, but no matter what she pictures, she can’t put audio over the scene. She can’t fit her lips around words that will mean much of anything to the two of them. What she wants is to fit into Eve’s space, touch her and know she’s been allowed - it’s been earned - then crowd inward until she chokes on it-


Which won’t translate so well to a telephone call.


Eh, they will do what they do best. They will play the game.


“I’m finished,” Villanelle says over her shoulder as she reaches out and cranks the valve shut, left standing there shivering and bare. There are two deplorably scratchy towels stacked on a nearby chair for her and she wraps one around her hips and the other over her head like a hood that she bunches under her chin as she strides out, chest bare.


The guard opens her mouth around a wad of gum to say something antagonistic, but stops when Villanelle strides past. “Oi!”


“Come on, come on,” Villanelle says as she keeps walking. The guard has to scramble to catch up, waving a tangled heap of chains and cuffs about in one arm while the other gropes at her belt for the nightstick there. “I can’t be late.”


“Why - Jesus, you’re very naked.”


Villanelle gives her a confused smile. “I’m half naked, don’t be dramatic.”


“I’m not supposed to-”


“Listen Porkchop - can I call you porkchop?”


“Absolutely not.”


Villanelle twists the towel tighter under her chin and tips her head innocently. “I don’t exist, okay? Didn’t they tell you? I’m not here right now, so nobody’s supposed to do anything. If I did what I was supposed to do, you’d be hanged from the showerhead by a belly chain. This is not a place for supposed to’s , okay?”


Villanelle reaches out to try and pinch the woman’s ruddy cheeks, but she jerks so hard out of reach she slams against the opposite wall of the hallway. Villanelle grins because exactly, Porkchop.


She’s frozen there for long moments and that’s all very entertaining, but Villanelle’s tits are frozen. “Okay, come on. I was serious, I can’t be late.”


Villanelle continues on down the hallway, humming under her breath and -


“-having the time of your life-”


- she realizes belatedly. No routine. Steps echo behind her, timid and a healthy distance from her own, but she’s trying, bless her. 


“Have you ever been in love, Porkchop?”




“It’s a simple question.”


Porkchop can’t seem to move past it, though. “What - that’s. You?”


“Oh, yes. Me . In love,” Villanelle sings, snickering to herself at the slapped look on Porkchop’s face.


She is dying to know what they say about her in the lunchroom. Do they go home to wives and kids and tell them they survived another day near the monster? Do they act like she snapped her teeth at them through the bars and spat in their faces every time they got too close or do they tell them the truth? Do they tell them she is a terrible artist, but enjoys the colors, that she feeds the crusts of her lunchtime sandwiches to the finches because they’re cute when they’re hopping across the ground, that she can’t dance and she can’t sing, but maybe, maybe tries to sometimes anyways?


Oh, she hopes they lie.


“We’re both terribly wicked,” Villanelle lies too. For good measure, she stops abruptly and feints a lunge in Porkchop’s direction, snapping her teeth together so she nearly falls backward into the wall.


Villanelle laughs louder than she has in nearly a year.


After breakfast, before they come to collect her with chains and reinforcements, Villanelle sits cross-legged on her cot and methodically twists her hair into twin french braids while she watches herself in the warped reflection of the metal mirror across the room. She leaves the top of her jumpsuit undone, tied about her waist so she’s in a thin white undershirt and almost, almost looks like herself, so close! In fact, she’s-


“-having the time of your life, ooooh~”


Her eyes are sunken in, deep purple bruises from fights with bad sleep and chronic restless unhappiness. Cheeks thinner than she’d like. It’s just a look, a moment, a bad taste in her mouth. She’s too volatile to be somewhere long enough for it to change her deeper than skin, change her . She’ll slip this look like the rest when it’s all over.


They congregate outside for a long hour, talking in low murmurs like she’s a twelve score army they need to pincer, conquer, out-strategize. She’s a girl in a box who wants her phone call. They’re overthinking it.


Ultimately, Brody goes through the same motions they go through every time she leaves the cell, hands under the door, ankles, waist, full search even behind the ears and into her hairline and she allows it mostly because every minute she wastes is a minute she doesn’t get what she wants. And they know that, abuse it maybe, they can’t stand how little power they can wrestle from her.


She doesn’t have to bend over so that’s something.


An entire six guards bring her down her little private hallway, the ghost town her reputation alone has made of the place, and as they approach the door at the end, the one toward the inhabited parts of the prison, it strikes Villanelle just how easy it is to make yourself into myth. She’s good at killing. Well and truly, she’s good at most things, legend at others. But her skin doesn’t glow with divinity - in fact it’s marred, motley and badly patched from her waistline to the tops of her collarbones, and they won’t see it, not really, no matter how she must bare herself to them. They never do.


How easily that’s bent into godhood, hammered and tempered with something so simple as fear, the cheapest illusion we allow ourselves. But only if you’re not watching.


She’s brought to a little visitation room with phones that had been evacuated, locked down, really it’s too much, they shouldn’t have.


They sit her at a table and loop her chains through some anchors underneath and below the table and put the receiver in her hand. Do they think she’d flee? From this?

Villanelle weighs the receiver in her hand for a few long seconds like she’s winding up to something and she is, maybe. Like all good things in life: savor.


Not thinking at all, Villanelle places the phone to her ear with her one free hand and listens to Eve breathe on the other end, shallow and too quick, eager . Villanelle clears her throat politely.




Eve stops breathing for a few seconds, then deflates with a noise like a snipped balloon. “Piss off,” she chuckles and it’s almost better than being kissed. But also that’s a very damaged observation from a person who’s been talking to her reflection for months.


“I am kidding. Hello, this is prison, how may I direct your call?”


“Oh, just put me on with whoever.”


“Eve Polastri,” Villanelle breathes deep and it reaches the bottom well of her lungs, whistles through the damage there for the first time in months and it doesn’t hurt. “I have been told you are being naughty.”


“Matter of perspective, I’d argue. What have you been up to?”


“Masterbating. Handstands. I think I can almost juggle now.”


“Wow, all at once?”


“I told you I was good. Come find out, I’m lonely.”


Eve laughs messily around a mouthful of something, painting a nice picture as Villanelle closes her eyes. She can almost see Eve in a hotel suite, maybe one with a little balcony, chewing through a paper-wrapped dinner of takeout and chatting on the phone like it’s not a call she’s paid hand over fist for - not a call a dozen MI6 agents will listen to over and over and over to try and find some hidden message or code, some secret, anything.


There won’t be any. They’re missing the point.


“Sorry.” She’s not sorry at all, doesn’t know the meaning.


“For what? I’m having a great time.”


It’s a beautiful thing to be lied to. It must be, Eve sighs like it is. “Me too.”


And it is beautiful - it is like seeing less . “Are you surprised to miss me? I’m surprised to miss you. You’re like an annoying song stuck in my head.”


Eve goes quiet at that, stops chewing so Villanelle can hear the sounds of gulls and picture someplace warm and beautiful. It’s nice to think about.


“Any song in particular?”


“Yes, you know the one. But I won’t give you the satisfaction.”


“They’re...being nice to you, yeah? Like they’re not hurting you or anything?”

“Nice?” Villanelle giggles. “ Nice? Yes, Eve. They’re being very nice to me.”


“Is there anything you want?” And she asks it so tenderly, Villanelle scrunches her nose and twists her mouth until the lurch settles and she can paint a calm face over it.


Villanelle considers for a moment. “I want you to say it. For real, no cheating.”


She doesn’t explain what and Eve doesn’t ask because they both know, they just like the danger of it. Eve breathes slowly for long minutes and Villanelle can almost picture how the air smells: sea salt, fish, wet sand and tides.


Her voice goes soft and, “ I-


“-But I don’t want to hear it in here. Not while they listen. Not chained to a table. So do me a favor and keep your worst secrets until I can look you in the eye and tell if you’re lying, you little sneak.”


“Is that what we’re calling you now?” Eve laughs sadly. “My worst secret?”


Villanelle smiles and rubs her hand along the scar above her hip. “I have been called so much worse. And I may never be called better.”


“I have a confession to make. I really called to ask you a question.”


“Oh?” Villanelle asks lightly. “Should we make a game of it?”


“I think we could. We’re good at games.”


“I’m good at games! You’re a masochist. Ask your question, Eve, Ya gotova.”


“I want to know, and do be honest: Are you having the time of your life?”


Villanelle hums the last few lines of the chorus into the receiver and uses the cover of Eve’s soft laughter to murmur, “Like only we can.”