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The Last Frontier

Chapter Text

 

Ch. 1

 One Way: LHR-SEA

 

“You have a fan in 23A,” the purser said. “She’s 9 years old. Her name is Jenny. I told her you’d try to get back. She’s flying with her mum.”

Captain Anne Lister grinned, straightened her tie and buttoned her jacket. She wondered if Jenny was about to have a Ring of Keys moment.

Anne’s eyes took in the passengers, nodding at those who looked up as she went by. The two women in 21A and B were holding hands. 21A was asleep with her head on 21B’s shoulder. 21B was definitely not asleep. She was tense, anxious.

Jenny noticed Anne just before Anne got to row 23. Her face lit up. Anne squatted down in the aisle.

“Hello, I’m Captain Lister. Are you both enjoying the flight?” Jenny waited for her mum to answer before saying, “More than anything.”

“What’s your favorite part so far?”

“When we took off. We were going so fast and then it was like we went straight up.”

“You’re on a 787. It can go almost straight up. Do you have any questions about flying?”

“Do you like being a pilot?”

“More than anything.” Anne said. “What about you? Are you thinking about becoming a pilot?”

“I am now,” Jenny said.

“Well, then, try this on and see what you think,” Anne said, handing her cap to Jenny whose smaller head nearly disappeared in the cap. Her mum pushed it back a bit.

“Hmm… I think you’d be a fine pilot,” Anne said seriously as she regarded Jenny. “After we land in Seattle, stop by the flight deck. You can sit in the captain’s seat and see if it suits.” Jenny’s eyes got bigger.

Jenny’s mum asked if Anne would take a photo of Jenny with Anne’s cap on. Anne snapped a couple, and then asked for her cap. “I’ve got to get back, Jenny. I’m very happy to have met you and your mum. I’ll see you in Seattle.”

Anne put her cap back on, walked two rows and stopped just beyond row 21 and looked back. 21B’s eyes met Anne’s. Was that fear? Anne made a split-second decision. She turned and leaned down, facing the passenger, getting almost too close, but not quite.

She said, quietly, “Do you two need my help?”

The passenger also made a split-second decision. “We’ll take whatever help we can get.”

“Do you have a connection in Seattle?” Anne asked. The passenger shook her head.

“Stay on board until I come for you. I’ll let the flight attendants know you’re waiting for me. They won’t pester you about deplaning.” Anne extended her right hand. The passenger took it and held on for a moment. Anne said, “Do try to relax.” Anne indicated the passenger’s companion with a slight head tilt. “Maybe take a cue ….”

 “Thanks.” Her eyes indicated her sleeping seatmate. “She could sleep through Armageddon.”

Anne chuckled softly. “I’ll see you in Seattle.”

Anne entered the code on the flight deck door, and once inside, took off her jacket and cap, then settled back in. She didn’t know how offering her help to 21A and B would play out, but she told herself:  We’re not alive, are we, if we’re not taking the odd risk, now and again?

Six hours later

“Welcome to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport,” the purser began the arrival announcement.

Twenty minutes later

“Hello, Jenny. Come sit in the captain’s seat. What do you think?”

Ten minutes later

Anne made her way down the aisle and bent over a bit. “Is someone after one or both of you?”

“Yes,” said 21B.

“Which one of you?”

“Both.”

“Do they expect you to be together?”

“Yes.”

Anne knew the women’s names from the passenger manifest … at least the names they’d given the airline.

Anne spoke to 21B. “Ellen Lee?” Eve nodded.

“Why don’t you accompany me after we leave the jetway as if we’re together? That may throw off any watchers if you’re the captain’s companion, instead of hers,” Anne indicated 21A.

Anne handed Eve a Seattle Mariners baseball cap and sunglasses. “Put your hair under the cap, turn up the collar of your coat, and put on the sunglasses. Keep your head down, but not so down that you attract attention. Just don’t ever raise your head or look up beyond eye level.”

Anne turned to 21A. “Vanya Petrova?” Villanelle nodded.

“You go out behind us. On your own. I’ve drawn a little map to my hotel. It’s a 15-minute walk. Wait in the lobby. Do you need anything to obscure your identity?”

Villanelle shook her head. She looked at Anne with some suspicion.

Eve spoke up. “Why are you helping us? What’s your plan?”

“Because you need help. At present, the plan consists solely of getting both of you safely into my hotel room.” Anne replied as she straightened, giving Villanelle a look intended to say I’m not trying to steal her.

Fifteen minutes later

Anne and Eve stood in line at Customs.  

“I have to ask again. Why are you helping us?”

Anne considered what to say. Eve was facing her in the slow-moving line, inside Anne’s personal space. They did look together, together.

Anne took Eve’s hand—an observer would see two lovers, but Anne imbued the gesture with only reassurance. “I’ll deny I said this,” Anne grinned, “but I’m a bit of a romantic and you two are soul mates. Because of that, I took a gamble.” One I hope I don’t come to regret.  

“You got that from a moment’s glance? And, are soul mates even a thing? Are souls?”

Anne laughed softly. “Your brain works at full tilt, doesn’t it? Let’s see. I think we have souls. And, you two are soul mates, aren’t you?

Eve snorted softly and then said, “Yeah, we are.”

Anne grinned. “So, I’m right which means, yes, it is a thing.”

“My turn for a question,” Anne said. “Are you on the run from the police? Is there an Interpol Red Notice with your pictures attached?”

Eve shook her head. Anne went on, “How about the CIA? MI6? FSB? RSPCA?” Eve cackled a bit and shook her head again.

The line was moving so Eve turned around. Anne was now just behind her.

“Do you and Vanya like Thai food? There’s a decent spot on the way to the hotel.”

“Perfect. She’s always hungry.”

Anne touched some icons on her phone and handed it to Eve. “Here’s their website. Order whatever and however much you want. No more than 2 stars, though,” Anne said sheepishly. “I’m a bit of a wimp.” 

Eve retorted, “I doubt that very much.”

Anne looked out at the Customs line. “Make pick up time 1:00 p.m.”

*****

Anne had graduated university with degrees in physics and math. After completing the airline’s pilot training program, she spent a few years ferrying passengers around the UK and Europe. Then five years as the third flight officer on long hauls, the promotion to first officer and finally long-haul captain. That was 7 years ago. She’d lost track of how many times she’d flown from London to Seattle.

Anne ran 10K in 58 minutes and swam 400 meters in 9 minutes. In university, she learnt how to box, and still sparred regularly. The women she’d taken to bed appreciated how these accomplishments manifested themselves—broad shoulders, narrow waist and hips, muscled legs, and …. endurance.

*****

Anne went in for the Thai food. Villanelle passed Eve on the sidewalk, Neither gave so much as a glance. Anne observed this non-recognition. They’re good at whatever that was. Anne rejoined Eve on the sidewalk. They approached the hotel.

“Hang back a bit,” Anne said as she went to the check-in kiosk. The screen asked: One bed or two?” Anne selected the latter and asked for two keycards. She turned toward the elevators; Eve joined her. Anne glanced toward Villanelle. Villanelle arose from the sofa, strolling toward and then behind them. As she did, Anne said their room number softly. Eve and Anne got on the elevator. Villanelle continued down the hall and into the stairwell.

*****

Anne stripped off her uniform, put on running tights, a tee shirt, some trainers, and the Mariners cap. Villanelle looked hungrily at the take-out bags.

 “I’m going for a run and to the fitness center. Should be about 90 minutes. When I get back, we’ll talk.”

Sixty minutes later

Anne was alone in the fitness center. She was on the recumbent bike—she didn’t have to think, just keep her legs pumping. She swiped one of her contacts and listened to the phone ringing in her ear buds.

“Hello, handsome.”

“Hello gorgeous. It’s good to hear your voice,” Anne said. “I’m in Seattle—a last minute fill-in for a sick colleague. I hope I can see you tonight.”

“I had a thing, but it just this moment went away. I’ll take you out instead. What are you in the mood for?”

“Anything. Really. It doesn’t matter.”

“Get here as soon as you bloody can … Captain.”

Thirty minutes later

Anne let herself in the room, guzzled a bottle of water, and headed to the shower. Eve and Villanelle were asleep. Villanelle opened an eye when Anne came in, but closed it again, snuggling closer to Eve. As she showered, Anne refused to let herself speculate. Who were they? What were they running from? It was a waste of brain power and she shut it down, shifting her thoughts to her upcoming night and its early morning hours. Now that was worth some brain power, even if all her brain did was make her feel things further south.

Anne dried her hair, emerged from the bathroom in a towel, and got dressed. She ate a couple of fresh spring rolls and drank another bottle of water. She hated to wake them, but they needed to talk.

Chapter Text

Villanelle was attacking the leftover Thai food, hot from the microwave. Eve had fixed tea for Anne and herself. All three women were sitting at the table.

“Do you want to start?” Anne asked Eve since Villanelle’s mouth was full.

“We want to go to Alaska … Sitka, Alaska. We don’t want any trail from here to there, but that seems … hard. We’ve been talking about how we might do that.”

Anne sipped her tea. “I may have a solution. I’m seeing someone tonight. She has a private jet. Obviously, she’s very rich. I’m fairly certain she’ll let me borrow it. The thing is … I wouldn’t need to list my passengers on a flight plan if I’m flying between two cities in the U.S.”

Eve and Villanelle looked at each other. This could work.

“Don’t you have to fly back to London tomorrow, or the next day?” Eve asked.

“Usually I’d fly back the day after tomorrow, but I have an extra day this trip.” Anne thought for a moment and tapped her tea mug.

“Do you trust your rich someone? “Villanelle spoke up.

Anne acknowledged the query and what calling Ann Walker a someone might convey.

“We haven’t labelled what we are. We’re together, but we live on different continents. She’s in Seattle. I’m in England. We lead mostly separate lives. It’s not how I want it, but I want her, so there you have it. She’s smart and discreet. If I fill her in, I need to know one thing. Are you presently at risk? Might those around you be placed in harm’s way?”

Eve looked to Villanelle.

“I think we are okay for a few days, maybe more. We were careful getting out of London. We did a lot of misdirection. As far as telling her the truth …okay. Tell her that we are on the lam.”

Villanelle was pleased at her usage of the Americanism.

“But, not from the law,” Eve reminded, and looked at Villanelle. “Leap of faith, babe?”

Villanelle nodded.

“Sounds like we have a Plan A, then,” Anne said. “By the way, I won’t be back tonight.”

Villanelle raised an eyebrow at Anne as if offering a high-five. Eve said, “Sorta figured.”

Anne refused to blush. “Can you stay in? Order room service? I’ll hang the “Do Not Disturb” on my way out.” 

Villanelle looked at Eve with a different kind of hunger than she’d directed at the Thai food.

“No problem.”

Anne wrote a phone number on the hotel’s note pad. “I have a mobile I use when I’m in the U.S. Call if needs must—use the room phone. I’ll phone the room as soon as I know if Plan A is a go.”

Anne got up and went to the door. She turned before leaving, went to her bag and got a small book. She handed it to Villanelle.

“My favorite poem starts on p. 7. Ellen asked me again on our walk over why I was helping. This poem may explain.”

The door closed behind Anne. Villanelle opened the book. She read the poem and handed the book to Eve.

After Eve read the poem, she went to Villanelle who gathered her in. She recited part of the poem softly into Villanelle’s ear.

“We did this. Conceived of each other, conceived each other in a darkness which I remember as drenched in light.”

*****

Villanelle was fucking Eve slowly, deeply. Both of Eve’s hands were in Villanelle’s hair as she moved her hips up to meet each thrust. Villanelle was on top of Eve, their eyes on each other.

Eve whispered, “Go as long as you can, baby. I want to feel you.”

“Eve, Eve … I’m so in love with you. Can you feel how much?”

Eve’s hands went to the back of Villanelle’s neck, holding her softly.

“Yes, I know how much. Look at me, Villanelle … you know you’ve got me … body and soul.”

Villanelle twisted her fingers on the next thrust. Eve exhaled sharply.

Villanelle did what she always did when Eve was shuddering and moving underneath her and … on the verge. Villanelle’s left hand found Eve’s right hand so their fingers could interlace. Villanelle had never made this gesture until Eve. Villanelle had seen actors in movies do it, thought it was cheesy. She had been afraid Eve would reject the gesture. When Villanelle took Eve’s hand the first time and locked their fingers together, she’d watched Eve’s face carefully. As their fingers tightened, Eve’s eyes closed with a sigh.  

Villanelle used to feel both love and fear during Eve’s ecstasy, so the gesture used to be as much about being reassured by Eve as it was an expression of Villanelle’s love and being bound to Eve, but now Villanelle believed Eve when she said body and soul. Now there was only joy and passion and love filling her so completely that Villanelle felt it would gush out of her and become visible.

*****

Villanelle was propped up on pillows against the headboard. She held one foot flat against the bed, bracing her thigh for Eve who was riding it.

Eve’s hands were balanced on Villanelle’s shoulders, her breasts moving above Villanelle.

“My eyes are up here.”

“Very funny, Eve.”

Villanelle pinched a nipple lightly. Then, a little harder. She felt Eve’s arousal spike in her breathing, saw it on her face. Villanelle took a nipple in her teeth and pulled, then let go.

“Eve, give me what I need. You know I need this,” Villanelle whispered. She tugged on Eve’s nipple again.  

Eve’s eyes closed involuntarily. Another harder tug on Eve’s other nipple made them fly open.

Villanelle’s hands moved to Eve’s ass and held Eve closer, heightening the friction.

Eve felt her orgasm close in. Villanelle’s beautiful face was right below her. Body and soul.

 Eve let go. A fragment of another poem in Anne’s book presented itself. … two women, eye to eye measuring each other’s spirit, each other’s limitless desire …

Afterward, Eve laid in Villanelle’s arms … each with a leg between the other’s thighs. Villanelle kissed the top of Eve’s head every so often. Eve kissed the parts of Villanelle she could reach.

Eve was starting to think about what she needed from Villanelle when Villanelle’s stomach made a sound. And, then another.

That’s my girl. Eve reached for the room service menu.  

 

Chapter Text

 

Anne had used the stairwell, looped around the hotel, and walked back to the airport. She hoped that was sufficiently evasive so that it was assumed she was still in her room. She went to the front of the taxi rank, handed the driver a note with an address on it, and five $20 bills. Wearing the Mariners cap and sunglasses, she slid into the back seat, without a word. Thirty minutes later Anne exited the cab. She stood there, not moving until the cab was out of sight.

Ten minutes later, Anne was in front of Ann Walker’s house. Very little of the house was visible from the street. The neighborhood was expensive, but the approach to Ann’s house didn’t scream rich person lives here. Anne went through the 3-factor authentication required to enter the house. Palm, iris, 8-digit code.

The door released and Anne went in.

“In the kitchen, darling,” Ann called.

Ann closed the refrigerator and stepped into Anne’s arms. They stayed like that, just holding one another, breathing each other in and out, until Ann moved her head away from Anne’s shoulder, tipped back her head, and said, “You rogue. Showing up here without any notice. Expecting me to fall into your arms.”

“I expected nothing, but I did hope,” Anne said cheekily, then more seriously, “What you should know is that I leapt to handle this flight for the chance to fall into your arms.”

*****

Ann handed Anne a bottle of her favorite local microbrew. “There’s something on your mind. Out with it.”

I think I’m such a cool customer, but obviously, I’m not, Anne thought.

“You may think I’ve taken leave of every shred of my considerable common sense.”

Ann quirked an eyebrow at Anne.

What is it with beautiful blondes quirking their eyebrows? Anne plowed ahead.

“There is no way to tell this tale without it sounding utterly mad. There were two women on the flight. There was something about one of them that piqued my spidey sense.”

Ann broke in, laughing. “Did you just say spidey sense? Captain Anne Lister said spidey sense?”

Ann peered at Anne suspiciously. “Where is Anne Lister and what have you done with her?”

“May I continue?” Anne said, with mock outrage.

Anne went on, retelling everything that occurred from the moment her eyes met Eve’s to her exit from the taxi. Ann did not interrupt again.

“I don’t think this is out of character for you, Anne.”

“You don’t?” Anne was moderately surprised, not only at the observation but what Ann had picked out of this barmy story to focus on..

“I know you like to think of yourself as rational, analytical, prudent … and you are. But you told Ellen that you’re a bit of a romantic, which isn’t true. You’re a hopeless romantic. The proof of that is us, isn’t it?”

Anne was sprawled out on the sofa in Ann’s bedroom. Ann had been massaging Anne’s feet while they talked. “God, I’ve missed you,” Anne said, almost inaudibly. “Please come here.” Anne extended a hand.

Ann crawled up Anne’s body and put her lips against Anne’s neck, Anne’s arms firmly around her.

Ann raised herself above Anne’s face and bent to kiss her, at first with gentleness, and then, with growing, naked want. Ann stood and extended her hand toward Anne. “I’m taking you to bed. Before I do, call them and tell them we’re going to Sitka the day after tomorrow. You’ll need tomorrow to recover from tonight.”

*****

Anne was on her knees, on the floor, at the end of the bed. Ann was laying on the bed in front of her, Anne’s hands on her feet and ankles holding them to the bed. Ann had just begun bucking into Anne’s mouth. Anne couldn’t see Ann’s face, but her other senses were filled … with Ann’s taste, how she felt against Anne’s tongue, and with the sounds and words coming out of Ann’s mouth.

Anne had made an incorrect assumption about what she might hear from Ann the first time they were together. Perhaps soft, higher-pitched moans or whimpers. Ann had upended those assumptions. Anne had never heard anything like Ann Walker. None of the words like moan or whimper, or even growl or scream were quite right. And, what Ann might say, dear lord, that could be anything. She could be obscene, declare her undying love, be grateful, or demanding.  

Ann felt especially worshipped tonight. Anne was never perfunctory. It was always passionate, sometimes simply fun, sometimes serious, sometimes otherworldly. Ann thought that they might be headed to otherworldly … this first orgasm had been spectacular.

*****

Ann’s walk-in closet was next to her bathroom. Anne stopped there on her way back to bed. Ann knew why Anne went in the closet. Ann heard the drawer open and close. There was a fresh rush between Ann’s legs. Ann knew Anne would shag her roughly, dirtily, obscenely tonight. She also knew their version of missionary would be anything but … missionary. There could also be the slow, lazy warmth of Anne behind her as the big spoon, her hips moving against Ann. Until the laziness was replaced by that feeling in Ann’s belly as Anne nuzzled the back of her neck, encouraging her, then stroking between Ann’s legs, telling her, in that lower register voice, “Not yet, baby. Not yet.” Who am I kidding? Ann thought.  It’s me that’ll need tomorrow to regain some semblance of normal ambulation.

Ann scooted up the bed and presented her ass to Anne. Anne knelt between Ann’s open legs, put her hands on both of Ann’s hips. Anne’s voice was rough. “I want this as badly as you want this.”

Anne spread Ann’s legs wider, parted Ann’s ass and began rimming her.

Ann had no words for what this did to her. And, oh, dear god, Ann knew what Anne would do once she’d thoroughly debauched Ann’s asshole with her tongue. That Anne wanted this simply fueled Ann’s arousal.

Anne was up on her knees now, inside Ann. The gentleness necessary at the beginning had been replaced by slow, strong thrusts. Anne’s hands gripped Ann’s hips tightly as Ann made a single syllable sound over and over, sometimes elongating the sound if the thrust was deeper.

“I’m wild for you,” Anne could barely speak. “What we’re doing makes me wild. I’m going to make you come, and not let you go, not stop.”

Anne moved a hand around Ann’s hip, then fingers into Ann’s wet heat, her touch light, then harder, inside Ann, her fingers and hips thrusting at the same time. Anne withdrew her fingers, wiped them on the sheet, and then slid her thumb and index finger onto either side of Ann’s clit. She reminded Ann, “I want this as badly as you want this.” Anne tugged on Ann’s clit, again and again and again.

A moment later and Ann was wrecked. Anne stilled while Ann recovered, but kept her promise. She pulled out; Ann vaguely heard the sounds of unbuckling, and then buckling again. Anne had switched toys. She registered what Anne was about to do somewhere in her brain and lowered her head and elbows which raised her ass. Anne closed her eyes at Ann’s offer. She reached for her discarded boy shorts and wiped the lube away from Ann’s ass and perineum.

“What do you want? What do you need?”

“Take me. I need to feel you, now and tomorrow and always.”

Anne tightened her grip on Ann’s hips again. It seemed to Anne that Ann had shouted as Ann filled her, but the pounding of Anne’s heart, threatening to explode, made it impossible for Anne to be sure which one of them had shouted.

Sometime later

“I’ll be back in a minute,” Ann said. “I’m starving.”

There had been no dinner out. Ann suspected this would be the case when Anne called. She returned with a tray full of Anne’s favorite cold tapas, a bottle of San Pellegrino, and two Waterford tumblers filled with ice and lime slimes. They sat on the deck outside Ann’s bedroom in robes with blankets over their shoulders.

“I want them to stay here tomorrow night. If we’re taking them to Sitka, I’d like to deploy my own spidey sense on them,” Ann said.  

“About that “we” part … I could take them alone. My spidey sense is that whatever has them on the run is real. It’s enough that you’re letting me use the Dassault.”

Ann laughed, “You don’t get to go all James Bond without me.” She took Anne’s hand and kissed it. You think you’re my protector, and you are, but I am your protector, too.

After midnight

The carnal look in Ann’s eyes the first time Anne sat on her face dispelled any hesitation Anne had had. When Ann pointed out that she wouldn’t commit suicide and allow herself to suffocate, Anne’s brain was still functioning. Anne herself knew this was true from experience—no suicide by cunnilingus. When Ann declared that she wanted Anne to sit on her face so Ann could use her mouth and her tongue, that Anne should let go, that Ann wanted Anne to come in her mouth, Anne’s brain stopped its higher functioning.

Anne’s legs had been a little wobbly that first time…a residual effect from Ann’s heart-stopping demand. Tonight, Anne’s legs were wobbly from pent-up lust. Anne had worshipped Ann right into otherworldliness. Ann intended to do likewise.   

Ann’s hands settled on Anne’s hips. Anne did not try to control her rocking over Ann’s nose, her lips, her chin, and her tongue. “Take what you need and what you want,” Ann said. “I want this as badly as you want this.”

“Almost,” Anne breathed sometime later, her eyes shut tight. Ann dragged fingers from her hand through Anne’s wetness. She teased Anne’s anus with her thumb, at first lightly, and then with intent. Ann’s thumb began moving in and out of an increasingly uncontrolled Anne. Anne pushed down on Ann’s face, her body and mind frozen in sensation, pleasure …. ecstasy.

Anne melted on to Ann’s body, shuddering, her face buried in Ann’s neck.

“Hallelujah,” Anne gasped.

Chapter Text

 

There were two empty room service trays outside Anne’s room. Anne knocked lightly once and let herself in the room. She’d spoken with Eve a couple of hours earlier to let her know what time she would arrive.

The three women exchanged “good afternoons.”

Anne started off. “My rich someone is keen to jump into Plan A. With both feet. Let me start by telling you her name. It’s Ann Walker. And, yes, it can get confusing.”

Anne went on. “Ann would very much like you to come stay at hers tonight. Since we won’t be flying out of SeaTac, proximity to it isn’t useful.”

Eve and Villanelle had discussed, again, the likelihood that Anne Lister was mixed up with the Twelve. If she had been, it would’ve been easy to have them killed in the hotel in Anne’s absence. Or, Anne could’ve simply killed them. Or, Anne could’ve notified the Twelve and walked away. After Eve had verbalized every conceivable possibility of Anne-as-bad-guy, and those had been discarded, she began throwing out far-fetched possibilities.

Villanelle, to her own amazement, didn’t lose her shit once Eve ventured into the ridiculously implausible, but she did suggest they watch a movie together … in bed, and gave Eve one of those looks that she knew made Eve’s breath catch.

Villanelle said to Anne, “It sounds nice.” The hotel was okay, but it was not up to her usual standards.

Eve asked: “Will anyone else be there?”

“Just the four of us. Ann is downstairs in her car if you’re game.”

There were no security cameras in the hotel’s halls. Anne checked when she went out the back door the day before. She hadn’t seen any in the parking lot.

“I don’t think there are any cameras on our exit route,” Anne said. “Still, let’s be cautious.” She handed Eve the Mariners cap, gave Villanelle a University of Washington cap, and put on a Seattle Storm cap. Villanelle eyed the dog embroidered on the front of her cap.

“Why is there a dog on this hat?” Was Anne implying something?

Eve spoke up. “It’s from the local uni. Their mascot is a dog, a Husky dog.” Like the University of Connecticut Huskies, Eve thought, but the nostalgia vanished, having existed for less than a moment.

The three women put their bags in the back of Ann’s car and got in. Neither Eve nor Villanelle said anything, but both were thinking: Why is someone with a private jet driving a Subaru?

Ann turned around and shook hands. As if reading their minds, she offered, “Not your usual getaway car, I know, but in Seattle every other car is a Subaru, so it blends in quite nicely. It was either this or a Toyota minivan, right, darling?” Ann winked at Anne.

“Blending in” was something Villanelle understood. It was something she’d done during parts of her former life. Now, she was doing it all the time so she and Eve would survive.  Why would Ann want to “blend in?” Eve was wondering the same thing.

. *****

 Access to Ann’s garage was secure, and so was access from the garage to the house. Three-factor authentication for each entrance. Ann and Anne showed Eve and Villanelle to a guest room on the opposite side of the house from Ann’s bedroom.

“Tea at 3:30?” Ann asked. “Join us in the kitchen, but only if you want to.”

“This bed is heaven,” Villanelle said after their hosts left. Villanelle jumped up from the bed and bounced out to the patio. “I like this house. What is the name of that mountain? It looks like an ice cream cone. I want to go there. Eve, it smells really, really good here.”

Eve went to stand in front of Villanelle and leaned back. Villanelle wrapped her arms around Eve.

“It does smell good here. I should know the name of that mountain. I think I must’ve at one point.”

“Eve, why would Ann want a car to blend in? Why doesn’t she have a rich people’s car?”

Eve thought a moment. “Maybe she doesn’t want attention. Maybe she wants to be able to be like a regular person. If you blend in, you have the freedom …. freedom to be anonymous. Rich, sure. Rich and famous—no thanks.”

“We’re not famous, Eve.”

“We’re not famous, but we’re on a very exclusive list,” Eve noted sarcastically.

*****

“What do you think of the runaways?”

“I like them,” Ann replied. “They couldn’t be more different from each other. Reminds me of another couple I know. And, you have to admit that both of them are very easy on the eyes.”

“I hadn’t noticed,” Anne declared before grinning, “I only have eyes for you.”

Ann groaned. “You are the literal worst. And a terrible liar.”

“Please clarify what you mean about me being the worst. Because last night you made a rather convincing declaration that I was the best. You seem to be contradicting yourself.”

“Don’t you need to file a flight plan or something?” Ann asked with feigned exasperation.

“Yes, I do, but if I don’t breathe you in right now, I will lose the will to live.”

“Oh, for god’s sake, come here you drama queen.” Ann laughed softly and held out her arms.

Anne stepped toward Ann. This is home Anne thought. Her arms around me, my face in her hair.

Eve had heard Anne’s original query and stopped in the hall. Their conversation confirmed that Anne had nothing to do with the Twelve. Any guilt Eve had about overhearing them vanished with relief, which was replaced by affection for these knuckleheads in love. Reminds me of another couple I know.

*****

Eve waited until she heard footsteps leaving the kitchen, and went in.

“Hi, Ann. Thank you for having us as your guests. This is very kind.”

“My pleasure. Are you comfortable?”

“Very. Your home is lovely. This view is … wow.” Eve gestured toward the windows.

“Would you like to sit down? Can I get you something to drink?”

Eve sat in a stool on the other side of the kitchen island from Ann. For the first time in a long time, her nerves did not crave a glass or three of wine.

“Anything non-alcoholic with bubbles.”

Ann handed Eve a San Pellegrino.

“Anne told me that you don’t think we’ll be in harm’s way. I appreciate that, but I’m also a “be prepared” type so I’ll tell you why I’m going to Sitka with you. I’m going to protect Anne. And, there’s something about the two of you. I want your escape to be successful. So, all of us will be wearing ballistic vests when we leave this house tomorrow. I will also have a small arsenal with us. Did you notice the door to my car was on the heavy side? The windows are bulletproof and the sides are armored. Despite my appearance, I am not naïve.”

“Underestimating a woman based on her appearance can be a big mistake,” Eve agreed.

“Do either of you know your way around a gun?”

Eve’s mind raced through what she knew about Villanelle’s skill with a handgun—Rome popped up and Eve shoved it back down …. hard. “She does.”

“I’m not going to ask “why Sitka?” but I am going to ask if you have a plan after you get there. We can drop you off in what is mostly the middle-of-nowhere, but if I can do more than by providing the getaway jet …”

“Houston, we have a problem,” Anne came back into the kitchen and made the announcement as she went to Ann’s side and kissed her temple.

“Airspace north of Vancouver Island is closed for at least 48 hours due to volcanic activity. Apparently, there are active volcanoes in Alaska, including the one that began erupting 5 hours ago. The jet stream is pushing the ash south. We’re going to need a Plan B.”

Ann was unruffled by this news. Anne was likewise calm. So Eve decided not to freak out, just to see how it felt not to.

Ann immediately said, “I’d like you to stay here while this gets sorted. No rush.”

Villanelle walked in and looked at the three faces. She’d heard “stay here while this gets sorted.”

She almost said “Eve?” but caught herself. “What’s up?”

“Mt. St. Helens’ northern cousin is pitching a fit. Ash has shut down airspace between here and Sitka,” Ann said.

“What is Mt. St. Helens?” Villanelle was baffled by the entire explanation.

“There’s a volcano erupting in Alaska,” Eve said. “It’s spewing ash which is headed south. It’s a no-fly zone.”

“Okaaaay. But what is Mt. St. Helens?”

“Mt. St. Helens is a local volcano south of Seattle that blew up. It made a mess, killed lots of people. That mountain out there might do the same one day.” Ann nodded toward her window.

Villanelle made a face, like wow. “When did this Mt. St. Helens blow up? How come I did not know about it?”

“It erupted in 1980, before either of us was born.” Ann looked at Villanelle and then to Anne with a shrug and a grin that said, Yup, I’m younger than you, babe.

“So, we’re not going to Sitka tomorrow. Can you two stay here until there’s a Plan B?” Ann asked. “Let’s have tea and then the two of you can talk.”

As it turned out, Ann was the only tea drinker. Anne and Villanelle had San Pellegrino.

It seemed like years since Eve had had an ordinary conversation. A light conversation—laughs with friends. Villanelle was uncharacteristically quiet but seemed happy as she looked out Ann’s windows. Eve figured she was feeling things about the ice cream cone that was actually a deadly threat.

Eve summoned a topic that seemed appropriate. “How did you two meet?”

*****

Ann and her parents were seated in business class on the upper deck of a 747—London to San Francisco. Ann was determined to set sail from Crow Nest, and that meant, possibly, maybe, university in the states. The Walkers were off to the dance that comprised the prospective college tour. Ann had just turned seventeen. As they’d sat in the departure area, she saw the crew approach for their flight. Jesus, there was Anne Lister, smiling and chatting! Ann remembered the Walker family holiday party last year. Her thoughts returning to that night.

I’m just going to go over and talk to her. Ann had been watching Anne; Anne seemed kind, her smile genuine. I’m going to go up and say hello. At that moment, Anne turned toward Ann.

Miss Walker is staring. Hmmm.  … she’s coming over. Good for her.

Ann recalled nearly none of their conversation later. Anne’s smile, her warm hand when they shook, the way she really listened, how she laughed when Ann said something funny—had there ever been a memory imbued with as much emotion? When Ann had asked about Anne’s flying as if it was the most exciting job one could imagine, Anne chuckled.

“I love it, I really do,” Anne had said, “and if I were allowed, the stories I could tell you about some of the more interesting passengers … “ Anne winked and sipped her champagne. Ann had felt quite grown up.

And now, Anne was a pilot on a plane that Ann was on.

A flight attendant stopped to ask if Ann wanted something to drink. Ann declined, then asked, “I noticed Anne Lister is one of the pilots. Is it possible to let her know that the Walker family, Ann and her parents, from Halifax are on board? Our two families are neighbors.”

“I would be glad to. I’m sure she’d be delighted to come chat if she can.”

Anne had, in fact, visited with all the Walkers later. She appeared genuinely interested when Ann told her the universities she was visiting.

“Have you been to Seattle?” Ann asked. “We’ve got a meeting arranged with the University of Washington.”

“I think you’d like it,” Anne replied. “I’ve been there a handful of times. The campus is lovely, by the way.”

Anne didn’t question her interest in Seattle or going to university there. Far different from her parents who couldn’t understand it. Ann could have her pick of any university in the world. When she first mentioned the University of Washington, they thought she wanted to visit a uni in Washington, D.C.

Ann would visit Stanford the day after their arrival, then to Seattle. She would also visit the University of Virginia and Duke University. Ann had done her homework. There were scores of  fine unis in the states, but Ann was damned if she was going to spend several years of her life up to her neck in snow from December-March.

It came down to Seattle and Palo Alto. Ann went about her choice carefully. She wasn’t sure exactly what she wanted to study; she just knew what she didn’t, but the “no” list wasn’t all that long. At the end, she chose Seattle.

Ann’s path didn’t cross Anne’s again for years. Although Ann always came home for the winter holidays, Anne never attended another Walker holiday party. Ann would wonder, when she got on the plane at SeaTac to go home, or the plane to return, if Anne might be one of the pilots, but she never was.  

When Ann graduated, she surprised her parents by asking if she could open a branch of the family’s business in Seattle. She surprised herself; she hadn’t expected to want this, but after her freshman year she'd spent the summer working in the family business. She was hooked. She spent every summer after that doing the same. Post-graduation, another two years learning from what the business could throw at her. Then, Ann opened the Seattle office. She hired a talented staff, some of them uni friends, and two years in, was nicely in the black. Ann was on her way home to celebrate the holidays. Her driver dropped her at SeaTac.

Ann fell asleep shortly after take-off. She’d spent the previous several weeks preparing for her time away. Things were in good order; she let everything drift away as she thought of Crow Nest, decorated for Christmas.

Captain Anne Lister was also headed home. She’d spent her layover in Tokyo mostly in bed with an attractive French captain she’d run into at Customs. Françoise was direct, yet ineffably charming. Very French. Very married … to a man. It wasn’t their first time together, but there was never a promise of another.

Anne, too, was anticipating her return to Halifax. It was her first Christmas with family in years. She’d climbed high enough on the seniority ladder to get fourteen days off at this busy time and one of those days was December 25th

*****

Anne pulled her rental up outside Shibden, grabbed her bags, and just stood still. In a moment, she’d smell the smell of home, kiss her aunt’s cheek and the top of her father’s head, probably waking him from his afternoon nap in his chair. Lord, could it be she was actually looking forward to losing at backgammon to Marian?

She heard chickens clucking. Home, sweet home.

*****

Ann’s parents had fetched her from the airport in Manchester that morning. She was now happily making cookies with her niece and nephew in the Crow Nest kitchen. The children were chattering. Elizabeth was on her phone with the caterer for the Walker holiday party. When Elizabeth rang off, she put on the kettle.

Elizabeth handed Ann her tea. “It’s good to have you home.”

 *****

The Lister family was having dinner. “Aunt and I are going to the Walker holiday party tomorrow night. Will you come with?” Marian asked.

Anne laughed. “Of course. I’ll need a night of merrymaking to get over this evening’s upcoming backgammon debacle.”

The next day, Anne and Marian decorated. Marian had agreed to hold off until Anne came home. Aunt Anne was on hand to referee, but the sisters got on surprisingly well. Marian didn’t let on how warm and fuzzy she felt about having Anne home for Christmas after all the years she couldn’t be there.

*****

Anne and Marian each took one of Aunt’s arms and escorted her into Crow Nest. After saying hello to their hosts, Anne heard the sound of children’s laughter. Across the room, two children were hugging the legs of their aunt … Ann Walker.

Ann turned toward Anne and smiled, broadly and with surprise, and then, undisguised joy. She looked down at her niece and nephew who were not letting go and looked back at Anne. A passing server offered champagne. Anne took a flute and went to Ann.

The children looked up at Anne who seemed to tower over them. Anne squatted down. “Hello, I’m a friend of your aunt’s.”

Ann said, touching her nephew’s head, “This is Sackville. This is Elisabeth.”

“Very glad to meet you both. My name is Anne, like your aunt’s. Except mine has an “e” on the end. A-N-N-E.”

A moment later, Elizabeth came up. Anne stood up. “Hello, Anne. It’s so nice to see you. Are you at home for a while?”

“Fourteen glorious days,” Anne replied.

“Your aunt and father must be delighted. And Marian, too?” Elizabeth said with a twinkle.

“All the Listers seem very happy, but none happier than me. I’m hoping for snow. I haven’t seen Shibden in the snow for years.”

Elizabeth announced that it was the children’s bedtime and herded them toward the stairs.

Ann and Anne began talking at the same time. Anne asked Ann to go ahead. Anne had only had two sips of champagne but felt as if she’d had several glasses. Her response to Ann was arresting. Anne was familiar with the strength of her physical responses to sexual partners. This was something vastly… not that. Anne hadn’t comprehended a thing Ann had said and then, Ann stopped speaking.

Anne’s first instinct was to try to cover. Ann gave her a quizzical look. “Let’s go see the library,” Ann suggested. “The children and I spent today making decorations for the small tree they picked out for that room.”

Anne followed Ann down the hall to the library which was now effectively transformed into a family room—children’s toys and books strewn about. A fire popped and crackled. Ann indicated two chairs.

“I remember the last time I saw you,” Anne said. “On a tour of colleges. Did you end up attending in the states?” Good lord, she looks different now.

“I did. I ended up in Seattle. At the uni with the beautiful campus. I actually live in Seattle now.” I have never felt this way around someone before.

“Why Seattle?”

“It’s a beautiful place. Stunning really. I went because that appealed, but mostly I went for freedom. There’s this weight of generations, of centuries here … at home. I felt boxed in … unable to breathe. I felt the same way about the other colleges. The weight of generations, the easy privilege. Seattle felt, I don’t know, newer. I don’t know if I’ll stay there forever; I miss my family, sometimes so much it physically hurts. But I had to get away.” Ann had never revealed this to anyone. Why now? Why tell Anne Lister?

“Hmm … I may feel somewhat the same,” Anne said. “I love to fly. It’s an adventure. The flying is fun. The travel is fun. I love the freedom. But I get homesick—just like you described.”

“Do you still fly to Seattle?”

“I do. Let’s have dinner next time.” Would it be a date?

“Yes, let’s.” Would it be a date?

“How long is your vacation?”

“I’m here until early January.”

“I am, too. I’d like to see you again … before Seattle.  Might we have dinner here? Take a drive? Have a snowball fight if it snows?”

 I would peel potatoes or wash dishes if it meant I could be around you, Anne Lister. “Love to. Any of it, all of it.”

Anne’s voice softened. “I want to see you again, Ann. But I feel a bit left-footed and unsure. Might you be interested … in me?”

Ann let out the breath she’d been holding. “Yes,” she said simply.

“Does your family know? Not about me, obviously, but about you.”

“That’s another “yes,” Ann said. “I couldn’t be free unless I was free, you know?”

“I’ve got to show the flag,” Ann said, getting up to return to the party. “Will you do a bit of last-minute shopping with me tomorrow? Have some lunch?”

“I was just going to ask you that very thing,” Anne grinned.  

 

Chapter Text

 

“Did it snow?” Villanelle asked.

“Yes.” Both women answered simultaneously, laughing. They’d had a snowball fight with Sackville and Elisabeth one morning, made snow angels with the children just before hot cocoa one afternoon, and had their first kiss during a twilight walk while the snow gently fell. Ann had easily joined the Lister backgammon circle, becoming another of Anne’s tormentors.

Elisabeth and Sackville couldn’t get enough of Anne. On New Year’s Eve, Elizabeth and her husband, along with the sisters’ parents, went to a fancy party. Ann and Anne spent it with the children. After dinner, Sackville and Elisabeth cozied up to Anne while she read their favorite stories.

I’ve fallen in love with her, Ann thought. Anne looked down the sofa where Ann was curled up. Anne’s smile was brilliant, tender, and seductive.

Later, they each carried a sleeping child up to bed and tucked them in.

Outside the children’s rooms, Ann extended her hand to Anne and said, “I know how I want to celebrate the New Year.” Anne’s heart accelerated like she’d just engaged its throttle. When Ann’s bedroom door closed behind them, they held each other. The curtains were open. Snow floated down outside.

Anne whispered. “I love you, Ann. This wouldn’t be just sex for me.”

Ann took Anne’s hand, kissed the palm, and looked up at Anne. “I love you, Anne. I’m in love with you. I want our hands on each other … everywhere. I want to taste you; I want your body underneath me, on top of me. I want to hear my name on your lips. I want to beg you; I want you to tremble in my hands.”

*****

“How long ago was that?” Eve asked.

“Three years,” Ann answered.

Anne’s phone rang. “I have to take this.” She left the room.

Ann said. “Let’s have a tour of the house.” Ann took them down to the lower level. There were three bedrooms, along with a complete kitchen, and family room.

“You’d be welcome to stay here or upstairs where you are. As to security:  you already know the entrances are protected. All the glass in this house is bulletproof. It’s also reflective. We can see out of it, but no one or nothing can see in.”

Ann went on. “The security system itself is self-contained. It’s not connected to the internet; it can’t be hacked. The system itself addresses attempted intrusions. If it senses fire, there is automated suppression. I have two staff—a chef who comes twice a week and a once-a-week housekeeper. If you like, they will never see you. All systems are redundant, including electricity. If what you need is a safe place to rest, to allow yourselves to breathe—this is that place.”

The tour concluded back in the kitchen.

“If you decide to stay, I’ll input your bio-markers into the system. You can select entrance codes and then you can come and go. You noticed the other car in the garage? It’s at your disposal.”

Anne returned to the kitchen. “I’m going to start dinner. It’ll be a couple of hours if you’d like to relax. Any dietary restrictions?” she asked.

Eve and Villanelle both shook their heads.

*****

Eve’s head was on Villanelle’s shoulder on the heavenly bed.

“This seems too good to be true. I feel like the Polar Express kid who is willing himself to believe. I want to believe that we’ve tumbled into a safe place. I really do.”

“I love that movie, Eve.”

“I love it, too.”

“Eve, can we stay here? We can just do normal stuff. We can even stay in most of the time. You said you heard them talking about us and it was okay.”

Eve knew that Villanelle had felt the weight of keeping them alive since The Bridge even if she never let it show. She covered it with insouciance, but Eve knew it was there.

“Let’s stay, then,” Eve said. “We’ll take some time and just breathe.”

“Does that include heavy breathing?”

Eve squeezed Villanelle in response.

A few moments passed, then Eve said, “You’re quiet when we’re around them.”

Villanelle pondered. “I want to learn how to be around normal people. But not like I am acting. I think I might want to have real friends.  Do you think I can?”

“You’re the smartest person I know. There are some basic things people do and don’t do. After that, everyone is different. You’re fun to be with. You’re generous.  If you want to have friends, you can. You can do anything.”

A few more moments passed. “Ann’s security is a lot,” Villanelle said. “Do you think she has someone trying to kill her?”

“She said the lower level is for her family when they visit and they were here this summer. She wouldn’t have them visit if someone was trying to kill her,” Eve thought out loud. “You’re right, though. It is a lot.”

Eve kissed Villanelle’s cheek and sat up.  “Alright then, let’s go offer to help. That’s something friends do when they’re invited to dinner. Also, when we finish with dinner and they get up, we help clear the table and offer to put stuff in the dishwasher. They might say “no,” but friends always offer.”

Villanelle put together a salad while Eve made garlic mashed potatoes. Ann set the table, uncorked the wine, and Anne grilled salmon. When they sat down to eat, Villanelle felt different, lighter.

“We have tomorrow free,” Ann said. “How about Mt. Rainier? We could go together, or you could go on your own. Just a thought … it’s completely up to you.”

Villanelle cocked her head.

“The ice cream cone,” Eve reminded.

Villanelle’s face answered the question—YES!

Ann added, “It’s so beautiful. We’d be happy to be your tour guides. If you’d rather be on your own, though, feel free…. Anne, would you help with dessert?” Their hosts went into the kitchen.

“I think they should be our tour guides,” Eve said. “If neither of us is driving, we can just enjoy. What do you think?”

“Neither of us has a driving license, Eve. We can’t just break the law.”

Was Villanelle serious? Eve snorted and wondered if she’d ever be able to tell.

*****

When Villanelle got her first look at The Mountain and turned to look at Eve, it might’ve been the purest expression of joy Eve had ever seen. I will never forget her face Eve thought. Eve went to Villanelle and put an arm around her waist, her head on Villanelle’s shoulder. Villanelle was silent. Eve could feel her taking deep breaths.

“You made this possible, Eve,” Villanelle said softly. “You loving me.”

*****

They dropped Anne off at her hotel on the way back to Seattle. Her flight was in the morning.

“I need a good night’s sleep,” she explained and winked at Ann, who just laughed. When Anne got out of the car, Ann did, too. They stepped into each other’s arms.

“Come back to me,” Ann said quietly.

“Always.”

*****

Anne laid in bed as her mind drifted over the past three days. She was proud of her twenty years of flying. Being a pilot was who she was. But this wasn’t the first time she’d wondered if this identity was worth what she left behind whenever a Seattle turnaround ended, whenever their vacations ended. Knowing that being a pilot also meant she had chosen not to be with Ann ached tonight … badly. Anne had to take several deep breaths to push down the emptiness that threatened to bring her to tears.

Ann was also thinking about the past three days as she settled in the bed she shared with Anne. Ann wasn’t worried about her houseguests; she was intrigued by them. She liked them. Something had changed, though; she could feel it. She was gripped with an urge to get up, drive to Anne’s hotel, and beg her … to do what?

*****

“Are you tired?” Eve asked. “We did a lot today.”

“Not tired. Just remembering how it smelled, what things looked like; it was so beautiful. I don’t think anything like … nature … has ever made me feel happy. That was new for me. I know that being with you made it feel like it did.”

Eve smiled. "I know I wouldn’t have felt like I did if I hadn’t been with you. Seeing how happy you were, seeing how stunning it was, I wanted to, I don’t know, start swirling around with you to the Sound of Music.”

“Which one of us would have led, Eve?” Villanelle asked innocently.

Chapter Text

“It doesn’t matter,” Eve replied.

The two women laid facing each other, each with a hand on the other’s cheek, occasionally caressing a brow, or lips. Villanelle’s touch was gentle; the love in her eyes evident. I will never forget her face.

Villanelle was objectively beautiful; her declaration on The Bridge about that beauty was true and while Eve thought then that Villanelle was simply being arrogant, Eve knew now that she had been deflecting. Villanelle knew the world saw her beauty and that she had never been more than a beautiful thing to most of it. She hadn’t cared—until now. Villanelle knew that Eve’s love for her existed--outside of and not because of--her beautiful face.

Eve moved onto Villanelle’s body. They kissed, softly. Eve said quietly …  I will follow you into your dreams, your past, the places none of us can explain to anyone.

Villanelle’s throat tightened. She kissed Eve’s cheeks, her lips, her neck, caressed Eve’s back. Eve embraced Villanelle’s kisses, whispering:  I love you. I love you. I love you.  Eve moved her face next to Villanelle’s neck, breathing her in. Then, rising over Villanelle she kissed both her eyelids shut, shifted behind Villanelle, put an arm around her waist—holding on. Eve felt Villanelle sigh. Her breathing slowed.

“Sleep well,” Eve murmured. She knew Villanelle was already in the Land of Nod.

*****

Ann was awake, sitting up in bed with her tablet. She checked Anne’s morning flight. There were seats. She booked one. Then, she checked her professional and personal calendars. Nothing that couldn’t be postponed or dealt with remotely. Emails were sent.

Ann packed a carryon backpack, retrieved her passport, some English currency, and two mobile phones from her safe. Then, she composed a list for Eve and Villanelle. Finally, she imagined what she would say to them in the morning. Ann respected that they’d not asked about the over-the-top security. They were hiding out from something deadly; it was time she let them know her own situation. She didn’t expect them to want to leave, but she couldn’t leave without explaining.  

Ann expected she’d be back within ten days, perhaps sooner. Anne had a turnaround of two nights in London, followed by a nonstop to Los Angeles, with two nights there, and a return to London with several days off to follow. Ann booked seats on both legs of the LHR-LAX flights.  

Ann knew she was about to act out an over-used movie trope—getting on a plane to follow a lover not knowing exactly what would happen on arrival. What would she say to Anne? What would Anne say?

Ann planned to use her time on the flight to think about what to say—also a cliché.  All she knew was that what she had was no longer enough. And, that she was willing to be the one to change. Her life had been lived on a too-narrow margin long enough.

*****

Eve and Villanelle decided to stay after talking with Ann and with each other. Ann’s precautions made sense to them now. They asked Ann to cancel this week’s housekeeping visit. Ann’s chef had spent yesterday preparing meals and stocking the fridge and pantry.

Ann gave them the two mobile phones from her safe. When she renewed her offer about access to a car, they declined. Ann pointed out the ride-share apps on their phones. Since billing was handled by Ann’s company neither the app nor the driver would know their names. She asked that they be picked up and dropped off at least ten minutes from her house and to always take precautions to make sure they weren’t followed on their return.  

She showed them where her gun safe was, giving them fingerprint access. The ballistic vests were in a nearby closet. 

After dispensing with the logistics, Ann told them, “The two of you reminded me that I don’t have forever, and neither does Anne. I need to be with her as much as she’ll have me.”

Villanelle nodded. “Do not worry. Anne loves you. She wants to be with you as much as you will have her. All you must do is tell her.”

*****

Ann drove to her office, parked in its garage, and had one of her security team drive her to SeaTac. She cleared security, filled up her water bottle, and arrived at the gate a few minutes before boarding started. She knew Anne was already on the aircraft.

Ann settled into her seat. A few minutes later, the 787 was airborne. Ann was just about to put on her noise-cancelling headphones when Anne made her “Welcome Aboard” announcement. Ann’s heart sped up and she shivered when she heard Anne’s voice. Knowing she was so close to Anne, that Anne was flying this airplane, and that Anne didn’t know she was aboard was weirdly thrilling.

Ann listened to music, had some airplane food, and took out her tablet. Until now, she’d just felt what she wanted. Writing down her thoughts and letting them sit would help her with what to say. Or not.

*****

Villanelle suggested they have a movie afternoon. When Eve asked what she wanted to see, Villanelle suggested movies about friendship. Eve did an internet search for “Movies About Friendships” and snorted when the Good Housekeeping website listed the thirty best movies about friendship for your next “Girls Night.” Her next search turned up more movies from, you know, the 21st century. She curled up with Villanelle and pressed Play.

Movie afternoon stretched into movie night. Stopping only between films to have dinner, they watched Booksmart and Girls Trip. Afterward, Eve said to Villanelle that if she wanted to talk about the movies, they could—it was up to her. Eve had tried hard to stop thinking about Villanelle as a subject to be observed, analyzed. Eve realized, as she was brushing her teeth, that Villanelle laughed during the scenes intended to provoke laughter. In fact, they’d laughed together. Normal stuff.

Eve shook her hair out … for Villanelle, letting herself accept that, for Villanelle, Eve was it. Villanelle looked … appreciative when Eve came out of the bathroom. Eve straddled Villanelle. She felt light and full of love—feelings that were not very Eve-like. 

“Today was a good day,” Eve said. Villanelle moved her hands to Eve’s waist.

“Yes, it was, but I don’t want it to be over. Do you?” Villanelle asked, giving Eve a look.

Eve lowered her lips to Villanelle’s ear, and her hand gently to Villanelle’s neck, at her carotid.

“Do you know what I want?”

“Tell me.” Villanelle’s voice was thick.

“Whatever you want me to do to you, with you, for you.”  

Eve felt the pulse beneath her fingers speed up.

“Kiss me, Eve. Then, I will tell you.”

Their kisses were slow, deliberately so—it was erotic holding back while trying to arouse, trying to connect just through their lips and tongues. For Villanelle, there was kissing before Eve and there was kissing after Eve. She could barely remember the before Eve anymore.     

Eve sensed Villanelle was ready. She drew back and brought her cheek next to Villanelle’s.

“Remember the hotel room? When you said you were mine . . . body and soul.” Villanelle’s voice was still thick.

“Oh, babe. Of course, I remember.”

“I want to feel like that,” Villanelle said softly into Eve’s ear.

Chapter Text

Eve was careful. “I think you already do. You knew you had me body and soul before the other night in the hotel, didn’t you?”

Silence from Villanelle, then quietly, “You said it out loud the other night …  but I already knew.”  

Eve moved down a bit and laid her head on Villanelle’s chest. Villanelle had an arm around Eve’s shoulders. Eve could hear Villanelle’s heart beating … even, regular. Taken for granted by its owner. Oh god, she was so close to cheesy . . .  what the hell …surrender to the cheese. Eve found Villanelle’s hand and their fingers interlaced.  

“You’ve got me … body and soul,” Villanelle said slowly, trying out this realized truth.

“Do you need me?” Eve looked up at Villanelle. Villanelle’s eyes closed for a moment.

Eve moved off Villanelle onto her back and gathered Villanelle on top. She brought a leg up between Villanelle’s thighs. “Ride me, baby. Don’t hold back. No one but me will hear you. No one but you will hear me. We’ll have a common language.”

Villanelle took a deep breath. “I will speak to you with my body and from my soul, Eve.”

*****

Anne stretched out in the crew’s sleeping area for her mandatory break. She closed her eyes. She was tired. Her sleep last night … not great. She promised herself I’ll think about Ann and our future during my turnaround. Two hours later, Anne woke up feeling better, her determination to be with Ann solidified.

Ann had also fallen asleep about the same time. Her sleep last night … not enough. She was still asleep when Anne returned to the flight deck.

Anne had been back on the flight deck for 45 minutes when it ... happened.

They lost Engine #2. Anne and the first officer immediately went through the engine failure checklist, but the engine refused their restart efforts.  

Anne declared an emergency and sought permission to descend to a lower altitude. The first officer turned on the fasten seat belt sign which triggered an announcement from the purser for everyone to return to their seat. The third pilot was working on a divert-to-nearest-airport plan. She made her recommendation seconds later: KEF in Iceland. Air Traffic Control instantly granted permission to land there. Only a few minutes had passed. The flight deck was calm. As long as #1 kept going, they’d be fine.

They were 20 minutes from Iceland.

Anne contacted ATC and asked that Icelandic search and rescue be alerted in the event of a ditching. The third pilot was talking with airline operations.

The first officer reported out surface weather conditions at KEF and under their current position. Underneath them present conditions over the north Atlantic were not terrible. Thank god for small or big favors as the case may be, Anne thought.

Every commercial pilot in the world regularly, some might say religiously, practiced ditching in simulators after Sully’s 2009 ditching in the Hudson River. Anne was no different. She’d practiced ditching in every scenario available in the simulator … over and over.

15 minutes to KEF.

Anne called the purser to the flight deck. The purser knew something was up. Although #2 hadn’t shown any visible sign of failure, the aircraft had descended quickly enough before leveling off that it was obvious to the cabin crew.

As soon Anne had briefed the purser, Anne made her announcement.

“This is the captain speaking. Please give me your attention. We will be making an unscheduled landing at the Reykjavík airport in Iceland in less than 15 minutes. One of our engines has failed. Our second engine is operating normally. I repeat, our second engine is operating normally. This aircraft can safely, I repeat, safely fly with one engine. If you have not already done so, please return to your seat and fasten your seat belt. Do not leave your seat for the remainder of the flight. We Brits have a motto: Keep Calm and Carry On. That’s what we’re doing on the flight deck, what your cabin crew are doing, and I trust you will, too.”

Anne checked the faces of her first officer and third pilot. Calm and carrying on.

10 minutes to KEF.

Ann felt oddly serene. After Anne signed off, she had two thoughts. Thank god Anne Lister was the captain. And thank god Anne did not know she was on this flight.

8 minutes to KEF.

Anne’s approach was straight on. KEF was not a hugely busy airport, but what KEF incoming traffic there was directed well out of the way.

Anne made course and speed changes as directed by ATC. ATC advised that KEF visibility was 30 kilometers and winds were light and variable. The third pilot reported that airline operations was busy arranging hotel and transport for the passengers and crew.

6 minutes to KEF.

Anne buzzed the purser. “Ready?” she asked. “Yes, captain. Cabin is ready.” The purser sounded as if this was just another day at the office. Well done.

4 minutes to KEF.

“From the flight deck, this is the captain. We’re on final approach to Keflavik International Airport. We’ll be on the ground shortly. We’ll be deplaning normally by jetway through the forward left door. Arrangements are being made for hotel accommodations and transport for each passenger. Customer service agents are standing by to assist. Please follow their directions once you deplane.”

Wheels down at KEF.

The 787 decelerated on the runway just as it always did. Anne taxied to the gate. She parked, turned off the fasten seat belt sign, and turned to the other pilots. All three of them had heard the whoops, cheers, and applause from the passengers as soon as the aircraft had stopped braking and turned onto the taxiway. Anne grinned. “This couldn’t have gone any better than it did. You both did outstanding work.”

Ann remained in her seat. Eventually, all the passengers behind her deplaned. She knew Anne would remain on board for a bit longer …. paperwork. She made her way to the front of the aircraft and confirmed with a flight attendant that Anne was still on the flight deck. She deplaned and waited in the boarding area.

Chapter Text

“Anne?”

Anne turned around. Several seconds went by. “Good lord. Aren’t you in Seattle?”

“I am … I was.” Everything Ann had planned to say went poof!

Anne strode toward Ann, taking off her cap. Ann reached for Anne and buried her face in Anne’s shoulder, arms around each other. Anne felt she might cry and struggled to control herself. She’d felt jubilant a moment ago, still riding the high of the passengers’ gratitude, the camaraderie of the crew and their collective relief and pride, and now … barely able to hold it together. She whispered, “Let’s get out of here.”

*****

“Holy Shit!!” Eve was scrambling some eggs, the morning news on in the background. Villanelle had just stepped off the treadmill in Ann’s home gym. She’d taken out her ear buds having finished her running playlist which was heavy on inspirational movie themes, e.g., Rocky, Chariots of Fire, and Rudy followed by national anthems, and finished off with selections from ABBA Gold.

The news reader detailed the emergency landing of a London-bound plane that departed from Seattle and lost an engine over the Atlantic. The airline had issued a statement about investigating the cause of the malfunction, extolling the professionalism of the crew … blah, blah, blah. Landing in Iceland at O’Dark Thirty had protected the passengers and crew from the media so there was no comment from anyone who’d been onboard.

Eve muted the news and called out, “Breakfast in 2 minutes!”

“You do not have to yell, Eve. I am right here.” Villanelle stepped into the kitchen and sat down in front of a mug of coffee Eve had placed there for her. Eve shut her eyes and shook her head slightly.

“Our hosts had a little detour to Iceland on their way to London.” Eve went on, “Their plane had an engine go tits up so they were forced to land in Reykjavik. Everybody’s fine, though.”

Villanelle processed the information.

“They are getting a romantic getaway in Iceland,” Villanelle noted. “Have you ever been to Iceland, Eve? Parts of it are very beautiful. We should go.”

Eve had an ongoing internal debate about whether she was a glass half empty or a glass half full person. Villanelle was a glass always threatening and sometimes spilling over the rim person. One of the reasons I love her.

Eve put a plate of food down in front of Villanelle. “I’d like to go for a walk, today. Just around the neighborhood. Fresh air. Come with me?”

“Of course, Eve. I am glad you want to me to go. You are not getting sick of me?”

Eve laughed. “That will never happen. You’re stuck with me.”

It was a standard issue Seattle day, overcast, a bit breezy, rain somewhere in the future, and recently in the past. They walked along in silence. Eve had her arm through Villanelle’s arm. Villanelle felt good. A squirrel ran across the street in front of them and up a tree. It scolded them loudly as they walked past.

They turned toward each other and shrugged, grinning. What did we do to deserve that?

“We should make a list of places we want to go.” Eve mused.  “We may not be able to go for a while, but it would be fun to talk about, think about.”

Villanelle made a noncommittal noise.

Did I say something wrong? “Babe, does thinking about that upset you? I’m happy to just be with you here or wherever as long as it takes. I’ve never been happier.”

“No, not upset. I was worried you were getting bored, but now I am not.”

Eve squeezed Villanelle’s arm and put her head against Villanelle for a moment. “You are not boring. Maybe someday we will be boring together. That’s okay. It’ll mean we didn’t consume each other, that we spent decades together. If that happens, I’ll be fine with a little boredom.”

Eve is imagining us together for decades, Villanelle thought, isn’t she?

“Do you want to be together for decades?” she asked, her voice smaller than it usually sounded.

Eve stopped and put her hand on Villanelle’s cheek. “No … just the rest of my life.”

*****

Ann had her arm around Anne, holding her close in their bed. When they’d arrived at the hotel, Anne called her family so they wouldn’t hear about it from the news. After that, Ann had Anne sit on the side of the bed while she undressed her. Anne had never looked so exhausted and put up no fuss as Ann untied her shoes, unbuttoned her shirt, and got her into a clean T-shirt and boxers for sleeping.

Ann had said, “We’ll talk tomorrow or sometime soon. I just want to be as close as I can to you.”

Ann woke up. It was dark. She was still spooning Anne. Can I fall back asleep? Ann wasn’t awake for the answer. The next time, Anne woke up first. There was some light in the window. Anne slipped out of bed. For once, she had only a hazy guess about the time of day. Her phone said it was 11:03 a.m. There was a text message about her flight out. She went to Ann’s phone … they were on the same flight … tomorrow afternoon.

Ann stirred. The sleepy voice Anne adored asked, “What time is it?”

“Almost time for lunch, darling.”

Ann took a deep breath and threw off the covers. “Take a quick shower with me? I’m starving.”

Anne was washing Ann’s hair, making sure that some of the hot water was directed at Ann, keeping her warm. “We’re on the same flight to London tomorrow afternoon. I’ll make sure we’re seated together when I call operations.”

“Did you make that happen or was it good luck?”

“Good luck,” Anne said, “which I seem to have in abundance.”

Anne paused. “When I saw you in the boarding area …”

Ann turned to face Anne, putting her palm on Anne’s cheek. “You’re allowed to be human after doing something superhuman. In the grand scheme of things, not many can do what you and your crew did yesterday. It wasn’t only good luck.”

While Ann dried her hair, Anne called airline operations. Did they want to interview her?  Was she still scheduled to fly to LAX the day after tomorrow? She knew the answers before asking the questions. No, they did not want to interview her yet, the investigation had just gotten underway, and none of the three pilots would be flying until the investigation was concluded.

Anne knew the investigation would clear them. They didn’t make the engine fail. They’d followed the restart checklist to the letter. Their decision making at every point was flawless. Most importantly, they’d gotten the aircraft and passengers safely on the ground. They were lucky at their proximity to KEF … Anne had already given a proper nod to Lady Luck for that.

Anne realized she owed Lady Luck for the two most consequential, wonderful events of her life. One had just occurred and the other occurred three years ago … when Ann Walker smiled at her across a room on a chilly December evening.

Chapter Text

Their hotel had a lunch buffet which was really quite good. The dining area wasn’t crowded. After eating for a few moments, Anne looked up. Was Ann ready to talk?

“You want to know why I was on your flight.” Not a question, a statement of fact.

Anne nodded.

“It’s simple. I want us to be together as much as possible. I want to live with you. I had to tell you . . . in person … about what I wanted to do and why. I’m ready to come home.”

Anne took Ann’s hand. “I can’t stand being away from you, either. It’s been harder and harder to leave you. I can’t do it anymore. I’m ready to move to Seattle.”

They grinned at each other.

“Back to the room?” Anne’s query was suggestive.

Ann put the Do Not Disturb placard on the doorknob and shut the door.

Ann faced Anne. “I’m going to ravish you and you’re going to let me.”

“Yes, I believe I will,” Anne agreed, throwing off her clothes, willy-nilly.

Anne laid back on the bed with Ann straddling her waist, her hands braced on Anne’s shoulders.

Ann knew that Anne wanted her to take the lead. Knowing Anne wanted it this way was thrilling. Ann trailed the pad of her thumb over Anne’s lips and bent down to kiss her softly, unhurriedly. She put her mouth to Anne’s ear.

“I’m going to fuck you, Anne. I’m going to fuck you slowly, not let you come until you beg me. Captain Lister is going to beg me, aren’t you?”

Anne moved underneath Ann. “Please … Ann, please.”

“Already begging and I haven’t touched you.” Ann’s next kiss began softly and went up in intensity. When Ann broke off the kiss and caught her breath, she bit Anne’s neck, moved off to Anne’s right side, and brushed her hand over Anne’s nipple, returning to it immediately and tugged on it over and over until Anne was writhing.

“Bring your knees up and open your legs,” Ann commanded. She reached down between Anne’s legs with her right hand and dragged two fingers between her labia … slowly. “You’re ready, aren’t you?”

“God, yes.”

Anne drew in an audible breath when Ann’s three fingers pushed deep inside. Ann moved over Anne and captured Anne’s clit between her thumb and forefinger of her left hand, gently milking it. Anne’s breathing was ragged and loud. Ann began flexing her fingers inside in time with her fingers on Anne’s clit.

Ann knew Anne was getting close. She left her fingers on Anne’s clit, but stopped squeezing and caressing it. Her fingers kept fucking Anne, but more slowly now. “Do you want it, baby?” Ann teased her voice low. “Tell me, baby, ask me for it.”

“Make me come. Please … please, Ann.” Anne’s voice was choked with lust.

Ann resumed working on Anne’s clit, both sets of fingers in tandem. She watched Anne’s face, their eyes on each other until Anne couldn’t keep hers open. Ann looked down at her own fingers. She could see Anne’s orgasm and could feel it around her fingers. She withdrew her fingers from Anne’s clit, but stayed inside Anne.

After a few moments, Ann said, “I’m not done with you.” She rotated her fingers clockwise and then back, drawing a hard breath from Anne. “You just got wetter, didn’t you?”

“You know I did.” Anne’s voice was closer to a sob than to speech.

“I need to taste that. I’m going to put my tongue on you, lick my fingers, keep fucking you with them, suck your clit. You’re going to have to beg very nicely this time, Captain.”

Anne fell into sleep shortly after Ann had finished what she’d previewed. When Ann had slowly dragged back the hood of Anne’s clit to tongue it, and then declared she was going to bite it in a voice so low and slutty that when she did run her teeth over it, and bore down ever so slightly, Anne collapsed into orgasm.    

Ann snuggled back into Anne. She’s going to wake up a new woman, Ann thought. Just in time for dinner. After that, she’s going to want to . . .  show me heaven. Lucky me.  

*****

Eve was swimming laps in Ann’s heated, outdoor lap pool … naked. Villanelle had watched Eve shrug off her robe before diving in. Eve was not particularly athletic, but she was a powerful  swimmer. Villanelle’s skill set did not include kick turns, pushing off walls underwater, the butterfly or breast stroke … nothing of the sort.

If you’d asked Villanelle whether she would enjoy watching someone swim before she saw Eve in the pool, she would have laughed and called it boring. Now, seeing Eve’s prowess on display was mesmerizing. And hot.

This was a side of Eve she’d not seen before, had never even known about. It wasn’t like their time together allowed Eve to just pop off to swim. Evasion, eating, sleeping, and sex took up all their time.

When Eve came out in a robe and announced she was going for a swim, Villanelle just shrugged, but followed her out to the pool. She could tell Eve was naked under the robe and she wasn’t going to miss that.

Eve worked her way through all the strokes and then through them again. She finished with two impressive crawl laps.

Villanelle was ready with a towel and Eve’s robe.

“Eve, you are a beast in the pool.” The unspoken words of Very hot were expressed in Villanelle’s face.

Eve’s breathing hadn’t returned to normal and she had the towel over her face so her response to Villanelle was masked, but Eve felt it. Wow, she really, really, does it for me.

Eve knew Villanelle would react this way. It was a two-fer, really … the swimming as exercise she enjoyed, maybe the only exercise she liked, and showing Villanelle something that was powerful knowing it would affect her.

“I need to shower, wash my hair. Join me?”

Villanelle was blissed out … washing Eve’s hair was better than ice cream. If she had to choose just one, it would be the former. And they weren’t done yet. After Villanelle finished washing, Eve would ask her to put in the conditioner that smelled so good. And Villanelle would inhale it whenever she could, maybe that would be in bed, and maybe soon. She thought there was a certain je ne sais quoi about Eve after she got out of the pool. It felt like a shift in their sexual tectonic plates. An exciting shift.

Eve sensed something different from Villanelle … a sweet solicitousness … or something. She knew that Villanelle had been aroused by seeing her swim. What was going on?

Suddenly, Eve realized that Villanelle hadn’t made a move. Villanelle always made a move. It was her thing. Sure, Eve made moves sometimes, but she usually couldn’t beat Villanelle to the punch. Why wasn’t Villanelle acting on her arousal?

Villanelle was pretending not to watch Eve drying her hair. Eve was wrapped in a towel and glanced in the mirror at Villanelle not watching. What was that expression on Villanelle’s face?

Eve shut off the hair dryer, turned toward Villanelle, and dropped her towel. Villanelle’s eyes widened, but she didn’t hop off the counter.

Eve walked into the bedroom. She said, over her shoulder, “Come here. Right now.”

Villanelle hustled into the bedroom. She was far too graceful to stumble over her feet, but she did move quickly.

That confirmed it for Eve. She was in charge. When they were first together, Eve had ceded control to Villanelle, mostly. Which made sense to Eve at the time. Now, it was usually more give and take once they’d gotten busy, but Villanelle usually made the first move. But this time she clearly wanted Eve to be in charge.

What do I want? Eve thought. What does she want? What does she want to feel?

“Take off your clothes and lay down on your stomach,” Eve demanded, softly.

Villanelle eagerly complied. Eve started at Villanelle’s feet and crawled up her legs and onto Villanelle’s soft back. She nudged Villanelle’s legs apart and put one of hers between.

“I’m trying to decide what to do to you.” Eve began stroking and kneading Villanelle’s bum. She breathed directly into Villanelle’s ear. “How will I touch you? Will I tie you up? Spank you? Fuck you in the ass? Mark you all over? So much to choose from. If I can’t make up my mind, it’ll take all night.”

Was that a whimper? Eve had never heard Villanelle whimper. Eve reached between Villanelle’s legs. As she stroked Villanelle, she asked, “What did I say that made all this happen?”

“All of it.”

Chapter Text

“Let’s stay here for a few days. You’re not going back to work for a few days …I’ve never been in Iceland. We could rent a car.” Ann searched Anne’s face. Anne was in the middle of drinking an Icelandic beer in the hotel dining room.

“Yes … let’s.”  Anne put down her glass. “I’ll cancel tomorrow’s reservations to fly to London. Shall I rebook or … shall we wing it?”

Ann chuckled. “First you have spidey sense and now you want to wing it? I love you, Anne Lister, you wild and crazy thing.”

“I’ll show you wild and crazy when we get back to our room.”  Anne gave Ann a goofy leer.

Ann rolled her eyes. “I’d like to go off the beaten path.”

Anne raised an eyebrow. “Have anything in mind? Operations said I won’t be flying for at least 2 weeks.”

Ann whipped out her tablet and pulled up the Google map of Iceland. “Let’s figure that out.”

Over dessert, they came up with a rough itinerary.

They spent the next day sight-seeing and shopping in Reykjavik. Neither was prepared for off the beaten path anywhere, let alone Iceland.   

The day after that they took a 40-minute flight to Ísafjörður, a small town in the Westfjords, picked up a rental car, and set out. They had a bag lunch whilst overlooking the ocean at the Bolungarvik Lighthouse.

“I meant what I said about moving back to the UK.” Ann said.

“I meant what I said about moving to Seattle. We just need to figure out who is moving. We can talk about what makes the most sense. Or we can talk about what we really want … what being together looks like.”

Anne went on. “I’ve asked myself do I really want to keep flying, and if I do, do I really want to keep this flying job? Do I want to have a job, even one I love? What if we chucked work and just did what we wanted? Whatever that was? I have a million questions, and no answers.” Anne grinned at Ann. “I’m fine with that.”

Ann turned toward Ann. “I don’t want to miss any more of the kids’ lives. I want to spend more time with my sister. I want to be with you as much as possible. If you want to keep flying, keep flying.” Ann’s voice lowered, “Or, don’t and be a kept woman … one who is expected to keep her mistress . . . satisfied.” Ann winked at Anne.

Despite Ann’s silliness, Anne shuddered a little. Ann noticed and filed that away for later.

That night, while Anne was brushing her teeth, Ann laid the harness and toy on the bed, lounged back on the pillows and waited. Anne’s eyes narrowed when she saw Ann and what was on display.

“Put it on and lay down. Do exactly as I tell you.”

After Anne had done exactly what Ann demanded, Ann straddled Anne’s face. “Get me ready.” She nodded over her shoulder. “I’m going to ride you so hard.”

Ann held onto the headboard as Anne lashed her clit. Every time Ann got close, she raised up. When she moved off Anne’s face and down her body, she left her wetness on Anne’s nipples and belly.  

Ann sank down, filling herself. Anne was propped up on pillows, watching.

Ann bent back, hands on Anne’s thighs. She rocked on Anne.

“Touch me … just how I like it.” Anne’s fingers found Ann’s clit. In a few seconds, Ann’s rocking got faster and harder, driving Anne deeper. Anne’s fingers stilled as Ann rode out her orgasm as if she was a slow-motion bronc rider.

Ann unbuckled the harness and tossed it aside. “Roll over. I’m not done with you yet.”

With Anne on her stomach, Ann nuzzled the back of Anne’s neck and shoulders, kissing softly. Ann’s hand smoothed over Anne’s back, down past her ass. Ann’s fingers were slippery between Anne’s legs.

“Lie still while I do exactly what I want with what belongs to me.” Ann’s voice was low and firm.

Later, Anne laid on her side next to Ann, her head on Ann’s chest, Ann’s arm wrapped around her shoulders.

“Penny for your thoughts.” Ann said.

Anne kissed Ann’s shoulder. “I was thinking that until you, I’d never lain in anyone’s arms. It was always the other way round.”

Ann was not necessarily surprised. She knew that Anne had been with more than a handful of other women, but she didn’t know anything about how they’d been with each other—in bed. Ann didn’t really want details and Anne didn’t volunteer.

But given how they’d been at the beginning and how long it had taken for Anne to show facets of herself—well, it wasn’t surprising. Ann now knew Anne loved being in charge … except when she didn’t.  

Ann kissed the top of Anne’s head and tightened her arm around Anne. “Lucky me.”

“And me.” Anne murmured as she burrowed further into Ann’s shoulder.

They spent the next 5 days driving the fjords, hiking to waterfalls, lounging in geothermal pools, and having sex. When they settled in on their flight to London, with a glass of champagne, Ann got a bit excited. “I just thought of something …. I think I’ll offer my Seattle house to Vanya and Ellen as a long-term housesitting gig. I don’t want it to sit empty, I guess, and I’m not sure I want to sell it. If they want to stay in Seattle, that is.”

“Your house, darling. Do whatever you want.” Anne brushed her hand over Ann’s cheek and took Ann’s right hand and brought it to her lips, kissing the wrist. She closed her eyes and shivered—so quickly Ann almost missed it. Ann’s eyes narrowed.

“Are you thinking about what I think you’re thinking about?” Last night when you had me on my knees, you were deep inside me and you wouldn’t let me come until I begged you?

Anne gave Ann a wink and shifted a bit in her seat. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Chapter Text

Eve was toying with Villanelle … again. She hadn’t even bothered to put on the towel before walking, slowly, slowly, slowly to the lap pool. The towel was draped over her shoulder and wasn’t covering much of anything, except one breast and part of her back … not the shoulder with the scar, either. The scar is uncovered as is Eve’s scrumptious ass.

Then, there’s that look Eve sent in Villanelle’s direction … just before Eve dove into the pool.

Eve went through her routine. Villanelle was holding her towel when she pushed up out of the pool in one seamless move. Did she just push up and land on her feet? How hot was that?

“Thank you,” Eve said, toweling her face and hair, before wrapping it around. “Coming?” she asked Villanelle, too innocently for it to be innocent.

“First things first … wash my hair,” Eve softly demanded in Villanelle’s ear as they stood in the warm spray. Eve had realized the erotic power in this act a while back and enjoyed wielding it, just as much as Villanelle enjoyed the act itself. Because Eve didn’t hold back when it came to nonverbally communicating how divine Villanelle’s hands felt in her hair, on her scalp, all of it. Knowing that Villanelle was getting aroused … this was known as a win-win, wasn’t it?

Villanelle moved on to bathe Eve, using her hands to smooth body wash all over Eve. Villanelle’s hands were firm, but not harsh. Watching them made Eve’s stomach flutter. Villanelle interrupted Eve’s reverie. “May I?” Eve was standing directly in the spray. Villanelle was standing at a 90 degree angle with her lips near Eve’s ear. Eve answered by adjusting her stance. Villanelle applied body wash to her right hand and reached between Eve’s legs.

How am I still upright? Oh god, now she’s turning me around to wash my ass … dear god.

“Bend over a little. Maybe hold onto the grab bar.” Villanelle licked water off Eve’s ear lobe. Eve couldn’t see what Villanelle was doing, but she didn’t have to see. She felt. Villanelle was not-quite scrubbing, but definitely washing, between Eve’s cheeks with a washcloth. Eve tried very hard to live in that moment, but part of her brain was anticipating the near future and the near future after that. The near future arrived as Villanelle’s fingers sluiced body wash between her legs, thoroughly, and then used the handheld spray wand to rinse, holding her labia and then her cheeks apart. Good idea, holding on to the grab bar. Finally, Villanelle held the spray above Eve’s clit for a few moments and made no pretense of rinsing. Eve was still bent over when Villanelle wrapped a huge bath towel around her, picked her up, and carried her to their bed.

Villanelle was on top of Eve, their skin still wet, her breath hot in Eve’s ear. “I want to rim you, Eve. Bite your breasts. Suck on your neck. And fuck you so good that if you try to stand up after, your legs will be too shaky. How does that sound … Eve?”

Eve turned her head to meet Villanelle’s lips. Her kiss was her answer.

The next morning, Eve was alone in the shower, Villanelle still in bed. Eve had seen her neck and her breasts in the mirror and had taken a deep breath with the memory of Villanelle’s mouth everywhere …Villanelle pinning her hands down while Eve moved beneath her, saying Villanelle’s name again and again, as Villanelle’s lips and teeth marked her—just shy of fiercely—just the right equation of agony and ecstasy. Villanelle had said nothing, her eyes possessive when Eve’s caught hers. Eve’s eyes said only yes, yes, yes.  

Eve had her back to the spray, remembering Villanelle turning her over onto her knees, then her hands, spreading her, tongue slowly making her witless. Eve had come quickly when Villanelle’s fingers dragged through her labia and up to her clit, but the orgasm pounded on and into another before Eve sank down onto the bed, Villanelle partially on top with her lips on Eve’s scar, and then her voice asking. Do you know how much I love you, Eve? Do you know what this does to me? Do you know what you mean to me?

By the time Villanelle slid off Eve’s back to finish her bedtime routine in the bathroom, Eve was unconscious.

Is there something greater than being in love? Eve wondered and then shook her head slightly, smiling. God, I’m a dope.

“May I join you?” Villanelle asked. Eve opened her eyes, stepping aside to make room. Eve grabbed a washcloth and gently scrubbed Villanelle’s back. Eve suspected that no one had ever bathed Villanelle with tenderness. There was no point in asking—how she touched Villanelle would be the same regardless. Villanelle’s face was blissful. Eve didn’t want this experience to drift from tender to sexual, so she didn’t reach between Villanelle’s legs.

“May I wash your hair?” Eve asked. Villanelle sat down on the built-in shower bench—Eve couldn’t reach her head comfortably if she was on her feet. Eve massaged the shampoo into Villanelle’s hair. Villanelle’s head tilted back toward Eve—eyes closed. After Eve rinsed out the conditioner, she made to leave the shower. Villanelle put her hand around Eve’s wrist as she stood up.

“I think you forgot something.” She brought Eve’s hand to her pubic mound and handed Eve the body wash. Eve wondered if this woman was proof there was a god.

Or proof there was a devil. Eve’s hands were on Villanelle’s ass as her nose bumped Villanelle’s clit intermittently. Villanelle had a hand on the headboard and one in Eve’s hair, moving her torso back and forth.

Eve began teasing Villanelle’s opening with a thumb, before pushing it in, angling toward the front of Villanelle’s vagina. She moved the thumb firmly back and forth against the front wall, syncing up the rhythm of her tongue on Villanelle with the movement of her thumb. But, going slowly…trying to draw it out. Villanelle held back as long as she could. Then she allowed herself to think I’m going to come in Eve’s mouth and that was enough.

Villanelle laid in Eve’s arms, both of them dozing. Hunger chased them from bed and into the kitchen. Eve looked at the clock and laughed. “Lunch for lunch or breakfast for lunch?” she asked.

Chapter Text

Eve and Villanelle were meandering around the campus of Ann’s alma mater. It was the rarest of things, a warm May day in Seattle—a perfect 71º.

“Is this a big university?” Villanelle asked.

“I think so,” Eve replied, opening Wikipedia on her phone. “Over 47,000 students. So, yeah, this is a big university. Why did you ask?”

Villanelle shrugged. Eve caught her attempt at looking disinterested.

“Do you remember what I said when we were dancing? About what I could have been if I never killed for them?”

Eve nodded.

Villanelle shook her head slightly and closed her eyes for a second, took a deep breath and exhaled. Eve put her hand in Villanelle’s as they walked—something they’d never done. Villanelle did not pull away.

“I’m listening,” Eve said.

“What are the 47,000 doing? Why are they doing it?”

“Are you asking about them or are you asking about you?”

“Maybe both.”

“What do you feel like when you see all these students?”

Villanelle said nothing, but Eve could tell she was thinking.

“It does not feel good . . . I am not sure why.”

“I’m listening,” Eve said again.

“I do not like to think about why I do not feel good.”

“Nobody does. You don’t have to, but if you want to talk about it, I’m here.”

They walked on, neither speaking, holding hands.

Without looking at Eve, Villanelle said, “I am afraid it is too late for me.”

Be careful, Eve thought. “Too late for what?”

“To be one of them.”

“Why couldn’t you be one of them?”

“I have no idea how to begin, what to do, what to study. I never imagined myself . . . in some place like this.”

Eve knew Villanelle was accustomed to being very good at everything she did. In this moment, she saw thousands of students who had gotten this far, but she had no idea how they got there or how she could emulate them.

“You have this kind of education.” Villanelle went on.

Eve nodded. “I do.”

“Are you glad you have it?”

“I am.”

“Did you enjoy getting it?

“Yes.”

Villanelle bobbed her head back and forth, up and down.

“If I wanted to do this, could you help me figure out how?”

“I could and I would.” Eve answered.

Their stroll had delivered them past the football and softball stadiums to the university’s shellhouse. Eve had briefly explained the function of the stadiums and the games played there.  Three groups of women came out carrying shells, put them in, and rowed out onto the lake.

Villanelle’s expression was inscrutable.

 “Why do these students want to play these games?”

Eve said, “Let’s go watch the softball game. Maybe that will help.”

Eve and Villanelle sat along the first baseline, eating hot dogs and drinking Cokes. Eve had known that getting snacks would help endear the sport to Villanelle. The student band playing helped, too. Eve wasn’t surprised when Villanelle jumped up to yell and applaud when the home team’s shortstop hustled a throw to first to get the runner. She jumped up for the final time when the home team’s catcher parked a two-run bomb over the left field fence to win the game. And, watched as the catcher got mobbed by her teammates. She also noticed the losing team as all the players exchanged post-game high fives. The stadium emptied around them.

“Eve, you are so smart. Showing works better than telling.” Villanelle waved the game schedule she’d picked up. “Can we come see them again?”

As they walked back toward Ann’s house, Villanelle asked, "Did you ever play games with other students?” 

“I was on the swim team in high school,” Eve smiled, remembering.

“I do not know how to swim.”

“Would you like to learn? I taught swimming at the Y.”

Villanelle looked mystified. “What is the Y?”

“The Y is short for the Young Men’s Christian Association also called the YMCA.” Villanelle thought there is so much I do not know. “In the U.S. it’s an organization anyone can join. You don’t have to be a young man or a Christian. Most YMCAs have a building that has gymnasiums for playing sports like basketball as well a swimming pool. There are teams for kids, swimming lessons, programs for kids, and usually there are exercise machines, like treadmills.”

“You can teach me swimming, Eve, but how will I pay you?” Villanelle said, innocently.

“I’ll think of something,” Eve deadpanned.

“Will I need a swimsuit for these lessons? I do not have one—I may have to be nude.”

“If you want to have any chance of actually learning to swim, then, yes, you’ll need a swimsuit. If you only want sex in the pool, just say so.”

“Maybe both?”

Eve rolled her eyes. Of course, both. Something occurred to Eve. How was it possible that Villanelle hadn’t learned to swim? What if she had needed to escape by leaping into water? Wouldn’t Dasha have trained her to swim, just in case?

She looked at Villanelle with a mix of skepticism and hope. “I know how you love teasing me. Do you really not know how to swim? At some point, are you going to just dive in, swim like a dolphin, and then laugh like a maniac?”

“I do like teasing you,” Villanelle said matter-of-factly, then more seriously. “But I was not joking about learning to swim. You are the only person I would let teach me. You are the only person I would tell that I couldn’t do something.”  

“You’re very good at so many things, including the most important.” 

Villanelle quirked an eyebrow. She was about to say “I’m very good at sex—the most important” but sensed Eve was saying something hard for her to say.

“What is the most important Eve?” she asked, softly.

Eve stopped walking. Villanelle stopped. Eve turned to face Villanelle. “It’s not really a thing—it’s that you love me.”

Eve took Villanelle’s hands, held them out to the side and stepped into her arms, her head against Villanelle’s shoulder.  “Better than anyone ever has or ever will.” Villanelle’s face was against Eve’s hair, hair that smelled like the sun, the breeze, like life.

Chapter Text

Eve noticed it first. The chef’s white SUV in front of Ann’s house. They’d just rounded a corner, on foot. Eve touched Villanelle’s arm, bringing her to a stop. Eve nodded toward the car.

“I thought she was coming tomorrow,” Eve said. “Wouldn’t Ann have let us know if she changed the day?”

“Let’s go,” Villanelle said as they took two steps back, turned, and walked away, not quite briskly. Villanelle kicked herself internally that Eve noticed the car first. She surveyed their surroundings, saw nothing amiss.

“We get someplace safer and figure out what to do.”

“Right,” Eve said, her voice affected by her pounding heart.

Villanelle was mentally ticking off possible escape routes as she looked down the street. They were now only five minutes away from a good-sized grocery store in a retail area. Three minutes later and still nothing seemed out of the ordinary. There would be traffic near the stores making it more difficult to spot bad guys—or girls—Villanelle thought. I used to count on people never thinking the bad guy could be a girl.

Two minutes later, they were in the paper towel aisle. Villanelle noticed that this aisle always had the fewest customers in larger grocery stores.

“What do we do?” she asked Eve.

“We have choices, but the best one, I think is to call Ann’s security and have them clear the house. While they’re on the way, we call Ann and let her know what’s going on. It’s the middle of the night in Britain, but if we call security, we have to let her know we did and why.”

Villanelle nodded. Both phones Ann had given them would show up as belonging to Ann so Eve knew the call to Ann’s security team would be answered. It was. James, Ann’s local security boss, said he and three colleagues would be at the house in under 15 minutes. He “suggested” they stay away for now.

Eve next punched Ann’s contact and waited.

Ann’s “hello” was a little sleepy.

Eve was calmer now. She told Ann about the car, the wrong date, and the call to security.

“This is not her ordinary day to come,” Ann confirmed. “You’re safe?”

“Yes, we are. We’re hiding out in the paper products aisle at Safeway,” Eve said.

Ann chuckled a bit. “I’m calling James. I’ll be in his earpiece as they check the house. I’ll call you back.”

“Ann, wait … are you some place safe?”

Ann thought for a moment. If this was something, she didn’t know if the target was her or her houseguests. She considered her current circumstances. She was in their bed, in their London apartment, with Anne sitting up beside her.

“Yes, I’m safe,” she answered and hung up.

“Anne, darling, call our security and get them here now,” Ann said as she called James. “And please check the lobby cam.”

Anne threw on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, opened her bedside table, and shoved her H&K into her waist at the back. She called Ann’s security. At this hour, they said they’d be onsite in five minutes. 

The lobby cam showed the night security staff on duty. Anne called down to the lobby. The staffer didn’t answer the phone, didn’t even appear to know the phone was ringing according to the camera. Not good.

There was a camera on the corridor outside Ann’s apartment not connected to anything but a wireless feed to a screen in Ann’s apartment. She looked at the screen. The corridor was empty, but Anne was not completely reassured.

Anne went back to the bedroom. She told Ann what she’d seen on the lobbycam and said, “Shall we go?”

Ann nodded. She’d put on clothes and shoved her own H&K into her waistband. Ann pressed a button at the back of the headboard. A panel opened, revealing a spiral staircase. Ann called James back and said she would be out of pocket and would call him back. Ann next sent a prearranged text to her London security team. In for the night. Will check in tomorrow.

Then she turned her phone off.

“Down, I think,” Ann said.

“Agreed.”

Anne grabbed a backpack from the closet and followed Ann into the stairwell. Ann pressed a button and the panel closed. Anne first handed Ann a respirator and then night vision goggles. Anne put her own gear on. They quickly donned ballistic vests. Anne started down the stairs; Ann followed.

Ann’s company had built the apartment building; this stairwell didn’t appear on any building plans or permits. Not even her security team knew it existed. All the text told them was that Ann was no longer in the apartment.

There was an exit on every floor from the stairwell. Below the regular parking garage, not accessible from the elevator or from any other building stairwell was another floor. They decided to exit the stairwell there. Anne shut off the dim light in the stairwell before pressing the button which soundlessly slid open a panel. Both stood inside the stairwell, listening, for several minutes—hidden in absolute darkness. Neither heard a sound.

Anne drew her weapon and dropped into a walking crouch as she left the stairwell. She swept the space and saw nothing. She motioned Ann to follow. Both women’s eyes swept the space again slowly, listening carefully. Anne reached back and touched Ann twice. They sprinted toward one of the three exits that Anne’s touch indicated she’d selected. Both had done this drill a lot. Together and alone. Anne thought randomly about an annoying flight instructor who was fond of intoning: Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.

The exit panel door opened soundlessly to a tunnel to the parking garage of the building next door. Before entering, they stopped and listened. Nothing. Moments later they were seated in a Tesla SUV. Anne was in the driver’s seat. She started the car and pushed the remote to open the large garage door. Just a moment before the door was open wide enough, Anne pressed the accelerator and the Tesla leapt forward in near silence, leaving the building with roughly ten centimeters between its roof and the bottom of the garage door to spare.

“Bond  .. James Bond.” Anne said cheekily. Their route took them away from the apartment building.

Ann called her local security team manager. The jocular way her manager answered the phone was a good sign. It turned out that the night security staffer was entertaining a girlfriend in the security office and had somehow programmed the video feed to show footage from earlier in the evening. The night staffer and girlfriend had been escorted from the building and a full sweep of the premises was underway.

Ann was relieved, amused, and furious all at once. She next called James. Her chef had decided, on her own, to come a day earlier without bothering to check in. This time, Ann was just relieved and furious. She told James to toss the chef out and deactivate her access code.

Finally, she called Eve. “Still hiding out at the Safeway?”

“Technically, we’re hiding out in the Starbucks inside Safeway. I needed a double latte.”

Ann explained the chef’s blunder. “It should be fine to return in about thirty minutes,” she said. “And don’t apologize,” she continued, cutting off Eve’s next thought. “You couldn’t have known what was going on and made absolutely the right decision. I’m firm on this point.”

Ann said she’d be back in Seattle in a few days and promised to give a head’s up before returning. After a bit more chatting, they were done.

Ann turned to Anne, now grinning. “Well, that was an intercontinental clusterfuck."

Anne laughed. "Agreed."

Ann's stomach growled. "I'm starving, let's get breakfast. Can we?” 

Anne reached for Ann's hand, kissed her wrist, and took a quick left into an all-night diner.

Chapter Text

“I’m completely knackered.” Ann got into bed and scooted into Anne’s embrace.

“As am I. That was bonkers.” They both yawned at the same time.

“I love you, James Bond.”

“I love you, too, Mrs. Peel.”

Anne kissed the top of Ann’s head. Ann took Anne’s hand and kissed her knuckles before returning it to her waist and snuggling closer.

Four hours later

Anne heard Ann on the phone as she got out of the shower. Ann was filling James in on what went on in London. While it seemed like the two cockups were likely just that, Ann knew there might be something else. She instructed James to look into it.

“Do you know how hot you are when you’re in charge?” Anne asked.

“Tell me.”

Anne dropped her towel. “Beyond hot, actually.”

Ordinarily, Anne might’ve picked Ann up and carried her to bed. Instead, Ann went to the foot of the bed, crooked her finger at Anne, “Come here, baby. On your stomach.”

This was a side of Anne Lister she’d never shown anyone else. Hell, even Anne didn’t know she had this side until two years into her relationship with Ann. Something just clicked once when Ann half-playfully, half-seriously, softly demanded Anne submit. Anne didn’t take it as a joke. She simply inquired, “Are you serious?” Anne’s expression said Ann could be serious if Ann wanted. It wasn’t lost on Ann that it was precisely their relationship that allowed these desires to emerge, and bring them joy.

Anne Lister’s back, her shoulders, ass, long legs—god, she was magnificent. She was waiting, face down in their bed, legs spread just enough to be provocative. Ann shook herself out of her erotic reverie and draped herself over Anne, lips on her shoulders and neck, hot and wet at first, then nipping as she raised herself above Anne to toy aimlessly between Anne’s legs. Anne Lister didn’t squirm, of course, but she did move. And the sounds she made …  Fuck, Ann thought. Jesus Fucking Christ. 

Ann’s nips became sharper because she knew what Anne’s reaction would be—coupled with attention to Anne’s clit and teasing around her vagina—Anne’s breathing would become more labored. She would open her thighs wider.

She doesn’t have to say a word, Ann thought.

“Do you want me, baby?” she breathed in Anne’s ear, barely entering Anne with three fingers. “Do you want this … Anne?”

“You know I do.” Anne’s voice throbbed with the lust Ann felt on her hand.

Ann sat back and slowly fucked Anne, left hand firmly on the small of Anne’s back, one knee between Anne’s thighs.

Anne propped herself up on her elbows, head down, her breathing shallow and fast.

“Are you mine?” Ann’s low voice demanded an answer, left hand moving to Anne’s clit.

“Yes,” Anne’s voice was raspy.

 “Show me.”

*****

Anne’s arm was around Ann’s waist. They’d dozed afterward, but Ann was now wide awake. She’d asked James to do something, but maddeningly she wasn’t able to be specific about what that should be. When is the best time to go after someone? Right after they’ve breathed a sigh of relief. What had they just done if not breathed a sigh of relief?

Ann got out of bed and went to check the lobbycam. Everything looked fine. She called the lobby and security answered immediately. Anne had thrown on a robe and followed her.

“Anything on the radar?”

“No, mum.”

“If there’s so much as a blip, even if you think it’s a ghost, call me immediately.”

“Yes, mum.”

Next Ann called Eve.

“I’ll get right to the point,” Ann said. “I didn’t tell you that something happened here.” She went on to describe the event in her apartment lobby. “It’s occurred to me that these innocuous events may not have been innocuous.” Ann paused.

“You’re on speaker,” Eve said, “so we both heard. Let’s say your chef was up to something. Is there something she could do to mess with security here? If your security is intact, this house is a fortress.”

“The system tracks where anyone has been in the house, but I can’t access that information from here. Remember, the system isn’t connected to anything. I have to be in the house, so when I am the system will tell me when and where she was in the house. It will also let me know if there’s been any tampering.”

“Understood,” Eve said. “Can your local security come here and check for you?”

“No, but not to worry. We keep an apartment at the Four Seasons downtown. I’ll text you the details. Head down there for a few days until I get back. Make yourselves at home and enjoy. Sound like a plan?”

Eve laughed. “Better than a plan. Sounds amazing.” Villanelle was grinning ear-to-ear.

*****

“You have embraced the luxury lifestyle, Eve. I am proud of you,” Villanelle said as they watched the sun set over Elliott Bay from Ann’s apartment.

Eve was lying on the living room sofa with her back against Villanelle’s front—both in fluffy robes. She reached back to tink her champagne flute against Villanelle’s. They snuggled until the sky lost its color.

“Movie tonight?” Eve asked.

“Yes! You can pick, Eve.”

Eve chuckled, “So long as you can say no to my choice, right?”

“Would you want me to watch something I do not enjoy?” Villanelle asked with unfeigned seriousness.

Eve reached for the remote. Villanelle had a point.

Eve had been reading up on lesbian films. She thought here goes and cued up D.E.B.S. “Give this a few minutes and see if you like it.”

They’d laughed their way through the movie.

“What was your favorite part, Eve?”

“I loved how they whipped out those giant, ridiculous guns from nowhere. The Russian assassin was fun, too. She just wanted love. Sound familiar?” Eve teased. “What was your favorite part?”

“My favorite part is that they lived, how do you say this? Gladly forever?”

“Happily ever after,” Eve corrected gently. She took Villanelle’s hands in hers and kissed them softly. “Just like us.”

Chapter Text

The next morning

Eve, wrapped only in a throw, took in the rainy Seattle morning from the floor to ceiling windows in their bedroom. The rain had arrived in the wee hours. She felt contemplative. Her brain wasn’t running at 100 mph. She wasn’t perseverating about anything. She wasn’t worrying. Instead, her mind was wandering. She looked over her shoulder at a still-sleeping Villanelle, thinking back to a few hours before.

*****

They’d been awakened by the wind driving the rain into the bedroom’s windows. Eve rolled over to face Villanelle and kissed her, pressing Villanelle gently onto her back, and moving on top. Villanelle’s hands cupped Eve’s ass as she spread her legs—their eyes on each other.

“What is it, Eve?” Villanelle whispered, sensing something from Eve.

“I’m trying to find the words … to tell you, so you know ….” Eve tapered off. “Not just what I’ve already said … “

Villanelle’s hands came up to cradle Eve’s head. “I know, Eve. I know.”   

“Do you feel it, too?” Eve put her palm on Villanelle’s heart.

Villanelle covered Eve’s hand with her own and nodded. “Je le sens,” she said. “Toujours.

Eve smiled and kissed Villanelle’s hand. “Oh, Tish … that’s French.”

Villanelle raised her right eyebrow and asked, seductively, “Are you my unhinged demon?”

“Always,” Eve replied.

*****

Eve felt converging emotions as she watched Villanelle sleep … a fierce protectiveness, tenderness, lust, passion, joy, and occasional exasperation. Eve knew she’d never felt this way about another human being. She turned back to the rainy scene outside. She loved and was loved. She knew and was known.

She heard Villanelle get up and walk to the window, stopping behind her. She knew Villanelle was naked, so she took the throw, put it around Villanelle, and stepped back into Villanelle’s arms which wrapped around her. Villanelle’s rested her chin gently on Eve’s shoulder.

“How are you?” Eve asked, remembering Villanelle’s desultory response to the same question at the ball room.

Villanelle didn’t answer, at first. Eve waited.

“I am … content. Happy, even.” Her voice was soft, bemused. Like she was tasting something new, something unexpected, something good.

Eve closed her eyes for a moment and sighed, a Mona Lisa smile on her face. Villanelle’s arms tightened around Eve a little. They watched a container ship steam north out of Puget Sound on its way to the Pacific. The rain continued to fall.

Chapter Text

Ann was reviewing the security data in her house. She’d flown in from London that morning with the company’s UK security chief, Catherine—her cousin—a former Scotland Yard DCI. Anne, too, had left London that morning piloting a flight to Mumbai.

James had picked them up at SeaTac. Villanelle and Eve were still (happily) downtown.

Ann’s ex-chef had not known that her movements inside the house would be digitally memorialized. Ann began her data review in her home office three months before the incident that resulted in the chef’s termination. All was as it should be until the day that Ann had taken Anne and her guests to Mt. Rainier.

Ann removed the system’s hard drive and grabbed her unpacked bag. James and Catherine were waiting in the kitchen.

“We’re leaving,” she said. They nodded. Ann got into the back seat.

“To the office, please,” Ann said. Next, she called Eve. Eve and Villanelle were in the Four Seasons lobby, about to go out.

“It’s Ann,” Eve said when she saw the incoming number. Their conversation was brief.

Villanelle watched as Eve’s expression grew more serious.

“Back to the apartment.”

Villanelle looked around the lobby. Nothing.

Neither said anything until they were back in the apartment behind its closed, locked door.

Villanelle looked at Eve, expectantly.

“Ann said her ex-chef may have been … well, Ann isn’t sure yet, but the day we all went to Mt. Rainier something happened … maybe. Ann’s investigating further. She’ll get back to us.”

“Is it about us?” Villanelle asked.

“No, Ann doesn’t think so.”

Villanelle lowered the blinds on all the apartment’s windows. Eve pressed a button next to the door and a separate barrier silently slid into place.

“If the chef is a bad guy, she may know about us—not everything, probably, but something. Ann wanted us to be safe,” Eve relayed.

“Eve, the chef has not been at Ann’s house since that day we all went to the Mountain until yesterday which was the wrong day for her to come.”

Eve called Ann.

“You may have already realized this, but your chef was in your house the day we all went to Rainier and then not again until yesterday,” she said.

“I hadn’t gotten there yet, but you’re right. Thanks.” Ann ended the call.

Earlier that day on the flight from LHR-SEA

“What do you think is going on, Ann?” Catherine asked. All Ann had said when she asked Catherine to accompany her is that she needed someone she could absolutely trust. They were now seated side-by-side on their flight. “I know you’re worried,” she continued.

“You know that I was on the plane that lost an engine where Anne was the captain.” Catherine nodded.

“And you know Anne must’ve flown into Seattle a few days before.”

“Sure, makes sense,” Catherine said.

“What you don’t know is that Anne sort of rescued two women on the inbound flight from London and they ended up staying at the house. Also, you don’t know I got on Anne’s Seattle-London flight as a spur-of-the-moment thing.” Ann paused, “which meant I left the women at the house alone.”

Catherine cocked an eyebrow but said nothing.

“They’re the ones who called to let me know that my ex-chef was at the house a day early—something she had never done before and knew she shouldn’t do without telling me. They’d been out of the house and when they got back, they saw she was there. They backed off, called James, and called me.” Ann drank some water.  “And that thing happened in London,” Ann trailed off.

“A bunch of unconnected things that might be connected, right?” Catherine asked.

“Right.”

“Tell me more about the two women.”

“I will but withhold judgment until you meet them. Okay?”

Ann’s office

Ann, James, and Catherine were seated in Ann’s office.

Ann pulled up the data from four weeks earlier and worked forward. James and Catherine watched the screen as she narrated. The chef had come twice a week which was standard. She entered through the front door, went to the kitchen, and repeated that two or three times as she brought in food. For the next four hours or so, she was in the kitchen, the pantry, or the powder room near the front door until she left.

That changed the day they all had gone to Rainier. That day, the chef had been in nearly every room, including Eve and Villanelle’s. Ann’s home office was locked, as was her bedroom. She and Anne were the only people who had access. While the chef couldn’t get into either of those rooms, she’d stood outside both for a few moments. She had also stood outside the inside door to the garage but hadn’t gained entry. Only Anne or Ann had access in or out.

The day of her recent unscheduled visit, the chef entered the house. She didn’t go to the kitchen or pantry. She went to other rooms, then the living room.

 “James, please find my ex-chef as soon as possible. Also, arrange for Stuart to meet me and Catherine at my house in two hours. Tell him to bring all his gear. Think back, when you got to my house the other day, did you surprise her? Announce yourselves?”

“No, we didn’t. She was in the living room, sitting on the sofa with a magazine. I thought she was just taking a break.”

“How was her demeanor?”

“Normal.”

Break my ass, Ann thought.

“Let me know when you’ve found her. Don’t let her know, though. I want her watched—continuously. Go over her financials, hack her iCloud, whatever it takes … .”

James left Ann’s office.

Ann’s apartment

Eve had noticed a jigsaw puzzle of the Seattle skyline with Mt. Rainier looming over the city on a shelf in the bedroom closet. She retrieved it and set the box on the dining table.

“Let’s work this puzzle. You can get started while I make lunch …. Don’t look at me like that.” Villanelle’s expression had become doubtful at the mention of food prep. “I can warm up soup, slice bread …” Villanelle cracked a grin … “You are so fun to tease, Eve. I can do it without saying a word.”

“Asshole,” Eve chuckled, shaking her head.

Chapter Text

Ann and Catherine were on their way to Ann’s house when James called.

“We’ve located the chef. She’s just going into a restaurant.”

“Alone?”

“Yes.”

“Find out if she’s meeting someone. If she is, text me a photo of the person she’s meeting immediately. Also watch to see if she gives anything to the person she’s meeting or if the person gives her anything. Get photos of everything.”

“Don’t say anything when we go into the house,” Catherine advised. “It could be bugged.”

Ann nodded. “We’re not going in. We’ll wait for Stuart to do his search. I’ll have him FaceTime that search to us out here.”

“Good call,” Catherine approved.

They parked in front of the house. Stuart got out of his SUV, opened the hatch, and took out an equipment case.

“Thanks for coming, Stuart,” Ann said. “This is Catherine, head of the company’s UK security.”

Everyone shook hands.

Catherine got to the point. “There may be bugs or listening devices planted in the house. I don’t know if they’re transmitting or voice activated. We’d like you to sweep for anything transmitting first. If you don’t find anything, please come back out and we’ll figure out where to go from there. Ann and I are staying outside, but please take this iPad and FaceTime your search to us. Please don’t speak when you’re inside—there could be transmitters.”

“Questions?” Ann asked.

Stuart shook his head. Ann let him into the house and temporarily disarmed the system.

Ann returned to the car and Catherine angled their tablet so they could both watch Stuart’s search.

Eventually, Stuart finished up and came out to their car.

“Nothing is being transmitted. Doesn’t mean there weren’t transmitters at one time, but there aren’t any now. What’s next?”

“Am I right that there could be voice activated devices—devices that don’t transmit? And cameras that capture video and don’t transmit?” Catherine asked.

Stuart nodded. “You’re going to ask how we find those, aren’t you?”

Catherine said, “I already know. We find those the low-tech way—we look for them.”

Ann asked, “Can you get Sammi to help you?”

“I was just going to suggest calling her,” Stuart said.

“Good. I’m going to secure the house. We’ll meet back here tomorrow at 10 in the morning—does that work for you?”

Stuart nodded, “Works for me. Pretty sure Sammi will be up for this.” He grinned like a kid anticipating a really cool scavenger hunt.

Then, Ann’s phone tinged with an incoming text. She opened the attached photo and saw who the chef was having lunch with.

Ann was both gobsmacked and infuriated. She texted James:

Can you get a tracker into her purse or jacket?

James: Yes

Ann:  Good. Follow when she leaves. Update me in real time where she goes.

Ann’s phone tinged with a second photo—the two women exchanging packages.

Ann: Follow my ex-chef, too. Update me in real time where she goes.

Ann thought of Anne, glad she was on the other side of the world. Her flight should’ve landed  an hour ago.

Ann texted: Hey, handsome. You on the ground? Smooth flight?

Anne:  Yes, darling. Flight fine.

Ann:  Busy here, but wanted to check in. Stay safe and come back to me.

Anne:  Always.

“You’re texting with Anne, aren’t you?” Catherine asked.

“How did you know?”

“You always get a goofy look on your face when you talk about her, text her, are in the same room with her …”

Ann laughing, cut her off. “Okay, okay I get it.”

“I’m actually happy for you, you know?”

“Thanks Cath.” Ann brought up the two pictures from James on her phone. “Recognize the older woman on the right?

“Jesus Christ! Calling her a snake is unfair to snakes. What the hell is she doing?”

“Something vile, underhanded, and self-serving,” Ann replied, her jaw firmly set and her eyes cold as an Alaskan glacier. “The question is: what am I going to do about it? No, scratch that. The question is: how badly am I going to hurt her?” Ann imagined a cell door clanking shut and thought: She’ll be lucky if that’s all I do.

Chapter Text

By the time Ann and Catherine were on their way to Ann’s apartment, Ann had calmed down—slightly. She’d called the company’s lawyer and asked to have a very good criminal defense attorney call her within the hour. She also called James who said the ex-chef was still under surveillance.

“Let me know when she gets back to her apartment,” Ann requested.

Ann texted Eve to let her know that she and Catherine would be there shortly. But those plans were derailed when James called to say the ex-chef had just entered her apartment. Catherine and Ann headed that way, instead. Ann conferred with the lawyer on the ride over.

Catherine knocked on the door. Ann stood out of sight. The ex-chef opened the door. Ann stepped out into view, surprising her.

“We need to have a talk,” Catherine said in her most intimidating Scotland Yard voice as she and Ann brushed by and went inside. “Let’s sit down, shall we?”

Ann said, “You’re going to leave the state within the next 10 days. I don’t care where you go, but if you ever come back to Washington, you’ll be arrested. You’ve committed several crimes, including at least one felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. You’re leaving Washington because I don’t ever want to think for a minute that I’ll see you again and because as long as you’re not in Washington, you can be charged for the crimes you’ve committed without running out the clock. You know what the statute of limitations is, don’t you?”

The ex-chef nodded and started to speak.

“Shut it,” Catherine said.

Ann went on. “Normally, a person has to be charged and tried for crimes within a certain period of time. But if you leave the state, that suspends the statute of limitations—the clock stops running. I want to make sure that the threat of going to prison stays over your head for the rest of your life.”

Catherine stood up and went to the ex-chef’s purse. She put on a pair of nitrile gloves and opened it, withdrawing the envelope. When the chef moved as if she might try to stop her, Catherine just wagged her finger, and said, “I don’t think so.”

“Hmmm, I wonder how much money is in here?” Catherine’s voice was derisive as she hefted the envelope, opened it, and emptied the contents on a table. Neatly bundled packets of $20 bills fell out. Catherine counted one of the packets. It had 25 bills in it--$5,000. There were 20 packets--$100,000 in total.

“You must’ve given her something she really, really wanted,” Ann observed. “Oh, one other thing—we’ve already found your fingerprints in places all over my house where no chef would plausibly be.” Catherine smirked privately at the bluff. Damn, Ann was good.

Catherine jumped in. “You’re going to make a full confession on camera, leave the state, and never come back. If you do, the confession and all the other evidence we have will go to the prosecutor. Not the police, the prosecutor. Ann will be a very generous contributor to the prosecutor’s campaign fund in the future, so I’m confident she can get their attention if she needs to.”

“Can I keep the money?” the chef asked.

Ann snorted, “It’s not like I want it.”

Catherine reached back in the purse and grabbed the ex-chef’s phone. It came to life. Catherine wasn’t surprised it had no security in place. She shook her head slightly in disgust. She pressed Messages. Bingo! She took her own phone and snapped pictures of their text messages.

Ann asked, “Did she say why she wanted you to do it? Did you ask what she was up to?”

The ex-chef heaved a sigh. “Yeah, I asked.”

“What did she say?”

Ann listened, nodding—unsurprised at the explanation.

“Did you tell her you no longer work for me?" Ann asked.

“Yeah, I told her I got a better job.”

“Were you expecting to get more money from her?” Catherine asked.

“No. We’re done.” The chef looked like her dog and her best friend had both just died.  

“So, there’s no reason for you to contact her. If you do, I’ll know and this deal will be off. Even if you send her a fax from Outer Mongolia, I’ll know. I’ll drag you back here and you’ll go to prison. And by the way, you already know, don’t you, that she’d never lift a finger to help or warn you, so keep that in mind.” Ann looked directly at the chef who couldn’t look her in the eye.

“Alright,” Catherine said. “Time for your confession. Start at the beginning and don’t leave anything out—we already know what happened. If you try to leave anything out, the deal is off. We walk out of here and the next knock on your door will be the police. When I tell you to start, explain who you are, what you were asked to do, who asked you to do it, why you were asked to do it, what you did, and how much you got for doing it.”

An hour later

Ann and Catherine were on the way to Ann’s apartment, confession in hand. Ann’s phone rang.

“Thanks, James. That’s all for now,” she said. Ann started laughing, somewhat mirthlessly.

“You’re not going to believe this. She’s staying at the Four Seasons. She just got out of a car and had her luggage taken inside.”

Catherine shook her head. “Does she know you have an apartment there?”

“Almost no one knows,” Ann said, but then she thought back to her call with Eve where she told Eve about her apartment. Ann corrected, “If she’s listened to anything, she might know. We need to act quickly.”

They pulled into the parking garage and went up to Ann’s apartment.

Eve and Villanelle were hunched over the Seattle puzzle. Ann introduced Catherine to them. When Ann said Catherine was ex-Scotland Yard, Eve was glad she already had her poker face in place—she knew she didn’t have good poker face game but had been working on it. She searched her memory for any time she’d ever worked with Scotland Yard whilst she was at MI5. Nothing came to mind. Catherine seemed to never have seen Eve, or Villanelle for that matter.

Ann went to the fridge, grabbed two beers, and gave one to Catherine. Ann had made up her mind to tell Eve and Villanelle about the chef’s treachery.

“I want to thank you for alerting me to the chef being in the house on the wrong day. Knowing that enabled me to find out what was going on. And, because you two were caught up in it, you deserve to know.”

Eve nodded slightly in encouragement.

“Fortunately, I don’t think any of us was in physical danger. That’s not what this was about,” Ann said.

Villanelle looked happy at that. “I will raise the blinds, okay? It would be wrong not to enjoy the sun and that amazing view.”

Ann realized, then, that the blinds had been closed. Catherine had put two and two together immediately and was secretly impressed at the decision to close the blinds. Who were these two?

“We now know that a woman paid my ex-chef to bug my house the day we all went to Rainier. There were, and maybe still are, bugs in nearly every room. The house has been swept once for bugs that transmit and none were found. It will be swept again tomorrow for voice-activated bugs. I’m very sorry your privacy was invaded while you were my guests,” Ann apologized.

“Do you have any of the bugs?” Eve asked, and only Villanelle knew she was slightly breathless.

“No, we don’t, but as strange luck would have it, the bugs are here in this hotel. The woman who wanted Ann’s house bugged got them from the ex-chef this afternoon. We have a tracker in her purse and she just checked in to this hotel.” Catherine had jumped in.

“Can you tell us why this woman wanted to bug your house?” Eve asked. “If you can’t, that’s okay, but I’d really like to know.”

“I need to talk to Anne first,” Ann said. “It’s not just me. It involves her, too.”

“It would be good to get the bugs from this woman,” Villanelle said calmly, only because she knew Eve was probably freaking out. “Can we help? You do not need to say why she bugged you, but Ellen and I would like to get them away from her.”

“Probably as much as you want to get them away from her,” Eve added. Actually more, Eve thought. She and Villanelle were both trying hard to remember if they’d ever said anything out loud that put them in danger, that revealed too much.

Eve realized that Ann and Anne might want to listen to the bugs. It wasn’t naughty talk or sex Eve was worried they’d hear, although that was mortifying. If they’d said something, it could put Ann in an untenable position. Shit, shit, shit.

Villanelle was approaching their problem more methodically. First, the bugs.

“Do we know what room she is staying in?” Villanelle asked.

Ann shook her head.

“Ellen and I will find out, then.” She described the plan.

Moments later, Eve came up to the front desk with a huge flower arrangement. “These are for a guest,” she said. “Can you take them up to her right away? I was told they needed to be in her hands like an hour ago. Don’t tell her, but I think it was a forgetful husband who ordered them.”

“I don’t have anyone I can spare at the moment,” the female clerk said.

“Okay, I’ll just let him know that … he may call you. Rich, entitled men keep my business afloat, he even insisted I deliver them personally, but … love/hate with these guys, you know? He told me I had to call him the moment they were delivered.”

“Just take them up, this one time, okay?” the clerk said, choosing what she thought was the lesser of two evils. “Who is the guest?”

Eve handed over the delivery instructions with the guest’s name on it—the instructions looked official.

“Room 702,” the clerk said after checking the computerized guest list..

Eve thanked the clerk and went to the elevator. Once inside she called Ann. “702.”

Ann and Catherine were waiting for Eve outside the 7th floor elevator. They hung back as she approached Room 702 and knocked on the door. Eve saw shadows under the bottom of the door. It opened.

“These are for you.” Eve stepped inside. “Where would you like them?” The woman pointed to a table. Eve placed the flowers there. The woman stepped toward the table to have a look.

The self-closing door to the room closed. Ann and Catherine approached.

As Eve turned to leave, the woman had her purse open and handed Eve a tip. “Thank you very much. Enjoy your flowers.” Eve went to the door and opened it. Ann and Catherine brushed by, entering the room. Eve slipped out. The door closed.

“Hello Mariana,” Ann said.

Chapter Text

Eve returned to Ann’s apartment.

“How did it go?” Villanelle was excited about the plan that (mostly) she had concocted to get Ann and Catherine into Mariana’s room.

“Perfect,” Eve smiled. “I’d like to be a fly on the wall in that room right now.”

“I do not understand this expression, Eve. I mean, I understand what it means, I just do not understand how it came to be. A fly is disgusting. Who would want to be a fly?” Villanelle looked genuinely revolted.

“Yeah, it’s stupid,” Eve agreed.

“Who do you think this woman is? Why did she want Ann’s house bugged?” Villanelle asked, eagerly.

“All we know is her name,” Eve said. “Let’s Google it.”

Eve typed Mariana Lawton into her phone. A picture popped up, among other things.

“That’s her,” Eve said, showing Villanelle the screen.

“She’s married, or at least, she was. Her husband died three months ago. No kids.” Eve scrolled down the Times of London obituary.

“Eve, wow, he was not good-looking!”

Eve nodded her head. “It looks like he was rich, though.”

Eve kept scrolling. Pictures and snippets about Mariana and Charles at various high-profile events, charitable events, upper-crust events. More scrolling but there was nothing connecting Ann and Mariana.

“If it’s true that the house was bugged when it was, almost everything on those bugs will be us.” Now, Eve was scrolling back through her memory. “Ann left the next morning. It’s only been us since then.”

“Did we talk about you know what?” Villanelle asked.

Eve snorted. “I get why you said it that way, but it sounds like we’re at Hogwarts. Anyway, let’s think about what was recorded.”

“There’s a lot of sex.” Villanelle observed, with a leer.

“Yes, there was. Lots of you shouting my name … which was a very good thing then, but not so good now because the name you were shouting doesn’t match the name we gave them.” Eve’s brain was spinning at a high rpm.

“Slow down, Kill Commander,” Villanelle suggested, laughing. “Remember, you shouted two different names than the name we gave them for me. Very confusing, Eve.”

“Try to focus, okay?” Eve’s rubbed her forehead.

They were both silent, thinking back over the last several days. It’d felt sort of normal. Eve thought how much would I remember of any given set of days when I was with Niko? Not much. But days with Niko were all just beige-colored. Eve was certain that even the most normal day with Villanelle would never be beige.

Villanelle went to stand by the window, facing the bay, her arms folded over her chest. She tapped a foot. Eve turned back to the puzzle, looking at it without seeing it. Had they mentioned their former professions, their former employers? Especially about Villanelle—had they mentioned Konstantin? Dasha? Hélène?

Some minutes later, Villanelle came to the puzzle table and sat down. They looked at each other.

“I can’t remember ever saying anything,” Eve said.

Villanelle shook her head. “Me neither.”

“If we really didn’t say anything, maybe it’s because we wanted to be free of it,” Eve said. “I felt safe there. Relaxed.”

Eve looked at her phone. “They’ve been in there with her about 10 minutes.”

Villanelle chuckled, “Patience, Eve. Catherine is there. Nobody fucks with Catherine.”

Eve agreed, “I think you’re right. Whatever is going on, I’m glad Catherine is with Ann.” Eve looked at Villanelle more closely. “You think Catherine is hot.”

Villanelle shook her head. “I do not think anyone is hot except you. If hot means I want to fuck them.” Villanelle paused. “I recognize something in her.”

At that moment, the door opened. Ann and Catherine came in, Catherine had a small package in her nitrile-gloved hand.

Eve and Villanelle looked at them expectantly.

“We have the bugs,” Catherine said.

“Good,” Eve said.

“She’ll be on a plane in two hours. Two of my staff are outside her room waiting to take her to the airport.” Ann said. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to make a call. Cath—I am starving. Can you three order us some dinner?”

Ann left the room.

Catherine watched her leave and the door to another bedroom down the hall closed. She turned to Eve and Villanelle.

“The cop part of me wants to know who you two are and what is going on. The same part tells me that you’re no threat to Ann, so that’s the part I’m listening to for now.”

A few seconds went by … no one said anything.

Catherine said, “Let’s do what she said.” She went to a kitchen drawer and got two room service menus.

Down the hall

Anne’s phone rang. “Hello, sweetheart,” she said.

“Hello, darling. I’ve had a very busy day. Do you have time to talk?” Ann asked.

“Of course,” Anne replied.

“Cath and I flew into Seattle this morning.”

Thirty minutes later

Dinner arrived just as Ann finished her call with Anne.

They pushed the puzzle to one side and sat down. Catherine and Ann attacked their food—they’d last eaten on the flight in.

After a few minutes, Ann said, “I spoke with Anne. She thanks you both,” nodding at Eve and Villanelle, “and said it’s fine if I talk with you about Mariana.”

After Ann was finished discussing l’affaire Mariana, Eve said, “The irony of it is that Anne wasn’t even in the house, and mostly, neither were you. Her investment was a complete waste of money.”

“Neither Mariana nor the chef knew I’d get on Anne’s flight or that I was even away. Both assumed I’d be at home. All the chef knew was that I’d cancelled two of her visits after she’d already placed the bugs, but I didn’t tell her why. No one knew I had guests except Anne and, of course, James.”

“If she didn’t know you were gone, why did she think she’d get away with coming to work early?” Catherine asked.

“I think that visit was all about retrieving the bugs and getting out. If I was home or came home, she probably had a story ready. Whether it would’ve worked with me or not—we’ll never know.”

Ann paused. “I do know two things: I wouldn’t have gotten on Anne’s flight and I wouldn’t know the house was bugged if it hadn’t been for the two of you.”

Ann went on. “While we were in Iceland, Anne and I agreed we wanted to live together, be with each other, all the time. We had that time because you made me see things I should have seen a while back . . . “ She turned to Catherine, “Cath, I’m coming home.”

“About bloody time,” Catherine said, “God, I’ve missed you. Elizabeth and the children will be over the moon.”

“We’re going to build a house at Shibden so we can be close to Anne’s family, but not too close, if you know what I mean?” Ann looked at Eve and Villanelle a tiny bit rakishly.

Catherine chuckled and said, “No more wine for you. That was very close to TMI.”

“You have no idea,” Ann replied.

“And I don’t want to,” Catherine said.

Villanelle thought this is nice. I am not bored. I like them. I feel comfortable. Happy even.

“Speaking of TMI,” Eve interjected, “it’s mostly the two of us on those bugs. Can I ask ….. what your plans are for them? I’m not suggesting you want to hear what’s there, but if you listen, you won’t …. have much choice.” Eve trailed off, blushing.

Villanelle looked down at the table with a notable smirk.

Ann thought for a moment and blushed; Catherine didn’t. TMI about Ann was off-putting. TMI about Ann's guests …. Catherine set those thoughts aside for later.

“No one is going to listen to … “ Ann sputtered. “I’ll be destroying them, of course.”

Ann got up to clear plates. Eve rose to help her. In the kitchen, Eve whispered to Ann, “May we have them …. the bugs? It might be fun, you know, for us to …” Eve was having a don’t give a fuck moment.

Ann later attributed being slow on the uptake to the wine, but it did eventually register what Eve was asking.

She swatted Eve’s arm. “You dog.” Eve gave her a look …if the shoe fits and shrugged.

Catherine stood up. “I’ve hit the wall. I may sleep for a week. Good night everyone.”

“Me, too, I’m afraid,” Ann said. Good nights were exchanged. Eve and Villanelle were alone. Eve loaded the dishwasher. Villanelle dimmed the lights. Eve finished up and joined her near the front window, settling back into Villanelle’s arms.

“It was not us,” Villanelle said softly, kissing Eve’s neck. Eve sighed. “We are still safe.”

“Take me to bed,” Eve murmured, turning in Villanelle’s arms, laying her head against Villanelle’s chest. “I don’t want anything between your heart and mine. I want to hear it beating ... afterward, strong and steady.”

Catherine had come back down the hall, intending to get her messenger bag, but stopped when she saw their embrace and then, Eve’s turn. Saw Eve lay her head on Villanelle’s chest. She couldn’t hear what Eve said or see their faces, but she knew she was seeing something meant only for them and moved silently back down the hall. The bag could wait.

Chapter Text

Despite Catherine’s assertion she could sleep for a week, she was up first. Eve smelled coffee and that got her out of bed.

 

“Coffee?” Catherine offered.

 

Eve nodded. They sat at the dining table, silently. Eve cleared her throat.

 

“You want to protect Ann. I get it. We’re not a threat. But if you dig around that’d be bad … for us. We’ve pissed off some real assholes.” Eve paused. “We had two choices—stay and fight them and probably die, or run away and hopefully, live. I wanted her, I wanted us to live. More than anything I’ve ever wanted.”

 

Catherine’s face was impassive. Eve went on, “Can you leave it alone?”

 

Catherine asked, “How are you going to avoid them?”

 

“Standard stuff. New papers, cut off contact with everyone, go far away, keep our heads down. Do It Yourself Witness Protection for Dummies.”

 

Catherine snorted, but to herself. She liked Eve. Ann and Anne trusted them. She remembered them together last night.

 

“I know that not everything wrong can be made right. Don’t worry. Not so much as a Google search.”

 

“Thank you.” Eve’s relief was obvious.

 

“I better wake Ann up. We’re due at her house in 90 minutes.” Catherine went down the hall.

 

Eve took a glass of orange juice into their room for Villanelle who was still asleep. Eve watched Villanelle sleep, engulfed in one feeling: protectiveness. Funny, really, since the sleeping woman was so capable. It’s the thought that counts. Still, as far as Eve knew, no one had ever wanted to protect Villanelle. Eve got in the shower. After, Villanelle was still asleep. Eve stepped out to talk with Ann. Ann said she and Catherine would be back after going through her house for any other bugs. The ex-chef and Mariana had said there weren’t any left, but Ann was no fool. Ann and Catherine left. Eve was torn between letting Villanelle sleep and waking her up. She went with the latter … gently, slowly.

 

Villanelle stretched and made morning sounds. She reached for Eve who slipped into her arms.

 

“Good morning, Eve.”

 

“Good morning, sunshine.”

 

A few months ago, Villanelle would’ve scoffed at that. She was nobody’s idea of sunshine, least of all herself. A few months ago, Eve wouldn’t be caught dead saying Good morning, sunshine to anyone, let alone Villanelle. Now Eve was tucked into Villanelle’s side, head on her shoulder while Villanelle gloried in Eve’s smell, how her body felt, and the gift that was Eve’s hair. Eve sighed contentedly.

 

A few more moments and just like clockwork, Villanelle’s stomach growled. Eve chuckled. “I’ll fix breakfast if you want to shower …..  but not a word about my culinary skills or lack thereof.”

 

Villanelle mimed locking her lips shut. Eve watched appreciatively as Villanelle headed for their bathroom. She flashed back to both of them walking away from each other on The Bridge; she couldn’t see Villanelle walking away then, didn’t know what that had looked like, only what it felt like. A feeling she never wanted to have again.

 

Now, Villanelle was walking away, in full view … into the shower from which she would emerge in a few minutes to wolf down breakfast. Thank you, thank you Eve thought, not sure who or what she was thanking. Eve made the bed and then heard the water. Another thought came to mind. She threw off her clothes and went into the bathroom. Eve was committed to not disregarding or denying what she wanted after almost losing Villanelle. Villanelle’s smile when Eve opened the shower door took her breath away.

 

Over a much later breakfast, Villanelle asked, “Want to go for a walk? It is a beautiful day.” She looked hopeful.

 

“Absolutely. Do you have anything in mind?”

 

“Tourists walk along the waterfront. We should do that. If we decide to live here, we will never be tourists again. Besides, there is the Great Wheel.” Villanelle seemed sheepish. They could see it from Ann’s apartment. It was enticing, especially at night—all lit up.

 

“You want to live here, babe?” Eve took Villanelle’s hand. “If that’s what you want, then that’s what we’ll do.”

 

“I would like to get a cat. And maybe a dog. Definitely a cat. Maybe two cats.” Villanelle mused. “If we got a dog, she could go running with me.” Villanelle stopped. “Are you allergic?”

 

Irina had been allergic. When she was a little girl, she’d wanted a cat, but Konstantin had found out she was allergic when she went to play at a friend’s house. The friend had a cat.

 

“No, I’m not allergic. I’d love to have a cat or dog or both.” We can have a fucking petting zoo if she wants.

 

“Have you ever had a cat or dog?” Villanelle asked.

 

“I had an orange cat named Freddy. God, I loved him.” Eve stopped for a moment. “I would love to have a cat with you. And a dog.”

 

“Can I name them? If they do not have names already?” Villanelle was excited at the prospect. “They might have names if they are orphans, but not if they have been tossed away.”

 

That was said way too matter-of-factly, Eve thought. “Got any names in mind?”

 

“Maybe.”

*****

 

When they got to the Great Wheel, Villanelle wanted the gondola to themselves so she paid for all the available seats for two rides.

 

“We should ride one of those ferries,” Eve said, pointing a white and green boat sitting at the dock to the south. “That’s a tourist thing. If we did it at night, we could stand outside and see the city lights.”

 

“It might be cold on the deck. I will have to put my arms around you,” Villanelle said. “For your health.” She grinned at Eve and winked.

 

“Show me.” Eve backed up into Villanelle’s arms. They watched as the ferry left the dock, imagining they were on board.

*****

“We can’t forget the Space Needle … if we’re being good tourists.” Eve noted, half in jest, pointing toward the landmark.

 

“Do you think it looks like a needle? I do not.” Villanelle shook her head slightly.

 

“What would you call it then?” Eve smiled. Villanelle regarded it with a serious expression.

 

“I will think about it.”

*****

“That was very old-fashioned, Eve.”

 

They were in the ferry terminal. Villanelle wanted to check it out. She didn’t tell Eve this but getting on a boat with no exit, other than jumping off, made her uneasy, especially since she couldn’t swim. Eve had just picked up a printed schedule and put it in her pocket.

 

“You could just look on your phone.”

 

Eve paused. “I know. I like maps and books, things I hold in my hands … I could run across this someday and it will remind me of this day, even if I haven’t thought about it for a while. I’ll remember the Great Wheel, waking you up this morning, and whatever we do the rest of the day.”

 

“Like this?” Villanelle said, retrieving a softball schedule she’d picked up and stuffed into a pocket. “I have never kept things like this before … souvenirs. I thought they were dumb.”

 

“And?” Eve asked.

 

Villanelle shook her head. “Not anymore.” Villanelle unfolded the schedule and pointed. “There is something called a double header tomorrow. Can we go?”

 

Later that afternoon in Ann’s apartment

 

Eve had talked it over with Villanelle who said she should ask. The four of them were sitting in Ann’s living room, having pre-dinner drinks.

 

“My mom lives in London—in New Malden. I haven’t seen or talked to her for months. I didn’t think it was safe for us or … her. Could you,” she turned toward Catherine, “get her a message letting her know I’m alright?”

 

Catherine thought for a moment. “Like, pass her a note in the Tesco?”

 

“Something like that.”

 

“If you tell me her name, you’ll be telling me your name.”

 

“I know. And I know you have to be careful in case she’s being watched so that alone puts a lot on your shoulders. I know she’d want me to take the risk as far as her own safety goes. Only you can decide about your own.”

 

“Can she deal with only getting a note?”

 

“We talked about it before I left. She can deal, she’ll want to know.”

 

“She won’t say anything to anyone? It’s a big secret to keep.” Catherine wondered.

 

Eve nodded. “She knows my life could depend on it, not just her own.”

 

Eve stopped for a moment and collected herself. Villanelle took her hand. Eve was trying to decide whether what she wanted to say was too much, too manipulative. Villanelle said it for her.

 

“She is her only child.”

 

Catherine’s poker face was perfect, but Ann’s was not. Ann’s eyes got glassy. She resolved to do it herself if Catherine wouldn’t.

 

“Write the note. And tell me her name and address. Oh, and tell me if she does errands or shops on the same days, and where she goes.”

 

“Shall I write down those things?” Eve asked.

 

“No, I’ll remember them. Better not to put them in writing. Just give me the note.”

 

Later that evening at dinner

 

“Catherine is flying home tomorrow. Anne has seven days off the week after next. She’ll fly over then and help me move.”

 

Villanelle and Eve both thought It was nice while it lasted.

 

“I have a favor to ask. I don’t want to sell the house and I don’t want it to sit empty.” Ann took a breath.

 

“Will you stay? As paid house sitters? All the bills are handled by the company and it’ll stay that way. If I decide to sell, I’ll give you six months’ notice. Does $7,500 a month sound fair?”

 

“That’s incredibly generous, Ann,” Eve said. She looked at Villanelle. She could tell Villanelle wanted to stay. Villanelle knew Eve wanted to stay.

 

“Would it be okay if we got a dog or cat or, maybe both?” Villanelle asked, so hopeful that Eve closed her eyes briefly and was reminded, again, why she loved Villanelle so desperately.

 

Ann chuckled. “Of course, it will be your home.”

 

Ann’s apartment even later that evening

 

“Here’s the note for my mom,” Eve handed an envelope to Catherine. “Can you let me know how she seems? I mean, I know you probably won’t have a conversation with her, but …”

 

“I’ll let Ann know how she is. She can pass it along. Do you know she told me if I didn’t give your mum a note, she would?”

 

Catherine shook her head, laughing. “She’s scrappy, my cousin. I told her in no uncertain terms that I would handle it. Just so you know, I would’ve even without that.”

 

*****

Eve’s Note (translated from Korean)

 

Dear Mama:

 

I’m fine. I’m safe. I’m happy. All of those things are true … I’m not just saying them to make you feel better. I have a good place to live. I have everything I need.

 

 I started swimming again and I like it.

 

I’ve been preparing some of your and grandma’s recipes. Yeah—I know—me cooking. I do a pretty good job, but not as good as you.

 

I can’t say much more. If it’s ever safe for me (and you) for me to come home, I will. I miss you, mama.

 

All my love,

 

Eve

Chapter Text

Catherine and Eve were first up again the following morning.

 

 

“Thanks again for getting my note to my mom. If what I tell you makes you reconsider, I’ll understand.” Eve paused. “If you’re tempted to talk to anyone at the Yard, or if you have contacts at MI5 or MI6, do not reach out. Even if that person is someone you trust. The bad guys are everywhere and they have two things: more money than god and a willingness to kill anyone they think is a threat. I worked at MI6. I thought my job was hunting those bad guys until I realized my boss is one of the bad guys. Seriously, if you dig even a little or say anything to anyone, you’ll be at risk, your family will be at risk, and we’ll be at risk. They’ll kill you but not before they force you to give up what they want.”

 

 

“If you’re trying to scare me, you’ve succeeded. I’ll get the note to your mom and keep this to myself.”  Catherine chuckled softly. “Don’t tell anyone I said I was scared.”

 

 

“Discretion is the better part of valor,” Eve laughed.

 

 

“I’ve got a favor to ask,” Catherine said. “Keep an eye on Ann until she leaves. She’ll have a million things to do between now and then. She might lose focus, get careless.”

 

 

“Consider it done. Not only has Ann been a godsend, she’s a lovely person. I’ve enjoyed getting to know her.”

 

 

Catherine looked at her watch. “I need to get ready …. I know we may not see each other again, but I hope we do.”

 

 

“Me, too,” Eve said.  “Thanks again for getting the note to my mom.”

 

Two weeks later

 

 

Catherine had been surveilling Eve’s mom for a week. At different times of the day, on different days. Catherine had disguised herself each time and each disguise looked completely different than the others. If someone was watching Eve’s mom, Catherine didn’t want to look like she was watching, too.

 

 

Eve’s mom had a routine. She shopped at the same time, in the same places. One of those places was the New Malden Tesco. Today, Catherine was a middle-aged woman, frazzled, sort-of-in-a-hurry, as if she worked a day job, had two kids, and a lazy husband. She didn’t have enough time to shop, let alone prepare meals—but what could you do? Catherine had even made a grocery list that she consulted as she shopped. Catherine calibrated her timing, so she was directly behind Eve’s mom in the check-out queue.

 

 

Then, Catherine was a half-step behind Eve’s mom right outside the store. Anyone watching would’ve seen a frazzled, sort-of-in-a-hurry customer with a frustrated grimace step around the older, not-in-a-hurry customer.

 

 

Fifteen minutes later

 

 

Eve’s mom was putting away groceries. She made a puzzled face when she saw an envelope in one of her bags. When she saw “Mama” in Korean on the envelope, in Eve’s handwriting, she had to sit down. She read the short note and then read it again. And again. She touched the note as if she could feel Eve through the paper. Eve’s mom almost never cried … it was so rare she could remember the exact date she’d last cried. Now, today would be that date.

 

 

Back to Seattle the afternoon of Catherine’s departure

 

 

Ann had gone off to work after seeing Catherine off. Eve and Villanelle promised to meet her after work at the house for dinner.

 

 

“Still want to go see the softball team?” Eve queried.

 

Villanelle thought for a moment. She was certain Eve would do whatever she wanted. They could go shopping, ride the ferry, see softball, have sex … if she wanted them to work the crossword, Eve would probably go along with that. Those thoughts made her lose focus for a minute. It occurred to her that she didn’t really care as long as Eve was with her.

 

 

“There are so many things we could do I would enjoy,” Villanelle said. “What do you want to do?”

 

 

“Let’s go get swimsuits. I want to teach you to swim. Then, we’ll go watch softball and eat hot dogs.”  Eve stopped. Wait a minute, wait a minute. She closed her eyes, imagining Villanelle in a swimsuit and heaved a shaky sigh.

 

 

“On second thought, we’ll get the swimsuits and head up to Ann’s, ok?”

 

 

Villanelle had learned Eve’s horny tells. This was going to be a fun shopping trip. Should she play innocent or should she play dirty while trying on the swimsuits? Wait a minute. Eve would be trying on swimsuits, too. Villanelle shivered almost imperceptibly. This was going to be a fun shopping trip. 

 

 

Two hours later

 

 

“No swimming lesson?” Eve opened Ann’s front door, Villanelle just behind, impatience radiating from her. Eve had tried to sound innocent, but both of them knew where they were headed and it wasn’t the pool.

 

 

“Eve,” Villanelle warned. They had the house to themselves.

 

 

“Oh, babe … just teasing. I can’t wait, either.”

 

 

Villanelle dumped the bag she was carrying and hurried to their room. Eve grabbed their chilled water bottles from the fridge and followed. Villanelle was already in bed, not a stitch on, the quilt on the floor, lounging, beckoning Eve with a finger. Just when Eve thought Villanelle could not be any hotter … Eve swallowed, her throat suddenly dry. She ripped off her clothes and crawled up Villanelle’s body. Villanelle’s parted her legs and wrapped them around Eve.

 

 

“Jesus Christ, Villanelle.”

 

 

“Fuck me, Eve. I need you to …. fuck me.”

 

 

“How badly?’ Eve shifted to one side and began running her fingers down Villanelle’s body.

 

 

Villanelle moved up against Eve’s hand and said “please” and drew in a hitching breath. Eve thought focus.

 

 

Eve nuzzled the crook of Villanelle’s neck. “I can’t get enough, I’ll never get enough,” she whispered in Villanelle’s ear as her fingers slipped in Villanelle’s slickness.

 

 

“We’re alone … let me hear you … .” Eve’s fingers entered Villanelle slowly; Villanelle groaned with relief. Eve moved down so she could taste Villanelle. The second pass of Eve’s tongue with the insistence of her fingers made Villanelle louder … she cried Eve’s name, her inflection made Eve’s name sound like a question. Eve gave her answer, giving it slowly, firmly, inexorably. No hurry, disregarding Villanelle’s urgent voice, knowing it wasn’t speed or strength that would make Villanelle blaze—not today. It was the implacability of it. If she did it properly.

 

There would come a point when Eve’s fingers would be all Villanelle needed. That point was approaching … and there it was. Eve’s mouth was next to Villanelle’s ear now, just about to say something that would send a bolt from her ear, through her brain, and then throughout her body, making her shout Eve’s name. Often it was dirty; sometimes tender. Eve was good at reading Villanelle and knowing what to say to make her lose her mind in that moment.

 

“How does it feel, baby, underneath me, surrendering, giving me …. everything.”

 

Eve pulled on one of Villanelle’s nipples, hard, pinching. Villanelle nearly bucked Eve off as she let go, as the letting go went through her. Eve held on and beheld Villanelle. She could not imagine having this emotional reaction to anyone else as long as she lived. Villanelle continued to move as she reconnected, slowly, to the world and then stilled, her arm wrapped around Eve.

 

Neither of them said a word. Eve kissed Villanelle’s neck, just barely, every so often, making contented sounds, but no words. Villanelle sighed a couple of times. They drifted off.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Villanelle slipped on shorts and a t-shirt and quietly closed the door behind her. She headed into the kitchen. Looking out toward The Mountain, crunching some celery and peanut butter, she felt only good things. Like peanut butter and celery—she’d never had that before. Eve had picked up a jar of peanut butter on one of their grocery outings. Later that week, while preparing a salad she’d smeared some peanut butter on a celery stalk and laughed at Villanelle’s look of dismay.

 

Extending the stalk in Villanelle’s direction with a “Try it.” Villanelle took a bite.

 

“You’ve never had peanut butter before?”

 

Villanelle shook her head; speaking was impossible—the peanut butter had gummed up her mouth.

 

“What do you think?”

 

Villanelle made a face of surprised approval and Eve laughed again, happy to have introduced Villanelle to the great American lunch, baking, and snack staple. She had said, “God, I love you.” Had come over and pulled Villanelle into a fierce hug that softened with Eve’s face against Villanelle’s shoulder, swallowing hard, and trying not to cry.

 

There were other instances of her face against Villanelle’s shoulder Eve would never forget. The dance hall, of course, and their embrace after the ridiculous (Eve’s take on it, anyway) walk away from each other on The Bridge after they reversed themselves, holding each other until the chill off the river drove them into a pub for food, drink, and warmth.

 

Villanelle prepped a chicken to be roasted and popped it in the oven. 45 minutes until the chicken needed to be turned. She headed to Ann’s home gym just as Eve woke up.

 

Eve went in search of Villanelle and found some peanut butter celery in the kitchen on a plate. Crunching on a peanut-butter smeared celery stalk, Eve looked out the window for a while. She knew Villanelle was probably on the treadmill. She noticed the chicken in the oven and put on some potatoes to steam--mmm, garlic mashed potatoes. 

 

Villanelle had ear buds in so she didn’t hear Eve come in. Eve watched as Villanelle pounded the treadmill. Eve had been an easy convert to the Villanelle Church of No Such Thing As Too Much Sex With You so she began visualizing their next encounter. In the shower … was as far as she got before becoming overpowered by the sight of Villanelle’s arms and legs pumping relentlessly. I was never this horny and I love being this horny and then I’m only horny for her. Wait, was that true? Eve thought about Anne, Ann, Catherine, random people … she thought about men, even … nope. Ooookay.

 

“What are you thinking about?”

 

Eve hadn’t heard the treadmill stop. Had her eyes actually been closed?

 

“You … how I want you all the time. That I don’t want anyone else.” Eve looked kind of dreamy … for Eve, anyway.

 

Villanelle was torn. She knew there was a chicken to turn and she knew she had to have Eve. This would be the fastest chicken flip ever.

 

Moments later they were in the shower, wrapped around each other.

 

Ann arrived home soon thereafter. Smelled the roasting chicken and looked in the kitchen, went a couple of steps down the hall, heard the guest room shower, and turned around. The oven timer announced the chicken needed 35 minutes more. Ann saw the celery and peanut butter and grabbed a stalk. She put on some music and opened a bottle of wine to let it breathe. She prepped her favorite asparagus dish. Once it was marinating, she went to change clothes.

 

Villanelle came to the kitchen first, knowing Ann was home. She knew she could charm Ann, but that isn’t what she wanted anymore. Ann was a friend, wasn’t she? People liked to talk about themselves, maybe she could be Ann’s friend by listening.

 

She sat down on a stool, grabbed a celery stalk, and waited. Ann came in a moment later.

 

“That chicken smells wonderful,” she said. “Thanks, I can’t wait for dinner.”

 

“You are welcome. How was your day?” Seemed like a safe thing to ask.

 

“Good. Catching up on work, meetings, scheduling meetings, more meetings. Nothing as exciting as the last few days. Which is … good. How was yours?”

 

“Good, but without the work part … which is also good.”  What next? What do I say?

 

“Did you and Anne enjoy Iceland?”

 

Ann’s face answered before her voice. “Yes, quite a lot. It’s stunning.”

 

“Most of the country is very beautiful,” Villanelle agreed. “But some of it looks like a chilly part of hell.”

 

Ann chuckled, “The road from the airport into Reykjavík is just like that—I wonder what Icelanders think. Is it all beautiful to them?”

 

Villanelle shrugged a “who knows?” 

 

“Have you been able to do anything fun since you’ve been in Seattle?” Ann asked.

 

Villanelle described their outings. Ann had been on the Great Wheel last summer when her sister and family visited. She’d also been to a few professional football games in corporate suites in connection with the family business.

 

“I’d much rather go to a softball game. What is it with trying to mix business and sport? I don’t get it.”

 

“Just another way for men to show who has the biggest dick,” Villanelle offered.

 

“You’re right. It’s such bollocks.” Ann agreed. “When I run the company, we won’t be doing any business outside business.”

 

“Would you like to go to a softball game with us?” Villanelle asked. “There is one tomorrow. I promise there will be no business.”

 

“Hmm,” Ann considered. “It’s supposed to be good weather,” and laughed. “Spoken like a true Seattleite.”

 

Villanelle didn’t get the joke. Ann saw that and explained.

 

“Seattleites are obsessed with the weather. Is it going to rain? If not, will the weather be better than simply the absence of rain? Will there be actual sun? If there’s going to be sun, will it appear for longer than 30 minutes between rain showers? And, trying to decide whether to do something outside because the weather will be nice or do something if it’s raining in spite of the rain.” Ann took a breath and realized she’d been rambling. “I’d love to go the softball game.”

 

What’s going on with her Villanelle wondered.  Just ask, that’s what Eve always said she should do if she wanted to know something about Eve.

 

“Are you okay?” Villanelle knew how to look sympathetic, knew how to look a million different ways. But she saw the stress on Ann’s face. To Villanelle’s surprise, she realized she didn’t want Ann to feel badly. Her sympathetic face was real.

 

Ann tilted her head back and closed, then opened her eyes. “It’s been a lot . . . the last couple of weeks. I think it’s caught up with me.”

 

“Can I do anything?” Villanelle found herself asking, stepping toward Ann, seeing her eyes fill with tears. Ann took a step toward Villanelle.  I can do this Villanelle thought. She gathered Ann in and held her with intentional gentleness, the way Eve held her when she had nightmares. Villanelle didn’t say anything. When Ann stopped crying, Villanelle let her go. “I hope that helped,” she said.

 

“It did,” Ann said, grabbing some Kleenex. “I feel better. I need to eat some of that delicious- smelling chicken. That’ll help, too.”

 

“We have five different flavors of ice cream for dessert. We did not know your favorite so we got a lot, but I think if there is one you like, that should help, too.” Villanelle offered.

 

“Oh my god, yes,” Ann said.

 

“How about garlic mashed potatoes again?” Eve asked as she came in. “Sounds like we’re doing comfort food.”

 

Ann groaned. “Yes, please.”

 

“If you’re comfortable being waited on, let us do that,” Eve suggested.

 

“I’m going to sauté the asparagus when we’re close to eating, but other than that, the kitchen is yours,” Ann said, grabbing another celery stalk. "I'm glad you two are here."

 

"So are we," Eve replied. 

 

 

Chapter Text

One year later

 

Villanelle sauntered through Red Square on her way to the softball stadium. She was meeting Eve. Spring term of her first year would be finished in a month. She was happier than she could’ve imagined being a student. Eve convinced her that learning random stuff about random stuff was not a waste of time so long as she enjoyed it. She wasn’t sure if she would find a calling, but Eve pointed out she didn’t have to. Even more surprising to her than the fact that she liked going to uni was how she looked forward to having lunch with friends she’d made from her classes--even though most of them were only 18 or 19 years old. She’d gravitated toward those who seemed more mature, maybe a little more serious—which was hilarious all by itself. She felt herself relaxing into being real around someone other than Eve.

 

Eve jumped out of her ride share, got their tickets for the game, and waited for Villanelle. She was happier than she could’ve imagined working for Ann’s company. Turns out her skills were what Human Resources types called transferable. Her immediate co-workers were smart, some with arid senses of humor. The teasing about how she’d landed a younger, hot girlfriend had mostly subsided now that her work friends had hung out enough with Villanelle and Eve. Villanelle’s willingness to really commit to performance on karaoke night helped win them over.

 

And they had a cat—an orange cat with a white bib and white socks. Villanelle adored him and Eve adored that Villanelle adored him. One of Eve’s co-workers had asked if anyone could take her mother’s cat—mom was moving to assisted living. Eve brought him home one Friday night. When Villanelle saw the cat carrier on the kitchen counter with Eddie inside, she turned and walked quickly into their bedroom. Eve followed, unsure what was happening. She found Villanelle sitting on their bed, trying not to ugly cry, but failing. All Eve could think to do was sit down and hold her hand. Eventually, Villanelle was able to tell Eve that she didn’t want to upset Eddie by crying in front of him, but that her tears were happy tears. Villanelle and Eddie were inseparable—wherever she was in the house, there he was. At night, he slept next to her feet. Eve wondered if her cat Freddy had been reincarnated to make Villanelle happy.

 

They heard from Catherine, in addition to her report that Eve’s mother looked perfectly fine. She sent an encrypted message with an article in an obscure security newsletter with a single sentence:  Thought you might be interested. The most reasonable conclusion to be drawn from the piece, they both agreed, was that The Twelve had been put out to pasture. Although no names were named, it appeared that Carolyn may have, in her inexorable way, destroyed them. Eve marveled at that for weeks. Eve concluded that whatever Carolyn had gotten from her entanglement with The Twelve vanished when Konstantin murdered Kenny. In that moment, her singular focus became obliterating them. 

 

That was three months ago. They talked about whether it was safe for Eve to go see her mother and decided it was. Anne and Ann were coming to Seattle at the end of June for a few days and offered to fly them to London on Ann’s plane when they returned. Anne was certain that UK Customs officials wouldn’t bother them at the smaller airport where Ann hangered the plane when it was in the UK. Anne had flown in and out enough that she was familiar to the bored customs staff.

 

“Hi, babe,” Eve said as Villanelle joined her at the ticket booth. “Hi, Eve,” Villanelle said with that perfect smirk.

 

Villanelle inhaled her two hotdogs before Eve had taken two bites of hers. Before Villanelle could say anything, Eve staked her claim. “Yes, I’m going to eat all of it.”

 

The game ended in five innings—the mercy rule—with the home team winning 9-0.

 

Eddie’s bowl was empty when they got home; Villanelle hurried to give him dinner while Eve made theirs.

 

After dinner, Villanelle tried to study while Eddie walked all over the book she was reading until he finally settled in her lap. Eve had gone grocery shopping. Villanelle paused and looked out at The Mountain. Stars had aligned, prayers had been answered, fortune had smiled—Villanelle didn’t believe in any of those clichés but embraced them all. Villanelle didn’t know if this life she was living was normal or not; it felt good—she felt good—in a way she’d never felt before. And she continued to feel good. Eddie woke up and head-butted her chin. She kissed his furry face.

 

Six weeks later

 

Eve was undeniably anxious. She and Villanelle were somewhere over Canada. Ann and Anne were in the cockpit. Eve was trying to seem cool, but not succeeding. Villanelle knew it, though—wanted Eve to feel better.

 

“Do you want to ask your mother to come live with us?” Villanelle asked.

 

Eve looked at Villanelle. This woman never stopped surprising her. “Seriously?”   

 

Villanelle nodded slightly. “Yes. You are her only family, except her sisters in Korea—and, well, me. I am her daughter-in-law. Pretty much.”

 

Eve had introduced Villanelle to her mother before they’d skipped the UK, coming out of the closet about their relationship, explaining that she loved Villanelle. It was a lot, but the last thing she said before Eve and Villanelle left was:  You are my only child. Be happy.

 

Eve looked out the window, but took Villanelle’s hand and held it, firmly. “I’ll think about it,” she managed to say, swallowing a couple of times. Later, after Eve seemed to have settled, Villanelle went to the galley where she discovered Ann’s staff knew a thing or two about stocking a kitchen. She took back a tray loaded with food. Villanelle thought of Eddie who was being tended to by Ann’s housekeeper—a perk they’d decided to retain after Ann made clear that her housesitting offer came with weekly housekeeping. When Eve looked up to see the meal she was bearing and their eyes met, Villanelle stopped, time suspended for a moment. This wasn’t the first time she’d felt the (almost) stabbing joy of her love for Eve, but it was the first time at 30,000 feet. She’d been too exhausted on their flight to Seattle to feel anything but relief with a side salad of residual unease.

 

Twenty-four hours later

 

Operation Eve’s Mum was underway. Catherine masquerading as a ride share driver picked her up. Catherine knew within a few kilometers that they didn’t have a tail but was taking no chances. She drove into an underground parking garage at a shopping center where a van bearing the name of a local plumber waited. Eve’s mother got into the back of the van and it left through a separate exit. Catherine drove out the way she’d come in.

 

Eve and Villanelle were waiting in Ann’s apartment. Catherine would rendez-vous with the plumber’s van in the apartment’s parking garage and deliver Eve’s mother to her anxious daughter and almost daughter-in-law.

 

When the door to Ann’s apartment opened, both Eve and Villanelle jumped up. Eve’s mother came in. Catherine stuck her head in long enough to verify Eve was there, nodded, and shut the door. Eve took two steps, her mother took two steps, and they just held each other. Villanelle’s vision got blurry. And, although Villanelle had a year of university Korean language classes under her belt, including practicing with Eve, she couldn’t really follow what they were saying. They were hugging, talking over one another, and … crying. Eventually, mother and daughter settled down next to each other, holding hands.

 

They continued to speak Korean. Villanelle settled back in her chair, letting her mind wander over the last year as the two most important people in the world—wait, Eve’s mother was one of the most important people, because without her—no Eve. Villanelle chuckled to herself at the conscious realization of something she’d known since forever.

 

Eve had stood up. “I’m making some tea. Would you like a cup?” Villanelle blinked and said, “Yes, please.”

 

Eve’s mom turned her attention to Villanelle switching to English. “Remember what you promised me?” she asked.

 

Villanelle nodded, “Yes, I remember.” Make her happy; keep her safe.

 

“You kept your promise. I hoped you would, but I did not know you. Will you make the same promise today?”

 

“Today and always.”

 

“My Eve is not easy.”

 

She is to me. She is as easy as breathing.  “I know, but to me she is.” 

 

Eve’s mom nodded her head. “Good. That was the right answer.”

 

Villanelle sighed. Not one of her sarcastic sighs, or a “WTF just happened” sighs, but a real sigh of relief. Eve set the tray with tea and biscuits down, quirking an eyebrow at the look on Villanelle’s face. Villanelle just grinned.

 

Halifax same day

 

Elizabeth and the children were due to arrive at Crow Nest any minute for their summer holiday. Every day would end perfectly, as far as the children were concerned, because Anne would read to them—stories now of adventures, so real in Anne’s telling.

 

Anne was no longer flying, regularly. She was an instructor at the airline’s training school. She still flew in that role, but only once every few weeks, and then, almost always out and back the same day. The training program was between terms—she had a few weeks off until the next term began.

 

Later that day

 

Anne and the children had ridden horses out to the Walker pond where they’d promised to catch dinner. Ann and Elizabeth were hanging out on the patio.

 

“When are you going to make an honest woman out of Anne Lister?” Elizabeth teased.

 

“Hold that thought,” Ann replied. She came back in a few moments and handed Elizabeth a small box.

 

“Wow, it’s beautiful. She’ll love it. When will you ask her?”

 

“Tomorrow. I know her morning walking route. I’m going to surprise her near the end.”

 

“Got any butterflies?”

 

“Honestly … no.”

 

“Why should you? She’s still besotted with you—how many years later?” Elizabeth asked.

 

“It’ll be five years ….”

 

“Yes …,” Elizabeth interrupted. “New Year’s Eve …. I’m glad it worked out. Better to have December 31st as a day to remember instead of trying to forget.”

 

“Amen,” Ann said firmly.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

That night

 

Anne had just finished reading to the children … they were just a couple of chapters into A Wrinkle in Time.

 

“Off you go,” Anne said as she gave them a hug. Ann kissed the tops of their heads as they reluctantly trudged off to bed. They were exhausted and it showed.

 

“Don’t forget to brush your teeth,” Ann called out to them. Elizabeth had gone out after dinner with friends leaving her sister and Anne in charge.

 

Ann laid back against Anne, Anne’s arms around her middle. She sighed and relaxed. Anne nuzzled her neck. Contented moments went by. Anne said, “You smell good.”

 

“What do I smell like?”

 

“Mostly you, but a summer you.”

 

“What does a summer me smell like?” Ann wondered if Anne could describe it.

 

“Your hair smells like outdoors. Your neck smells faintly of your soap and your perspiration.” Anne kissed Ann’s neck and ran her tongue over the skin. “Just a bit salty,” she added. Ann shivered a little. She got up, extended her hand toward Anne. Ann’s voice was low and demanding. “Take me to bed.”

 

Anne said not a word but grasped Ann’s hand tightly as they went upstairs. Ann whispered to Anne, “Go get ready. I want it all tonight … all of you.”

 

Now it was Anne’s turn to shiver. Ann checked on the children—both were asleep. She watched each of them for a bit, her chest full of warmth and love.

 

Anne was waiting when she went into their room. She watched Ann take off her clothes and loosed her hair, shaking it out. She knew the effect that, in particular, had on Anne.

 

“I’ll be right there,” Ann said, going into their ensuite for a few minutes. When she returned, she went to the window, drew back the drapes, and opened it. A breeze stirred the gauzy curtains. Ann looked out the window for a moment, illuminated by moonlight. She could feel Anne’s eyes on her. Anne forgot to breathe.

 

Ann turned and walked to their bed, pulled back the sheet, and straddled Anne. She lowered herself and kissed Anne, her hands on either side of Anne’s face.  Anne felt as though time was passing more slowly than usual. Ann’s lips and teeth found Anne’s neck, shoulders, and then lower onto her breasts—Ann’s hair brushed her skin—a contrast to the delicious agony of Ann’s teeth. Ann gripped the toy between Anne’s legs and lowering herself onto it, her eyes locked with Anne’s. Anne watched as she adjusted before she began an unhurried up and down. Ann closed her eyes and tipped her head backward, mouth open. Anne’s hands clasped Ann’s hips lightly. Time passed … Ann took Anne’s right hand and brought it between her legs.

 

“Just tease me …I don’t want to come.”

 

Anne tried to follow those instructions, but Ann got close so she rose from Anne, lay back on the bed with her knees to her chest. She didn’t have to say anything. Anne lubed the toy quickly and took Ann, almost roughly, holding her legs up so they rested on Anne’s shoulders, tilting Ann’s pelvis to the necessary angle. Anne began to perspire as did Ann beneath her. Anne held herself up with her left hand and arm, bringing her right hand down between Ann’s legs. Ann could see the effort in Anne’s muscles. She licked her lips and ran her hand over Anne’s straining arm, gripping it tightly. She began to buck as much as the position would allow, calling Anne’s name in different pitches as she came. Anne pulled out, slowly, tossing the harness aside. She covered Ann, their bodies slick against each other, Anne licked the sweat from between Ann’s breasts, Ann continued to shudder against Anne.

 

“It smells like sex in here,” Ann offered in a low tone. “Dirty, dirty sex.”

 

“Jesus, Ann.” Anne’s breath hitched. She moved against Ann, still beneath her, as she thrust against Ann’s thigh.  

 

“Roll over … so I can do what I want.” Ann commanded. What I want is to feel you come on my hand and in my mouth.

 

The next morning

 

Ann almost postponed the proposal. When she mounted her horse to ride out to where she intended to surprise Anne, she was reminded of how perfectly she’d been railed last night. Thank god for padded riding underwear.

 

Ann knew the place Anne liked to stop during her brisk morning walk. Well, brisk was what Anne called it, but it was more akin to race walking. Anne didn’t pause long, but she did stop long enough to look out over the valley below and the hills beyond for a few minutes. Ann knew she she’d have to be quick to arrive ahead of Anne—as soon as Anne left the house, Ann hustled to the stable, saddled her horse, and after a few minutes of walking to warm up, urged him into a trot.  

 

Ann tapped her inside jacket pocket for the millionth time that morning. The ring was still there.

 

As it was when she got to her destination. Ten minutes later, she heard Anne call her name, a note of question in it. She turned to smile at Anne as she approached. Swinging a leg over her horse, she dismounted as Anne caught her and lowered her to the ground. Ann didn’t let go and Anne didn’t either.

 

Before Anne could say anything, Ann looked up at her, touched her cheek, and asked, “Anne Lister, will you marry me?” She moved back a bit and displayed the ring to Anne, taking Anne’s right hand, which was still lightly gripping her left elbow, waiting for Anne’s answer.

 

Anne looked at the ring, at Ann, back at the ring and then at Ann again. Anne grinned and said, “Yes …  yes, darling.”

 

Ann put the ring on Anne’s right hand ring finger. “I’ll move it to your left hand on our wedding day,” she said softly.

 

Ann noticed a single tear on Anne’s check. She brushed it away with her thumb, moving toward Anne, nearly imperceptibly. When they kissed, Anne opened her eyes just once. This was real. She had Ann’s ring on her finger. That was real.

 

“Do you want to continue your walk?” Ann’s question was a bit cheeky and said a little breathlessly when they’d stop kissing. Anne chuckled her response. “A clutch of zombies could not separate me from you today.”  

 

Chapter Text

Meanwhile—back at Ann’s apartment a day later

 

“I have something to ask you,” Eve said to her mother. Villanelle snapped to attention. “Will you come live with us? We want you to.” Villanelle wasn’t sure she’d ever heard this specific tone of voice from Eve. It was soft, loving (which was not unusual—at least as far as Villanelle was concerned), but also deferential (which was … unheard of.)

 

Eve’s mother took Eve’s hands in her own. “And where would this be, Eve? You haven’t told me where you live,” she said, amused, with a twinkle in her eye. She was used to Eve getting ahead of herself.

 

“Before I tell you where, are you willing to consider it? I can tell you this, we have a big house with plenty of room. We have a cat that likes me and adores her,” she indicated Villanelle. Villanelle knew the answer would be yes, that she would come to live with them. Eve must be nervous—she’d missed her mother’s giveaway that provided the answer to Eve’s question.

 

Eve’s mom replied, “It doesn’t matter to me where you live. What I have to keep me here isn’t even close to what I would have if I say ‘yes.’”

 

Later—still at Ann’s apartment

 

Eve’s mom was napping. She hadn’t slept well after Catherine contacted her about seeing Eve. Now that she was with Eve, she could relax. Meanwhile, Eve’s brain was going 200 mph—how would they get her mom to Seattle safely and stealthily? Sure she’d thought about it, before, but it wasn’t theoretical now. What if her mom didn’t like Seattle? The house? Then what? Move her back to the UK? What if they drove each other crazy? What if mother and daughter drove Villanelle crazy? Should she keep working for Ann? What if her mom got bored?  

 

“Want to go for a swim?” Villanelle asked as she strolled in wearing her swimsuit. “I could use a refresher lesson.” That was enough to stop Eve’s descent down the Rabbit Hole and Villanelle knew it. Sure, her suit was just a simple, classic Speedo tank, but … holy shit did Villanelle wear it like no other woman ever had or ever would.

 

Eve surrendered immediately. “Sure, I’ll get my suit on and leave Mom a note. And I know what you’re doing and I love you for it.”

 

Villanelle dropped the (lame) pretense she needed a lesson. They had the four-lane lap pool in Ann’s building to themselves. Villanelle executed a perfect running dive off the end of the pool after shouting to Eve that this was a race and she was going to win it. She hadn’t beaten Eve yet but was getting closer. Eve didn’t dive in but waited until Villanelle had swum down and back. Villanelle stopped and looked up.

 

“Are you warmed up?” Eve asked, and then dove in and began swimming, already far ahead of Villanelle before Villanelle kicked off and began her pursuit. Eve won easily by three lengths.

 

The pool was adjacent to the building’s gym which was likewise unoccupied. “I need to wash the chlorine out of my hair,” Eve said, nodding toward the showers. “Can I get some help?”

 

Eight minutes later—the showers

 

“Don’t stop, don’t stop!”

 

Villanelle didn’t intend to stop, but it was gratifying to hear Eve beg her not to. She bit down softly on Eve’s shoulder and then put her lips next to Eve’s ear. “Don’t stop what, Eve?”

 

Villanelle had one arm firmly around Eve’s waist and the other arm, or rather, the fingers of the hand of said arm, between Eve’s legs. “Don’t stop this? Or don’t stop this? You will have to be more specific.” Villanelle’s fingers punctuated her questions about this and this perfectly, her tone seductive. “I will have to stop if you are uncertain.” The threat of stopping, the continuation of this and this, along with Villanelle pinching and pulling at Eve’s nipple … no one could withstand this consummately coordinated sexual onslaught. Eve surrendered again, willingly, as she always did—that surrender echoing in the showers.

 

“I want to hear you, too,” Eve said as she turned around, her right hand moving between Villanelle’s legs, taking a nipple in her teeth. Villanelle’s head bent down to Eve’s shoulder; Eve’s left hand went to the back of Villanelle’s neck.

Villanelle liked, no she loved when Eve whispered in her ear—it made her gasp, get weak-kneed, drove her crazy—no other room in her mind but Eve when Eve spoke directly into her ear, into her heart and soul. Once all Eve said was “you’re mine” again and again, timing her words with her hips, clad in a harness and toy, fucking Villanelle. Then Eve had reached between Villanelle’s legs to bring her closer, timing her fingers and her thrusts with her words of possession until Villanelle came, crying out “yes” over and over—affirming that she was Eve’s.

 

After Eve made Villanelle sing in the shower, so to speak, Villanelle got around to washing Eve’s hair. As she massaged Eve’s scalp, she told a blissed-out Eve, “Do not worry about your mom. She loves you, more than any other person. I love you more than any other person. We just want to be with you. This is maybe hard to really feel, to understand, but it is true.”

 

Eve’s throat tightened. She turned and looked up at Villanelle. “I do feel it … really feel it.”

 

Ten minutes later

 

The elevator stopped on the ground floor on its way up. The doors opened. A man got in, looked at Eve and Villanelle, and didn’t push the button for a different floor. Eve turned to Villanelle. Their eyes met. The man reached for the gun in his waistband. Although Eve was wearing trainers, she got off a crippling kick to his knee. Villanelle grabbed him and bounced his head off the floor and then snapped his neck. Eve reached into his pocket and got his wallet. “Ainsworth,” she read off his driving license.

 

“How did he get in?”

 

“I have no idea.”

 

“Hmmm … what do we do with him?”

 

“Call Catherine, I think.”

 

“Can you take the elevator out-of-service?” Eve asked. Villanelle gave her a look. “Just checking,” Eve defended.

 

Moments later, Eve was on the phone with Catherine.

 

“I’ll be there in thirty minutes,” she said.

 

They loaded the body into the van Catherine brought. Ainsworth had gained entry by clocking the front desk guard in the head and lifting his elevator card. Catherine erased the video evidence of that fracas as well as the other video evidence from the lobby and the elevator. She called one of Ann’s IT people and ordered replacement hard drives to be delivered and installed immediately. Catherine took possession of the hard drives—she’d learned at the Yard that nothing digital is ever really erased. By the time of the staff changeover that night, everything was back to normal. The evening guy had no idea what had happened on the previous shift.

 

Catherine had located Ainsworth’s car right out front. Cheeky, dead bastard, she thought. A phone call and it was on its way to a chop shop with its component parts eventually headed to South America.

 

When Eve and Villanelle finished helping Catherine in the parking garage, they went up to Ann’s apartment. Eve’s mom was still napping. Villanelle asked if they should wake her, but Eve said to let her rest.

 

Eve offered to make dinner and Villanelle politely sent her to the living room with a glass of wine. They’d invited Catherine for dinner. Eve was on her second glass of wine when Catherine arrived. She joined Eve. They spoke in low tones in case Eve’s mom woke up.

 

“Have you told Ann yet?” Eve asked.

 

“Not yet, but she’ll be thoroughly relieved. This is news best delivered in person. You two have managed to take down the Greatest Hits on Ann’s enemies list—you do realize that, right?”

 

Eve chuckled. “Right places, right times.”

 

Villanelle came in with some appetizers. “We live to serve,” she smirked. Eve gave her a soft punch on the arm and rolled her eyes.

 

Chapter Text

Halifax next afternoon: Crow Nest Library

 

“Did they tell you what happened, exactly?” Ann asked.

 

Catherine nodded. “They’d been swimming in your building’s pool, got on the lift, it stopped in the lobby, and Ainsworth got on. They immediately recognized him from the pictures you showed them. They’d already selected your floor. He didn’t press any other button, which confirmed his ill intent in their minds. They’re pretty sure he didn’t recognize them, but he must’ve suspected something. When he went for his gun, Eve kicked him in the knee which dropped him. Villanelle finished him off—snapped his neck. Eve called me and I took care of the rest.”

 

Anne was impressed. “What incredible luck. They’ve been in the right place at the right time not just once, but twice now. And they knew what to do—in a split second.”

 

Catherine laughed and said, “That’s exactly what Eve said—right place, right time. They both behaved like it was all no big deal.” She paused. “Did you know Villanelle is going to uni?” Catherine knew Eve had gone to work at Ann’s company, but hadn’t known until last night’s dinner that Villanelle was in college.

 

Ann grinned. “How do you think she got in? It was the least I could do after the Mariana clusterfuck. Eve told me Villanelle wanted to try uni. She asked if there was anything I could do. I won’t be sending any kids to uni so Villanelle is my legacy admission.”

 

Anne spoke up. “We’re very proud of her. She earned excellent marks this past year.”

 

Catherine quirked a look at them. “You do get that they dispatched Ainsworth and then invited me to dinner not only with them, but Eve’s mum, who had no idea what they’d got up to a couple of hours earlier?”

 

“Your point being?” Ann said, with faux innocence.

 

“Okay, okay. I like them, both,” Catherine admitted. “They’re loyal and …”

 

“Fun to be with,” Ann said. “You have to go to karaoke with them sometime.”

 

“They are vicious at board games,” Anne noted, approvingly.

 

“And they’re in love,” Ann observed. “Like they were meant by the universe to be together. I hope the universe will let them be.”

 

Same time: Ann’s apartment

 

“It’s called misdirection. You tell everyone you’re moving to Korea to be closer to family. We make it look like that’s what you did.”  Eve was explaining her mother’s relocation plan to said mother who was eyeing her skeptically. Suddenly, Eve realized that it wasn’t the plan itself that was confounding; her mother didn’t actually have the plan, a series of steps to be taken, in front of her. Eve wasn’t even delivering the Executive Summary.

 

“I’ll write it down,” Eve offered. “You can ask me about any of the steps—how things will get done. We’ll work on it together until you’re satisfied—until it makes sense and you feel safe.” 

 

“Do not worry,” Villanelle said cheekily. “No PowerPoint. I will not let her.”

 

Eve rolled her eyes. How the hell did Villanelle know about that fiasco?

 

Anne’s favorite pub in Halifax that night

 

“Here’s a toast to absent arseholes,” Anne raised her pint. “May they rot in hell.”

 

Ann, Catherine, and Anne clinked their glasses.

 

“How do you feel—now that he’s gone? As in, really most sincerely gone?” Catherine asked Ann.

 

“Best wedding present ever,” Ann said. “Added bonus—we don’t have to put that particular gift on our registry, do we? Frees up some space.”

 

“Seriously, Ann …” Catherine had laughed, but did want an answer.

 

“Free. Liberated. Lighter. All those clichés.” She let out a long breath and thought for a moment. “Do you know if whatever was going on with my two heroines is still going on?”

 

“I don’t know,” Catherine answered. “I was told to leave it alone and I have, absolutely.”

 

“As have we,” Anne piped up.

 

“They must think it’s better or they wouldn’t be asking mum to move in with them, right?” Catherine asked.

 

Ann and Anne both nodded in agreement.

 

“Do you know anything about how they’re going to get mum relocated?” Anne asked.

 

“Not really. Why?”

 

“Because if they need any help, anything …” Ann’s throat tightened. She shook her head to fight off the emotion.

 

Anne took her hand and continued, “Please let them know.”

 

Anne’s bedroom at Shibden Hall later that night

 

“I’m all over the place,” Ann exclaimed, agitated. “I want to yell “Fuck” at the top of my lungs. I want to hit something. I want to break something.” She looked at Anne, got up and began pacing. “What the actual hell … is going on with me?”

 

It was true Ann felt free since Ainsworth’s demise, but after a couple of pints, she began feeling … something else … something that continued to build until she couldn’t contain it anymore.

 

“Meet me in the gym in ten minutes,” Anne said. Anne had repurposed half the carriage house into a gym. The exterior was unchanged, but inside contained what Anne wanted—a treadmill, rowing machine, free weights, and off in a corner—a speed bag and a heavy bag.

 

Except for the lights on in the boxing corner, the gym was dark when Ann stepped in. She waited for her eyes to adjust and could make out Anne’s back which was bare but for the straps of her black leather, studded chest harness. Coming closer, she could see Anne had on black satin boxing trunks. Anne turned, “Take off your clothes, except your knickers, and put this on.” She handed Ann a boxing sports bra. “Tie your hair back with this and put these on,” Anne gave her a hair tie and a pair of sparing gloves. As Ann tied back her hair and put on the gloves, Anne donned punch shields on both hands.    

 

“Don’t think about anything,” Anne said, “except beating the shit out of these shields. Yell, scream, whatever you want.” Anne pressed her phone. A bass-heavy remix of DM’s I Feel You started playing on the gym’s sound system, dirty and slow.

 

Ann shook herself and hit the shield in Anne’s left hand as hard as she could, and then again. Her mind emptied and she hit the shields, over and over, as the music gathered speed, so did her punches. Anne was silent except for soft grunts when Ann punched the shields. After several minutes, Ann had enough. She was dripping with sweat; her eyes were savage. Anne tossed aside the shields and took Ann’s gloves off. Anne moved her head back into the shadow, out of Ann’s sight, as she studied Ann’s face. She nodded, took off her boxing trunks, and bent over the equipment table. “Don’t think. Just fuck me.” Ann knew Anne’s voice had never been so deep and low. It didn’t sound like her. The room went dark, the music got louder. Ann drove three fingers into Anne, gripping the back of the harness with her left hand. Ann put her hips into it. She stopped when her arm couldn’t thrust anymore. When she stood back, Anne turned around and knelt before her, pulling down her underwear and forcing her tongue between Ann’s legs. Ann held her head there with both hands without looking at Anne, moving her pelvis against Anne’s face. When she pushed Anne away, she breathed, “Did you bring it?”

 

A moment later, Anne was on her back with Ann riding her, her fist clenching the front of the chest harness. The music had stopped. Their panting filled the room. “Use your fingers,” Ann demanded.

 

Anne’s bedroom the next morning

 

Anne awoke with Ann nestled into her chest. Her thoughts turned to last night. It wasn’t that Anne had never allowed anyone to take her as Ann had done. No one had ever seemed to want her that way. Or maybe she just gave off vibes that it was off-limits. Anne was self-aware enough to know what her vibe was—and that she was, to a great degree, the curator of that vibe. And Ann? She smiled at what continued to be revealed about both of them. She would not tease Ann about it. If something like this was to become part of their sexual relationship in the future … she closed her eyes and imagined Ann’s palm print on her ass and the feeling of having Ann put it there. Ann in charge, not topping from the bottom, but in charge. Ann stirred and snuggled closer. Anne thought of a lyric … your hair upon the pillow like a sleepy golden storm. And drifted back to sleep.

Chapter Text

Later that day in the shade of Shibden’s largest tree

 

Anne’s head was in Ann’s lap; Ann’s back was against the tree, made comfortable with Anne’s UW Husky softball sweatshirt providing necessary padding. Ann swallowed. “I’ve never behaved like I did last night.”

 

Anne just hmmed and waited for Ann to go on. She did. “I’m okay with it. You wouldn’t have done what you did unless you were, too. I know there was some part of you that …”

 

“Liked it?” Anne asked.

 

“Yes.”

“It wasn’t just a part of me. All of me liked it.”

 

“What if it never happened again? Would that be okay?”

 

Anne sat up, wanting to be honest and say the right thing. She faced Ann. “Had you ever felt the emotions you felt last night? Have you thought about what they were?”

 

Ann closed her eyes. “At first it was relief and rage when I hit the shields. Relief that it was over. Rage at how long I’d lived in the shadow of my fear. I know my life has been good, even with that shadow but …”

 

“You have every right to that rage.” Anne went on. “What did you feel later because when I felt your hands on me, it didn’t feel like anger.”

 

Ann’s eyes were still closed. She thought back to her hand gripping Anne’s harness, hard. “Powerful. Totally in command.” She paused. “You were wet … easy to fuck. It told my brain you liked me that way.” 

 

“I wouldn’t miss it if it never happened again. But if we’re both on that page in the future, you’ll find I’ll be easy to fuck then, too.”

 

“I have a question.” Ann’s voice was lower. “How easy would you be to fuck right now?”

 

Anne thought she feels in control of her life, finally. “I’d be easy—can you take it slow? At least in the beginning?” I have to be able to walk home.

 

Ann was not unsympathetic. She’d just started walking normally again herself.

 

Ann’s apartment that night: primary bedroom

 

“Maybe Mom doesn’t tell anyone she’s moving to Korea to be with family. If they’re keeping an eye on her and try to figure out where she went, they’ll realize she isn’t with family … eventually. I don’t want anyone visiting my aunts asking questions. That would be bad.”

 

Villanelle nodded but said nothing. Eve was thinking out loud. 

 

“We just bring her to Seattle as secretly as possible. Would Anne fly us there, maybe? We could get Mom a fake passport so she wouldn’t be using her name, right?”

 

More nodding from Villanelle.

 

“If she does that, it means she just up and disappears, which would be weird. If she tells anyone she’s leaving, people will wonder where she’s going. If she tells people where she’s going, they can check to see if that’s true.” Eve ran out of steam for a moment and took a breath.

 

“What do you know about your mother’s life? Does she have friends or some regular things she does with other people? Are there people who would throw her a going away party?”

 

Eve ignored the questions. “Isn’t the best option sometimes the most straightforward? Maybe she tells people she’s moving in with me but lies about where that is. If they snooped around at all and found out she’s gone and find out it’s with me, they’d have to figure out where I am which is something they might already have been doing--unsuccessfully. I think this could work.”

 

“Fake passport, then?” Villanelle asked.

 

“Whatever we do, yes, fake passport. While we’re at it, let’s get ourselves some new fake passports, too. Couldn’t hurt.”

 

Eve had settled down—a lot—and Villanelle decided it was time. She went into the ensuite and came out in nothing but a silk dressing gown, her hair down, and that look in her eyes—the one Eve could never resist. Eve realized a while back that there was no reason she should, would, or could ever resist. Why on earth would I try? She’s a fucking goddess to behold, to hold, to be held by. If I ever resist, get me an MRI—seriously—get me a goddamn MRI.

 

A few moments later, Villanelle was bent over Eve’s back, telling her to be quiet. “Do I need to gag you with the belt from my robe?” she asked, as she teased Eve mercilessly. “Do I?” Eve was almost in tears from the arousal Villanelle would not carry to its logical conclusion—her orgasm. Eve shook her head.

 

“Are you sure?” Villanelle put her hand over Eve’s mouth and snapped her hips, driving the toy in hard. Still inside Eve, she played with Eve’s nipples with her free hand. Villanelle demanded Eve lick the thumb of the hand that had been covering her mouth. “Make it wet, Eve, you will want it very wet.”

 

Eve could not think beyond what she wanted and what Villanelle’s voice was telling her to do. She coated Villanelle’s thumb with saliva. Villanelle sat back on her knees. “Quiet, Eve,” she commanded, working her thumb between their bodies and into Eve’s ass. “I am going to really fuck you now.”

 

Eve knew how perfect they were for each other sexually. Villanelle liked to talk when she was fucking Eve, preview what she was going to do, ask sexy questions, lay claim to her body and soul with her words. Eve loved it, was incredibly aroused by not only what Villanelle said, but how she said it—sometimes softly, sometimes teasing, sometimes demanding.  Eve had been blessed to find Villanelle for so many reasons, but right now it was because she was a fucking goddess—one who knew exactly how to fuck her. 

 

When Eve got close, Villanelle began asking are you mine over and over and each time Eve had (almost) sobbed yes. Villanelle felt Eve’s powerful contractions begin around her thumb that went on for a gloriously long time.

 

When Eve came back to herself, she turned over and made Villanelle straddle her head. Villanelle’s pubic hair would be coated with her own arousal. Eve wanted her mouth to be on Villanelle now. She wanted her hands on Villanelle’s ass and she wanted Villanelle to fuck her face and she wanted Villanelle to lose her shit. She didn’t care if Villanelle was quiet about it or was too rough or took too much. As long as she was alive when Villanelle finished so they could do this again.

 

Villanelle looked down at Eve. She felt Eve’s mouth on her; Eve’s hands on her ass. It was the Second Act of tonight’s play. A play already written and being written simultaneously. After several minutes of consuming all that Villanelle had, Eve took her own thumb and coated it with her own arousal from between her own legs, returning the anal favor, working her finger into Villanelle's ass. Not long after, Villanelle eyes locked onto Eve’s as she came on Eve’s face and in Eve’s mouth. It took a moment for Villanelle to come back to herself and then she moved. Eve would live to do this again.

 

Villanelle laid down on top of Eve, each with a thigh slotted into the other’s crotch, slowly moving toward no end. Until Villanelle felt Eve’s nails on her back foretell the Third Act. Both actors had dialogue in this Act. Villanelle liked to hear Eve, too.

 

“Tell me, Eve. Tell me what you feel.”

 

“Your hands in my hair. Kissing you, your teeth on my neck. My hands on your shoulder blades, holding you to me.” Eve thrust up between Villanelle’s legs. Villanelle’s mouth was at Eve’s ear, so Eve heard Villanelle’s deep, low response from the back of her throat.

 

“I want to fuck you again, Eve. Do you want me to?”

 

“Yes, with your fingers, I don’t care if I come. Just fuck me,” Eve said, pulling Villanelle’s head down to kiss her. “As long and hard as you can.” After several minutes, Eve grasped Villanelle’s arm, stopping her. Villanelle raised her head; their eyes meeting again, both breathing hard. Eve nudged Villanelle so she could get up.

 

“I’ll be right back,” Eve said. She felt a little drunk as she walked to the bathroom, her hearing seemed muffled. What just happened?

 

Villanelle was lying on her back when Eve returned. Which was good since Eve intended to lay partially on and partially off Villanelle, with her head on Villanelle’s chest.

 

Eve got comfortable against Villanelle.

 

“What was that … for you?” Villanelle asked.

 

“Like nothing I’ve ever felt before.” Eve was still trying to sort it out. “I need to sit with it for a while.” She paused, “I want to tell you something. Promise me you won’t laugh.”

 

“I promise,” Villanelle said, seriously.

 

“I think the earth moved.” There was silence. “Thank you for not laughing,” Eve said.

 

“You’re welcome.”

 

Eve laughed, then. “Okay, stop being nice. It was kind of cringey. Jesus Christ.”

 

Eve was propped up on an elbow, looking at Villanelle’s face. Villanelle smirked. “I am glad you had your Carole King moment with me, Eve. Do I make you feel like a natural woman?” 

 

Chapter Text

Ann’s apartment the next morning

Villanelle was in the building’s gym, running on the treadmill. Eve and her mother were finishing breakfast.

“You love her, don’t you? In a way you never loved Niko.”

“When I’m fixing dinner, grocery shopping … hell, cleaning her damn cat’s litter box or picking up after her, I realize even then, I’m more alive than I’ve ever been. I feel it all the time. Even if we’ve been together all day and she’s in the shower for fifteen minutes … when I see her again, I feel it. I used to think maybe it was the adrenalin of possible death always simmering ….”

“It wasn’t that, was it?" Eve’s mom’s question wasn’t really a question.

Eve shook her head. “No, it wasn’t.”

“She’s beautiful … how much of it is that?”

“Some of it … sure. Less now than before. If I went blind, it wouldn’t matter, if I couldn’t see her—well, it would, but I’d still love her desperately.” Eve thought for a minute … “You know what else it is? She loves me. Not like Niko did, but like I am. She whined after I started working, before she started uni, but it was different than Niko’s griping. She was bored. Another thing—there’s nothing passive-aggressive about her. She tells me exactly what she’s thinking and feeling. She told me she was bored but she never let a late night at work become the barometer on whether I loved her. Even if I was late, I knew she wouldn’t punish me. She lit up when I got home.”

“So do you. Light up when she comes in. In your own way.”

“I do, don’t I? I never thought of myself as someone like that,” Eve shrugged, “but here I am.”

“I wonder if she’d like you to propose?” Eve’s mom was half-musing.

Eve knew there were things she was still learning about Villanelle. She had her own way of looking at things. Would Villanelle view the proposal as romantic and a commitment from Eve based on love? Or would it worry her that it meant the opposite? That Eve’s love was waning and needed to be bolstered with a marriage? I wonder if I’d be able to answer this in another year?  

“I honestly don’t know,” Eve answered.

“I want to talk to you about something else.”

Eve snapped out of her own musing. “What?”

“I’m not ready to move away. I want to stay for a while longer.”

Wow … one of those days, Eve thought.

“You know we want you to live with us, don’t you? We were serious. It would make us happy. We’re not doing this because you need us … you might someday, but I know that’s not true yet. Maybe come for awhile and see what you think. Then, decide. Keep your place … if you come for a while, we’ll try to make it less like a vacation and more normal …so you can get a feel.”

“Why don’t I come for a vacation? I’d like to get the VIP treatment,” Eve’s mom replied, deadpan.

That afternoon:  Lightcliffe Pond

Anne, Ann, and the children were splashing in the pond. Anne was playing the Pond Monster attacking all three “unsuspecting” swimmers with an appropriate roar and a lily pad on her head.

All four of them crawled out of the pond, too exhausted to do anything but flop on cotton blankets in the shade, until hunger struck.

Ann gave the kids their lunch and although they were “too old” for naps, they fell asleep shortly thereafter.

Ann and Anne were lying side by side, also stuffed with lunch, but not asleep.

“Let’s get married this weekend. We’ll tell people they’re coming for a summer afternoon and then we’ll surprise them with a wedding,” Ann said.

She continued. “George is coming on Thursday. The people we really want are here. There’s time to arrange a caterer still, I think, but if there isn’t, it’s small enough that we can handle it. I do want a cake, maybe two, but nothing fancy. A celebration, but a pretty stress-free one, right?”

“Who will be our officiant?” Anne asked. “Any thoughts?”

“Someone we know and love who won’t get too pissed and mislay the paperwork.”

“Elizabeth, then,” Anne said.

They both laughed. Ann’s older sister was a near-teetotaler, always responsible, made even more responsible by parenthood, if that was somehow possible.

“What about the honeymoon, Miss Walker?” Anne said with a hint of a leer in her voice.

“What about it?” Ann said, as innocently as she could, although the thought of being with Anne after their wedding was tingle-inducing.

“Shall I plan it?” Anne asked, her brain already sorting through options. 

“How long should we take?” Ann asked back.

“How long do you want?”

“A week?” Ann replied. “Too short?”

“Maybe ten days …but it doesn’t have to be right after. Maybe we just go down to London and stay a couple of decadent nights at the Savoy.”

“Maybe three nights ...” Ann said with her own raised eyebrow. “I’ll book it right now.” She grabbed her phone.

When Ann was finished, Anne was lounging with her eyes half-closed. “I think we should invite the Seattle contingent up for the weekend.”

“Absolutely,” Ann agreed.

Ann’s apartment that afternoon

Eve’s mom was taking a post-lunch nap.

Eve had told Villanelle while they were preparing lunch. “She’ll come to Seattle with us and then on to Korea. I’m working on her to come back to Seattle on her way back here, but that’s probably a long shot. Anyway, she said if she’s going to be away that long, she has to spend some time getting ready.”

“Would you like to go to Korea with her?” Villanelle had asked.

Eve hadn’t been to Korea for twenty years. “You know what? I might. For a few days anyway. She’ll probably want to stay longer.” Eve paused. “We, I mean, you and me, we haven’t spent a night apart since …” Eve trailed off. I don’t believe I just said that.

“And …?” Villanelle teased. “You cannot stand to be away from my very beautiful face?

Here goes, Eve thought. “It’ll be hard to be away from the person I’m in love with … from you.”

Villanelle closed her eyes and took a breath. Same gesture as on the bridge before she leaned back into Eve, but a different feeling in her chest. On the bridge, only hollowness. Now, it was everything that was not.

Villanelle’s phone chimed. She ignored it and pulled Eve close, buried her face in Eve’s hair.

“I will be there when you get home.” Villanelle tightened her hold on Eve. “I will be there.”

“This is new for  …” Eve replied. Villanelle interrupted. “For me, too.”

“I didn’t miss Niko when he was away. I felt free for however long he was gone.” Eve sighed. “Should’ve been a clue, maybe?” She shook her head. What an idiot. And silently apologized to her ex-husband for the millionth time.

“I never had anyone to miss,” Villanelle said softly. “I think I missed that I did not have anyone, but that is not the same.”

“I don’t need to be away from you to feel free … no, don’t,” she placed a finger on Villanelle’s lips. “I need to finish. I am free with you. That hasn’t changed in the time we’ve been together.”

Villanelle put her thumb and index finger together—a tiny space between them. “Not even …”

“Nope.”

They both fell silent.

It didn’t take long for Eve’s all-but-insatiable curiosity to overpower her. “Who texted?” she said. Villanelle laughed inside; she had felt Eve’s curiosity rising while Eve was in her arms.

Villanelle groaned, strictly for effect. “Way to kill the moment.” But she grinned as she looked at her phone.

“Catherine. She said to call her.”

“Good. We need to talk anyway. How about now?”

Catherine answered on the first ring.

Eve described her mom’s desire to go home for a while. Implicit was the question: is it safe?

Catherine said, “Your mom’s house isn’t being watched. I’m certain. I’ve had my best people watching to see if it’s being watched. It isn’t. If you would like, I’ll get her home safely whenever she wants to go back. I’ve also personally swept her place for bugs, both transmitting and non-transmitting There was nothing. I’ll also have people keeping an eye on her for a few days to make sure everything is fine.”

“Wow,” Eve said. “I don’t know how to say thanks.”

“No need. Those of us closest to Ann know she’s … better since Seattle, and now, even more since last week.  She told me, whatever you two need. I was already on that page.”

“Ann and Anne would like you to come to Halifax this weekend. Sounds like your mum wants to go home before then. I’ll come down, get her home, and drive you. A bit longer than taking the train, but no cameras will spot you if you ride in the back. Will you come? They want you to, very much.”

Catherine was on speaker. Villanelle gave a shrug that said if you want to, fine with me.

“Sure, we’d love to. Should we make a reservation some place?”

Catherine laughed. “Unnecessary. The Walker house has eleven bedrooms, I think. I used to know, for sure. We played hide-n-seek when Ann and I were kids. There were lots of places to hide. One other thing … very casual attire. Jeans, T-shirts, trainers, shorts, whatever you want. Dress up in something summery, if you want, but I can tell you Ann Walker will be in shorts, a T-shirt, and flip-flops.”

“This isn’t one of those things where we show up in what we think is casual and everyone looks like they’ve been in a Town and Country photoshoot, is it?”

“No, but good one. It might’ve been like that in the old days, but Ann has insisted they cut that English squire lording-it-over-the-manor crap and it’s sunk in and stuck. That and her sister’s kids running around raising hell and Elizabeth letting them be kids, instead of requiring that stick up the arse English decorum. My aunt and uncle actually seem like they’ve having a good time when we’re together. By the way, I’m told there will be karaoke.”

“I’ll talk to my mom and get back to you,” Eve said. Good-byes were said.

“Road Trip!!!” Villanelle exclaimed.

Chapter Text

“You’re not going to tell our parents?” Elizabeth was incredulous.

“Do you think they can keep this low-key, fun, and just have a good time?” Ann asked. She was serious. “If you think they can, then I’ll tell them. Frankly, it’s either that or we go to the registry office with witnesses we grab off the street.” Ann was recalling Elizabeth’s wedding, a stress-filled day, wait, week-long ordeal, she had no interest in replicating. “I know they’ve gotten better in the last ten years, but …”

“I think they’ll surprise you. After you and Anne got engaged, Mum asked me what I thought you’d want … for a wedding. I told her that it would be the opposite of mine and that it wouldn’t surprise me if you eloped. She knows that. I think she’d be thrilled to just throw a party and keep it light. She just wants to be there.”

“I don’t want a band. I don’t want a DJ. I want karaoke. I want people to let loose, enjoy themselves, and talk about how much fun they had. I want them to remember who sang what and how badly they butchered it. And, that I married Anne Lister and she married me.”

Shibden Hall same day

“This is what Ann wants and if this is what Ann wants, then I want it, too.” Anne had finished describing everything to her aunt, father, and sister.

“I think it’s brilliant,” Marian said. “I agree,” Aunt said.

“Father?” Anne asked.

Jeremy cleared his throat. “All I’ve ever wanted was for you to be happy. You are. I doubt I’ll sing any karaoke, though.”

“Never say never,” Aunt chided.

“I want to show you the ring.” Anne reached in her pocket and opened the box.

“I chose sapphires,” she said, “because …”

“Of her eyes,” Marian interrupted because Anne had choked up, a bit.

All Anne could do was nod. She took a deep breath.

“Will all of you stand up with me?”

“Big sister, for someone so smart, you can be a right idiot,” Marian said. “Of course, we will.”

Aunt dabbed at her eyes, “Yes, of course, dear.”

Jeremy hmphed his “yes.”

Three mornings later: Crow Nest

Villanelle had come downstairs, hungry. Eve was still asleep. Ann was alone in the kitchen, cracking eggs in a bowl, a plate of toast nearby.

“Good morning,’ Ann said, “Toast? Eggs shortly. There is coffee, juice – help yourself.”

Villanelle poured some juice, slathered some preserves on a piece of toast, and ate hungrily.

The evening before

On arrival in Halifax, Eve, Villanelle, and Catherine had meet the Ann(e)s at Anne’s favorite pub.

When Anne had hugged Eve, she said in Eve’s ear, “I’m glad you two are on our side. I’d hate to be your enemy.”

Villanelle sat down next to Ann. Ann gripped her hands between her own, smaller hands. “I’ve got my freedom because of you and Eve. I won’t forget that.”

Villanelle looked down at their hands. She knows what I did with these hands. It doesn’t matter to her.

“It was our pleasure, believe me,” Eve slid in next to Villanelle and wrapped an arm around her shoulder.

“Drinks?” Catherine asked, taking their orders.

While Catherine was away at the bar, Villanelle ventured a question. “Does your family know what happened?”

“Yes. They’re thrilled and can’t wait to meet both of you. I’ve told them to be discreet, say their thanks, and then drop it.” Ann said.

Anne jumped in. “I told my family about the Marianna debacle and they, likewise, are eager to thank you. My aunt and father will be circumspect. My sister will probably waste no time in saying she never liked Marianna. We might want to get up a betting pool on how long it will take her to say so.” 

Back to Crow Nest

Ann poured eggs into a skillet, added some cheddar, and when the eggs were ready, served them breakfast. Villanelle had had four pieces of toast by then so Ann had made enough eggs for four people. Villanelle noticed the disproportionate amount of eggs Ann gave her but said nothing. Ann said nothing. They ate in silence for a moment.

“I’m going riding in a bit. Would you like to come with?” Ann asked. “Anne is out for her morning walk and won’t be back for a while.”

Villanelle thought back to her training. Dasha had insisted she learn how to ride a horse. Drive a boat, ride a motorcycle, rappel down a building … any of those skills she’d acquired had been in service to the Twelve and she had no fondness for them.

“I have a lovely horse I think would be right for you,” Ann stopped herself. “Gosh, I should have asked if you’ve ever ridden. Excuse my thoughtlessness. It’s not everyone’s idea of fun.”

“I would enjoy riding with you,” Villanelle said, imagining how riding with Ann could be fun—how she could turn the idea of riding into something she liked for herself. “I will let Eve know, okay? She was still asleep when I came down. She and her mom were up late the night before we came talking.”

“You can ask her if she’d like to go,” Ann offered.

“I will ask. I do not know if Eve has ever ridden. One of those things we do not know about each other yet.”

“You’re about Elizabeth’s size. I’ll get some riding clothes from her. Between Anne and Elizabeth, we can probably find boots that’ll fit.”

An hour later

“How long have you and Eve been together?” Ann asked, as they saddled their horses.

“A few weeks when you first met us,” Villanelle answered.

“I would’ve thought it was longer,” Ann said.

“Why?”

Ann thought and said, “I should’ve asked: how long had you known each other?”

Villanelle laughed and said, “That is the better question. We have known each other for several years. It just took Eve a while to know I was the one. It also took me a while to know I could not have her if I was not willing to let her go.”

Back at the Crow Nest kitchen

“Coffee?” Elizabeth asked Eve.

“Yes, dear lord, please.”

Elizabeth laughed and handed Eve a mug.

“I’m going to acknowledge the elephant in the room and say thank you on behalf of my family,” Elizabeth said. “We agreed that the first one of us to be alone with either of you would offer our thanks and that would be it—just the one time.” She went on. “Don’t mistake that we’re not effusive for lack of gratitude. We are so grateful … when I think what might’ve happened if Ann had been at her apartment … I just can’t bring myself to go there. So, thank you …to both of you.”

Eve looked down at her mug. “How about you thank me by scrambling up some eggs and we’ll call it good?”

“That I can do.”

Just then, Ann’s niece and nephew came boiling into the kitchen. The stopped abruptly when they saw Eve and looked at their mother.

“This is one of Aunt Ann’s friends. We told you they were coming, remember?”

“Yes, mummy,” Elisabeth said.

Sackville remembered why they’d come to the kitchen. “I’m hungry.”

“Manners, both of you.” Elizabeth said, gently.

Both children went over to Eve. “I’m Elisabeth, with an “s”.” “I’m Sackville.” Both children stuck out their hands. Eve shook with Elisabeth first and then, Sackville.

“I’m Eve and I’m pleased to meet both of you. Very much.” The children climbed up on stools next to Eve and waited for their eggs—not the least put off by the fact she was a stranger.

“If you want juice, you know where it is,” Elizabeth said.

Sackville got down to get the pitcher from the refrigerator. “Would you like some?” he asked Eve.

Elizabeth closed her eyes in a moment of parental triumph.

“No, thank you,” Eve said. “What are you plans for today?” she asked. “Something fun?”

Elisabeth spoke up. “The Ann(e)s and mum are taking us to pick berries. Would you like to come?”

Eve’s child-uncertain heart melted a little. “I’ll have to ask …” she paused, looking at Elizabeth who gave her a look that said Come on, she just referred to her aunt and fiancée as the Ann(e)s. “my girlfriend. She’s out riding with your Aunt Ann.”

Sackville stopped jamming toast into his mouth to say, “If you come, we’ll pick more. Sometimes we, I mean me and Elisabeth, eat more than we pick.” 

He didn’t seem sheepish about that. “Then we’re going swimming in the pond. You could come for that, too. It’s fun.”

“Really fun,” Elisabeth added.

Eve wondered about Villanelle. They hadn’t talked about kids in any context. She’d protected her little brother in the only way that made sense—the only way open to her short of taking him with her. That was all she knew about Villanelle in relation to any child.

Wait … there was Irina, but that shed no light. Also, she’d slaughtered a baby’s mother, the nanny, and kidnapped the baby. Eve didn’t know what had prompted Villanelle to take the baby. Eve had never asked about that; Villanelle had never brought it up.

The kids had finished eating. They put their dishes in the dishwasher and then thundered out of the kitchen. Each weighed well under 100 pounds, but they sounded like a herd of wildebeests.

“We haven’t met your parents yet,” Eve said to Elizabeth.

“They’re at work. If you like, we can all have dinner tonight. I know they want to meet both of you.”     

A small dinner party with three people Villanelle knew and three she didn’t. With two children, she didn’t know.

“Do both of them work in the family business?” Eve realized Ann had never said anything about her mother’s work.

“Just my father. Mum worked as a hospital administrator for twenty or so years until she chucked that. She’s in charge of the local RSPCA branch—has been for six years.”

“Do they have dogs or cats?” Eve hadn’t seen any signs of animals in the house.

“Mum has a shelter dog who goes everywhere with her and I mean everywhere. You’ll meet him tonight.”

“What time is berry picking?” Eve asked.

“After lunch … whenever. We’re just going over to Anne’s. This time of the summer, it’s raspberries. A little harder for the kids to pick, but they’re my favorite and my sister’s, too.”

“I’m going to grab a shower. Maybe the equestriennes will be back by then. Thanks for breakfast.”

In the raspberries at Shibden

Villanelle had never picked a single thing to eat in her life. Eve had, mostly blueberries—there were actual bushes in their garden in Connecticut. At first, Villanelle was aghast when she realized everyone was eating and picking, rather than just picking. Eve popped a very sweet berry into her mouth, though, and she gave in to temptation of eating and picking.

Elisabeth ended up nearest Villanelle. “Did you like riding with my aunt?” she asked. “Which horse did you ride? Where did you go? Will you come to the pond with us? How long are you staying?”

Villanelle took a deep breath. This child was related to Ann. Ann loved her. I can do this.

“Riding was fun. The horse’s name was Bonnie. I am not sure where we rode, but some of it was in the forest. I am coming to the pond. I think we are staying through the weekend.”

 Villanelle drew a breath. “Do you have a favorite horse?”

Eve raised an internal eyebrow.

The two continued to talk; Elisabeth chattering and Villanelle, less vocal, but keeping up her end of the conversation.

They piled into Elizabeth’s Range Rover for the drive back to Crow Nest. Ann and Elizabeth pulled together some snacks and drinks, loading the cooler that had wheels on it. Sackville insisted he was big enough to drag the cooler and did so for a while, until Villanelle, who was walking with him, said, “Can I take over for a few minutes?”

He dropped the cooler’s handle like it was on fire and said, “If you want to.”

Don’t make a big deal out of this, Eve thought. For god’s sake, don’t ask her about the baby in Spain just because they were spending time with children.   

It wasn’t like Villanelle could go to therapy. No therapist could or would maintain a therapeutic relationship with someone who had killed so many people for hire. Eve shook this off. Live in the moment.

Villanelle had agreed to berry picking and swimming with trepidation. Just as she’d started uni and made friends with trepidation. She wasn’t sure what “being herself” in this regular world meant. She’d whispered to Eve that she’d killed so many people and Eve had not judged her. But she hadn’t said those words to Eve with glee. She had wanted to stop killing, be somebody else. Who could she be if given the chance? She’d tossed off the idea of interior designer as an alternative career path as if it wasn’t all that different than being an assassin, and Eve had taken that feigned nonchalance at face value, but Villanelle knew she herself didn’t feel nonchalant and Eve knew it, too, especially when she’d whispered in Eve’s ear while they were dancing, and Eve had said I know.

She remembered what Eve said about living in the regular world. Just do your best. If you have a chance, think it over before you do something or say something. Then, just do your best. Never forget I love you how you are, or whoever you become. People don’t stay the same. They change and you control how or if you change.

It was getting easier. She didn’t have to think so hard before saying or doing anything.

“Can you swim across the pond?” she asked Sackville.

“Yes, I can now. I couldn’t last summer,” he said proudly. “Elisabeth can’t yet. She’s too small.”

 They could see the pond now. Villanelle asked him, “I am tired. Can you take this the rest of the way?” She nodded her head toward the cooler.

Sackville took over, his pride restored.

Eve was walking with Anne. Anne noticed Eve watching Villanelle. “The changes in her are small, but not insignificant. She’s lighter.”

Eve nodded.

“The thing at Ann’s apartment didn’t … “Anne searched for the right descriptor.

“No, it didn’t. I was worried it might. She could talk about it. It had to be done for our sake and my mom’s. If we hadn’t gotten on the lift or he’d gotten through us, he would’ve gotten to the apartment and if my mom had opened the door  …” Eve trailed off.

“Didn’t happen,” Anne noted. “Wrap that up and put it away—don’t waste another moment on the bad stuff that didn’t happen. It steals from the good stuff happening right now. Like your girlfriend taking off her cover up …” Anne said slyly as Eve looked in Villanelle’s direction as she took off her oversized T-shirt and then, “raced” Sackville to the pond.

Eve swatted Anne’s upper arm lightly. “What?” Anne protested. “If you look at Ann and her sister, you’ll see we’re not the only ones watching.” She looked at Eve directly. “You, of all people, shouldn’t blame us. Besides, it’s not just what she looks like on the outside which, by the way, is … well, you know. It’s that it’s her. I love being around her.”

An hour later, everyone but Eve and Sackville had flopped down on blankets. Eve had just taught Sackville the backstroke. They were swimming toward the bank; Eve was ahead of Sackville by a stroke. Her feet found the bottom and she took two steps. She turned around to see Sackville slip under the surface. She turned around and dove in. The pond was murky, but she could see his skinny leg had gotten hung up on a lily pad stem. He didn’t have enough strength to free himself.  Eve yanked the stem away and pushed him to the surface.

Eve shot up next to him, grabbing him in a classic lifesaving grip. He spat out some water and they looked at each other. Eve chose a deliberately no-big-deal approach as she held onto him and treaded water. “The thing is … don’t ever panic. It’s scary, but I know you could’ve gotten yourself free, right? I know you could have.” Eve’s voice was the soul of confidence. Sackville’s fear hadn’t quite dissipated, but he was moving toward being okay.

“Don’t tell mum,” he said, of course.

“We need to let her know this happened so that Elisabeth can learn how to get free, too. You guys have this great pond, you should swim in it, but you both need to be safe. Especially Elisabeth. She’s still small.”

Elizabeth hadn’t noticed, but Anne had. Although she was proud of her quick reflexes, it had happened too quickly and then it was over. She didn’t have time to get to her feet, even. She could see Eve was speaking to Sackville as she held him and he seemed to be alright.

“When should we tell her?” Sackville asked.

“When we get back, have a snack, and a drink. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“Swim ahead of me,” Eve said and let him go.

A moment later he scrambled up the bank and ran to the cooler. Eve followed, stood on the bank, with her face to the pond, took a deep breath and shook her head slightly.

When she turned, she saw Anne’s eyes and knew she’d seen. She raised her eyebrows slightly and closed her eyes briefly to acknowledge the bullet dodged. Elisabeth was napping next to her mom. Sackville sat down near his mother. Eve nodded to Anne, indicating Elisabeth. Anne came over and scooped her up. Eve sat down near Sackville and spoke to Elizabeth in a low voice.

Villanelle came over to Anne who’d deposited Elisabeth on a blanket next to a napping Ann. “Eve was a lifeguard at the YMCA. She knew what to do.”

“You saw that?”

Villanelle nodded.

“I didn’t have time to even get up and it was over.”

“Bad things that are over quickly … that is good, isn’t it?” Villanelle observed.

“Ann and I are their godparents.”

“What is a godparent?” Villanelle asked, in response to this seeming non sequitur.

“If something happens to a child’s parents, you agree to take the children and raise them as if they were your own. To love them as if they were your own. They become your own.”

Anne went on. “Ann was always their godmother. About a year ago, Elizabeth and George, their father, asked me if I would be the second godmother.”

Both of them were watching Eve, Elizabeth, and Sackville. He was still young enough that when Elizabeth drew him to her, he allowed it, even snuggling her back. Elizabeth nodded and touched Eve’s arm, squeezing a little, and kissed Sackville’s head. Eve came over to Villanelle and Anne.

“They are okay?” Villanelle asked.

“Yes.”

Anne’s eyes were wet with unshed tears. She embraced Eve.

“What happened, exactly?” Anne said as she drew back.

“His leg got tangled up on a lily pad stem. He wasn’t strong enough to break free. We’re going to have a lesson on holding your breath under water and not giving in to panic tomorrow. Little Elisabeth, too. This pond is great. The kids should be able to enjoy it safely.”

Villanelle asked, “Would it be okay if we went back to the house? I am tired (she wasn’t) and could use a shower.”

“Of course,” Anne replied. “Dinner is at 6:30.”

“How did you know?” Eve asked as soon as they were out of earshot. “How did you know I wanted to go?”

That was stressful. You made it seem like it was not. Was it because of the boy?”

“I wanted to go. I need to … get this feeling out of my chest … the what if.”

“Maybe I can help …”

“I’m sure you can.”

“Before dinner?” Villanelle asked.

“Before, during, and after.”

“During? Eve …” Villanelle gave her that look that said so naughty.

“By reminding me of the before and after just by being there.”

“Ann was smart to put us in a room at the far end of that hall.”

“Yes, she was,” Eve agreed.

Chapter Text

Eve woke up first, looked at her phone—it was 5:37. She kissed Villanelle awake. To Eve’s surprise, taking her mind off the what if pond incident had involved her fucking Villanelle. She had thought it would be the other way around, but burying herself in Villanelle literally and figuratively, was what she wanted when they fell into bed. Villanelle had been surprised, too, but happily so. “I am not saying “no” to your worshipping me,” she’d said, “after all, who could blame you?” Villanelle drifted off after her second orgasm. Eve had laid on her side, facing Villanelle who fell asleep facing Eve. Eve had stopped fighting off the gooeyness she felt after sex, especially sex when Villanelle had been the one in Eve’s hands. She’s with me when she’s with me.

Villanelle propped her head up with her left hand and eyed Eve. Eve asked, “I’m going down, okay?” Villanelle nodded. “Go ahead. I will take a quick shower and come down.”

Eve could hear people in the kitchen but was distracted by something she saw in what she supposed was the drawing room. There was a beautiful Cavendish grand piano there. Eve lifted up the seat of the piano bench, sorted through some music, and sat down. 

In the kitchen, Ann and Anne heard the music. Dinner was in the oven, the salad was nearly ready—Ann looked at Elizabeth who said, “Go.”

Villanelle heard music as she came downstairs and went toward it. The Ann(e)s were dancing slowly in the middle of the room.

How did I not know Eve could do this? Villanelle closed her mouth; she realized her jaw had dropped when she saw Eve playing. The song came to an end. The Ann(e)s applauded softly. Eve looked up, saw Villanelle, rearranged some music, and began the introductory chords to a different song. With her eyes on Villanelle, she started singing. Eve is singing! I think she is singing to me.

Villanelle didn’t remember how she got across the room to stand next to the piano. She didn’t notice the Ann(e)s leave the room, although they stayed right outside in the foyer, continuing their dance.

Eve’s singing was killing Villanelle, in a good way, maybe the best way. By the end, she had teared up. Eve got up and came to her, brushed the tears aside, and kissed her.

After too short a time, Elisabeth came running in. “Dinner!” she called and ran out again. Villanelle’s face stayed buried in Eve’s shoulder for another moment.

We are getting a piano both of them thought. Eve also thought—we have the money. We’re getting a fucking Steinway.

The Ann(e)s waited for Eve and Villanelle outside the drawing room. “We’re eating on the patio,” Ann said. “I’ll introduce you to my parents. George isn’t arriving until after dinner, so you’ll be spared him tonight,” she said.

Ann went on, “Anne told me about Sackville and the pond. Elizabeth isn’t going to tell our parents, I think, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that she doesn’t want to be judged by either of them. Having been on the receiving end of their judgment, I fully support her decision.”

They went out to the patio, introductions were made, dinner was eaten, and no one was the worse for wear.

After dinner, Anne asked, “You want to get out of here and have some fun? There’s a drag bar in Leeds that’s a hoot. We can dance and catch the show.”

“Abso-fucking-lutely,” Eve said. Villanelle semi-gaped at her.

An hour and two gin and tonics later (for Eve), she was dancing with Villanelle. They were sweaty and couldn’t hear themselves think—the music was that loud. Ann and Anne were wrapped around each other in a booth. Villanelle saw them get up and half stumble to the ladies. Naughty she thought.

They danced to one song after another. The music slowed. They looked at each other and grinned—somewhere between a stupid grin and an ironic, knowing grin. It took a clumsy moment to fit themselves together, but no feet were stepped on. Eve may not have wanted to be like those couples in the ballroom—they look happy … carefree—but in their own way, Eve realized they were now. And she realized Villanelle’s question wasn’t a question: it was a statement hoping for affirmation.

“We’re not going to consume each other before we get old,” she said into Villanelle’s ear, as gently as she could, to negate the too-harsh remark from the last time they danced. She knew better then, but couldn’t bring herself to admit it, always pushing away that which she would later accept, at the last possible moment, and for which she would thank the lord or whatever, for the rest of her life for that moment of clarity. Turn around, go back to her, don’t let her go again.

She shuddered slightly in Villanelle’s arms at The Bridge what if—a what if as terrible as today’s what if—both of them tallied up in the Averted column. She reached up and cupped Villanelle’s cheek. “God, I love you,” Eve said. Villanelle sighed, kissed Eve’s lips, and turned her face into Eve’s palm and kissed it, too.

Ann and Anne were dancing, too. As the music picked up again, Eve and Villanelle made their way to the booth. Anne offered her hand to Ann and they began dancing to Too Busy Thinking About My Baby.

“They are good,” Villanelle said. When Anne picked Ann up in a hip lift and did a 360, all in time to the music and both looking very sexy, as well, Eve said, “really good.” As if by some silent agreement, other people on the dance floor faded off—everyone was watching Ann and Anne. Eve and Villanelle could see that their hosts hadn’t really noticed they were alone. “Happy and carefree looks nice on them,” Eve said. Villanelle put her head against Eve’s shoulder. “On us, too,” she said so softly that Eve almost didn’t hear. “Us, too,” Eve agreed, reaching for Villanelle’s hand, bringing it to her lips and kissing the top of it.

The next morning

Both couples came into the kitchen about the same time. Ann was the more hungover so Anne  made brunch. It was just too late to legitimately call their meal “breakfast.” Eve, too, was hungover so Villanelle was Anne’s sous chef. Ann and Eve nursed their coffee and tea, respectively, until plates of waffles, bacon, and scrambled eggs appeared in front of them. Suddenly stirred to life, both women attacked their food. Villanelle and Anne grinned at each other and dug in as well.

Aside from requests to pass the preserves or the syrup not much was said at first.

Eve was the first to feel restored. “I had a blast last night.”

“Me, too,” Villanelle’s mouth was stuffed with waffle, so she mumbled. “You guys are great dancers,” she added.

“Ann asked me to learn,” Anne said. “I certainly needed lessons. Ann—not so much.”

“I was strongly encouraged to take lessons as a teen,” Ann grimaced. “Had to dance with … boys,” she shuddered. “But the first time I danced with Anne, I knew my lessons hadn’t been for naught. So ….”

“Speaking of lessons,” Anne said. “Eve, you’re amazing on the piano.”

“I haven’t played in years. The last time I played much was in college. I was in a cover band.” Eve looked both sheepish and proud, if that was possible. “Don’t tell my mother. She doesn’t know I squandered those lessons playing Fleetwood Mac covers in bars.”

Villanelle said nothing—staring at Eve with undisguised amazement. Who is this woman I’m with?

“Anne has a lovely voice,” Ann said. “I want to hear you duet with her on … You Make Loving Fun. I want it sung properly. I won’t take no for an answer.”

Anne and Eve groaned. Villanelle was torn. On one hand, when Eve sang to her, it was … great. But Anne and Eve appeared tormented, which was bad, right? But fun, too, right?

“We should all sing together,” Villanelle blurted out.

“You’re right,” Ann said. “We should. Nobody gets put on the spot if we’re all on the spot. Anne can attest that I can’t carry a tune, right darling?”

Anne hesitated. She’d heard Ann sing along in the car often enough to know that Ann was telling the truth. Her voice wasn’t dreadful, though, just not …

“You can carry a tune, sweetheart … “ she offered, weakly.

It’s alright, love, you can tell the truth,” Ann laughed.

“Doesn’t matter,” Eve said. “We’ll just have fun. Let me get the music from the piano bench and we’ll pick something.”

“There’s music elsewhere, too,” Ann said. “I’ll show you.”

Eve and Ann returned to the kitchen with a couple of armfuls of music. Villanelle noticed a binder of Elton John songs. She leafed through it, half paying attention to the songs being lobbied for by the other three.

Later that night

The four of them put on a show for the Walker family. After rousing interpretations of the Beatles, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and some Fleetwood Mac, Elizabeth and George had taken the children off to bed and the Walker parents had retired, too. Eve thought the night was over. She got up from the piano and stretched. When she stepped away, her back to the piano, Ann sat down. When Eve turned around, Villanelle was standing near the piano. Ann began to play. Anne tugged Eve down onto a sofa.

When Villanelle sang the lyric, I thank the Lord there’s people out there like you Eve’s heart should have burst. Really, she thought later. How it kept beating was anyone’s guess.

Chapter Text

Anne woke up first. She almost always did. Her first thought was:  this is our wedding day. This time tomorrow, I’ll be married. The ring on my right hand will be on my left. Ann will be wearing the ring I’m giving her. Ann slept next to her, unaware of the feelings roiling her soon-to-be wife. Anne took a deep breath and closed her eyes. When she opened them again, Ann regarded her with sleepy eyes.

“Jitters?” she asked softly.

“Not a one,” Anne replied. “I want to be married to you more than anything I’ve ever wanted. I am, however, a bit riled up with anticipation.”

Ann lifted the covers and moved on top of Anne, with her lips on Anne’s neck. “I’m going to show you how much I want to be your wife.”

“Ann,” Anne breathed when Ann’s fingers found her clit. “Oh, Ann.”

Eve and Villanelle’s room

Eve stirred under Villanelle’s right arm. Villanelle tightened her hold a bit in response. Eve’s ass tried to burrow into Villanelle.

Eve,” Villanelle warned. “I cannot go back to sleep if you do that.”

Eve doubled down—her ass somehow got closer to Villanelle’s pelvis. Villanelle right hand went under Eve’s very old Joan Jett T-Shirt and found Eve’s nipples. She nipped Eve’s ear and sucked gently on her neck. Eve groaned and turned toward Villanelle whose hand went below the waist band of Eve’s pajama bottoms, as she pulled up the T-shirt and sucked on Eve’s nipples. Villanelle made a show of running her tongue around Eve’s nipples with that look on her face—one that drove Eve wild every time, no matter how many times she saw it.

“So ready,” Villanelle whispered as she eased three fingers into Eve. “So ready, so hot,” she went on, her voice now low and rough in Eve’s ear. “I love fucking you, Eve, you have no idea how much.” Eve groaned again when Villanelle twisted her fingers. “Can you squirt for me this morning, Eve? Come in my hand?” Eve drew her knees back and opened her legs.

Oh, Eve. What you do to me.”

Villanelle kept her fingers slow, but deep and twisting. She felt Eve tense beneath her.

“That’s it, Eve. Give it to me.” She reached between Eve’s legs with her other hand and milked Eve’s clit, tugging on it with her thumb and middle finger. “You’re so close, Eve. You’re so hard, so swollen. Give it to me.” Eve came—drenching Villanelle’s hand.

Ann and Anne’s room

Ann finished bucking the harness around Anne. “Is it terribly depraved of me to want to feel you all day—our wedding day?” she asked. “Whenever I move, I’ll feel what we did this morning … how you fucked me so hard. How you had to cover my mouth so no one could hear me.”

“Is it terribly depraved for me to want you like this—on our wedding day?’ Ann was on her  knees with her hands gripping the headboard, looking over her shoulder at Anne whose jaw was set and eyes were fixed on Ann’s luscious ass. Anne gripped Ann’s waist firmly.

“It’s not depraved, darling. It’s divine,” Anne stated the obvious, but not in a professorial tone—not at all. “I love fucking you, you love me fucking you,” Anne’s voice had dropped even lower. “Which,” she said as she entered Ann, “is exactly what I’m going to do—I’m going to fuck you, Ann.” 

 

Crow Nest Kitchen … later

Elizabeth surveyed the two couples eating breakfast. There was something about them … the conversation was normal; there was some laughter.

Shit, she thought. They’ve just been shagging. That was it. She had some memory of that …. She looked at her watch.

Caterers weren’t due for 3 hours, guests for another 5 hours. She looked at her children’s godparents. Was it fair to do this to them … today? Fuck it.

“Ann?” she said. Both of them turned toward her. “Just my sister,” she clarified. “A word?”

That was how Ann and Anne came to be in charge of Elisabeth and Sackville (the four went riding—and again, Ann thanked whom ever invented padded riding underwear), George cancelled his tee time, and no one saw the children’s parents until just before the caterers arrived.

Late that afternoon

The party was well underway. All the guests had arrived and were happily eating and drinking. Eve and Villanelle were chatting with Catherine. At one point, Elisabeth ran over and threw herself into Villanelle’s lap. “Will you be singing later?” she demanded an answer. Eve answered, “Absolutely, she’ll be singing.” Satisfied, Elisabeth ran off. Villanelle shook herself slightly. Eve grinned at her. “Your biggest fan?” she asked. “What will you sing for her? Better be something special.” Eve paused. “She might remember it … forever. No pressure.”

Villanelle thought for a moment and did something that she later realized was … unusual for her. She sought out Elizabeth.

“Elizabeth?”

Ann’s sister turned away from the conversation she was having … “Oh, hello … “ she trailed off. Villanelle’s face was serious. What was going on?

“What is your daughter’s favorite song?”

Elizabeth laughed, with some relief. “I wish I could tell you it was anything other than what it is. Every new Disney movie that comes out … I hope there will be a song that replaces it. But, no … not yet. It’s Let It Go from Frozen. It’s also her favorite movie. So, no pressure,” she added.

Villanelle made her way back to Eve. “It’s Let It Go.”

Eve and Catherine looked perplexed. Villanelle elaborated. “Little Elisabeth’s favorite song is Let It Go … from Frozen.”

They both laughed. “I appreciate your commitment to an 8-year old’s happiness, babe,” Eve said.

“Me, too,” Catherine added. “You up to the challenge? Everybody and their mother has sung that song. Of course, you’re also up against the original Elsa—Idina Menzel.”

Villanelle scoffed. “I will kill it,” she declared.

Catherine snorted and said, “Just not like you usually do, okay?”

Eve looked at her, trying to decide between being semi-appalled and laughing out loud.

“Too soon?” Catherine asked.

Villanelle grinned. It was good to have a friend like Catherine—she looked normal, but underneath … there was someone else. Except, maybe there weren’t two Catherines. Maybe there was one Catherine with different sides … many sides. Villanelle considered Eve—who had many facets—all of them adding up to Eve.

At that moment, they heard forks clinking against glasses—Ann and Anne stood up at their table.

“Thank you all for coming to our summer party,” Ann said, when everyone quieted down.

“We’d like you to hang about for karaoke later,” Anne said.

“We also have what we hope will be a nice surprise …” Ann said.

“This party is about to turn into a wedding,” Anne announced. “Ann asked me to marry her, I said yes of course, and we’re about to make honest women of each other.”

“So, please move closer and the matrimonial part of this party will get started,” Ann added.

 The vows

“It has always been you. My heart has been yours since I was sixteen years old. I promise you your heart will always be safe with me and that I will do everything I can to shelter you from life’s hardships and celebrate its joys with you. It has always been you, Anne, and it always will be.”

Ann slipped the ring off she’d given Anne and placed it on Anne’s left ring finger.

Ann said. “You are the love of my life. With this ring, I thee wed.”

Now it was Anne’s turn.

“My heart found its home with you, just as your heart always has a home with me. I am forever grateful that we found each other. I promise that your heart will always be safe with me and that I will do everything I can to shelter you from life’s hardships and celebrate its joys with you. It will always be you, Ann.”

Anne turned to Marian who handed her the ring. Anne said, “You are the love of my life. With this ring, I thee wed.”

Anne slipped the ring on Ann’s left ring finger. Ann’s eyes widened when she saw the ring. She had imagined—okay, she knew—Anne would give her a ring but seeing it … she caught her breath. Anne grinned. That was the reaction she’d been hoping for.

Elizabeth spoke up.

“You have given each other rings as a symbol of your lifelong commitment to each other and spoken your vows. I know I speak for all of us … you are both wonderful people and we celebrate this happy day with you. You are now married.”

Ann raised Anne’s hand to her lips and kissed it softly. Anne did the same, in turn.

The guests erupted in applause. Eve whistled with her thumb and forefinger. Villanelle added that skill to Eve’s list of unexpected competencies.

When things quieted down, Villanelle asked Catherine, “Did you know?”

Eve added, “Cause we didn’t and we’ve been here for days. Those guys are good.”

Catherine said, “No clue.”

Ann and Anne were making the rounds, chatting with everyone at their tables.

“You surprised me. That is hard to do.” Villanelle announced matter-of-factly when Ann and Anne sat down at their table.

Ann snorted. “I imagine it is—hard to surprise you. I’m glad we pulled it off.”

Eve gave Villanelle an amused side-eye. “A lovely surprise,” she observed.

“You know,” Ann went on, “you two are somewhat responsible for this in a je ne sais quoi kind of way.”

“That’s us … “ Eve snickered. “Just two Cupids hanging about.”

Anne lowered her voice. “If Cupid’s arrows were tipped in poison so as to dispatch any interlopers in the way of love’s truth path.”

Ann swatted Anne gently on the arm. Eve and Villanelle burst out laughing, as did Catherine—who laughed loudest, Villanelle noted.