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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.

 

____________________



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. 



____________________

x2.

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Chapter Text

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x2

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“Every morning I’m surprised to wake up alive and find you still here,” Eve comments as she exits her room in the morning. Villanelle hopes she looks alright. She has been wearing the same shirt for two days and her hair is limp, but it takes an awful lot to bring her down. Last night she had hardly slept a beat and she is sure it must show on her face, because Eve pauses to give her a once-over. “You don’t have to stay here, you know. I know you can con money and take off.”

 

“Hm, no,” Villanelle says vaguely and she’s not really sure why. She’s stuck in Eve’s orbit again like a loose piece of space junk and she’s no longer certain she has the independent will to escape it. There is dark magic there, she is sure, because Eve is a being so unspecial as to be special. Villanelle wonders if something didn’t come loose in her brain when The Twelve turned on her. Eve has always been a sturdy magnet to her, but it wasn’t until seeing her again that it became a bit of an event horizon. This will end badly again, she is sure. Insanity is something about over and over again, yes?

 

Eve tosses her head, uncaring. She is uncaring even after everything and that is a project worth investing time into. If that isn’t, then what in her life is?

 

“Well, it occured to me last night that if I can’t stop you from being here, I might as well get something out of it.”

 

Villanelle rubs her eyes and it's honestly a little half-hearted when she says, “How sexy of you.” She does not perform so well after two nights on a lumpy sofa with the world's itchiest blanket, it seems.

 

It isn’t even worth a clever retort, apparently. “You can stay until something more interesting comes along or you find someone else to hold your leash. I know I can’t stop you, so I won’t bother trying. And in the meantime, I can pick your brain.”

 

“Pick my brain?” Villanelle’s face twists into a sour expression. “My brain is expensive.”

 

“So is rent,” Eve says with one perfectly raised eyebrow.

 

Villanelle takes a long, obvious look around Eve’s terrible apartment with a critical gaze. “You could have fooled me.”

 

“Well, take it or leave it,” Eve dismisses her. Her hair is down, beautiful and wild as she shakes it out and Villanelle is forced to confront the fact that Eve may have outsmarted her that way as she grabs a backpack from the floor by the front door, tucks another handgun in the inner holster at her back, and leaves without another word. Eve has not wasted her time since Rome, she has been sharpening her edges.

 

Villanelle thinks people are simple in the end. Seducing a person is not an art, it is a science. If one can conquer the boredom of the thing, there are only a few pieces of information you need to know to bring a person to heel. Figure out what they need and figure out how to make them feel special, it really isn’t difficult. Sometimes these are the same thing, really. Men want power and women want adoration, generally. These are simple things. There are different flavors of the two, but nothing is so complicated and people really are this boring, no matter how they rage against it.

 

It should not be asserted that Eve is any different, of course she enjoys being made to feel special and singular and that is why the Moustache is long gone. That is why Villanelle is here.

 

Well. Partly. Always, partly.

 

Eve is strange in other ways, of course. Villanelle only enjoys the strange and the wonderful; blighted parts of Eve’s personality that have long gone dead and fallen off somewhere. Villanelle thinks parts of herself have gone frostbitten too, it happens in the cold and the dark. And they do not share the same numbness or the same blind spots, but perhaps it is, as they say, complementary .

 

What is different about Eve is that Villanelle feels she doesn't know how to make Eve simple, box her up and make her little mechanical parts work in synchrony and sing . She doesn't know what Eve wants and how can she know how to get something she cannot identify? She wants to shower Eve in what she wants and then she wants to burn it all down around them, heavy smoke and ash and the sting of too much heat.

 

Then , she will be satisfied.

 

Villanelle finds herself in Eve’s bedroom because - really? When has three locks secured anything, Eve - and then she’s in Eve’s shower, sniffing her shampoo bottles and lamenting the harshness of cheap rainforest scents. As she’s in there, gingerly washing her hair and staring at the cracked subway tiles, she thinks:

 

Is that love?

 

A person who is built to perfectly thwart you? A thing built that you and you alone are least capable of understanding? Isn’t that just beautiful and moronic.

 

Konstantin was good to talk to about these things because he did not care about her feelings. It is too bad he is in a box in the ground. He is much less useful like that.

 

When she’s clean and smelling decidedly proletariat, she towels off and meanders around Eve’s bathroom for anything noteworthy. It is a boring bathroom, but there is a six inch Smith & Wesson switchblade under the counter and a revolver behind the toilet, so that’s something.

 

Villanelle is not so good with the computers - enough, but not enough , you know - and she is unable to crack the security password on Eve’s after a few attempts. It is a little insulting that the password has nothing to do with her, but maybe the disappointment is her fault for expecting anything less. Briefly, she entertains the idea of hurling the whole thing out the window just to see what will happen when Eve gets home - the thrill of her anger and the satisfying smash of the little delicate parts when they hit the alleyway below. All of Eve’s precious, precious shrinking and research, how tragic.

 

But Villanelle is not confident she won't be thrown out or stabbed again in the aftermath of this small tragedy. And maybe there is something of value, of interest in the computer for later, so she leaves it.

 

Carelessly, she rifles through Eve’s clothes and finds a few items she approves of and makes sure to put those conspicuously on top to encourage Eve to wear. Surprisingly, her clothes have trended in the sexier, if not more expensive direction since their last meeting and Villanelle decides she is going to take credit for that.

 

Despite being taller and a little differently shaped, she finds something suitable for herself until she can find ways to begin amassing her fortune again. It is not the surviving or the necessities that are difficult to swindle or take or connive. It is the rich taste of the finest wines and the feel of hand-woven, tailored clothes and a beautiful place to find her peace. These are the things that are difficult without a real, deep-pocket sponsor. Oksana was very good at surviving. Villanelle is very good at thriving . We should never look back, see?

 

Eve was not subtle when she hid the envelope of cash in her kitchen knife drawer and she should know better, because Villanelle has no compunctions. About anything, really. This is perhaps her greatest asset and biggest flaw, depending solely upon who you ask and when and what it cost them.

 

She will avoid this conversation by not asking Eve about it, ever. If you know the answer already, do not ask.

 

There is still £1,950 in the envelope and Villanelle takes it all before leaving in her borrowed clothes. She immediately purchases a chocolate croissant from a bakery that is perfectly, wonderfully overcharged and still warm inside. Then she goes to a waxing salon because it is much overdo, followed by a nice little boutique with pretty outfits because that is even more overdo. And then she buys Eve a better couch and a softer blanket.

 

And then Eve’s money is all gone, just like that.

 

Boohoo.

 

The couch is being delivered by two sweaty men in polo shirts when Eve arrives back home and she looks around wildly like she’s never seen a couch being delivered. When the sweaty men brace their knees and lift her old couch, begin walking away with it, Eve finds words. “H-Hey! That’s my couch!”

 

“No, this is your couch. It was on sale,” Villanelle explains.

 

Eve splutters, but cannot gather herself enough to stop the men from taking away her old couch. When the door closes, Eve gestures widely with her arms. “I thought you had no money?!”

 

“Well I do not. But you had £2,000.”

 

Had?!”

 

“Yes, couches are expensive, Eve. I do not understand why you are so upset. I spent the money mostly on your apartment. But because you value the honesty thing, I will come clean: I also bought a very expensive chocolate croissant and it was,” Villanelle pinches her forefinger and thumb together and makes a kiss noise, “Immaculate. Stunning.”

 

Suddenly, Eve is in her space, which is new, but not necessarily without invitation. Eve jabs a finger just under Villanelle’s collarbone and a sick thrill of pain shoots out from under the bandages and horrible, drunk stitches. It is the kind of pain that makes cold sweat roll down your lower back and stomach flip. Villanelle must hide the involuntary grimace well, because Eve is still yelling about something and does not seem to care. It must be difficult to yell up at someone, especially someone like her, she thinks.

 

Oh, yes, but Eve is still saying words, so Villanelle tunes the static to the tenth decimal and manages to catch the end of the broadcast.

 

“-no idea what that’s like!”

 

Villanelle purses her lips and nods seriously because she has no idea what Eve is saying, but she would like the yelling to be over. It is a lot of kinetic energy expended for a thing they both know she will not apologize for. If the universe really is made up of finite energy, this is wasteful. If not, it is merely boring.

 

“I can’t -” Eve turns away, scrubbing her fingers through the roots of her hair in genuine distress. It really was not that much money, Villanelle would like to point out, but Eve does not give her the chance. “Oh god. I won’t make rent next month and - no matter what I pick up at the kitchen...fuck, I need another client or - or - or... fuck .”

 

Villanelle sticks a finger in her ear and twists it about for a second. “It is just money, Eve,” she explains.

 

This does not have the desired effect.

“It was my money! Money I have to work hard for! Because I’m poor , Villanelle!” She makes some sweeping gesture around the ugly apartment again, like Villanelle was even capable of forgetting how very ugly it was. “You shot me, left me embarrassed and dying - and not sure which was worse - in the middle of Rome, I got fired and was told to disappear! I’ve got no friends, I work two jobs, and you spent the money I needed to feed myself and not be homeless. You want to stay here? Have fun getting evicted with my expensive new fucking couch you piece of shit.”

 

“Hm, yes,” Villanelle nods, pretending to look very serious indeed.

 

“I know you don’t care, so let’s skip that part,” Eve says viciously. “So let’s talk about something you do understand. Let’s keep it simple, yeah? Get my money back or get out. Find something else to entertain you. Die in a ditch. Literally couldn’t care less.”

 

Villanelle feels the rage rolling off of her - could have reached out and warmed her fingertips on it, probably. She sees it there and could probably touch it, but it was never a thing she knew what to do with. When she feels anger - real , honest anger and not just annoyance or frustration - it is cold, bone-deep and slow and she knows it ends when she gets what she wants. But the anger she sees in others burns hot and fast and it is not always about the thing they want or the thing they don’t. You hand them a solution and it is just more kindling. Villanelle knows how to exploit this, but she’d never thought to douse it.

 

And she gets the distinct impression that if she handed Eve £2,000 right in that moment, she’d throw that on the fire too. Her too, maybe.

 

So Villanelle holds her hands up in sweet surrender and takes a step back. That seems to get Eve’s attention, but she still stands there simmering on low boil. “I did not know you were attached to that money in particular,” she says honestly. “Money is like men. It is all the same and there is always more.”

 

Eve’s face is completely blank or Villanelle is completely blind. Both are alarming explanations for how little she is able to read it.

 

“Worry less,” Villanelle suggests carefully and feels a little like she’s sneaking across a tiger’s open mouth. “I will find money so similar you won’t hardly know the difference. It all looks the same, see? I’ll even let you take it and pretend this angers me. Then, we are even.”

 

Eve looks like she’s about to blow steam out of her ears. Before she begins whistling like a kettle, though, she turns on her heel and locks herself in her bedroom, leaving Villanelle standing in the middle of the flat feeling like maybe she is not built to understand these things.



____________________




Is it somehow possible for anger to be boring, because being ignored by Eve is very, very boring. The door stays locked for an hour and Villanelle has just given up - just decided to leave and find something to do - but something begins buzzing nearby. Further investigation reveals that Eve has left her cellphone on the kitchen counter. Just left it there. It is either entrapment or divine will, but Villanelle does not control herself long enough to guess at it.

 

She snatches it up and answers.

 

“Private Investigator Eve, how may I direct your call?” She sing-songs, not sounding at all like Private Investigator Eve. What is Eve’s last name? Polastri belonged to Moustache. Villanelle makes a small note in her mind to ask later when Eve is less emotional about her beautiful new couch.

 

A long pause. “I’m...I’m sorry, who is this? Eve?” A very pretty voice, like silk.

 

Villanelle smiles, leaning back against the counter and adopting a sultry tone. “This is Eve’s wife. May I ask who is calling?”

 

“Oh! Oh...um, I’m sorry,” she says, and she does sound very sorry. Very sorry about the existence of Eve’s fake wife. “Is she around? I’m a client!” She’s quick to cut herself off, explain, rationalize, duck under the implication that she might be hitting on Eve and this at last is fun.

 

Villanelle adopts a scandalized tone. “A client? You sound awfully familiar with my wife. Is there something I should know about?”

 

“No! Oh my god, this is mortifying!” The lady frets and Villanelle can hear her pacing in the same tall heels she was wearing at the cafe the previous day. “I didn’t know Eve was married, she never mentioned - not that anything happened! Or is happening! Oh my god.”

 

“You think you can trust someone,” Villanelle laments, a bit over the top. She drapes herself across the table in despair even though nobody is really there to see. It helps get her into character, really. “Do vows mean nothing, anymore? I am thinking love is not real, there has been little evidence it is lately.”

 

“I swear I’m just a client. Please don’t be upset.”

 

“It is too late,” Villanelle sighs out long and mournful. “I am heartbroken. You know, Eve used to love me. She was obsessed with me and now? Now she acts like I shot her or something.”

 

“I should go. Just - I’ll - if Eve…” She splutters.

 

But Villanelle is no longer listening or that invested in the con, because she has gotten a very good idea. There is more protesting, more apologizing happening in her ear, but she is busy tapping her chin and considering. Eventually, she interrupts her.

 

“I am fucking with you,” she cuts in, smiling to herself. “It is a joke. I am not Eve’s wife, calm down, calm down,” she laughs. “You are very fun to scare. Has anyone ever told you that?”

 

“What? I’m - who are you?”

 

“I am…” Villanelle tips her head side to side a moment in thought, then shrugs to herself. It is an ugly look on her, but she lets her voice drop into a heavy accent, thick like her father’s in whatever limited English he spoke. “I am legendary assassin. My family owes Eve a life debt. It is very serious.”

 

“...what?”

 

“Your wife, she cheats on you, yes? In home country, this is punishable by death,” she says darkly, cringes afterward at the way it comes out. ‘Home Country’ makes her sound like a vaguely offensive villain in a movie, but impressions are not about accuracy, they are about being what is expected . “I tell you what, I kill her for you. Discount rate, £30,000.”

 

“This is a joke, right? It’s not very funny,” she says, quiet anger leaking through.

 

Villanelle finds she is a little offended by the implication that she would not be willing to kill someone for £30,000. It is rude to insult someone’s life work. “Where I am from, this is grave insult. Joking is punishable by death.”

 

“Listen, I don’t know who you are, but I don’t - Christ, I don’t want anyone killing my wife, alright? Can you just put Eve on the phone?”

 

Villanelle checks over her shoulder and sees that Eve’s bedroom door is still closed. “Hm, she is unavailable. She is angry I spent your money on a new couch. We are not very good roommates yet, it seems. I will tell her you called, though. If I remember, which seems unlikely.”

 

“She’s there right now? Do you live together?”

 

“You know,” Villanelle says, offhand while she opens Eve’s refrigerator and pokes around. “If you want Eve to fuck you, you need to be more obvious. Eve needs a formal invitation and much courtship. Oh, and do not shoot her, she does not like that so much.”

 

“I think I’m gonna go.”

 

“That is just as well, I do not think I can cook with one hand,” She muses, juggling a few bowls and pans while she rifles through Eve’s kitchen. “But if you think of someone you’d like me to kill, let Eve know. It does not have to be your wife who does not seem to love you very much.” Villanelle spins a can of sauce in the fridge to check for an expiration date, but it only upsets her. “For instance: this designer your wife is fucking. I could kill her. Very easy. I don’t think you understand what a deal this is, I’m very, very good.”

 

A long moment of silence passes while Villanelle pulls the garbage can from under the sink and begins tossing nearly everything from inside the fridge. Off to the great beyond.

 

“Him. The designer is a him.”

 

“Oh,” Villanelle tsks , redolent with faux sympathy. “Even better. I will give you a discount. Men are not even real people.”

 

An even longer moment of silence passes and Villanelle grows bored. Why is it that people are perfectly happy murdering their wives in the throes of passion, but are suddenly squeamish about planning ahead. Why is it so much worse when it is premeditated, it makes no sense. Like anything, it is always best to pay a professional. 

 

She is about to hang up when the lady clears her throat meekly. “I’ll call back ,” she excuses herself and then the line goes dead.

 

Villanelle hums and carelessly tosses the phone on the counter behind her. Call it experience, but she gets the feeling she has not heard the last from Eve’s sexy lady client. Everyone is a good person until bad things happen to them. It is easy to be a good person when good things are happening to you.

 

The fridge is not salvageable. Villanelle pulls her new coat on and hesitates at Eve’s door, considers telling her she’s going out, but it is not really necessary. Anything Eve has to say in the moment will likely be loud.

 

And besides, she is hungry.



____________________




The cold reminds her of her father’s house. She cannot recall a moment in her childhood where she was warm. When he would remember to build a fire in the wood stove in the kitchen, she could stand so close that the heat bit and itched at her knees and hands and face and still it only made her colder. Even when he would take up her hand in blind, rancid anger and hold it against the cast iron until she collapsed, it felt cold . This is a thing she feels has become permanent in her - like the cold dug so deep into her bone marrow she will never know warmth again.

 

She does not shiver, because it is a part of her then and what did shivering ever get her. But when the wind is bitter and dry like it is, she thinks of her father’s ugly face and his cold house and it leaves a bad taste in her mouth and a numbness in her fingers. It makes her skin crawl that she cannot cut these parts from her and burn them to nothing, dump them like everything else in her life for finer, richer, softer things.

 

As she takes up a small basket in an evening market to pick up fresh ingredients, the patchwork of sloppy stitches and itchy bandages from her navel up to her collar bones aches with the weather. All she can really hope is that infection hasn’t set in, because no hospital would take her without many questions and many people trying to stab her all over again. These are things best avoided.

 

It’s really quite easy - an overturned rack of wine caught on the back of her passing heel, a frantic store clerk and the draw of everyone’s eyes that way so she can go the other - 

 

Again, surviving is easy. These petty thefts are not attractive looks - she thinks again of cold and her father and blistered fingertips - but it is the little threads sewn together to fix the tear. If shoplifting ingredients for dinner is what she must do, she will. And then, all of the must do’s pull together into a can someday and she will not worry about money or survival or other things she’d grown out of.

 

This amorphous thing with Eve will reach finalé and she will find something new to hold her interest, something that pays better.

 

The extra weight in her basket as she takes the emptying streets back to Eve’s apartment pull harder at the jagged split in her stomach, slowly knitting together in big, ugly scars and it leaves her in a foul mood. As she passes through an alleyway to connect with a prettier street with less draft and less fast food storefronts, a man reaches out and grabs at her wrist.

 

He is plain, untailored but expensive suit, and haircut he pays too much for. He is trying too hard and he wants something from her, which is the same of at least half the men she’s ever met. His grip is too tight, though she could break it right at the pinch of his thumb and forefinger, and she raises her eyes to his with a completely neutral expression, waiting.

 

“Come drink with me,” he orders. Asks? He cannot decide, because he is weak and will take whatever he thinks he can from her.

 

It is sentimental, no? The way something simple like the speed and humidity of a particular wind pattern that evening makes her think and think and think about her stupid, ugly father. The plain man twisting a sweaty, wide-knuckled hand around her wrist looks nothing like her father, really. But they catch a draft and she thinks: what is the difference, really?

 

“You remind me of my father,” she says sweetly.

 

His face falters for a moment, unsure, and she catches the same look in his eyes that her father had when she pushed a paring knife through his throat and did it again for good measure. A couple more times, too, for no reason at all. It is a look that fears - not her - but what she might think of him. What she sees when she looks at him.

 

And maybe he should fear it.

 

She looks at him and sees nothing whatsoever.

 

His grip slackens and she decides that even killing him would be too, too predictable. What is the point? He is nothing and if you are good at something, never do it for free. She has long outgrown it.

 

Abruptly, she breaks his hold with a quick twist and jerk of her wrist and she doesn’t even give him a parting look as she clears the alley and heads back to Eve’s apartment at a brisk clip.



____________________




Eve is gone and the apartment is quiet and dead when she gets back. It is an automatic, uncontrolled response when she groans out loud and hurls her jacket at the new couch. How is she supposed to pretend to be apologetic when Eve is not even there? It is very difficult that way.

 

The pasta dish she makes is excellent, of course, because she was the one who made it. But doing fabulous things that nobody is there to see does not feel quite as fabulous. Resolutely, she packs half of the dish away into a glass tupperware container and sticks a little post-it note with Eve’s name and a smiley face. And then she adds a little drawing of a knife because the stabbing thing is still kind of funny. And if they don’t have that, what do they have?

 

Her injuries and the day’s disappointments and tensions weigh on her as the night grows in pitch and the rowdy neighborhood quiets down as shopfronts and food stalls close their doors. She drags herself to Eve’s bathroom and searches through her medicine cabinet for anything to help with the raw exposed nerve of her injuries. She finds some pain killers that she takes too many of and a bottle of isopropyl alcohol she sets aside on the closed toilet.

 

Gingerly, she peels her shirt off and stares at the sloppy bandages holding her together, almost literally. The worst is the one dug in just left of her navel and pulled up in a wicked, deep line up across her sternum almost to the top of her shoulder like a botched autopsy. She thinks about how hard he tried to kill her and feels a little laugh escape her. It hurts and is very, very ugly, but it is still funny how he couldn’t even manage that.

 

The other stabs and slashes from their little run in are superficial, but she supposes any hopes of a future career as a swimsuit model have been dashed. She peels the long bandage from the biggest of the wounds and prods at the stitches that’d been done by hand in the back of a convenience store with purple thread and a sewing kit by a man almost too drunk to thread a hand through his jacket. These are not high points in her life, really.

 

Trying hard not to think too hard about how it will feel, she slops the alcohol over a wad of toilet paper and presses it against the red, inflamed line of the pinched-closed tear in her stomach. Of course it hurts. This is not surprising. Even how much it hurts is not surprising. What is surprising is that there are cigarettes in Eve’s medicine cabinet. And Xanax! Eve has gotten much more fun and she refuses to prove it.

 

She’s just picked up the pill bottle when the sound of the front door opening and closing reaches her. Villanelle is not a slow thinker, but she does not consider what she is doing to be a thing worth hiding. So, it follows that she is still standing there holding alcohol to the evidence of her attempted assassination, shirt thrown over one shoulder when Eve walks into her bedroom and stops to stare.

 

“In my defense, my face is still very beautiful,” Villanelle says. “And I still look very good in a one-piece swimsuit, I promise.” She gives an exaggerated wink, because it is a little humorous how badly they wanted her dead and how badly they failed. It should have been such a simple job, but instead she looks like she got caught in a boat propeller.

 

Eve does not laugh, but she is staring rather pointedly and has not even bought her dinner yet.

 

“It is rude to stare, Eve,” Villanelle chides, turning back to the mirror because she is feeling strangely self-conscious.

 

Eve stares even longer - Villanelle can see her in the vanity mirror while she cleans up and replaces her bandages. “You...how did that happen?”

 

“I told you, I am loose ends. Not very clean job of it, though.” She traces just along one side of the stitches from top to bottom. “I thought maybe I would die there, but I should have more faith. I escaped, of course, I always do. Why is everyone else so bad at killing?” She replaces the alcohol in the cabinet, but slips the pill bottle into her front pocket where Eve can’t see. “You know, I pulled his eyeballs out, for real, that is not a figure of speech, Eve. I wanted to see if I could. I was angry, but it was so gross. Lesson learned.”

 

“Are you okay?” Eve steps closer, eyes fixated on the wicked gash up her stomach and it makes Villanelle want to cover it. “Did you go to a doctor for that?”

 

“No, I went to a hack . We actually pulled him out of a bar and put a needle in his shaking hands and look what he’s done to me. I might be a better doctor than he was, despite what you think about me,” Villanelle pulls her shirt from her shoulder and holds it awkwardly at her side, because she isn’t sure if she’s allowed to pull it back on. 

 

“Jesus,” Eve breathes, close enough to see it all in all its grossness, even in the low light.

 

“I am okay,” Villanelle shrugs, eyes roaming around awkwardly while she is studied. “If I wasn’t okay I would be dead for real. But you see I am standing in your bathroom, fake dead - not real dead - so you know I’m okay. What is that face for?”

 

“N-nothing,” Eve replies like something that is very much not nothing. But Villanelle has entered another blind corner, cannot see what her face is saying so she presumes nothing. It is as annoying as it is intriguing trying to figure out the many ways Eve goes quiet . These quiet places are where they live. And, Villanelle suspects, where they will die someday.

 

See, she does the poetic things too.

 

But the silence is too tense, too gauche  - hey were fighting about a couch only hours earlier. She tries to lighten the tension, because tension is only good so long as she is the one in control of it. “I look like the Frankenstein monster,” she says lightly, turning back to the mirror and pulling an appropriate face in it. “I do not think I can throw money at this. I should have known that nobody as perfect as me can exist for so long.” She cocks her head to the side, stares into her own vacant expression for a long moment. And when Eve does not say anything, she shrugs. “Well. I am still mostly perfect.”

 

“Do you want to get drunk with me?” Eve blurts out.

 

Villanelle very quickly puts her shirt back on.



____________________




“Chert,” Villanelle mumbles as her second glass of the night is destroyed. She would have sworn it had been on the other side of her elbow, but the thousand pieces scattered across the ugly linoleum floor would beg to differ.

 

Eve’s slouched against her hand and she barely perks up even at the loud clatter and smash. “Is this your diabolical plot? To destroy my good glasses one at a time?”

 

Villanelle scoffs, pulling Eve’s glass closer to her. “Vy amerikantsy dumaete, chto vse russkie kozni vam stroyat . So ignorant, Eve. Tsk, tsk.”

 

“Ignorant?” Eve recoils. “I have actually watched you stab my best friend to death in a dance club. You are diabolical.”

 

“I apologized for that!” Villanelle rolls her eyes and goes for a heavier pour in her third glass of the night. Not third glass of whiskey - just third glass - the others are in the great beyond. “ Prekraschai menya pilit’ .

 

“You did not apologize for that,” Eve straightens up and it might have been more intimidating, but her eyes are glazed and she has a cute blush high in her cheeks. Maybe, maybe , she has fair point.

 

“Well, I apologized in my own head again. I am sorry you are never around for this,” Villanelle gestures vaguely over her shoulder and tucks into her whiskey again. She does not care for English whiskey, but when Eve says drink, she asks how high. Or however that goes.

 

Eve is looking at her when she lowers her glass, drumming sloppy fingers against the kitchen counter and thinking , as she is always doing that. Villanelle lets her, because she does enjoy being looked at, particularly by Eve. She stares back, vision swimming a bit. Drinking rarely makes her lose control, it just makes her feel a little slow. Even at her worst, she is always in control. Does Eve think the same?

 

Finally, Eve shrugs and seems to dismiss her own thoughts. “I guess it makes me feel a little better that someone almost stabbed you to death. Just a little bit.”

 

“Which time? The part where you tried to stab me to death or the part where Bruno tried to stab me to death?” Villanelle asks flatly. But when Eve glares at her, she does her very, very best to flutter her eyelashes innocently at her. It is funny, because in neither stabbing was she even trying to do anything bad. It should really be teaching her some kind of lesson about sincerity and the dangers therein.

 

“Either time. Although I am enjoying the one that left you reminders,” she says, quite ruthlessly. It is an attractive look on her, the twisted enjoyment of her suffering. Maybe they missed each other.

 

Villanelle pulls up her own shirt and squints down at the new bandages. “That is not very nice, Eve. But look: yours has reminder too. Right there,” she points out the neat, three centimeter line only just touched by one of Bruno’s cuts. “So do not fret, I won’t forget you.”

 

“You deserved it, you know?” At Villanelle’s blank look, Eve shrugs and gestures with a flat palm at her. “You’re not a very good person.”

 

It is easy to hold Eve’s gaze like this. Sober, Eve has this tendency to look down and away, demure . And maybe it is because Villanelle scares her or she feels inferior or any number of reasons a person might look away from her - she has seen it all. But she does not think that is really the way of things. Because Eve will be looking deep, close, too deep and then she rips herself out. She does not demure. She does not want to see.

 

“No, I am not,” Villanelle laments, pouting out her lower lip. “But good people are not interesting to you, are they, Eve Polastri.” She over pronounces the taste of her name and watches something twitch in Eve’s eyes. She is right of course, but she oversteps. These are all things that Villanelle makes art of.

 

To her credit, Eve nods slowly. “No, I guess they’re not,” she admits. Her eyes come up again for as long as she cares to see her. Villanelle would like to know exactly what she sees, even though she thinks maybe she will not like it so much. Maybe she will react badly and they will get hurt. Sometimes the cold in her bones freezes out those warm parts of her that holds things dear. Sometimes she forgets to play nice. Sometimes she hurts people and Eve does like to prod.

 

She feels it clawing at her stomach. Or maybe it is just the cheap whiskey, but it curdles the same way before she does something not very nice. Eve lets out a long, ragged sigh and stands up with purpose, effectively pulling Villanelle from the quicksand of indiscretion.

 

“Well, I’m gonna go try that fucking expensive couch you bought me,” Eve misdirects. And it is clever the way she builds escapes into their time together, but it makes Villanelle desperate to know just what little things Eve saw there in the window of her eyes before she couldn’t look anymore. Oh, she craves it. Came back for it, even.

 

But? She is much more patient than anyone has ever given her credit for. Some things are just worth waiting for.

 

Villanelle stays in the kitchen a moment, stares into her whiskey glass and takes a short look out the window and sees nothing at all. The sound of Eve flopping bodily onto the couch brings a nice break to her sudden melancholy. Ennui is not a good look on her.

 

“You know? I don’t really feel the difference,” Eve says dismissively while Villanelle makes her way into the room to watch her.

 

“Vryosch,” Villanelle mutters, perching on the arm of the couch for a better look. “Why are you untruthful with me Eve? I have shown you how ugly I am now. I have bought you a couch.”

 

“I bought me a couch. You robbed me,” Eve sighs, shifting her shoulders in a way that scratches her back and probably delivers her the extra sensory feedback from the lush material of the couch. It is a very nice couch and Eve is a filthy liar.

 

“Well, you are very welcome.”

 

Eve grunts, the back of one hand falling to rest over her eyes. She is not sloppy drunk, but Villanelle can see the night of drinking has taken it out of her. Old people are always needing naps.

 

“Shut up,” Eve mutters back and oh, she said that out loud. She will not apologize for things that are true. Actually, she won’t apologize for things that are untrue either. Maybe this is why all of the apologizing keeps happening in her head and not out loud. But what exactly does an apology do? Villanelle labors under no delusion that telling Eve sorry for shooting you would help either of them. Net smysla delat’ chto-to vo chto sam ne verish.

 

Her bastard father never apologized to her and she is glad for it. Apologies are just less garbage to put out on the curb. They would have just rotted in their house with his ugly corpse, because she would not have taken them with her.

 

Eve is breathing heavily, asleep on her very comfortable new couch. This is just as well, because the bed goes unclaimed and no comfortable couch can take the place of a night’s rest in a real bed. Villanelle does not understand why she keeps thinking of her father - a maggot she has not thought about since she scraped his bloated corpse off from the heel of her shoe all those years ago. She is not in the habit of looking back, so it is disorienting when the back appears in the front.

 

Or something. English is a sober language, she maintains. V nem slishkom mnogo slov i ne khvataet smysla.

 

A little drunk - mozhet byt’ bol’she chem nemnog - Villanelle manages to shimmy out of her skirt and unhook her shirt from where it gets stuck briefly on her ears. These things are lost to the floor as she flops into bed. Despite Eve’s typical tastes, it is not a terrible bed. She burrows in and her last thought is that she should get Eve drunk more often if it means she can steal her bed.




____________________



Someone is elbowing her over. Villanelle considers removing the elbow at the joint, but when she sloppily grabs at the wrist and peels an eye open, it is still pitch dark and Eve is already bowling into the bed, shoving her over.

 

It is really too dark to see. She spent years in the low light of a Russian prison and still this is not a superpower you develop. It is like cold. You get used to it, but it does not go away or get easier. But - Eve is there, she is sure. They are facing each other again on a bed and it makes Villanelle laugh unexpectedly. It is funny because last time they did this, she got stabbed.

 

“Get out of my bed,” Eve slurs and that is how Villanelle knows it has not been long since they fell asleep. She is still drunk.

 

“That is not something I am used to hearing.” Oh, she’s still drunk too. Cheers! She is ready to stop being drunk now. “Are you going to stab me again? Or are you going to kiss me goodnight?”

 

Again, it is difficult to see much of anything, but if she looks really hard, Villanelle can see the way Eve is drunkenly perusing her features. The garish neon lights from the curry shop across the street paints a rather lovely light in Eve’s eyes. Or maybe it is the whiskey. Eve’s mouth purses and she gets an intent look and Villanelle really wishes she was sober enough to read it or do anything but look dumbly back. It is like she is being weighed and measured and the worst part is that she is eager for the results in a way she never has been. No more alcohol for her.

 

One of Eve’s hands lifts and shifts awkwardly like maybe she was going to touch her or something. A small thrill shoots up her spine.

 

But,

 

“Fuck off, Villanelle,” Eve sighs before flipping away from her and immediately falling asleep.



____________________



“Stop pouting,” Konstantin chides, standing in the doorway.

 

Villanelle looks up from where she’s crouched near the carpeted hotel floor, packing a suitcase. She’s having trouble getting everything to fit in, like so much awkward dead weight. No matter what she does, the zipper keeps getting caught. Maybe she should just make a few breaks and crunch it in there.

 

“I am not pouting,” she pouts.

 

Konstantin keeps in the doorway, always so careful to keep hands clean and shoes polished. Like if he doesn’t step in anything, he won’t track it home to his ugly wife and annoying daughter. Maybe that is why he will never invite her over for dinner.

 

“No?” He mocks, pouting out his own lower lip.

 

Villanelle sneers as she flops the top of the hardshell suitcase over into place to try the zipper again. It seems to fit better this time, but only time will tell. “Whatever.”

 

“You have been so moody since Eve. Were you like this so long after Anna? I can’t remember.”

 

“Yes,” Villanelle lies, because she hates validating him in any way. “Everything is boring again.”

 

Konstantin rolls his eyes and checks his watch. “Hurry up, the ferry is leaving soon. He’s not that big, what is taking so long?”

 

“He is big enough,” Villanelle argues, laying her whole body over top of the closed suitcase to hold it shut while she makes another attempt at pulling the zipper closed. This time it holds and she’s able to get it shut, but not without some grunting and groaning. “We should have measured.”

 

“You told me it was a waste of time.”

 

“I say many things,” Villanelle snaps. “It’s your job to not listen to me.”

 

Konstantin makes some impatient motion, but if he wanted her to move faster, then he could very well walk his clean shoes over the threshold and help her while she struggles to tip the suitcase upright again. He doesn’t, so she wrestles with it until it's back on its wheels and she can slip the handle upright to wheel him out of the room. She grabs her own bag from the bed on her way out and pushes past Konstantin with a little glare.

 

“He’s not going to wake up is he?”

 

Villanelle shrugs. Thinks about it some more, then laughs. “That would be kind of funny.”

 

“That would be a nightmare,” Konstantin corrects, but he’s also laughing. “You put the weights in, right?”

 

“Yes,” Villanelle exasperates. “I am not an idiot. I have been doing this a long time, you seem to forget.”

 

“But you’re distracted,” he points out. “It has already been almost a year.”

 

“Three hundred days” Villanelle corrects.

 

Konstantin falls silent as they exit the hotel, past the smiling clerk at the welcome desk and out into the warm summer air. But he keeps looking at her with something that might even be concern and it gets old very fast. “You killed her. Don’t be upset with me because you broke your favorite toy.”

 

“Fuck off, Konstantin,” she grits out. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

 

“You think I do?” He chortles, sticking a slim cigar between his back teeth and patting around his pockets for a lighter. Villanelle has one she took from her target, but she has no plans of offering it up if he’s going to be an arsehole about it. “I am just saying, you made your choice. No taking it back now.”

 

“I know. Now stop talking to me.”

 

“Do you?” He pushes on, leveling her with a stern, searching look from under an eyebrow raised in question. She hates when he tries to do that. When he tries to be there for her or something, like they’re friends and he cares. He has made his choices and she does not like him thinking they are more than convenient for each other.

 

The riverwalk is close, a large commercial passenger ferry stopped off and bobbing slightly near the river bank. Tourists with cameras and sunhats and ugly, screaming children are milling around and neatly passing off tickets onto the ferry as they queue up and board. It’s a crowded day downtown, but Konstantin has assured her it always is, even when the weather is not so nice. The people are nothing special to look at, but Chicago is not so ugly a city as she expected it to be. There are too many pigeons and Starbucks, but it is fine enough.

 

“Get in line to board,” he commands, wandering off toward the ticket counter and leaving her with the heavy suitcase and the crowds. She grits her teeth and suffocates the urge to swat the bag of caramel popcorn from the hands of the kid crying loudly in front of her in line. It is very much the wrong time to be drawing attention to herself.

 

Konstantin comes back quickly enough to prevent her from doing anything bad, but only just. He quickly herds them up the small gangplank and passes his receipt off to the crew member who welcomes them aboard with false cheer. Villanelle doesn’t even look at him, just follows Konstantin to the lower level of the commercial ship, way to the back where nobody else sits. Everyone has gone up top to enjoy the nice day and see the view as they head out from the river out toward Navy Pier and out on the lake toward the distant museum campus. This works just as well for them, they have the lower level almost to themselves as the ferry departs.

 

“Villanelle rolls the suitcase against the back hull and sticks her foot out to stop it rolling away as she leans over the railing, hunched over and propped on her forearms.

 

Konstantin joins her, back pressed to the railing as he continues studying her. “Maybe you need a holiday,” he suggests.

 

“Maybe you need to mind your own business, old man.”

 

He shrugs. “Maybe. But these are not mutually exclusive things.”

 

The cool breeze blowing in from the lake against her face is nice, but it’s not making her any less glum. “You want to ask me questions? How about I ask you why we are killing one of your contacts with The Twelve? How about I ask what you are doing and what’s happening with your financers? How about I ask what the hell you think you’re doing?”

 

“I wouldn’t,” He advises honestly. “And I know you do not care.”

 

Villanelle sighs and watches the little outlines of tiny people climbing over the steel skeleton of a nearby half-built highrise like ants on an anthill. “I don’t,” she agrees. “And you don’t care how I’m feeling.”

 

“And Eve would have?” He inflicts on her very, very meanly. Konstantin knows her just well enough to hurt her the most some days.

 

She glowers out at the river, but falls into broody silence. They stay that way as the boat makes dock near the pier and swaps out passengers for ten minutes before casting off and heading up along the more remote route toward the museum peninsula.

 

“This is fine,” Konstantin tells her when they’re halfway to their stop.

 

Villanelle pushes off from the railing and gives him a bored look. “We used to do more fun things, you know.”

 

“What’s not fun about this?” He gripes, gesturing with the cigar he’d snuck on board. “I thought this would cheer you up.”

 

Villanelle smiles sardonically at him and wheels the suitcase closer to the edge of the railing. “It’s fucked up,” she agrees. “But not interesting.” Without further ado, she crouches down, braces her weight under the suitcase and leverages the entire thing right over the railing into the deep lake below. It only sits suspended in the chop of the propeller surf behind them for a minute or so, before slipping under the surface and disappearing below as they motor away.

 

“I thought fucked up was your version of fun.”

 

“It’s like you don’t know me at all,” she shakes her head. “You spend too much time with your family. You’re soft and boring now.”

 

“Oh yeah?” He props his hands on his waist and eyes her critically. “And what has Eve made you? She is not even alive anymore and now you’re…” he gestures at her like this is supposed to mean something.

 

Villanelle rolls her eyes. “Whatever.”

 

They make their way up to the second deck with the rest of the passengers and look out over the back railing to make sure they can’t see the suitcase any longer. It appears to have sunk to the depths, along with their unfortunate colleague.

 

“It’s kind of funny, though,” Konstantin says eventually, turning to give her a small smile. “He was a big fan of scuba diving.”

 

Villanelle laughs half-heartedly through her nose, nods because it is just a little funny. “He was very difficult to fit in the suitcase,” she adds. “Do you think he woke up as it sunk? I hope so.”

 

Konstantin pats at her back and gives her an encouraging smile. “See? I knew this would cheer you up. We’ll take a taxi back and get some pizza. Their pizza is like lasagna with crust here. Like pizza casserole. It is so strange.”

 

Villanelle nods and tries to focus on that. “Why mess with pizza, it is already good.”

 

“Why do we do anything?” He wonders aloud. “I am thinking we love the things that make no sense the best. We trust our gut when it loves without reason. If there is reason, it is without passion . If there is not, it is just because.

 

“That’s stupid,” Villanelle mutters, wrapping her arms around herself tighter as the wind off the lake raises chills along her skin.

 

Konstantin laughs to himself and tips his head to the side, watching her. “Yes, it is.”




____________________

x3

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Chapter Text





____________________

 

x3

____________________





The big insult is that Eve has not taken the leftovers with her to wherever she goes during the day. This is as good a cover as any to track her down and shed light on these mysterious outings she takes. Because Eve Polastri is many things, but content she is not. Villanelle is the one up to something? That is very rich coming from Eve. Eve does not know how to be up to nothing.

 

Villanelle dresses in one of the outfits Eve had not so graciously bought for her in a manner of speaking. These are things some impulsive part of her have promised to pay back?

 

She does not know why she did this. That is a future problem.

 

In the flavor of the week, Villanelle wears something she thinks maybe a private eye would wear or maybe she has confused this with something out of Casablanca . What is the difference, really. She is chic and she is already at the cafe that had been emblazoned on the paper cup Eve carried through the park the other day. It is lucky the man behind the counter is short and awkward or her sloppy performance might have mattered.

 

For him, it is a favor. He gets a beautiful smile, attention from a woman he would otherwise never even make eye contact with, and she even touches his shoulder like he is funny. He is not, but she needs things from him.

 

It goes like this:

 

Her wife lost her wallet somewhere this morning and her doting wife (that is her, she is the doting wife, of course) is revisiting everywhere she’s been to try and find it. Does he have any information that could help her find it? Does he know Eve? Has she ever left anything behind? Does he know where she goes in the mornings? Has he spoken with her? Villanelle is so worried about her wife’s health and happiness, she is nearly in tears with it.

 

An Emmy-worthy performance, thank you.

 

Mark is more helpful than Villanelle thinks he will be. He does, in fact, know Eve. Because of course he does! Eve is somehow nobody in a crowd, but one of the faces most likely to be remembered. She is an authentic piece of designer clothing at a thrift shop. Ordinary, but valuable. Missed, but not. Villanelle is often jealous of this strange contradiction, but she cannot keep Eve still long enough to learn it, mimic it, reproduce it to whatever end it could be useful. It would make a good persona, she thinks. Or maybe Eve is best because she cannot be manufactured. Maybe she is nothing and Villanelle is just obsessed. But that would force her to accept something profoundly incongruent with the very fabric of her being: that Konstantin was ever right. About anything. 

 

Mark knows Eve (of course) and says he does not know what she does in the mornings, because she is not wearing her uniform. Villanelle’s performance falters just a little bit - barely anything, please, she is a professional - but she cannot stop herself from dumbly repeating, “Uniform?”

 

“Yeah! You know? For that korean barbeque place? The chef coat thing.” He says like she should know this.

 

Of course, she probably should. That would be a thing a wife would know, probably.

 

“Right,” she says. Because she has to, she supposes. “Sorry, it’s been a long morning,” she explains through a strained smile. His company wears on her.

 

“Yeah, I’ve seen her there once,” he continues cheerfully, wiping a dirty rag around the countertop by the register. “Their food kinda upsets my stomach,” he mimes holding his belly and sticks his tongue out. “But Eve’s cool. Us food service blokes gotta stick together, you know? We’re all the same, really. Just trying to get by.”

 

Villanelle smiles sweetly at him. “I do not know. And neither does Eve. She is nothing like you and you are lucky to breathe her air.”

 

“Huh?” He stops wiping the counter.

 

It is so easy to slap her hand down on the spinning record and hear it squeal and stop into static noise. It is amazing that nobody else does it. It is very fun. If you ask almost anyone if they have ever said something mean or too truthful just to see what would happen, the answer is almost always no. We can say anything and people choose to say nothing . Well Villanelle spent many hours alone in a cell with nothing but rats and a mean guard with mean hands so she has said more than enough about nothing. These are things one learns to appreciate.

 

“Thank you, Mark. You have been surprisingly helpful,” she reaches out and takes the hot drink he has prepared for a man repeatedly making a show of checking his watch down by the pickup counter. A sip proves a little disappointing - too bitter. But the beggars cannot be the choosers, she has been told. “More sugar next time,” she advises. “And from the bottom of my heart, your life is truly depressing here. Take care now!”



____________________




The Bento Box is a dingy little restaurant only a few blocks away, as she is directed promptly by an overzealous, nosy old man watering his begonias. Nobody is there to greet her at the door and she supposes she is just meant to go fuck herself.

 

“Hello?” She asks, and it is impatient and rude on purpose, do not worry.

 

Someone is behind a counter deeper in the restaurant and he just grunts and waves her forward. “Order here,” he commands.

 

Villanelle steps up promptly to the counter and has to lean up on tiptoes to rest her elbows on the counter and look him in the face. “ Igeon mos-saeng-gin sigdang-iya ,” She greets, horribly. Worse than Eve’s Russian maybe. It is rusty and she hopes the sincerity of her message comes across.

 

He gives her an unimpressed look. “ Beoleut-eomneun ai. 

 

“I tell you what, old man. I try your food and if it’s good, I will take it back,” she twirls her hair a bit, but he does not seem charmed. Maybe she should have pretended to be nice first, but it is so exhausting.

 

He twirls at the grey wisps of mustache limp and drooping from either side of his lip and she gets the distinct impression she is being made fun of. “ Ani. Yeogiseo naga .”

 

“Please? My Korean is very bad.”

 

He eyes her from below one wild eyebrow for a long, long moment in which she just elects to smile angelically back up at him. Eventually he cracks and gives her a little wink. “What do you want?” He asks, tapping a pen on a cheap diner pad.

 

“What is best?”

 

“The thing that brings you most joy,” he shrugs.

 

And that is perhaps as close to poetry as she has ever heard. “That is good,” she nods seriously. “I think I will take that from you. I will use that.”

 

He shrugs again like he really couldn’t care less and she is beginning to like this man in the sweaty barbeque shop.

 

“Surprise me,” she commands and he is already pushing off from his high stool and scribbling something in the pad as he disappears back behind a curtain into the kitchen. The curtain flutters so quickly that even straining over the counter, she can’t see much of anything behind it. Eve is nowhere to be seen and she is disappointed.

 

But again: these are things worth waiting for. So she finds a seat with a good vantage point to see behind the curtain if it moves and settles into the plastic chair in a way she hopes is still somehow sexy. Who is she kidding, of course it is.

 

Ten minutes pass by and Villanelle begins to drum her nails on the greasy tabletop. Five minutes ago, the old man had come back to stand at the register and stare blankly at her, blinking like he’s deep in thought. Like maybe he wants to say something to her, but doesn’t. It gets dull staring back very quickly and she knows her clothes will soon smell irreparably of korean food forever.

 

Finally, Eve makes an appearance from behind the curtain and it is disappointing how quickly her face goes from surprise, to terror, to merely flat irritation. Are they not what they once were? Is she incapable of surprising Eve anymore? She has done research since the shooting thing. Experts agree: random acts of spontaneity and generosity are often rewarded in sexy, non-yelling ways. The two of them have much to work on, it would seem.

 

“Fuck,” Eve says and her boss turns to raise one of those wild eyebrows at her. “Sorry,” she backtracks. “Can - Can I just have a moment? Old... friend ,” she grits out and isn’t that nice. They are old friends. And maybe because Villanelle has already proven herself an undesirable customer, he just grunts and goes back to filling out the sudoku puzzle in yesterday’s newspaper.

 

Wordlessly, Eve pushes up the flip-top of the counter and makes her way to Villanelle’s table to drop the plate in front of her. Then, she takes the chair across from her and positions it carefully so her own body blocks Villanelle from the grumpy cashier. When she finally sits, she double-checks over her shoulder to make sure he’s not watching them, then slouches back into it and crosses her arms across her chest.

 

“What have you made me?” Villanelle asks pleasantly.

 

Eve gestures flippantly. “I don’t cook. I just do prep and cleaning.”

 

“Yes, that’s right,” Villanelle nods thoughtfully. “You do not cook. That was the Moustache. You eat frozen dinners. And yet…?”

 

“Here I am,” Eve finishes with a look that dares her to question it. Eve should know better! Villanelle cannot turn down a dare.

 

She takes a pointed look around the shack, then looks down into the bowl she’d been served. It smells pretty good and as she scoops some up in her chopsticks, she finds it is surprisingly complex in flavor. Hearty, simple, but robust and satisfying. “This is good,” she offers like an olive branch.

 

Eve ignites it right in front of her face. “Why are you here?”

 

“I am not allowed to know where you work?”

 

“No.”

 

“Well, this is awkward,” Villanelle tries to joke, but she knows it only angers Eve more. Maybe that is why she does it, old habits and all that. “Relax, Eve. You act like I am about to assassinate the barbeque man.”

 

Eve hisses at her and makes a nixing motion across her throat and takes another paranoid look over her shoulder to where her boss is clearly dozing off. “Don’t use the A-word. What is wrong with you?”

 

“What is wrong with you? I am surprising you at...work, apparently? It is not what I expected, but I am here. It is a gesture. We are reconnecting.”

 

“Oh no we’re not,” Eve defends, pointing threateningly with her chopsticks. “You’re meddling.”

 

“And you’re...barbequing? Again, not what I expected. You are vast, Eve.”

 

Eve nods slowly, like she’s tallying a score and not liking what she’s found. “Well, let’s hear it then,” She makes a beckoning motion, long-suffering and self-conscious to a degree Villanelle is unused to. “Get all your jokes out now. I’d rather hear all about it now so I don’t have to deal with it when I’m tired and want to just go home and sleep in my bed. Alone. Without you.”

 

“What jokes?” Villanelle grins, wide and unabashed. “I have already made the joke about your cooking. Is this not enough jokes for you?”

 

“You know what? You of all people should know how hard it is to be fake-dead. So yeah, I’m a disgraced former MI5 and sort-of-MI6 employee who can’t afford her electricity and has to work as an undocumented migrant in a korean fast food restaurant so I’m not homeless. But most of this is your fault.

 

Villanelle tsks under her breath and wags a disapproving finger at Eve. “Now, now, Eve. You chased me . I am sorry it did not end up the way you wanted it to, but I cannot take all the blame. We have to learn how to share sometime or this will never work.”

 

“Alright,” Eve narrows her eyes and nods, but Villanelle is too smart to mistake this for agreement. “I’ll take half. Just half, though.”

 

“I don’t suppose the other half is for Moustache?” Villanelle pouts and sticks another bite into her mouth.

 

Eve stays quiet, draped in a rather attractive way across her plastic chair. There is something broken-down and raw about her like that. She is dressed plainly in a double-breasted white kitchen coat and black checkered pants loose at her hips. Her sleeves are filthy and rolled up under her elbows. She is so different like this and Villanelle feels the duplicitous satisfaction of this disguise curl her toes. Eve is many things, always. It is beautiful.

 

“I am proud of you, Eve,” Villanelle declares, offering the second pair of single-use takeout chopsticks left on the table for Eve to take.

 

Eve takes them with a tired sigh and snatches a bite from the opposite side of Villanelle’s bowl. She pulls the towel tossed over her shoulder to the forefront and uses it to wipe across the perspiration gathering at her hairline. “Yeah?” She asks warily. “Of how I have nothing?”

 

“Yes, I am very proud of your nothing,” Villanelle nods. It is perhaps not very posh to be talking with her mouth full, but she has things to say and food to eat and nothing is so finite as time. “You know what it means when you have nothing?”

 

“I’m hungry a lot? My couch sucks?”

 

“Ah, but I already have fixed so much for you,” Villanelle gives her an over-the-top wink because these are things she imagines one does while in love. Or whatever they are. Villanelle has opinions on this, but nobody seems to agree with her. “And look: you are allowed around food now. And the food has not suffered. Moi pozdravleniya .”

 

“What are you trying to say?” Eve sighs, crumpling her legs up under her so her knees are sticking out like a frog. She is an attractive little gremlin like this. Somehow. How is that not love?

 

Villanelle pushes the plate closer to Eve and gestures more insistently so that Eve keeps eating. It is much too much for one person and it is fun to think she can offer something that Eve will actually take from her. “Right now you are surviving. Everything is shit and you cling to your stupid life.”

 

“Yeah, thanks, that’s me.”

 

“But you know what? I know this feeling, it is a place I have been. I do not enjoy looking back, but you are familiar with Oksana Astankova. You are nosy like that,” she rolls her eyes. “You know what she had before me?” Villanelle wipes a nonexistent tear from the corner of her eye. “Nothing. Less than nothing. Poor her.”

 

“You still have nothing,” Eve points out rudely.

 

“You are missing the point, Eve. This is…” she searches for the right word, rounding her fingers in the air, waggling a bit until she can grasp something. “Metamorphosis,” she settles on proudly, because it was a good catch.

 

Eve nods, chews with a thoughtful expression. “What am I turning into? A homeless person?”

 

“I cannot tell if this is an insult to me or to you. Listen, I will not tell you your life is not shit right now, because it is. Truly embarrassing, Eve, you are right to feel shame. But you know what happens when you get very good at surviving? You become very good at thriving. You learn who you are, what you need, and how to take it.” Villanelle lets out a long, obnoxious groan. “This is so boring. I am saying that the worse things get, the better you see . You are becoming far more interesting. Your shit life makes you better.”

 

Eve lets out an abrupt bark of laughter that  draws Villanelle’s eyes up from the plate of food. “Is that what happened to you? Your shit life made you better?”

 

“Yes.” Villanelle adds another little decisive nod. “It prepared me. Now? I can survive anything.”

 

“Hm, there’s just one problem,” Eve made a little motion with her chopsticks, flippant. “I am trying to survive you.



____________________




It is on the way home, light failing, and air warmer than it has been in a long, long winter that Villanelle remembers the solid weight of the tupperware in her bag. “Oh,” she exhales, hefting the straps and digging around for it. “I forgot. Here is the lunch I brought you.”

 

“It’s six o’clock at night,” Eve points out, but it is too late. Her precious manners have kicked in and her hand automatically takes the container when it is offered, meaning it is her responsibility and no take-backs. If Eve was less concerned with decorum she would not be the idiot carrying a tupperware down the street. “I don’t want this,” she complains. “I work in a restaurant.”

 

“I did not know that when I came to bring you lunch,” Villanelle points out. “I have been told it is just the thought that counts. No matter how useless my thought. So you are very welcome, Eve.”

 

“I’m not thanking you,” Eve complains, juggling the container between both hands awkwardly because she has nowhere to put it. “Why were you bringing me lunch. What is this?”

 

“I made you a beautiful dinner last night but you disappeared because you were angry I bought you a nice couch. And now you are angry I tried to bring you lunch at work.” Villanelle gives Eve a reproachful look. “I am wondering how people think I am the bad one. You are very ungrateful for a person who is supposed to be so much better than me.”

 

“Well what’s wrong with it?” Eve shakes the container and gives it a suspicious look.

 

“Nothing? You are hurting my feelings,” Villanelle pouts. “Trying to do nice things for you is so annoying. This is why I don’t do nice things.”

 

They round a corner and Villanelle grows weary of matching her paces to Eve’s - just a hair too short for her own and it makes her ankles and knees stiff to shorten the stride that small amount. So maybe she is annoyed and shakes out the tension, quickening her pace and feeling a flicker of smug satisfaction when Eve has to skip a bit to keep up. These are small victories she is allowed without being yelled at or stabbed. For now.

 

“See, here’s the thing,” Eve says after a long while and she is a little out of breath from trying to keep up, which makes Villanelle smile to herself. She gets that look on her face like she’s thinking very hard and that can’t be good at all. “You do nice things because you want something in return and you logically know that’s how you’ll get it. It annoys you because I don’t want anything from you, so you can’t get anything from me in return. You’re not being nice, you’re basically experimenting with blackmailing me.” Eve inflicts these things quite brutally for a woman who pretends to be averse to cruelty. “I probably know you better than you know yourself.”

 

Villanelle almost marvels at the meanness of it. She is very used to meanness. She is very good at it, too - it is fun and easy and a secret highway above the gridlock of a city of morality. But Eve pretends it is not meanness , what she does, and that makes her want to pull apart the soft veneer of Eve’s stomach and spill out the guts there to show her the colors inside. Their guts look the same. Eve is a pretty package, but she is mean too. She is ugly too. And they all spill out the same way with the right cut.

 

Takova zhizn’ . Ah, but she will love her anyways.

 

“I think you get ahead of yourself,” Villanelle says slowly, a little darker after a long, almost uncomfortable block of silence. She has great affection for Eve, but it is also so easy and she wears it so well - feeling the stiff shiver of fear at her side, the momentary flicker of mortal dread like putting on a comfortable robe at the end of a long day. Poor Eve, always speaking her mind and getting herself into... trouble .

 

“And besides,” she shrugs and gives Eve a more open look. “Is not all kindness done for something in return? Is it so bad if I want my kind favors to make you like me? I grew up in an ugly box with my meals served through a plate-sized hatch, so don’t be mad at me because I see these things different and uglier than you. The pretty user interface you see is made up of the binary code I see, whether you understand it or not.”

 

Eve is staring like there’s something weird on her forehead, like Villanelle is not allowed to be smart like that . Maybe she is not allowed to understand. But it feels good to find the prettiest words and phrases in English anyway, despite the way she often feels that they escape her, just out of reach. English is an ugly thing, difficult to shine. Sometimes she is smart in English too, though, Eve will find out. 

 

“That was a good metaphor,” Villanelle decides to point out. “You may use that when you write about me someday,” she nods decisively, even though Eve is still staring blankly. “But when you write about me do not be lazy . You can say whatever mean things about me that you like, but do not discredit me by making me sound like a mustachioed villain in a bad movie. You can be mean about me, but do not be simple.

 

And then she really has to reach out and gently take the bottom of Eve’s limp elbow because she appears to have forgotten how to walk. For a person who profiles, she is not very good at being profiled. Villanelle doesn’t understand, she loves looking in mirrors. It is so easy because she is so beautiful.

 

Villanelle pulls Eve along gently, considers reminding her she has to put one foot down, then lift the other and propel it forward, but that all seems a bit much. Eve has that face on again, thoughtful and lost, so Villanelle lets her be as long as the boredom doesn’t kill her. The alley cutting across to Eve’s apartment provides a welcomed shortcut for them and Eve doesn’t even really resist being pulled into a dark alleyway by a person she knows kills people for a living. Eve is so funny that way.

 

Halfway down, Villanelle sees the same bland man that had grabbed at her the day before. He must live in the building there as he’s out smoking again and leering around for women with low opinions of themselves. Villanelle is a very, very bad target for this. And she is already in a strange mood.

 

“Hello pretty ladies,” he calls out before they’re even close enough to know if they’re all that pretty. It is a good guess, at best - she is loath to give him too much credit.

 

Otlichno ,” she mutters and rolls her eyes while she tries to give him a look as honest as possible. Honest in how little she would care if his head rolled off his shoulders right there in the alleyway. 

 

But, like most seemingly innocuous things in her life, there is an unintended consequence to her actions. The man’s eyes light up and his leer becomes almost friendly. “Oh! O vau, ona govorit na moem yazyke !” He roars, tipping just a little too far to the left so his shoulder bounces against the brick wall. “ Ty luch sveta v temnom tsarstve!”

 

Okay, okay, she can play these games too, why wait for reason? The letdown is instant, like a bucket of ice water dumped on her head, dripping into the soles of her shoes and forming little watery graves there. And the way the tendons in her forearms pull taught and her nails dig into the palms of her hands gives her only brief warning before she finds herself holding him by the neck against the wall and twisting her fingers into his short hair to slam the soft part of his skull into the brick. But she pauses there, taking the time she finds she has to look into the little black window, blown wide in the center of his eye where she sometimes thinks she can see things before she kills someone. That is part of the game, too. He seems surprised, but not scared of her. They never are, until they are.

 

“Now you really remind me of my shit father,” she tells him in good humor. There is one way to bring her back from these dark things and that is with good humor and getting what she wants. And what she wants is to crack the soft bones of his temple like a stubborn egg against the brick wall until his brain drips out like yoke. It has been a long day, forgive her.

 

“Stop it!” Eve scolds, tugging on the arm Villanelle has pressed to his throat. “Jesus, settle down.”

 

“Settle down?” She echoes. Villanelle doesn’t want anything of the sort. But Eve has broken her concentration and it does not seem as pertinent as it had ten seconds prior. “Do not worry, nobody will miss him. It is nothing.”

 

“You’re supposed to be dead,” Eve reminds her, giving her that reproachful look that always annoys her. She is not stupid, she just does not care. “Don’t draw attention to yourself like this.”

 

Eve is like a fly buzzing about her head saying smart things. So she probably shouldn’t swat her. Villanelle scoffs, but loosens her hold on the man’s greasy hair and wipes it on the breast of his jacket. “I cannot help it. I am worthy of attention.”

 

“I’m aware,” Eve grunts, trying to pull her arm from the man’s throat, but it’s a weak effort.

 

“And yet.”

 

“C’mon, I’ll get you dinner,” Eve tempts, pulling Villanelle’s arm away from the man’s throat, but only because Villanelle lets her. The moment has passed anyways, he is back to being boring. And maybe it is good that Eve has reminded her how little he means to anyone or anything and how unworthy he would be to splatter his brains on her very expensive shoes.

 

Villanelle finally slaps a too-hard pat on the side of the stupid look on his face and pushes away from him. “Okay,” she agrees, shrugging like nothing happened. It did not, really. It could have, but it didn’t. “But it better not be a sandwich.”




____________________



It is a sandwich. Again.

 

Is Villanelle not being clear? No matter what you put in the in-between a sandwich tastes like sandwich bread. It is so much bread, it is so boring.

 

“It’s all they have here,” Eve rolls her eyes and tucks in like she doesn’t care at all what she looks like. She probably doesn’t. She owns a striped blouse two sizes too large for her. This is mesmerizing in itself. Because Eve is not stupid, she is purposefully trying to be unsexy. “I know the owner, so I get a lot of free stuff.”

 

“If I had known you had to trade sexual favors for this sandwich, I would have been a lot nicer about it,” Villanelle lies, because she probably doesn’t know how to do that. Under the top piece of bread, she finds a pile of carved turkey and several slices of cheese. The turkey is not actually too bad - they might have hand-carved it that day even - so she methodically pulls these pieces apart with her fingers and dismantles the entire construct. Eve watches these things like she is absolutely dying to knock the food from her hands, but is afraid she will end up with a knife in her eye. She is right to fear this.

 

“So what the hell was that?” Eve says after a long few moments of tense silence, watching her out of the corner of her eye. It’s difficult to gain the same advantages talking to a person side-by-side rather than head on, but it probably makes Eve more comfortable to be able to face forward and only look her in the eye when she chooses to turn. It is a good seating arrangement for someone who does not want to see her too much or too closely. It is not good for someone like Villanelle who wants to crawl into Eve’s brain and live there.

 

“Hm?” She asks after too long has passed and she realizes she lost the thread of the conversation. “What?”

 

“That,” Eve says vaguely, gesturing with her sandwich. “You almost murdering that guy for no reason at all. Did you know him?”

 

“Why would I know him? Not all Russian people know each other, Eve. You are so ignorant.”

 

Eve gives her a very pointed, very irritated look and it serves its purpose only if Eve intended to make her smile. If so: well done, Eve.

 

“Well why the hell did you snap on him? I’m trying to understand.”

 

“Yes, you are always trying,” Villanelle nods sympathetically. “I do not know him, he is nothing. He started speaking in Russian to me.”

 

“Yeah, I heard?”

 

“I wanted to break his skull,” Villanelle explains. It is all so simple, Eve is missing it. “It is an ugly language, no? I don’t care to hear it from someone like him, who is already predisposed to being very ugly.”

 

A bartender comes by to top off Eve’s whiskey and while he is pouring very, very slowly so he can eavesdrop on them, Eve stares across at the schnapps behind the counter and says, “I rather like it, actually.” She won’t look at Villanelle when she says this, but she admits nonetheless. “I wish I was better at it.” At Villanelle’s doubtful look, Eve shrugs. “It’s one of the few languages that I can feel rolling. Like low thunder.” She seems flustered afterward, going back to her drink. “Or whatever.”

 

“Hm,” Villanelle nods slowly. “That is beautiful, Eve. I have never considered.” She waves a bit of turkey around in the tip of her fork and tips her head to the side to catch Eve’s eye. “It makes me think of my father. And the cold.”

 

“That guy in the alley, he reminded you of your father?” Eve tiptoes right over the line of friends eating ugly sandwiches in ugly solidarity toward clinical diagnosis. Tsk, tsk, but Eve cannot help herself.

 

Villanelle grins and leans much closer to Eve until she leans back and away in her own stool. “Do you wish to shrink me Eve? Would you like to hear about my terrible father? Would you like to hear about poor baby Oksana and the cruel Russian countryside? I believed these were already things you snooped from my government files.”

 

Eve rolls her eyes and takes a long, long, too long drink of her whiskey before setting it down too hard on the bar. “Those files were useless,” she mutters. “They always are. If knowing a person was so easy as finding patterns in the parts of a person’s life touched by the government, I’d be out of a job I think. Or maybe I’d be in a job? I’m already out, I guess.”

 

“Yes, it is a little funny. Your poorness.”

 

“Oh, fuck off,” Eve mutters. “You’re poor too. Eat your sandwich.”

 

Villanelle laughs, because sometimes Eve is funny. Actually, she is funny a lot, but it is never clear when exactly she’s allowed to laugh about it. “I will tell you, you know?” Villanelle teases. At Eve’s questioning look, Villanelle puts on a sad face. “About poor little Oksana. I will let you shrink her if it would make you forgive me faster.”

 

There is a suspenseful moment of eye contact where Villanelle really believes Eve will take her up on the offer. It would be an easy trade, because Oksana is like a small orphan child in a book or movie: two-dimensional and easy to write fiction about. But then,

 

“Nah,” Eve declines, going back to her sandwich.

 

Villanelle is actually a little insulted. “I thought I was interesting to you,” she scoffs. “I thought you lived for this kind of nonsense.”

 

“Hm, you are and I did,” Eve shrugs. “But you’re a liar.”

 

“And you are always so truthful,” Villanelle mutters, picking at the corners of the dry cheese she’d shunted to the side of her plate. “You know what, bar man? I will take a drink. Vodka neat, because I’m Russian. And Eve is prejudiced against Russians.”

 

The bartender gives them a worried look, but does as bidden because his tips do not depend on the quality of his clientele, only the depth of their pockets. Villanelle is very familiar with this kind of career.

 

Eve rolls her eyes and thanks the bartender for Villanelle’s drink, but is otherwise unaffected. “You can’t tell me you were going to give me an honest account of your childhood and your feelings. I’m sorry, but I’m not an idiot. You don’t know how to be honest with me. Not in that way.”

 

“You still do not trust me,” Villanelle observes, tossing back the bottom shelf shit that Eve’s indiscretions have apparently gotten them. “How will you shrink me if you believe nothing? How would someone like me make you believe me at all, hm?”

 

Eve’s face turns thoughtful like she is genuinely considering how they could arrange something like that. It leaves Villanelle hanging on the answer, despite herself. Because these games they play can always add rules, can always become more complicated and more fun. If she believed they had reached the capacity of these games, she would not be sitting in a bar with Eve still playing them.

 

“We could trade,” Eve finally offers. “You answer five questions with the unconditional truth, to the best of your ability, and in return I answer five of yours. You only get an answer from me if I get an answer from you that I think is truthful. Five questions, no withholding or omitting.”

 

This is a fun game. Truth is so very slippery, she finds it hard to wrap her fingers around and hold still. Because everyone has a truth, but these truths do not always fit into the same box when you pack them together. There are truths. And then there are your truths. In her vast experience of pulling lies out like teeth - back molars, to be specific, works best - she has come to find that a person can really believe a lie they tell. Villanelle thinks it might be fun to learn Eve’s truths.

 

“How will you know if I am telling the truth?” Villanelle grins. “I am very, very good at lying. You should not play games you’re not prepared to lose, Eve.” She leans forward, braces her elbow on the table and makes sure she is as far into Eve’s space as she can get. This pushes Eve back a bit, makes her sink into herself because they talk like they are close, but Eve is still deep down, convinced she is prey.

 

Villanelle wonders what will happen when she realizes she isn’t.

 

Eve makes a noble effort to steel her gaze, puff up a bit even under the willow bend of Villanelle’s body over hers. It is cute. She’s good at lying, but she’s not sure she could lie about that.

 

“I guess you’ll just have to convince me,” Eve says very slowly, very clearly like a dare. 

 

This is fun. Even looking down on Eve, Villanelle feels like she is on her knees. She has never felt so ready to beg. “I accept,” Villanelle says softly, because this might as well be their foreplay. More and more, she wonders if this might be the closest she ever gets to touching Eve. Wonders if she hadn’t sunk that ship in Rome in a childish outburst. Instead, they will play this game of chase and make intimacy of it - as long as it holds her interest, anyways.

 

Villanelle snaps rudely at the bartender until he pours her even worse vodka. It came from a plastic bottle, which she didn’t even know was possible. But every inch of her body is poised with a buzzing electricity, right there on the edge of her barstool and she doesn’t hardly flinch when she throws back the gross drink.

 

“What is your first question?” She pauses, stares so far into Eve’s eyes she thinks she can see her brain. It is wishful thinking, perhaps.

 

Eve does not take long - she has considered this . Eve has rehearsed this question, waited for this moment. Villanelle is hardly breathing when Eve asks, “What does it feel like when you love someone?”

 

Villanelle is...intrigued.

 

“I thought you said I can not love,” She shrugs. “That I do not know what it means. Remember? I think I might have shot you afterward, if that helps.”

 

“Rings a bell,” Eve says, but she is caught up in the question. Her gaze doesn’t falter, doesn’t give at all.

 

Villanelle wonders about the ethics of a shrink who makes her patients feel like that but very quickly remembers that she doesn’t care. “What does this tell you, exactly?”

 

“Is that your first question? Because you have to answer mine first.”

 

Villanelle feels a large, involuntary grin split her face and she shakes her head. “That is not my question. I will play your game, Eve. You want to know what I think love is?”

 

“I want to know what you feel when you think you’re in love,” she corrects firmly.

 

“It is like I see the world in color. It is life-changing. It makes my heart weak.”

 

Eve shakes her head slowly. “Try again.”

 

Villanelle laughs and reaches across the bar counter, standing a little on her stool to steal a handful of maraschino cherries from a plastic bin by the glasses. Still, she is fairly sure she could lie to Eve. Eve is smart, but Villanelle is smarter .

 

But then, sometimes it is a truth that is most contentious.

 

“Okay, okay. It feels…” Villanelle purses her lips, taps a finger against her chin, “...like sunburn.”

 

Always the doubter, Eve deflates a bit and leans away. “What?”

 

“Like sunburn,” she insists. “Like I spend too much time with a person and whether I like it or not, it is like every part of me is tender for weeks. It is annoying and ugly and painful. I cannot stop thinking about it. I feel like everyone can see the prints I can press into my skin. It is bad,” she laughs. “Love is stupid.”

 

Eve is staring at her very, very intently. This is cause enough to do almost anything, really. Say anything. Be anything. She could walk out the door - even just turn in her chair in this very bar - and have anyone’s attention she wants. But Eve’s attention she must earn .

 

“Everything is so boring. I just take the things I want, though I do not often want . But when I want a person, I don’t know why or how or even what that looks like. I can’t do anything. It is like I want to wrap my hands around their throat and hold them down and squeeze forever, but they never go still. It is crazy,” she laughs, because it really, really is. “I don’t understand it at all. You stabbed me and I’d do it all again. To borrow a word you are fond of abusing, it is psychotic .” Villanelle wiggles her fingers in Eve’s direction menacingly.

 

Eve’s face hasn’t changed at all. Not even a flicker of emotion.

 

“You think I make no sense? I make very simple sense, Eve, I want nice things and fun times. Love makes no sense. What makes me want to possess a person at all? I don’t even like people, can’t have them. So shrink that.”

 

Eve is very, very careful not to phrase it like a question when she says, “You loved Anna.”

 

“I wanted her,” Villanelle corrects, because she is feeling generous even though maybe Eve is not strictly playing by the rules. And maybe this is a truth that will haunt Eve in all the best ways, or so she can only hope. “I’d have let her peel the skin from me and wear it like a coat if she so much as asked. She almost did. I thought I could have her and I would be happy with that.” Unexpectedly, a loud laugh burst past her lips, drawing a slurry glance from the alcoholic two barstools down from them. 

 

“But she hated me, Eve. I loved her and she hated me! Sure, she liked the way I fucked her and she liked the way I found her beautiful and charming and valuable, but she had more love for the dog shit in her front yard than me. She wanted to have but not be had. Isn’t that funny? I went to prison for her and she was relieved. I think it is kind of funny.”

 

Eve did not answer, nor did she laugh.

 

“It would seem,” Villanelle gestured carelessly with a maraschino cherry that flopped to one side by the hold of its limp stem, “that maybe I do not know what love is. You were right, probably, in Rome. Sometimes it is dangerous being right, Eve. I want things that do not want to be wanted. Things I cannot have, because that is a thing I can’t understand and can’t be bored by.” She grins and wags a finger. “I am doing your job for you, Eve. Do not let me be shrinking alone over here.”

 

“I wonder what you would do if someone ever loved you,” Eve says, but doesn’t ask, because again, she is good at games. It would be very rude from anyone else, but from Eve it is honest, as close to real truth as a person can get, maybe.

 

Villanelle pops the cherry into her mouth and chews slowly while she waits for something in Eve’s face to betray her. “I don’t want that.” 

 

She receives a dubious look in return.

 

“Okay, okay,” she laughs. “But I won’t have it. You think someone can love something they really, honestly know ? I am not sure. If they know, they never love you. Why do you think your husband is not here chasing me off?” She needles, just to see if Eve has the same tender spots she used to.

 

She doesn’t. Not even a blink.

 

Villanelle nods her approval and reaches back across the counter to nab the bottle of whiskey the bartender had carelessly forgotten to reshelve and remove from her reach. “Knowing someone does not scare me, I already know everyone is terrible so how can I be disappointed? It scares liars , Eve. It scares people who do not want to be known and do not want to know.” She pouts out her lip and tops Eve’s half-full glass off. “I think it scares you too,” she says with mock sympathy. “It certainly scared your husband.”

 

It was really meant to upset, but Eve just raises her eyebrows and nods thoughtfully. “Probably,” is all Villanelle gets. She looks away from her then, straight back at the liquor shelves while she regresses inside her own head. And Villanelle wants to sulk, because she is sure she’s lost her attention for the night - said too much, probably - but Eve speaks up again a few moments later. “Is that it, then? You either know someone or you love them?”

 

“Sure,” Villanelle takes a large swig from the whiskey bottle she’d stolen and swivels her stool around so she can prop her elbows and lean her back against the countertop. “It is so stupid,” she says cheekily. “Like, why do I love you? You’re awful.”

 

“That’s rich coming from you,” Eve mutters into her whiskey. A long, slow drink, and then Eve asks, “Wait, so which is it? You think you know me or you think you love me?”

 

“I am different.I am not a liar in the ways everyone else is, no matter what you may think of me. I can do both, because I am not afraid of how awful I know you are. ”

 

“You know what?” Eve whines, “Why do I even talk to you?”

 

“This was your question!” Villanelle points out. “”Would you like me to do impressions now? I am very good and even better when drinking. I know I can make you laugh.”

 

“No - just -” Eve has some kind of constipated look on her face, which is probably Villanelle’s fault, but she is very tired of taking the blame for everything. “Back up. You didn’t really answer my question. What do you feel when you think you’re in love with someone?”

 

“Yes I did,” Villanelle wrinkles her nose. “It’s so stupid. I want to know every part of you, but I know that the more you learn about me, the less you’ll like me. But the more I know about you, the more I want you. I think I am broken that way. Such is life,” she shrugs. “Now look, I will do that man in the corner with the beard now.”

 

Villanelle drops her voice almost an entire octave and puts on her roughest Cockney accent, letting her brow fold heavily over her eyes so she can glare at the approaching bartender. “Oi! Bring ‘round ano’ver drink when ya ge’ the chance, eh? Me an’ the girwfriend are goin’ to meet ‘er muvver la’er. Go’a be right pissed firs’.”

 

The bartender gives her a flat look, takes the whiskey bottle she’d stolen and moves away to help another guest.

 

Villanelle takes care to look offended, bluster and puff her chest the way the man in the corner had done when his friends had gone in on him for something Villanelle was only vaguely paying attention to. She even pretends to stroke absently at the beard she doesn’t have in just the way he’d been doing all night.

 

Unexpectedly, Eve does laugh. She even seems surprised by it, making a subtle effort to cover the laugh with the back of her hand and drown it in drink. “See? I told you I could make you laugh. Ya ochen’ smeshnaya. Ne somnevaisya vo mne.

 

Oops, she is drunk again. Eve is a very bad influence. You know what someone, somewhere probably says: Ne pei s krasivymi zhenshinami.

 

“You are,” Eve concedes, and it must just absolutely kill her. Nebol’shie pobedy.



____________________



Too drunk, again. Beautiful women, and all that. Villanelle’s shoulder keeps bumping Eve’s as they walk back to her apartment and she is forced to confront that maybe Eve has a better tolerance than she does. But Eve is dancing the edge of the line between alcoholic and coping, so Villanelle deserves some slack on that. She is a career woman, thank you. Or she was until she fake-died.

 

“I have thought of my question,” She declares as they near the apartment.

 

Eve raises an eyebrow at her.

 

“I have earned it. I was very truthful, I promise,” Villanelle says, making a little cross motion over her own heart. When Eve does nothing to object, Villanelle feels stupidly victorious. But probably because she is stupidly drunk. “Do you love me?” She asks, because whatever. She is drunk, who cares. Everything is hazy and she might as well know for absolute sure. She might as well make Eve say it , oh, even if it hurts so bad. It is fun making her do things, like so much puppet strings and dancing.

 

Eve gets very, very quiet and not in a way that makes Villanelle feel like she will like the answer. But Eve does not care about her feelings, so she knows she will get her answer one way or another. It’s not until after Eve has produced her keys and let them into the long, narrow stairwell leading up to her apartment and the other units in the shared building that she speaks again. “Ask me a different question. I don’t want you to waste it.”

 

It is surprising to find that it actually kind of hurts. Like in movies, right there in her heart like a little fat, naked baby with wings has shot an arrow through it. How stupid! She thinks she lost this part of the game, maybe.

 

Villanelle gathers her remaining thoughts, even if they are very quickly becoming drunk Russian. She must remember to not drink so much, it is an ugly look on her. At the top of the stairs, right as Eve lets them into her apartment, Villanelle manages to grasp onto a different question. Different enough and so hopeful it makes her feel a little sick. 

 

Could you ever love me?” She asks instead.

 

And Eve gives her a long, long, completely unreadable look in the open doorway to her apartment and says, “I don’t know. But I hope not.”



____________________




Her dreams are strange and awful that night.



____________________




On the two-hundred and fifty-sixth day in solitary confinement, she has already decided exactly what she is going to do when the man with the cut-knuckle hands and the sweaty forehead and the cold, cold, cold look in his eyes comes back and tries to stick his dirty fingers into her cell. She has thought about it two-hundred and fifty-six ways over two-hundred and fifty-six dinners with herself and had two-hundred and fifty-six conversations with the slowly oozing mortar of the wall opposite her bed. So she is two-hundred and fifty-six times more prepared than the average person for day two-hundred and fifty-seven, she figures.

 

Maybe it is because she is in a two square meter box without natural light, but her vision feels like it has slowly shrunk over the past few months until everything looks like she is viewing it at the end of a long, narrow tube - a pinprick in the distance and nothing else. There is no periphery in prison. There is only you at one end and the end at the other. And some find the end in loosened shackles and through the front door, sentence served, and some find it at the end of a determinedly knotted bedsheet around a sturdy support and the other around their neck, and some find it bloodied or poked open in a mess of guts on floors easily washed for that very purpose, or who knows. Oksana sees only the hands that feed her, the man who sneers into the four centimeter slat in her cell door, spits sometimes, or reaches in and tries to touch at her limp hair or her pale skin. Or maybe he just looks, red-veined eyes like her father and cirrhotic teeth and even his look takes something from her.

 

He does not consider that when he looks and when he takes, she looks back. It is important to have aspirations in prison. These are healthy things.

 

She was taught that in the juvenile prison between her father and Anna and they were right. Goals help.

 

A perfect, brown-rusted bloody hole lies in the blind corner by the front of the cell where she’d clawed stone away with her bare, bleeding hands and ravaged fingernails. The sharp rock feels like victory in her torn hands. She has had two-hundred and fifty-six days over which she’s done 51,200 pushups and situps and pullups, respectively, and when he comes to look down the tunnel of her vision and leer and spit and touch, she is nowhere to be found. There is muttering, there is cursing, there’s a fumbling of keys before the cell door swings open for the first time. She stares down upon the top of his balding head from her position clinging with perfect grace and muscle control above the frame of the cell door by only the barest of finger holds and impeccable balance.

 

“Gde ona?” He asks stupidly. Look up, look up! She smiles, because the end of the tunnel is getting closer and everything looks clear again. Her blood had slowed to a stop months ago, body in stasis and brain frozen over in hibernation. It quickens again. Her hands warm.

 

Her face splits into a bigger grin and it hurts because her face must not have been doing anything the last two-hundred and fifty-six days. “Ya tebya vizhu,” She sings even if her voice cracks and wheezes with disuse.

 

It is important that she wait just long enough for him to turn, scratch at his head, then look up with dumb shock on his ugly face before she launches herself right on top of his stupid head. The rock isn’t very sharp, so shoving it into the soft tissue of his throat requires every ounce of her considerable strength. This is why it is important to set goals.

 

It is too hasty, really, because when she rips the chipped shale of her shiv from his neck, the hole is too wide and gaping. It is messy and she knows he will die too quick. It is a little disappointing after so much time thinking and planning, but that is life sometimes.

 

He falls back into the corner of her cell, dirty hands washing over with an unstaunchable fountain of warm blood. She sits on his round gut and gently, playfully pulls his hands away from his ruptured throat. It will not do him any good anyway, he is wasting precious time. His mouth works against itself while she smiles down at him, bubbling blood pumping past teeth and lips each time he tries to talk like a babbling creek. He has never looked so good, probably.

 

Bud’ ostorozhen s tem, za chem smotrish ,” she chides him, cradling both his hands to her chest, like he’d wanted to do for two-hundred and fifty-six days. She touches him to show him he is not missing much. It wasn’t worth it. “Sometimes it watches back.”

 

But then he is dead, so the advice is pointless. She only makes it about twenty paces outside of her cell and down the low-lit hallway before five men who look exactly the same hold her down and box her skull until she blacks out and doesn’t feel the fracture in her arm when it happens. One gets three inches of chipped rock in his eye socket for his troubles.

 

She wakes up in a cell that is somehow smaller and her vision begins to narrow back to a pinprick in the distance. She begins at one again.



____________________



When she wakes, she almost snaps Eve’s neck. That would have been awkward.

 

Chto ty delaesh? ” She slurs, batting at Eve’s hands and maybe it was optimistic of her to think she could have broken Eve’s neck with a raging fever. Even disoriented, she knows almost instantly that her partial-gutting has caught up with her. Eve is trying to push up her shirt and it’s about the one instance where it does not thrill her. This is not at all how she imagined it. Can she be stabbed just one time where there is no further consequence to the maiming? It is getting annoying.

 

“Am I dying? For real?” She groans, letting her head fall back into the couch pillow so Eve can just deal with it.

 

Eve hums. “Probably.”

 

Villanelle goes to glare at her, because if Eve was dying she would at least pretend to be heartbroken. She would do that for her . But when she looks up through the haze of fever heat, focuses really hard down the length of the couch to where Eve is peeling back shoddy bandages from her stomach, she pauses. Again, she might be hallucinating because everything looks like she is viewing it through poorly cast stained glass, but Eve looks very, very worried. Eve worries about a lot of things, just usually not Villanelle’s health and happiness.

 

“What is the verdict, Doctor Polastri?”

 

Eve keeps staring at the inflamed cuts in her skin and forgets to answer her for almost an entire minute. “Huh?”

 

“You say I am shit doctor. Your turn. What is the diagnosis?”

 

“You definitely need to see a real doctor. Like, now,” Eve says, standing up with a dangerous kind of finality.

 

Villanelle struggles up onto her elbows, shaking her head and attempting a conciliatory smile which probably just looks kind of stoned. “No, no. No real doctor. Just us.”

 

“Seriously. I’m going to call a cab.”

 

“Don’t do that,” Villanelle snaps, pushing up a bit further despite the agony of the action. “You know what happens when you’re fake dead and someone finds out? You get real dead.”

 

“You’re going to get real dead anyway!” Eve snaps back, tossing her hand up in the air.

 

“Great, solves your problem, then,” Villanelle says meanly, because everything hurts and she is allowed, just a little. It feels like her body is eating itself from the inside out. “Just get antibiotics and I’ll be fine.”

 

“You have a fever of 40 degrees,” She says frantically, waving a thermometer that Villanelle has no memory of.

 

Villanelle glares. “That better have been in my mouth and not anywhere else.”

 

“You were ranting at me in Russian. You were hallucinating! You kept telling me to be careful who I watch.”

 

“Well, I am Russian, this is hardly surprising,” Villanelle grumbles, falling onto her back and biting hard into her cheek to stave off the pain. “I was dreaming.”

 

“You’re going to die,” Eve spits.

 

“You are such the Negative Nancy. Maybe the glass is half full, sometimes.” Her eyes begin to droop shut even with the raging attention her pain demands of her. All she wants is to sleep and maybe never wake up again, depending on what was waiting for her if she did. But Eve was breathing too loudly and being annoying. “I cannot go to a doctor, Eve. They will kill you too if they find me, trust me. You are too annoying to overlook. Just get some antibiotics and painkillers and bandages.” She peels back one eye and let her vision swim around until she can catch Eve’s. “I am very tough to kill. You will see.”



____________________




It is while Eve is holding her hair back so she can vomit in a bucket that she begins to think that she should have just died instead. This is so unsexy, it might be fatal.

 

“I would let me die, if I were you,” Villanelle groans, letting her forehead rest on the far rim of the bucket, too exhausted to peel herself away.

 

Eve begins to run her fingers through Villanelle’s hair, close to the scalp and surprisingly pleasant. It is the first time Eve has touched her gently and she can’t even really enjoy it, because her guts are in a bucket and her skin is clammy and everything is awful. “That’s because you’re an asshole,” she says almost lovingly.

 

It is probably just the fever.



____________________





Eve comes and goes during the next few days, though the going is infrequent. At least Villanelle thinks the going is infrequent. It’s hard to tell because she also comes and goes from her own brain. But it seems like Eve is there a lot more, often sitting on the rug in front of the couch with her boring cheating spouse case file spread out on the floor as she diligently works through these uninteresting things. It is survival yes, but Eve is too good for this work.

 

However, she has changed Villanelle’s gross bandages, doctored her, even held her hair while she pukes, so Villanelle rolls onto her side when she’s not blacked out and points out leads and suggestions that Eve has either missed or not gotten to yet. It is boring work, but it makes something pleasant uncurl in the pit of her carved raw stomach, stretch its clawed paws out like a fat cat, and maybe even purr a little. Having Eve afraid of her was thrilling, but having Eve comfortable with her is somehow more thrilling. Eve knows the danger and sits with her back to her anyways. 

 

They eat a lot of popsicles and shaved ice together, because that’s all Villanelle can really stomach. Sometimes she even gets tired or bored and puts on the television or a movie instead and it is almost like they are just spending time together for real. But Villanelle knows she can’t point this out or Eve will disappear into the night forever. She is so weird.

 

And it goes on this way until food stays down and the swelling subsides and her fever stays down and, “I told you so,” Villanelle says because how is one supposed to resist these things. “I am tough. All better. We are both good doctors, as it turns out.”

 

I’m a good doctor. You were a terrible patient,” Eve protests half-heartedly. She seems relieved more than anything and it’s nice to think Eve could ever be relieved that she’s alive again. Maybe they are moving further away from Rome and hurt feelings day by day. It did not take Villanelle nearly so long to forgive - a day, maybe. A handful of oxycodone and some perspective.

 

“How ugly do I look right now?” Villanelle sighs, pressing the back of her hand against her forehead and letting weary eyelids fall closed. 

 

Eve makes a thoughtful noise while she moves around her kitchen. “Scale of one to ten? Like a six. That’s pretty high for you, though.”

 

“It is,” Villanelle agrees. “Five maybe?”

 

“No, it’s a six,” Eve says ruthlessly and that feels fair. She cleaned up her vomit twice. “Are you going to be okay alone today? I need to meet up with Leo.”

 

“Who is Leo ?” Villanelle mumbles into her arm.

 

“Leodonna. The lady with the cheating wife,” Eve says while her terror of a coffee pot percolates loudly, almost covering her voice. “She’s got some travel receipts for me. Bank statements. I’m doing surveillance soon.”

 

Leodonna . That is a sexy name, what in the fuck.” Villanelle lets her arm slide from her forehead and rolls her head to give Eve a baleful look. “Please tell me this is code and you are going to fuck her. If you wait too long, I will have to do it for you.”

 

“Yeah? How are you going to do that? You’re a six right now,” Eve laughs to herself. And how exactly is Villanelle the rude one?

 

“You are so mean,” Villanelle rolls onto her opposite side even though her whole body screams at her not to. She can feel the extra oxycodone pills she’d nabbed from the coffee table when Eve wasn’t paying attention begin to take hold. The slowing of her blood and the warm curl in her stomach and probably the dopey smile she knows is on her face. Eve is about to leave and she will be bored and stoned again, so she grasps at the first things he can think of and opens her drugged mouth.

 

“She called here a week ago.” Villanelle laughs sluggishly. “I offered to kill her wife for £30,000, but she was not interested. And then I offered to kill her wife’s new toy.”

 

Eve is suddenly standing in front of her, right at the edge of the couch like she is a trained assassin or something. She is probably about to get yelled at, but - “Did she...seem interested in that?”

 

“She was not not interested,” Villanelle says smugly. “If I had offered to kill the perky young one The Moustache wanted to fuck, would you have been not interested?”

 

“Huh,” Eve says and nothing else. “Interesting.” She shoulders her bag and picks up her travel thermos. Right before she goes, she lays the back of her hand against Villanelle’s forehead for a few blessed seconds, seemingly pleased with the results. Then she is gone and everything is boring again.

 

“For you, maybe,” Villanelle mutters.



_____________________




Max Leonova is so unspecial as to lightly resemble a piece of furniture in his shared home with Anna. When she considers the home, considers its contents, and glazes right over him, he is less interesting than the grandfather clock in the corner and the antique french dresser in their bedroom, but he is slightly more interesting than the garbage can or the unpatterned rug under her feet. He is maybe as interesting as the striped armchair in the living room. He is just so much nothing.

 

He hardly even speaks to her when she comes in. Offers her tea at a mumble, inquires politely if Anna was expecting her. Inquires about school. Something else, she is not listening at all because, again, it is like being spoken to by a striped armchair.

 

He asks how their tutoring is going.

 

Oh right.

 

When Anna is on her back in their wedding bed, a girl less than half her age with her tongue inside her, she has told her husband that they are tutoring. Sometimes he is actually in the house when this happens. But he is just so easy to forget, honestly.

 

She does not even hate him. She doesn’t understand him. Because he is there like a light fixture in Anna’s life. Anna never speaks of Max, has no pictures of him on her desk, on her phone. Oksana can only conclude that he is as much nothing to Anna as he is to Oksana. If she threw out Anna’s old armchair and bought her a newer, better one, she would roll her eyes and laugh and get over it and then they would be fucking again, because that’s all she ever seems to want from her. But for whatever reason, Anna acts like he is an immovable part of her life, a wall erected between them.

 

When he goes to see if he left the window open in their bedroom because it’s getting drafty, Oksana gets up quietly too, removes a knife from the block in the kitchen and follows on his heels. This will be easiest, because if she just does it without too much fuss, then he is gone and they can move along.

 

So she doesn’t think too hard.

 

In her limited experience, it is easiest just to go for the neck. Though she thinks maybe if she had the time to think about it, she could do it more clever, funnier, ironic, maybe even stylish. It is so easy to kill a person, does it always have to be so utilitarian? But whatever, she is committed and he is not even worth any of that, because he is just furniture in her house, taking up so much room.

 

But? She had already done that and her father died too quick, so instead, in a moment of inspiration, she wraps one arm around his torso from behind and drive’s the knife two, three times into the soft spot in his lower back where the little antique french anatomical maps in Anna’s classroom claim the kidney sits. Who knows, though? She is new at the kidneys and the back stabbing.

 

Max lets out a quiet, almost comical “Oh!” when she does it, freezing up for long moments until his kidneys are mincemeat, probably. It looks bad, poor Max. But it is behind him, so he will not have to see how ugly it looks.

 

When she lets him go, pushes away to watch him fade away, he stumbles forward into the bed she fucks his wife in and spins as he falls, crawling up against the slippery sheets. His head turns, eyes wide and guileless as he stares at her, mouth hanging open. Already, he looks somehow more pale than he was before.

 

Chto ?” He chokes out. And she wants to laugh, because what does he mean what. He has been stabbed, it is obvious. People act so stupid when they die.

 

“Goodbye Max,” she tells him in perfect English, leaning over him and offering him a smile. “She does not need your penis anymore, I am becoming very skilled, you should not worry for her.”

 

He starts crying, which is a little embarrassing and she rolls her eyes. “ Ugomonis ,” she mutters and sits down so hard on the bed next to him that it bounces and her feet get air before settling again on the carpet. “I wish you were an armchair, this would be less messy. And less loud.”

 

Anna has white sheets and they are kind of pretty with the bright red smears, fresh like a kill in snow. They will turn brown and gross in an hour or two, but in the moment it is kind of like art. The kidney thing is taking far too long, did she even reach his kidney?

 

She decides to make conversation, because truly they’ve never talked before and what else is she supposed to do. “You know she loves me, right? She lets me get her expensive gifts and she fucks me in your bed - sometimes when you’re home! Have you noticed she does not love you anymore? Have you wondered who is making her so happy?”

 

Ty lzhesh ,” He spits through heavy, labored breath, spittle dribbling down his quivering lip. He is so ugly, it is really amazing that Anna could stand to look at his face while he fucks her, if that even still happens. She has been kept quite busy recently. “ Ona ne lyubit tebya. Ty nichego ne znachish dlya nee - ty prosto lekarstvo ot skuki.

 

“Well, I’d rather be nothing than whatever you are,” Villanelle laughs. “You cannot expect me to believe that she tells you she loves you. She won’t even tell me that and I give her everything. You give her nothing.”

 

Ona govorit mne kazhdyi den’ ,” Max groans. “She love me,” He insists in clunky English. “She say you are spoiled. Annoying. Smart and so stupid.”

 

“Spoiled?” Oksana laughs even though cold is sinking from the pit of her stomach down into her feet and into the tips of her scarred fingertips until it feels like her lungs are frozen and she is breathing ice. Suddenly she is crawling into his lap until they are eye to eye and oops, she is dragging the kitchen knife down his cheek because he screams really high-pitched when she does and it’s very funny. He is annoying her.

 

“How can I be spoiled when I have nothing?” She asks him with a quizzical smile. “Anna knows this. You are lying to me.”

 

Ona rasskazala mne, chto ty ubila svoego ottsa, i iz-za etogo vyrosla v tyurme. Ona skazala, chto tebe do sih por snyatsya uzhasnye koshmary. Sometimes it makes you cry in your sleep,” He laughs cruelly.

 

“Now who is the liar?” She tsks.

 

She is really not that conscious of reaching down his pants, yanking them off maybe and carving into his groin while he screams and cries and then he passes out and doesn’t wake up again.

 

By the time Anna comes home, she is sitting sticky and empty at the end of her bed with the balloons she’d brought over for Anna’s birthday. Max has gone cold, propped up against their headboard with a pool of blood in his lap and all over the sheets and walls.

 

“Happy birthday,” she tells Anna.

 

Anna screams when she sees her, tries to beat her to death with a lamp as the wail of sirens gets closer. “I don’t understand,” Oksana protests, because truly, she does not. “I gave you everything. You love me.”

 

“Why would I love you?” Anna asks incredulously. “You’re violent and awful. You’re a child! You’re a criminal!”

 

“Well you did not seem to have a problem fucking me,” Oksana returns, baring her teeth at Anna, because she does not understand.

 

“You’re delusional,” Anna scoffs.

 

Even when she is in handcuffs, quiet and subdued in the back of a police car because she let them take her then, she still does not understand. They will get past this, Anna will see.




____________________

4x

____________________



 

Chapter Text

____________________

x4

____________________




Villanelle startles awake, blinks at the ceiling. It gives her that feeling like she’s fallen from great heights, right back into her own body. It is a bad place to be at the moment.

 

Chto za huinya? So help me, I better not be experiencing character growth,” she remarks to nobody in particular. If her brain is trying to tell her something, she is not understanding. Nor does she have much interest in understanding - dreams are stupid and so was Anna.

 

She’d obviously taken too much Oxy, if the groggy, stuffed feeling of her brain is anything to go by. The only relief is that the pounding, burning ache of her wounds is dulled and deadened by the drugs so it’s not too difficult to drag herself from the couch and stumble over to the kitchen. Everything swims a bit as she leans into the open refrigerator door and clumsily shuffles through ingredients, fighting against her weak knees. It’s difficult to feel so powerless, so weak. Leaves a bad taste in her mouth. If there’s one thing she’s come to understand in her world, it’s that this weakness is when the sharks circle. If she is caught weak, she will die. She cannot afford it, dying is very expensive.

 

And Eve may look like chum, but she can bite like a shark, aye, she has the scar to prove it. Trust is not a thing they deal in, the two of them. Each day they play roulette with a six-chamber barrel of Eve’s enduring kindness, and there are only so many empty clicks before Blam, she is dead. Eve is not so simple as to care for her and nothing else - her favors and kindness come with many strings and each day Villanelle must spend convalescing, each day she ensares herself further. She feels like a pinned butterfly in a case on Eve’s mantle. This is not so bad, but it is probably not so good either. She is not sure if she is ready to be collected .

 

In the moment, she does not have much choice, though. My delaem to, chto dolzhny delat’.

 

All she knows for certain is that she has puked on Eve all week, so she must make dinner or she will wake up in the gutter soon. People don’t keep around those that do nothing for them. Even The Moustache could cook and clean and hold Eve’s damage for however long it was convenient for him. Everything costs. She paid and paid and she still could not afford Anna’s love. For a homely teacher with an ugly house and no prospects, she was expensive, but perhaps she should have known it would turn out like it did - she has never wanted anything cheap. 

 

It is worrisome that she doesn’t know Eve’s price yet. It is never the cheap things that sit in stores without price tags, she has found.

 

Ugh, why must she think of Anna, pathetic and alone in an ugly flat in Moscow, still pining for a faceless man she did not even love enough to stay faithful to until her own spite blew the brains right out the back of her head. Why is she thinking of this now? This is why she doesn’t do drugs, they try and make her learn things from her past or something. She’d just as soon pawn her past for a croissant.

 

“Lasagna it is. Anna always hated it. Hui s toboi, Anna . ” Villanelle knows, even as she’s making it, that the dish is sloppy, the sausage is not homemade, and the sauce has not simmered long enough to build flavor. But she is tired and slow and can only do so much for it, really. When she’s cobbled it together and the oven is still preheating, she takes the opportunity to slump over the kitchen island, laying her entire face against the butcher block, which is a metaphor for something she is sure. If someone butchered her right then, it might not be so bad. It would be kind of funny too, her bug-eyed with a big cartoon cleaver in the back of her head. Tongue hanging out maybe. The oven beeps at her and oh right, she is supposed to be baking the lasagna because An na’s a bitch. Esli ty ne mozhesh dosadit’ komu-to posle ih smerti, to kogda eshe?

 

Eve finds her like that somehow. She does not really remember.

 

“What the hell are you doing?” She asks and Villanelle does not really remember. Wait, she already said that.

 

“I am making lasagna,” she says into the dry wood under her cheek. “What does it look like?”

 

“Stop sneaking extra Oxy,” Eve chastises and oh good, Villanelle cannot even manage that inconspicuously. Every day Eve gets more clever and Villanelle is making a fool of herself. “It makes you too loopy. And stop getting up, you’ll never heal.”

 

“I had to make dinner,” Villanelle mutters, pushing up off the island gingerly. Everything hurts much worse than it had however long ago since she passed out. That part is not so much clear.

 

Eve is leaning against the other side of the island watching her while she bites into an apple, which might also be a metaphor for something, but Villanelle feels really much too high. “Why?” Eve asks. “You can’t hardly keep anything down.”

 

“For you.”

 

“Why for me?”

 

“For eating.”

 

Eve gives her a flat look. “I’m asking why it was so important for you to make me dinner when you’re half-dying and not hungry.”

 

“So you do not leave me,” Villanelle explains - oops , too honest.

 

Eve gets a very complicated look on her face and Villanelle is much too drugged to figure it out. Or even see it all that well. “Leave you?”

 

Villanelle gestures sloppily with her hand. “It is like math. Maybe eventually I do enough for you, you let me stay. There is so much thin ice between us, no? Can we at least pretend it is this simple -  I am tired and my insides are like hot garbage.”

 

“You don’t really think that, do you?” Eve asks blankly.

 

And it has the unintended consequence of making Villanelle feel stupid, which she does not enjoy . Suddenly she is wide awake and she pushes up straight to glare across the counter, trying her level best to seem tall and foreboding despite her injuries. “Is that your second question?” She asks carefully.

 

Eve doesn’t bite. “What the hell happened with Anna?”

 

“Is that your second question?” Villanelle seethes. She must look weak enough still, because Eve doesn’t have the good sense to shrink away from her. Instead, she gets taller, squares her shoulders even.

 

“No. We’re just talking.”

 

“No, you are just talking ,” Villanelle sneers. “I am going back to sleep, because I’m stoned and you’re taking advantage of me.” Sort of, whatever. “Enjoy the lasagna, it is by far my worst.”

 

And then she hobbles back to the couch, holding her festering guts in with one hand and only tripping one time, thank you.



____________________




Over and over again, the only time she did it with rage, the first and last time she really really felt anger, hot like blue fire. Before it all went cold. He had said something innocuous like, prigotov’ uzhin ,” or maybe , “ Ty segodnya pohozha na svoyu  mat’, ” it is very not important.

 

It just happens. He is living one moment and then he has twelve, maybe twenty stab wounds in his neck and face and he is not so patronizing anymore like that. His hands are limp at his sides, dangling with little cherry drops of blood wobbling on his fingertips from the steady stream leaking out of his shirt sleeves. The chair he sits on cradles his head where it lulls back and Oksana watches him because he cannot watch her anymore. He looks much smaller in the chair, bent at a funny angle. He looks so weak dead.

 

Skatert’yu dorozhka.

 

That is as much as she can feel for him. She knows she has his eyes and his hair and maybe his cruelty too, but she will not have his blood anymore. The old floorboards will swell with it in a few hours and be ruined. He will be burned or dropped in a hole because he has nobody to care where he rots and she won’t be there when they come to ask it of her. Of course, he does not know that - he is dead. What does it matter?

She almost wishes it mattered to him because she thinks she might like it if he hurt forever. But then, would that make her happy? When she pictures it, she can’t even really imagine what that would feel like.

 

Carelessly, she tosses the knife near his boot and wipes her face with a dish towel before fixing a cup of water and walking outside to sit on the shabby front stoop leading up to their ugly home. Propping her head in her hands, curled in on her knees, she lets the cold country air wip little strings of blonde hair around her head while she watches her distant neighbor try and convince his underfed goat to come with him to market. Oksana thinks maybe he means to have it slaughtered, though it won’t fetch much money then. Why would it follow? Even goats are smarter than some people.

 

It is nice to be alone, she thinks. The wind hums sadly through the shutters of their home and she wonders why. She is not sad.

 

She does not feel much of anything, really.

 

____________________



When she wakes up again, it is dark and the shutters are banging against the crumbling brick of Eve’s apartment. She does not fall asleep after that, staring at the ceiling and letting her fingertips dangle limp from the edge of the couch, right above the floorboards and numb.

 

____________________



Eve is already gone by the time she wakes up again and Villanelle is really very tired of reliving the most boring and least fashionable parts of her life, so she flushes the rest of the Oxy down the toilet and grits her teeth to bear what comes. Angrily, she makes an unreasonable stack of crepes and leaves them on the kitchen counter to get cold. It doesn’t make her feel any better, so she puts a little note on top of the stack with a crudely drawn hand making a rude gesture. It helps.

 

Then someone buzzes the apartment, which probably isn’t a good sign. Nobody is ever paying her nice visits and she imagines that much may have rubbed off on Eve in their time apart. Villanelle takes the gun from behind the toilet and hits the button to let her guest up, making sure to wait to the side of the door, not in front of it like an idiot. Fool me once and all that.

 

But there is very civil knocking on the other side, so after a split decision, she carefully unlocks the door and swings it open, gun held politely behind her back. “Oh, no. I am not wanting anything you are selling,” Villanelle says before she tries to shut the door in the woman’s face.

 

A foot jams itself between the door and the frame before it can be slammed. “Similar sentiments.”

 

“What? Are you regretting saving me? You should know, I am very difficult to kill, there are no take-backs,” Villanelle chides, already calculating just what kind of damage she would sustain if she jumped from the window above Eve’s sink and made a run for it. It’s not that she believes she couldn’t kill Carolyn Martens, it’s that she’d rather shatter both of her ankles than have a five minute conversation with her.

 

Carolyn offers her a wane smile. “You’re the one holding a gun behind your back.”

 

“I am an assassin. You should be more worried if the gun is in front of my back,” Villanelle sighs, stepping aside so Carolyn can enter. She does not imagine she has much of a choice anyhow.

 

Carolyn heads directly for the couch, eyes greedily taking in the way it was clearly inhabited, cataloguing, processing. She sits primly on the edge after scooting aside the blankets and looks up expectantly. Villanelle just kind of stands there, because even if she knew what Carolyn wanted from her, she would not be inclined to give it.

 

“So I hear you’re dead. I suppose congratulations are in order.”

 

“Yes.” Villanelle eyes the kitchen window again, just in case. “Are you here to drop off flowers?”

 

“No. I’m afraid I didn’t like you much,” Carolyn says.

 

“Well, get in line.”

 

Carolyn carefully pulls loose each finger from her tight gloves before sliding them off her hands and folding them over one knee. “I admit I’m a little surprised to find you here... still .”

 

“You have been having Eve followed?” Villanelle scratches her nose a bit and glances around, already bored with the conversation.

 

“When it’s needed,” Carolyn says cryptically. “Reports back are never particularly gripping, but I happened to receive some interesting intel this last time. I thought surely you’d have moved on by now, or killed each other perhaps. I had to come. Had to see for myself.”

 

“Well now you have done the seeing for yourself. Would you like me to take my clothes off now for former?” This is an ill-calculated snark, because if Carolyn Martens agreed, she’s not really sure either of them would ever recover. 

 

Luckily, Carolyn wrinkles her nose at the idea - the liar . “No thank you. Do you need money right now? I have work for you. Nothing permanent, just a few jobs perfect for someone who isn’t alive anymore.”

 

“I can’t.” Villanelle puts on a tragic looking pout. “I am dead. And besides, I do not think the government would want you paying me for services. My services are not MI6-complaint.”

 

“I won’t tell if you won’t,” Carolyn says so simply , but it is never simple with her. Oh, she would keep secrets from herself if it were possible. Villanelle has tried, but these things have a way of coming back to you one way or the other.

 

“Eve would be very jealous if she knew you were here for me, but not for her,” Villanelle deflects. “Can you leave now? Your face is upsetting my delicate recovery.”

 

Carolyn pulls a crisp stack of newly minted bills from inside her jacket and places it square in the middle of the coffee table while Villanelle stares. “£25,000 upfront, matched upon completion. One hit, moderate security depending on the day.”

 

“You are barking at the wrong tree,” Villanelle shrugs. “Do I look like I need your money?”

 

This is a bad bluff, because Carolyn looks very pointedly around Eve’s terrible apartment. She spends great time and care on the couch that is obviously being lived in and the heinous hotel art bolted and immovable to the entryway. It reminds Villanelle that she is still meant to be mad at Eve and maybe also still owes her £2,000.

Okay, okay.

 

“Fine,” Villanelle snaps, sending Carolyn a dirty look. “Are you telling Eve you were here or do I have to keep your secrets?”

 

Carolyn shrugs. “You don’t have to do anything. Tell her. Don’t tell her. Doesn’t affect me.” Just as carefully as she’d taken them off, Carolyn begins the arduous process of putting her gloves back on before standing and slipping a file folder from her jacket and holding it out expectantly.

 

“You know The Twelve is dissolved, right?” Villanelle asks, taking the file folder with what she hopes is obvious suspicion. “Who could possibly still need killing?”

 

“The Twelve dissolved. The members didn’t.”

 

“Some of them did,” Villanelle chortles. When she flips the top of the folder over, there’s a glossy full-color photograph of her subject walking down the street with a burner phone pressed to his ear. Why do all pictures of her subjects look like this? It is so boring. “I don’t know him.”

 

“Why would you?”

 

Villanelle blows out a long, long groan of a sigh, shuffling disinterestedly through the photographs and surveillance reports and little bits of his life that don’t matter. “I don’t usually care, but why do you want him dead? Who is he?”

 

“I’m sure it’s none of your concern. But he’s alone now that the Twelve have begun to scatter. I figure now’s as good a time as any.”

 

“Why do you still care about this garbage?” Villanelle mutters, tossing the folder on the coffee table and picking up the money to fan herself with. “You know that if you kill five of them, ten grow right out of their graves. Why bother?”

 

Carolyn gives her an unimpressed look. “Because it is my job.”

 

Like that means anything at all.

 

In some ways, though, Villanelle admires and almost wishes for the simple tenants by which Carolyn Martens lives her life. She doesn’t have to worry about finding things to inspire or entertain her, because she was born with a finite list of tasks to be completed and she never stopped to wonder if she had to complete them. Or why. Things simply are for her. Villanelle wonders if this is more fulfilling than how things simply aren’t for herself, she must make them into something to feel anything at all.

 

Or Carolyn Martens is actually a robot and she is making her way toward the door because she must go recharge her batteries. Beep boop.

 

“There’s a passport in the folder. He’ll be in Brussels this week at his cousin’s vacation home. Address in the file.” Carolyn pauses with her hand on the door frame and sighs without looking at her. “I probably shouldn’t bother, but do try to keep it inconspicuous. That is, if you wish to remain dead. I’ve found things are much easier that way.”

 

“I haven’t,” Villanelle snorts. “Okay, goodbye for real. Get out of Eve’s apartment, goodbye,” she says, quickly scooting Carolyn out the door and slamming it behind her.

 

Carolyn never asked once what Villanelle was doing there or how Eve was faring or when she could expect to discover Eve’s body in a rotting pile in her apartment. It’s very cold of a person who used to see her everyday - used to watch and know and maybe even care for. But she supposes that friends are also only your friends so long as you can do things for them, and in that way, Carolyn is no more Eve’s friend than a rock is a pigeon’s friend.

 

____________________



Her wounds aren’t swollen anymore and she’s only a little bit tired, so why delay payday. Briefly, Villanelle considers waiting until Eve gets back to say goodbye or tell her where she’s off to. But she’s not really sure why she would do such a thing, what it would accomplish, really. Eve is still mad at her and she is mad at Eve for reasons that she only kind of remembers. Because drugs. But she knows they argued and Eve stuck her nose in places it did not belong.

 

After a few minutes standing in the kitchen feeling indecisive, she begins to feel stupid for it. The Oxy hangover must be getting to her.

 

Villanelle makes a small bag of her few belongings, changes her bandages again and shoves the rest in with them. It is neater, she figures, to leave the £2,000 on the counter so she has no reason to think of Eve when she’s gone. Bringing debts is like bringing baggage and Villanelle always travels light. She does not examine why she feels this debt, as she’s never particularly cared before what a person thinks she owes them. You are only owed what you can take. But she is also thinking that she has been forced to have enough introspection for one lifetime and that’s enough of that.

 

She leaves the money in a neat stack by the cold pile of crepes and the funny note. Eve will like that. Of course, it will also make her mad. She’s good fun like that.

 

Villanelle leaves the apartment unlocked when she goes.



____________________



Her target is no longer in Brussels. Carolyn’s information is old and bad, because maybe he was never there at all. The vacation home is actually up on the coast in the Flanders region. He only has a flop house flat in Brussels and so she sits alone with nothing but money and boredom near the Park du Cinquantenaire watching the wobbly reflections of men and women passing by the pool of the still fountain. She is there too in the reflection, she supposes, but this does not interest her. She has seen herself many times and even beauty tires.

 

Maybe that is why she chooses Eve instead.

 

Aha. Eve would have made a funny face at that.

 

Ugh, it is so boring without her there.

 

When she considers the time they’ve spent apart, she has to confront the truth that maybe she was doing something she swore she would never do: she was lying to herself. 

 

The year was busy by her own design. Grisly. Full of dark, unfunny people, the best hotel suites in the entire world, and a parade of women. But she can’t put her finger on any one moment and tease out the little pieces of it - taste it or smell it or even really see it all that well. She was in disguise, vacillating rapidly between characters she created almost by the hour until she felt like she was riding a merry-go-round too fast, about to barf.

 

Seeing Eve again was like stepping off of it. Or maybe it was getting gutted like a salmon on a fishing boat, it’s hard to pin down these things to specifics.

 

She shot Eve to make it over, she thinks on that particular day in Brussels, though she’s thought many different things over the last year . The wondering and the almost scary, blinding thrill of Eve’s existence near hers. Every day she comes up with a new reason she shot Eve in Rome and maybe all of them are true or maybe none of them are.

 

She has long since come to the conclusion that there’s no discernible reason she should be so entertained by Eve. This is reality: Eve isn’t special. She was right about that. Shooting Eve made sense and that is the problem . Shooting her just because it made sense was the most boring thing she’s ever done.

 

When has she ever cared about making sense? Villanelle vows solemnly at the beautiful ponds in the peaking spring buds of Brussels that she will never make sense again. And she will only kill Eve if or when it feels right.

 

Instinct is all she has, so why stop now.

 

Brussels isn’t that great. She picks up her bag and heads off for the nearest restaurant bearing enough stars to make it worth it and plots her trip out to the beautiful countryside to pay a poor man a visit. She wonders, over a delicious take on chicon au gratin, whether or not he will beg. She kind of likes that.



____________________



He does not.

 

____________________




But? The woman she picks up after her return to Brussels to continue eating (food, she intended, but whatever comes first) begs enough for the both of them. It’s fine. A little loud, maybe, like she is performing or something. Which is completely unnecessary, Villanelle has taken perfect care of her and doesn’t require the theatrics, particularly when the show is no good. But it’s something to do and the woman doesn’t complain too much when Villanelle asks her to go. Her husband is waiting for her anyways.

 

Ha!

 

If infidelity is meant to be anything other than a punchline, Villanelle is not sure she grasps the concept. Certainly Anna -

 

-will not be spoken of again.

 

Room service sends up a bottle of €200 champagne and an absolutely ridiculously sized waffle that Villanelle ordered and retrieves in nothing but an undone bathrobe that almost causes the untimely death of a baby-faced bellhop. One of her more creative kills, really. Room service has also brought her an envelope containing £25,000, which she did not order.

 

Carolyn is a formidable handler.

 

She waves the cash around because it's kind of fun, then tosses it on a settee and goes to sit at the bay windows overlooking one of the most expensive streets in Brussels while she eats the ridiculous waffle. It is so good, she wonders why she even bothered having sex at all.

 

Villanelle sucks on the chocolate dribbling between her fingers and thinks about how much prettier her view is than Eve’s. But she still kind of wishes she was seeing the ugly neon fast food signs and the dozen smoking busboys out front and the street cats yowling. She wishes she was with Eve instead.

 

These are very disappointing things to come to terms with in a city of women so beautiful and waffles so good.



____________________




 Villanelle spends another week in and around Brussels, living lavishly and fucking maybe a dozen more women. She wants to make sure the women in Brussels are not broken, because she’s almost a little bored with them. It’s horrifying to think that maybe the thing that’s wrong is with her.

 

So she lets the next one undress her more and fuck her properly just to make sure . It does bring up some questions, though.

 

Qu’est-ce qui vous est arrivé ?” Emma or Olivia or whatever the fuck asks. “ ça a l'air terrible .”

 

Villanelle glances down the plane of her own body to where her skin is still trying its very best to stitch itself together. It really does look terrible, like the Frankenstein monster. “ J'ai été poignardée ,” She says, already annoyed. “ Bien sûr que ça a l'air terrible .”

 

Sofia-or-Louise-or-whatever rolls her eyes, but makes no move to gather herself from where she’s sprawled across the expensive sheets on her stomach, eyeing Villanelle through careful, studious eyes. “ Les gens vous poignardent-ils souvent?

 

Villanelle hums dryly, reaching out for the open bottle of white wine going warm on the nightstand. Before she takes a swig from the mouth of the bottle, she mutters against it, “ de plus en plus .”

 

Whoever-the-hell-she-is puts her face down into the pillows, apparently no longer interested in whatever causes a young woman of means to be almost stabbed to death and live to tell the tale. Like that, her dark hair shields her face, bunches messy against the pillows in many attractive curls.

 

Villanelle purses her lips. “I’m going to speak English, I think.”

 

The woman grunts, uncaring. With one eye closed and maybe the rest of the bottle, she could almost look a little bit like…



____________________




Carolyn drops an envelope off at a hotel she hadn’t even told her she was staying in. And she knows these are things not easily hidden from people like the two of them, but it is still annoying. There’s a picture of some fat old man getting what must be a terribly expensive blowjob and then several more touching frames of him walking around with his young children at a street festival. Villanelle doesn’t look any further than that - she just gives it back to reception and tells them there was some kind of mistake. The mistake is Carolyn thinking they are some version of partners or have any future interests together. Villanelle is quite done being held on retainer, thank you.

 

Instead, she finds herself in first class on a small flight back to London Heathrow followed by a shiny black towncar into one of the ugliest neighborhoods in the entire country, probably. It is so unspectacular, but she feels the ends of her cold fingertips warming the more familiar the glaring neon signs get.

 

She rings the doorbell a thousand times, two thousand, three thousand. Nobody is home and that’s not really how she pictured it. If she had known she was coming back to an empty apartment, she would have taken a later flight and eaten more waffles. There is almost no other point to Belgium that she’s found, but then sometimes there doesn’t need to be.

 

Speaking of things without a point, where is Eve at this dreadful hour of 10:00 a.m.

 

It doesn’t slow her up, obviously, but once she’s broken into Eve’s apartment, she has to find something to entertain herself until Eve decides she’s good and ready to be convenient again. An impossible expectation, perhaps.

 

Eve has a true story show playing on her television about a man who killed his wife but nobody is convinced of this. People are so stupid, who the hell else would want to kill a nobody unemployed mom living in suburban America, pregnant with a kid he didn’t want? It is as much a study in the fluid mechanics of stupidity in a group of people across space and time as it is about a man who got a little mad and did a bad job of killing his wife. This is why you don’t DIY. This is why you hire professionals!

 

These things have their values too, it does make her laugh a little. He goes to jail forever and people are still not convinced. Still sad and searching for answers. The height of comedy.

 

When the show’s over, she pulls the scallops from the freezer that she’d had to stow before leaving and makes a nice risotto for whenever Eve comes home. It won’t be as good because they’re frozen, but Eve already eats like she’s never felt joy in her life. The odds of her noticing the difference are depressing low.

 

One of the expensive bags she bought gets dumped on the counter and she tosses the uncounted remnants of her cash next to it. There’s an ostentatious, fat gold watch spinning loose on her thin wrist, studded with so many diamonds, she almost laughs each time she looks at it. Seriously, it is so ugly. It must have cost him enough to buy a car for every day of the week.

 

Eve comes home, not alone , and then the three of them are staring at each other for no reason.

 

“Well this is awkward,” Villanelle says after a perfectly acceptable amount of time staring at each other. She could have gone longer, but Eve has weird rules and she carries a gun now. There is just no telling.

 

Eve drops her bag and wordlessly heads toward the kitchen with...whatever the fuck her name was, skirting a wide berth around the couch with nervous little looks while she follows. Leonardo? Louboutin? Something.

 

“Please excuse my…” Eve cannot even finish the sentence, because they are apparently just that inscrutable. Villanelle craves the end of that sentence more than she’s wanted anything in her entire life. Eve never, ever disappoints. “Whatever,” she finishes.

 

Villanelle smiles at their retreating backs. She is so honored to be Eve’s whatever .

 

“Is that your roommate?” Leo whispers too loudly.

 

Villanelle gives the watch on her wrist another lazy spin.

 

“No, uh, that…” Eve stops fussing around long enough for the apartment to drop into neatly contained silence… “doesn’t matter. How about we just meet up tomorrow morning? I remembered my computer is going through updates anyways, so I don’t know that I can go through anything with you. Raincheck?”

 

Leo makes some disappointed noise in the affirmative and edges back toward the front door, still looking like Villanelle might leap out and try to eat her. These are not unfounded fears. “ Tragicheskaya Zhena ,” she calls, letting her voice go rough and ugly, accent so thick it’s like syrup in her mouth. “What of my offer? You will never have to think of him touching your wife again.”

 

Leo freezes, turns so slowly her neck might be making a comical creaking noise as she does it. She looks at her the way she is accustomed to being looked at: like a thing with teeth and hunger. Like she is exactly who she say s she is, holodnaya

 

Her eyes flash up and beyond to where Eve must be standing, but when Villanelle glances back to see what she receives in return, it is just as vacant. Eve watches only with interest . Offers nothing. Takaya zhe holodnaya kak i ona.

 

Leo leaves without another word and surprisingly, Eve has nothing else to say on the matter either. Instead, she joins her in the living room and drops onto the couch much closer than Villanelle expects her to. It almost makes her want to scoot away, but that would be very unlike her, indeed. Eve falls back into a terrible slouch, melted into the back of the couch and staring blankly ahead while Villanelle thinks absolutely blissfully of each microfiber of space between them.

 

“What’s up with the watch?” Eve finally says. “Not exactly your size.”

 

“Diamonds are every girl’s size,” Villanelle laughs. “But you’re right, not mine.”

 

“Smells good in here.”

 

“Dinner is on the stove,” Villanelle says offhand, wiggling the face of the watch back and forth on her wrist so it catches the harsh light of the fixtures in the living room and bounces off the opposite wall like a little glowing bug.

 

They end up standing face to face at the island in the kitchen, because Eve does not have a dining set and in that way, she can pretend that she doesn’t care how closely Villanelle watches each bite disappear into her mouth. “I’m sorry the scallops were frozen.”

 

“Tastes good to me,” Eve shrugs.

 

“Let me be sorry, you do not know better.”

 

Eve shrugs again and then it’s quiet while she scrapes her fork against the old, chipped dishware she keeps in mismatched sets above her stove. Only when she’s completely finished and cleaned her plate does she ask, “I don’t suppose you’re going to tell me where you ran off to?”

 

“It was not interesting,” Villanelle says, because truly it wasn’t. “Had some very good waffles,” she adds.

 

There are so, so many things Eve is thinking about, swallowing back down because she bears the marks of a person who grew up with a thousand questions, none of them answered, all of them ridiculed. There’s a low-buzzing energy so close to the underside of her skin, that Villanelle could swear she sees it moving sometimes.

 

It makes her feel quite special to know that every time Eve reaches out to handle her, she does so with the care and deftness of a person handling an exquisitely wired bomb. Villanelle enjoys this game they play, because even she is not aware of the tripwires and pitfalls of her own maze. Eve creates as much as she interprets. Makes her more.

 

“You killed someone,” Eve points out.

 

An interesting move.

 

“I assume you don’t mean in general.”

 

“Are you working again?”

 

“Hm, I wouldn’t say that,” Villanelle shrugs. One job hardly feels like working and besides, she doesn’t plan on speaking with Carolyn again in the near future. Surely, she’s let that path grow over. But there are more open to her and it starts at the trailhead with Eve watching her very, very carefully. Villanelle smirks and leans forward on her elbows. “I am interested: why do you think I just killed someone? What do you think betrays me? I would like to know what you see.”

 

“You know, normally I charge for this,” Eve points out.

 

“Me too. Only I am more expensive.”

 

Eve takes this in stride, nodding. “We’ll call it even, considering you’re out of work and dead.” Aha, very funny, Eve. “This is how I know: you’re still acting like a character. You’re almost you, but not yet. I give it a day or two and you’ll be real again. You’re also colder, sharper in the days after.” She considers her another moment, adds the last part as if she’s not sure about it. “It goes away, though,” she finishes, turning to see to the dishes in the sink.

 

“A character?” Villanelle sulks a bit, prodding at the ugly - still dying - succulent Eve has relocated to the island. “I am the same I always am. If I was character , I would be doing a funny voice.” Eve ignores her and begins drying off her dishes and relocating them to whatever filing system she pretends she has. “You are making this up,” Villanelle insists.

 

Eve doesn’t look like she cares at all, doesn’t put up even a token resistance. Her face says suit yourself , which Villanelle always does. But still.

 

“Was the sexy lady client over for business , Eve?” Villanelle redirects, because she enjoys the conversation being about her, but not like that. “It did not look like business to me.”

 

“It was,” Eve says vaguely. “Business. She’s really considering asking you to kill her wife’s new boyfriend isn’t she?” Eve wonders aloud, cocking her head thoughtfully.

 

“Why do you sound so surprised? Trust me, I always know when someone wants a person dead.”

 

“You didn’t know when I stabbed you,” Eve points out.

 

Tricky, tricky Eve. If she believes Villanelle is still cold, still dark from her recent trip, she should not play such games. “You didn’t want me dead when you stabbed me,” Villanelle treads carefully. One of them should.

 

“You think I didn’t?” Eve asks. Blank. So unreadable ! Eve has gotten much better at this, but Villanelle can’t find her angle and it makes her surprisingly anxious.

 

“No, I don’t.” Eve only purses her lips in a way that draws Villanelle to explain herself, of all things. “You were just trying to prove yourself. If you wanted me dead, you would have tried much harder.”

 

“Maybe,” Eve hedges and Villanelle could throttle her for it. She lives and dies in the denials Eve inflicts on her.

 

“You killed Raymond. So I know what you look like when you want to kill someone,” Villanelle argues. “If you meant it, you would have hurt me worse.”

 

“Did you mean to kill me in Rome?”

 

“Is that your second question?” Villanelle grins, gotcha.

 

Eve does seem like she is seriously considering it, which would be a bad bluff to call. Bad for Villanelle because she isn’t yet certain how she would answer that question if she had to. She’s not sure what is the lie and what is the truth and which Eve would believe and which would drive them apart forever. Again, truth is like water. Byvaet ty vidish otrazhenie. A byvaet, chto net.

 

“No,” Eve finally decides, which is a relief. “Why did you shoot me in Rome? That’s my question.”

 

Less relief.

 

Automatically, Villanelle finds herself answering in a rush of, “I don’t know. You said mean things.” A similar kind of panic to Rome wells up inside of her. She is not used to panic and would very much like it to stop.

 

There is a suspended moment in the kitchen where Villanelle realizes, finally , she knows exactly what Eve is going to say before she says it. It brings her no satisfaction. “That’s not true at all.” And then, “Game over.”

 

She walks away, closing her bedroom door behind her and leaving Villanelle feeling...out of control.



____________________



She stands in the kitchen a long while, occasionally taking aborted steps somewhere and them losing the thread. Her knuckles crack each time she finds herself clenching her fists, wringing her fingers. Aching, for something. She does that sometimes, feels the lack inside of her and it itches at her numb fingertips and buzzes in her knees and it is a thing quieted when she has her hands around and under the cartoid of a choking man or slipping into the blood at the hilt of a knife. Killing a person is a lot of nothing and sometimes it quiets her.

 

It would quiet her then.

 

She could crack the frame of Eve’s door and pin her down. She could finish what she tried in Rome and see for sure what it feels like to quiet her . Do these wicked things that  become her. Quiet herself. Quiet everything, like sad wind in shutters.

 

Quiet, she slowly peels her fingers from the handle of the kitchen knife she’d been squeezing. Comes back into herself. Or leaves herself, these things are never clear.

 

Quiet, she puts the knife back in the block and walks to the couch to sit on the edge.

 

Quiet, she pulls the blanket from the back of the couch and tugs it up to her chin, staring up at the water stains on the ceiling.

 

The watch is heavy where it hangs on her wrist, but she leaves it on.



____________________



He has these charming little music boxes - must collect them, because there are twenty in his bedroom alone. She takes the time to open each one, hear the full tune and be delighted in turn. Some of them play very complicated songs, full orchestration, with fussy little mechanical figures and spinning dancers and even one with a little car that drives around in circles.

 

“These are so fun,” She murmurs.

 

They remind her of the view from the hilltop behind her school. She would go up there to read or just sit with her back against the fence and watch the little ants of her classmates pitter about doing so much nothing. It was a tiny school full of tiny people and sometimes she would sit up there and imagine she could reach her hand out and bring it down with a slap, scatter them like insects. Pick them up and toy with them. Swipe the school to rubble.

 

“Kill me already.”

 

Villanelle is brought from her reverie by the panting and grunting of her host. He’s breathing like he’s being waterboarded. Villanelle has been waterboarded and he is overreacting. All she’s done is drive an axe that she’d stolen from his extravagant, two-story garden shed right through the vulnerable cap of each of his knees. She rolls her eyes.

 

“It is rude to rush a lady,” she chides, setting the music box back on the mantle and turning with enough force so the axe dangling in her hand makes a jaunty little swing. It comes to a stop where she presses the head into the carpet, leaning her weight and cocking her hip as she regards him.

 

It is impressive, at least, that he has not passed out. Tears leak out of the corners of his beady, mean little eyes, but Villanelle knows from experience that sometimes these are things out of his control. His face is like steel.

 

“You are supposed to be dead,” He laughs humorlessly, spittle flying from his lower lip while he tries to crawl toward her.

 

She does enjoy seeing a man crawl.

 

“Am I supposed to know you?” She asks.

 

“No. Because I am good at what I do,” he says darkly. “If you were better at what you do, I would not know you either.”

 

“You will not know anyone soon,” Villanelle laments, sticking her bottom lip out so he can see her mockery when she crouches down to get a better look at him. “You have a very beautiful house.”

 

“They will dig their hands into your guts and pull them out while you watch,” He hisses.

 

Villanelle bears her teeth in a smile right in his paling face. “People are always saying that. I am losing faith. Would you like me to axe your head now? I am wondering what your brains will look like, I think it might be funny. Like a cartoon.”

 

“If you care about anything,” he laughs, almost manic and blind with the pain, “I would hide it very, very quickly.”

 

A hiccup. A moment, where she is not sure why, but her brain produces for her an image of Eve sitting across a grimy vinyl table in a dingy korean barbeque restaurant, dirty shirt sleeves rolled up to crossed arms where she slouches. This feels like a moment she should consider later, but Villanelle is not known for considering. It is just a moment, anyways, like sand through loose fingers.

 

Villanelle hefts the top of the axe in her second hand, feels its weight and spins it a bit. He is already prone on the ground, fists clenched into the long fibers of the carpet, so she really only has to put her foot down against his head like bracing for a roquet with a mallet.  Only, it will be much messier probably.

 

When the blade swings in a heavy arc and wedges into his temple with a muffled crack, Villanelle wonders if it felt the same for Eve when she killed Raymond. Wonders how it felt in her wrists, in the skin on the palms of her hands, in her head. All of it.

 

Villanelle feels a little sore from the impact and a little relieved by the resulting quiet, but she does not feel much else. One of the man’s hands had reached out and grabbed at her foot before the blow. She stares at it, sees her own reflection in the fat, gaudy extravagance of his watch. It looks much the same as it always does. Did Eve see something different when she next looked at herself? Does she still?

 

Villanelle pulls the stupid watch from his wrist and puts it on her own and she’s not really sure why. It is so ugly.



____________________



It’s sometime past three when she stands from the couch and hammers at Eve’s door. The lights are all off and she can only see by the glow from the signs across the street, painting the kitchen in an eerie pink corona. Her fist pounds for a long minute through the muffled noise of Eve cursing, throwing something at the wall, then groaning as she gets up and stomps over to the door.

 

Villanelle leans in close as the door opens, bringing them almost nose to nose in the dark of the apartment. Eve seems to hold her breath and Villanelle thinks maybe she is too. “I don’t know why I shot you in Rome,” Villanelle says quietly.

 

Eve’s brow furrows, eyes flicking between her own. “Why not?”

 

“Am I supposed to know why I don’t know?” And if her eyes dip down to Eve’s lips, forgive her. Eve has done the same anyhow. “I panicked.”

 

“That doesn’t seem like something you would do,” Eve murmurs.

 

“It is not.” There’s not a lot of light to catch, but she tries to see down, down into the deep black of Eve’s eyes anyways. “But I did. That’s why I don’t know.”

 

“What made you panic?”

 

And oh, but it's an exquisite kind of hurt to think of the way she’d last seen a person she’d felt something for walk away with nothing grander than annoyance and disgust. But she digs into it, right in the meat of the wound because it feels like it might happen all over again if she doesn’t exorcise it. “You, leaving.”

 

Eve would never make anything easy on her, though. It is not in her nature to leave anything without exposing its gross underbelly and putting it to light. “Why?”

 

“You know why.”

 

“You know…” Eve leans her hip against the doorframe, but stays close, eyes still swallowing her whole. It’s funny to think she was ever the big bad wolf, because Villanelle does not have teeth nearly so big as Eve’s. “I’m having trouble reconciling your truths with my own.”

 

“You think I am a monster. Volk v ovech’ei shkure .”

 

“Sometimes,” she agrees. But Eve’s face is still kind even in the dark - even when nobody has to see if she wants to be mean or cruel or unfair. “I think you’re hard to understand. And maybe I should be more careful before I pretend I know everything about you.”

 

“Maybe that will keep you alive longer,” Villanelle agrees and thinks again, briefly, that things would quiet if she could only wrap her hands around Eve’s throat and squeeze until she isn’t. Can Eve see that in her, now? Does she fear it? This hasn’t worked so far - didn’t work in Rome - so she is thinking she should tread more carefully.

 

Eve glances down to her lips for sure this time, but Villanelle thinks maybe she knows nothing about what Eve’s feeling. “Maybe the opposite.”

 

The grin is involuntary and Villanelle considers that maybe Eve is right to think she is a monster sometimes. A thing most inscrutable. “Are you afraid I am going to kill you still, Eve?” She asks softly.

 

Surprisingly, Eve smiles back. “Is that your second question?”

 

“Yes. Do you think I will kill you someday, Eve?”

 

“I don’t know,” Eve echoes her own answer. “I think you could. But I think you’ll get yourself killed first.”

 

“Wouldn’t that be funny?” Villanelle chuckles. She crosses her eyes and sticks her tongue out, earning a half-hearted hum of laughter.

 

“A little.”

 

“Would you miss me?”

 

“Maybe.” Eve gives a tired little shrug. “Or maybe I’ll just sleep better.”

 

“You have trouble sleeping, Eve?” Villanelle gives her a look she hopes is sympathetic, because a small tender part of her thinks maybe she wants to feel sympathy or soft feelings. Thinks maybe she could if she tried very, very hard. “What troubles you?”

 

“What doesn’t?” Eve scoffs. “Work stuff. Money stuff. You stuff. The classic triple threat.”

 

“Oh, you should not worry about things like that.” Villanelle reaches out and grabs Eve’s hand while she waggles her wrist and slips the ugly watch from it. When it comes loose, Villanelle plops it into Eve’s palm and lets it go. “There. Be discreet when you sell it, but even if they lowball you it should be worth at least fifty.”

 

“Fifty pounds?”

 

“Thousand, Eve. Fifty thousand. Honestly, your taste is so bad. Have you ever even seen a diamond?”

 

Eve stares down at her hand, blinking and gaping like a beautiful fish.

 

“Now you have no money problem. Unless that is not enough?” Villanelle asks cautiously. She has never funded a business, only been paid by one really, so what does she know of capital gains. “You need more? Okay, here.” She stuffs another £10,000 leftover from her last job into Eve’s other fist and waits for approval.

 

“The hell?” Eve wonders.

 

That is close enough to Eve’s approval. Closer than she has been yet, perhaps.

 

“You were right earlier today, I did kill someone. Someone expensive,” Villanelle laughs. “I cannot fool you, I suppose. Okay, the money problem is over. Goodnight Eve, sladkih snov ,” she sings, nudging Eve aside to take the door handle and pull it closed between them.



____________________

x5

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Chapter Text

____________________

x5.

____________________



When Eve asked her to go somewhere with her the next morning, she was so delighted that she forgot to ask what that somewhere would be or if she would hate it. And surprise, she hates it.

 

It almost felt like a date until the moment she arrived on the steps of the National Gallery and realized she’s meant to go up them , then it suddenly feels more like a gallows walk.

 

“Ugh, Eve. Why.”

 

“Not everything is about you,” Eve says without even stopping to look back where she’s left her behind. Instead, she continues right on up those steps to make her way in behind the ostentatious pillars. “I know that’s hard to hear.”

 

“It is not hard to hear, it is hard to believe,” Villanelle mutters. “ Duratskoe iskusstvo .”

 

“You sure have expensive taste for an uncultured asshole,” Eve says offhand, loud enough where they get a haughty look from some man who thinks it's a good idea to wax and curl his mustache. But Eve is right about her tastes, because here they are and there she is and Villanelle is paying dearly for it.

 

Villanelle groans, but truges up the steps after her, far enough back to protest, but not so far she loses her. Who knows, maybe it will turn into a date, she must stick around to find out. Just in case.



____________________



They’re standing in a room with a lot of oil paintings of men in robes and fat babies with weird genitals. A couple is in the corner with their heads pressed together, murmuring intelligently, pompous and very concerned with looking thoughtful while they read the boring plaques next to each painting. Villanelle can’t imagine a worse date until Eve seats herself at the leather sectional seating and pats the spot next to her expectantly. Villanelle groans again and the couple turns to stare like she’s another exhibit in the hall. They should be so lucky.

 

She sits heavily, much closer to Eve than she probably wanted. “This is a terrible date.”

 

“Good. It’s not a date,” Eve says peacefully, sitting back against the seat and staring at the paintings in front of them. Villanelle has no such interest, so she keeps her gaze cut to the side to watch the way Eve peruses the paintings. There is nothing else in there worth seeing, she is sure.

 

“What are we doing here?” She asks loudly, just to hear it bounce along the walls and off the bowed heads of irritated visitors.

 

Eve says nothing.

 

“If you do not answer me I will start screaming,” Villanelle promises.

 

It only takes one critical look for Eve to visibly come to the conclusion that Villanelle is not lying. “I’m waiting for someone,” she explains. “You’re my...insurance.”

 

“I’m your bodyguard,” Villanelle realizes. “Wow, how sexy of me. My rate is one million pounds per hour. Yes, I do accept sexual favors.”

 

“Shut up and look at some art,” Eve says mildly.

 

To her credit, Villanelle does look at some art. She takes a quick glance between a few more paintings of men in robes and abnormally fat babies and oh, there’s Jesus. He has bad fashion and worse hair, but aye, that charisma . The marketing, the self-branding, alone, how does he do it?

 

“Are we in the Jesus room?” She asks irritably. “It is so gloomy.”

 

“Not all of it,” Eve disputes, pointing at a nice rose-pallet painting of a pretty lady and another harem of fat babies, always with fat babies. “That one’s quite pretty.”

 

The Immaculate Conception with Two Donors ,” Villanelle reads aloud, voice loud and grating in the echo of the room. A passing curator gives her a very pointed warning look, which she ignores promptly. “Wow, okay.”

 

“What? You’re an art critic now?”

 

Villanelle spreads her hands as though to say, if the boot fits . “I am critical of anything that expects me to understand what they are not saying. Art is pictures saying so much nothing.” She slouches back in her seat and studies the stupid, whore look on the woman’s face, which does make her laugh at least. “Who is buying this? The “ Virgin ” Mary? Did anyone buy the Jesus thing besides her cuckold husband? ”

 

“Well statistically, maybe half the world. So, oh, I don’t know: 3 billion, give or take?”

 

Villanelle pulls the piece of cinnamon gum from her mouth and flicks it in the direction of the painting, tragically witnessed by nobody.

 

“I admire the dedication to the con, I just question their lack of exit strategy. If your contingency doesn’t include blowing town before your son gets too high, walks on water, and ends up nailed to a cross, i think it’s time to consider how well you’ve thought things out. Globally, we celebrate and worship the biggest, worst lie in history. We’re sitting in a hall about it! Don’t get me wrong: it’s very funny when it’s not so chronically boring.”

 

Eve stifles a laugh into her hand, tries to clear her throat a few times. A man standing next to the painting has crumpled his little trifold guide map between horrified, blasphemed hands and she suspects this was how art was meant to be enjoyed.

 

Lazily, she props her elbow back behind the bench headrest and gestures at some tragic, somber oil painting of Jesus touching people’s heads with holy juice or whatever. “And how exactly am I meant to believe that Jesus sat around drinking wine and partying and performing miracles with the anarchists and the prostitutes and the societal rejects and didn’t father at least twenty random children? God’s grandbabies could probably have manned a baseball diamond with room for alternates. I could be related to Jesus for all we know.” She twirls her finger in the air and cocks her head to the side to give Eve a baleful look. “So please. I do not have a problem with paintings, Eve. I have a problem with people claiming Jesus didn’t fuck.”

 

Eve laughs aloud at that and the waxed mustache man they passed in the entry hall gives them a look that reads exactly that he is going to report them to security if it’s the last thing him and his moustache ever do. Villanelle hopes so, because the sooner they get kicked out, the sooner they are kicked out.

 

When she’s done pulling a face at the man, she looks back and finds that Eve is looking at her fondly. It makes her pause, frown and try to remember what she’s done. “What?” She asks.

 

“Nothing,” Eve shrugs and slouches further back into the bench. “You’re funny sometimes, you know?”

 

“I am funny all the time,” Villanelle huffs. “ Esli by tvoy russkyi byl luchshe- ty by znala.”

 

But Eve is looking up, up past her shoulder and her expression is closing off in a way that Villanelle knows means they are no longer alone. Villanelle turns in her seat, throwing an arm around the back of the bench behind Eve’s shoulders to crane her neck. She’s met with the sight of someone she thinks she recognizes? She can’t put her finger on it, he is very unremarkable.

 

“Hugo,” Eve greets quietly.

 

Hugo freezes when his gaze swivels from Eve’s to meet Villanelle’s own and he goes very, very pale, even for a Londoner. “Shit,” he breathes. His steps begin to backtrack and Eve stands quickly.

 

“Stop. Just - wait.”

 

Villanelle grins, lowers her voice menacingly. “I’m here to kill you,” she says with the express purpose of making things worse.

 

“Stop that,” Eve hisses, elbowing her in the side, which is better than stabbing, she supposes.

 

Hugo’s steps do slow, but he’s no further from bolting. “What in the real, living, breathing fuck do you think you’re doing?” He hisses. “She’s dead! You’re supposed to be playing dead! I’m dead ! What the fuck?!”

 

“Hugo, calm down,” Eve says sternly.

 

Villanelle nods, suddenly much more interested in their museum trip. “Yes, calm down, Hugo . You are not allowed to shout near the art, it hurts their feelings.”

 

“She’s going to kill you, you know,” Hugo says. Laughs abruptly, then quiets so quick she wonders if he gave himself whiplash. “Oh my god.”

 

“Be careful, you’re in the Jesus room,” Villanelle advises but everyone ignores her.

 

Eve leaves Villanelle on the bench and marches right up into Hugo’s space, grabbing him by the lapel of his jacket and shaking him a little. Villanelle would buy tickets to this show. “Get it together! She’s none of your business.” When he looks like he’s about to start arguing, she claps him right across the cheek and shakes him again. “Don’t talk. Just listen.”

 

He flounders a moment grasping for words, but the fight goes out of him when he can’t find any.

 

“Take this,” she commands, placing a misshapen envelope in his hands. “Make it disappear, get what you can out of it even if it's not as much as you should. Hey-” she jerks his collar and makes sure he’s looking right at her when she says slowly, “I mean it, Hugo. Make it gone. You can keep thirty percent, then get me the rest.”

 

Hugo looks between the envelope and Eve a few times. “How hot is this thing?”

 

“I don’t know. That’s why I called you.”

 

Hugo sighs forcefully and groans. “Fine! Fine, fine. But only because I’m broke. Being dead? Super expensive! Bad for my resume!”

 

“Right, and I have no idea what that’s like,” Eve pushes him away a step. “Get out of here. Don’t go through Mr. Kim if you need to talk to me again. He can’t know about this.”

 

“Can’t - what? ” He shakes the envelope under her nose. “Mr. Kim is the only reason I know how to get rid of this. What do you mean I can’t go through him?”

 

“I mean it, Hugo,” she says darkly, shooting Villanelle a worried look and lowering her voice. “Not a word to him. I don’t care how you do it - use your fucking Cambridge degree or whatever.”

 

Hugo gets a rather funny constipated look on his face. “It was Oxford ,” he hisses, turning abruptly as he shoves the envelope into his jacket and stalks off. “I’m keeping fifty percent.”

 

“Hugo,” she calls before he can escape. “If this falls through in any way - if Mr. Kim even gets a whiff of this thing,” she turns to look back at where Villanelle is watching them. “She’ll kill you.”

 

Villanelle gives him an unimpressed look and somehow that’s when it comes to her. “Oh!” She grins, snapping her fingers. “Rome! That is why I know you.” She waggles her hand side to side, like teetering between possibilities. “Did you know that I was masturbating in her earpiece while Eve fucked you or is that proprietary information?”

 

____________________



“That was very exciting,” Villanelle says pleasantly while they lunch on desserts that she picked out for them in a cafe nearby. “Who is Mr. Kim?”

 

Eve sticks a forkful of cake in her mouth and chews like she doesn’t understand how good that piece of cake is. What a waste. “I can’t believe you gave me some murdered dignitary’s watch.”

 

“Trust me, Eve, he was not very dignified.”

 

“What did you think, I was just going to walk into a pawn shop and hock it for fifty grand? How would that not have gotten me arrested?”

 

Villanelle licks icing from one of her knuckles and shrugs. “You are smart, I wasn’t worried.”

 

“You should be worried,” Eve sighs, poking at her slice of cake and ruining it. “I don’t have many resources left. Hugo only came to meet me because he’s as poor as I am. He’d just as soon see me dead. But, like, real dead.”

 

“That is how you know you’re good friends,” Villanelle assures her. The way Eve picks apart the expensive slice of cake in front of her without hardly eating any of it is...difficult to watch. She subjects herself to it nonetheless. “Do you still fuck him? He is so unremarkable.”

 

“Huh? God, no. Mind your business.”

 

“Why not?”

 

Eve rolls her eyes. “Let it go. He was just a way to...let off steam. Turns out, it kinda pissed him off. Men are so fragile.”

 

“Yes, especially in their knees,” Villanelle agrees. She looks up to find Eve gathering her things and dropping a few bills on the table. They haven’t even finished lunch yet.

 

“I’ve got to go. I told Leo I’d start tailing her wife this week.” Villanelle freezes when one of Eve’s hands brushes her shoulder in a parting gesture. “Stay out of trouble,” she requests, before shoulding her bag and leaving.

 

What a ridiculous request.



____________________



“Did you think that envelope you left behind in Brussels was a polite request?” Carolyn asks before Villanelle really even has a chance to recognize her.

 

She’s staring into the front display window of an antique store at a beautiful upright Victrola in a deep mahogany, pearl inlay and a delicate carved stencil around the edges. She can see the £800 price tag from where she stands, but it seems so far away, really. Inconsequential.

 

“Hm?” She turns to see Carolyn standing there in a long, dark wool coat like some kind of boring omen of death. “Sorry, I’m busy. Can we do this later? Or never?”

 

“No, we can’t,” Carolyn replies, holding out another envelope. Always, always with the envelopes.

 

Villanelle gives it an unimpressed look before turning into the shop and leaving Carolyn standing outside. It’s but a moment of reprieve before Carolyn is in the shop with her, standing next to her while she runs a delicate finger around the empty felt pad of the record table. “This is beautiful.”

 

“You listen to records?” Carolyn asks with no lack of doubt.

 

Villanelle laughs. “No.”

 

“Whether you take this job now or later, you will take it,” Carolyn says with an annoying amount of surety. “You’ll be out of money again in the next week if you continue on at your current pace. You might as well take the job now while I know where he is.”

 

“Eve was right. I am always waiting for the next leash, aren’t I?” Villanelle muses, fussing with the little arm and needle, spinning the nobs a bit and taking a turn around the back to check it out.

 

Carolyn makes a noise that might have been a laugh twenty years ago. “And what is she? A companion ? You might want to check your leash, my hands are empty.”

 

“Eve does not want my leash,” Villanelle grins. “Having the dog’s leash doesn’t protect you. Don’t you know? The slack goes backward, not forward.”

 

“Hm. But what better protection than loyalty?”

 

Villanelle turns to face her, propping an elbow against the corner of the record player and smiling, humoring her. “I am surprised you think I’m capable of it.”

 

“I am too,” Carolyn says cryptically. Always cryptically.

 

“Money is easy,” Villanelle deflects. “Why is your money so special? It seems you need me more than I need you.”

 

“I worry you’re not seeing things clearly,” Carolyn says with a patronizing little look. Or maybe that’s just her face, it’s hard to tell sometimes. “Do you think you’d still be hidden if I was untrustworthy? How many people do you think you can work for and still be dead, hm? Anyone dangerous enough to need your services would just as soon sell you to the highest bidder, and I assure you the bidding would be very, very high should word get out.”

 

“That’s nothing I’m not used to. I’ve always been valuable,” Villanelle denies, but she knows there is some truth here. She knows that if The Twelve knew she was alive and touring the worst parts of London, it would be a bloodbath.

 

Carolyn calls her bluff, smiling sardonically. “Not like this, you’re not. Eve is supposed to be dead too. Didn’t she tell you? I could have had her brought to justice for a dozen crimes after Rome. Instead, she goes away and we forget. As long as she stays away.”

 

“And she is staying,” Villanelle shrugs. “What is it to you?”

 

“She’s nothing to me,” Carolyn promises, running her hand along a mid-century modern dresser with vague interest. “But I would just invite you to think very carefully about what benefit she might get from having you here, drawing attention to the two of you. I’m sure you’re having great fun playing house, chasing each other about with knives and secrets. Whatever you two call foreplay these days.”

 

“That is exactly what we call it.”

 

“But it’s not all games forever, is it? Consider Eve’s point of view, though I know that’s difficult for you.” Carolyn gives her a sympathetic look, about as convincing as Villanelle’s own. “You’re intelligent. Play it out.” The envelope is pushed forcefully into Villanelle’s chest. “And do the job. Take the money and stay dead .”

 

Villenelle’s hands close around the envelope and she bares her teeth in a smile. “Are you sure you don’t have my leash? I am getting that weird feeling right before I roll over.”

 

“I wouldn’t worry.” Carolyn looms tall over her, an equally sinister smile on her face. “I inspire that feeling often.”

 

“Hello, shopkeeper?” Villanelle shouts into the stuffy silence of the shop, turning away from Carolyn and leaving her there in the window. “I am ready for you to take my money now.”

 

____________________



Eve doesn’t get back until very, very late. Villanelle may have fallen a little bit asleep on the couch while waiting, it is hard to say. There is a hilarious show playing on the television about vapid, gorgeous women competing for modeling jobs and it plays in the background while she dozes. They cry often and fight more. It is very entertaining.

 

“God, I’m hungry,” is the first thing Eve says when she pushes through the door. Villanelle peels an eye open to watch her shuck off her shoes and toss her bag in a pile. “Sorry were you asleep?”

 

“I don’t remember,” Villanelle blinks slowly and stretches out the arm she’d propped behind her head, which had since fallen very, tragically asleep. “Ugh, I have the arm bees.”

 

“The...what?”

 

“The bumble bees in my arm.” Villanelle shakes her arm out forcefully. “You know, when you cut off the blood and then let it go and it makes your arm feel fuzzy.”

 

“Arm bees?” Eve is laughing at her again, barely contained.

 

Villanelle flexes her fingers, wincing and trying to chaffe the feeling away by massaging it with her other hand. “I told you I am funnier in Russian. This is a thing we say.”

 

Eve shakes her head and picks up the dishes Villanelle had left about the coffee table as she walks toward the kitchen, still smiling. “No it’s not.”

 

It is not, but Villanelle thinks it's a thing they should say. “There is shepherd’s pie on the stove if you’re done making fun of me.”

 

“What is there if I’m not done making fun of you?” Eve chortles, like she is so funny.

 

“Prison gruel and stale bread.”

 

“In that case, I’m done.”

 

When Eve comes back from the kitchen with a plate and a glass of water, she drops onto the couch much closer than Villanelle expects her too. It makes her a little nervous, like she should have tidied up her little corner had she known she was expecting guests. She’s powerless to do much of anything but watch eagerly while Eve takes a bite of her dinner and stares at the program still playing quietly on the television.

 

Too long passes by and Villanelle finds herself asking, “Is it good?”

 

“Of course it is. You’re fishing,” Eve accuses.

 

“Is it better than The Moustache’s?”

 

Eve gives her a warning look, then turns back to the television. But after a few more minutes pass, she nods. “Yeah. It is.”

 

Villanelle smiles smugly, only for herself, because Eve still won’t look at her. She wonders if she leaned back far enough and gave a tug whether she would feel the leash line pulling from Eve’s hands. Wonders if that would even be so bad to be kept close like that. Considering the way her handlers have all ended up, maybe she should not want such a thing for Eve. But it’s always so difficult to figure out what she does want for Eve - what end would offer the catharsis she seeks.

 

“What the hell is that?” Eve asks and Villanelle follows her gaze to the beautiful Victrola now taking up residence in the corner of her apartment.

 

“Oh, I bought it. I thought you would like it.” Villanelle shrugs, then shrugs more aggressively when Eve turns to give her a piercing look. “What, what?”

 

“Don’t do that.”

 

Villanelle furrows her brows in confusion, because she is not doing much of anything at the moment. “Do what?”

 

“Throw money at me like that.”

 

Villanelle throws her hands up. “You have so many rules .”

 

“No. Listen,” Eve says seriously. “I don’t want your money. It doesn’t make me feel good. I don’t care what…” She swallows something down, then replaces it with, “I don’t care what anyone else you’ve known has told you or made you believe. I don’t want it, alright? I don’t want anything from you.”

 

“You are so weird,” Villanelle complains, shies very starkly away from the idea that Eve never wants anything from her, now or ever. If that is true, she’s already lost. “I will keep that in mind,” she begrudgingly agrees, chewing her tongue to keep the rest at bay. “But you should keep in mind that sometimes I just like spending money and it has nothing to do with you.”

 

“Fine,” Eve agrees.

 

“Fine,” Villanelle echoes, just a little mocking. Maybe a little hurt.

 

The conversation with Carolyn comes back to her - the envelope stowed between the third cushion and the arm of the couch, just under a throw pillow - and Villanelle does wonder. If Eve wants nothing from her, why is she allowed to stay? Is it purely curiosity? Study and obsession, maybe. Or there is some mechanism at work that Villanelle is blinded from seeing, as Konstantin liked to point out the holes in her peripheral and they always seemed to coincide very peculiarly with Eve Polastri.

 

Eve is one of the few people that Villanelle truly, most honestly does not understand her motives in keeping her company. It is a draw and a danger and a thrill. But then it wouldn’t be a very fun game if it wasn’t.

 

“Why have you not tried to turn me in to someone? Traded me for your life back?” Villanelle asks, point blank. Eve can be easy to fluster sometimes. Not always the best liar, in her experience, but then she has moments.

 

Eve is surprisingly steady, does not panic when she turns to regard her again. “Who do you think I would even trust enough for that transaction?”

 

“Carolyn, maybe.”

 

“Carolyn isn’t interested in you anymore,” Eve shrugs. “We realized pretty quickly that you’re a tool, not a shaker of Democracy. Going after you is a waste of their time. And I don’t trust her.”

 

“Why? Has she been dishonest with you?” Villanelle pries.

 

“Pretty much all the time. I serve her best now by being gone. I doubt even information on you would change that. She’d probably sleep better if you reappeared in her office with MI6 clearance than she would if I did.”

 

“That seems extreme.”

 

Eve’s eyebrows go up and she shakes her head with a little chuckle. “I wouldn’t be so sure. I don’t think our...interests align very closely anymore.”

 

VIllanelle nods solemnly. “Your shared interest in ugly coats?”

 

“Sure,” she agrees much too quickly, shoving food in her mouth like that will end the conversation.

 

Villanelle grins and waits until Eve makes the mistake of looking her way again. “And what are your interests now, Eve Polastri?”

 

Eve’s chewing slows down as she stares at her. “Not dying,” she comes up with.

 

“No,” Villanelle decides with simple confidence. “You are not so boring. If your interests were not dying, I would not be sleeping on your couch still.” She leans back into the cushions, spreading her arms wide against the backrest and crossing her legs with a smug smile. “So you can keep your secrets if they make you feel safer. But know that it won’t go away. I will still be here with my secrets and you will still be sleeping ten feet away with your secrets and maybe we’ll see one day which one has more teeth .”

Eve gives her a steady look. “You came here. And you can leave whenever you want. Maybe you should stop thinking about what I want with you and consider what you want with me.

 

____________________



Villanelle chooses not to examine the thought that comes to her while she’s laying on the couch waiting for strange dreams to take her. She’s wearing a shirt she’s fairly certain Eve let her steal and not much else. Eve wants nothing from her . But? She thinks, I want everything from you . She thinks that before she can stop herself and tries not to let it worry her.

 

____________________



Her cellmate’s dead eyes stare back at her, dull and bored. Oksana shares those feelings too - can’t tell if she was seeing her own reflection there staring back, or if it really was just the bloated, dead face of the girl she’d strangled to death with her bare hands.

 

This one had not been her fault. Really, really it hadn’t.

 

Everyone was always wanting to touch. Nothing was yours in prison, not even yourself and Oksana just wanted that one thing. Handsy and mean and it never ended and then, oops, Oksana found that even if your hands couldn’t fit around the fat neck of a person twice your size, you could still wrestle your skinny fingers right into the most vital parts of their neck and they’d go limp. If you did it just right, it did not matter how big you were or were not.

 

Oksana doesn’t know the girl’s name and doesn’t know when the guards will find them and throw her into a hole again, but she feels she knows enough. She knows now.

 

She knows that it’s so much easier to choke the life from a person than suffer their indignities. Suffer their free will.

 

Maybe that’s why Anna won’t return her letters and maybe that’s why she doesn’t love her. Maybe someday -  maybe, maybe, maybe, Oksana might even understand or forgive her for what she’s let her do.

 

If there is justice, Anna will realize it herself. Anna will hurt without Oksana even having to lay a finger on her.

 

Ya preduprezhdala chtoby ty ne trogala menya. ” Oksana sighs. “Now we will both go in a hole.”

 

Her cellmate just stares, mouth slightly open and limbs locking into rigor as the minutes, hours tick by. They won’t be by until morning to see what she’s done. Oksana wonders if she will have another cellmate or if they will learn their lesson.

 

Even in almost perfect darkness, Oksana can still see some light reflected in her dead eyes. “It is dangerous to want things from me.” Dead eyes twinkle back at her and she realizes it really is just the reflection of her own. “Even for me.”

 

____________________



“Leaving early?” Villanelle asks, blinking one eye open to watch Eve try to sneak out of her apartment before the sun’s broken.

 

Eve pauses at the threshold like she’s been caught. “Yeah, sorry. Leo’s wife works early.”

 

“Hm. Okay. Be safe,” Villanelle says, letting her eyes fall closed again. “Do not talk to other assassins, they are not so nice as I am.”

 

Eve stays still on the doorstep of her apartment for a long few minutes. So long, in fact, that Villanelle opens her eyes again and sends her a questioning look. Eve seems to come back to herself and clears her throat. “Yeah. You too, alright?”

 

“I don’t know any other disgraced former MI6 agents, so you don’t have to worry.”

 

Eve looks away, chewing at her lip. “Just be safe, okay?”

 

“Only for you.”

 

____________________



But also...not. 

 

Because Villanelle has, of course, received yet another envelope and must go where it sends her. And it is sending her to one Emil Dupont, ex-accountant, put into retirement. And for The Twelve, even in their shambles and slow liquidation, retirement usually means rotting in the ground. Just because MI6 has reached that conclusion first, doesn’t mean The Twelve won’t too. His tracks were brushed away sloppily as he fled and even the likes of MI6 could follow them up into the vacant north of Finnish country. For someone who was trusted for many years with covering trails, he was shockingly bad at it in his panic to leave.

 

She packs and leaves quietly while Eve is gone, taking only herself, her dossier, and £2,000, leaving the rest for Eve. Her itinerary doesn’t include any stops or dallying, no scenic views, so she knows she’ll have her payday sooner rather than later. Carolyn is nothing if not prompt.

 

The pictures of Dupont receiving what she can only hope is a revelatory, expensive blowjob are back in her possession, unfortunately. She can’t imagine an amount of money that would get her to put his penis in her mouth, but then, there are all types, she supposes.

 

The airplane to Ivalo is bumpy, boring, and at too high an altitude to even stare out the window. All she sees is grey and it puts her in a dull kind of mood.

 

And even when she lands and draws her large fur coat around herself against the bitter wind that greets her, there’s not much more to see. It’s still as frigid as the last time she’d left it, so cold her eyes hurt. But this is a hurt she is used to, can ignore, will ignore.

 

A man in an old, black truck passing as high-end transport drives her out toward her lodging while she stares at the melting pines and not much else. If she is ever in a position where she needs to disappear so badly that she chooses the northernmost hell of Finnish countryside, she will, instead, just let them kill her. It is amazing what purgatory a person will live in just to be able to say they are still living. Living is not always all it's made out to be.

 

The town he is staying in is hardly anything. Just a little restaurant with six tables and two employees, a post office, and a dentist of all things. A small general store that’s only open for three hours during the day sits in the center of the sad thoroughfare and maybe twelve homes are spread like a loose constellation to the north. 

 

A man at the restaurant tells her in perfect English that most choose to live a bit further from town, farther into the wild country and Villanelle thinks that makes sense, since it's not really a town anyways. They’re not missing much. She describes her uncle to him, how he had purchased an old cabin in the area recently, and the man is only too happy to explain the exact area of their newest resident. He also points her to an ice fisher who frequents the property, friends he calls them but there’s implication there, and Villanelle thanks him in terrible English, because she is not Villanelle right then. She is someone else until the job is over. She is a character as Eve so often accuses, whatever that means.

 

The ice fisher “friend” is picking up her mail from the post office when Villanelle very accidentally, of course , bumps into her. They speak of nothing important until Villanelle dances them into an offer for her to use one of her snowmobiles to surprise Villanelle’s most fortunate uncle. She’s six miles outside of the almost-town, pulling up to a small, remote cabin by early afternoon and that’s what they call, in the business, efficiency .

 

Villanelle knocks and knocks on the front door, but nothing shifts inside and there are no lights or signs of life. She kicks at a snowbank and rolls her eyes, because she would very much like to be done in the cold and the snow. It would be easier on everyone if he presented himself for murder already.

 

As she circles the weathered cabin, the tracks of heavy, shuffling footprints draw her attention off in the direction of a copse of trees. She checks the clip of the gun she’d been given by Carolyn before following them off and away into his remote backyard.

 

It only takes thirty minutes out from the cabin before the tracks get fresh, smeared green with poking spring shoots and recent downtrodden boot heels. Finally, finally she sees him out near a thicket, setting traps and struggling with driving stakes into frozen ground. A small grunt escapes him as he pries open the jagged jaws of a bear trap until the spring trap clicks open and waits dormant for prey. It’s so quiet in the desolation of the northern countryside that she marvels at how he doesn’t look up. He really doesn’t see or hear or even feel her there like starving wolves circling in the woods.

 

Is she starving , though? Is she even a wolf?

 

She is wholly uninterested in his small life, really. She wants nothing but to be done and be gone. Be home.

 

For whatever something like that means to someone like her, she cannot say.

 

She’s only twenty paces off when he stands and brushes the fresh powder from his thick, clunky gloves. Villanelle sighs and levels the barrel of her pistol at the back of his head, pulling the trigger before he even turns and watching his brain blow out the front of his head.

 

It is rules one through three of disappearing: do not order flights in your name, don’t pay people for sex, and don’t go into hiding fifty miles from where you were born and raised. If it weren’t for how ugly he was, she might’ve had a harder time believing he was involved with The Twelve at all. But he certainly has the look.

 

Maybe she would let herself get assassinated too if this was the life waiting for her on the other side of retirement.

 

Villanelle sniffles in the ensuing quiet, watching his still body with no lack of boredom before shoving the pistol into the back waistband of her pants as she hikes the rest of the distance toward him. The red paints a nice picture where it splays out behind his head like a halo in the white snow. Immaculate murder with two donors , she thinks and snorts to herself. Eve would have laughed, probably.

 

But Villanelle needs to see his face first, confirm the kill. Blah, blah, blah, these things you learn first when you take their money to do their crimes.

 

He’s a big guy, requires a few grunts and no small amount of body torque to flop him over in the loose snow drift. But when she does, she’s left blinking down at a man she doesn’t recognize. Even in death, his nose is too squashed and his jaw too small to be the man in her pictures.

 

Chort voz’mi ,” she breathes. “Who the fuck are you?” She’s left to wonder in the quiet stifle of snow and silence. It doesn’t make sense, because the intel is good and the place is right and she would just very much like to go home and not be cold anymore.

 

The birds have gone quiet and that’s all that saves her.

 

A single slide of a boot tread in loose snow is the only real warning she gets. The cold cocking of a hammer, maybe, but it is less warning and more aftershock -  she is already rolling away from the corpse, scrambling for cover behind a nearby pine. It’s not enough, though.

 

Only the first rifle shot nicks her, stings right through the very corner of her side, just above her hip into the harmless muscle there and straight through, but ouch . The next shot blasts off a huge chunk of the tree she throws herself behind. Even in the moments she gathers herself, grits her teeth and looks down to paw at her injury, she knows it's a lucky shot. Lucky for her, because it hasn’t crippled her in any way. Unlucky for him, though, now she is a little annoyed.

 

Luuletko etten osannut odottaa tätä? Olen vain odottanut sitä että joku sinun kaltainen näyttäisi naamansa täällä! He roars, beating at his chest.

 

Villanelle rolls her eyes and pushes her fist into the wound until it goes numb. 

 

The sound of the rifle being thrown to the ground reaches her and she peaks around the tree. He’s ripping a long, wicked serrated hunting knife from his belt and foaming at the mouth and that’s just great. When will she be allowed to go home?

 

Oletko pikkuriikkinen salamurhaaja? Vai pikkuriikkinen pelkuri? He laughs meanly.

 

Villanelle slides out from behind the tree, glaring and grinding her teeth together. “Little annoyed, actually,” she corrects. “Come and get me, ugly.”

 

He charges on a bellowing battle cry, faster than she would have guessed he could, and she only has the time leftover from her draw to fire a single shot that glances harmlessly off his shoulder. It’s all she can do when he barrels into her to catch him under his elbow, forcing the knife upward and taking the bulk of his weight as they crash into the bloody snow. When he manages to club her across her hairline and split the skin there, it feels almost well-deserved. Even at a closing distance under pressure, it’s a shot she should’ve been able to make. The cold and the distraction has made her slow and slow makes you dead.

 

She gets her elbows between them, wedges them in to negotiate a hard blow into the soft give of his throat. With that, she’s able to roll and squirm her way out from under him, stagger back to her feet. She touches two fingers lightly to the split skin at her hairline and when it comes away red, her mouth twists in displeasure.

 

Dupont is still on his knees, catching his breath, but he manages to summon a glare in her direction. “I’m going to feed you your own heart,” he promises darkly. “For my brother. You will beg me for death before the end.”

 

“I’m begging for death now!” Villanelle laughs. “You’re so hard to look at!”

 

Dupont pushes to his feet, all near-seven feet of him. Villanelle looks up and considers that she should not be playing with her food when her food is significantly larger than she is. These past few months without a handler have given her a little perspective, maybe even sympathy, for whoever’s job has been to restrain her. It’s not easy. She is a lot to manage, as it turns out.

 

He lunges for her while she dances away, circles and looks for an opening. The days of brutal wrestling and conditioning are far behind her - days when they’d throw her in a tight room with another person wreaking of anxiety and prey instinct and have her wrestle their life away from them just for sport. You don’t get to kill with finesse until you learn to kill with brutal instinct. She is rusty in these sports, but she was also very good at them.

 

His long reach makes him dangerous, hard to get close to without compromising the imbalance they spar at in weight and bulk. And for an accountant, he is surprisingly agile and fit with arms like a gorilla. Face like one too.

 

But she’s quicker and finds wily ways to slip into his space and land blows before he can get hold of her or clobber her hard enough to incapacitate. They go on this way for a while, but the half-life of a fistfight is very short before decay reaches masses critical enough to cripple. No endurance training can stop it, only prolong by margins.

 

He’s so annoying.

 

When he next opens himself up, lunges with a wide grab, she takes hold of his wrist on the downswing and brings her other arm around as hard as she can, the rigid line of the outside of her palm chopping down with all her weight into the exposed cord of muscle between his shoulder and jaw. Predictably, his knees buckle at the shock and it gives her just enough space to jam the heel of her palm so hard into his nose she can feel the cartilage crunch and break.

 

Roaring in triumph, she follows him down, down into the snow, slapping away his flailing hands and pummeling into the wreck of his nose, hoping to push it right into his stupid brain.

 

Her focus blinds her to the way his hands fumble and happen to locate the bowie knife stuck into the snowdrift. She’s almost blinded for real when it comes up between them in a desperate swipe, nicking into the apple of her cheek and cutting a shallow line up through the ridge of her eyebrow.

 

Oh, he is in so much trouble.

 

Villanelle screams in his face, which is starting to look properly terrified. He is getting it now, how fucked he is. Just how much she’s going to hurt him and enjoy it. It’s the disbelief - the utter inconceivability of her callousness - that brings her the greatest pleasure. They always believe it right before the end, but she does enjoy making them .

 

They both know he’s already beaten, even before she wrestles the knife away from his failing strength and jams it into his stomach so he doesn’t try anything with it again. He whines and howls and threatens in low, muttered curses, but he’s paralyzed with pain and fear and helplessness. 

 

Good. She likes him much better that way.

 

Mitä sinä aiot tehdä minulle? Tapa minut jo. He grinds out between his teeth while she threads arms under his from behind and begins dragging him toward his dead brother.

 

Toward his brother’s traps.

 

Dupont’s eyes roll as he tries to see behind them, tries to see where they’re going. It’s  not such an easy thing to maneuver, but the best things in life never are.

 

Villanelle drops him a hair short of their destination and comes to straddle him, batting his hands away to wrap one around the handle of the knife in his gut. She drums her fingers on it and he starts to cry.

 

“Did you think The Twelve meant beaches and fat pensions when they said retirement?” She teases, wiggling the knife a bit to see him squirm. “Don’t sign contracts you can’t even bother reading.”

 

He breathes heavily between his teeth, hands hovering anxiously in the air like he doesn’t know what to do with them. “I’m not retired,” he spits.

 

Villanelle cocks her head to the side, pursing her lips. “No?”

 

“I am still cleaning their messes,” he hisses.

 

Villanelle shrugs and reaches out to twist her fingers into the hair at the crown of his head, lifting it up and away from the ground. “Well. I will show you real retirement.”

 

With her other hand she reaches up over his shoulder and slowly drags the primed and loaded weight of the bear trap so it rests like a pillow behind his head. It would be easy to drop his ugly head and let it be done. But the nick in her brow is leaking like tears down her face and for that? For that she waits until he catches sight of the wicked metal teeth waiting on either side of his face.

 

He screams a lot.



____________________

x6.

____________________



Chapter Text

____________________

x6.

____________________



A vulture is already hopping ungracefully toward her and she’s only been out there for twenty minutes or so. The locals work fast in the north country. “They’re all yours,” Villanelle mutters at it and it just kind of ruffles its feathers and gives her a haughty look.

 

He can stare and squawk all he wants, she needs a moment to sit before she goes back. The skin of her forearms stings from where he’d dug in and scraped long, dirty nail gouges into the soft skin there, oh how he’d screamed. It’s fair, his head looks like a melon dropped from great heights.

 

 The throbbing in her side complains loudly in the stiff silence of the forest, but she’s more concerned with the lucky shot he’d taken to her cheek - a slash with the blade of his knife from the high apple of her cheek, up over to nick into the ridge of her eyebrow. As she touches at it, it doesn’t feel too deep. Could’ve been her eye. Worse. Could’ve scarred . She has enough of those, thank you.

 

“Caw!”

 

Zatknis’ ,” she grunts. What do you have to be impatient about?”

 

The bird points one eye at her, very critical. Like he could have done much better.

 

But then? Maybe he could have. Villanelle replays the fight in her head, dabbing with her sleeve at the slowly clotting cut on her cheek, and the whole thing looks so messy in playback. It looks like her first few kills when they’d pulled her from prison and begun to train and shape her, frustrated and brutal and too much, Oksana, too much . Anyone can kill, but it takes skill and practice to do it effortlessly. That’s what she’d been taught: if it takes effort, you’ve done it wrong. That hadn’t seemed like much fun at the time, but she’d been a wild little thing who thought she knew everything.

 

Ah, so naive. Now that Villanelle actually knows everything, she is able to spot the differences.

 

“Next time, you fight the seven-foot gorilla and I’ll sit around waiting for dinner, eh?”

 

The bird somehow manages to pull a face at her, she would swear it. Everyone wants to eat, but nobody wants to work for it. Oh to be a scavenger in a world of violent men, it is so much easier to be the carrion crow than the wolf.

 

But still.

 

It is better to be the wolf than the prey.

 

Her side throbs again and she tries to remember what had distracted her so. The whole afternoon was embarrassing from start to finish and for once she’s very glad it’s a nothing job, absent handlers and evaluation and anyone the wiser. She must ask herself or risk repeating: why did this job turn into a bloody brawl and a new scar?

 

But she knows the answer, she knew it then and she knows it now.

 

She had wanted to go home.



____________________



Instead of flying back to London, Villanelle flees the country in a fit of aggravation and gets on the first flight leaving Ivalo, which happens to be to Munich. There she finds a doctor who confirms that the cut on her face should heal just fine and helps her with some liquid stitches, like new , he claims. She doesn’t show him the through-and-through above her hip, because that’s much too difficult to explain and probably nothing that some homemade stitches and antiseptic won’t mostly fix. She hopes.

 

But then she’s still left in Munich, in a bad sort of mood, and what is she meant to do then?

 

She tries the things she always tries - these are proven, tested formulas after all. Expensive dinners and a dark-haired woman she convinces easily to come back to a lavish hotel with her. Munich is nice, objectively, and it’s what she would always do between successful jobs: she would live . She would buy all the good things money can buy in all the finest tastes and let herself feel things as long as she could until they started to bore and then she’d do it all over again somewhere different.

 

This time it makes her feel worse, though, and she’s barely worked the woman up before she’s throwing her coat at her and pushing her out of the hotel room. It is wrong, she’s not having fun and what is the point. The woman squawks loudly, not unlike the Finnish vultures, but Villanelle slams the door before she can hear much more. The silence after her departure is only better by margins.

 

Afterward, she sits on the fancy balcony her hotel suite came with, legs dangling out between the spindly pillars of the railing and smoking the dainty little cigarettes the woman had accidentally left on her nightstand. A giant bowl of ice cream sits melting at her side and that, at least, is good company.

 

Smoking is gross, she thinks as she does it anyway. Once she had to smoke for weeks to try and befriend a smoker outside a theatre he worked for, but it was a habit kicked after she successfully strangled him with a guitar string. You don’t hear that on nicotine patch commercials. 

 

Like most vices it’s boring, repetitive, pointeless. The stale smell itches her nose, but it’s comforting somehow, she just can’t put her finger on it.

 

Maybe she is a character still? Eve accused her of it: being a puppet of herself in the days after she kills a person, like a shadow on a wall or a splintered reflection in a mirror. She does not feel different.

 

But.

 

She does not feel the same, either.

 

“Boring,” she murmurs to herself. When did she get so boring ?

 

The door to her hotel room cracks open and Villanelle looks over her shoulder to give Carolyn a peeved look. “I would enjoy if you knocked,” she calls.

 

Carolyn steps out onto the balcony and looks down her long nose at her. “I’m sure you would.”

 

“Where’s my money?”

 

“I’d ask if things went smoothly, but I can see they didn’t.”

 

“Your intel sucks,” Villanelle says darkly, ignoring the itch of her pinched skin. “Next time, you should maybe tell me he still has family where he’s fled to, yes? We call that in the business: pertinent information.”

 

Carolyn is quiet for so long that Villanelle goes back to smoking and hopes she’ll leave soon. Little economy cars bearing tourist rental plates buzz by occasionally, but it's otherwise devoid of local life at that hour. “I did believe him to be alone,” Carolyn says, perturbed. It must be so terrible for Carolyn Martens to be so wrong.

 

“Me too,” Villanelle scoffs. “I am thinking you owe me twice as much now.”

 

“I figured when I was paying an assassin of your caliber, you’d know better than to let your guard down,” she points out for no other reason than to be annoying. 

 

“Oh, you wanted me not to get myself killed? You should have mentioned, that costs extra,” Villanelle mutters, keeping her eyes on Munich so she doesn’t have to see the look she must be getting. All she wants is to be left alone, is that so much to ask?

 

Carolyn ponders a moment, then settles on, “Fair is fair.” Another evelope - another , honestly - hovers over Villanelle’s shoulder expectantly until she reaches up and tugs it out of Carolyn’s hand. “£40,000,” she explains, though Villanelle does not care so much. “And though I question your rates, I’ll send a bonus along for your trouble. Shall I have it passed along to Eve?” She dangles the question almost menacingly.

 

And it upsets her, that dangling implication. That soft underbelly that Carolyn thinks she’s found when she should know better. Know Villanelle cannot possibly be so predictable. “Why?” She asks just to be difficult.

 

“You’re there a lot now.”

 

“Are you following me?” Villanelle lazily flicks her cigarette down onto the heads of a passing couple, grossly in love. Either the smoking has given her a headache, or Carolyn has and she’s not yet allowed to throw Carolyn over the balcony. Although, who is to say what isn’t allowed these days. “That’s not very trusting of you.”

 

“Of course I don’t trust you,” Carolyn clarifies patiently, like Villanelle is a stupid child. “And I told you, I’m having Eve followed. It’s not my fault you’re always with her.”

 

“It is not my fault either,” Villanelle says, and why is she so defensive? Everything feels out of place, like her shirt is on backwards or something.

 

Carolyn tuts to herself, which is probably her version of laughing. “And whose fault is it, then? This is your first time on your own, isn’t it? No handler, no structure. That’s how these things work, Oksana. Everything is your fault when you make your own decisions.”

 

“Don’t call me that!” she snarls back. “Get out of my hotel room. I won’t ask twice.”

 

Carolyn turns to go - won’t make her ask, she is too smart for that - but she can’t help herself and pauses at the threshold with the door open. “Well, I’ll have it sent along to Eve’s place then. Enjoy Munich, if you’re staying.”

 

Villanelle says nothing else - just listens to the quiet click of the shutting door and sags into the banister, letting her forehead rest on the cool ironwork as her eyes slip shut.



____________________



She makes it only one more day in Munich, tries one more time to do anything but think of Eve and mediocre food and her ugly ceiling. She switches hotels to avoid seeing Carolyn again, finds the most expensive suite and orders the richest dishes. Brings home two women and feels nothing. But nothing is not meant to be felt. Now she feels it and it makes her tired.

 

Maybe she is sick for real. Maybe Eve is right and she should stop getting herself hurt and trying to tape herself together. Maybe she is poisoned right now and is unknowingly dying in a bed in Munich sandwiched between two women incapable of taking a hint, christ why are they still in her bed. Why is she still in Munich? What are the symptoms of blood poisoning?

 

Maybe she should have considered stitches.

 

That’s what she uses to convince herself to pack her bag and return to London because if she really is sick or poisoned, then the only person she can trust to help is Eve. All of her other friends are dead or want her dead, whereas Eve only kind of wants her dead, but in a fun way. That is a good enough reason, hopefully. If not she can come up with others - she has gotten very good at justifying Eve Polastri to herself, there is always room for improvement.

 

When she truges up the stairs and thumps her fist against the door to Eve’s flat at some late hour, a few past the sun’s departure, she’s surprised to find Eve actually answering her door for once, completely underdressed and beautiful. It causes some small amount of panic when she realizes how good it is to see her again. It’s not thrilling, it’s not a natural disaster, it is just...good. Boring and good.

 

She needs drugs, stat. Doctor, doctor it is terminal, you must operate at once.

 

There’s music coming from inside the flat and it dawns on her that Eve has put the record player to use, despite her protests. It’s something synthed, several decades old about love and heartbreak. She’s about to comment on it, something smug already on the tip of her tongue, but Eve inhales sharply.

 

“Christ, what happened to your face?”

 

Villanelle has another response on her tongue, probably something like what happened to yours , but then Eve is reaching out toward her face and she flinches back a bit.

 

Flinches!

 

She is very sick, it is certain.

 

Eve hesitates and her mouth opens a little, but then reaches out still and lightly touches at the skin next to where the glue pulls the seam of her cut closed. “Ouch,” she says, snatching her hand back and dropping it quickly like maybe Villanelle won’t have seen it happen at all.  “Should I see the other guy?”

 

“I wouldn’t,” Villanelle advises. Then, just to be certain they are on the same page, she mimics blowing her brains out with a pistol.

 

“I guess if that’s the worst trouble you got in, you’ve done pretty well for yourself,” Eve sighs, standing aside so Villanelle can come in.

 

She does, but as she passes Eve, she adds, “Oh, I also got shot.”



____________________



“Motherfuck, you are bad at this,” Villanelle marvels. She props herself up on her elbows and looks down the plane of her body to where Eve is making a mess of replacement stitches. It is like being sewn up by a child learning to tie shoelaces. Every hesitant bite of the needle from her hands is agony and at least for those moments she really wishes she hadn’t flushed the Oxy last time she was there.

 

Eve looks up and glares, but it is her fault, so what is with the glaring. “I’m trying, alright? Before you, I never had to sew anyone up before. None of my friends ever got themselves shot.”

 

“So I am like your first?” Villanelle smiles and falls back to stare up at the ugly ceiling. She finds that if she is not looking, it is less...well, not less painful, but less expected. “You should be as gentle with me as I will be with you, no?”

 

Eve gives her a little jab in her uninjured side and Villanelle slaps her hand back against the couch. “ Blyad’ ,” she hisses. “ Gospodi , you are making me feel like this is my first time. Bud’ ponezhnee, ladno?

 

Prekrashai nyt’ ,” Eve counters and then she is digging into her with a blunt sewing needle again. “If you’re going to run out on freelance murder jobs, you don’t get to complain. I think I’ve got a strong argument for you bringing this entirely on yourself.”

 

“Being dead does not leave me many options,” Villanelle says and she can hear the strain in her own voice because how long exactly does it take to stitch a two centimeter hole.

 

Eve tugs much too hard, fuck , and mutters an apology. “Sorry, I’m tying it off, almost done.” Another sharp tug, ow . “You know, if you just lived, like, a normal life, you would really only have to do one or two jobs per year. If you weren’t hemorrhaging money, you wouldn’t be...well, hemorrhaging.”

 

“A normal life? What is that? That sounds boring,” Villanelle breathes out, gasps, maybe, it is throbbing very badly. But she can appreciate the relief of seeing Eve putting away the needle, at least. If Eve got off on repaying a small part of the favor she’d done her in Rome, she does a very good job of hiding it, indeed. “I would rather die, thank you.”

“You might,” Eve agrees. “Have you ever even thought about a future? Like, in any capacity?” Villanelle gives her a blank look and Eve shakes her head. “When you picture one year from now, what do you picture?”

 

“I don’t, really,” Villanelle says slowly. She pushes up on her elbows again to watch Eve clean up supplies and gently pat another bandage over her side. “What is the point? I cannot predict.”

 

“It’s not about predicting. It’s just normal to think about what you want and where you hope your life goes. That’s healthy,” she insists. “Where do you want to be in one year?”

 

“I want to be in Paris, eating an eight-scoop sundae, lying naked with Angelena Jolie in a penthouse hotel suite and not being spoken to ever again by people I don’t want to speak to,” Villanelle laughs. “What does anyone want?”

 

“I’m being serious,” Eve scolds.

 

“What? I don’t know what you want from me,” Villanelle groans, pushing up and trying to sit with the weight of the hole in her side, trying to live with it and move on. It doesn’t feel great, but she also doesn’t collapse, so it’s progress. “I am always thinking of now. And now I want to be here, so I am. Maybe in a year I will also want to be here on this couch, or in your bed if you become less selfish. Maybe I will still be cooking for you because you eat like a city rat, and we will still be annoying each other. Is that serious enough for you? You’re so demanding.”

 

Eve goes very, very quiet.

 

Too serious, maybe?

 

It had felt like a fairly standard comment for her, but Villanelle has to pause and try and rewind what she’d said to account for the smacked look on Eve’s face. Honestly, if Eve’s worst nightmare involves still being a part of Villanelle’s life in one year’s time, she should hide it better! Eve’s reticence only makes her want to purchase real estate. Cohabitate twice as hard, live in her shadow and jump out from behind every corner Eve tries to turn.

 

Eve needs to learn to unclench, because the harder she digs her nails into something, the more it makes Villanelle want to rip it from her and possess it. She thinks maybe, maybe Eve can relate in that respect, it’s why they come to such violent blows but can’t step out of range.

 

Eve’s gone so quiet, though, it’s like the atmosphere has vacated the room, sucked the air right out and left them with popped ears and empty, shallow breaths. Eve almost willingly lives in these conflicted spaces, but if that’s where she’s chosen to sign lease, Villanelle will happily tag along. She doesn’t mean to brag, but she’s been told on numerous occasions that she’s a terrible houseguest with no sense of boundaries and an unwillingness to leave when requested. Eve is finding out, surely.

 

“Was it something I said?” Villanelle baits her, reaching out to pull odd bits and bottles from Eve’s medical kit while she’s trying to organize it. It’s not even interesting, she just wants to mess it up and maybe make Eve fight her on it a bit.

 

Eve watches her scatter vials of disinfectant, loose bandages, and pill bottles she’d shaken and tossed haphazardly into the creases of the couch without much protest for about as long as she can stand it. When Villanelle starts unwinding a roll of medical tape just for fun, Eve comes back into herself and snatches it away with a cute little glare. She’s so easy!

 

“N-no,” Eve shakes herself, becomes too absorbed in reorganizing her tiny, poorly-stocked medical kit. “No, I just...yeah.”

 

“No, you just, yeah?”

 

Eve rolls her eyes, but will not look at her again. Villanelle narrows her eyes and stares harder into Eve’s worried expression, pointedly downcast and too absorbed in a menial task to pass as genuine. She thinks maybe she was wrong. Eve is guilty .

 

Oh, Eve is so guilty! Eve is hiding things, the little sneak.

 

Villanelle realizes, with some intrigue, that she has been looking, but not seeing. Eve doesn’t know where either of them will be in a year, because she has some knowledge of the uncertainty of one or both of their fates that Villanelle doesn’t yet and that is a fun notion. Fun, fun, fun, the two of them are.

 

Villanelle drops her forearms onto her knees and leans forward to look intently into Eve’s face - it always makes her panic and say too much.

 

What could Eve be hiding from Villanelle this time?

 

“Where do you see yourself in a year, Eve? And be honest,” she bids with a sly smile. “Are we to continue this dance or have you found other... goals .”

 

“Let me see your arms,” Eve answers, or rather, doesn’t answer. Villanelle can be patient, though, she is excellent at laying traps. 

 

It’s gentle, the way Eve touches at the deep, inflamed grooves her last mark had dug into her skin in his last moments. She drags her fingertips lightly down Villanelle’s arms, just parallel to the cuts, but careful never to touch them. They’re already infected - even as shit doctors, the both of them, it's obvious. But Eve begins to clean them carefully, dabbing an alcohol swab down each cut, letting it dry before placing bandaids over each one. It’s fussy, tedious work, but Eve sees it through to the last gouge with a level of tenderness Villanelle wouldn’t have guessed her capable of. She expects to be poked and prodded, she doesn’t expect to be taken care of.

 

“Well?” Villanelle finally demands.

 

Eve rests her thumbs on the insides of Villanelle’s wrists where they sit facing each other on the couch. She even brushes them against the thinner, uncovered scratches there that’d tapered off into faint red marks and it makes Villanelle squirm. 

 

“I mean, ‘Angelina Jolie and sundaes’ sounds pretty good,” Eve laughs quietly.

 

Villanelle grins and wags a disapproving finger. “I would love to see you there, but you are not being truthful. What is Eve going to be doing one year from now, hm? Or what would you like to be doing?”

 

“Is that your third question?” Eve asks, so cheeky with a person who tried to shoot her to death at one point.

 

Villanelle frowns while Eve turns her wrists over and back again, inspecting her patch job gently, running fingers along the flexors and extensors like she’s a real doctor and not just a quack with a sewing kit. “Don’t play dirty. I am being honest with you,” Villanelle says quietly.

 

Eve looks up, but doesn’t let go of her wrists even though there is nothing much more she can do for them. Villanelle kind of wishes there was - is kind of afraid to breath or move or do anything that might make Eve back away. “In a year? I don’t know. Maybe this would be fine.”

 

“Even with me here?” Villanelle grins wide, though she knows it's more than rocking the boat. She’s rushing starboard with intent to capsize, but then:

 

When isn’t she.

 

Eve releases her wrists, creates some space between them and rolls her eyes as she pushes to her feet. “I don’t think I have a choice.”

 

“That is not an answer!” Villanelle tries to get up and chase after her - she is always running - but her new stitches complain loudly and she ends up hissing and folding back into the couch. Eve can’t help but fret, it’s hard-wired into her from some dead and blighted part of her that was close to people and cared , no matter how much she probably wishes she wouldn’t. Villanelle has shot her and she still comes back, putting a concerned hand on her shoulder to hold her down into the couch cushions while she admonishes her with more worry than scorn.

 

“Careful, would you?” She sighs. “That took me forever.”

 

“I know, and it doesn’t even look good,” Villanelle manages through clenched teeth. Without the Oxy or even a minor numbing agent, the whole thing has been a trial. It doesn’t feel good at all. But what does feel good is when Eve absently runs her fingers through the hair at Villanelle’s temple, once, twice, like she’s not even conscious of it. If she knew she was doing it, she would never.

 

It feels nice and it’s done out of kindness, the two of them must accept this.

 

“Sorry. I’ll watch some youtube videos next time,” Eve laughs quietly to herself.

 

“I will not get shot again.”

“Yes you will, you’re reckless.” Eve’s fingers get caught in a tangle and it tugs a bit on her scalp, but it still feels nice.

 

“That feels nice,” she finds herself saying, because they are doing the honesty thing, maybe. At least she is, Eve is still sneaking and conniving, the little liar.

 

Eve stops, withdraws her hand. “Sorry.”

 

“What? Why are you sorry?” Villanelle whines.

 

“Here, take some of these. It’s going to get worse before it gets better,” Eve says, shuffling hastily through her collection for a bottle of oxy she’d somehow replaced since the last one went down the toilet in Villanelle’s intoxicated fumbling.

 

Villanelle groans and falls back into the couch pillows. “No, I don’t want it. I don’t like how it makes me feel.”

 

“Right. Because I’m sure you feel so great right now.”

 

“Eve, do not be sassy with me. It gives me bad dreams and you won’t even cuddle.” But Eve grabs her hand, flops it over and drops two pills into her palm like she doesn’t care at all how Villanelle feels. She probably doesn’t, but she could pretend. Villanelle does that for her like all the time.

 

“Want me to get you some water?”

“No,” Villanelle pouts, tossing the pills back dry, but none too happy about it. “Would you like me to show you the underside of my tongue, doctor?”

“No, I believe you.”

 

“Would you like to see it anyways?”

 

“Okay, on that note, I’m going to bed.”



____________________



They set her loose on a man who has done something, she cannot remember. The point is not to know or to think or to even really understand, the point is to kill him.

 

It is, as they say, a kind of preliminary test.

 

Like maybe they don’t believe she has done this before? They know she has, though. She was not released from prison on good behavior, she was selected.

 

Of course, it does feel a little anticlimactic. A little stupid, honestly.

 

They’ve handed her a knife and pushed her into an underground bunker with a sweaty, scared man who looks like he’s been in there a lot longer than she’d been. He has an uneven, unattractive scruff about him, several weeks deep, and an unfortunate smell. There’s one low, buzzing light hanging from a delicate chain, dangling there in the middle of the concrete room. They haven’t even given him a knife of his own, so it’s about the furthest thing from a fair fight.

 

They just want to see if she’ll actually do it.

 

She sighs.

 

“I hate these blind dates, they are always so awkward,” she shrugs, flips her hair, starts toward him.

 

He may smell, but he’s not stupid. In an unanticipated move, he winds his arm up and jumps, his fist shattering the single bulb above them in a shower of glass and sparks.

 

And then it is dark and all she hears is how heavy he breathes.

 

She thinks maybe he can hear her own breathing too, but hers is calm and low so she doesn’t have to breathe him in too much.

 

If he thinks she will be scared of the dark, he is mistaken. The last time she had cried, she was barely able to walk, pounding her weak little fists against the inside of a small, cedar chest while the air got thin and her father left for the evening. Boohoo, such a scary thing.

 

 The lock had rattled and the lip of the lid even jumped high enough for a small sliver of air if she pounded hard enough - pounded until her fists started to bleed and the little bones in her hand rattled together so hard she couldn’t feel her fingers. He left her in there for two days and when he finally ripped the lid off, she was done crying. He told her he forgot he put her in there and she should have tried harder to get out. Who would ever help her, anyhow?

 

She couldn’t help but agree.

 

The next time he had put her in there, she did not cry. All it does is dehydrate you and make your face look weird.

 

And they will not come for you. In fact, they will just think they can do it again: it’s a billboard above your weakness and a bleeding wound in open, infested waters. Why would you advertise the things you fear, the ways you’re weakest, the fastest way to your soft insides?

 

It is not the dark that hurts you, anyways. It’s the things in them. All you have to do is make sure you are the scary thing in the dark.

 

A little breathy, stuck-throat gasp sounds somewhere to her left and Oksana takes the opportunity to brace her knife, folded in toward her forearm, blade out and ready should he lunge. But he won’t.

 

She knows, because he’s chosen not to see when this happens. He has chosen darkness.

 

It would be lying to say it is a neat kill or even an exciting kill. All she really does is feel along the wall, quiet, until his rank breath is close enough she can feel his scared little vibrations like sonar, practically see his outline. She hears where his face is, because he’s practically gasping each breath. She puts the pointy end there. Hard. Many times.

 

It’s still dark, but eventually he doesn’t gurgle any more and everything is so slippery she knows there won’t be enough left of his face for it to matter much. That’s enough, he must be dead.

 

She drops the knife and wipes the back of her hand along her brow, though it probably only paints her face in sticky red streaks. She does feel better, no longer sharing the dark or hearing him breathe or not knowing where he might be. Everything goes quiet again and she is content to sit in the box until they let her out again.

 

When they do, the light hurts her eyes and the man called Konstantin is giving her a look. It is calculating, critical, like he’s grading schoolwork. He nods once to himself, then a small smile lifts the corner of his mouth and he almost looks proud.

 

“Not afraid of the dark, are you?” He jokes, she thinks? It makes her smile.

 

It’s funny because a man’s face is all over her hands.



____________________



“Ubei menya, ” Villanelle mutters, rolling over and forgetting she shouldn’t do that. She curses and eases off that side again, glaring up at the ceiling. She won’t find comfort again for nights to come. “ Prosti, prosti. Ya zabyla pravila vezhlivosti: Ubeite menya pozhaluista.

 

She still feels groggy, but maybe the medication is wearing off and that might be a blessing or it might be a curse. She can’t tell, her side really does hurt. Why is it always with the maiming. What has she done to deserve it beyond several murders.

 

The sun’s still a good two hours off, barely an idea far behind the tall buildings of Eve’s shitty neighborhood. But even if it hurts, she feels trapped and stifled in the little flat, so she grabs her coat, presses tight against her side to hold everything still as possible and stop the skin from pinching. Then she slowly, carefully descends the stairs and lets herself out into the brisk morning air.

 

For once, she welcomes the cold against her cheeks, closes her eyes and brings in the best part of the day: the part before Londoners wake up and ruin London. It’s quiet enough to empty her head, hum a bit and drag her fingers through planters of soft pansies and little decorative grasses when she passes up into a nicer neighborhood. There’s much she wishes not to think about, starting with the embarrassment in Finland and ending with Eve. And then circling back around a thousand times to Eve again.

 

And maybe one more time.

 

It feels good enough to escape for a bit - to have brief moments where maybe she doesn’t have to think so much about everything. It’s not often she wishes things could be more simple in her life, but even she gets tired sometimes. It will pass.

 

And as a happy aside, her wandering journey leads her right to an early hours cafe, already sleepily doling out coffees and beautiful little pastries to the early morning work crowd. It’s the kind of crowd that doesn’t linger - already has a routine so well-timed they should package it and sell it.

 

Villanelle does not, of course, fit into these plans and derives great pleasure from standing at the display case, humming and weighing her options while everyone grows irate behind her. They should learn to slow down and smell the roses, she thinks. What is the point of spending £5 on a coffee every morning if you’re not going to appreciate it? She is doing them a favor, really.

 

In the end, she can’t actually make up her mind, so she buys almost one of everything and four different coffees because she doesn’t know what Eve likes and that misstep could prove critical in their tentative new whatever they’re doing. She’s shot Eve, it might really only take an incorrect coffee order to send them spiraling over the metaphorical coastal cliff. Or the literal one.

 

It is possible, she considers standing at the base of Eve’s stairs, that she did not consider the journey upwards when she filled her arms with coffees and pastries, but there is little choice. She braces her side against the wall and slowly drags herself up to the flat, being very careful to not tear the ugly stitches Eve is somehow proud of. And she makes it too, but it is a slow, ungraceful thing. If the coffee is wrong and the stitches are torn, there is no telling what Eve may do to her.

 

“Prosypaisya! ” She shouts loudly into the flat, stopping to knock her elbow against Eve’s door on her way to the kitchen. “It is time to be waking. Because there is food and I am bored.”

 

The sound of Eve groaning and rolling over in her bed is followed by a muffled, flat, “It’s not morning yet.”

 

“It is a.m. so it is morning,” she sings back. “You do not need beauty sleep, you are already beautiful.”

 

Something supsiciously close to ‘ shut the fuck up’ comes from behind the door, but she can’t prove anything. It’s funny because Villanelle has always loved mornings, the earlier the better. She likes that almost nobody else likes them, so she can have them all to herself. It is quiet and beautiful and Eve is missing out.

 

So she grabs the first record she can find in the old milk crate that Eve keeps her records in, flips it a few times between her fingers, then sets it on the felt pad and lowers the needle and cranks the volume as high as it will go.

 

Eve’s door rips open about ten second later. “Holy shit, are you trying to get me kicked out of my apartment?” She rushes, practically diving for the controls until they’re plunged into quiet again, just the light filter of minimum volume still crooning out of the Victrola.

 

“I like this song,” Villanelle says pleasantly.

 

“It’s cooling for me,” Eve says through clenched teeth. “Why the hell are you up? Why the hell am I up?”

 

“I brought breakfast and many coffees, because I don’t know how you like your coffee. I might have known, but I cannot watch while you make such terrible coffee, it makes me sad. What I’m saying is this is all your fault.”

 

“You just got shot,” Eve makes some fed-up gesture over her shoulder as she slumps back toward her bedroom. “You should be resting.” The door to her bedroom gets left mostly open, so Villanelle trails along and leans against the doorframe to watch Eve get ready to face the day, whether she wants to or not. It must be part of the game, because Eve doesn’t even seem to care that Villanelle is watching when she pulls her shirt over her head and walks into the bathroom.

 

“I feel fine,” Villanelle shrugs, watching carefully.

 

“Wish I felt fine after you shot me ,” Eve grumbles and the sound of the sink running filters out from behind the obstruction of the bathroom wall.

 

“I guess I am just better at shooting.”

 

The sink runs for a whole minute before Eve says, “I guess.”

 

Somehow it doesn’t feel like Villanelle emerged victorious from that conversation and she drums impatient fingers against the door frame while she tries to think of how to get them back on course. When Eve shifts in the bathroom back into view, she swears even at a distance she can see the small incision in Eve’s back where they must have retrieved the bullet from, just below her right ribs. It’s all the self-control that people insist she doesn’t have that lets Villanelle walk away without going to look and touch. Instead, she goes back to the kitchen and grabs the darkest roast, black, and returns to the bedroom where Eve has covered herself up again.

 

“Here,” she says, holding out the paper cup carefully like something dangerous might happen from point A to point B. Again, the cliffs are looking awful close, metaphorically and literally.

 

Eve looks down at the cup and back up but doesn’t take it.

 

“Dark roast, black. Bitter. That is my guess,” she insists, pushing the cup forward more because she doesn’t know what else to do with it.

 

“Like me?” Eve asks and it feels like a trap.

 

Villanelle holds her other hand up in surrender. “You are saying it, not me.”

 

Right before she panics and does something weird with the coffee like try and set it on top of Eve’s head, Eve finally takes it and brushes past her into the kitchen. Not even a thank you.

 

Villanelle sighs and follows her again, which she’s been doing a lot lately now that she thinks about it. “Are you going to tell me if I was right?”

 

“Oh, can you imagine ?” Eve smiles sardonically.

 

Unexpectedly, Villanelle finds herself laughing for real, because she really can’t imagine. Aren’t they just absurd.

 

“What’s in the bag?” Eve asks, even though she’s already pulled it toward her and begun rooting around in it. “Or should I ask, what isn’t in the bag?”

 

“I couldn’t decide,” Villanelle explains, reaching in past Eve’s searching hand and snatching up the first thing she touches. It’s a beautifully flaky, rolled raspberry croissant, which she wastes no time taking a too-large bite of, sending pastry crumbs scattering across Eve’s ugly countertop.

 

Eve watches her for a moment, calculating, then follows suit and retracts her hand with a random pastry, which she also takes a large bite out of. “Someone left an envelope here for you,” Eve says, mouth still full.

 

“My life is like ninety percent envelopes,” Villanelle chortles, shoves more in her mouth just because she can. “What was in it?”

 

“Nothing. Just £10,000,” Eve says and Villanelle knows she is being watched very carefully for a reaction. 

 

She has to swallow down whatever feelings she has about the cheapness of government ‘bonuses’ and wonders what Eve sees when she shrugs and gestures messily with her croissant instead. “Oh, right. You can keep it. Buy yourself little spy gadgets or more ugly curtains, whatever you’re into.”

 

Eve’s chewing slows to a stop and she is still staring, very very carefully. “I think maybe now is a good time for you to tell me who you’re doing work for.”

 

“You first,” Villanelle grins, batting her eyelashes.

 

Eve takes another large bite and nods slowly, thinking - always thinking. It is probably for the best, because Villanelle knows she can be...tricky. Careful, careful, Eve. “Do you trust them?” Eve finally asks.

 

“No.”

 

The only sound in the flat for a long while is the grainy tone of the old record she’d put on, well-loved and fizzing as it spins around the needle. Even at low volume, it seems to fill the flat. Eve has stopped looking at her, gaze shifted off to the left somewhere, and Villanelle knows she’s lost in her thoughts again. So she quietly eats the rest of her pastry and sips at one of the other coffees she’d bought just in case. Watches.

 

Villanelle wonders when she’ll learn Eve’s secrets. How bad they’ll hurt her. Whether or not she’ll let them. Choices - always, there are choices.

 

She really would have been content to stay - to help her take pictures of people cheating on their spouses and bring her dark coffee every morning. If it is not true, she doesn’t understand it to be. People are always telling her what they think she’s capable of and what they think she’s not, but that deluded belief has by far had the highest body count.

 

Villanelle thinks she could do these small, inane things and be that person for Eve. But she is not so sure anyone else will allow it.

 

My takie, kakie my est’. Ili mozhet my takie, kakimi nas sdelali.

 

What will Eve make her to be? Oh, she will follow that to the bitter, bitter end she is sure. And maybe Eve will too, neither of them deal in surrender.

 

“Hey.”

 

Villanelle looks up, realizes she had been the one lost for once.

 

“Thanks for the coffee.”

 

Villanelle’s smile slips back on. “Yeah? How grateful are you?”

 

“Why do I even bother?” Eve wonders aloud as she grabs another pastry and makes her way back to her bedroom.

 

Villanelle sighs and takes her coffee, trailing her fingers lazily along the countertop as she waltzes back toward the living room. Before she retires to the couch again, she lifts the needle from the middle of the track and returns it to the outer edge where it started. After a few dips of static, the first track plays again and Villanelle smiles. “ You really got a hold on me ,” she sings along under her breath, hums when she can’t figure the words.

 

____________________

7x.
____________________

Chapter Text

____________________

x7.

____________________




“Wow this is more boring than the time you asked me to go undercover and not kill anyone,” Villanelle remarks, slouching back in her seat and letting her forehead rest against the window of the car they’d rented.

 

Eve is sitting forward in her seat, hands at ten and two on the wheel and gaze intent out the windshield. She is looking at so much nothing and she is doing it with such devotion, bless her. “What, the Aaron Peel thing? Right before you tried to shoot me to death?”

 

“That’s the one,” Villanelle sighs, rolling her eyes. Eve needs to find something new to be bitter about, she’s toeing awful close to treading over her own copyright. “What are we waiting for?”

 

“You asked to come!” Eve scoffs and Villanelle doesn’t even have the energy to point out the innuendo, these are the dire straits they find themselves in. Maybe she shouldn’t have woken up before the sun. “Surveillance is boring. You know that. I’m sure you had jobs that weren’t all swooping in and murdering, back in time for tea. In fact, I know you did.”

 

“That’s different,” Villanelle sighs, watching forlornly out the window at the diners picking at delightful looking finger sandwiches in the nearby patio. It’s one of the first few days nice enough for it and they are stuck in an economy-sized car that smells like cheap cologne, staring at the front of a dress shop she’d much rather be inside of.

 

“How?”

 

“I knew I got to kill someone at the end. You think people go hunting just so they can see the twelve-point moose, take a picture and walk away? This is like bird watching after a career of big game hunting.” Villanelle taps her temple against the window a few times and watches the way her breath fogs up the glass. With one finger, she reaches out and doodles something inappropriate for the scandalized woman passing too close by on the sidewalk.

 

“Is that how you feel about me?” Eve wonders, just slips her toe across that boundary she’s created and enforced between them.

 

Villanelle smiles, slides her gaze to the side to see Eve staring determinedly out over the steering wheel. “I don’t know yet. The hunt isn’t over.”

 

“Huh,” Eve says back, she gives nothing . Villanelle swears the next time love is inflicted upon her, she will make sure it is someone who is not so withholding. It has become a bit of a pattern with her and she is keen to break it.

 

Or does she like it too much?

 

Villanelle chuckles, drawing Eve’s attention briefly. “What?”

 

“Nothing. You are so withholding.”

 

“And you kill people, guess neither of us is perfect. Wait, shush, she’s coming out.” Eve is all business again, raising the shiny new camera she’d purchased - on Villanelle’s dime, she’d like to point out - to take photographs as the woman walks out and hails a cab. Leo’s wife is hot too. Hotter, maybe, it is difficult to say.

 

“If all you do is stare at sexy women all day, maybe I was too hasty judging your new job,” Villanelle mumbles. She slouches even further back in her seat and watches as the wife slings a long garment bag in half over her forearm, shielding her eyes against the glare of the cloudless day. The cabs are sparse between morning rush hour and lunch, so they’re treated to several minutes of her scanning the streets, tapping her expensive heel impatiently and occasionally checking her dainty little watch.

 

Villanelle glances to the side and watches Eve lower the camera, typing out something on her phone for just a second, then returning her careful watch to the wife. “What does she need an expensive dress for? She is a designer, no?”

 

“Yeah, I don’t know. I think it's gouche to wear your own designs or something.”

 

Villanelle strives for a look as dubious as she can manage. “Right, and you know so much of fashion, I’m sure. Did you even pay for that sweater or did they pay you to take it away?”

 

“I’d pay for someone to take you away.”

 

Villanelle wrinkles her nose and crosses her arms against her chest. “You could never afford it.”

 

“That’s probably true,” Eve concedes for whatever that’s worth. Her fingers drum nervously along the leather - too much coffee and the cigarettes she thinks Villanelle doesn’t know she smokes out the bathroom window. The last thing Eve needs is help twisting her nerves in a bunch. “Okay Versace, you tell me why she’s buying a dress for a designer gala.”

 

“That is the only designer you know, isn’t it?” Villanelle marvels, which receives a telling lack of answer. “I don’t know, maybe she’s stupid,” She mumbles. “Or maybe her designs are ugly, who can say?.”

 

“They’re not,” Eve says slowly, distracted by fiddling with the settings on her camera. It is a very nice camera, has Villanelle mentioned? “And she hasn’t even bothered to invite Leo to the gala. Insists it’s to focus on work, but Leo wants to know why. Wants eyes and ears at the party or however close I can get to it.”

 

“However close we can get to it,” Villanelle corrects. “And it is a party, no? If we cannot blend in at a party, we have no business blending in anywhere.”

 

“Why would I take you?” Eve says blandly, peering through her lense again while Leo’s wife seems to catch the attention of a passing taxi. “You’ll probably just make a scene. Or kill someone. I need something about a trillion times more subtle than you’re capable of.”

 

“You have done nothing interesting since I got here and now you are going to deny me the opportunity to put on fancy clothes, drink champagne, pretend you would ever date me, and cause mayhem,” Villanelle clarifies.

 

Eve shrugs, nods, like this is all very obvious.

 

“And yet I am still here,” Villanelle realizes, perturbed. “ Maybe you are right: I am psychotic.” It certainly would explain a lot.

 

“This is serious,” Eve scolds, half-hearted as though she didn’t really expect any different. “I could only let you come with me to this thing if I knew I could count on you to act in any particular, predictable way. So far? That has been the one thing I’m least capable of. The only thing I can count on you for is being completely unpredictable.”

 

“What?” Villanelle blows a raspberry. “You have predicted me.”

 

“Yeah,” Eve scoffs, “about as reliably as I predict scratch-offs. I win a few bucks here and there. Counting on you being serious and working? It’s a bad bet.”

 

“Eve I do not have to be serious to be working. If I am behaving, I am not doing the things they pay me for,” Villanelle grins. Then she gets a warning look and knows she’s about to blow it, so she pulls it back. “But I will be perfectly boring, Kill Commander. Or Party Captain. O captain, my captain.”

 

“Oh my god,” Eve realizes with dawning horror. “I cannot bring you to this.”

 

“Please? Look, I am saying please now. This is a moment for us.”

 

Eve cuts her another look as she turns the car back on, trailing after the departing tail lights of the wife’s cab at a safe distance. “For you, maybe.”

 

“Why am I always having our moments alone?” Villanelle pouts. Eve won’t look at her so she sticks her legs out and props both feet up on the dashboard, very sure to put scuffs in the synthetic polymer as she stretches obnoxiously. When she’s done, her arm lands loosely behind Eve’s headrest and she rolls her head to the side to give Eve a baleful look. “You just aren’t as committed to this relationship as I am.”

 

“I would agree with that.”

 

Villanelle sighs loudly, as wistfully as she can possibly manage. When Eve ignores her, she does it again, twice as hard. That gets her a look. A pause as Eve turns back to watch the road. Then another look.

 

Eve sighs too and rubs ruefully at the back of her neck. “You really want to go?”

 

“Duh. I would like to go. I am wasting away in your heinous apartment.”

 

“If-” She levels a stern look at her, “And I mean if , I take you, you’re going to do something for me. You’re going to create an undercover identity that makes us plausible. An identity that gets us into one of the most exclusive design parties in Europe. Sell me and I’ll think about it.”

 

Villanelle sits up in her seat and lets her feet drop back to the floor, a smile curling at her lips. 



____________________



She is still deep in thought by the time the wife’s cab stops at a nondescript apartment complex, in bad need of a powerwash, in a drab neighborhood full of dead-end nobodies and wasted dreams. You can practically smell the lack of potential. It’s as good a place as any to hide things, if one were so inclined.

 

Leo’s wife gets out of the cab smoothly, pays the man, and is buzzed into the building after a few moments of waiting by the front door while Villanelle watches with disinterest. If Leo’s wife is stepping out on her for a man of all things, in that apartment building of all places, Leo is better off without her. Unimaginitive and tragicly downsized. Maybe they should be less concerned if she’s lost her fidelity and more concerned if she’s lost her mind.

 

“Are you sure she’s having an affair?” Villanelle asks, giving Eve a doubtful look. “Why would she? It doesn’t make sense.”

 

“Yeah, well.”

 

As though that’s a complete thought.

 

Villanelle raises an eyebrow. “Yeah, well, what?”

 

“Yeah, well, people don’t always make sense,” Eve shrugs. “You should know that.”

 

“You don’t cheat on someone with someone worse ,” Villanelle scoffs. “This, at least, I have found to be reliable. You didn’t cheat on The Moustache until I came along, after all.”

 

Eve turns her head slowly to meet her gaze, mouth pursed. “I didn’t cheat on him with you.”

 

Villanelle pouts out her lower lip. “Oh, Eve. But you were not faithful either, were you? There’s more than one way to cheat.”

 

Eve’s mouth flattens, but she says nothing else on the matter. She turns back to watch the front of the building through the windshield, but the way her fingers twist aganst the leather of the steering wheel so hard that it drains the blood from her knuckles is telling enough. Eve can think what she wants, but Villanelle has her doubts.




“I thought this man was another designer. What does he design, ugly apartments? Why would he ever live somewhere like this?” Eve stays focused on the entryway, fingering the gizmos of her camera and pretending Villanelle doesn’t exist, which really doesn’t work for her. “Hey,” she snaps in front of Eve’s face, but it only draws a distracted hum. “Who lives here?”

 

“Not sure. I haven’t been able to identify him or get a look at the guy,” Eve mumbles. “They always meet in private areas of public places. They’re very careful, I can never get a photo or get close.” She lets out a long sigh and rubs at her forehead. “I’d kill to get a look inside.”

 

“I can do both if you like,” Villanelle shrugs. She pushes the car door open and begins to get out, but Eve practically launches across the center console and wraps arms around Villanelle’s waist to restrain her.

 

“What, what?” Villanelle looks back over her shoulder, a little alarmed. It is, frankly, weird. Because on their good days, Eve acts like she’s magnetically, helplessly repelled by the notion of being caught in Villanelle’s vicinity. It is broad daylight, people can see them.

 

Eve begins hauling her back in, but Villanelle resists on the principle that she doesn’t like being told not to do something. “Relax, you think I have not been trained for this? This is such a waste of time. I will get your intel and we can stop following the boring, sexy lady. Blyad’ Eve, what?!”

 

“You cannot go in there,” Eve hisses and still, she will not make with the unhanding.

 

“Why? You know I can get your answers in about ten minutes, right?” Eve tries twice as hard to pull her into the car and Villanelle has to brace both hands wide against the doorframe to stop it. “You’re overreacting.”

 

“You’re under-reacting!”

 

“I have never been accused of such,” Villanelle grunts, failing to twist out of Eve’s grip. She’s not really confident she can break away without hurting her, though, so she lets herself get yanked back into the seat. “Alright, alright. This is uncomfortable and the man with the ugly hat is staring.”

 

And he was, really. It looked like she was being kidnapped. His fingers danced nervously about his phone, weighing the age-old dilemna of just what is my responsibility here.

 

“Get in the car. C’mon, shit, ” Eve almost closes the door on Villanelle’s nose, earning a very weighted warning look. “I need you to not go off half-cocked on this, okay? For once can you listen to me?”

 

“Half-cocked? Eve, I am always full-cocked. Sometimes too much cocked. What is your problem?” Villanelle turns in her seat, braces her arm around the back headrest to fully face Eve’s and watch carefully as it flashes through a million little micro-betrayals.

 

And she is scared.

 

Eve is panicked and there they tread, the two of them: the territory of secrets and the unspoken. There is something here that Villanelle is not privy to yet, will have to wrestle away from her like everything else, yes, that’s the game they play.

 

“I don’t want to blow this job,” Eve returns, shaky. She clenches her hands around the car wheel until her knuckles turn white again and they almost stop shaking. “I...can’t. Please, just let me handle it, alright?”

 

“Is this about money?” Villanelle asks, plays a bit, because it must not be. It cannot be money that has her looking like Villanelle has gutted her ugly husband. Her secrets are interesting when they’re kept, but Villanelle is only human, mostly. She needs to know, just because. She needs to know because it’s one more thing she can take from Eve and possess.

 

“No payday without risk,” Villanelle scolds, wagging a finger at her. “Do not worry so much, you will give yourself more wrinkles. Because you are old.” Nothing , she gets nothing, always. “I’m kidding, you are beautiful.”

 

Eve doesn’t even retort, just keeps staring out the windshield and what, oh what, is Eve up to? Villanelle does love a puzzle, and what better reason to pull Eve apart than that.

 

Eve reaches out, hand shaking again, and clicks the little button on the door so all of the doors lock with a resounding click . Villanelle gives her an incredulous look.



___________________



Eve is quiet all the way back to the apartment. And Villanelle is normally fine with the quiet, but its full quiet - the kind that takes up the whole room and gives her a headache. And she knows she can either try to replace the silence with noise and nonsense or she can genuinely, honestly make an effort to have a vulnerable conversation with Eve about her troubles.

 

Ha!

 

She puts on another record.

 

This one has a cardboard slip so worn, she can’t even really read anything of what used to be printed on it. It’s soft, like cloth,and the vinyl has the grooves of thousands of repeated revolutions. It’s got a fizzing pop, damaged she would guess, like it’s been loved too hard. Funny how the more you love a record, the worse it sounds. You can love it so much, that eventually maybe you won’t even be able to hear the tracks.

 

People are like that too.

 

Something schmaltzy, a little jazzy, very sixties, Villanelle would hazard, groans to life and she smiles, laughs in the back of her throat. It’s funny because Eve is old.

 

Eve gives her a look from the kitchen sink where she’s been standing for no reason for an entire ten minutes and Villanelle wonders, just a little, if Eve has read her mind. It is a joke, Eve, lighten up.

 

Villanelle stays seated on the ground in front of the record player, face right in front of the speakers, the best seat in the house. “I like this song,” she smiles, bobbing her chin along and letting her eyes slip closed. Music doesn’t mean much to her, but she likes that about it. Pretty words and nothing else. Room to take up.

 

She can feel when Eve comes to stand behind her, knees close to her back and towering over her. “Niko did too.”

 

“Wow, I hate this song now.”

 

It is, as it turns out, possible to hear a person roll their eyes.

 

“I am kidding,” she sighs. “He has good taste. Never tell him I said that. But he did marry you.” Villanelle shrugs, pulls her knees up to her chest and rests her cheek on them. “That was a good call, I’m thinking.”

 

Eve lets out a little ha , like she doesn’t agree. If they cannot even agree on something simple like Eve is worthy of love and attention, then they really may be doomed. Which is fine, that is Villanelle’s favorite flavor. “Was it? Didn’t work out so well for him.”

 

“Not your fault,” Villanelle murmurs. Her stitches hurt again and she’s always so tired after these periodic maimings. “I’m not sorry. But that was probably me.”

 

“Oh, it was definitely you.”

 

“Remember: I am not sorry,” Villanelle cautions.

 

Eve laughs tiredly, out of view, and then Villanelle startles a little when a hand reaches out to brush through the hair at the back of her head, twist loosely in a lock and pull it between her fingers. Villanelle smirks to herself, because Eve can say what she wants but there will always be part of her that can’t help herself. You’re not supposed to touch the art, Eve.

 

It lasts an agonizingly short minute and then Eve seems to remember herself. Remember who they are and who she thinks she is - needs to be perhaps - or however she parcels these things in her head. Villanelle cannot imagine a life built structurally on bricks made of denials and rules and shoulds and should nots. When Villanelle wants, she allows it. They are very different despite how same.

 

Eve walks away then, drifts back toward the kitchen and Villanelle turns her cheek to watch her go. Always, watching her go.

 

Eve stops at the kitchen island and slumps to brace her forearms against the butcher block, folds herself over it and stares down at the countertop. Maybe it has answers, Villanelle does not know, how could she? It’s too ugly for her to stare at for too long. 

 

Eve is exhausting. She makes so much of nothing, always walking over coals when she’s surrounded by sand.

 

Villanelle rolls to her feet and makes her way out to the kitchen. She cocks her head to the side in the entryway and watches Eve, watches how she hardly even notices. She’s so perturbed, so defeated and serious and it kind of makes her want to crack an egg over her head or something, aye , the tension!

 

Eve and her troubles. Like she collects them or something. Her apartment is only so big, honestly, where will she put them all.

 

She should probably b e worried too, though, if Eve is being nice to her. Eto povod dlya bespokoistva.

 

Villanelle is equipped to deal with a lot of things, but not so much this. She finds herself filling a tall glass of water and coming up behind Eve to set it at her elbow like a helpful person might. Eve ignores it, or maybe doesn’t even notice it. So Villanelle braces both hands against the counter on either side of Eve and leans over her back. “Are you alright?”

 

Eve ignores her, which helps neither of them. Villanelle decides that the best way to bring them back to status quo is to reignite that Eve Polastri charm. That spark they share when Eve tries to escape the planet to get away from her. She leans forward, drops her chin on Eve’s shoulder and hums. “Would you like me to say more nice things about you?” She lifts a curl of Eve’s hair, tugs on it gently. “Would that help? I have many.”

 

Eve turns her head to the side, angled just enough to catch the corner of her eye. “Maybe,” she blows out on a long, groaning sigh. “What do you got?”

 

“I murdered your husband’s mistress, because I thought you still loved him and his infidelity was hurting you,” Villanelle says mournfully, fluttering her eyelashes at where Eve is peeking out from her slumped position. “She suffered greatly.”

 

Eve grimaces, shakes her head minutely. “Try something else.”

 

“Really?” Villanelle nods thoughtfully. “Okay. Meeting you has shown me that I didn’t really love Anna,” She says, offhand. It was actually true, she had been finding. Odd to think it, more odd to mean it. “You are nothing like her. And that is the nicest thing I can say, perha ps. Potomu chto Anna byla stervoi.

 

Unexpectedly, Eve turns in her arms, leaning back into the counter so they’re face to face, but making no move to push Villanelle away. This is a first for them, because Eve could if she wanted to. She could do almost anything she wanted to, does she know that?

 

Instead Eve is studying her, as always, except this time, Villanelle is getting the oddest,  distinct impression she’s about to be kissed.

 

“She really had sex with you when you were a kid, didn’t she?”

 

Villanelle gives her a confused smile, thrown just a bit. “Uh, yes? Duh. Why else would she have kept me around.”

 

Eve twists her mouth up in the corner, like this troubles her. Of all things, Villanelle wonders why this is the one that garners her sympathy. She doesn’t understand, really. Anna may have treated her like a toy to be played with and discarded when it ceased being convenient for her, but the sex was the one thing they were good at, she thought. That is not what troubles her about the way they were. What troubles her is that she worries she was blind, when she is tasked and weighted always by seeing.

 

Eve reaches out slowly, like maybe Villanelle will bite her. And who is to say that is an unfounded fear? But she stays obediently still until Eve’s thumb lands in the center of her chin, forefinger curled underneath like she needs to hold her still and see her more clearly. Or maybe it’s about connection, it is hard for her to read these things.

 

“Want me to beat her up for you?” Eve asks in a low tone.

 

Villanelle grins. “Yes.”

 

They are very close.

 

Even if she gets stabbed again, she will probably say thank you.

 

“Are you going to kiss me?” Villanelle wonders aloud, an open dare between them. Sometimes, sometimes Eve will do things just because she shouldn’t or just because someone thinks she won’t. Maybe, for once, that could work in her favor.

 

Eve’s gaze dips down to her mouth, there is no hiding it. Her eyes narrow and she takes in a shallow, sharp breath. But then?

These things end the same way they always do between them, minus the stabbing.

 

Eve breathes out a single huff of almost humorless laughter, then lets her hand fall to Villanelle’s chest, pushing her back a step. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”

 

“Have I not been making myself clear? Yes, Eve. I would like that a lot.”

 

Eve rolls her eyes playfully and the moment is well and truly over. Ironically, the record croons on like it isn’t and it makes Villanelle laugh in the back of her throat. Eve laughs too like maybe she’s in on the joke, but Villanelle thinks Eve really doesn’t understand just how badly she’s going to let Eve destroy her. How out of balance they’ve skewed since mutually assured destruction held them in polarized suspense.

 

“I have to go to work,” Eve sighs, running a hand through her hair.

 

“We just got back?”

 

“Other work.” She slips out from between the island and Villanelle and walks off toward her bedroom with a tired slump to her shoulders. “The unglamorous kind.”

 

“Which kind is glamorous?” Villanelle chuckles into the lip of the glass she’d brought to her lips. She had originally brought it for Eve, but she is thinking she needs it more after that. 

 

“Ha,” Eve laughs sarcastically, then shuts her door to change. Villanelle is left feeling a little raw. A little sore and tender like...sunburn.

 

Sunburn, she told her so.

 

Eve emerges in her loose checkered pants and chef jacket hanging open over a grey t-shirt, already yawning before she’s even started her shift. “Don’t wait up for me. Or whatever you get up to - I’m sure I don’t want to know. I’ll be back late.”

 

“Bring me back dumplings.”

 

“No,” Eve says sweetly and shuts the front door behind her.



____________________




The night is still young, Villanelle figures, so she doesn’t stick around. The only interesting part of Eve’s apartment is Eve. Absent that, she’d rather convalesce in a McDonald’s than on Eve’s ugly bedsheets. So she goes out.

 

After a long, winding run through the city to work off whatever the hell that was with Eve , what in the fuck , she puts on an expensive little number and finds the nearest shop that will make her the perfect banana split. It is an art, it is a classic, and it is not to be disrespected.

 

She has to go to three different parlors, before she finds the right one, dropping a £100 note in the tip jar as she leaves. It is very unfair of people to insist she does not appreciate art.

 

Then she perches herself on a bench near the Thames, ugly and gouged with a thousand pocket knives and initials and, oh, penises. Villanelle laughs around a mouthful of ice cream, ignoring the shadow of the woman who had been following her since she left on her run hours ago.

 

It is tedious and she briefly considers turning, dispatching Carolyn neatly and tossing her corpse in the dirty river. It wouldn’t be without value. Imagine the look on her face.

 

“How long are we going to do this?” Villanelle wonders, mouth still full. “For a government spy, you are bad at this.”


“I just wanted to see how long you’d let me follow you,” Carolyn says as she takes a seat on the bench next to her. “Konstantin was wrong: you have some patience. Some eye for the long game.”

 

“Konstantin was an ass,” Villanelle counters. “I cannot believe you fucked him.”

 

Carolyn is eyeing her sundae, but Villanelle would sooner die than share and she hopes her body language conveys that. If it doesn’t, then what has this all been about. “You aren’t trying very hard to be hidden. You’re lucky Eve already lives under the radar or you might be in trouble.”

 

“I do not hide,” Villanelle says, even though she does that a lot actually. “People hide from me .”

 

 Carolyn gives her a look, but eh, whatever, they can move past it. Carolyn is always right, blah. Does she never bore of it?

 

“Whatever, what do you want this time? I am busy.”

 

“With Eve,” Carolyn clarifies, not even a question because she knows everything.

 

“Yes, with Eve,” Villanelle mocks, doing a pretty good impression of her voice and her annoyingness. “And this outrageous sundae. You should have gotten one when you followed me in there. I would have waited for you.”

 

She kicks her feet out in front of her, crossed at the ankle, and turns her attention back to the way street lamps swim and wobble in the uneasy ripple of the river. It’s a nicer night than they’ve been getting. Free of the constant plague of gloomy rain and seeping cold. Still London, so still kind of ugly, but it is a more pleasant ugly than normal.

 

“Here’s your next job.”

 

You would not believe what’s in her hand.

 

“If you give me one more envelope, I’m going to kill you,” Villanelle promises. She does not often make promises, but this time, she makes exception.

 

“For free? That would be flattering,” Carolyn tuts. “Take it. It’s the last one I have for you. I hope you haven’t been squandering your money.”

 

“I hope you have not been squandering your life.”

 

Carolyn places the envelope between them, which apparently fulfills the transfer of obligations. Villanelle sneers at her and snatches it up, flips open the portfolio without regard for the sensitivity of their meeting. She means to make a gag of it - examine each document, ask some thoughtful questions, then throw the whole package in the river and leave Carolyn sitting there in constipated silence. But when she flips to the photograph of the subject, she pauses and examines it more carefully.

 

“I know this man,” she says slowly, eyeing Carolyn with growing suspicion. “Why him?”

 

“I don’t pay you to ask why.”

 

“You pay me to kill people,” Villanelle finishes, bluntly. “Well excuse me, but I am going to ask why in this instance. For the killing.”

 

“It is in MI6’s best interests if he goes away,” she explains patiently. “I told you that. We’re cleaning house on old targets driven out of hiding when The Twelve dissolved. He’s last on my laundry list.”

 

Villanelle sets her sundae to the side and curls her arm around the back of the bench to better face Carolyn and lean into her space. “I don’t enjoy feeling like I’m being left out of the joke. I love jokes.”

 

Carolyn raises an eyebrow - maybe she’s not certain what a joke is. “I can assure you there’s no joke.”

 

“Would you like some advice? Don’t answer, I will give it to you regardless. I don’t like being played. I make a bad tool. You should worry more about me than whatever secrets you are protecting.”

 

Carolyn has a very good poker face, but they both know that if Villanelle truly tires of their game in this moment, there’s nothing that would protect her from a violent, public death. Villanelle would feel nothing and who is to say if Carolyn’s body would wash up or if it would be churned under the weight of commercial propellers and barges and boat traffic until she is chipped bone and fish food. Who is to say? They do enjoy the tightrope walk, the two of them.

 

“I’m not lying,” Carolyn says vaguely.

 

Villanelle smiles darkly. “Yes, that is how you get away with not telling the truth. Remember, Carolyn: when you study something - when you watch something - it watches back.”

 

“It’s funny, Eve told me the same thing about you,” Carolyn slips that just under her ribs. She wobbles the tightrope even as she stands on it and that’s how Carolyn stops Villanelle from crossing the chasm and strangling her. She’s not afraid of falling. She’s afraid of looking weak.

 

“How much are you going to pay me?”

 

“Not much at all,” Carolyn smiles a simpering smile. “Barely anything.”

 

“This is a very bad sales pitch.”

 

“Is it, though?” Carolyn taps her finger against the photograph of her subject and glances between him and her. “I think you’ll do it anyway. I’ll let you do the math.”

 

“Have you never been a handler? Never let the assassin do the math.” Villanelle’s appetite has diminished the longer she sits on the stiff bench with her and she shunts the sundae off the edge until it splatters on the cement below.

 

Carolyn stands from the bench, dusting off her immaculate coat and nodding pleasantly at her like it’s all been decided, then. Villanelle hates that maybe it has been. “The sooner the better, don’t you think?”

 

“Answer me one thing,” Villanelle asks, knowing it won’t matter. The two of them don’t do anything that is not absolutely in the requirements of their best, complicated interests. “Is Eve in danger?”

 

“You sleep twenty feet from her,” Carolyn answers, like that explains anything at all. And then she turns and leaves, taking the light mood Villanelle had started the evening with with her.



____________________




She can’t even be cool about how quickly she arrives at the restaurant after that.

 

When she pushes inside, the owner is still sitting on a stool behind the counter doing puzzles in the paper. He doesn’t look up when Villanelle walks in, won’t even give her the time of the day. Whatever that means, the idioms are slippery.

 

Villanelle stares at him, looks harder than she had the last time she was there and tries to find something of who he’s supposed to be. Because there are shadowy players in the high-stakes market of international espionage who look the part - Gaudy watches and expensive Belgian mansions or bears of men flitting about between remote Finnish tundra cabins with paranoid systems of traps and unhinged familial loyalty. But the deadly ones never look like much of anything. The deadliest ones look just like him.

 

Finally, he looks up and raises an eyebrow at her. “ Beoleus-eobsneun ai ,” he recalls. “What do you want?”

 

“I’m here for Eve,” Villanelle returns with a smile even he must be able to tell is more a baring of teeth than anything.

 

He gives her an unimpressed look. “Stop bothering my employee. She is working.” Then he looks back down at his paper and starts chewing on the eraser of his pencil.

 

Villanelle approaches the counter and sticks her face right over the puzzle he’s working on while he makes an annoyed grunt. “Nine in the top left corner, two in the center. That will solve your puzzle. Now go get Eve.”

 

He seems to give her his full attention then, shifting off of the elbow supporting his weight and raising one untrimmed, wild eyebrow at her. “You’ll have to order something,” he says slowly.

 

“I am ordering you to go get Eve now before I split your head open with the cash register. I don’t suppose you take credit?”

 

His eyes narrow, not in anger but in thought. “Do I know you?” He wonders aloud.

 

Villanelle splays her hands against the counter in a wide stance andher grin turns feral, a thrill of controlled violence rising in her gut like high tide. “You don’t want to,” she says darkly.

 

It’s probably for the best that Eve emerges from behind the curtain, curious like she’d heard them talking but not well enough to be as furious as she might otherwise be. When she sees Villanelle there, her face goes pale. “What are you doing here?”

 

“I came to walk you home,” Villanelle lies smoothly, offering her a disarming smile. She can lie and be truthful at the same time, these aren’t things that exist on seperate planes. Not as mutually exclusive as they’d have you believe.

 

“Um, why?” Eve blinks.

 

Villanelle looks pointedly between the barbeque man and Eve, ticking her head to the side and humming. She raises her eyebrows as high as they’ll go and offers another series of comical looks between Eve and her boss for long moments. Eve’s face goes through an equally complicated journey and by the end, she feels they’ve missed each other entirely - bypassed one another and ended up on opposite ends.

 

That thing, where people in love communicate with just a look?

 

Yeah, they don’t have that yet. They’re just making faces at each other.

 

The barbecue man is staring at her and when Eve takes notice, she puts herself between him and Villanelle, subtly edging them away from each other. “I have to work for another hour, just go home, I’ll meet -” she cuts herself off. “I’ll see you later.”

 

“I can wait,” Villanelle replies, studying the way Eve shields them from each other. But who is it that she doesn’t want to be alone with the other and why? Perhaps it is just best practice: always best if nobody is alone with Villanelle. Even Villanelle, sometimes.

 

“No, seriously. You can’t loiter here.”

 

Villanelle narrows her eyes. “Then I’ll order food.”

 

Oksana ,” Eve says sternly and it’s a little like getting punched in the face. Villanelle would know, she gets punched in the face sometimes. “Go home.”

 

It doesn’t leave much room for argument, though Villanelle doesn’t necessarily require much room at all. She is thrifty that way. But Eve has this look on her face, like she really, really just needs Villanelle to trust her for once in their complicated, untrusting lives.

 

Ugh , it makes her want to do the thing even more.

 

But maybe they are trying for something and Villanelle doesn’t want to ruin it all. The look Eve gives her when they’re alone together these days is less acidic and more…

 

Well, it is more.

 

Villanelle sighs and paints a strained smile on her face. “Alright, I will see you later, then. Do not work too late,” she advises. Her gaze slides to the side, cuts sharply to the shop owner as he watches them with calculated interest. She isn’t even looking at Eve when she says, “Bad people come out at night.”

 

Another pointed look at the owner and she walks out the front door. Outside she props her hands on her hips and furrows her brow, standing there with the kinetic itch to act but the restraining bit of obedience metallic between her teeth. She chews at it for long minutes under the neon glare of the storefront.




____________________

 

x8.

____________________



Chapter Text




____________________

x8.

____________________




It’s closer to an hour and a half that Villanelle waits outside the back entrance to the restaurant, shadowed by the dumpsters from the flickering street lights. The locale isn’t ideal, the smells suspect, but her mind is otherwise consumed.

 

More and more, she is beginning to not like the direction she sees things heading. It is a life she mostly chose, dynamic and thrilling where others aren’t, but it does wear on a person sometimes. Even the simple things are not. Nobody is who they say they are, not even the ones you know best. And for how easy and how well Villanelle lies, she finds that she is perhaps the most honest of all of them. Her priorities are creature comforts and her interests are whatever seems fun and interesting.

 

Everyone else has rules .

 

And the notion that she might never have Eve because of the games they play is an obfuscating conundrum to be sure. The games are fun. Having Eve is fun. She has rarely stopped to consider that she might have to choose between the two.

 

By the time Eve walks out back, Villanelle is tired. Tired of the thinking and the worrying -  it does not become her. It’s Eve’s fault anyhow.

 

Villanelle watches from the darkness while Eve stops, puts her hands on her hips and lets her head fall back. She spends a long while like that, staring upwards. Her profile in the dingy light paints a dark outline. Beautiful.

 

Eve lights up a cigarette and stands there smoking it. Naughty, naughty Eve. Such a bad habit.

 

“Those aren’t good for you,” she tells her, from just over her shoulder.

 

Eve nearly inhales the cigarette, choking and hacking for a full thirty seconds until Villanelle can’t fight the small spark of concern overtaking her amusement. If this is what love has done to her, she doesn’t like it. She would like to be returning it now, please.

 

“I told you to go home,” Eve coughs, finally catching her breath.

 

“And I always listen to you, huh?”

 

Eve grinds her heel into the cigarette she’d dropped and shoulders her bag. “So, what? Are you following me, now?”

 

“I have been following you now for years. On and off. It’s kind of our thing,” Villanelle can hear her voice go too high, enough to play off but only for so long. Eve’s clever and more than a little erotically familiar with weaponizing these things. Feeling uneasy, she puts a hand under Eve’s elbow and begins leading her back to the streets, back to the relative shelter of public eye.

 

Eve goes along reluctantly, but her gaze is accusatory. “Are you gonna tell me why you stood by a garbage bin for an hour waiting for me or are we just going to be clever at each other all night.”

 

“I thought we were flirting.”

 

“You think everything is flirting. You thought me stabbing you was flirting.”

 

Villanelle stops abruptly, leaving Eve to trail a few paces ahead before she catches on and looks back. “Wait. That wasn’t flirting?” Eve gives her a flat look. “Now I am thinking we are not so even.”

 

Unexpectedly, Eve gets a guilty look on her face. Very good , this is doing nothing to put Villanelle at ease whatsoever. “Maybe we’re not,” Eve agrees. “I just…”

 

“Make it up to me,” Villanelle bowls over her, reaching back to tug her along again. As much as she would enjoy Eve kneeling at her feet, they will have time for that later, maybe, if neither of them is untimely murdured. “Tell me about your boss.”

 

“What?” She blinks, paling, then her eyes widen with recognition and she laughs it off. “Oh, Mr. Kim?” Eve frowns to herself, biting at her lower lip. “What about him?”

 

“You tell me.”

 

 A man in a long coat - too warm for the weather - passes them by, cell phone held to his ear but not speaking. They make eye contact and Villanelle glares, feeling herself bristle and stand taller. Now is a very good time for everyone in London to be minding their business, she’s feeling a little...on edge. 

 

They stop at a crosswalk and so does he and she’s very done with him, thank you. “Jog on,” she snaps in an accent she stole from a woman she’d met in a train station once. Eve turns to stare at the side of her head while she glares him down into submission. She pulls Eve along a different route, leaving him behind.

 

He doesn’t follow them, but Eve is staring at her and she’s already given too much away. “What’s up with you?”

 

“What’s up with you?” She volleys back, petulant sure, but if Eve’s going to make her worry, of all things, the least she could do is accept fault. “Whatever. Forget it.”

 

They walk in tense silence for a few blocks, the unsaid and misunderstood itching under Villanelle’s skin. And Eve keeps looking at her like she can see it all, see right through her. Maybe she can, wouldn’t that just be terrible? To think that Villanelle used to control them. She’s given up too much, perhaps, in getting close.

 

“Why do you want to know about the owner of a Korean fast food restaurant?” Eve dares. Of course, she can’t leave anything alone, they’re so terrible for each other.

 

“I don’t trust him,” Villanelle dodges. “Do you?”

 

“Why wouldn’t I?”

 

“Can you answer me without asking another question?”

 

“Can you tell me why you don’t trust him?” Eve stands her ground and yes, it’s sexy, but also she wants to strangle her. Is this what talking to herself is like, because she is starting to see the merits of why nobody talks to her.

 

Villanelle speeds their pace, eager to get Eve back to her apartment. “He asked if he knew me. Why would he know me?”

 

“You came into the stand once already,” Eve says slowly. “I’m sure that was it.”

 

“No, he called me spoiled brat . He knew me from my last visit. But then, he looks closer and asks if he knows me. From before,” Villanelle explains. It is like Eve is being purposefully dense.

 

Eve is quiet for a long minute and Villanelle turns to watch her as she’s watched. Eve seems nervous, but she won’t relent. “I don’t see how he would know you. What do you want me to say?”

 

“I would like something resembling the truth,” Villanelle hisses, stopping them as they pass by an alleyway. “I would like to know why-”

 

She swallows.

 

I would like to know why MI6 wants him dead.

 

“I would like to know why he knows me,” she says instead. If Eve is to have secrets, she cannot go about unarmed without her own. They play very high stakes, the two of them. And she’s not so sure there will be a winner if one of them loses.

 

Eve shakes her head, honest concern on her face. “I don’t know. I...just don’t know.”

 

Oddly, Villanelle thinks it might be the truth. Eve does seem...worried by that possibility. She knows she sees the picture like an unfinished puzzle, long way to go , but Eve’s confusion does ring true. Her worry.

 

The way she’s shrinking away from her.

 

Villanelle takes stock of herself and forces a step back, stops crowding over Eve and blows out a long, tired sigh. “Okay,” she says, even though it is not. Sometimes, maybe, love is lying. Maybe always. Gospodi pomogi, lyubov’ uzhasna, ne pravda li?

 

“Fine,” she adds. Another lie, nothing is fine. Eve is working for a former member of The Twelve and she is not sure if they are just barbecuing together or if they’re entangled in the expensive, dangerous things they often find themselves in. She really hopes they are just barbequing, motherfuck.

 

The Twelve’s loose ends are not ending up in very good ways these days. Villanelle would know, she has axed one in the head and splattered the other one along the northern tip of Finland. She may be fake-dead, but it is difficult to stay fake anything for very long. Lying is an endurance sport.

 

“I’m...sorry,” she spits out somehow. Another language she can speak, apparently. Oh, she is full of so many talents. How unfortunate. “I’m sorry, okay? Let me get you home.”



____________________




Even after they get back, Eve is still quiet. Still frazzled and worried-looking and sullen, which are all very boring to have to be a part of. God, Villanelle has to fix everything herself, doesn’t she? This has been the longest day of her life and she spent many years in the isolation of prison cells.

 

“What are you thinking about?” She tries, crossing her arms and leaning back into the shadows cast by kitchen shelves, sinking far back into the wall where she feels safer. Maybe it is safer to be unseen.

 

Eve is standing at the sink like she went there to do something, but forgot about it and stayed. “Huh?” She blinks at Villanelle in the shadows, shakes her head to clear it, then looks back out the little window above the sink. “Nothing. I don’t know.”

 

“Which is it?”

 

“Both.”

 

“That sounds boring,” Villanelle hedges, but it's a dead-end and Eve is back to staring and brooding. They are so bad at everything. Villanelle does the only thing she can think of to try and fix it. “Would you like me to make you something to eat?”

 

“No. I’m not hungry,” Eve murmurs, eyes still searching out the window.

 

Villanelle rolls her eyes. “Okay, that is all I know how to offer.”

 

She’s not good at this.

 

They descend into silence again and Villanelle itches to fill it, but refuses to be the only one working on it. Two can be sullen at once, it is not a fillable position. She watches Eve from the shadows, much like they used to do, the two of them. But it feels wrong, lurking as she does. Feels wrong leaving Eve with the monster at her back and the nearest weapon much too far to reach in time.

 

Villanelle sighs and pushes away from the wall, crossing into the orange glow of streetlights cast from the window Eve stands in when she comes to lean against the kitchen island. She drums her fingers on the table, wilts over it with her cheek in her hand and stares blankly at the bag of leftover pastries from that morning. If Eve won’t speak, neither will she. If Eve won’t make a sound, neither will she.

 

If Eve won’t , neither will she.

 

It works for a few minutes, but then she remembers there is still cake leftover in little cardboard boxes and that’s as good a reason as any to abandon a principled stand.

 

As quietly as possible, she retrieves the cake and pops open the lid on the box. She takes a fork from the island drawer and cuts off a too-big mouthful. It is simply divine. Why does she even bother with women, honestly.

 

She’s still staring down at the love of her life when Eve appears over her shoulder. “That looks amazing.”

 

“It is,” Villanelle confirms glumly. She holds up another fork over her shoulder that Eve takes from her as she comes to stand at her side. She hacks into the cake messily, but Villanelle lets her because whatever. Love, blah, blah, blah. It’s nonrefundable.

 

Eve chews silently, then takes another bite and chews that too. “That’s...fucking good.”

 

Villanelle hums her agreement, waving her fork about while she waits for Eve to finish collecting her own bite.

 

“Sorry,” Eve says eventually and Villanelle looks up.

 

“For what?”

 

Eve shrugs and steals another bite of her cake. “Everything.”

 

Villanelle’s eyebrows raise slowly, considering her over the dwindling slice of cake between them. “ Everything, ” She echoes. “Wow.”

 

“Yeah.” Eve makes a miserable kind of noise. “Wow.”

 

Things are going to go very badly, that is the only thing she is sure of.

 

They finish the cake in companionable silence, albeit miserable companionable silence. Maybe they are on the same page about the games and each other and how this must go. What do they say? Misery loves fellowship? Something like that, it is true. Villanelle much prefers being miserable with Eve than miserable alone.

 

Or maybe it’s not Eve. Maybe it’s just the cake, it is hard to tell sometimes.

 

“Is this birthday cake?” Eve asks when they’ve finished and broken into another slice folded neatly into a little cardboard box.

 

Villanelle nods. “Yes, it’s classic, no? Happy birthday to me.”

 

Tapping her fork thoughtfully against her lips, Eve gives her a curious look. “When is your birthday? It wasn’t in any of your MI6 files.”

 

“Whenever I want,” Villanelle says with a shrug. “I don’t know, so I celebrate often.”

 

Eve stops eating, fork paused above the cake and face twisted up in some kind of odd expression. “You don’t know your birthday?”

 

“No?” Villanelle bats Eve’s fork away from the cake to retrieve her own bite. “My father did not keep track and it stopped being important. Who knows? I used to beg him to tell me. I think he enjoyed it.”

 

“So you just, what, never celebrated it?”

 

Villanelle laughs, shaking her head. “Do I pick one day to celebrate myself? No. I celebrate myself whenever I want. Look: there is birthday cake. Happy birthday to me.”

 

Eve doesn’t look very celebratory, though. She is ruining the point of birthday cake with her sad little looks, full of sympathy that Villanelle does not - has never needed. If people find their happiness in men who can stand to look at them and thinking of themselves only one day per year, she does not want it.

 

“I’ve thought of my third question,” Eve says out of nowhere.

 

“Do I have to answer? It’s my birthday.”

 

Eve smiles gently and what is that about, hm? “Why don’t you like being called Oksana?”

 

Oh.

 

That is…

 

“You are good at asking questions,” Villanelle admits, a little distracted. “MI6 should have kept you. I will write you a letter of recommendation if you like, but I don’t think Carolyn likes me very much.”

 

Eve gives her a lopsided smile, but she is not so easily distracted. She just waits and watches until Villanelle knows she will have to come up with something. Something true, because that’s the game they are playing and she won’t be beaten at that.

 

“It’s not that I don’t like being called that,” she mulls over, pursing her lips and chewing on the inside of her cheek. “It is more that I just..I’m not Oksana anymore.” Villanelle shrugs and looks up from under her eyelashes to see what Eve is thinking. “It’s someone I feel far away from. It was just a name. Just a person I was, something weak. When they took me from prison, they told me I was a new person. And I don’t think they were wrong.”

 

Eve still says nothing.

 

Villanelle begins picking at the cake with her fork. “But then, since I fake-died, I don’t know that I am really who I was then, either. I am whatever I need to be. If you don’t want me to be Villanelle, you can call me something else. It does not matter so much to me.”

 

“Hm,” Eve says, because she is frustrating like that.

 

Villanelle smiles. “What do you want to call me?”

 

“I don’t know,” Eve shrugs.

 

“You can call me yours, ” She offers with a sly smile.

 

It works, because Eve rolls her eyes the way Villanelle has come to love. “You know what? I don’t think you’re someone else. I think you’re you. I think Oksana Astankova and Villanelle are the same person. That’s what I think.”

 

“My father was Astankova ,” Villanelle says, wrinkling her nose in distaste. Eve just fucking lights up at that and Villanelle gives her a withering look. “Don’t make that face at me. You’re not allowed to shrink me, it’s my birthday.”

 

“What happened to him?”

 

“I stabbed him many times in the throat,” Villanelle smiles. “It is my fondest memory of him. I would scrapbook this if I had pictures.”

 

A brief pause, Eve stops chewing and looks at her like the record has scratched. But? This cannot be the most surprising thing she’s told her. Eve nods eventually and keeps chewing. “He must’ve deserved it,” she concludes.

 

“He did. Maybe worse.”

 

Eve nods like she believes her and that’s all. That’s all.

 

It makes her strangely pleased for someone to believe her about it, nod like maybe Mr. Astankova deserved to be slaughtered in his home and left to bloat and rot there with the maggots and rats and nothing more. Eve is not a terrible shrink perhaps. More people should stop pretending that everyone deserves life, wealth and happiness. Some people deserve to have their throats ripped out and the sooner you make peace with that, the better.

 

“So,” Eve scrapes some frosting around the edge of the container with her fork and watches the sprinkles bleed color into the white frosting. “Have you come up with our cover for the party? That was our deal.”

 

“Do not sell me under,” Villanelle wags her finger at Eve, perking up a bit.

 

Eve laughs gently. “Sell me short. It’s: don’t sell me short.”

 

“Don’t do that either,” Villanelle nods solemnly. “I have come up with the perfect cover. I will be Russian designer from some ugly, remote area. You are my assistant.”

 

They lapse into expectant silence and Eve seems to realize after a long while that Villanelle has nothing else to say. “Huh? That’s it?”

 

“That is it.”

 

“How the hell is that supposed to get us in?” Eve props her cheek on her fist. “This is an exclusive party. You think just waltzing up and demanding entrance is going to get us in there?

 

“Let me educate you,” Villanelle patronizes, just a little, because it is fun telling Eve she’s wrong, what can she say. “Nobody in the UK knows anything about Russia. Nobody understands Russian and nobody wants to. Everyone is afraid of the angry Russian who does not speak English because all of your movies and television shows say you should be.”

 

Eve gives her a dubious look.

 

“I do not enjoy playing this card, but I do many things for you and you alone. They will let me in, because I am very convincing and nobody, least of all Londoners actually knows Russian designers. I promise you I can exploit this.”

 

“Oh, trust me. I have no doubt in your ability to exploit someone.”

 

Villanelle puffs up, preens a bit. “Yes, I am very good at that. I will take your insincere compliment and now you can’t have it back. If your Russian was better, you could also be Russian designer. But you are still…”

“Learning?”

 

“Very bad. It is better if you keep your mouth shut.”

 

Eve smiles wryly. “Oh, the feeling’s mutual, kiddo.”

 

“Who is kiddo ? Do not call me that,” Villanelle sits up, affronted, but Eve is laughing like she’s very proud of herself. She probably is, Eve is mean like that. “You won’t like me when I’m angry and Russian.”

 

“You won’t like me when I’m angry either,” Eve promises, but Villanelle is thinking maybe Eve does not quite grasp exactly how wrong she is about that. “You’re in for tomorrow night. But I’m in charge. You don’t so much as sneeze without my permission. We don’t talk to our target, we don’t get caught looking at her. We don’t make a spectacle of ourselves. And we especially don’t kill anyone.” She levels her with a very sexy look, oh my. “Are we clear?”

 

Villanelle grins. “We are clear, Kill Commander.”



____________________




Eve lingers that evening in her bedroom doorway like she wants to say something, but can’t spit the words out. Villanelle watches her back, blanket up to her nose where she lays on the couch. They do this a lot, the two of them. Watch each other and not say things. It is like their thing.

 

Villanelle decides she will decline to speak first so they just sit in their suspended silence so long it’s kind of funny.

 

“Who knows you’re still alive?” Eve finally asks.

 

That was not really how Villanelle saw this going. “You.” Her eyes swing upwards as she thinks, mentally deciding Carolyn doesn’t need to be mentioned. “Nobody else, I do not think. I think I would be for-real-dead if anyone else knew.”

 

“How many people in The Twelve knew you on sight?”

 

That is an interesting question. Villanelle blinks slowly and wonders what this information could be bartered for. It’s a fair thing to ask if they are both wondering how Mr. Kim may or may not recognize her, but she did not survive so long without questioning the questions. “Besides Konstantin? I don’t know,” she decides on, just to see what Eve will do.

 

“It took us forever to identify you and we still never had a picture more recent than your prison photo,” Eve says slowly. “There can’t be hardly anyone who knows you on sight.”

 

“Except you,” Villanelle clarifies, lays that down at her feet.

 

Just how far was Eve willing to go to exact her revenge? How far still, hm?

 

Eve inhales sharply, bites at her lip. “Except me,” she agrees. And Carolyn , but Villanelle does not say that part out loud. It does paint a certain picture for her. There are really only so many people who could sell her out. Who could have sold her out and brought Bruno to her on holiday. Eve’s gaze is boring into her, she is so close to saying something. But Villanelle knows the moment it has passed, because she deflates against her door frame.

 

“Okay. Well, get some sleep.”

 

Villanelle wonders how that is even possible.



____________________




It is a shame the ceiling is still so ugly, because she lies there having to look at it for a very, very long time. Eve raises a good point, but for what purpose? Eve has pointed out that she is one of the only people alive who knows what she looks like and how to find her. Konstantin made sure of that even when Villanelle did not understand why. If she is found, this does not look very good for Eve.

 

Some half-hearted part of her toys with the idea of pulling it out of Eve. Holding her down and ripping it out. But the idea doesn’t thrill her like it might have once upon a time. If you have a favorite toy, why would you break it?

 

There is a more sinister thing speaking inside her that echoes the sentiment she’d heard all those weeks past. If you care about anything, you’d better hide it.

 

That was, perhaps, not bad advice.

 

But the question that keeps her up is not so much whether or not Eve sold her out, though it is a good question. The question that really keeps her up is whether the thing she needs to be hiding is Eve or herself.



____________________




There’s a handler waiting for her back at the harbor when she guides the boat back to port and really, she is on holiday . Someone should be cutting her a break because it’s late and she’s been holding her guts in with fishing line stitches and rags that stink of fish since she emerged from passing out under a million Alaskan stars, the sea deadly calm around her. Bruno is stinking worse than the fish and her whole body is in grimy agony, but she would sooner die than die on a fishing boat in some obscure Alaskan city. Yes, she knows what she has said.

 

They make it into harbor and a red-haired man with a pinched, sour face is waiting auspiciously in the boat slip, tapping his shoe nervously against the planks. Villanelle doesn’t even bother looking around, checking for witnesses or security. She drops anchor before flinging herself from the hull of the boat bodily into him, bowie knife first. If you do not know which stab has killed someone, then you cannot prove that any of them were overkill.

 

He’s a puddle of gore from the chest up by the time she is done and good. It serves his ugly face right and she thinks maybe she screams it into his wide, vacant eyes at the top of her lungs. She has had a very bad day and it is important to express yourself. Keeping it in does nobody good.

 

Her brain slips out of focus, dizzy from blood loss and she has to kneel there in his gut for a long time to get it back. The creaking of a loose pier board draws her eyes back into sharp relief and she stares at the handkerchief being held out in front of her nose. When she looks up at the hand attached and the very tall woman attached to that, it is like she has never been given so many terrible presents all at once. She really did used to like surprises, but they’ve been soundly ruined for her.

 

“You look ghastly,” Carolyn tuts.

 

“What’s your excuse?” Villanelle chokes out through teeth clenched so hard she can’t pry them apart. 

 

Carolyn gives her a withering look, or that is just her face. Who can say. “Holiday not gone to plan?”

 

Villanelle snatches the offered handkerchief and cleans the tacky blood from her cheeks and as much of her hands as she can before it’s saturated. She doesn’t get very far because some of it is probably hers too, still running, still spilling. “Retirement sucks,” she chokes out and thinks maybe frustrated, agonized tears are leaking from the corners of her eyes. It is a lot of pain, excuse her please. She is very tired.

 

Carolyn daintily pulls the thin slip of her glove off one finger at a time, then holds her hand out for Villanelle to take, presumably. It’s an unfamiliar gesture, worthy of suspicion from a woman like Carolyn Martens. She is not one to get blood on her hands. Villanelle eyes it suspiciously.

 

“Can you afford to turn your nose up at a friend these days?” Carolyn asks with a frown. Villanelle stares at the hand until Carolyn sighs. “Or a...resource, let’s say.”

 

“I do not trust you,” Villanelle growls, but reaches out with her filthy hand and snatches Carolyn’s to leverage herself to wobbly feet. “I don’t trust a person with no personal agenda.”

 

“I should be flattered, I think.”

 

“You are without anything you care about,” Villanelle clarifies, dropping Carolyn’s hand just to prove she doesn’t need any help. The pain is blinding and it takes her long moments to be able to make out the disappointed pucker of Carolyn’s expression again. “It’s like trying to exploit a filing cabinet.”

 

Carolyn laughs, seems genuinely tickled, which is annoying. “I know a doctor in town. He’s quite terrible,” she chuckles. “But you can live to vacation another day.”

 

“And then you cash in,” Villanelle nods, trying to hold her ground even though it’s swaying like rough seas under her. “I have done business with you. It’s not lucrative. And besides, I am thinking now is a good time to give them what they want. If I am to be dead, then so be it. They don’t need to know I survived this.”

 

“Ah, a classic. Fake your own death. Like Eve, I suppose.”

 

Villanelle falls quiet until the slapping of rudder-chopped surf against sleepy boat keels feels louder than her own thoughts, drowning them in the harbor. It makes her want to scream again, because she can feel how utterly she’s lost this exchange. The leash jerks back and she’s choked by it - even after a year apart it consumes her.

 

“She’s alive?” She asks miserably, hopefully, pathetically, everything that makes her want to drop her hands and let her guts fall out the way they want to.

 

Carolyn smiles like she’s won and Villanelle supposes she has. “Well. You certainly are, aren’t you?”

 

“Hard to tell.”

 

“Shall I call my terrible doctor?” Carolyn asks, pulling out a nondescript burner phone and dangling it like a prize. “He owes me. Dear, I hope he’s not drinking at this hour, his stitches are bad on a good day. And I suppose you want me to arrange your seeming death as well?”

 

“And what will I owe you? ” Villanelle asks carefully, tracking the empty shine of Carolyn’s eyes in the dark.

 

She licks her lips greedily. “Well. I’m sure we will think of something soon, won’t we?”

 

Villanelle never knew the devil would be this boring when she made a deal with her. But there are things yet undone and doors left open. She’s not finished yet.

 

“Make the call,” Villanelle growls.

 

 Carolyn is graceful in her victory. “Very well. You’ll need to leave tonight, don’t wait until morning,” she instructs.

 

Villanelle swipes the wetness at her eyes away and digs her fingernails into her thigh so she doesn’t pass out. “Fine.”

 

“I’ve heard London is nice this time of year. There’s a charming little neighborhood in a pocket of Woolwich where I’d swear I’ve had the best curry in the country. There are only three seats in the shop that face the outer window and when you look out, you can see one of the drabest flats in London. A sad place to end up, but not without its charms. It’s funny where these gems hide, isn’t it? I'll have to give you the address.”

 

“London is shit this time of year,” Villanelle laughs, but she can feel something boiling up underneath her skin.

 

“Yes,” Carolyn nods with a rueful smile. “Well. It is London, isn’t it?”



____________________




“I bought this for you and no I don’t care that you don’t want me to buy you things,” Villanelle declares, hurling the garment bag at Eve’s face where she sits on the couch. It lands in a satisfying pile while Eve squawks about it. Villanelle snickers, closing herself in Eve’s bedroom before she can get her hands on her. Wishful thinking, perhaps, but sometimes that is all you have.

 

As she walks, she throws clothing off, scattering it across Eve’s tidy room until she’s in practically nothing, swinging her own garment bag in a wide arc as she slinks off toward the bathroom. The last few months have been full of being maimed and poor and dirty and peeved and this at last is something fun. She may still be sleeping on a couch and she may not be able to fully pull off a bikini without nosy questions, but tonight she gets to put on this gorgeous dark length of silk and brocade, sample expensive party foods, and ruin Eve’s life. These rank on her top three favorite pastimes.

 

And the dress she bought for Eve is something .

 

Eve can be mad all she wants, but it is hard to assert that it was bought for Eve and not for herself.

 

Villanelle is doing her makeup in Eve’s vanity mirror when Eve comes in looking rumpled and annoyed. She holds up the garment bag and asks, “What the fuck is this?”

 

“Uniform,” Villanelle settles on delicately. Eve is a bomb that requires careful disarming, which is dangerous because Villanelle is much better at detonating. They only teach one in professional murderer school.

 

“No, this is a ridiculous dress that costs more than I make in a month,” she gripes.

 

Villanelle purses her lips and nods at her in the mirror. “Yes...that is...all it cost.” Her eyes dart to the side and she pretends to be very invested in the loose, wide curls at the ends of her hair. If they can jump this hurdle, Villanelle can have her evening and they can stop talking about boring things.

 

Eve pulls her dress out and holds it up, eyeballing it like it’s some absurdism. “Does money mean anything to you? Honestly. You grew up poor, how do you have such little concept of it?”

 

“Eve, I was almost cut in half this summer. I’ve been shot in the weeks since. You think I am concerned about saving for my future?” She smiles at her reflection in the mirror, very pleased with the way she looks and feels. “Why would I wait for something I want? Everyone is always waiting .”

 

“Well if you run out and find yourself still alive, it’s a long way down to nothing. Contingency is just smart.”

 

Villanelle laughs. “Contingency? My contingency is being clever and beautiful. The rest? I will enjoy until I can’t anymore.” She puts down the lipstick she was toying with and eyes Eve in the mirror. “That is your biggest problem. You are always waiting to be happy. I almost killed you two years ago and you are still doing so much nothing. What are you waiting for , Eve? I would like to know.”

 

“I…” Eve looks rather bamboozled. Is there any better word in the English language?

 

Villanelle raises her eyebrows, patient, while Eve flounders.

 

“I can’t just do whatever I want whenever I want,” Eve defends weekly.

 

Villanelle scoffs. “And why is that?”

 

“I don’t know,” Eve laughs, almost hysterical. She quiets then and says again, “I don’t know.” She sits down on her bed and stares out the one window she has in the bedroom facing directly into the neighboring building’s brick wall. Her hands are wrapped up in her new dress, twisting at the fabric. “I literally have no idea.”

 

Villanelle sits awkwardly for a minute, eyes wandering around, before she shrugs. “Okay. Well, you should stop. The waiting. I am very good in bed.”

 

“We should have a safe word,” Eve blurts out.

 

Villanelle drops the nailpolish she was studying and it bounces off the vanity and clatters to the floor. She turns at her waist to see Eve’s mortified expression. Villanelle laughs loudly, can’t contain it, really. “What?”

 

“For the thing! For tonight! Not - oh my god,” Eve whispers, covering her eyes like maybe if she can’t see what’s happening, it won’t be happening. Villanelle does not have the heart to tell her that it is, in fact, still happening.

 

Just kidding, she does, of course. “Eve, if you wanted a safe word we should have had one before I shot you. I told you to say ‘ when’ and you let me shoot you.”

 

“You know what I mean!” Eve is blushing, which is cute because they have literally masterbated together, but Eve is a complicated woman. “I need to be able to call you off if something goes wrong. We need an ‘abort mission’ codeword. When we hear it, we drop everything and make our own ways out of the situation to safety. We meet up later when it’s safe again.”

 

“Is it tacky to use ‘Gentleman’ again? I am starting to feel nostalgic.”

 

“More than tacky, it’s morbid, ” Eve mutters. “We’re choosing something different. I’d pick, but you’ll just whine about it.”

 

“I have you very well trained these days,” Villanelle reflects and she purposefully does not look in the vanity mirror again because she does not care to be glared at. “How about…” Villanelle taps her forefinger against her chin for a moment. “How about ‘Fishing’ ?”



____________________




Villanelle was born for this, she is sure. The only thing more dazzling than walking up the steps to a black tie gala in a beautiful dress to spend the evening gorging on absurdly expensive champagne and appetizers is the lower, more wicked knowledge that it is done in sheep’s clothing. It is fun being herself, but it is more fun pretending otherwise.

 

Eve was...not born for this. 

 

She looks too, too nervous for what they’re trying and she won’t stop whispering anxious things in low tones for VIllanelle to hear and promptly ignore. It has never been more apparent that Eve was raised behind a government desk.

 

The dress, though? Villanelle did a very good job with that one.

 

“Stop, stop,” Villanelle murmurs, waving her away. “You are worrying too much. The fastest way to blow a cover is insecurity.”

 

“And murder,” Eve reminds her with a sideways little look.

 

Villanelle gives her a saccharine smile and slips her arm into Eve’s. “Who is morbid ? You take me out to this nice event and you haven’t even told me how beautiful I look tonight.”

 

“You don’t need me to tell you that. And we’re working.”

 

“You’re working. I am here for nothing but your attention and flattery and so far that has not been a very good deal.” She raises her eyebrows pointedly, trap baited.

 

Eve turns her head and gives Villanelle a cursory, clinical once-over. “Well. You look fine.”

 

The trap snaps shut, empty. “I am swooning.”

 

They’re stopped at the door, as expected, by a small mingling crowd of guests who have found friends and colleagues before they’ve even made it inside. Security isn’t terribly slow, but they do have to make it through a metal detector and a very annoying mustachioed man who begins to request who they are against his clipboard of names and sponsors.

 

Villanelle is very glad she is taller than him and takes no time leaning above and into his personal space and slipping into a heavy accent that tastes bad on her tongue. Ah, the things she will do for a woman who thinks she looks fine. Ya me govoryu na anglyiskom, v chem problema? Ty ne uznaesh menya? Ty chto durak? I, stoya zdes’, zarabatyvayu bol’she, chem ty za dvadtsat’ let.”

 

The man grows shorter and shorter with every word until Villanelle thinks she might be able to fit him into a soup can. He’s holding his clipboard between them like a shield.

 

Gotcha, Villanelle thinks.

 

“I r-really just need your name, miss,” he cowers.

 

Moe imya ty znaesh. A ona moi assistent. Teper’ otoidi poka ya tebe usy ne povydergivala.”

 

He flips the clipboard toward her and gives her a pleading look. “Can you point at your name?” He speaks slowly and loudly like that might help her understand better. Then he starts pointing between her and the clipboard and they’ve truly gone prehistoric.

 

Villanelle goes for her clutch and pulls out the completely nonfunctional burner phone she’d picked up that day and begins dialing with as much gravitas as she can manage. “You fuck up big, ” she says darkly and that is definitely the universal language.


“Wait! Oh! Here you are,” he stumbles out, pointing at some random name on his list and wiping at his sweaty hairline with the sleeve of his tuxedo shirt. “I’m so sorry for the confusion, you look different from your pictures.”

 

Villanelle scoffs and reaches back to pull Eve forward by the arm. “ Ona tozhe v spiske, da?”

 

“Go right ahead,” He says quickly, stepping aside and giving them a little bow like a small, sweaty butler.

 

With one final harumph , Villanelle drags Eve up the stairs into the foyer of the party where the other guests are mingling near coat check and the hors d'oeuvres. “Nice,” Eve says with a smile, checking over her shoulder to watch the host mop at his forehead. “That was easy.”

 

“I told you,” Villanelle preens. “This is why I get paid so much more than you.”

 

If Eve disagrees, she keeps it to herself. And Villanelle has learned that in this world, saying nothing may as well be tacit agreement. That is how she gets most of her agreement anyhow.

 

“I need a drink,” Eve says instead and Villanelle not only tacitly agrees, she fully endorses. They waste no time making their way to one of the cute little butler men with trays full of champagne flutes. Eve takes the one he offers and throws the whole thing back before taking another. “C’mon, I want to get eyes on Sasha,” She mutters.

 

Villanelle is supposed to be following orders or something, so she also downs an entire glass of champagne and takes another with her. These are not her decisions to be making this evening, who is she to resist?

 

Sasha is very easy to find, she is wearing bright red and speaking with a man Villanelle thinks she’s seen before on a television show. He looks very expensive, but then, so do they, so he is not so special. “Well that was hard,” Villanelle laughs into her drink. “So what are we supposed to be watching her for, hm?”

 

“Mind your business,” Eve says and when has that ever been a thing Villanelle was capable of, honestly?

 

“Okay, I will just stand here and look beautiful,” Villanelle mutters, trying to give Eve a resentful look, but she’s not even paying attention to her. “If I mind my business can we at least dance later?”

 

“No. Maybe. I don’t know, can we get a better vantage point?” Eve asks distractedly, looking over Villanelle’s shoulder and craning around to scope the venue out. “I feel like we’re standing out too much here.”

 

“I stand out everywhere,” Villanelle preens. “Come, we will sit at the bar nearby. And if someone bothers us again, I will yell some more in Russian until they leave us alone. Just for you.” Villanelle takes Eve’s arm and begins leading them over. “You should be flattered, I don’t do this for anyone else.”

 

“Mark me flattered,” Eve says, allowing herself to be led along, but still very distracted. It is good to get your work done, but Villanelle does not enjoy competing for Eve’s interest.

 

Villanelle pulls stools out for them and gestures for Eve to take hers first. “If you want information, I can get it very quickly. We do not need to waste the whole evening on this. What do you need to know from her?”

 

“I don’t need to know anything from her,” Eve murmurs, leaning her elbow on the counter and watching their target over Villanelle’s shoulder. “I just need to keep an eye on her.”

 

“That does not make sense,” Villanelle says critically, trying to lean in such a way that Eve’s line of sight is blocked. It is not difficult because Eve is tragically, cutely shorter than her. “You are a terrible private investigator, Eve.” The bartender sidles up to them and Villanelle orders them both a triple whiskey while Eve is distracted. Maybe she can get her drunk. Drunk Eve is hilarious.

 

The glasses are intimidating when they arrive, but Villanelle loves a challenge. Eve finally notices the drink that’s been set in front of her and balks. “Jesus, what is this thing?”

 

“A drink.”

 

“This is like, six drinks.”

 

“Okay, it is six drinks. Five more fun than usual,” Villanelle shrugs. “It is too late, though, you must drink it or offend the bar man. He will be so sad.”

 

Eve gives her a dirty look, but she does start drinking, and again, this is tacit agreement. Eve’s biggest problem is that she is always letting things happen to her. The universe is the master of her universe and Villanelle will never understand that. It is funny, though. “Cheers. I wonder what a ticket into this event costs?” She chortles. “They are so dumb, we just walked in.”

 

“You just always get what you want, huh?”

 

“Yes,” Villanelle confirms proudly.

 

“Except when I stabbed you,” Eve laughs into her drink.

 

Villanelle’s eyes widen. “ Eve. Naughty. It is like so much water under bridges. And I’ve had time to think on it, and it was rather sexy of you.”

 

“You’re so weird,” Eve gripes, but it’s almost fond. “It wasn’t sexy when you shot me.”

 

“No? Let me try again, it will be much sexier.”

 

Eve laughs aloud, like she can hardly believe she’s laughing at all. “You’re such a fuck .”

 

“What? How can one be a fuck? What are you talking about?”

 

Eve laughs harder and that is a thing the two of them do now, apparently. It feels warm in Villanelle’s chest and she watches it hungrily. This is a thing she’s never really had before. Eve is a thing she’s never really had before and she does not even have her, really. Maybe the green monster in the english Christmas stories was right: Christmas does not come in a box. Ho, ho, ho. Her heart grows three sizes that day.

 

“I like doing things with you,” Villanelle says honestly. Lying has always been fun, but with Eve truth feels thrilling . An intriguing game they play together that always leaves her feeling raw and winded.

 

Eve blinks at her a moment, smile quirking up in the corner of her mouth like she doesn’t understand. “Yeah?”

 

“Oh yeah. I think we are friends now, maybe. Like for-real friends.”

 

Eve snorts to herself and takes another long, long drink. She thinks on it a while, swirls the ice in her glass around so it clacks pleasantly against the crystal over the low murmur of mingling. “Maybe,” she finally agrees.

 

“Oh, you are such a tease ,” Villanelle groans. “I need to get you drunk again, you are much nicer.”

 

“Nicer? That doesn’t sound like me at all.”

 

“I know, I was surprised too. Bar man, refill for the both of us please,” she calls out. He gives them a wary look, lightweights his eyes scream. But they are both supposedly rich, famous party guests, so he refills without comment. Villanelle’s favorite men are the ones without comment and she considers him to be a very good tender of bars. “Spasibo ,” she calls after him.

 

They are supposed to be under cover, after all.

 

Villanelle turns back to Eve to find a very tall, very wide man leaning on the bar over and behind Eve with a large, gleaming smile on his face. “ Priyatno uslyshat’ rodnuyu rech’ zdes’.”

 

Eve grimaces so the man can’t see her and her eyes are screaming to get them out of this conversation. Villanelle has no desire to chat with the man in a language she’d given up long ago, so she finds they are on the same page in this. She gives him a polite, but distant smile. “Ah, well. It is not very useful here.”

 

“A pochemu on dolzhen byt’ poleznym? Esli oni ne uchat moi yazyk ya ne sobirayus’ uchit’ ih,” he chuckles . “Davai vyp’em vmeste s tvoey prekrasnoi podrugoi. Ona govorit na nashem yazyke?”

 

Villanelle can’t help the mischievous smile that curls her lips. “Oh, yes. Eve is very good.”

 

Eve’s eyes get wider and she mouths, I will kill you , in Villanelle’s general direction.

 

“Chto molchish’ krasotka? Ya by predlozhil vypit’, chtoby tebya razgovorit’, no vizhu ty uzhe nachala.” He laughs. “Kak tebya zvat’?”

 

Eve blinks, looks to Villanelle for help, but she should know better. Villanelle just gives her a wicked smile, waiting for her answer. Eventually, Eve comes up with, “ Ya prosto assistent. Pozhaluista prostite menya. Ya novyi k russkomy.”

 

“Oh! Very new,” he laughs heartily. “But you are trying. And we reward that where I’m from, it is only good manners. My name is Alexei Sergeenko. Now, mind, I do not know fashion so much. But my sister says she needs a date to an event with good food and better drink and suddenly, I am very interested in fashion.”

 

“Cheers to that,” Villanelle says, in what she is hoping is a dismissive gesture, but Alexei lights up.

 

“You’re right, we must cheers to this!”

 

Eve gives her a dirty look and Villanelle rolls her eyes. Roger that, Party Captain.




____________________

x9.

____________________



Chapter Text



____________________

 

x9.

 

____________________





It has been an hour and whoops, they are kind of, maybe very drunk now? It’s hard to tell when the luxury of being seated and in good company can obfuscate true sobriety more than any concentrated effort ever could. Alexei is extremely friendly and was very excited to make their acquaintance and perhaps Villanelle let it go too far, because it was funny watching Eve’s Russian get worse as she drank more.

 

They’ve kept an eye on Sasha during it all somehow. She doesn’t seem all that inclined to move around the party or even socialize. She’s just...watching. She’s eyeing party guests, sipping the same cosmo she’s been sipping for an hour and chewing the skin on the bottom of her lip. Maybe if she had ducked away at some point, obscured their view even for a few minutes, they would have had reason to leave the bar. But it is too late for those sentiments now - she hasn’t and so they haven’t and here they are.

 

Now , they very well may be delicately approaching wasted.

 

Villanelle watches Alexei refill Eve’s shot glass with the bottle he’d somehow charmed out of the bartender over the last hour and a half. When Alexei goes to take his own shot, Eve clinks hers against his and then stealthily throws it over her shoulder so it lands somewhere behind them. Villanelle laughs into her fist, coughing to cover it up while Eve gives her a desperate look. 

 

Maybe she does owe her. Villanelle was the last of the two of them to try and kill the other if she’s done the math right. But then, what is she to do if, as she suspects with increasing certainty, it turns out that Eve was the one to sell her out when she was in Alaska? A ruined holiday is serious business. So she thinks she will be saving her debts until the scores are tallied. If she is going to be killing Eve again, she’d much rather do it with a clear conscience.

 

She smiles sweetly at Eve and reaches out to refill her shot glass while Alexei cheers. “Are you even human?” Eve gripes. She drags a hand down her face and leans back to take another perusal of the room and make sure Sasha is still in their sights. Villanelle watches from the corner of her eye when Eve leans back too far in her tipsy stupor, makes herself too, too obvious and Sasha catches her eye. Eve twists back quickly to stare down into her shot glass, but Sasha continues to stare at the back of Eve’s head. Very smooth, Eve.

 

Despite it all, Eve’s unwillingness to approach or engage their subject is all very boring of her for an undercover fashion show. Eve is very bad at having fun, so it stands to reason that she needs Villanelle in her life.

 

“You keep looking at the sexy red-haired lady. Do you know her?” Alexei asks, leaning over the bar on his forearms and swinging his head side to side to look between the two of them in turn.

 

Villanelle nods sadly. “Yes, it is her ex. Very nasty breakup,” she laments.

 

Eve’s mouth flattens and her eyes narrow and Villanelle can hardly wait to fight about it later. “Yeah,” she grits out, giving Alexei a strained smile. “It’s always the pretty ones who turn out the worst, hm?” A very pointed look at Villanelle, very flattering.

 

“Ha, yes! But I like them that way. I am always on the lookout for my next ex-wife,” Alexei agrees. “What about you, Eve? Are you married? I think you are beautiful enough to make trouble,” he grins. “I could show you a very good time.”

 

“I’m sure you could,” Eve allows, so very gracious. Villanelle raises her eyebrows and tries to button down the smirk trying to take over her face.

 

“Great! Dogovorilis’ . I have accommodations only a nighttime stroll from here.”

 

“O-Oh. I can’t!” Eve blurts out. “I’m…” she turns to look blankly at Villanelle.

 

“Gay,” Villanelle offers with a tragic nod.

 

Eve’s teeth make an audible grind, but Alexei covers it with a sympathetic noise. “You are not flexible, no?”

 

“No,” Villanelle confirms, pouting out her lower lip. “She is not.”

 

“I respect this. You are stout in your beliefs and you know what you like,” Alexei nods. “Far be it for me to deny the allure of women. You know what we need?” Before anyone can even guess, he cuts in, “more drinks. Gin this time, my stomach is starting to turn on me.” He holds his stomach and fakes a groan before it dissolves into chuckles. “Zhdite zdes’ ,” he commands, and then he’s making his way down to flirt with the bartender who had taken over shift from the last gentleman.

 

Villanelle smiles at Eve when he’s gone, propping her cheek in her palm as she leans against the counter. “You are not flexible, no?” She mimics in a deep voice.

 

Unexpectedly, Eve bursts out laughing, genuine amusement pinching her cheeks until Villanelle finds herself laughing too. She really must be at least a little drunk. “You’re such a piece of shit, honestly.”

 

“Yes, I am thinking you like that about me,” Villanelle preens, because Eve has never looked so happy before and it makes her burn inside. The sunburn again, that is what it is.

 

Eve shakes her head, but she’s still laughing. “Maybe. I’m not exactly the good wife over here. It’s almost refreshing knowing I don’t have to worry about your feelings.”

 

“Oh, no. You should worry,” Villanelle disagrees. “When my feelings get hurt, I am prone to shooting people.”

 

“Now you’re just yanking my chain.”

 

Villanelle lifts her head from her hand and leans forward. “I would never. There is no chain yanking, I promise.” She watches over Eve’s shoulder as they begin moving furniture about, resetting the stage for whatever comes next in a party such as this. Dancing, maybe? Absently, she drums her fingers against the counter. “Do you think there’ll be dancing?”

 

“Why, you interested?”

 

Villanelle hums and allows her fingers to come to rest, still where she places them. “I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve ever danced.”

 

Eve watches her like she’s waiting for a tell, waiting for the chain yanking, as it were. When it doesn’t come, Eve just says, “Huh.”

 

“Are you surprised?”

 

“I guess. I don’t know. I don’t make a habit of assuming you’re bad at much of anything,” Eve shrugs.

 

Villanelle swivels her seat so her back faces the ridge of the bartop and leans her elbows back against it to better watch them rearrange the space. “I didn’t say I was bad. I said I didn’t know.”

 

“It’s okay to be bad at things,” Eve laughs gently. “I promise I won’t tell.”

 

Villanelle frowns as she stares off into middle distance, letting her head tilt sideways the way it seems to want to. “Is it? Being bad at things doesn’t come with a lot of second chances in my life. Anything could very well be fatal.”

 

“Well why haven’t you learned? I don’t imagine you’ve never had the opportunity. Wasn’t your life with the twelve all fancy parties and political coups?”

 

“It’s a lot of trust, no?” Villanelle gives Eve a brief, faint smile, then turns away again. “A lot of trust for someone like me.” When Eve doesn’t respond, Villanelle gives her another look, blinking like she’s seeing her for the first time. “For you too, I think.”

 

Eve nods slowly. “Yeah,” she agrees, voice quiet.

 

The first in what turns out to be a long evening of jazzy, waltzing hits from the fifties and sixties grows around them and the lights dim a hair, just that much more intimate. Maybe that’s what gives Eve the courage to say, “Maybe I’ll teach you sometime.”

 

Villanelle smiles to herself. “Maybe I’ll let you.” She realizes they’re watching the same thing - a hunched, ancient gentleman in a well-tailored tuxedo leading his equally wizened date to the dance floor that hasn’t even been set up yet. They sway together and-

 

Villanelle realizes they should both not be looking at the same thing. She glances to the side, scans the people near them and sighs. “Sasha is gone,” she remarks offhandedly.

 

Eve blanches. “What? She’s-” Whipping around, Eve overbalances and plants her hand hard into Villanelle’s thigh so she doesn’t tip over while she searches the faces of the party goers around them. “Shit, where did she go?”

 

“Bathroom, maybe,” Villanelle says vaguely.

 

Eve slaps at her thigh. “No! Not maybe! I can’t lose her, shit, shit shit.”

 

Villanelle sighs because Sasha is boring and they were having a nice time. But sneaking around can be fun too and Eve’s not the kind of person that can be sidelined so easily. “Well, there is one place that everyone must go before they leave. Easy to tell who has gone.” At the blank look she receives in return, Villanelle rolls her eyes. “The coat check. She is not leaving that coat behind, did you see it? We should kill her just for the coat, I am thinking.”

 

“Coat check!” Eve takes Villanelle’s shoulder and shakes it excitedly. “Smart. C’mon, we’ve got to make sure we see if she leaves,” she rushes over her own words while using Villanelle’s body to push herself up.

 

Villanelle herself is afraid to stand up, because then maybe she will also have to confront how much she’s had to drink and that is not a cheerful prospect. Chem bol’she ona piet, tem bol’she istoryi s nei sluchaetsya. I vse ne ochen’ horoshie. “Alexei will be so sad,” she sighs. “First you break his heart and then you abandon him.”

 

“Please. If we stay any longer, I’m going to black out. Or end up another person’s ex-wife.” 

 

“Another?” Villanelle asks with no lack of interest.

 

“Shut up.” Eve helps her up, which is laughable because they’re both a little wobbly. Villanelle can put it away, though. She can mostly tuck the looseness in and play at sober close enough to pass. Eve follows suit as they make their way around small gatherings and throngs of guests without walking so fast as to look suspicious. A hand touches at her back occasionally, like Eve is trying not to get lost in the crowd. Or maybe she’s trying to be less drunk. It’s hard to tell how many shots went over Eve’s shoulder and how many went down her throat. They will be finding out very shortly if they run into trouble, she supposes.

 

The coat check is mostly empty, just a lone attendant messing around on his cellphone under the desk. That is easily taken care of, Villanelle supposes. She comes up to the desk adopting an air of dishevelment and an immaculate Irish accent. “Sir! There’s a woman who’s gotten sick, just inside the ballroom,” she rushes out, pulling at his arm and dragging him from behind the counter. “I think you’d better find her. Make sure she’s alright, yeah?” For good measure, she gives him a little push toward the doors and a shooing motion. “Go! Go!”

 

He stumbles dumbly away, looking back twice with a vacant expression on his face, before trotting off into the party. Villanelle grabs Eve’s hand and pulls her behind the coat check counter, back into the expansive walk-in closet full of four long, deep rows of coats worth more than some jobs she’s done.

 

It’s tempting to peruse, shop around a bit and run her hands over some of the coats she sees. Okay, it is more than tempting, as it turns out. It is irresistable.

 

“Fuck, what coat was she wearing? I think it was red,” Eve mumbles, rifling messily through the first rack while Villanelle is busy admiring a completely different rack for a completely different reason. She’s a little drunk and trying to remember if petty theft is below her.

 

“It was orange,” Villanelle corrects over her shoulder. 

 

“Right, right,” Eve mutters. “That narrows it down to...like, fifty coats.” The sound of hangers swishing against metal racks pauses and Villanelle looks over her shoulder to watch Eve falter. She’s still standing in front of a long row of designer jackets, but her hands are on her hips and she’s shaking her head like she’s given up.

 

Villanelle sighs and rolls her eyes. “Come on,” she says quietly, I’ll find the jacket. You must pay closer attention next time to your target, yeah? She puts a hand briefly at Eve’s lower back to catch her attention, then jerks her head toward the back. I’ll work forward, I will recognize the jacket if it’s here.”

 

Eve nods gratefully and follows her toward the back of the closet. It only takes a quick survey before Villanelle spots the right shade, hones in on Sasha’s jacket and pulls it out to show Eve. “This is the one. I am sure. She’s still here,” she shrugs. “So you can stop all of your worrying.”

 

Eve blows out a long breath and nods, giving Villanelle an openly grateful look. “Oh man, you saved my ass. I honestly never thought I’d be saying that.”

 

“I didn’t think we’d ever get around to talking about your ass at all,” Villanelle agrees, watching while Eve rifles through the pockets of Sasha’s jacket. When that loses her interest, Villanelle turns to begin her own perusal again, but stops when she sees a familiar face leaning over the coat check desk, probably searching for her coat that Eve is currently violating.

 

That could prove to be a problem.

 

“Uh, Eve, we should go,” she begins but then-

 

“I don’t have time for this, I need my coat now,” comes Sasha’s muffled voice and oh dear.

 

“Time’s up,” Villanelle whispers, grabbing Eve and stuffing her into the coat rack between a thick curtain of jackets before tumbling in after her. Espionage is not always so glamorous.

 

Eve is sputtering and making too much noise, so Villanelle presses her against the wall behind the rack and puts a finger to her lips. “I am not getting fresh,” she says under her breath, “ be quiet, we aren’t alone.”

 

Finally, Eve falls quiet, swallowing so hard Villanelle can hear it even in the dark. The sound of Sasha’s heels clicking along the marble draw nearer and Villanelle has just enough time to wish she’d had time to shove Eve into a further coat rack, but it’s too late, they’re there, and Sasha is reaching back into the rack so close to the side of Eve’s face it almost makes her burst out laughing.

 

Eve’s eyes are wide when they lock on hers - so wide they might be catching enough light for Sasha to see like little flashlights shining out from behind the rack. There’s a large part of Villanelle that wants them to be found there just to hear Eve try and explain it. Hearing Eve try to explain things is one of Villanelle’s favorite pastimes.

 

Sasha retrieves her coat without grabbing or prodding Eve, which must be a relief for her. Opportunity missed, in Villanelle’s opinion.

 

But she doesn’t leave.

 

Sasha’s phone begins buzzing loudly and the woman curses under her breath, fumbling for it until she can answer. “ What?” she snaps, waspish and impatient.

 

Villanelle makes a concentrated effort to slow her breathing, braces her arm against the back wall above Eve’s shoulder while she tries to release some of the tension she’s holding in her shoulders and neck. They’re touching in too many places, aye, she’s trying to be good okay? God, she hopes it’s a short phone call. It’s very stuffy between hundreds of pounds of coats and Eve won’t stop staring at her.

 

Staring at her mouth, actually, what in the fuck, Eve. They’re working.

 

Eve has stabbed her for real and this is somehow the most cruel thing she has done to her, well done ma’am.

 

“No. Fine. Yes, whatever.” Sasha lets out a humorless laugh and begins tapping her heel. “I don’t know. Yeah, well, it’s not so easy to spot someone when you have no idea what they look like. Yeah they don’t exactly have a Facebook group, they’re a global crime syndicate. Or they were anyways, I don’t think that goes away. It’s like a cockroach. You cut off the head and the legs are still going, I swear.”

 

Villanelle cocks her head to the side and begins to turn, suddenly much more interested in what Sasha has to say. As she turns her head, though, Eve reaches up and puts a hand to her cheek, stilling her and keeping her facing forward - facing her. Her eyes are panicked.

 

“If they have me killed, I swear I’m going to float my ghost ass over to Moscow and personally manifest in his house.”

 

Villanelle narrows her eyes, hooks a thumb over her shoulder and opens her mouth to whisper something accusatory, but then suddenly Eve is crashing forward and kissing her, hand sliding to wrap around the back of her neck and keep her pulled down.

 

What in the fuck.

 

If it is a ploy, it is very well played. Villanelle is trained for many, many things and this is not one of them . Not like this. Not with her.

 

Her brain goes blank for a moment, because she would very much like to stress: what in the fuck . Eve is smaller, weaker, kinder, and somehow she is holding her captive by only the soft pads of ten fingers along her neck and side and the overwhelming press of her mouth. Villanelle is human, apparently, because she knows it is manipulation and she knows this will cost her, but she leans into it anyways and dips deeper, falls further back into the mistake. What is the point of making a mistake if you’re not going to trip hard enough to bleed. You might as well make it hurt.

 

Villanelle almost groans out into Eve’s mouth, starts breathing too loud, and Eve has the audacity to sense it and hiss, “Shut up,” right against her teeth before kissing her harder. A heady part of her wants to wrap her hands around Eve’s throat and hold her there, but it’s worse knowing the hands are already around her own throat. This will not end well, she knows and luxuriates in it.

 

It doesn’t work, though. She still hears it.

 

“Yeah, the Janitors have been lurking. That’s what they’re calling them. She’s good, but not as subtle as she thinks she is. You don’t get it. It doesn’t matter what I’ve done for them, the Twelve hates messes, you know they’d find me sooner or later. You’d better watch your ass too. Loose ends and all that,” Villanelle hears Sasha’s voice like from underwater. But she does hear it.

 

Eve’s nails dig into the back of her neck and twist painfully in the soft hairs there to tug, bent low to reach her. It is, as they say, a taste of her own medicine. Eve has somehow found a very insidious, slow way to ruin her.

 

She will never recover from this.

 

It makes Villanelle smile wide until it breaks the kiss, forces Eve to pull back a fraction and look her in the eye, face what she’s done to the both of them.

 

“Yeah, I know. I’m going to say goodbye to Cecil, then I’m leaving. I hate to be out too late, I’m afraid it only makes it easier on them. No. No, it’ll be fine. They don’t have the balls for it,” Sasha’s voice gets distant as her heels carry her out of the coat room and out of range, leaving them in suspended silence.

 

They don’t move, though, and Villanelle takes the courtesy to speak first. “That was not very nice,” she chides, laughing under her breath. “You know how I feel about you.”

 

Eve still stays quiet, but she has the good grace to look guilty.

 

“What is a ‘Janitor’ , Eve?” She asks slowly, though they both know she has already figured out the answer. “What is The Twelve needing cleaned?”

 

Eve does her the favor of not feigning ignorance, which is kind of her after putting her tongue down her throat moments ago. “Loose ends,” she admits in a whisper.

 

“Am I a loose end?” Villanelle leans in closer until Eve’s head hits the back of the wall again.

 

She considers Villanelle for long, long moments, then barely shakes her head. “You were. When you were alive,” she hedges.

 

Villanelle nods and leans closer until she can feel how Eve trembles under her. “I have thought of my third question, so do be truthful.” Eve swallows while Villanelle watches her in the crosshairs. “Are you a loose end, Eve?”

 

A quick look down and away, then Eve’s eyes track back up to meet her own. Her gaze is steady, steeled and determined. “Not until I stop being useful to them,” she says evenly.

 

Villanelle laughs, right in her face. Oh, she has missed this!

 

She pushes off from the wall, slides the coats aside to cast them back in light and unstifled air as she ducks out into the open again. Eve comes out a moment later, watching her carefully, but it is unfounded. Villanelle hasn’t digested, probably won’t for a little while, so they can continue their charades as always. “Come on,” she says, smiling back at Eve. “You need to follow Sasha out still, yes?”




____________________





She is killed like this:

 

After finding their own jackets and watching Sasha clack down the echoing hallway toward the side entrance where the town cars pick up in the roundabout, Villanelle and Eve follow at a safe distance almost too far to even really be following her. They wander down the wide limestone steps at a careful pace to maintain their distance, just the top of Sasha’s head bobbing along through the small courtyard garden off in the distance.

 

Eve falters, steps slowing the closer they get. She’s breathing heavily, face pale and fists clenched so tightly it must hurt. Villanelle almost has to forcibly pull her forward, she’s so reluctant. Maybe it should have alerted her.

 

In the garden, under the cover of darkness, they clear the gap a bit and come upon her pulling her jacket tighter against the unseasonable chill in the air.

 

She’s just taking the pretty gravel path to the lesser known pickup area when a noise like sound being split pierces the air and Sasha’s head snaps back, spraying blood and brain matter against the pretty manicured lawn as she crumples.

 

Before Sasha has even hit the ground, Villanelle’s grabbed Eve around the waist and whipped her back into the cover of a nearby brick trellis, ducking against the direction of the sniper shot. Villanelle pins her there, holds fast and listens in the ensuing quiet for whatever comes. But the night just goes on as it had moments before, crickets striking up sound again and grass shifting nervously.

 

Finally, when it seems neither of them is about to be assassinated immediately, she looks down into Eve’s blank expression, shaking her head tiredly. “You should try to look more surprised,” Villanelle advises. “If you’re still trying to sell me this.”

 

Eve looks up into her eyes and says nothing.

 

“Is this what we were here for, then?” She jerks her head toward the direction Sasha’s brains are spilling. “Because if I didn’t know any better, I would say it is almost like you knew this was about to happen. Dare I say: planned it.

 

Eve barely shakes her head. “I...don’t plan them. That’s not my job,” she says quietly. It is that same look she had in Rome after axing Raymond. Like she can’t quite believe what she’s done. How is it possible that someone like Villanelle, rarely in tune with anyone, knows her so much more intimately than she does herself?

 

Villanelle is not so surprised as she is - the only one underestimating Eve is herself. She thinks for long moments, considering Eve and how she might handle this new, unpleasant development. But nothing is solved in one night, least of all them.

 

Finally, she sighs and nods. “Okay, Eve.” And then she leans in very close so long as darkness covers them. “But the next time you kiss me without meaning it, remember what it looked like when you last broke my heart.”



____________________




“How many Janitors are there? It is not just you, no?” Villanelle asks, slumped over against the passenger door of a taxi they had flagged down a half mile from the venue. Her head is pressed to the window, watching streetlights march by in what had previously been uninterrupted silence. But if Eve is in a talking mood, she should take advantage. If trauma is the only avenue down which they’re honest with each other, then so be it.

 

Eve had also been looking out her own window and turns to give her a careful look. Her eyes flick to the cab driver, steering with one overhand arm and the other wrapped around the empty, neighboring seat. He seems much more invested in the sports talk radio droning in the background than whatever drama is playing out behind him.

 

“There were four,” she says vaguely, then turns back to the window. It seems like the conversation is over until Eve shakes her head at her reflection in the dark window. “I think it’s just two of us now.”

 

“You and the boss,” Villanelle clarifies, trying hard not to brood too obviously. She’s not sure if she’s more upset that Eve has been managing to lie so well to her or if she’s more upset that she couldn’t tell. Not all the way. Not enough, not in time.

 

Eve huffs a little laugh through her nose, humorless. “Yes. The boss.”

 

“And you kill people.”

 

“I find people who've gone into hiding,” Eve says defensively. “Study them. Track them. They kill them.”

 

“And are you almost done? With the loose ends?”

 

Eve hums, props her cheek on her hand. “Maybe.”

 

Villanelle rolls her eyes and gives her a disbelieving look. “Oh, now you get quiet?”

 

“I don’t know everything,” Eve says tiredly. “I just...don’t.” Her eyes slip closed and she breathes deep and Villanelle thinks, well that, at least, is something they have in common, apparently.



____________________




By the time they get home, Villanelle is almost looking forward to sleeping on the couch again. Her brain is too full of too much and she doesn’t even know why she cares about it. They have always kept dangerous, volatile things from one another - it might even be the friction that keeps them kinetically wired for reaction, but…

 

Well, it is more fun when she is the one combusting the spark. The lack of control is new to her.

 

She doesn’t even bother teasing or making a show of it - the second she’s in the door, Villanelle shimmies out of her dress in the living room, tosses it on the arm of the couch and steps into some loose joggers and a shirt on her way to the kitchen. Eve just stands in the doorway staring at her the whole way, like maybe she thinks Villanelle is still deciding whether she should kill her or not.

 

She is right, though. Villanelle is always deciding if she should kill her. That’s what is so fun about the two of them.

 

At first, Villanelle pours a huge glass of whiskey from the cabinet and stares at it where it sits on the kitchen island for long moments. Then, she dumps the whole thing down the drain because that is Eve’s habit, not her own, and replaces it with a tall glass of water. Of course, she ignores that too, and turns to lean her back against the island so she doesn’t have to face Eve anymore. Eve won’t stop staring and it’s beginning to wear on her. For good measure, she crosses her arms so they’re more occupied and less inclined to...misbehave.

 

She looks out the window and wonders just how bad their situation is. And that annoys her more, because she hates wondering . The fact that she doesn’t even know how bad the situation is means it’s probably pretty fucking bad . Jesus, she is an international assassin and her retirement has been less fraught than Eve’s. Eve used to play bridge! With her husband!

 

These were not problems she thought they might have. Shooting Eve seemed surmountable. This feels less so.

 

Maybe she’s just hungry.

 

“I am deciding if I should kill you or if I’m just hungry-cranky,” Villanelle announces loudly from the kitchen. It feels important that she inject a bit of honesty into their situation, someone should. And it’s clearly not going to be Eve.

 

“You better hope I start cooking something soon,” Villanelle adds, hearing the snipe in her own voice. But when she goes for the refrigerator and pokes around the cabinets, the only thing she can really make is crepes. Always, she is angrily making crepes. This is her life now.

 

Eve does not deserve credit for having flour, milk, eggs, and butter, but it is worth noting that this is a vast improvement to how Villanelle left her last. She will be receiving no credit tonight, though, because she is a dirty, dirty liar.

 

Villanelle whisks angrily in the stifling silence, facing the rusting stove so she doesn’t have to look at Eve at all. The whisking goes on far too long and her arms tire after a while. When she stops, she can hear Eve breathing close behind her, can feel the tremble of her person and the things she wants to say.

 

Villanelle puts the bowl down hard in the middle of the stove so it sloshes over a bit, right between the two rows of burners and brackets her hands on either side, clenching her fingers tight to the knuckle. It is a good way to make sure she doesn’t do anything.

 

They stay that way for a while until the silence really is too boring to deal with. But Villanelle won’t be the one to break it. If pressed, she is thinking maybe she is a little embarrassed. Eve is very sneaky and it’s not so fun to lose.

 

She almost spins, fights back , when Eve touches her. But it’s a strange kind of pressure and a tense moment before Villanelle realizes Eve’s come up and rested her forehead right against her back - just dropped her forehead there like she’s exhausted.

 

Villanelle purses her lips and chances a glance over her shoulder as much as she’s able. It’s...not what she was expecting. But then, lately, she has been not expecting many things. It is not comforting.

 

“I’m sorry,” Eve mumbles.

 

Villanelle taps her finger irritably against the stovetop. “Why?”

 

Eve groans. “I don’t know.”

 

“Then you are not sorry.”

 

Eve shakes her head, rubs against Villanelle’s back, but doesn’t seem to deny it otherwise. “I think maybe I’m sorry I kissed you.”

 

Villanelle scoffs and spins around, leaning back against the stove and resetting her hands on the edges, but this time they’re face to face. “ That is what you are being sorry for?”

 

“You were a little right, I was trying to distract you. I panicked.”

 

“Can I trade? I’d prefer you to be sorry about working for The Twelve and pretending you weren’t. I’d prefer you to be sorry for leading me to a sniper without warning. Or maybe I’d prefer you to be sorry for almost getting me killed in Alaska, because it is suddenly becoming very clear just how they might have guessed they would find me there. Any of those things would be preferable to you being sorry for kissing me .”

 

Eve stares down at her feet. “I’m not sorry for the other things.”

 

Villanelle throws her hands up dramatically, then lets them fall hard at her sides. “You are an arsehole !”

 

“Well. I mean. Takes one to know one,” Eve mutters, but she still won’t look up at her. “I won’t apologize for what I’ve had to do to survive you.” Finally, she looks up. “That’s what I’ve been doing for two years, you know. Trying to survive you. You think I’m sorry that you’ve had to try and survive me for a few weeks?” Her expression invites her to reach her own logical conclusions - an invite that Villanelle is perfectly content to decline most of the time. “If you’re waiting for an apology for that , you’re going to be waiting for a long, long time.”

 

“What did you tell them?” Villanelle asks quietly. “Did you tell them I cared for you? Did you tell them I was sentimental enough to go there when everything fell apart? Did you give them my picture and tell them how best to kill me?”

 

“No,” Eve says firmly, lies , even after everything. “I didn’t tell them about Alaska.”

 

Villanelle narrows her eyes, looks hard into Eve’s face, then snarls when she sees nothing. How can she be seeing nothing ?! “I can’t tell if you’re lying!” She shouts in her face.

 

Eve cocks her head to the side. “No?”

 

“I can’t - ugh!” Villanelle slaps her hand back against the stove dials and casts her gaze away. Is this what it feels like to lose? It is a new, not-so-great feeling.

 

Nobody really thinks when they make high-stakes bets that they might lose. Gambling is predicated on the notion that we believe our own superiority over fate even when it’s literally screaming in our face that you will lose.

 

Eve reaches out and takes Villanelle’s wrist, turns it over between them. When Villanelle looks down at it, she realizes she’s holding a slim, sharpened steak knife in her hand, turned in just against her lifeline. She doesn’t even remember grabbing it, can’t trace the action back. Okay, so maybe she was thinking of more violent things too.

 

Eve looks up at her, but doesn’t seem all that afraid. She supposes she really has lost, then. “What are you thinking about?” Eve asks gently.

 

Villanelle looks up, blowing out a long, tired sigh. “I am thinking I should have killed you a long, long time ago,” she says honestly. Her forehead drops down to clunk gracelessly against Eve’s and rest there. Every part of her is tired.

 

“I was thinking the same thing,” Eve manages to get out right before Villanelle kisses her anyways. She is owed, she is thinking. And even if she wanted to pull away, track backward out of the enormous mistake she’s making, Eve has already fisted her hand in the front of Villanelle’s shirt and held her hard against the stove by it.

 

Losing sucks, but winning looks so good on Eve.

 

Villanelle thinks maybe Eve is gloating, the way she keeps her caged there and takes no quarter - doesn’t give an inch of control over. This does not feel so much like a distraction, even if it causes her to drop the knife to the floor with a loud thunk and clatter.

 

She is not thinking about it, because Eve is pressing her tongue past her teeth and scratching her nails down her neck to leave marks as they inch closer to her heart. But the fact remains that Villanelle is bigger and stronger than her and these games do have rules, even if they like to pretend they don’t. So she pushes back, crowds Eve against the kitchen island and brackets her there, breaking away to press their temples together and catch her breath. She knows she started it, but it doesn’t feel that way.

 

Eve’s hands are pressed flat to her stomach and she’s breathing hard, but she doesn’t say anything. Villanelle lets out a barely-there rueful laugh. “What are you doing?” She wonders, but doesn’t really care. “Are you trying to distract me again?”

 

“No, I’m trying to kiss you,” Eve breathes against her ear and it makes Villanelle smile.

 

“You are succeeding,” she sings under her breath as Eve pulls her face back and reels her in again with a hunger that surprises even her. Again, she never knew what she would do when or if she finally caught her tail and now that she finds herself here, it’s more like she’s been caught. There’s a dull ache in her chest like something’s wrapped its fingers and twisted them into the corded muscle around her heart to squeeze. Something that feels that good has no business hurting so badly.

 

Ah. She was wrong before. This is how she will lose, she sees it now.

 

It’s one thing to say you are in love with someone and another thing entirely to feel it knotted around your neck with the gallow drop wobbling beneath your feet.

 

Wow, she is so stupid, this will end so badly it is hilarious.

 

In her defense, Eve is a very good kisser. “Ya popala, ” Villanelle mumbles against her lips and either Eve doesn’t catch it or she doesn’t disagree. She tugs upwards on Villanelle’s shirt and Villanelle lets it happen, even helps pull it over her head to help. When it’s gone, Eve is staring down at the ugly scar cut from her navel up across, almost to her shoulder. Her hands reach out, which is new , and she traces it up with her fingertips, just to where it disappears under the band of her bra.

 

Then her hand drifts lower to touch the much smaller scar she’d first given her with quiet reverence. Villanelle finds she quite likes it. “You’re not going to stab me again, are you?” She jokes.

 

“I don’t think so,” Eve says back absently and it's not a promise, but it will have to do. “I don’t know that I could.”

 

And-

 

Oh.

 

Villanelle blinks at her, sees a genuine softness in her eyes and thinks Oh. Maybe, in a way, Eve has lost too.

 

This is hilarious, they are both going to die.

 

Villanelle laughs abruptly and dips in to kiss her again, because why not? If Eve comes to her senses, she would rather know she didn’t waste the time before that journey concludes. “You’re not drunk, are you?” She checks.

 

“No, I’ve strangely sobered.”

 

“Okay, good,” Villanelle nods and presses her smile against Eve’s. You know what is fun? Getting exactly what you want. Eve is exactly what she wants and it’s nice to know that even if they both get murdered horribly, they at least have this.

 

Things get shortly out of hand and maybe, maybe they weren’t so sober. She definitely feels a little drunk when Eve lets her slip her dress from her shoulders and lift her by the hips to sit on the island with a surprised little hiccup. Her fingers are sliding up the outside of Eve’s thighs, right under the hem of her dress, while she sucks a mark into the skin at the joint of her neck when Eve places shaky hands against her shoulders to push her away gently.

 

Villanelle gives her a confused smile, but she already knows what the look on Eve’s face means and oof , she will carry this with her even longer than she dreaded she would. Ah, well. She made the most of it.

 

“I don’t think we should do this right now,” Eve inflicts upon her as gently as she knows how.

 

Villanelle tucks her smile into the corner of her mouth and fails at giving her a stern look. “Finally protecting yourself, hm? It took you awhile.”

 

“Not me,” Eve denies, a miserable kind of acceptance on her face like she knows, finally she knows - she sees right through Villanelle, nothing between them. Aye, Eve chooses now of all times to believe her? Terrible, terrible timing, Eve!

 

Villanelle grins up at her, lays her palms flat on top of Eve’s thighs and sighs. “You know I’m very good, right?”

 

“I’m sure you’ll remind me,” Eve exasperates, leaning back on the counter on her own hands and shaking her head. “I just -” She ruffles a hand through her hair and makes some frustrated gesture. “It’s been a...day.”

 

“Yes, like all the others.”

 

“No, this felt like more day than normal.”

 

Villanelle sighs and gives Eve a sad, resigned smile. “I’m not going to get another chance at this, am I?”

 

“Oh, I don’t know. How good are you? Remind me.”

 

Villanelle laughs, but pushes a step away from the island and offers her hand to help Eve down to her feet. It equalizes everything a bit, having Eve back at her normal height and the straps of her dress pulled back over her shoulders. But then Eve hands Villanelle her shirt back with a coy smile and she remembers that nothing is equal and Eve is trying many different angles to see which one kills her.

 

She groans dramatically and twists her shirt between both hands, throwing it around the back of her neck and pulling it taught while she steps back. “You are such a spoiled sport.”

 

“And you’re a spoiled brat,” Eve says lightly, heading off toward her room. She leaves the door open behind her, which is very noble and trusting of her, but Villanelle is still left standing in the kitchen with a bowl of crepe batter and no shirt on while the world rotates under their feet. Why did she even bother trying to fuck the women in Brussels, they’ll never even come close. Belgium is for waffles and waffles only.

 

For lack of anything better to do, Villanelle turns the stove’s burner on low and begins the methodical, careful process of making the perfect crepes. It’s all about portion and the wrist movement to spread them even along the bottom of the pan. She does this until the batter is low in the bowl, she’s too bored and tired to make anymore, and the amount stacked on the plate is more than any two people should eat.

 

When she’s turned the stove off, she throws her wrinkled shirt back on over her head, and transfers half of the crepes to a second plate. The fridge magically produces a can of whipped cream that she empties onto the plates and even some almost-fresh fruit. It is not her best, but she’s had a day , apparently.

 

Eve’s laying on her back, hands behind her head and staring up at the ceiling in a loose shirt and sweatpants when Villanelle walks in. Without invitation, Villanelle drops one of the plates on Eve’s stomach and bounces into the spot next to her to pull apart her own plate of food with messy hands.

 

Eve doesn’t even sit up, just blindly tears pieces of crepe from the plate and somehow feeds herself at an incline without choking. They don’t say much of anything for a long while, just the quiet sounds of the street behind them.

 

“I don’t know if I could stab you either,” Villanelle offers as she sucks overripe blueberries from her fingers.

 

Eve shoots her a dubious look and says around a too-big mouthful of crepes, “Yes you could.”

 

They have a good laugh about that.



____________________




“What do you feel when you kill someone?” Eve asks drowsily.


They’d eaten too much, she knew they would, and it has gotten very late. Villanelle is still sitting up against the headboard, playing with a little wooden puzzle Eve had in her nightstand. Eve isn’t even looking at her, still lying on her back and staring up at the ceiling with a mostly empty plate on her stomach.

 

“Hm, why?” Villanelle asks distractedly, poking her tongue out between her teeth while she tries to wrangle the little wooden bits into the right spots.

 

“It’s my fourth question. I don’t have to tell you why, you just have to be truthful.”

 

“Is that right?” She simpers, just because. Eve doesn’t rise to the bait, though, and she shoots a look over to see that Eve is waiting patiently for her answer. Villanelle rolls her eyes. “That is a boring question. I don’t feel anything. It is like braiding my hair or something more annoying and stubborn. Like getting a stuck lid off a jar.” She raises her eyebrows at Eve even though she’s not looking at her. “That is all. You wasted your question.”

 

“That’s really it?” Eve wonders aloud to the ceiling. “Every time, you felt nothing?”

 

“Every time,” Villanelle confirms, shrugging a bit. “Unless they put up a fight, then I might feel that . But it is just annoyance.”

 

“Hm,” Eve says vaguely.

 

Villanelle watches her watch nothing. “What is ‘ hm’ ? You don’t believe me?”

 

“I do.”

 

Villanelle puts the puzzle aside and scoots down on the bed, rolling over on her stomach closer toward Eve. “No, you must tell me what is ‘Hm’ .”

 

Eve spares her a quick look, then turns back to the ceiling. “Even the first time you killed someone? It was your father, wasn’t it?”

 

Villanelle wrinkles her nose. It’s just an involuntary reaction to thinking about the man. It feels like she’s walked into a trap somehow, but Eve is just lying on her back in bed with a plate of crepes on her stomach. She is most diabolical.

 

“I didn’t feel anything then, either,” Villanelle tells her. “Relief, maybe. Why do I have to feel anything?”

 

“You don’t have to feel anything,” Eve shrugs. “Most people do, though.”

 

This is not news to her, thank you Eve. People love to talk about how their bad choices make them feel, no matter how aggressively she makes sure they know she doesn’t care to hear it. “Well it must be because I am a psychopath ,” she teases, wiggling her fingers menacingly in Eve’s general direction.

 

Eve rolls her eyes. “That’s a stupid word. I’m done with that word, it doesn’t even mean anything. Like we can really put that many people in one box and tape it shut. Like we know so much.”

 

“I was just starting to like it,” Villanelle pouts, but she can’t help but break to grin when Eve sends her a flat look. “Are you done shrinking bad guys, Eve? Are you going through a midlife crisis?”

 

“I think it’s really optimistic to think I’ve still got half a life in front of me,” Eve murmurs, drawing a loud laugh from Villanelle. It is funny to think of both of them being alive that long. Can you even imagine. “And it’s stupid. You aren’t that simple - nobody is. Nobody’s incapable of empathy or feeling, you just don’t experience it the same way most people do. Or you don’t want to. You’re just...I don’t know, demented. Weird, ” she settles on.

 

“Okay, I liked psychopath better. I will stay with that thank you.” She rolls onto her back again, tries to starfish out a bit until Eve slaps her encroaching arm away. Eve’s ex-husband must have gone very bitter indeed living with a wife who hated cuddling. “You know,” she offers like an olive branch, “When I say I feel nothing, I mean I feel it. Nothing is the thing I feel. It is not absence or emptiness. I feel it like a thing inside me.”

 

Eve’s head snaps to the side and oh great there is that eager look. Villanelle blows out a loud raspberry. “You are so boring. How is that interesting to you?”

 

“Does killing them make the nothing better or worse?”

 

“It is nothing. I cannot make it anything,” Villanelle chides. “There is no reason, Eve. My father hurt me and then when I killed him, it was over. I don’t kill people because it feels good, I kill people because it’s easy and there’s usually someone paying. And if it wasn’t me, it would be another face in the crowd. It does not mean anything. Nothing does.”

 

Eve purses her lips, eyes glazed as she considers the ceiling with thoughtful regard. “Yeah. I guess that would make sense to you.”

 

Villanelle takes Eve’s distraction as an opportunity to roll closer. “Well then that is my fourth question too. What did you feel when you killed Raymond?”

 

“In the moment, I thought I felt a lot about it. Thought it was so much I couldn’t identify any one thing. I thought I felt everything ,” she sighs before pressing the heels of her palms into her eyes. 

 

She stays like that for a long half-minute while Villanelle watches her, thinks about reaching out and touching her in some way. She decides against it. 

 

“But now? I think I was dead wrong,” Eve continues, letting her hands drop. “I think I might’ve felt nothing at all.”

 

Villanelle nods and rolls onto her back again to see what Eve is looking at so intently on the ceiling. She folds her hands over her stomach and traces the cracked plaster. “I think that is an easy mistake to make.”



____________________



They must fall asleep somehow, the two of them, maybe with the lights on and in something close to trust.



____________________



She sees him one more time before he’s killed. It’s something innocuous.

 

Where were they?

 

She tries to remember, but all she can come up with was that it was perfect. The temperature reaches for twenty-six, strains but falls short. It is so close, though - so deliciously close. The only thing staving it off is the delightful, barely cool breeze in her hair. In her dream, he’s wearing his long, wool coat but she’s sure it’s wrong because it’s much too warm for it.

 

He smiles at her and she thinks maybe that’s not quite right either. He only does that when he’s about to piss her off. She doesn’t remember him pissing her off that day. In fact, she thinks they might have even been quite agreeable for the two of them.

 

She’d killed someone for him. Someone she wonders if she should have, Konstantin is practically bursting out of his coat with all the secrets he carries around these days.

 

“You seem so tired lately,” he says.

 

Villanelle looks at him and tries to remember where they are. In the dream, they sit on a park bench but there’s no park. She glances around and tries to focus though everything looks like she’s staring at it through a frosted glass.

 

“I am tired,” she tells him. “It’s like I sleep, but it doesn’t reach my brain.”

 

Konstantin hunches low and looks up at her from under furrowed brows, the way he does - the way she imagines he does with his daughter. “It doesn’t stop, you know? You go years wondering why the sleeping does nothing. Every day you prove to yourself that you were wrong. Yesterday was not the tiredest you’ve ever been, it can get so much worse.”

 

“Okay, downer. What is your point?”

 

His smile becomes sad, soft in a way that doesn’t suit the two of them at all. “That’s what it really means to work for them. You see how long you can be tired and then one day they kill you.”

 

“Is that why you’ve been taking me to off-the-books jobs and lying about it?” Villanelle narrows her eyes playfully. She wags her finger at him with a sly grin and he just rolls his eyes. “You think if you trick me into killing enough of them, you’ll be free?”

 

“Well,” he shrugs and leans back against the bench, chin tilting up while he considers the sky that Villanelle can’t recall enough to put above him in the dream. “It was worth a shot, no?”

 

“Did it work? Are you free now?”

 

Konstantin barks out a laugh and grins widely at her. “Of course it didn’t work. You and me? We’ll never be free. Freedom isn’t money and power, Villanelle.”

 

“What else is there?”

 

Konstantin’s arm comes up around the back of the bench and it’s almost like comfort. “Choice. Freedom is choice.”

 

“My choices aren’t always so good.” Villanelle looks down and she’s holding a paper cup of coffee - she must have been, yes? She doesn’t remember where she got it or why. “I think money and power might be it for me.”

 

“Your choices don’t have to be good,” Konstantin scoffs and gestures out toward something she can’t see in the fog. “They’re important because they’re yours.” His hand drops into his lap and he smacks his lips tiredly while he checks his watch.

 

Villanelle stares down at the cup in her hands and tries to discreetly rotate it to check the label. Even the store branding is reduced to static, unseeable or unknowable. “Without my choices I could be sunbathing in Alaska with Eve.”

 

“What exactly do you think Alaska looks like?” Konstantin laughs. 

 

“I don’t know, I always pictured sunbathing. What, is it cold or something?” Villanelle smiles at him and leans back into the arm behind her shoulders. 

 

“Maybe you should go anyway - take a holiday or a bender or something. You know what they say about fish in the sea.”

 

“I don’t.”

 

“There are many,” he says plainly. “I’m sorry it went badly with Eve. You want to waste away here? Taking their money, tired forever, grey by thirty, like me?”

 

“You are not thirty,” Villanelle laughs, reaching out to pinch his cheek.

 

He narrows his eyes playfully at her and swats her hand away. “Don’t bother with this all.” He flaps his hand in front of him like he’s shooing something away. “Stop looking so sad and tired all the time. Be free.”

 

“Are you dumping me?”

 

“Dumping you?” He gasps, placing one delicate hand over his heart. “I would never. You remember what happened to the last girl who dumped you? I’m not so stupid.”

 

“Too soon, Konstantin.”

 

“Too soon,” he agrees after a minute. His arms slips from behind her and he claps his hands together with finality. “Okay, get out of here.”

 

Villanelle frowns. “What?”

 

“You heard me, get out. Go. Take the money from the Berlin account and leave.” He raises one eyebrow to match her own. “What? You want to stick around while The Twelve cannibalizes itself?”

 

Villanelle eyes him up and down. “What will you do?”

 

“What I always do. Drink. Survive. You act like I didn’t do just fine for many, many years before you ever came along.”

 

“Many,” Villanelle agrees, grimacing. “Aye, so old. Are you sure?” She wiggles her finger in the shaggy hair at his temples, overgrown, and he swats her away again. “Won’t you miss me?”

 

“Like a rash,” he promises.

 

Villanelle whacks the back of her hand against his stomach and he lets out a little, “ Oof .” She thinks she’s meant to go, but she lingers. The tether between them is thin, slippery and fragile. But it’s the last thing even trying to keep her still, keep her there. Excuse her if she’s gotten fond.

 

When he smiles at her, even that is tired. “Watch your back when you go. And don’t trust anyone okay? Not even me. You can’t imagine the ways they’ll pit us against each other - the people they’ll suck in and bleed dry to do it. The Twelve’s going to collapse inward like a dying star. They have a near failsafe self-destruct function built in.”

 

“Yeah, what’s that?”

 

“It’s a network of killers and the only currency is self interest. They don’t have to lift a finger: we’re all going to kill each other,” he shrugs like it’s not a big deal. “Murderers are the only ones who clean up their own messes.”

 

Villanelle winks at him and pops off a shot from her mimed finger gun. “Not me. I don’t clean up anything. You’ve shared hotel rooms with me.”

 

“I’m serious. Stay away from it, okay? No matter who-” he swallows, “No matter what happens. Keep alert and keep moving.”

 

“What, am I supposed to pinky swear?”

Villanelle stands to go, though she doesn’t know where. The scene hasn’t rendered and she doesn’t even remember where she wanted to go in the moment. She thinks maybe the whole memory has been nearly washed away, beaten against rocks like rough tides. Beaten by something she was never able to call grief. If she calls it grief then that’s what it is. That’s what she feels.

 

And she doesn’t want to, god, she doesn’t.

 

Dream-Villanelle glances back over her shoulder and looks at him again. Real-Villanelle is glad she does. He smiles back, the way that sometimes makes her wonder if he really does care for her somehow.

 

“I’ll drop some of the cash for you at your hotel before I go,” Villanelle hears herself say. “But I better not find you murdered later, okay? I’m sensitive.”

 

Dumayu ya budu po tebe skuchat’ kogda ty uidesh ,” he lies.

 

Villanelle wrinkles her nose and says something back and she doesn’t remember what, but she hates the part of her that wishes it had been in Russian. How could she wish that, someone like her? It was English, she’s sure. If she had known it was the last she’d say to him, would she have done it anyhow? She’s not sure, she’s tired, it slips from her grasp like lifting fog and the scene obscures.



____________________

 

x10.

____________________



Chapter Text



____________________

 

10x.

____________________






Villanelle wakes up early, as always, and blinks into the grey of pre-dawn. There’s something squeezing her rib cage and she wrinkles her brow before taking stock of the way an arm is slung over her stomach. Someone’s breath is ruffling the fabric of her shirt, just between her shoulders.

 

And she supposes that answers that question.

 

It is too soft for them, she thinks, so she slips out from under the arm and tries to banish the thought of it and shake her brains back into place. They have things to do! Murder and espianage things probably, it’s very much not the time for this. If Villanelle had the luxury of living inside a moment for the rest of her life, she’d be happy to, but that isn’t the position she finds herself in.

 

As she’s sitting on the edge of Eve’s bed, yawning and waiting for her body to wake up, Eve grumbles and rolls onto her back as she awakens. “Why are you in my bed?” She says, all old and cranky.

 

“I did not think you would be the bigger spoon,” Villanelle says through a yawn. “This is surprising to me.”

 

Eve rolls further away from her and tries to pull a blanket over her head, but they’d passed out on top of them so she gives up after a moment. “That’s surprising only to you.”

 

“What are you saying?”

 

“I’m saying you want to be held,” Eve says airily. “You practically demanded it.”

 

Villanelle turns to give the back of Eve’s head an affronted look. “I did not.”

 

“You kept trying to hold my hand. If I didn’t know you better, I’d almost call it cute.”

 

“You take that back,” Villanelle snaps, grabbing up a spare pillow and chucking it at Eve’s head while she laughs sleepily. Eve thinks she’s so funny.

 

Even as she’s angrily making her way to the kitchen, Eve calls after her, “You’re very needy for a cold-blooded assassin.”

 

Great. Now she is starting her morning grumpy.



______________________




Eve makes them eat cereal, because apparently one cannot go out for breakfast every morning or something will happen , she doesn’t know what, she wasn’t listening. Villanelle can’t relate, but she does submit. Cereal is bad, though. What is the point of a food that has a half-life of two minutes before it becomes inedible.

 

“That’s your fault. You picked one that gets soggy too fast,” Eve criticizes like she is the tsar of cereal or something.

 

Villanelle wrinkles her nose and pushes her bowl away. “I do not want a breakfast food that I am personally responsible for.”

 

“You don’t want anything you’re personally responsible for,” Eve says with her mouth much too full.

 

Villanelle thinks that’s pretty accurate, but it does nobody any good to tell Eve she is correct about anything. It only goes to her head. “You are prolonging the inevitable. I will just get better food later. You lose.”

 

“Every day,” Eve agrees as she takes both of their bowls and drops them in the sink. “Well you can do whatever you want, but I’ve got to run this down.”

 

“Who are we running down?” VIllanelle perks up. “I am suddenly interested and would like to request that I get to do the running down.”

 

“No - no, not running over. That’s what you’re thinking and...no.” Eve swipes her phone out of reach when Villanelle tries to grab for it, disappearing into her room and this time having the good sense to lock the door behind her. Villanelle folds over in her chair and slumps against the prop of her arm. After last night, there are probably problems here that require her attention. But it is so boring.

 

Eve emerges again, looking very business-like and sexy - or maybe Villanelle is just tired, it’s hard to tell sometimes. “I need to figure out who Sasha was meeting with all the time. Leo might’ve been right about it being nothing more than an affair, but these days I think it’s a bad call to assume I have that kind of luck. If it’s something more, I need to identify him before he catches wind of her death and disappears. Gotta make sure he was a fuck-buddy and not … a buddy whose going to fuck me over.”

 

“Why does it have to be one or the other? We are basically both and we manage okay.”

 

“Yeah, we manage great ,” Eve nods, dripping in that sarcasm she thinks is so attractive.

 

And damn it... it is. Damn it.

 

“So now I get to do more research,” Eve continues on a long, tired sigh as she cycles through the settings on her camera in preparation for the day ahead of her.

 

Villanelle makes a face and sticks her tongue out. Very boring, indeed.

 

“That’s what I thought,” Eve confirms, shouldering her bag and grabbing her keys from the table. “I’ve got to make sure Sasha was the end of the loose end. I’ll see you later. Just...don’t go outside unless you have to, okay?”

 

Villanelle groans and pushes away from the table. “Wait. Wait, I will be going with you.”

 

“Why?” Eve asks, narrowing her eyes in suspicion while she fidgets with the strap of her bag. She is so suspicious of the wrongest things.

 

“Because I love ugly apartments,” Villanelle snipes, trudging off toward the bathroom with the beginning twist of a scowl in the corner of her mouth. “Why do you think I am still here.”

 

This is easier. Being mean. Not telling Eve how worrisome this all is and how pathetically vulnerable she makes herself, dancing in and out of crosshairs as a fun and charming hobby. Eve walks cliffs with a blindfold on like there aren’t any drops at her feet. Maybe if Villanelle was nicer she would think it was brave, but because Eve has the audacity to make her worry - of all things - she decides that she is merely going to consider it stupidity.



_____________________




Then they are in a car again and everything is boring. Whatever Sasha was doing for the twelve before they decided she was so much dead weight or so much liability, Villanelle cannot bring herself to care. The politics of espionage have never interested her, just fleeting moments and people and scenes of violence or betrayal. The highlights only, please. Why a person does what they do is background chatter on a public frequency.

 

But she looked down for a brief, brief year and Eve has already waded in over her head into the depths of these things. Eve is so much trouble, she should look in a mirror before speculating on the color of the kettle.

 

They pull up in front of Sasha’s mysterious lover’s apartment and Eve idles near the curb while she studies the front door. Villanelle stares at Eve, because that is much better. She will admit, as annoying as it is, this new, darker Eve is not without interest. 

 

It’s a grey sort of day outside, which it always seems to be. Up until last night, Villanelle thought maybe this was some absurd karmic debt for her own naughtiness, but now she is very sure it’s all Eve’s fault. Everything and then some.

 

Alaska was much prettier. Eve should drop everything and go to Alaska with her - it was a good idea then and even one poorly-timed, if not partially-deserved bullet later, it is still a good idea now. She has done the soul-searching and decided that almost being gutted on a fishing boat didn’t ruin Alaska for her as a whole. Hopefully the attempted murder thing won’t ruin it for Eve either.

 

She turns to suggest again - more gently - that they drop everything and go to Alaska, but Eve is gathering up her camera frantically and not paying her any mind.

 

Some man has walked out of the apartment complex, double-checking the block around him before ducking around a corner at a brisk walk. Eve lets the camera drop into her lap and chews nervously on her lip. “Shit. I think that was him.”

 

“What? Was that who she cheated with? Wow, he is so plain,” Villanelle remarks, kicking her feet up against the glovebox. “Women, am I right?”

 

“I need to get into his apartment,” Eve ignores her, nodding her head like her mind is already made up. “I need to have something on him, like, now . I can’t even get a decent picture of the guy.”

 

“Finally,” Villanelle breathes. “I thought we were going to sit in the car all day again. Come on, I will get us in,” she promises, pushing the car door open and coming around to let Eve out. She figures she had better act fast before Eve changes her mind and tries to think before she acts, ugh.

 

Eve climbs out of the car when prompted, fidgeting with the camera for long moments, before tucking it under the seat and locking up. They loiter for a bit outside the building until a young girl wearing headphones and bobbing her head along to the music pushes out from the lobby and they’re able to tailgate inside. Twelve mailboxes greet them, mostly name labeled, but not completely. Two remain blank, taped over many times with a quickly revolving roster of tenants, there today, gone tomorrow. This isn’t surprising considering the drab, stale feel of the lobby. Villanelle somehow prefers Eve’s flat and that is saying something.

 

“Shit, which one is he?” Eve mutters, fingers hovering over the mailboxes like maybe she can feel out his name, sense him somehow.

 

Villanelle comes up behind Eve’s shoulder and bends over to set her chin on it. “Disregard ones with multiple names, he wouldn’t bring a mistress back to an apartment with someone else home. He did not seem like he would have roommates.”

 

“That still leaves six,” Eve murmurs. “I saw the lights go off on the third floor a few minutes before he left. Maybe he lives there.”

 

“I am thinking we should try the unlabeled mailbox. Did you see his clothes? I don’t see why he would live here for real,” Villanelle adds. “There is something odd about him. I’d swear he was casing the cars on the street before leaving.”

 

Eve nods. “Alright, come on. 305 it is.”

 

Villanelle has to admit that after picking the weak lock with ease and letting the two of them inside, it’s...a letdown. There’s almost nothing in the apartment - no furniture, photographs, dishes, food, nothing. Just a duffle bag with clothes in it and some hotel wall art that must have come with the apartment. It is lived in, but it’s not lived in.

 

The duffle bag has several passports and a wad of a few thousand pounds in crisp, inflexible new bills. Villanelle frowns into the bag and looks up to where Eve is standing in the spotless kitchen, brow furrowed while she seems to be drawing the same conclusion.

 

Eve’s eyes widen when they meet hers.

 

“He’s an agent,” Villanelle notes. “Or an assassin.”

 

Eve chokes on nothing. “This is a safe house, fuck, fuck, fuck. I used to set these up all the time, why didn’t I see it. Oh god, I wonder who he’s working for.”

 

Ah ,” Villanelle mouths.

 

So Carolyn is not insane. She was beginning to wonder.

 

For an agent such as Carolyn to be paying Villanelle’s obscene rates in a bid to eradicate a series of Twelve rejects so insignificant as to be referred to as ‘Janitors’ ...well, she did wonder. If Carolyn’s faculties are still with her, then there had to be reason.

 

It is not so difficult to imagine that reason could have been a well-connected Twelve member like Sasha turning state rat, turning her guts outward to an agent during this most vulnerable transition for The Twelve from global shaker to retirement. Dissolution only works if they disappear with their bloody gloves and money before the likes of Carolyn snaps them up in her jaws.

 

Whether or not Eve knew she was following Sasha because of Sasha’s newfound dedication  to flooding The Twelve’s basement is...of existential interest, but not practical interest. It doesn’t matter, the oops has happened. The milk has been spilled, cleanup on aisle three. Carolyn will not be so thrilled.

 

And if The Twelve didn’t know? If indeed Sasha has been passing along The Twelve’s secrets to MI6 for months? Well then she was not a loose end needing trimmed, but rather an open valve that has already flooded the building. Too much for a few janitors to clean. They are not going to be very happy with Eve at all , oh, it is much too late to clean this mess.

 

Eve is in so much trouble! It’s a bad time for I told you so, but it’s nice to feel, if not vindicated, then mildly superior. It’s a feeling she could get used to.

 

Too bad for Carolyn, though. It is so difficult to find a good rat these days.

 

Villanelle laughs out loud. “Oh, wow. This is awkward. We should be leaving now.”

 

“We shouldn’t have come here at all!” Eve hisses, shoving Villanelle aside so she can begin shoveling his belongings back in the duffel bag. It’s probably a bad time to be pointing out that it was all Eve’s idea, so Villanelle just trails off toward the kitchen. There’s a notepad on the counter with the logo for some local hotel watermarked at the top of every page. She takes the pen next to it and taps it against her chin for a moment before scribbling out a little note for their host while Eve panics in the background.

 

SORRY ABOUT YOUR RAT. 

 

(Villanelle pauses to draw a frowny face to show how sorry she is.)

 

I WOULD MAKE AN EXCELLENT REPLACEMENT.

 

(Villanelle pauses again to draw a smiley face to show she would be a pleasure to work with.)

 

LEICESTER SQUARE FOUNTAIN, FRIDAY AT 1200.

 

And then she signs it and drops the pen back onto the pad of paper. In light of how things have played out the last few weeks, Villanelle thinks it's not so bad an idea to have an insurance policy. Eve is always talking about planning for the future, so she will do just that. It is very adult of her.

 

“Come on,” Eve beckons her frantically from the doorway and they make their grand exit through the back fire escape stairwell. It’s doubtful that Carolyn has any lingering love for Villanelle, but as the last one of the two of them to be on her payroll and not actively murdering her confidential informants, she’s not particularly concerned with her own safety snooping around. Eve is looking rather pale, though. It could also just be the London weather getting her down.

 

The second they climb back into Eve’s rental car, she floors it into an almost immediate stoplight, nearly sending Villanelle through the windshield. One quick hand thrown out against the dashboard is all that saves her life and she makes sure her glare conveys that. Eve isn’t paying her any attention, though. Her eyes are fixated blankly ahead of her.

 

Oh god, is Villanelle expected to ask if she’s okay? That can’t possibly be her responsibility.

 

“I think I’m in a lot of trouble,” Eve says finally as the light changes but they don’t go anywhere. It’s not an invitation for a comment, so Villanelle stays quiet. She doesn’t disagree necessarily. “I kind of doubt there’s anyone who doesn’t want me dead right now.”

 

“I don’t at the moment,” Villanelle shrugs. “Isn’t that ironic.”

 

“God,” Eve groans, dropping her forehead to bang against the top of the wheel. “I’m going to die.”

 

“Maybe,” Villanelle agrees. “The light is green, you know.”

 

Eve still doesn’t go anywhere and someone honks behind them to no effect.

 

“How am I supposed to tell them that my target has been meeting up with an unknown agent  for months without me knowing? Two of our team’s already been killed, so someone already has our number too. Literally everyone has reason to want me dead right now.”

 

“Yes, you mentioned. Do you think The Twelve will kill you for this? They are already a collapsing circus tent, this is hardly your fault.”

 

Eve turns her head to the side, eyeing Villanelle wearily. “Yeah, well, if the circus tent is collapsing, I don’t think it bodes well for the clowns inside, does it?”

 

“You are a...clown?” Villanelle fails to stifle a laugh.

 

“Yes! I am a clown !” Eve hisses, igniting. “Didn’t you see my big red nose and fucking rainbow...beanie...thing!? We’re all clowns! You know who the Janitors really are? We’re the people who were fuckable. When the Twelve collapsed, they gathered up all the friendless, moneyless idiots who they had leverage on and strapped metaphorical pipe bombs around our necks. Everyone who was capable of being fucked . So yeah, if the circus is collapsing and the clown car is right under the big top, I don’t get to evacuate! I’m stuck in the clown car. My big fucking clown shoes are stuck under the gas peddle.

 

There’s a literal vein popping near Eve’s hairline. And Villanelle is really very powerless to stop the laughter that explodes out of her. It is such a relief to know that Eve is as much of a disaster as when she left her. She was beginning to worry that she’d changed. That they’d changed. Weren’t what they were.

 

Please.

 

“Shut up,” Eve complains, but she is also struggling to keep a straight face. “God, I hate you.”

 

Villanelle sticks out her bottom lip. “Don’t be a sad clown. Your makeup will run.”

 

“I can’t wait until they kill me,” Eve sulks and starts driving again, because probably the police have been called. They have been blocking traffic for a very long while. “When they do, make sure they don’t dress me in something ugly for the funeral.”

 

“Fine, but nothing you own will do. And who exactly would be going to your funeral?” Villanelle wonders, maybe a little meanly.

 

“Carolyn maybe. She does love saying I told you so.

 

That is astute, because while Eve may not know it, Carolyn may very well be the one putting her six feet under when she finds out.

 

Eve takes a few deep breaths as they meander back toward her part of the city, gathering herself and calming while Villanelle watches. Always, watching. There is much to learn and Eve is endlessly fascinating in the way she feels blindly in front of her and stumbles. This is the only kind of art that interests her.

 

“You need to get out of the car.” Eve pulls over on a seemingly random block and turns to give her an expectant look.

 

Villanelle sits up. “What?”

 

“I’ve got to go to work,” she says evenly like she hadn’t just had a minor meltdown minutes ago. “And I can’t risk bringing you back there. If Mr. Kim really recognizes you, we can’t be seen together again.”

 

“You aren’t even going to drop me off back at your flat?” Villanelle complains.

 

Eve reaches across her lap and pushes the passenger door open pointedly. “Get lost. We need to be way more careful about being seen together around here.”

 

“Fine! Fine, I am getting lost,” she mutters, swinging her legs out of the car but pausing as she’s climbing out. Eve is watching her impatiently, but there is a certain degree of reluctance in their parting. Villanelle can’t quite put her finger on it, but she does find herself asking, “You aren’t going to do something stupid are you?”

 

“More than I already have?” Eve asks tiredly.

 

Villanelle looks hard into her face for something off, but can’t read it so well.

 

Eve rolls her eyes. “Nothing stupid, I promise. Just get gone, alright?”

 

“No clowning around, Eve. I mean it,” she says, wagging a stern finger at her.

 

Eve practically shoves her out the door and drives off, leaving Villanelle standing there with no money and no way home, like an arsehole.



____________________




She tries to distract herself, drifting into a cinema to catch a film with cheap, gorey effects and screaming, tittering teenagers at a lakehouse. It’s funny, but she can’t even focus on it. Can’t focus on anything and she doesn’t know why. Her feet are kicked up on the back of a chair, picking through kernels of popcorn half-heartedly when it strikes her.

 

She is anxious.

 

An unusual feeling for her, because what does worrying do? Either you fix the problem or you can’t and it doesn’t matter anyways. There is no point to these things.

 

It is so stupid.

 

Eve is so stupid.

 

Motherfuck, why is Carolyn always right.



_______________________




It doesn’t take too long to con a ride back to Eve’s neighborhood, back to the ugly sloping street with the garish neon signs and dingy little korean barbeque restaurant surrounded by nothing in particular. It doesn’t have to be a whole thing, the anxiousness and worrying. She will fix the problem and then she won’t have to think about it anymore. It doesn’t have to distract her from funny movies or make snacks tasteless in her mouth or wiggle like maggots in her stomach anymore. See the problem, fix the problem.

 

Mr. Kim looks up when she walks through the door and heads straight for the counter at the back, but he just as quickly looks back down. He’s scribbling on a puzzle in the paper, drumming chewed fingernails against his knee and hardly paying her any mind. This is just as well.

 

He looks up again when she reaches across the table and swipes his puzzle to the ground with one dash of her hand. This time he straightens, mouth tightening and hands going down to his sides under the counter.

 

“Do you know me?” Villanelle asks quietly, fixing him with an empty smile.

 

Beoleut-eomneun ai , ” He says slowly, looking her up and down. There’s no ease, all wound tension and galloping heartbeat. Not the reactions of a person who knows nothing of what she does. What she’s capable of.

 

Gotcha.

 

Villanelle places her hands flat on the counter between them and spreads them wide, far from her shoulders as she leans in. “Who showed you my picture, Mr. Kim? Who told you about me?”

 

A mirthless smile pulls at his thin lips. “Wouldn’t you like to know.”

 

“Yes, that is why I’m asking,” Villanelle rolls her eyes. “Are all Janitors as slow as you?”

 

Mr. Kim’s eyebrows raise high and he blinks at her like he has all the time in the world. He really has no idea, then. “I’m not a Janitor ,” he laughs under his breath. “I’m a...businessman.”

 

“Oh, well. Maybe you should tell MI6, they seem to be misinformed,” she grins. “You are on a list, I’m afraid. And the list is getting...hm, very short. Very, very short. Every day, shorter.”

 

His eyes widen a fraction, just a barely-there contraction in his pupils. “They warned me about you when she started here. Warned me you couldn’t stay away. That’s why they did you first.”

 

“Well. I am thinking we are very different then. Nobody has warned me about you. And I’m afraid you are last.”

 

He lets out a single chuff of laughter, empty and dark. “Is that right? I think you’d better check your list again.”

 

“Eve isn’t on it,” Villanelle says, shaking her head sympathetically. “I have made a list and checked it twice. And I’m afraid you’ve been very naughty.”

 

Check it again, ” He repeats, smiling like he’s won something.

 

Mr. Kim breathes slowly, too deliberately , and his lack of reaction betrays him. His face is so carefully blank, nothing moving but the tightening of the tendons in his arm as his hand searches under the counter. Villanelle shakes her head giving him a disappointed look.

 

He is too, too slow.

 

As his hand tries to bring the pistol up and over to pop a shot off, she’s already whipping the folding countertop up to crack against his temple, sending him crashing off his tall stool. Villanelle slides neatly over the counter and jams her heel into his scrambling hands, feeling the satisfying break of his fingers underneath. On the backswing, her heel sends the pistol sliding across the floor out of view.

 

“Lying fucker!” Mr. Kim curses and she doesn’t believe he’s speaking of her as his breath rattles through clenched teeth. “He never makes anything but trouble when he needs help. I should know better than to believe a word he says - know better than to let my guard down. I might’ve recognized you sooner if I hadn’t. He told me he made sure ,” Mr. Kim laughs frantically, cradling his hand to his chest. “You’re not supposed to be alive!”

 

Villanelle cocks her head to the side, smiles down at him as she slips the heavy, iron drawer from the ornate antique cash register and hefts it in her hands. It’s got a nice weight, easy to hold. “Well, who of us is, really?” She shrugs, winding her arm back and swinging the cash drawer into his face with enough momentum to crush his nose in and pull her over so she’s nearly straddling him. Small bills flutter around them when she brings it up again and finishes the thing. Batters in his temple until the bone’s crunched into soft brain matter. He’s still underneath her by the time she drops the drawer and stands again.

 

See the problem, fix the problem.

 

Whatever Carolyn intended by sending her to Eve, whether she thought Villanelle would kill her and sweep up her mess or not, the real threat has been neutralized. The other Janitors are gone. Eve is not so dangerous alone and there must be enough  - if not nostalgia - practicality for Carolyn to see Eve for what she is. An asset. A non-threat. A hostage freed, perhaps. Eh, they can workshop the platitudes.

 

And who, of The Twelve, will be around to realize how Eve’s failed them?

 

Problem fixed.

 

Villanelle drops the cash box near Mr. Kim’s lifeless body and turns to find Eve staring at her, fingers twisted tight into the curtain separating the shop from the kitchen. She’s got a Glock in her other hand, hanging down at her side. Villanelle stays where she is, watching Eve carefully.

 

“You are welcome,” she exasperates.

 

Eve stays where she is, finger resting along the trigger guard firm and pointed. “Who are you working for?” She asks quietly, but there’s nothing quiet about the look in her eyes.

 

“Who are you working for? I thought you just liked barbeque ! I must know, did the barbeque man recruit you before or after the barbequing. Was he your Janitor boss or your barbeque boss first? I must know how much of your misfortune is divine fate and how much is you fucking with yourself.”

 

“Why the fuck did you kill him?” Eve hisses.

 

Villanelle rolls her eyes because this was far from the thank you she was expecting. “Carolyn pays very well considering how dead I’m supposed to be. I am thinking she never paid you half so well as she pays me.”

 

“Oh, fuck ,” Eve breathes. Always with the cursing, Eve is going to die of hypertension long before any shadowy bad men come for her. “You’re... you fucking asshole. You’re working for MI6! How long? Jesus Christ, Mother Mary, whoever else might help me out. I’m certainly not fucking picky at this point.”

 

“Well, working is a strong word,” Villanelle snorts. “When you tried to have me gutted in Alaska while I was minding my own business, Carolyn put my guts back in. Nobody puts your guts back in for free, Eve. I’m sure you realized that after Rome, hm?”

 

Eve rubs hard at her eyes like she really can’t stand to look at Villanelle in the moment. “I thought you just killed Nilsen and Dupont for like, revenge or something.”

 

Villanelle wrinkles her nose, takes pause for a moment. “You knew I killed them?”

 

“Uh, duh. Yeah, that watch? Come on,” Eve muttered. “I’m not an idiot, he never took that stupid watch off then suddenly you’re dropping it like a magpie in my hand. Real inconspicuous, by the way. You might as well have brought me his head.”

 

They’re in each other’s faces somehow, enough that Villanelle has to direct her loud bellow of laughter upwards rather than directly in Eve’s face. “It’s not my fault you were plotting the assassination of an MI6 agent and their confidential informant. I thought you were barbequing, you arsehole! I did not stop to consider that MI6 was asking me to assassinate your coworkers!”

 

“Oh god,” Eve recoils, eyes widening. “Sasha’s fuck-budy. He’s Carolyn’s agent. Oh - Oh Jesus. I killed an MI6 informant. Carolyn must have been paying you to keep her safe by killing all of us. Fucking fuck. I killed her.”

 

“No, but you certainly helped,” Villanelle scoffed. “Very smooth, Eve.”

 

“And I kept wondering when you were going to kill me! Playing with your food this long is pretty excessive, even for you.”

 

“I was not playing, ” Villanelle mocks her, crossing her arms across her body. “I didn’t know. I am still just putting this together and guessing like you. You think Carolyn tells me anything? You think I cared what the boring rich men were doing hiding from the Twelve? It was just a valuable favor - a paid job. Always, you think I am plotting. Sometimes I just don’t know things , Eve. Though I am flattered you think I am aware of everything that has happened in the entirety of ever.”

 

“So why the fuck are you back here?!” Eve throws her hands in the air. “If you didn’t know I was under the Twelve’s boot heel and therefore of tragic interest to Carolyn Fucking Martens, why come back at all?”

 

Villanelle raises an eyebrow. “Because you were here.”

 

“Yeah? Who led you to me? Did MI6 want me dead then too or is that a more recent development?”

 

“I told you, I don’t know these things. They are so boring.”

 

“Not to me they aren’t,” Eve balks. “What was your end goal here? Did you ring my doorbell with the intention to kill me or just fuck with me?”

 

Villanelle finds herself in the rare position of not knowing exactly what to do with her hands. Or her arms or anything else. “I never decided,” she hears herself saying because it’s true.

 

“You never decided,” Eve repeats slowly, just to clarify.

 

Villanelle shrugs. “No. I find we are better, eh, what is the word... spontaneous .”

 

“So you were just going to ad lib whether or not you murdered me.”

 

“We are more fun that way, yes?”

 

Eve’s eye twitches, which is new. She breathes in sharply, opens her mouth and points a threatening finger in Villanelle’s face. But then she seems to swallow her words just as quickly, grinding her teeth into them. Her finger lowers and she breathes out hard through her nose. “Okay, okay,” she mutters to herself. “Okay, okay, okay. I deserve this. I brought this on myself. I can live with that. Everything’s fine,” she rambles.

 

“Do you need me for any of this?”

 

Eve ignores her, pulling her uniform cap off and scratching her nails through her scalp a few times while doing a very good job of not looking at the corpse at their feet. It is just a corpse, Eve, lighten up.

 

“We can’t stay here,” she decides, wringing the cap between her hands. She eyes Villanelle critically for a moment, before reaching out and jamming the cap over Villanelle’s head. Eve studies the effect, then shakes her head and rips open the snap toggles of her kitchen coat and throws it at Villanelle’s chest too. “Put that on.”

 

“I am confused, would you like my clothes in return or are these a gift?”

 

Eve glares harder, somehow. She is full of many hidden depths, it seems. “There’s almost no way I’m not being watched now that Sasha’s been killed and we went rifling through an MI6 agent’s go-bag. Maybe disguising you buys some time, maybe not. Hard to say. You and me? Fucked . Completely. Now put the stupid coat on and lets get out of here.”



____________________



They’re back in the rental driving...somewhere. Eve hasn’t spoken a word since they got in the car and it feels too late to ask.

 

Villanelle tries to turn the radio up and Eve slaps her hand away.

 

“You know,” she says into the quiet, turning to meet Eve’s eyes from under her eyelashes. “There’s nobody I’d rather be fucked with than you.”

 

“Zip it.”



____________________




By the time they stop again, it’s been several hours, though by Villanelle’s estimation, they’d just been driving in circles. The rental gets abandoned in a nondescript neighborhood and they catch a cab there, transfer to a second, then a third, then stop outside what may very well be the ugliest hostel in all of London. It is remarkable. If Villanelle was the type to mark occasions, she might have taken a picture of it. But the last time she marked an occasion, she was almost stabbed to death on a fishing boat. So she’s been put off it for a while.

 

Villanelle has never hoped this in her life, but she hopes they are there for business and not for pleasure. Or a room of any kind.

 

Inside is worse. The hostel is somehow both very, very green and very, very orange and this battle of wills is enough to turn her stomach.

 

“I need a bed for the night,” Eve tells the preppy teenage girl behind the counter. She’s reading a trashy magazine and scrolling a dating app on her phone, but does them the decency of looking up.

 

“Full up,” the girl says.

 

Eve frowns. “Seriously?”

 

“No. Get real,” the girl laughs to herself. “There’s just one other guy, seems quiet though. Is your... chef going to be needing a bed too?” She asks doubtfully, eyeing Villanelle’s clothes up and down.

 

“No. It has been a long day barbequing and I would rather sleep in the dumpster out back,” Villanelle declines.

 

“I wouldn’t,” the girl breezes past them to turn up the fuzzy little television in the corner, playing an equally trashy television show in the background. “Like three years ago, they found some dead guy in trash bags in there. His neighbor killed him over like £30 - it was all over the news.”

 

“Perfect, we are likely to be corpses soon,” Villanelle declares.

 

Eve stomps hard on her foot. “Two beds, please.”

 

“£46,” the girl informs them, bored already and back to flicking through her magazine.

 

They’re pointed in the direction of the communal showers, the “lounge” which is really two armchairs next to the reception desk television, and the shared bunk room where some sloppy American backpacker is sprawled in bed squinting at his phone screen through his unkempt bangs. The beds are small and his frame almost seems to spill out over the sides.

 

The two of them stop in the doorway and make eye contact. “I know you are mad at me for something I’ve already forgotten, but this seems a little mean,” Villanelle pouts.

 

Eve rolls her eyes and pushes past her into the room. It looks kind of like a prison, but like the rooms that only the people who behaved themselves were allowed to communally live in, which Villanelle had very little experience with. Six bunk beds lined the walls and another two despondent, mismatched armchairs stood awkwardly in the middle. It was all still very aggressively orange and green.

 

Prison was better, maybe.

 

Eve selects a bed as far away from their American roommate as possible and sits heavily in the bottom bunk, folding her arms across her knees.

 

“Hey,” Villanelle snaps at the American. He looks up dumbly and she gestures around them. “Do you mind? We are about to have a moment.”

 

“No we aren’t,” Eve addresses him.

 

Without a word, he looks back down at his phone and rolls over to face the wall. “Well we could if you wanted to,” Villanelle shrugs, dropping down close to Eve on her bed so they both bounce a bit on the creaking springs. “What is happening right now? Are we on the lamb? Do not get cold feet this time, I don’t have a gun anymore.”

 

“Quiet, I’m thinking.”

 

“Okay, I will be quiet. What are you thinking about?” Eve’s head turns very slowly to meet hers, like she is physically restrained by her own frustration. “Nevermind! I am going, you are so pissy.” Villanelle hoists herself off the bed and wanders off toward the lobby. “You act like you’ve never been the target of international assassins before,” she calls behind her as she goes.

 

The American ignores them and who knows? Maybe he has also been the target of international assassins, these things just happen sometimes.

 

In the ‘lounge’ she locates a bookshelf with some heinous, outdated paperbacks on offer along with a truly stunning collection of Newsweek magazines. Books are like diet movies, but whatever. Eve’s fake barbequing has gotten them in enough trouble to warrant staying indoors for a little while. Villanelle is reckless, not suicidal.

 

She takes a familiar title from the sparse collection and sits in the armchair without the suspicious stain, settling in for a boring night.



________________________




Eve gets maybe forty-five minutes of thinking time and then that is quite enough of that. As a peace offering, Villanelle fixes her a barely-warm cup of tea in a styrofoam cup from the dispenser behind the now-vacant reception desk. She’s sure it was meant to be hot, but tea is bad anyways. Warm-bad can’t be worse than hot-bad.

 

The lights are off and Eve is laying on the bottom bunk, staring blankly up at the underside of the top bunk when Villanelle walks in. The American has thrown his blankets over his head, a low glow filtering out as he watches something on his phone.

 

“Did the thinking help?” Villanelle asks as she sits on the edge of Eve’s bed.

 

Eve shook her head, still staring upwards. “It doesn’t usually.”

 

“No,” Villanelle agrees. She dangles the cup of tea above Eve’s head enticingly. “Here, I brought you this.”

 

“Why?”

 

“I don’t think anyone gets asked ‘ why’ as much as I do. I am being nice, okay? I do that sometimes.”

 

Eve wordlessly takes the cup, but leaves it propped on her stomach and stays lying back. Villanelle yawns, stretching out and up until her shoulders burn and her spine pops. A glance at the clock on the wall tells her why and she decides these are all problems for the morning. She spares Eve a final encouraging smile, then swings herself up onto the bunk above and settles in. Scratchy sheets, flat pillow, strange smell - all of the delightful comforts that remind her why she doesn’t stay in places like this. It is about time she goes back to being paid lots of money again, this summer has weighed on her.

 

Villanelle rolls to the edge of her bunk and hangs her head down over the side to meet Eve’s eyes in the dark. “Why did you help them try to kill me in Alaska?” She asks.

 

Eve blinks slowly. “I didn’t.”

 

“Was it for Rome? I said I was sorry. I really am,” she offers.

 

“I know,” Eve murmurs, eyes drifting back to the top bunk above her.

 

Villanelle watches her another few moments, then nods. “Okay, goodnight Eve.”

 

“Goodnight.”



____________________




She kills the man in the bunker and maybe four, five, eighteen more, there are so many tests ugh it is like school all over again. When she tries to think back on school, she often mistakes moments and snapshots with her time in juvenile detention and later, even prison. It is all the same, walls and rules and an absolute militant moratorium on the question, “ Why?”

 

The Twelve treat her like an alcoholic parent, one minute showering her in gifts and clothes and lavish trips and the next turning around and backhanding her across the face. It’s not comfort she finds in the familiar, per se, but it is a nostalgic sort of thing, like smelling something from years past or seeing light hit a roof and remembering the way someone looked on a day that has otherwise been lost to you.

 

They sit her down after the most recent one - a real target, all on her own, picture perfect, as requested - and someone she never ends up seeing again folds her hands primly on the conference table across from her. She thinks she must’ve gone to the principal's office on at least one occasion, she was not so good, see, but she can’t find the memory, can’t tug it loose and fall into it.

 

Hochu pozdravit' tebya s vypolneniem pervogo zadaniya ,”  the woman says. Kathleen, maybe? Whatever.

 

Villanelle leans back, dwarfing herself in the highback of the leather chair she’s been swallowed by so she can throw her feet disrespectfully on the table. “No Russian.”

 

The woman raises her eyebrows. “ Ya hotela chtoby ty chuvstvovala sebya kak doma .”

 

“Try harder,” Villanelle smiles thinly. Privately begs her not to. “Where am I going next?”

 

Kathleen doesn’t answer her, swivels them away from the topic as she turns sideways against the direction of the table to look out the windows. “Before you go, I feel I should ask.”

 

But then she doesn’t and Villanelle’s expression flattens while she waits. If she is trying to create intrigue, it isn’t working. Villanelle is much more interested in what she might be having for lunch.

 

Eventually, still addressing the open window, Maybe-Kathleen asks, “What do you want ? What do you hope to get out of working for us?”

 

“I already got it. Goodbye prison,” Villanelle shrugs. “Can I go now?”

 

Kathleen lets out a breath of laughter through her nose and Villanelle wonders what is so very interesting out the window that she won’t look away. “You don’t have to tell me,” she shrugs. “I always ask. I think people are truthful maybe half of the time, like it's a weakness to want and for others to know it.”

 

Villanelle wants a snack. And she is uninterested in who knows it.

 

The smile Kathleen gives her when she finally tilts her head to meet her eyes is mischievous. “I don’t agree,” she concludes. “I think your want is a weapon. If you’re good at what you do, there’s nothing people won’t give you just to have you.”

 

A slow smile stretches across Villanelle’s face and she folds her hands smugly across her stomach, rocking her boot heel against the table. “Yes? Then what does that make me? I don’t want anything. Nothing is important to me.”

 

Kathleen adopts a thoughtful expression, ticking her head to the side as she considers. “Well. Either a liar or a liability.”

 

“A liability,” Villanelle echoes, amused.

 

“But you know that,” Kathleen decides, equally amused. “Because people can give and give and give and they’ll never have you. And for someone who can do the things you do, I think maybe we’ve created a monster. Something dangerous that can’t be possessed. No?”

 

“I guess you’ll find out,” Villanelle laughs. She narrows her eyes playfully, just that small bit more interested in the woman across from her. “Okay, I’ll bite. If you’re so smart, why create me at all? I think if Frankenstein knew how the book ended, he maybe wouldn’t have done it, don’t you think?”

 

Kathleen leans closer across the table, a triumphant smile curling her lips. “I’ve been known to gamble.” She tips her head like acknowledging a worthy opponent. “I’ve studied you this past year, you know? And I know that if you ever find something you want, something you need , you’ll never let it go. You’ll dig your teeth in no matter how it tries to throw you.”

 

“Is that right?” Villanelle simpers. 

 

“It’s a theory,” Kathleen shrugs. “Let me know if you find something you want. Or don’t, it’s not easy to hide things from me. Either way, I’ll make sure you have it. I’ll make sure you drown in it. You’ll never leave, Villanelle, you’ll die chained to it.”

 

“Ha!” Villanelle wags a conspiratorial finger at her.

 

The joke is on her, Villanelle thinks. Because if there was ever something she wanted so bad it hurt her not to have it, she’d turn around and destroy it. She’d kill it just to stop it from killing her, oh, she’ll rip it out no matter what else comes away when she does. Irreparable is not and never will be a word she’s afraid of.

 

There’s nothing any person alive or dead could give her enough of to own her.



____________________




Villanelle thinks they probably wake up at the same time, what with the American backpacker sneaking around noisily in the early morning hours. Her gaze slips over to watch him fuss with trying to pop his shoes off with just the tips of his toes while he juggles two boxes and a coffee cup. It doesn’t look nefarious, but you can never tell with Americans.

 

When he wrestles his shoes off, he turns to stare at their bunk. As he starts to slowly approach, Villanelle tenses, flexes her arms under the itchy blanket and grits her teeth, ready .

 

It’s pointless, because he just hands a box to Eve in the lower bunk and gives the both of them faint smiles in turn. Then he gathers the remaining box and the coffee and leaves the room.

 

Villanelle narrows her eyes and leans over the edge of the bunk to watch Eve gingerly open the box. It’s not a bomb, but it is twelve terrifying doughnuts, the majority of them with rainbow sprinkles.

 

Bog est' ,” Villanelle mumbles, reaching one hand down and making grabbing motions for the box. Eve looks up and pulls the doughnuts farther away from Villanelle’s reach.

 

“What if they’re...poisoned or something?” Eve scolds, eyeing them warily.

 

Villanelle leans over further, trying to swipe from inside the box, but Eve reacts surprisingly quickly, dropping the box lower and thwarting her. “I really messed you up didn’t I?” Villanelle sighs. “They are doughnuts . Why are we questioning it?”

 

“It’s just weird,” Eve defends herself, but she is defending them against pink doughnuts, so it’s hard to make a serious case for it. “I don’t think it’s a bad time to be suspicious, considering.”

 

“Considering what? The Twelve is known for assassinations involving doughnuts?” Villanelle hangs glumly off the edge of her bed, hand still dangling down. “I didn’t think you were so afraid. You used to be fearless.”

 

Eve glances up at her for a moment. Stone-cold, she reaches into the box and takes a bite of the brightest doughnut there, eye contact never faltering.

 

“Oh, you are very scary now.”

 

Eve takes another bite. “I learned from the best.”

 

Villanelle grins and extends her hand again until Eve lifts the box and lets her make her selection. They’re good, too. Local bakery, home-made, perfectly risen and delicious. If they kill her, it was worth it. Eve needs to learn that there are worse things in life than dying and sometimes it’s as simple as donuts not eaten.

 

They make a terrible dent in the box, just the two of them lounging in rickety bunk beds and not saying much of anything. The American makes a brief reappearance to get his phone charger and Eve offers him a thank you, that he repays only with another tiny, shy smile before leaving again. People are so weird doing nice things for no reason.

 

“So what are we doing now?” Villanelle wonders, ankle propped on her knee and hands behind her head while she stares at the orange ceiling. “Are we running some more or are we doing something more interesting?”

 

“I’m working on it,” Eve evades easily.

 

Villanelle sighs loud enough for the neighbors to hear. “Okay, the working is very boring, though.” When Eve doesn’t answer, she rolls over to the edge of the bunk and swings down to land lightly on her feet. “You do the working and I will go take care of things,” she says decisively, sitting on the edge of Eve’s bed to pull her shoes on. “I will check for tails and get supplies.”

 

Eve sits up quickly. “Woah, no, no, no. You can’t go anywhere. We’re in hiding.”

 

“Technically, you are in hiding,” Villanelle points out. “There’s no guarantee anyone left in the Twelve knows my face and I’m unofficially on MI6 payroll. It is you who is making enemies of everyone this time. Very naughty, I am comparatively well-behaved.”

 

Eve looks like she really wants to dispute that, but can’t seem to find any ammunition. Instead, she settles for staring at her, a worried twist to her mouth. It’s like she wants to say something, but instead, shakes her head and picks something else. “Be careful anyways, alright? Watch your back.”

 

“I’ll watch my front too,” Villanelle promises. “I am not so easy to follow. You should know more than anyone that if you are finding that I am easy to follow, you should probably worry why.”

 

“Let’s not talk about that.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

 

Villanelle shrugs and pushes to her feet. “Suit yourself.”

 

On the way out of the hostel, she sees the American watching television, his giant body hunched over in the lounge chair and both hands wrapped tight around his tiny coffee while he absorbs the show on the grainy screen. He is either unaware of her presence, or unaffected by it.

 

Outside, she’s greeted by a surprisingly nice day. A bitter spring had been clinging about the place even deep into the summer months, but it seems to have relaxed its hold a bit. It’s even sunny, which is a nice change of pace.

 

She takes slow, particular routes down the meandering lane into the more commercial district in the area, though it's nothing extravagant. A little convenience store and a handful of family restaurants later, she has a pretty good handle on the person trailing her awkwardly between shops. He is so bad, is this MI6? He looks like he’s fifteen years old and he keeps trying to hide behind things when she turns around.

 

Has he received no surveillance training? Government methods are often predictable, but the boy violates even those basic tenets of inconspicuous observance. He follows her into every single store, makes eye contact. What in the fuck.

 

Villanelle swings into the convenience store last. She’s found acceptable outfits for the two of them to change into and spent an hour sitting in a family restaurant drinking coffee while her tail tried not to make eye contact across the booth, sipping his own coffee. She stared openly at him while he studied the sugar packets.

 

In the convenience store, she peruses the brands on the shelves and tries to match them to the awful assortment of packaged snacks and instant meals from Eve’s flat. She thinks she maybe almost misses the couch there. Well. Probably not.

 

Just in case, she picks up a few bottles of champagne and starts digging through a bin of bargain movies near the register while the boy watches her from the cold drink case. It’s a trial not to laugh at him, but she’s not done with him quite yet. There’s a movie in the bin called American Psycho , which gets a little laugh out of her. She grabs that too, thinks maybe she can get Eve to watch it with her if she’s crafty enough.

 

While the cashier rings her up, the boy following her knocks over an entire display of candies and begins frantically piling them back into place with the weight of the cashier’s disapproving look.

 

Her two bags are heavy, though, so as much fun as she’s having leading her tail around, it’s time to return to Eve and take care of his indiscretions. She waits until she’s rounding the alleyway a block from the hostel before slipping into the alcove of a service door and pressing herself there calmly. A thirty second count passes until he passes her hiding spot, head swinging around stupidly as though he has no idea where she’s gone. Carefully, she sets her bags on the ground and starts off after him.

 

He makes a comical squeak when she grabs him from behind and hoists him up against the wall. “Oh, crap,” he breathes. “I’m sorry!”

 

“It is too late for that,” Villanelle chides. “I am going to be pulling your eyeballs out now. You are welcomed to talk if you think it will help.”

 

The boy’s arms go up in the air like this is a peaceful surrender. “Eve called me!”

 

Villanelle frowns, narrows her eyes at him. “Really? Are you lying? I mean it, I have pulled out eyeballs before. It’s so gross.”

 

“Don’t pull my eyeballs out!” He begs breathlessly, arms coming up to try and shield them from her reach. “Oh jesus, please don’t!”

 

Villanelle wrinkles her nose. He is so loud and very pathetic for an agent or hired assassin. “Eve really called you?” She asks.

 

He nods so hard, so quickly, she thinks his head might come loose.



____________________




Villanelle presents the boy to Eve by the scruff of the back of his jacket, offering him up like she’s waiting for the thumbs up or thumbs down from the emperor.

 

Eve balks when she sees him, stands abruptly from her bunk. “Kenny?”

 

“This is for you,” Villanelle explains, giving him a little shake.

 

“I didn’t order this,” Eve says flatly.

 

A shrug. “He says you did. Am I going to have to pull your eyeballs out now, Kenny?”

 

He holds his hands up and sends Eve a pleading look, which seems to work well enough if the small shake of Eve’s head is anything to go by. Thumbs up, the colosseum boos. “Don’t pull his eyeballs out,” Eve mutters, beckoning for Kenny to join her near the bed.

 

Villanelle gives him another dark look, just for the fun of seeing how he quakes, then pushes him toward Eve and retires to her bunk to sort her spoils. She does make sure to keep one eye on him even if he looks like he would lose a boxing match with an overcooked noodle.

 

“What are you doing here? I asked Hugo for this.”

 

Kenny passes over a large envelope from inside his jacket and nods. “I know. Hugo asked me, he’s had to keep a little quieter lately. Thinks are stirred up, I guess. He says being a fence is somehow worse than working for MI6.”

 

“He just likes to complain,” Eve snipes. “I didn’t know you two still talked.”

 

“We don’t, really,” Kenny murmurs. “I was surprised to hear from him.”

 

Eve falls silent for long moments, turning the envelope over and over in her hands while Kenny stares out across the room. “This can’t have been easy to get. Did your mom…?”

 

“She doesn’t know,” Kenny interrupts quietly. “And she won’t. Should be good to cross borders, get on planes. And it should be enough to set up somewhere new for a while.”

 

Villanelle smiles to herself, because it was rather sneaky of Eve to be setting up contingencies like that. The spy games have made her sharp, clever. Very, very clever.

 

“How did you even pull this off?”

 

Kenny laughs under his breath. “Don’t worry about it. It’s probably better if you don’t know.”

 

Villanelle has long moments to wonder what they’re doing in the ensuing quiet. It’s a friendly, soft sort of quiet and it makes her feel like maybe she should have stayed in the lounge. “Thank you,” Eve finally says.

 

Kenny hums his acknowledgement. “You should know - you don’t have any friends left at MI6. You might as well be a state terrorist as far as they’re concerned. I don’t think they’re asking many questions, why or when or how. I think they just consider you a defector. One of the Twelve now.”

 

“Yeah, I figured,” Eve says blankly. “I don’t really blame them.”

 

“I do.” It’s automatic, stronger than anything he’d said so far. “They know you. And they abandoned you when you needed them most after Rome. And I think they know you wouldn’t have done any of it without good reason.” He shifts a bit on the squeaking mattress, scoots closer to Eve maybe, it is hard to tell without seeing. “So what was the deal? Who did they threaten?”

 

“Who didn’t they?” Eve says miserably.

 

Kenny pauses. “Wasn’t me, was it?”

 

“Who didn’t they?” Eve repeats evasively. “Everyone I’ve ever cared about. Some people I didn’t even think I cared about,” she adds with a deprecating little laugh.

 

Villanelle cocks her head to the side and she knows they are having a moment, but she is powerless to restrain herself. “Does that include me?” She asks from above them.

 

“In your dreams,” Eve responds without hesitation.

 

Okay, okay. She was asking for that one maybe.

 

Kenny sighs to himself and pushes off from Eve’s mattress to stand in front of her. “I don’t care what they say. I don’t care what my mom says, either,” Kenny asserts. “I trust you. And I know you’re going to find a way to do the right thing. Whatever that is.”

 

Eve reaches out from her bunk and takes Kenny’s hand from his side, squeezing it briefly. “Thanks, Kenny. I’d...really like maybe even a quarter of the faith you have in me.”

 

“Just be careful. Don’t trust anyone you don’t have to,” he adds, sending a very pointed look up at Villanelle’s bunk. But one should not judge a person by the threats they have made about your eyeballs. It is premature and rude.

 

Eve hugs Kenny around the middle before he can leave the room and it maybe surprises all three of them equally. It’s nice to have friends, Villanelle thinks. Nicer still when they’re the kind of friends who bring you envelopes full of cash without consequence or demand. She should ask Eve where to find friends like this, she is sorely lacking.

 

The last thing Kenny tells Eve with a nervous look back at Villanelle is, “That passport isn’t going to be good for very long. There’s an apprehension order out as of today. Detain or neutralize, at any cost.”

 

Eve breathes out slowly and nods her understanding.



____________________




Eve slips into a weird mood for the remainder of the afternoon. She’s subdued, doesn’t rise to the bait Villanelle trails along and rarely says anything biting. It’s...strange.

 

She is quiet through a lunch of convenience store snacks, which Villanelle suffers through specifically for her. So much for that, Eve barely eats a thing, just picks at packaging and drifts off in her own brain. Far be it for Villanelle to do anything so drastic as try and talk about feelings, so she takes advantage of Eve’s weakened state to ask her to watch the movie she bought on the little cube television in the lounge.

 

Eve is so distracted as to agree and they sit side-by-side watching it. It’s pretty good - kind of funny, mostly. American comedies are so unapologetic, grisly. He is not so good at the murder thing, but that’s part of why it’s funny. Eve doesn’t laugh at anything, but every time Villanelle chuckles, she glances over and watches her. Studies her, as she does.

 

Villanelle lets her.

 

The credits begin scrolling on the screen and Villanelle rolls her neck to meet Eve’s gaze. “What?” She asks lazily. “You keep looking at me.”

 

“I’m always looking at you,” Eve says quietly, the closest she’s probably gotten to honesty.

 

Villanelle wants to be flattered, but fears the pitfalls of Eve’s sudden clarity. It is always when she sees things most transparently that the tether snaps - that they fall off cliffs or jump into fires. They have these moments where they see each other and it triggers something dark in the both of them. So she doesn’t say anything, just watches Eve right back.

 

“You know,” Eve says eventually, “Some people think the guy was crazy and he just fantasized all those murders. It’s a popular fan theory.”

 

Villanelle sits up a bit, interested. “You’ve seen this movie before?”

 

“Yeah, a long time ago.”

 

Villanelle thinks on it, then says thoughtfully, “I didn’t think that.” She purses her lips and cocks her head to the side. “That’s stupid. Of course he killed those people. What’s funny is that people will try very, very hard to convince themselves things can’t be true. We want power over our reality. But it’s not him that’s crazy. It’s everyone else who won’t believe him - they don’t want to see.

 

Eve nods very slowly, still staring at her in the dull glow of the grainy television. They’re alone in the lobby, the receptionist long since left for the evening and the American back in his cot ignoring them. “Yeah, I think that too.”

 

“It’s because you’re smart,” Villanelle winks, tapping her finger against her temple. “Is that what you think of me? Am I the psycho? ” She goes on, smiling expectantly at her.

 

“No.” Eve faces the credits when she says this, the little white names reflected back in her pupils. “You’re much, much worse.”

 

“I am,” Villanelle agrees, smile splitting into a full grin. “I liked this movie. I wish I had bought another when I was out.”

 

“Did you really not come to London to kill me?” Eve asks abruptly.

 

Villanelle frowns, turns to look at the side of Eve’s head. “Hm, I don’t know. I told you, I never decided. I came to find out.”

 

“But you thought about it. There were times you must have been leaning toward doing it.” She looks at her again and oh, they are having a serious conversation, okay. “Times when you thought you should hold me down and choke the life out of me. I know you. I know you thought about it.”

 

“Yes,” Villanelle confirms with unwavering honesty.

 

Eve doesn’t blink. “Why didn’t you?”

 

“You know why.”

 

Eve shakes her head. “I don’t think I do.”

 

“You do. You just don’t want to. You spend your whole life wanting to know everything, but you don’t want to know this ,” Villanelle concludes. “It’s why you wouldn’t let me fuck you. Because you feel it too, you believe me, know what it will do to me one day, and you’re not as mean as you wish you were.” And she thinks that there is no coming back from this. Eve has her answer and now she must choose whether or not she wishes to see.

 

The screen goes blank, then cycles back to the menu screen and begins droning in the background. It’s gotten very late, indeed. Villanelle turns to Eve and addresses her plainly. “I shouldn’t have done that. In Rome.”

 

“No, you shouldn’t have” Eve agrees. “I probably shouldn’t have stabbed you in Paris, either.”

 

Villanelle nods with a degree of understanding that she thinks the two of them rarely, rarely have. Perfect connection. “Oh well,” she shrugs, speaking softly. “We will do better next time.”

 

“We’ll see.”





____________________

 

x11.

 

____________________



Chapter Text

____________________

x11.

____________________




The snacking was all well and good, but as Eve retires to her bunk, back to being glum and moody, Villanelle decides that they need real dinner. Not convenience snacks and packaged noodles, they need something fit for human consumption. Or at the very least human digestion, aye she would settle . She finds Eve after her shower, still on that creaky bed, staring off at nothing.

 

“I’m going to get food. And I know, I know, be careful. Look, it is like you are tattooed on my brain,” she jokes, tapping the toes of her shoes against Eve’s where she sits upright on the bed.

 

Eve looks up and nods vaguely. “Did MI6 ever ask you to kill me?” She asks and what is it with the random outfield questions this evening. It’s the convenience store frozen lunch, Villanelle warned her it’s bad for her health, Eve is so bad with the listening.

 

“Not in so many words,” Villanelle skirts around. Whether Carolyn sent her to Eve because she believed in just desserts or true love is...well, on its face probably fairly obvious, but she turns away from that truth, averts her eyes. “If they did, you would be very lucky that I am forever torn between proving I’m the best and proving nobody can tell me what to do.”

 

“How much do you think they’d pay you to kill me?” Eve wonders, cocking her head to the side.

 

Villanelle weighs the question with a hum and juggling hands. “Not very much. I don’t think you’re very important or hard to kill. You really oversold yourself when you hired me to kill you last time, way overpaid.”

 

Abruptly, Eve laughs, then tries to stuff it back in her mouth with one mortified hand. It spills out anyways and she settles on letting it. “Sorry,” she trails off. “Sorry, I just...yeah.”

 

“Okay, I feel like I’m supposed to be asking you if you’re okay, but I worry how long of an answer you’ll give me,” she groans, tapping her shoes harder against Eve’s. Brooding Eve is so boring.

 

“I’m...fine. I guess,” Eve makes some half-hearted, aborted gesture. “The more I think about everything that’s happened, the more I think maybe I deserve all of this. Was that a short enough answer?”

 

“No, I am already falling asleep.” Villanelle steeples her fingers and adopts a thoughtful expression. “You know, I was thinking about your, hm, how do you say... treason ,” she gestures diplomatically. “I was thinking about your treason and I am left wondering: why did you join the Twelve? Am I really meant to believe it was nothing but a bleeding heart? You are so picky about your morals, so righteous. It’s very annoying. But I am having a hard time understanding.”

 

Eve weighs her, eyes flicking between Villanelle’s own and mouth working like she’s chewing on her answer. Villanelle wonders what it tastes like, what Eve might pretend it tastes like for her benefit. They work in layers, see, peeled away to whatever depth suits them in the moment.

 

“Well,” Eve says slowly, rubbing the words between her tongue and the roof of her mouth. “I was hunting the Twelve anyways when they caught up with me. Still sticking my nose where it didn’t belong, even after you - even after everything,” she clips herself neatly. “When he got to me, the Twelve was already imploding -  cannibalizing, as you say. He asked me to help track down people who knew too much and in return they don’t kill me or the people I care about - he said he could shield us from the fallout. Felt like a fine deal at the time. The only deal available, maybe.”

 

“And you just believed him?” Villanelle scoffs. “You don’t even know him!”

 

Eve laughs like only she’s in on the joke and she must be because certainly Villanelle isn’t. “Well. I knew him enough. Trusted him enough, though I guess that was on me. I just thought...I don’t know. I thought I was doing something right. Believe it or not, I even suspected that MI6 was turning a blind eye to us. Almost endorsing it.”

 

“What, Carolyn? Why?”

 

Eve shakes her head, laughs privately again and waves her off. She looks very tired sitting there on the thin padded mattress, but it could also just as easily be how terrible the beds are. Even Villanelle did not sleep so soundly on them and she has slept in much, much worse. “Forget it, I was obviously wrong.”

 

“Obviously,” Villanelle says slowly, furrowing her brow. She shuts one eye and watches Eve through the tunnel of her other eye for any sign of deceit. It’s a waste of time, she sees nothing and it only digs into her chest further. What she really wants is Eve to drop the world from her shoulders and just go get ice cream or something normal with her, but she’s not chosen a person accustomed to taking a load off, ever, for any reason, ugh . “Okay, yes. That sounds like you - I understand now. You are still very lame, that is almost comforting to me.”

 

“Thanks, I guess.”

 

“You’re welcome, I guess,” Villanelle teases. “I’m going to get dinner now, we can’t eat this garbage again, I don’t know how many different ways to say it: my body doesn’t even recognize this as food and I’m shocked and appalled that yours does.” She braces both hands on the bunk above Eve and gives her a sympathetic look. “What do you want that won’t kill me?”

 

“I’m fine. Whatever you want,” Eve sighs, rubbing at her eyes and massaging her temples.

 

Normally, Villanelle is very interested in whatever she wants. But she is finding that what she wants is for Eve to stop looking like the world has already ended and they’re just sweeping up the ashes. Even when they were at their worst, Eve never looked so lost. Maybe Konstantin was right: maybe she got soft and boring.

 

“I’m trying to cheer you up,” Villanelle breathes out. “Tell me what you want, I’ll get anything. I’m good at that, you’ll see.”

 

Eve looks up at her, chuckles dryly. “I’d like to not be an enemy of the state anymore. I’d like to not be on an MI6 hit list. That would be nice. Can you pick that up while you’re out?”

 

“Most girls ask for diamonds,” Villanelle complains, propping her hands on her hips. “Governmental pardons are new for me, but I like you a lot, so fine, fine. I will get you that. You are so boring when you’re sad.”

 

“Know a good store for that, do you?”

 

“No, I made it myself,” Villanelle returns just as quickly. “Listen: I made an out for you, okay? You are very welcome. I left a note at the MI6 agent’s house asking for a meeting tomorrow morning at Leicester fountain at noon. It said you were willing to turn inside informant for him to replace Sasha. You. Because I signed it with your name, okay? Again, you are welcome. I am very good at contingency, so remember that before you ask about my savings account again.”

 

Eve doesn’t appear to be breathing for long moments, but there’s a certain spark of life there when she inhales again, which is a relief. “You..what?”

 

“I’m not repeating all that,” Villanelle exasperates. “Tomorrow at 12, if you want to be MI6 again, go meet with the agent guy. I’m sure he’ll show up. They’re out a source now, thanks mostly to you. They might be sore on that, but eh, you’ll win them over. I know you’re not as charmless as you pretend to be.”

 

“What? Why?”

 

Why ? So you aren’t a traitor to your country anymore, duh . I don’t know, you are so morally superior,” Villanelle laughs to herself. She doesn’t know why a person would care about such a thing, but she doesn’t have to know to appreciate it’s something important to Eve . And Eve is something important to her, so whatever.

 

“No, no - I - why did you do that for me?”

 

The questions are more onerous than the favor, as it turns out. “Whatever, I don’t know. You get yourself in trouble and I was feeling nice. This is the last one, though. I won’t clean up anymore clown messes, okay? It doesn’t pay well.”

 

“Wow. I...thanks?” Eve tries on for size. It fits her poorly, but it’s only because she is unused to wearing it, Villanelle thinks.

 

“Yes, you are welcome again. Don’t let the Twelve know you’re meeting with him, I am thinking you might become the next loose end.” She levels a stern finger at Eve’s baffled expression. “Now what do you want for dinner? Something easier, please. You are so needy.” She folds in on her knees and squats, crouching on the balls of her feet and resting her forearms on Eve’s knees so they’re at eye level and Eve has no choice but to look her in the face. “Hurry. I’m so hungry, I could eat our large American roommate.”

 

Eve’s expression morphs rapidly between so many micro-emotions it’s hard to catch just one. So readable, it’s unreadable, Villanelle notes with amusement. She narrows her eyes teasingly, scrunches her nose. “Okay, I will guess. I am thinking...spaghetti.” When Eve doesn’t say anything, she leans in a little closer, almost nose-to-nose. “You are most inscrutable, Eve Polastri. Speak now or forever regret your spaghetti. Oomf-

 

It’s the least graceful of the three they’ve had. If Villanelle was ever the one in control of them, they would be earth-shattering and they wouldn’t stop . But Eve gets the drop on her again, twisting her fingers into the hair at the back of her neck and kissing her like she’d tripped into it. Messy, messy, bad angle. Villanelle’s trapped braced on Eve’s bent knees and straining neck and that was not on the menu, Eve.

 

She really had thought Eve was thinking about spaghetti, she has lost her edge.

 

Eve jerks back like she can’t believe she did that, which is funny because she’s the one who keeps doing it. Villanelle enjoys spontaneous things, though. She is adaptable. Squander not that which is offered.

 

Oh, she really hopes the American is not behind her, she can’t remember and it’s too late to check and she is already wedging herself between Eve’s knees and showing her how to do it properly. Showing her she should let Villanelle be in charge, should let her topple her back into bed and give into it.

 

That’s what Eve really needs. To learn how to give in.

 

When you don’t give in, you do strange things like kiss someone trying to buy you spaghetti or marry a nice, boring man with a moustache bigger than his personality.

 

And she does - give in, that is. At least for a while. Let’s herself be held down and pressed into in a way they probably shouldn’t be doing in a very open, very green hostel. Eve’s blunt nails dig into Villanelle’s forearm and slip to circle her wrist like manacles and that manages to stand out to her even as they’re breathing into each other’s mouths. It’s barely there pressure and she feels cowed.

 

No matter how hard she tries to hold Eve down, no matter how softly Eve lets her, control eludes her. She thinks now there’s probably nothing she could do to dominate Eve, because being in love is such an abhorrent, submissive gesture. It has well and truly ruined everything.

 

The devolving way she seeks to wrestle control, worrying her teeth into Eve’s neck while her hips shift upwards - well, this is how Villanelle knows they’re about to end. She knows because Eve unshackles her wrist, runs fingertips across the parts of her cheeks she can reach, settles, settles her like she’s breathed patience down her throat. Eve noses against her temple, breathes deeply, and mutters something so close to Villanelle’s ear she should hear it. She won’t, though - won’t make it form words because she thinks it’ll hurt her if she does.

 

Villanelle digs her teeth in a bit harder before letting her go, but Eve doesn’t even flinch. She never really does. Absurdly, she kisses Villanelle’s cheek as she pulls back and it’s maybe, somehow not something Villanelle ever remembers happening to her before. Villanelle jerks back a bit to catch Eve’s eyes, expression slack and vulnerable.

 

She’s not really sure what to do with that, but she thinks she’d like to close her eyes so she doesn’t see the end as it looms taller against the horizon.

 

Eve pushes her back with a hand over her heart, the absolute monster. Her eyes are wide, like oh no how did we get here . Very funny Eve, you did this.

 

But? She looks on the verge of running as far and as fast as possible, so Villanelle relents with a little chuckle. “I did not know you felt so strongly about spaghetti.”

 

“I didn’t either,” Eve breathes, blinking like they are talking about italian food and nothing else. They are so bad at metaphor. They are so bad at everything. “I want this,” she seems to realize, shocked even though she said it.

 

Villanelle smiles nervously. “I’m… ’this’ , yeah? To be, like, clear or whatever.”

 

Eve’s eyes widen and she swallows hard. “You’re ‘this’ ,” she confirms, then curses under her breath immediately afterward. Her thumb tracks a soft trail over Villanelle’s cheek where she’d kissed her, like this whole thing is eating her alive. Everything does, though. Eve’s wants are never simple, she makes sport of letting them prey on her, consume her whole. Villanelle’s not even a predator, she’s audience to the theatre, spectator and victim.

 

“I want you too,” Villanelle says sadly. It comes out so pathetic, Villanelle catches it niggling at her chest and it tapers into a little laugh that doesn’t break Eve’s heart. It doesn’t, it doesn’t, but Eve is mean enough to make that face like it could.

 

Villanelle had asked her if she could, had traded cruel truths for it. She’d asked if it was even possible for Eve to feel that way and Eve wouldn’t answer her, she cheated and Villanelle let her and this is what it gets them. Dirty, rotten cheater .

 

“I know - god , I know, alright? I know,” Eve circles, stuck on it, finally. It’s truth, maybe. Maybe not. It doesn’t matter, Villanelle can’t tell if she’s lying anymore, it slipped from her fingers when she was busy reaching out, palms open. Eve could say anything and Villanelle would swallow it, she’s done this to herself as much as Eve has, so what’s to be mad about? She’s done being mad, we make our choices.

 

“And you have to know…” Eve exorcises the notion, brings it up from somewhere deep in her gut, but can’t quite pull it all the way out.

 

“I know,” Villanelle grins into Eve’s gentle fingers. “Not like me, though. Never quite like me.”

 

Eve uses the hand on her cheek to guide her down, press them together forehead to forehead, nose to nose. “That’s why I can’t. Not now - it won’t solve anything.”

 

“It’s funny that this is what’s ruined everything, yeah? Funny that it wasn’t the way I hurt you, but the way I didn’t. You can laugh, it’s okay.”

 

“It’s a little funny,” Eve concedes. “Just shut up and let me do what’s good for you for once, would you?”

 

“No,” Villanelle pouts, pressing one more sneaky kiss against Eve’s lips. It’s nice, but it’s also very, very terrible being so cared for.

 

Eve allows it briefly, then pushes her back again and blinks up at her with the kind of fond mourning reserved for loved ones already six feet under. It’s like she missed the invite to her own funeral. “Sorry.”

 

Villanelle lets her chin hang down toward her chest, just to give herself a break from looking at that fucking tragic expression on Eve’s face. Sorry , indeed. She lets out a sad little laugh and rolls off of Eve to lay on her back next to her. For the first time, she is made privy to the graffiti written in huge, block letters on the underside of Eve’s bunk. The same graffiti Eve must have been staring at since last night, hours on end. It’s written and meticulously colored in purple permanent marker.

 

FUCK YOU.

 

“Oh,” Villanelle laughs, folding her hands over her stomach. She turns her head in Eve’s direction and nods studiously. “I think these are instructions.”

 

Eve drapes a hand across her eyes and chokes out a laugh, but it might also sound like she’s crying a bit. It’s hard to tell. Villanelle chews the inside of her cheek and looks back up at the graffiti. Very inspired.

 

“You should go get dinner before everything’s closed,” Eve says after a long while.

 

Villanelle recognizes it for what it is and pushes up out of Eve’s bunk with a sigh. “Okay. But I would like to know when I’m going to be able to just kiss you without explanation,” she says a little breathlessly. “I have been keeping score and you’re cheating.”

 

Eve chuckles to herself like she’s told a joke with a punchline only she gets to hear. “Spaghetti is fine,” she diverts and fine, fine , they will never talk about anything. She will grow old - Eve will grow older - and neither will know why Eve can’t stop herself from kissing her out of the blue. It will go down in science books like dark matter and dream science. Eve’s logic is the eighth wonder of the world.

 

“Fine,” Villanelle groans. “But now you are owing me again. And next time I won’t warn you either.”

 

“Fine,” Eve agrees as she rolls fully into her bunk and faces the wall. “Just be careful, okay?”

 

“What, I am always careful. You are the one assassinating MI6 informants and double-crossing crime syndicates. You be careful. I’ll be getting spaghetti,” she complains over her shoulder, waving a hand vaguely.

 

Right before she rounds the corner out the door, Eve calls her back with a, “Hey.”

 

Villanelle hangs in the doorway off the frame in wait.

 

After a weighty pause, Eve tells the wall, “Thanks. For...well. You know.”

 

“You are welcome. But you kissed me. When you finally let me kiss you, then you will have much to be thanking me about.”

 

Eve’s back shakes in a quiet laugh. “You wish,” she mutters.



____________________




The problem is not finding spaghetti, the problem is finding spaghetti that does not make her ashamed to put it in her mouth. Maybe the fault is hers for thinking she could accomplish that in London, but she has such high hopes for her life. She can’t even help it.

 

The third restaurant isn’t good enough for them, but she’s running short on time and slack , apparently. The leash jerks back and there is Carolyn Martens having the gall to exist near her again. It is an unfailing thing between them, it would seem.

 

She’s standing outside the mid-grade Italian restaurant like so much bad news.

 

Villanelle remains at the counter, safe behind social courtesy and public decency. Not so safe she doesn’t flip Carolyn off and pull a face.

 

Carolyn’s mouth tightens, but she remains stoic on the parkway.

 

Taking her time, Villanelle makes conversation with the chubby old man in choppy Italian. He’s delighted, of course. And maybe his food isn’t the best Italian food, but he has provided a much greater service: cause for Carolyn Martens to have to wait. To have to stand there in time-out.

 

But the spaghetti smells good and it won’t stay hot forever. She sighs, thanks the owner and takes meandering steps back outside, batting her eyelashes innocently in Carolyn’s direction. For all the good it does, she might as well be blowing kisses at a brick wall.

 

“This is the last one, I’m afraid. Mr. Kim was the last of them,” Carolyn leads, presenting a final, sentimental envelope of cash for the sake of old times. Oh how she will miss it.

 

The money, that is.

 

Villanelle snatches the envelope and shakes it demonstrably next to her ear. It is very, very light. Just kidding, the money is shit. It’s no wonder Eve never had nice things, ever.

 

“Wow, why did I bother killing him at all? Now I just feel bad for him.”

 

Carolyn tips her chin down. “We both know that’s not true.”

 

“I don’t know anything you want me to know, on principle.” She holds up the bag of take-out and dangles it there for her to see. “You have barely covered this unspectacular spaghetti. This has been fun, but I have to go.”

 

“Is Eve waiting for you?”

 

“No, my cat. He loves spaghetti.”

 

Carolyn falls into step beside her like she was invited or something. “I’m going to do something that I don’t do very often.”

“Leave me alone?” Villanelle dares to hope.

 

“I’m going to give you a bit of professional courtesy. A head start, if you will.”

 

“Oh, no thank you. I will take cash instead.”

 

Carolyn circles her to block her path, standing there like a wraith in the middle of the sidewalk. “I won’t be seeing you anymore,” she reveals, and what good news it is. “Or at least, I shouldn’t expect to. I’ve issued an order for your immediate capture. Or disposal. Whatever comes first and with the least damage.”

 

Villanelle narrows her eyes, but bites her tongue.

 

“Our professional dealings end here. I would leave London if I were you,” she advises. “It won’t end well for you here.”

 

“That is the problem with you Londoners , you think this place is so special. It won’t end well for me anywhere,” Villanelle sneers, wrapping her knuckles so tightly into the plastic handles of the bag she can feel the blood cut off and her skin begin to tingle. “Well you are welcome for the murders, then. I can see now that it’s all you wanted from me.”

 

“What else would anyone ever want from you?” Carolyn asks with genuine, absolute cruelty.

 

She is very good. The Twelve should have had their assassins study with her. Villanelle frowns and shifts restlessly on her heels. “So I do your favors and now you try to kill me. Am I supposed to thank you for the warning?”

 

“No, I don’t imagine you would,” Carolyn nods to herself. “Well. Consider yourself warned, then. I’m hoping we don’t see each other again.” She turns to go and Villanelle furrows her brow.

 

“Wait, wait,” she calls out, propping a hand on her hip and glaring at her. “What about Eve?”

 

“What about her?” Carolyn asks with a single raised eyebrow.

 

Villanelle gestures in a wide arc with her spaghetti. “Is your agent still going to be meeting with her tomorrow? She has good information. You should give her a chance, at least.”

 

“What are you talking about?” Carolyn asks slowly, a perturbed crunch to her brow as she turns back to face her fully again.

 

Villanelle shares her look, cocking her head to the side and trying to read her. “We found your agent’s safehouse. The one who has been meeting with your confidential informant from the Twelve until she got her brains blown out. By the way, before you blame me, that was not my fault. I am much better than that, you should know.”

 

Carolyn stares for a long time, right into her thoughts maybe. It is conceivable that Caorlyn Martens has x-ray vision. “MI6 doesn’t have a source in the Twelve,” she says slowly. “Not one operating with an agent, anyways. Not under my authorization.”

 

Villanelle scoffs, throws a disbelieving hand in the air. “You think your agents are so clever? I know an MI6 safe house when I see one. His credentials were in his bag. Don’t fuck with me, Carolyn, we’re past that.”

 

“MI6 has never had a source in the Twelve,” Caorlyn repeats more sternly, a hint of something wild and dare she say riled sparking in Carolyn’s eyes. She considers Villanelle for a heavy few moments. “But we do have a leak.

 

Villanelle’s lips part in surprise, then she stands straighter.

 

“I have to go,” Carolyn says quickly, expression hard.

 

Villanelle balks. “Wait, wait. What in the fuck. Eve is going to meet with your agent tomorrow. Are you serious? If he’s turned traitor for the Twelve, he’ll kill her. You know Eve is being blackmailed into helping them, right? You had to have known, you’ve been having her followed for months!”

 

“Yes, I’m aware. Why do you think I told you where she was living?”

 

“To have her watched?”

 

Carolyn laughs with raking disbelief. “I have plenty of people very good at watching , Villanelle. People I trust, who aren’t so expensive and dangerous. I sent you there to do what you’re good at and you couldn’t even do that. This has all played out rather differently than I imagined.”

 

“You are unreal,” Villanelle shakes her head.

 

Carolyn nods distractedly. “Well. We’ll just have to see what happens. If he has turned traitor, I think it’ll be fairly apparent once they meet tomorrow, wouldn’t you agree?”

 

“Apparent? ” Villanelle hisses. “When he shoots her in the face?”

 

“Yes, I would say that would do the trick,” Carolyn agrees coldly. 

 

Villanelle’s nails dig into her palm enough to draw blood, maybe, it is hard to say because she can’t let Carolyn out of her sights long enough to check. “Why won’t you bring Eve in on it? Tell her what she’s getting into and she can help you.”

 

“Eve is a terrible actor,” Carolyn chuckles to herself, though it sounds devoid of humor. “She could never pull it off. And besides, she’s no longer an MI6 operative. I can’t offer her my protection anymore, she’s burned those bridges and endangered enough people in the process. Her infatuation with you has cost her almost everything.”

 

“I wonder what it will cost you,” Villanelle counters darkly.

 

Carolyn tips her head in a bit of a shrug, like she’s willing to let that one play to its end. “If Eve wants to meet with my agent and see what happens, so be it. All the better. We’ll be watching tomorrow, whatever the outcome, and respond appropriately.”

 

“She won’t go,” Villanelle counters, crossing her arms. “I’ll tell her everything.”

 

Carolyn gives her a sympathetic smile. “So tell her. Whatever you may have made of her, I’ve come to expect a certain devotion from Eve. She makes terrible choices, yes. But they’re always right. I would bet on her being there tomorrow, no matter the dangers to herself. Eve craves truth and purpose. And you can only give her one of those, never both.”

 

“I will stop her,” Villanelle snaps, throwing a hand up in frustration, but Carolyn is already shaking her head like she’s won something. Like they’re in checkmate, but Villanelle hasn’t been looking at the board.

 

“I wouldn’t, if I were you.” Carolyn says smugly. “We’ll be watching. And if we see you there, you will be arrested or killed. Again: whatever comes cheapest to me. You’re MI6’s most wanted as of forty-five minutes ago.” She clucked her tongue in pompous sympathy. “I’d try and cross the border now if I were you. The longer you wait, the better we can close you in. I hear Brazil is nice this time of year.”

 

Then she turns and leaves and Villanelle can only hope they never see each other again.

 

She is left standing there in the street like an idiot and the spaghetti is cold.

 

“Motherfuck!” She shouts at nobody in particular.



____________________




Eve’s nowhere to be found when she gets back and Villanelle feels the absence rise along her spine like cold needles or creeping fingers. The only thing on her bed that’s been left is the envelope from Kenny and a small, cheap burner phone.

 

Villanelle snatches the envelope first and dumps it out on her bed, finding it’s still full of the cash and passport from before. The real surprise comes when she flips open Eve’s passport and finds it’s not Eve’s passport at all.

 

Her own face stares up at her.

 

She drops the passport into her lap and lets out a disbelieving laugh. Eve is very, very sneaky, getting sneakier by the day. If she is not careful, Eve might get smarter than her.

 

The burner phone is a one-way road, practically non-functional save for the pre-programmed minutes and the single number that’d been dialed and dropped thirty minutes ago. Villanelle gathers herself for long minutes before redialing and pressing the speaker to her ear.

 

“Have you left yet?”

 

Villanelle breathes out slowly. “No, I wasn’t aware I was supposed to be leaving,” she says flatly. “Also, your spaghetti is getting cold, you arsehole.”

 

“Time to go. Game’s over.”

 

“The game is over when I say it is over,” Villanelle pouts, dangling her legs over her bunk.

 

Eve sighs into the receiver. “Kenny told me MI6 is mobilizing against you. The longer you wait, the harder it’ll be to get out. You know that. I got you a way out, now use it.”

 

“Whatever, they’re all so stupid. I don’t need a head start,” She scoffs. “But you need to get your arse back here. I was wrong about the meeting, you can’t go.”

 

“I have to go meet with this guy. This is how I make things right.”

 

“Uh, no it’s not. This is how you die. What is wrong with you?”

 

“You told me to go.”

 

Villanelle rolls her eyes. “Okay, I say a lot of things. Carolyn just cornered me in an Italian restaurant and told me MI6 doesn’t have any informants in the Twelve. You want to know what they do have? A leak. A sleeper agent. Are you following, Eve?”

 

Sasha hadn’t turned against the Twelve ,” Eve clarifies.

 

“So Carolyn says,” Villanelle shrugs. “I don’t think she was lying. If I had to guess, I would say Sasha was a loose end only because she knew all of this. Sometimes you do everything right and they kill you for it. A perfect player dies with their secrets. It’s what makes them prime for killing, you understand? Sasha dies, nobody else knows the MI6 leak. We - I was wrong,” Villanelle explains patiently, even though her hands are sweating and her knee bobs nervously. “Carolyn wasn’t trying to protect an asset. She was trying to find a leak or - or, I don’t know. I’m not sure she knew the leak was so close to home. I don’t know enough, I just know you can’t go to this meeting.”

 

Eve remains silent.

 

“If you go to that meeting and the MI6 agent sees you, he will kill you. If he’s working for the Twelve, you’re already fucked. He’s likely told them you’re ready to sell them out and you’re done if they see you again. And Carolyn told me she’s going to let it happen. They won’t help you. They’ll wait and see if he blows your brains out or not and you’ll be a footnote in a report somewhere. Are you hearing me, arsehole? Everyone is very happy to be letting you die right now, okay? Now come back here, I am the one who wants you least dead.”

 

Eve still has nothing to say, apparently, but it is a really good time for her to be saying things!

 

“Would you say something, already?”

 

“Sorry. So...MI6 is going to be monitoring this meeting?”

 

Villanelle frowns. “Yes. They want to see if their agent will kill you or not. Do you ever gamble, Eve? Do you know what a bad bet looks like? If not, I would be happy to point you to this example.”

 

“So he either tries to kill me and the Twelve loses their MI6 double agent to Carolyn’s people. Or he doesn’t try to kill me and I’m able to give them intel either way. It sounds like I’m in a unique position to pull the end of this knot, however it unravels.”

 

“I’m afraid you’re not hearing the part where I think he’s going to kill you. Can you confirm for me that you have heard that part?”

 

“I hear it, alright? I’m doing it.”

 

“Oh wow! That is the complete opposite of anything I wanted to hear from you! Congratulations on that.”

 

“I’m serious. I don’t care if Carolyn won’t protect me. I helped make this mess, and I’m going to clean it up. I’m so tired of being afraid. What has that ever gotten me?”

 

“Your continued existence, I am thinking. Eve this is a very bad time to embrace spontaneity. You should consider this serious advice from me.”

 

“I’m going to fix this. I’m done walking around with a gun to the back of my head.”

 

“Okay, well a gun to the front of your head is not so much better,” Villanelle growls. “What is there to fix, Eve? I’ve killed your boss. You are the only Janitor left. Who is going to be around to clean you up? The Twelve are scattered, who even knows if anyone would ever catch up to you.”

 

“You didn’t kill the sniper. And you didn’t kill my boss.”

 

“What? Yes I did. You were there. The barbeque man is dead.”

 

“Yeah, congrats. You killed my barbeque boss and a retired launderer The Twelve used to use. You killed an old friend of my actual boss . So...good job on that, I guess.”

 

“Then who in the fuck is your boss?!” Villanelle laughed hysterically. “And why would Carolyn not have me kill your boss ? What the hell did the barbeque man know that was worth quieting?”

 

“Not what, but who. He knew my boss.” Eve breathes in the static silence for a moment full of things she should be saying, but elects not to. “It doesn’t matter anymore. I’ve made up my mind. I just left my number to tell you to clear out. Disappear, alright?”

 

“I don’t understand,” Villanelle thinks maybe she is pleading. “Why are you sending me away? Since when do we care about each other’s safety? I don’t need your protection.”

 

“It’s not protection, it’s an eject button. Plane’s crashing.”

 

Villanelle’s jaw aches with how hard it’s clenched, all the way up into her throbbing temples. She can’t find the words she wants to say in any language and it’s not a feeling she’s accustomed to. The background noise in the receiver sounds like Eve is pushing through a crowd, maybe on public transportation or a shopping center, it’s hard to pick out.

 

“I’ve got to tell you something,” Eve says after a while and the sounds of the crowd go quiet.

 

VIllanelle glares down into her lap. “No. You have lost the right. I don’t want to hear anything.”

 

“Listen. How do you think the Twelve’s sniper knew who to kill the night of the party in the dark when he’d never met her before?”

 

VIllanelle tries to keep pace with the conversation, but finds herself thrown. “What? I don’t know, a signal, probably. A signal or a point of reference.”

 

“Yeah. Like a person he’s met many times walking out directly after her. And texting him a minute before.”

 

Villanelle nods slowly, but she’s not sure she understands the point of all this. “Okay, so you signaled him. Big deal, I know you were helping them. What are you trying to say?”

 

Eve blows out a long, shaky sigh. “And why do you think I let you come with me?”

 

Villanelle’s about a half second away from replying with something flippant, cocky, something about how much fun she is. But truth sticks like a lump in her throat and she swallows it. “Point of reference,” Villanelle says again, quietly.

 

“So he would know what you look like, ” Eve agrees, even quieter.

 

Some poorly wired part of her starts laughing and she can’t seem to make it stop for a while. Eve doesn’t laugh, but she does stay on the line. When she’s able to collect herself again, Villanelle sighs fondly. “Oh, Eve. Are you still trying to kill me?”

 

“No!” Eve stumbles over her. “When I realized you were killing the other Janitors, I thought I was next. I wasn’t sure, I don’t know. It was just insurance, I panicked. I knew they’d take note that I wasn’t alone and I thought that could come in handy someday if you did end up trying to kill me.”

 

“That is very smart of you,” Villanelle says honestly. “Why are you telling me this?”

 

“To make sure you leave. Now everyone wants you dead too and everyone knows just where to find you. So go already.”

 

“You are trying to force my hand,” She notes. “Do you think I am still thinking of killing you, Eve? Is that what this is about?”

 

Eve lets out an impatient sound that crackles in the receiver. “What do you even hear in your head when I’m trying to speak to you?”

 

“I don’t know, pop songs about broken hearts usually.”

 

“Listen to the words I’m saying for once. This isn’t a game anymore, if it ever was.” Eve takes a deep breath. “I fucked up okay? I fucked up in Paris, I fucked up in Rome, and I’ve been fucking up ever since. You really think after you walked back into my life I thought I was going to end up the bad guy in all of this? So I’m sorry, okay? Whatever apologies you owe me, I don’t care. I owe you and I’m sorry. I’m just trying to fix everything.”

 

“Yes, you do that,” Villanelle agrees, smiling to herself. “I don’t understand you, Eve Polastri. I know you, but I don’t understand you,” she sighs, flopping back onto her bed and covering her eyes with one hand against the fluorescent glare of the ceiling lights.

 

Eve laughs softly. “I know. It’s mutual.”

 

“That was my mistake, hm? Letting you know me,” she says ruefully. “I picked the wrong one. Should’ve had you love me instead.”

 

“Don’t call this phone again, okay? I don’t think it’s safe.”

 

“Are you breaking up with me?” Villanelle mumbles. “Remember how well that went for you last time. I’m like hepatitis: you can try and treat me, but you’ll never be cured of me.”

 

Eve laughs under her breath and it makes Villanelle’s hand come up to rest over her tight chest. “Don’t send me any postcards.”

 

“You can’t stop me.”

 

“Goodbye, Villanelle.”

 

The line goes dead.



____________________




The first bottle of champagne goes down very quickly and very earnestly. It gives her hiccups from the bubbles, but something scares them off. The horror of her everyday existence, would be her guess.

 

Her appetite has fled rather suddenly, but she takes a few half-hearted bites of cold spaghetti before popping the top off the second bottle and devoting equal enthusiasm to it.

 

Eve is such a shit.

 

The American comes back into the room, drops his obnoxiously large backpack near the foot of his bed and sits on his mattress. Villanelle stares openly at him, waiting and hoping for the discomfort that she knows will follow.

 

He won’t look up from his stupid phone, everything’s ruined.

 

“Hey!” Villanelle calls too loudly at him.

 

He looks up finally and she can’t remember why she did that.

 

“What are you looking at?” She sneers, taking another long pull from the dry champagne still bubbling up against the neck of the bottle. It kind of burns her nose, but she’s trying to make a point, so she swallows without complaint. Her eyes may or may not be watering.

 

He blinks at her for a moment, then sets his phone down on the bed beside him. “Are you okay?”

 

Villanelle blinks back. “What? No. Are you okay? You look like a dachshund swallowed a ferris wheel.”

 

Smiling kindly, he folds his hands over his knees. “Is it your friend?”

 

“Why don’t you mind your stupid business?”

 

“Okay,” he shrugs and moves to begin untying his shoes. “You just seem upset. I wondered if it was because your friend left. She asked me to make sure you were okay.”

 

“If she cared about me being okay, she would be here to ask me herself,” Villanelle snaps. But it doesn’t do anything for her - he just nods again and picks his phone back up. When he begins unwinding headphones and plugging them into the jack at the bottom of his phone, Villanelle realizes she’s about to be ignored again. “Have you ever been broken up with?” She asks abruptly and he stops what he’s doing. “I bet you have. Loads of times.”

 

“Yeah, I have,” he nods and gives her a sad little shrug. “Sucks, huh?”

 

“It is worse than sucking,” Villanelle grumbles, sloshing the contents of her bottle around sloppily. “I have to sneak out of the country.”

 

“Yeah, I felt that way too,” he agrees.

 

Villanelle gives him a flat look. “No, I am literally having to flee the country. I am wanted by the government for many murders. And my old bosses are trying to have me killed again. It is a bad time for being me.”

 

“So it was work?” He asks sympathetically. “That’s why you broke up?”

 

“No, it is the we’re-both-going-to-die thing, I think,” she rolls her eyes. “One second she is kissing me for no reason, then the next she is leaving me a passport and telling me to go away forever. I don’t understand women at all.”

 

“I mean, it sounds like she just cares about you,” he offers with another cheery, infuriating smile.

 

Villanelle scoffs, takes a too-big, aching swallow of champagne. “I don’t need her help. I am the assassin, she is a desk clerk in over her head. Why is she worrying about me when everyone wants to kill her too? She’s being stupid.”

 

“Isn’t that the point?”

 

The bottle dangles between her knees, clenched clumsily in the hand she props on her knees as she leans forward. “Point of what?”

 

“Loving someone.”

 

“The point of loving someone is being stupid? What is wrong with you?”

 

The American laughs alone like she’s the one missing the joke. “I mean, kind of. It doesn’t matter that she knows you can take care of yourself better than she can. She still worries. It doesn’t have to make sense. In fact, I think the less sense it makes, the more serious you know she is.”

 

Villanelle narrows her eyes, swings the bottle back and forth and considers him through the swirling haze of too much drink, too fast. “You’re not trying to get me to fuck you, are you?”

 

“I’m gay.”

 

“And what? You want an award or something?”



____________________




“What is your name again?” Villanelle slurs, realizing belatedly that her head had dropped onto his shoulder, just for a moment to take a little rest. He won’t even notice.

 

He says something back. His name, probably. If she had to guess.

 

“Okay, I don’t care. I’m going to call you Tibalt. You’re my best friend now, Tibalt.”

 

“Hm, I think we should stop drinking,” he says critically. Like he is so perfect, his name is Tibalt. “Let me get you some water.”

 

“I don’t want it,” she grumbles. “You haven’t answered me: do you think Eve will die? I told you everything, I want your opinion.”

 

“I mean...I’m a little lost,” he admits and god he is so useless.

 

“What is to not understand? Vse amerikantsy takie tupye ili tol'ko ty?”

 

Tibalt laughs in good humor and jostles her head as he shrugs. “It’s just a lot, okay? A little wild and frankly hard to believe.”

 

“You know what’s hard to believe? That you are this ugly and this stupid at the same time.”

 

“Has anyone ever told you that you have a tendency to lash out when you’re hurt?” He asks and it's annoying how kind he still manages to sound.

 

If Villanelle wasn’t so absolutely obliterated she might have considered killing him or something. “No. Answer my question.”

 

“I mean, it sounds like she’s in some bad trouble?” He tries and the poor thing, it probably is the best he’s capable of. “Sounds like she doesn’t have any friends left out there.”

 

“She had me,” Villanelle groans, turning to rub her pounding head against his arm. “But I am like so much of yesterday’s garbage to her. I saw Carolyn break character for the first time ever, I know she wasn’t lying. That traitor MI6 agent is going to blow Eve’s brains out,” she sighs. “It’s a shame, I really liked her brains.”

 

“You’re being serious, aren’t you?”

 

Villanelle ignores him. “She’s right though. I don’t think I’d make it out of the square if I showed up and tried to stop it. It’s a very bad idea.”

 

“Stop it how?”

 

“Tibalt, honestly. Do you think we are making the speech figures here? I am an assassin. I stop them by killing everyone.”

 

“Oooookay,” Tibalt hedges, places it neatly aside somehow. “So, what? You’re just going to let her die?”

 

“I guess,” Villanelle makes some wide, sloppy gesture. “I’m not getting myself killed for her. Nobody’s worth that.” Feeling suddenly crowded, Villanelle pushes away from Tibalt, using his face to leverage herself to her feet. He splutters, but doesn’t fight her on it. “Stay here, I’m going to use the toilet.”

 

She stumbles out of the room, dragging her hand along the wall as she traverses the narrow corridor at a slow pace. The paint feels clumpy and rough under her fingertips, painted over so many layers, you’d have to chip deep to hit drywall again. Her eyes slip closed more often than not and she wonders how much longer before they don’t open again.

 

By the time she actually reaches the toilets, she can’t really remember why she’s there at all. Just for something to do, she turns one of the sinks on and braces her hands on either side of it, watching while water swirls around the basin and spills down the drain. She takes the cell phone from her pocket and flips it open, hitting redial for the two-hundredth time that night and letting the ringtone wear itself out. Eve has made a major mistake in setting up a voicemail.

 

Villanelle leaves her two-hundredth voice message and it goes something like this:

 

“When the MI6 man shoots you in the face, I bet you’ll shit yourself.”

 

It’s one of her nicer messages.

 

She tries to brace her hand again on the side of the sink, but loses grip on the phone and it goes clattering off somewhere near a toilet. It’s only a small flare of panic before she deflates and remembers it doesn’t matter anyways. Eve isn’t going to answer, she’s made that clear.

 

Swallowing past the nausea rising from the stirring in her gut, she slides her feet across the floor toward the little window in the back of the room and wedges it open against its own rusted track. The weather’s got a chill bite to it, but all the better for sticking her head out and taking in deep, greedy lungfulls. Her head feels like a split rock and her hands are sliding against the windowsill in their own clammy distress.

 

Ugh. Too much drink.

 

She leans further out the window, crossing her arms and dropping her chin on top of them, waiting for the inevitable droop of her eyelids. The breeze ruffles her hair and almost makes the way her eyes swim behind her eyelids bearable.

 

It’s conceivable that she could sleep there - lock her knees, widen her stance and pray. But that’s a little pathetic even for her. Sighing, Villanelle eventually leans back inside and pushes away from the window to make her way back to her bed. The moment she’s reentered the room, Tibalt is slipping a bottle of water into her slack hand.

 

This time, she pops the cap off, throws it somewhere on the floor and drinks without complaint. After one ambitious, aborted attempt to swing up into her bunk, she settles for rolling into Eve’s bunk instead and staring up at the underside of her own, which is still proclaiming “FUCK YOU” unfortunately.

 

“Do you think the MI6 boss - uh, Carolyn - really told you where Eve was living with the expectation that you would kill her?” Tibalt asks as he reaches out and takes the bottle from her hand before she spills it everywhere.

 

Villanelle peels back an eyelid and somehow locates him in the vast ocean of her vision. “I thought you weren’t paying attention.” Tibalt gives her an encouraging smile which is worse maybe than if he’d thrown up in her mouth. “Ugh, whatever. She implied that, yes.”

 

“Hm.”

 

“What?”

 

“Nothing, I just...I’m not sure I’d buy that from her. Think about it. If she didn’t need Eve’s literal crime boss dead, why would she need Eve dead? And it seems like an awful big leap to assume you’d kill someone you obviously cared about, even if she hurt your feelings pretty bad last year.”

 

“Well,” Villanelle thinks about the parts she’d gracefully glossed over. “We...both hurt each other’s feelings. In a way. A rather violent way, you could say. But yes, fine, please continue being smart at me.”

 

Tibalt clucks to himself. “Sounds more like she was trying to distract her. And you too, maybe. Whatever her intention, it worked, didn’t it? You don’t seem to have paid much attention to what was going on around you. Your story is so full of holes.”

 

“Aye, the third degree!” Villanelle scoffs, gesturing rudely. “I was busy, okay? Chasing women of Eve’s caliber uses up a lot of... bandwidth , in case you’ve forgotten in your gayness.”

 

“And why would the MI6 boss lady tell you Eve was alive at all if she didn’t actually need you to kill her? What’s the point of that? Misdirection .”

 

Villanelle purses her lips and tries to gather her last three brain cells for the task, because she refuses to be dragged behind a man named Tibalt. “You are so insistent! So Carolyn doesn’t make sense, who cares?”

 

“You were literally so distracted by the notion that Eve was involved - so sure that nobody else could have pinpointed you there and flushed you out - that you never stopped to wonder how Carolyn knew you were in Alaska.”

 

Villanelle massages her temples. “You’re making my brain mushy. Obviously, I was meant to think Eve told Carolyn I was there. It was the natural conclusion.”

 

“Yeah and that would’ve worked fine as an explanation until you realized they definitely weren’t working together. Again, you were distracted.”

 

“So sue me.”

 

“Okay, so if Eve didn’t sell you out to her boss and Carolyn found you there without Eve’s help, then how the hell did everyone seem to know at the same time that you were going to be in Alaska? Jesus, you don’t have a Facebook or something do you?”

 

“Oh my god! Shut up!” Villanelle bursts, ripping one of the flat pillows out from under her head and whipping it blindly in Tibalt’s direction. “You think you’re so clever! What are you, a spy? Legally, I think you have to tell me if you’re a spy. That’s how it works, I'm very sure.”

 

“I’m a geology major.”

 

Villanelle turns to glare at wherever he might be in her swimming vision. “I don’t even know what that is,” she hisses. “ A teper' otstan' ot menya poka ya tebya ne ubila.

 

Tibalt falls silent, but his brain is so loud even across the room and she considers just how much she values the last pillow under her head. “Sorry. Got carried away,” he eventually apologizes.

 

“Well get carried back here, please,” Villanelle says waspishly. “I need your brain right here in case I aspirate my own vomit tonight.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“And it doesn’t matter, you know? Maybe Eve sold me out, maybe she didn’t. Maybe Carolyn’s omniscient, I have no idea Tibalt. It doesn’t matter - doesn’t change anything that happens tomorrow. You can know everything and change nothing. Knowledge is the opposite of power. It’s weight on your shoulders, slows you down. I’d take a fully loaded gun over knowing anything at all.”

 

Tibalt hums with great suspicion, but seems to let it lie. Wordlessly, he tidies the area around her bunk and sets an extra blanket near her feet. Before he leaves her be, he hesitates, standing just a few paces off and staring at her.

 

“What?” She asks through clenched teeth.

 

Tibalt’s mouth twists up in the corner, a hesitant grimace. “You’re really not going to try and help her tomorrow?”

 

“No. I don’t do that. I don’t care if she wants to go get her stupid face shot off . I just - I - ah, how do you say - eh -  Zamolchi pozhaluista. Ya ne hochu bol'she slushat'. Ya ne hochu bol'she dumat' o nei .”

 

Tibalt doesn’t say anything about that, just quietly digs around in his pocket and produces a folded handkerchief that he hands over. Villanelle won’t take it - she doesn’t need it okay? He is imagining what he thinks he is seeing - because there is nothing to be seeing - so he sets it next to her, within reach. Then finally he is leaving her alone, slipping into his own bed after he’d shut the lights off and plunged them into blessed, blessed darkness.

 

The bed creaks and groans as he settles, gets comfortable and breathes out the last of the day’s tension. She’s twisting his handkerchief between her hands and waiting for her head to stop spinning when he clears his throat quietly.

 

“I have one more question.”

 

Villanelle doesn’t answer him, just stares sightlessly at the bunk above her.

 

“While you were gone, who exactly was teaching her how to speak Russian in the middle of London?”



______________________



She dreams about Eve. Not as she was, but as she is. Will be, maybe.

 

She’s wearing a long jacket, it’s cold wherever she is. Or will be.

 

Eve’s feet are lined up, toes flush with the edge of some structure, some drop Villanelle can’t see from where she’s standing. Eve’s back is to her. She hears water running.

 

Villanelle watches her for some time and no time at all and Eve never turns. She doesn’t move hardly at all, just once to check her watch. Villanelle spends hours, seconds, no time at all, thinking about calling out to her to get her to turn, but she never comes up with what to say. Or even why to say it. The longer they do or do not spend there, the lower the need to call to her burns in the pit of her stomach until it’s dwindled to deep red, greying coals. Until she doesn’t think it’s so important anymore.

 

She thinks maybe she smiles to herself. Eve’s breath carries in the cold as she sighs out like she’s bored. Villanelle finds she’s not bored at all.

 

Eve exists, just like that, right there and Villanelle thinks that’s enough. She doesn’t call out to her and so Eve doesn’t turn around and eventually Eve walks off into obscurity and that feels right too. Villanelle lets her go.



____________________

 

x12.

____________________



Chapter Text

____________________

x12.

____________________




Ebat' ,” is the first thing she says when she manages to resuscitate from the death masquerading as sleep. She has not felt like such remarkable garbage in a very long time and that includes the increasing incidence of maimings in her life.

 

Tibalt’s bed is empty, but his bag is there and that’s it’s own relief. She’s not sure she remembers how to speak the american english - might have lost that and a few other extra languages somewhere near the bottom of the second bottle of champagne. Might have lost more, it’s difficult to say. “I am too old to be doing this. This must be how Eve feels all the time.”

 

The previous night comes back to her and she remembers with no small amount of cheer that Eve is going to die today, probably. How original.

 

“Ya pereosmyslivayu svoе zhelanie zhit' ," she groans, rolling over and letting her arm dangle off the edge of the bunk so her fingertips just touch the cold, gritty floor. “I am sorry to the universe for whatever this is punishment for.”

 

Someone’s knees appear in her limited field of vision, then Tibalt’s face as he crouches down. In the palm of his outstretched hand sits a few pills and in his other is a bottle of water. “Thought maybe you could use these.”

 

Villanelle glares, but is very much betrayed by how she takes the items anyways and swallows them both eagerly in less than a minute. “Why would you let me drink that much, what is wrong with you?” She chastises before flopping back onto her flat pillow and pressing the heels of her palms into her eyes hard enough to see colors.

 

“I’m surprised you’re awake at all,” He says cheerfully. “It was kind of amazing how much you drank.”

 

At least one of them is cheerful. “I have been fucked over many times, but nobody fucks me over quite like I do. If you want something done right, you must do it yourself.”

 

“Did you leave your phone in the bathroom last night?”

 

Villanelle lets her hands slide off her face and sits up against the horrible swoop in her stomach. “What? Why?”

 

Tibalt takes his time combing out the ugly flop of his hair like it’s a style or something before shrugging and hooking a thumb over his shoulder. “I was brushing my teeth and I heard a phone ring somewhere under the toilet.”

 

“Shit,” Villanelle curses, feeling suddenly much more awake. She rolls gracelessly from the tangled sheets, knees almost hitting the floor before she catches herself. She’s not wearing pants, but that doesn’t seem to be a thing Tibalt cares about so whatever. They can both not care about it together at a later time.

 

The floor is cold against her bare feet as she stumbles toward the bathroom, pushing her tangled hair back from her forehead and twisting it into a messy tie behind her as she goes. It takes her a few minutes to find the burner phone where it had been wedged behind the communal plunger, which is...great. It should speak to her desperation that she holds it to her face anyways to hear the single voicemail that had been sent to her phone sometime the previous night.

 

She holds her breath while she waits for the menu to rattle off the time and date of the message, willing it to go faster.

 

Eve’s voice sounds through the receiver, low and threatening. “Get on a damn plane. And if you don’t stop leaving me stupid voicemails, I’m going to tell MI6 you’re the little spoon, jackass.”

 

And then the message ends and the robot lady asks if she wants to delete, save for later, or listen to it again.

 

Villanelle holds the phone out in front of her, staring at it in disbelief. Just to be certain, she listens to it one more time. Tibalt’s just coming to check on her when she starts laughing. It’s not a great look: she’s sitting on a bathroom floor in nothing but her underwear and a shirt, holding a cheap cell phone and laughing to the point of tears.

 

“Um. Are you okay?”

 

“No,” Villanelle wheezes, wiping at the corner of her eye. “Hold, please.”

 

And then she’s barfing into the toilet bowl - another great look for her, she is sure.

 

Tibalt pats her back awkwardly and offers her another water bottle, which seems to be his complete understanding of how to interact with women. Villanelle takes it anyways, because maybe he’s not that far off the mark. “I am never drinking again until the next time I drink,” she swears.

 

“Been there, brother.”

 

Villanelle pushes away from the toilet bowl and scoots back against the wall, just under the window she’d opened the previous night so it spills cool air down on her head. She gathers herself there, breathing slowly and sipping water and preparing for what she has to do.

 

Tibalt sits on the floor across from her, drumming his fingers anxiously against the caps of his knees. “So…” he leads after an appropriate amount of time leaving her alone. “You gonna  skip town now?”

 

“No,” Villanelle sighs, shaking her head even though it rattles the headache around worse, like the last of her marbles rolling away on unlevel ground. There they go. “Not yet.”

 

“No?” Tibalt repeats, smiling hopefully. “So you’re...”

Villanelle gestures vaguely with one hand. “I’m afraid so.”

 

“You’re going to go save your friend.”

 

“Don’t look so smug,” Villanelle glares him down, draining the rest of the water bottle. “I have no plans today, so whatever.”

 

Tibalt purses his lips and has the audacity to give her some kind of worried look. “What about you, though? Won’t they, uh, kill you or something?”

 

Villanelle laughs loudly - a mistake, oh her poor head. “Please. Have you met me?” She braces a hand against the wall behind her and pushes nimbly to her feet. After a moment’s consideration, she holds a hand out for Tibalt and pulls him to his much less nimble feet. “Don’t look so sad, Tibalt. It takes more than death to kill me.”

 

“That’s...not my name, you know.”

 

Villanelle gives him a few harty pats on the side of his face as she pushes past him. “Yes it is, don’t ruin the moment.”



____________________




It’s a good thing she bought new clothes the day prior, because if Carolyn Martens is going to watch her ruin everything from a pair of MI6 binoculars several blocks away, she’s not going to be doing it in yesterday’s outfit. Rasstavlyai prioritety , Konstantin says.

 

Whatever may come, she’s glad to be leaving the world’s ugliest hostel behind her. She thinks maybe she got uglier staying there, but then she checks herself in the mirror again before leaving and is relieved to find she is still possibly the second most attractive human in existence.

 

False alarm, she should know better.

 

“Goodbye, Tibalt,” Villanelle says, standing in the lobby. Tibalt gets the drop on her and suddenly she’s being enveloped in a sweaty hug. “Okay, don’t ruin it,” she snaps, pushing him away.

 

He grins at her. “Be safe, okay?”

 

“I think you’re missing the point of this whole thing. Were you not listening at all?”

 

“Sending all my good vibes your way,” he carries on like she hasn’t spoken at all. “Good karma, good vibes, and best wishes, you’ve got all of mine. I hope you save your girl.”

 

“What? No. I don’t want those. Do you have a gun? I could really use a gun right now.”

 

Tibalt laughs like it’s a joke. Her imminent death is funny to everyone, it would seem. It is starting to almost be funny to her too. She can get there.



____________________




1100 Hours.






Leicester Square is dreadfully busy, horrendously overpopulated and crawling with what must pass as humans these days. It’s a good place to blend in. A good place to have a meeting with a person you don’t trust, because a crowd is good for one thing and one thing only: a crowd is like a still lake. If you upset it, touch the surface in any way against the still tension, it ripples out. Make one wrong move and you’re blown. When someone acts oddly it’s as though all of London is alerted within the next rounded hour.

 

Even now, she’s proud of the choice. It won’t stop a seasoned assassin from a kill - it wouldn’t stop her - but it does mean they must be considerate . Considerate of the breadth of daylight and a thousand watching eyes and scared little flocks of people with shopping bags and travel nerves. A challenge to the mission, if not a prevention. And even if the MI6 traitor tries his very hardest to blend in, it’s when you are trying to blend that you are most obvious to a person reared and fed on those same techniques. He will be like sore thumb, as they say.

 

The agent won’t be the problem, he has too much to lose so public like this. The problem is who he’s been in bed with last, who has paid him more handsomely, and she’s very certain it isn’t the bloated English government. If she’s right, the real problem will come from a lofty vantage, a styleless assassin in a high perch with picky eyes and steel nerves, that will be the problem, Eve.

 

Eve, who prides herself on thinking, but spends much more time feeling.

 

Villanelle takes a seat on the balcony terrace of a pretentious little cocktail bar that’s barely opened for the day, a long hour before the scheduled appointment. It’s a good view. And it serves alcohol, which suits her predictions just fine. He won’t disappoint her, she’s sure, it’s exactly his taste.

 

The staff comes by often to subtly demand she order more and normally this is cause to resist, but she needs a certain degree of subtlety. Bleh, it leaves a bad taste in her mouth.

 

She orders the expensive drinks and pours them into a potted plant when the staff aren’t looking. All alcohol will be escorted from the premises until further notice. Indefinitely. She is needing her brains for whatever happens next, for however much longer she has them.

 

It’s a dull wait, but at least the weather is nice. And in London, that is practically scripture.







1140 hours.








He shows up an irresponsible twenty minutes prior to the meeting time looking much the same as he always did. It’s like he owns one shirt and one setting on his razor. After years, she didn’t rub off on him at all, somehow.

 

Villanelle thinks maybe he will look past her, choose a seat further down and nurse his vodka sullenly until it's all over and he can slink away back to whatever hole he’s living in these days. But a quick scan, a raising of his eyebrows when he spots her in the corner, and then they’re just staring at each other across the patio.

 

Villanelle waggles her fingers at him in a teasing wave and leans back in her chair. God, he looks even older.

 

“I must be the only one who thought you would show up,” He leads with, wrapping both hands around the backrest of the chair opposite her and leaning in to grin at her. “I’d swear I put money on it. I must remember who owes me.”

 

“It’s definitely not me,” Villanelle says lightly, fanning herself with a cocktail list. “But I am thinking maybe you owe me something. Maybe a lot of somethings. That was very rude of you to have my holiday interrupted.”

 

Konstantin laughs in her face and rips the chair out to sit heavily across from her. “Okay, okay. In my defense, I thought you’d figure it was me sooner rather than later. You’re off your game, yes?”

 

“Every time I think I’m on my game, someone stabs me,” Villanelle laments, twirling a cocktail straw deftly between her fingers. “Did Eve know? Did she know what you tried to do to me?”

 

“Does it matter?”

 

Villanelle ignores him and his tricky words, he won’t ever say what he means and he won’t ever mean what he says and she’s made peace with that. She’s made peace that they will only ever be people capable of great comfort and great tragedy to each other. Lies and games and shallow affection. “No. You know what? Eve didn’t know. She would have sold your secrecy to me much cheaper. I could have killed her for it, you know?”

 

Konstantin smiles widely at her, nods and wags a finger like he’s proud of how clever she is. “Eve is a great, eh... instrument . She is a great tool. Hard working, single-minded, brilliant in her own way. Even if we showed her everything happening - even if we allowed it - I’m not sure she would ever see the forest for the trees. She’s not a shaker of men, Villanelle. We needed her focused on simpler things.”

 

“I am simpler? Wow, okay.”

 

“Forest for the trees, Villanelle.”

 

“And how would anyone know what Eve is capable of? When has Eve ever been allowed to see the forest?” Villanelle muses, gaze distant. “I suppose Carolyn knew what was going on too? I suppose this is just another game the two of you play.”

 

Konstantin shrugs and breathes out a little puff of air as he lets his back fall into the cradle of his chair, one ankle crossing over the other. “Carolyn knew what I needed her to know. And I’m sure I know what she needed me to know. Tricky, tricky. Just like you and Eve.”

 

“Oh,” Villanelle cants her head to the side and grins wryly, “You two wish you had our chemistry.”

 

“You shouldn’t have come here,” Konstantin says baldly. “Do you have any idea how many people here want you dead?”

 

Villanelle turns her hands over, palms up, powerless. “You and Carolyn should not try to break my things. I don’t play very nice when that happens.”

 

Konstantin shakes his head in good humor and reaches out to take her untouched drink. “I said you’d gotten soft, but I didn’t actually know how bad. You really care about her, don’t you? Not as a thing you want. Just... her .” He chuckles into the lip of his glass. “I think it might be terminal.”

 

“I think maybe you’re right,” Villanelle agrees, slinging her arm over the back of her own chair. “But you should be more concerned with yourself - with how easy you were to predict. This is a large area. I guessed where you’d be way too quickly.”

 

“Eh, I don’t mind so much. I’m not hiding,” Konstantin takes a long drink and dabs at his mouth with the back of his shirt sleeve. “So,” he says pleasantly, “What is your interest here today? What is your plan?”

 

And right there, his eyes flick up for a fraction - a barely discernible spasm in his facade as he eyes the upper floors of the highrise construction next door. Gotcha.

 

Villanelle smiles and gives a careless little shrug. “Shooting you in the head, maybe. But for real, no faking again, okay?”

 

Konstantin lets out a burst of laughter so hearty it draws the attention of the overly-enthusiastic waiter again. She can only watch with resignation as he plasters a helpful smile on his face and picks his way over between the tables to stand beside them. “I see you’ve picked up a friend,” he points out and Villanelle sends him a vacant look.

 

He clears his throat. “Can I get you anything, sir?”

 

“He took mine,” Villanelle cuts in before Konstantin can speak, falling into as close an accent to the waiter as she can manage. “Tea would be nice. Bring the kettle, yeah?”

 

He nods and excuses himself and then they’re just two of the best of friends in the whole wide world, sitting at a table again, catching up while Konstantin levels a gun at her under the table. “I can’t let you interfere, you know that.”

 

“Well, that’s not exactly right. You can’t appear to have done nothing to stop me, yes? That is how you get by, you help no one. You take no sides and mean nothing to anyone. It is a...eh, form of cancer. You. How little anything means to you.”

 

Konstantin raises his eyebrows but says nothing.

 

“You know, I think I was actually sad when you pretended to get shot in the head. I hope you feel bad,” she chastises.

 

He scoffs. “No you weren’t.”

 

“I said I think. It felt like I was sad, maybe.”

 

“Piss off, you are so full of it,” He grins, cocking the hammer of his gun under the table.

 

Villanelle looks down pointedly, then back up to give him an unimpressed look. “What? You are going to shoot me? Why are you here bossing around custodial staff from the defunct Twelve when you could be wearing ugly sweaters with your cow wife and bouncing your arsehole daughter on your knee?”

 

“What did Eve tell you?”

 

“Nothing. I had to guess you were here. She told me whatever was left over from the Twelve needed their messes cleaned up. She told me you were all fuckable. I filled in whatever blanks didn’t bore me to death.”

 

Konstantin purses his lips and nods. “Well. What do you think having a family makes me?”

 

“Demented?”

 

“You’re right,” he chortles, nearly draining the rest of the drink he’d stolen from her. “Demented and vulnerable. And fuckable. I told you, you’re never free from them. Not even in death, not even when they don’t exist anymore. Now how’s that for cancer.

 

Villanelle shakes her head distastefully. “I wondered what kind of Janitor Carolyn wouldn’t want me to kill. Is this your foreplay? Nudging Eve about the board like a chess piece, playing chicken over the Twelve’s table scraps?”

 

“What can I say?” Konstantin offers almost like an apology. “For once, Carolyn found herself in the rare position of wanting the same thing as the Twelve, as me even. Everyone wants everyone dead, hm? Carolyn will never work with me, she’ll work around me. We do enjoy sighting each other down the barrel, though, even if we can never quite seem to pull the trigger.”

 

“You should,” Villanelle advises. “It’s cathartic.”

 

“Nice try. Your heart is bleeding all over the square, Villanelle.

 

Villanelle laughs through her nose and swirls the water glass she’d been ignoring, lets condensation run down and between her fingers while she juggles drops on the tips of them. “Hm. It was a nice try, yeah? I thought maybe I could do it. Oh well.”

 

“Oh well,” Konstantin agrees, studying her carefully. She thinks he’s looking for whatever that kind of mortal wound might look like on her. But he won’t see it. By the time he sees it, she’ll be gone.

 

“I should’ve known it was you. Eve was speaking such terrible Russian at me. How did I not see it sooner? That was good, the Alaska thing. Good distraction, was that Carolyn’s idea or yours?”

 

“She’s really quite bad at it, isn’t she? The Russian,” Konstantin muses, swirling the ice at the bottom of the glass. “It was a work in progress.”

 

“I will finish what you started,” Villanelle vows. “You are terrible teacher. I’ll do better.”

 

“You really think you’re leaving here alive? You think she is?”

 

Villanelle gives him an exaggerated nod, bouncing her eyebrows cheekily just to set him off. “You want to know how? Come on, old man. You’re dying to know, I can see it.”

 

“You’re so full of shit,” he chuckles. “You’re not even armed and if you try anything, Carolyn’s going to make sure all of London’s ready to shut down. For you. You came here to die.”

 

“And you’re here to take in the view?”

 

The server comes back with a teapot and a small teacup, placing them down with a little ramekin of tea bags. Before Konstantin can order something else, she tells the waiter to piss off. Then Konstantin’s left to watch sullenly while she selects a tea bag from the dish and goes about placing it in the pot.

 

When she’s finished, she looks up and folds her hands diplomatically on the table in front of her. “So I’m assuming the fact that you’re here means Eve is about to meet with a spoiled MI6 agent? He’s going to kill her, isn’t he? Whether you want it or not, he won’t let Eve go now that she knows him for what he is. And Carolyn won’t let you interfere either, no matter how she keeps you to herself. She needs him vetted. And you need him safe, he must be very valuable to whoever’s left of the Twelve. For now.”

 

“What do you need me for? You know everything.”

 

“I don’t need you at all,” Villanelle shrugs. It’s a lie, he’s already betrayed his vulnerabilities, she knows what she has to do. She’s gotten exactly what she came here to get. “You’re here for one reason and one reason only. You’re hedging , Konstantin. Would it kill you to bet on just one horse?”

 

He’s opening his mouth to say something else, but the little synth jingle of her burner cell phone interrupts him. A thrill goes through her and she squashes it long enough to hold up a single, polite finger for Konstantin’s pardon. “You’ll have to excuse me. It’s just the old wife calling.”

 

Konstantin’s expression goes flat.

 

“Good morning, I am very hungover, speak softly please.”

 

“You got out, right? You’re gone?”

 

“Oh, yes. Very gone,” Villanelle nods, shooting Konstantin an obnoxious wink. “I’m just having tea with an old friend.”

 

“You don’t have any friends.”

 

“Eve, please. You are right here. Don’t hurt your own feelings.”

 

“I can’t believe you.”

 

“Can’t you?” Villanelle shakes her head in Konstantin’s general direction, gesturing with helpless fondness at her phone. “You know, next time you want Russian lessons, don’t ask such an arsehole.”

 

Eve falls quiet for long seconds, then sighs. “I told you to get lost.”

 

“You must learn to lower your expectations, love. Otherwise, I’m afraid we’ll never work.”

 

“You can’t stop this. I don’t need you to save me - I’ve never needed that, okay? I need you to get out before you’re seen. Why are you doing this? ”

 

Villanelle makes some flippant gesture, twirling a lock of her hair. “Why not? I didn’t have plans today and London is so boring. Don’t worry, you won’t even see me. Think of me as gone, like a bad dream.”

 

Konstantin is not looking so amused. “Hang up,” he demands, voice low and deadly. “Walk away.”

 

“Don’t do anything stupid,” Eve asks of her too.

 

They ask too much! She is, and always will be, exactly who she intends to be. This is true art. And they can sit there and watch, or they can leave the gallery.







1150 hours.








There must be something in her eyes that betrays her as she ends the call, something that gives Konstantin a moment of too-late reaction, because he’s bringing the gun up over the table in angry surprise just a fraction of a moment before she’s throwing the boiling contents of her tea pot in his face.

 

Oh, she hadn’t even realized how long she’d been waiting to do that.

 

Konstantin flaps around like a big vulture, clawing at his red face and it’s a good opportunity to not get herself shot. He keeps hold of his gun, which is a shame, but she doesn’t have time to grieve it. She’s already ducking between tables and slipping down from the terrace, off into the hotel next door. It’s taped up and fenced off sloppily for construction and she finds a way in with little trouble.

 

Highrise construction . It’s a sniper’s playground, they are so boring. What is even the point of killing people if you’re going to do it so blandly? You might as well not kill people at all and she simply can’t imagine.

 

She’s lucky in that there haven’t been boots on the ground in a week or so, the crews and the work on pause long enough for dust to settle. It makes the obvious treads of her query’s own shoes stand stark against it, clear like a map up to the thirteenth floor, down the hall, and into a room with unhung drywall lying around. It’s a room half-polished, work gloves and masks, ladders, and dried up, chalky caulk bins scattered around like the work had been dropped suddenly. Even the nail gun is dropped carelessly and propped against the compressor, still plugged in. There’s no subtlety to be had standing in the doorless entryway of a naked building, the only two souls in the entire highrise.







1156 hours.







They always look like this.

 

Snipers are somehow always bald, she has no idea why. They must be too ugly to let people see their faces when they kill. They are always unassuming, quiet, serious. Boring, boring, she said so and he is so predictable she can’t stifle the laugh when she sees him.

 

He’s caught in the middle of the almost meditative process of assembling his equipment. She’s seen it before - the ritual by which they prepare for target and deletion. He’s screwing a scope into the frame of his sleek weapon and his mouth opens a bit when he sees her there. They’re not very accustomed to visitors, his people. And he recognizes her, of course - Eve’s final parting gift, the arsehole.

 

So again, no subtlety to be had, really. It’s not her fault, okay?

 

“I’m here to kill you,” she announces. It feels only fair: the man kills from a thousand meters away with a fancy toy for a living, he’s not trained in these kinds of deadly affairs. He’s not ready for someone like her .

 

 His face goes hard and he actually has to turn his back to her to get to his sidearm, like he never expected to be within a kilometer of real danger. This costs him precious moments that allow her to clear the room, allow her to push the butt of the gun up and away and aim a barely-deflected glancing blow to the softness of his throat. His hand spasms and the gun goes clattering out of the unframed window.

 

He chokes on the blow, but keeps his feet, staggering back and bringing his forearms up in a boxer’s block for whatever comes next. Ah, she is not sure, though. You see, it’s like jazz, fistfighting. There are progressions to follow, forms, shapes, sure, but you’re most deadly when you’re breaking the mold.

 

He catches her elbow in the unforgiving wall of one guarding forearm, twists out of the majority of the impact of the fist she’s tried to sneak into his solar plexus, but doesn’t see the very dirty, but very valid knee she brings up into his groin. You know what they call fair fighters in real life?

 

Dead.

 

His face goes slack and one arm drops downward automatically toward the impact, a slip of human weakness, which is just enough space to cut a satisfying upper right into his vulnerable jaw. As it connects, his teeth snap together so hard, she thinks maybe she feels it in her own molars, picks up the frequency somehow.

 

He’s shaken, but this is when things are most deadly. Survival instinct kick in - it’s the part she recognizes in any sloppy kill. The moment when someone thinks I am going to die . These are the moments we are real. It is the most honest a person can be.

 

He panics, loses grasp of training and decorum, but manages to get hold of her shirt and yank her forward and then they’re falling into a mess of desperate jabs and gouging nails and that primal, delicious thrill that an animal gets right before they’re held down and eaten whole. A neat job is satisfying. But these ugly things bring their own form of satisfaction - beauty well and truly is only skin deep and she lives for this.

 

Her vision lights up in a blinding spark of white when he manages to catch her nose with a flailing elbow. It’s all she can do to hold onto the front of his shirt, dig her nails into his neck and press upwards, right into the fast quiver of his carotid as she tries to kill him far more intimately than he deserves.

 

He’s not stupid. He knows he has seconds to pry her off before his brain runs dry and his vision goes dark. It gives him a strength that’s hard to fight against.

 

She gets bucked, backhanded with dizzying strength, and barely avoids becoming the one pinned by rolling out and away, staggering to her feet.

 

They’re staring at each other, then. His teeth shine red from the bloody mess of his split lips and she thinks maybe they look the same. Her own nose drips grossly across her mouth, bleeds red flecks into the white of her shirt and leaves a sticky, tangy taste on her tongue when she manages a feral grin through the flow of it. “Did they teach you this too or are you improvising?”

 

“They taught me everything ,” He grits out through clenched teeth.

 

Villanelle gives him a very insincere nod, scattering red drops that pill in the dust at their feet as she pinches her nose. Lazily, her gaze drifts off to the discarded drywall tools at her side and like a true artist, she seizes the inspiration as it strikes. “Did they teach you this?”

 

She kicks on the air compressor at her back and snatches up the awkward heft of the corded nail gun, holding it level and hoping against all hopes that it’s going to be as fun to use as she’s always thought it would be.

 

The noise, at least, lives up to the hype.

 

It jumps like a gun, but spits like a viper. It’s very, very fun.

 

She is thinking it’s less fun for her bald friend, who gets three well-aimed nails to the gut before he’s able to duck away and stagger toward his vantage, grabbing up his rifle and sloppily propping it in the window, trained right into the square.






1200 hours.






He’s trying to sight someone down the scope when Villanelle wraps an arm around his throat and pulls up against the line of his jaw. Even as his vision must be swimming, even as he chokes, he’s still straining against her, fingers scrabbling against the interference of her other hand around the trigger guard. She can’t tell what he’s sighting, who he needs to kill more than the assassin at his back, but she knows who it could be and that makes her decision well enough.

 

They’re out of time, the both of them.

 

Villanelle catches the trigger, twists both of their bodies against his superior brute strength to pull the weapon just a hair off course and squeezes.

 

It’s the boulder dropped in the calm lake, ripples splashing outward like a tsunami in the bustling square.

 

A man takes the shot in his neck, backpack sliding off his shoulder as he topples sideways, already a liter lighter by the time he hits the ground. Not his lucky day, she supposes. He is nobody except wrong place, wrong time.

 

The sniper roars in anger because he’s lost.

 

The square empties in a stampede of panic and screaming in mere, satisfying moments and anyone he had hoped to catch in his crosshairs is washed away with them. It is delightful, delicious chaos and there will be no meeting at Leicester Square Fountain, then or any time in the coming hours. He has lost.

 

Eve must be gone and whatever designs were upon her have been beaten away by the tides, lost to sea and Villanelle can only hope she’s disappointed every single person there that day who thought to sit atop the dogpile.

 

Villanelle smiles, teeth slick and ghastly with the hemorrhaging flow from her broken nose and laughs aloud. She thinks she’s still smiling when he snaps his spine straight and hurls them backward together in a last bid at saving his life. Maybe she’s laughing too, who knows? Ruining everything is her last great love, it does tickle her.

It’s born of desperation and blind, spitting rage, but he’s made a bad move. Like this, she wraps herself around his throat tighter and rides out the bucking of his hips and shoulders and frantic swipes of knuckles and nails at her arms and face until finally , finally he goes limp in her hold. She holds him minutes longer to be sure, then snaps his neck because he was an arsehole and if she is to be killing him, she would like to be certain it’s been done properly.

 

After she’s dropped him in the dust, rolled white in the creases of his black jacket as they settle, she takes long moments to sit, dabbing at her nose with her sleeve. It happens all at once: an open valve, the way adrenalyn drains from her, flees and leaves her numb, always, no matter the training or the experience. She’ll be like this for hours yet, forcibly weak at the knees and vulnerable in the fallout.

 

Well. As vulnerable as someone such as herself can possibly be.

 

There’s no recourse after a hand-to-hand fight, you just have to lock your shaking knees and get away . She can feel her energy slipping through her fingers like time, safety, choices - everything. She’s lit a beacon with her messy public execution, a road flare for anyone looking for her. There’s nothing in her life that isn’t hemorrhaging in the moment, and it’s never so much a matter of what will exsanguinate first, it’s much more a matter of when.

 

Eve had better be halfway to another hemisphere by now, for all the trouble it’s cost her. Serves the both of them right for ever believing they should do something right .

 

Her poor nose . There’ll be no recourse for that either, she thinks morosely.

 

With a loud groan, Villanelle eventually pushes her back straight, scooting hands behind her to prop herself up and begin the arduous process of getting on her feet again. It’s a good thing nobody’s there to see how long that process takes, how drained she is. Such a grossly inefficient way to kill a person.

 

She drags dusty palms down her cheeks, careful to avoid her tender nose, but still manages to paint sticky, clotting streaks of blood down her cheeks and into the dip of her chin. It’s a lost cause, she figures - leans into it maybe.

 

When she’s stable enough on her feet to manage it, she rummages around and burns through precious seconds trying to find another handgun, but comes up empty. She can’t be carting a full rifle around locked down London. Ugh, she does not have time. Villanelle leaves his things behind with him, empty-handed, and staggers out toward the staircase. It won’t pay to linger - just because an anthill is easy to stomp, doesn’t mean you should wait around for the swarm.

 

And Villanelle’s very sure that she’d rather be crucified to the fast food restaurant across the street than end up in MI6 custody. That is not metaphorical, she would go gladly to the cross, hell she’d hold the hammer if it meant never having to see Carolyn Martens smirk at her ever again.

 

As she traverses the stairs, which seem to have multiplied since she came up them, she drags her hand along the wall, pushing off from it when her shoulders droop and she lists sideways. Fatigue drags behind her, sluggish in her hands and dangerous when she needs to be gone from there. She doesn’t know where she’s going, but she knows it must be far and it must be quick.

 

The stairway spills her out onto the second floor and she begins picking her way through the upper lobby and ballroom toward wherever the hell she misplaced the lower mezzanine. Her path resembles a bad game of pinball more closely than an escape plan, but she’s zapped for energy and very sore. And let it not be forgotten that she’s somehow still hungover.

 

“Stop.”

 

Villanelle does, but only because she felt like it, please do not confuse the coincidence. “What?” She exasperates, spinning to glare at him.

 

He’s aiming center mass, how very government of him. Arm steady, gun level, breath even. It’s hard to say, because he’s a very bland sort of man, but it must be him. The spoiled MI6 agent, having a rather bad day she would guess. Only someone who already knew where the sniper shot would come from could’ve gotten there so fast and she supposes that answers that question - you are very welcome for the life-saving, Eve.

 

In this way, she is very, hm , fucked.

 

He’s not playing, his finger isn’t even tucked against the guard it’s curled around the trigger. Villanelle supposes her reputation precedes her, then. In all the worst ways.

 

It’s not much of a fair fight - she’s not sure there’s even much of a bluff she could make before he blows holes in her favorite organs. She knows this, but it doesn’t make it easier to stand there and let him think he has control.

 

“MI6,” He announces himself, itchy trigger finger and all.

 

Villanelle rolls her eyes, nodding stupidly at him. “Oh yeah? MI6, wow .”

 

His expression tightens and she is so tired, honestly, he can pull the trigger, the coward. “Show me your hands.”

 

Waggling her fingertips, Villanelle shows him her hands in a rather jazzy way. “So are you going to be shooting me now or later?”

 

“I’m taking you into custody,” he skirts the question, taking careful, measured steps to close the gap of accuracy. Tricky, though. It brings him closer, reduces the steps it would take for her to clear the distance and find out just how well London trains its finest.

 

It’s one thing to grow a killer in a lab, but it’s another to pull one up from the roots. They just taste different.

 

“Are you?” She asks with playful, narrowed eyes. “I’m thinking you are going to kill me, no?” She tsks at him and shakes her head. “I’m not sure who was meant to leave Leicester alive, but I don’t think it was anyone who knows you’re a sneaky little rat.

 

He stops inching forward just ten, fifteen meters away on a level midway landing of the stairs below her. They’re split like that, but it’s a fool who concedes the high ground. He must think she plays by rules! How fun.

 

“But nobody pays quite like the bad guys, do they?” Villanelle sympathizes.

 

There’s a flash of spitting anger on his face, then it goes serene, accepting. Good. They don’t have to waste any more breath telling lies, swapping half-truths, she’s had enough to last a lifetime. “And who would believe you over me?” He asks in a low growl. “Or her for that matter. I’ll find her, you know.”

 

Villanelle laughs openly, toeing closer to the edge of the stairs one molecule at a time. “Oh, you are so sad. Would you like some free advice? You can love your work, krysa , but it will never, ever love you back.”

 

She can see it in his face when he makes up his mind and it sends a delicious thrill through her, no matter how exhausted she finds herself. There really is no flavor like mutually assured destruction -  bitter, biting.

 

Ah, well. She doesn’t have the energy for anything else, everyone is just going to have to be understanding of these choices.

 

Come what may.

 

He doesn’t return it, but she offers him a grin before the split moment, the crouch, the pushing sprint forward and down, down two, three steps as shots blister into the marble staircase and shower her in fine grit. This is what makes her so expensive. Everyone knows a gun is near useless against a charging opponent with less than two dozen steps pinched between them. Everyone knows it, it’s math and panic and human nature. But who charges? Who tests it?

 

A rare and valuable kind of nerve, she’s not paid for her looks, okay?

 

He fumbles the last shot so badly it clears her head by a good twenty feet and then she’s on him. She’s practically launching the last three steps as she crashes into his body and they go toppling down, down the stairs in a mass of scrambling limbs and gunpowder like real killers, if he wants a taste so bad.

 

They definitely don’t teach that in MI6.

 

She knows it when it happens, when the barrel of his semi automatic slips between their pressed bodies like a dark stroke of luck and catches for a moment near her stomach, bang - there is more than just the bite of sharp stairs and grappling hands in the fall, she knows it and elects to ignore it. All she sees is him, all she feels is the want to take.

 

His breath hits her face and his skin is warm and quivering with pushed fight or flight. It’s so intimate, killing this way. She’s exhausted, pushed past the point of adrenalyn into the wading pool of ingrained aggression, repetition, do or die, Villanelle , they used to say. So the brute strength she uses to wrestle bone and muscle against bone and muscle comes from whatever marionette strings pull at her elbows, dance her fists along his face. She’s puppet to these things, it’s just who she is. It’s one of the few things left to her after it was all taken away, so excuse her if she digs her nails in when they try to take it from her.

 

It’s the only fortune of the day that she ends up on top at the landing, using the handle of his product-slicked hair to try and crack his skull open against white marble. Once, twice. Whatever it takes, she wants him painted along the white marble like the stain he is. She’ll kill them all if that’s what it takes.

 

Villanelle only stops when his hand comes up and jabs hard into the blinding white mass of agony in her gut. It’s smart - dirty - but smart and she cries out as he manages to leverage his grusome trick into shoving her away so she’s sliding back along the floor.

 

There’s a moment -

 

-  just one breath - when she’s slid away and he’s crawling forward to strain for where his gun had skidded away from them across smooth floors - a moment where she sees the way she’s spilling out, stark and candy red against the white marble, dribbling over her clenched fingers against her shirt -

 

She knows there’s no honor here - no matter how bad she wants to taste his last moments she can’t stay. Eve would never forgive her.

 

Their game isn’t over, see.

 

It’s like waking up when she looks around her, down again at her slippery hands as the red mist lifts and everything shines to graphic detail, gore and choices . There is no honor in staying, there is no honor in dying, there is no honor in anything, really. There is only alive and dead and smart and stupid.

 

The time Eve needs has been bought and paid for. Such expensive tastes.

 

Before he’s reached the gun, Villanelle turns and staggers away, flees with everything left in her, one hand wrapped over the awful, sticky cramping mess above her waistline. Her shoes slip, squeaking rubber against bloody marble in the mess she leaves behind and she has to bite into her tongue to try and make her body forget what’s happening to it.

 

Another shot rings out in the cavernous lobby right before she hurls herself out the gaping split-level window and barrels into unforgiving sandbags piled below.

 

“Ebanyi v rot!” She curses, coughs out and chokes as she tries to roll to her feet on the ground below. “Etot blyadskyi krysenysh ,” she hisses and it rattles dangerously, begins to well up in her lungs and spills out in flecks of red between clenched teeth when she breathes through it. As she paws at the left side of her belly, swipes away the mess from the first shot, she can see there’s no twin exit wound. The second bullet’s still in there  and no matter how she twists, the agony stills her before she can get any kind of look at the entry wound behind her.

 

It’s three seconds she allows herself to bite into a bloody knuckle and wheeze out a small panicked, soundless sob. She swallows repeatedly, blinks the welling weakness in her eyes away and packages it up. She leaves it behind. She pushes to her feet, though she feels nothing below her hips, and walks forward because that’s all she has.

 

It’s a good thing her legs are trained for this, just as well as the rest of her - the same strings at each joint pulled by spitting rage and hurt propel her forward, it’s just training. It’s the stuffing they fill you with after they’re done pulling all the human parts out of you. Those long gone soft spots of hurt and comfort.

 

She hobbles her way through construction barriers and propped chain link fences, squeezing out into the alleyways gone quiet in the flood of fleeing nobodies. Her legs manage this even as she tries to hold in the seeping mess from the one wound she’s able to reach. The other one leaks down her back unimpeded, soft sensations like fingers dancing along her spine.

 

The gut shot cramps, but the one at her back, sitting just at the deep end of one lung lets her know very, very clearly that it's going to make sure she feels every second of what it’s like to drown on dry land.

 

She’s not afraid. She’s not anything, she’s just stuffing, fiber filling, and hurt.

 

Nobody’s around anymore, only the distant wail of sirens, calling louder by bare intervals as police barriers prod closer, as they toe block by block into the unknown danger she’s wreaked on the square. MI6 must be swarming too, but they won’t reach her for good time yet and that’s a small relief. If she plays her cards right, she’ll be long dead before she ever has to see Carolyn’s disappointed face again.

 

Instead, she’s left to stumble alone down a side street, hand scraping along the rough masonry of aged buildings and painting them red as she goes.

 

Her hands have gone cold and her footsteps stutter to a shaky stop hardly two or three blocks later. A weak effort, but it’s all she has as her head goes light and static.

 

Absurdly, the cell phone starts ringing its jaunty little default jingle. What a brave little cellphone, it has survived two assassins and a tumble down stairs and split-level windows. Villanelle pats clumsily at her pockets and finds the thing, pressing it to her ear and feeling each wet breath like they’re being counted for her. Not up, but down.

 

She wants to say something when she answers, but can’t catch enough breath to waste it that way. Instead, she waits and it’s a new, strange feeling.

 

Eve seems to be waiting for a quip as well, but must find she isn’t going to get one. “What the hell did you do?” She asks all in a panic.

 

Villanelle laughs and it costs her long moments to try and recover from it - long moments to not blow what she has left and choke out in the gutter before she can answer. “Is that,” she swallows, breath rattling loudly, “Your last question?”

 

She can hear it in the background, tinny but recognizable while Eve gathers her thoughts. Announcements and bustle and closing doors and the tube. Eve is in the underground, which means she is leaving which means it worked. Oh, to be Carolyn Martens right now. Oh, to be anyone with designs .

 

“Why do you sound like that?” Eve asks, voice pitching higher, frantic. She worries for her and though nothing is feeling very nice at the moment, this almost manages it. To be worried about, of all things.

 

Villanelle tries not to pant so obviously. “I think,” she presses hard against the hole in her gut and bites her tongue, because somehow feeling the pain is better than the encroaching numbness. “The janitors have been janitored. It is time for you to be leaving now.”

 

“I am. You think I was going to stay after that? He was ten feet in front of me, that - that, that guy and then he got shot... . He was aiming for me, wasn’t he? Did Konstantin set me up or did the agent? Did they get him - did - is Carolyn...? Is Konstantin there?”

 

Villanelle feels her sticky lips part in a wane smile. It’s just... good to hear her. They usually spend the boring moments apart and only come together for endings and tragedy. Now they have good, boring things between them, weeks of nothing that she’ll carry gladly because it felt a lot like everything. And this one bad thing won’t have to haunt either of them so much.

 

 “Wait -  where are you? You better be leaving too, Jesus Christ.”

 

“Leave far,” Villanelle advises, leaning back against the building she’s had to stop at just to be able to prop herself up better. Her legs are doing a bad job of holding her. “Try Chicago.” She spits a wad of blood on the ground and tries to breath from only the top, shallow air of her lungs like she’s siphoning off the top. “Their pizza is so weird.” She quirks her mouth and tips her head to the side.

 

“What - where are you going?”

 

“I’ve been told it’s going to be, eh...not so nice for someone like me. Very hot.”

 

“Seriously, where are you? I - I did something. I have to tell you, but not over the phone. We need to leave, they can’t get me with these flash drives. I’ll come find you, okay?”

 

“No, no,” Villanelle coughs through her nose and winces. “Don’t do that.”

 

“What do you want me to say? You were right?”

 

“Hm, okay.”

 

“Typical. We need to leave, like, now . I just shook one of Carolyn’s tails. I think she’s trying to take me into custody or something.”

 

Villanelle can’t talk much more, she knows it, each word hurts. “Just go. Carolyn is cleaning up her messes, same as you. Same as Konstantin. She needs someone to walk the plank for this.”

 

“Why’s it always got to be me, though?”

 

“I don’t know, Eve,” Villanelle says fondly. “You’re so nosy. Always fishing for trouble.”

 

Eve goes to say something, dryly charming as always, but her brain catches up to her mouth and she stutters on the first word. When she has enough time to regroup, her voice goes low and secretive.

 

“Did you just safeword me?”

 

“Yes, you are so discreet. I would like to ask my last question now,” Villanelle ploughs ahead, she’s determined this time. Eve is busy trying to interrupt her, but she would not be so rude if she realized their timetable. “Shut up, listen, it is my turn! I want to know if you love me. For real this time. You cheated last time, now be truthful.”

 

Eve sounds like she’s departed the train and Villanelle can picture her standing there dumbly, trying to think, think, think, while the tide of people swells and ebbs around her, breaking over her still body like water over rock. There is nothing to think about! They already know what’s ruined everything she just has to say it . Her voice is frantic and she is still cheating, always cheating, the sneak. “You sound different. Are you okay?”

 

“Is that your last question?”

 

“Yes! God - yes, that’s - that’s my last fucking question, you asshole. What’s happening? You sound...”

 

“Answer mine first.”

 

Eve makes some hilarious noise of distress, but the laughing is a bad idea in the moment so Villanelle stifles it. “Fine, whatever! Sure, yes, whatever you want to hear! Now tell me if you’re okay!”

 

Villanelle purses her lips, then manages a smug smile to herself. “You lose, Eve. You are not truthful, so I don’t have to answer. I win. I told you I would.”

 

“Oksana, I swear to fucking god, you-”

 

“Now the game is over. It was very fun. Okay, I am going now. You are such a sore loser!” She laughs wetly, lets it dribble down her chin, then swipes it away to finish her thought. “Ya lyublyu tebya. Do svidaniya, Eva.” And then she disconnects.

 

Before another call can come through, Villanelle pries the sim card from its slot and crunches it in half between bloody teeth, then snaps the brave little phone at its joint and throws the pieces away to slide under a nearby garbage bin.

 

It’s nice in London for once and she can’t even enjoy it. London is either shit or you’re dying, there is no in between. Bright and fucking sunny at the end of the world.

 

Villanelle sighs and finds she’s slid down against the wall into a seated position and that’s just the way it was going to be, she supposes. Her hand is still pressed to her stomach, but it’s half-hearted. A rag stuffed into the hole in a boat keel already capsized.

 

It is absolutely her luck that when she hears the clack of shoes on cobblestone and manages to drag her drooping chin up to watch the approach of her visitor, it’s him . He is not looking so friendly, either. In fact, he’s acting a lot like she is the one who blew him full of holes and not the other way around.

 

“Rat,” she greets him.

 

Wordlessly, he walks right up to her so her outspread legs nearly touch shoes with his. He’s holding his left arm close to his side and his eyes are almost completely swollen shut, which must hurt, boohoo, so sad. His right is raised steadily, aiming a gun in her face. Not so government now, hm?

 

“She’s gone and she knows everything,” Villanelle sings, baring her teeth at him. “So does Carolyn - you should try your luck with her instead. Eve is not so forgiving. Oh, you are in so much trouble.

 

He cocks the hammer and she waits, more than willing to see what it's like looking in a person’s eyes from the other end. She wonders what she will feel when it happens - approaches almost giddy at the prospect. Bang , do it! Villanelle holds the last of her breath.

 

A shot snaps, cracks the air in half, and there’s a moment where she thinks it's done. But her brain is not exploded.

 

The MI6 rat falls sideways in a pile, the hole in his temple letting that rare London sunshine cast light on his brains. Villanelle frowns at him, then swivels her weary head in the direction of the shot and is unable to stop the satisfied bark of laughter that nearly drowns her when she has to cough through it.

 

“Stop laughing, dura, ” Konstantin mutters, lowering his gun and clearing the distance to sit down beside her. When he’s settled he wedges a hand behind her back and eases her forward a bit so she can breath easier. “This was your plan? You are so bad at freelance work, Villanelle,” he scolds.

 

“Yeah? Both your people died and the other escaped. How are you doing any better?” She scoffs, letting her eyes slip closed to try and focus better on what’s left in her lungs.

 

Konstantin sighs and mumbles something under his breath that she can’t hear anymore. Everything’s taken on a bluish hue in the bright afternoon light, swims into contrast that’s hard to see. It seems like a good time to sleep and when her head tips over onto his shoulder, he doesn’t even point it out. “Ty - moi lyudi,” he says instead.

 

“If that was true, I could have had a nice holiday in Alaska,” she murmurs. “Can we just - can we not pretend? I’m so tired.”

 

It’s better with her eyes closed, she thinks. Less to focus on, just snatching shallow air where she can and feeling warm sun against her cold hands. “Well I hope it was worth it,” he sighs, bumping her head around while he retrieves a thin cigar and goes through the annoying process of getting it lit and smoldering. It smells terrible.

 

She barely even remembers what they’re talking about, but the mention of Eve pulls a sloppy smile across her face. “She kissed me, so you tell me.”

 

Konstantin laughs loudly, jostling her head a little. “You are lying!”

 

“Am not,” she counters weakly. “More than once.”

 

“You are such a little liar,” he says fondly and she wishes she could wipe it off his face, the smug arsehole, but she can’t feel much of anything anymore. “MI6 has probably swarmed the place by now,” he muses and she can feel his attention on her as his breath blows sickly smoke across the side of her head. “Maybe they get here in time for you.”

 

“No,” Villanelle hums. “No thanks.”

 

“Suit yourself.” He fidgets a bit at her side, but she’s too tired to think about it, try to figure him out. She thinks she must reach out, a spasm of instinctual desperation when she realizes she well and truly can’t breathe, because she feels Konstantin’s hand fold her fingers into his so he can hold her still. Spare her the flailing indiginities, the panic. The last thing she wants to know in that moment is that she’s human, it will make it hurt so much worse to go.

 

Finally, as though from far away she hears him mutter against the side of her head, “Prosti menya za Alysku, chertovka.”

 

“Mne ne nuzhny tvoi izvineniya,” She chokes. “Prosto zatknis' i ne otpuskai.”

 

The hull fills, the air runs out, and when she describes it later - dying - she likens it to sitting in an empty theatre, staring at an empty stage gone dark, wondering what the big deal was.




____________________

xEpilogue.

____________________



+11 months.






Chapter Text

____________________

xEpilogue.

____________________



+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-

 

“-HAVING THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE-“

 

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.

 

Ironic.

 

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-

 

“-SEE THAT GIRL, WATCH THAT SCENE, DIGGING THE DANCING QUEEN!”

 

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.

 

Herself.

 

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-

 

“-HAVING THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE~”

 

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?”

 

“What?”

 

“It’s a simple question.”

 

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

 

“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.

 

“Proctology.”

 

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.”



____________________

 

xEnd.

 

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