Chapter 1: Can You Not See, I Am Drowning
When comparing all the daydreams and fantasies Eve Polastri has ever had about the lethal woman who used to be called Oksana Astankova, the one in which they're alone on a raft, in the middle of a still and silent lake, is by far her favourite. There have been hundreds of daydreams, of course, ranging from food fights and Christmas Day to slit throats and broken legs, but this one is the only one where she feels like she's getting what she needs the most; a window into the mystery that is Oksana.
They're surrounded by fog, no shore in sight. The water is turquoise and clear. It's just the two of them, face to face, in a place where no interruptions exist. Here, Oksana speaks to her. She tells her everything Eve has ever dreamt of finding out. She's completely peaceful, no threat to anyone, no threat to Eve. She shares her secrets and her truths with enthusiasm, and Eve listens like a child being told an exhilarating bedtime story. And most importantly, she has Oksana's complete attention, without fear.
In reality, there's neither fog nor lakes, neither stillness nor trust, no place where time isn't always running out a little too quickly. In reality, Oksana dodges almost every question Eve asks. In reality, Oksana uses Eve, while Eve pretends she's using Oksana.
In reality, it's October, they're at the Hilton Olympia in Kensington, and Oksana is currently in the shower. Eve is sitting on the edge of the plush bed in Oksana's ridiculously expensive and tastelessly decorated hotel room, fully clothed and limbs itching because she knows Oksana has just murdered someone, but can't bring herself to ask, to tell her that she gets it, gets what Oksana's doing.
When they meet, it's all about timing; if Oksana's target is someone guarded, someone important, they fuck before she kills, as if she's wiring herself for what's to come. When her target is someone under less security, someone whose kill can't take that much time planning (or be that financially rewarding), she takes care of it, and wants to see Eve right after, perhaps to have, as Oksana likes to call it, fun.
Perhaps to dominate and control her, because the kill itself wasn't thrilling enough.
And that's where they are now; post-assassination, one scrubbing her skin clean, the other nearly scratching her skin raw.
They've been meeting like this since late May, and Eve hasn't told Oksana that she's figured out what Oksana's modus operandi is; she worries it would change this... whatever this is, whatever they're doing, because it's not an affair, and it's certainly not healthy, and asking Oksana to label any of it would be blatant suicide: Oksana being transparent about some things doesn't mean she wants them pointed out to her. She probably wants to feel like she's acting on instinct, even if all of it is just one pattern repeating itself every few weeks. Eve is fairly certain about this. After all, she's been studying Oksana for months now.
Suddenly, Eve realizes she can't hear the shower running anymore. It's only a minute or two before Oksana opens the door to the bathroom and enters the suite, wearing a beautiful terry-cloth bathrobe, hair wet but clearly combed through. It's slick on her head, and much darker when wet. It highlights the structure of her face. She stops, as if to take in what she's seeing in her room.
"You're here", she says, sounding almost surprised.
"Well, yeah. Obviously." Eve bites her tongue; she doesn't want to sound so frustrated. She hasn't seen Oksana in nearly a month, but every day, she's spoken to her in her head, painting a moving picture of how this meeting would go; the things she'd ask, if she didn't lack the courage.
They're off to a bad start, and she clears her throat. "I, um, picked up the key downstairs. I know I'm early, well, a lot early. I'm sorry." She'd wanted to see if she could gauge a reaction out of Oksana by deviating from their pattern.
"It's fine", Oksana says, dismissing the matter of Eve just showing up without knocking. She walks over to the minibar, crouches down to go through its contents, seems to settle on a bottle of Veuve Cliquot. She pops it open, like she's opened a thousand bottles in her life. Eve remembers a cold day long ago, in Paris; strong wind, high ceilings, a fridge full of bottles, a floor covered in wasted champagne.
"Are you celebrating something?" Eve wants to give Oksana the chance to tell her what she's done, to give her the steering wheel and make her lead this conversation where she must know Eve wants it to go.
"I am always celebrating something." She gulps the Cliquot down straight out of the bottle, some of it running down onto her robe. She makes a sound, an ah, like it's the best thing she's tasted in a long time. "It's a beautiful night. That is worth some good champagne."
The irony, but it is a gorgeous night in London. "It's always a beautiful night for you."
"Almost never in this shit city, what's up with the rain? It is so boring. I bet you never have nights like this one. I don't understand how you could move here in the first place."
A pang of guilt. "I met Niko." And that's really all there is to it: Love, and promises of commitment, in sickness and in health. If Eve had to guess, what she's doing right now would fit best with the sickness-part of their vows.
"A-ha." Villanelle takes a sip, doesn't offer Eve any, doesn't even look at her. She looks out the window instead, onto Kensington High Street and its double-deckers. "And how is he?"
Eve doesn't want to talk about this; if they don't talk about Niko, she can pretend that they're in an alternate dimension, a space where what she's doing isn't adultery, isn't twisted and insane, not to mention wrong. She can pretend that he isn't at home, waiting for her, as long as Oksana and her don't go there. "Please, don't do that."
"No, you're right", Oksana says straight away and makes a face. "I don't even care."
Eve suspects that isn't completely true, but decides to let it go, for her own sake. Oksana still isn't looking at her, and Eve studies her profile; the street lights on her pale skin, her face stripped bare of any cosmetics. She looks so young, and Eve feels so old. So old to be doing this. Too old to keep up with her, and wanting it anyway. She's scared she will want it until the day her bones start aching - if Oksana lives that long.
Because she might not. If someone like Eve could get to her, there's no telling what someone else might be capable of.
She decides to change the subject. She picks up Oksana's passport, opens it to look at its contents. There's probably more of them lying around somewhere. In the photo, Oksana's hair is dark brown, and her face is more hollow, more starved somehow. Greta Müller, the name reads. Her birth year is the same as her real one. "So you're German now?"
"Oh, I could be", Oksana replies, and winks at her. It makes Eve feel lighter, and some of the tension finally flows away. It's nice to pretend that this is just a young woman, glowing from her shower, tired from a long day at work. All of that is somewhat true, as long as Eve doesn't think about the work-part for more than a second.
"The German language is properly aggressive", Oksana continues. "I feel like it fits in my mouth really well."
Eve nods in agreement, and tries not to think about Berlin or the shame that constantly threatens to knock on the door of her mind. She tries to think about the lake and its smooth surface underneath their raft. She could make this bed into a raft. She could, if only Oksana would let her. But Oksana wants different things, and smooth has nothing to do with it.
Eve closes her eyes. There's so much she needs to know, so much she wants to understand and learn, and it makes her rib cage fill with both butterflies and cockroaches because she'd be happier if she knew, more complete. She really would be, but then, how would she feel about everything else in life, knowing life created something so deadly inside of someone so alluring and beautiful?
It's the only thing stopping her from letting it all out, so instead, she says: "Tell me something."
Oksana's face goes blank. "What?"
Eve tries to work out what she can say without ruining this. "Tell me something about yourself. Your day, or you life. Tell me something, even if you think it doesn't matter." Another bit of ice cracks inside of her chest. She can do this. She's brave enough for this, this one small wish. "Please", she adds, hopeful.
Oksana turns to her fully, a contemplative look in her eyes. She's too, no doubt, calculating the possible outcomes, were she to actually give Eve something. But Eve waits, gives her all the time she needs. The soft lighting in the room makes Oksana's eyes glisten. She rolls them and puts the bottle down. "You know most people think in their native tongue?"
Eve frowns. Yes, she'd read that somewhere. She thinks in English, so she nods.
Oksana purses her lips. "I dream in different languages. Apparently, it's rare." Then she waits, and her eyes are narrow, alert, like she expects Eve to make a big thing out of this small piece of information.
But it isn't small. It's a significant dent in her armor, a small step towards what lies underneath her cold, hard exterior.
Do you dream about me? Eve wants to ask, wants to ask what she sounds like in Oksana's dreams, if she ever sees Eve in them. She wants to ask if they're ever together, surrounded by water. "That's... exceptional." It's also no surprise; nothing about this woman is ordinary.
"What do you dream about?" As soon as it's out of Eve's mouth, she knows she's crossed a line, and judging by the look on Oksana's face, she agrees. It's closed, like a shield, blocking out this intruder whom she'd invited to her hotel room.
"I'm not in the mood for idle conversation, Eve. If I wanted to have tea and discuss the meaning of life, I would have asked someone else." She comes closer, stops a few feet in front of Eve, who hates how the thought of someone else makes her stomach churn, wind itself up into a knot and climb up to her throat.
Oksana walks around the bed, out of Eve's line of sight, stalking her, and then there's a slight dip. Oksana is climbing onto the bed, crawling towards Eve's back, sneaking up on her like she intends to startle her. But when her hands finally reach their destination, there's no sudden slap, no harshness. They caress Eve's clothed shoulders slowly, go through her open hair, scraping her scalp, and Eve's pulse quickens just a little bit.
A little bit turns into a lot when she hears Oksana open the tie of her robe, then push the whole thing down her shoulders. There's warmth and softness against Eve's back, and she closes her eyes. She imagines a rough brushstroke; Oksana's scar against her clothed spine.
But shutting her eyes doesn't shut out Oksana's scent, and her scent is everywhere. It creeps into Eve's nostrils, buzzes around in her brain and god, she hates them both so much, hates herself for needing Oksana, hates Oksana for giving her what she needs.
There's no rehab for women who have become addicted to a person. There's no support group for people with this level of obsession. She's all alone with her dirty fixation, and Oksana can't even see it for what it is, for how it hurts. Instead, she purely enjoys it, playing Eve like a violin; childishly, not afraid to cut the strings.
"Do you have any idea what I'm going to do to you?" Oksana whispers into her ear. It's low and challenging, like Eve should be afraid of what's to come.
Eve opens her eyes when goosebumps erupt on her skin. That voice. She wants to tear Oksana's mouth open, reach down her throat, rip out her vocal cords for what they're capable of doing to her body. Her own voice fails her, so she slowly reaches into her bag to pull out a delicate knife wrapped in a purple towel. She puts it on the pillow next to her hip, and sees Oksana's hand reach for it.
Oksana bursts out laughing. The sound rings in Eve's ears, makes her feel humiliated. "Wow." She pauses to throw the towel onto the floor. "It's been a while since there was me, you, and a knife in bed. I'm going to enjoy this."
Shut up, Eve wants to scream, because she can't deal with this, Oksana making fun of something that is in no way fun for her. It's exhausting and dangerous and absurd and depraved and god forbid, she needs it. She breathes quickly, and reaches up to tie her hair into a bun so that it doesn't get in the way. "Don't cut me."
Right away, the blade of the knife is against her throat.
"You don't tell me what to do." It comes out as a low murmur against her ear. Oksana stresses the weight of her words with a wet lick to Eve's neck, and then she moves the weapon away.
Eve's skin tingles where the knife had touched her, and from behind her, Oksana begins stripping her of her clothes, chuckling darkly in her ear.
Eve wonders what Oksana had used when she'd killed someone just an hour or two earlier. It could have been a knife. It could have been strangulation. Suddenly, she's relieved Oksana had taken a shower, relieved that no trace of the kill will stick to her skin.
Oksana reaches around Eve's front and unbuttons her slacks, but doesn't slip her hand inside and Eve wants to groan, but she can't; she always puts up a little bit of a fight, as if to tell Oksana that she still has some control, that she's choosing this instead of surrendering, even with both of them knowing that Oksana doesn't share control. With anyone.
"Tell me how much you want me", she breathes into Eve's ear, sounding mischievous, but Eve knows she's serious. Oksana doesn't joke around when it comes to her true ego, and Eve knows not to hurt her where it counts, knows she wants to feel like the center of Eve's universe, wants to break her down, strip her of her defenses, possess her.
But a simple and true "so, so much" can't seem to make its way out of her mouth, so she grabs Oksana's right hand and shoves it into her slacks. There's a hum of genuine satisfaction from behind her, and she blushes at the wetness Oksana's fingers start playing with, blushes at how quickly she'd succumbed, this time.
Eve knows how this will go. She's practiced it in her head so many times, while at work, staring at a computer screen; Oksana will have her fun with Eve, and Eve will try to fight her, but fail, in the end. When that's over, Oksana will take her own pleasure from Eve, then disappear until the next time she gets ordered to kill someone in England.
And Eve will go home and pretend that this isn't eating her up every minute of every day. She will crawl into bed, next to her husband, and wonder if these meetings with Oksana are happening simply because she doesn't love him as much as she thinks she does.
Oksana pulls Eve backwards, onto the bed. She keeps her eyes open, gazing at the naked, treacherous creature above her, at the knife. No matter what her mind keeps screaming at her, she will let Oksana play with her body in every way she wants, with a weapon that, ultimately, is the solid reason behind this arrangement.
Like a tiger, Oksana starts moving, starts devouring Eve like she hasn't had a meal in a week, and Eve tries to wriggle away from her hungry mouth, tries to bring her hands to shove her away, but she can't.
Instead, she lifts her arms to her face, to block out the light from above them. If only she could block out everything else too, and in her mind, turn this bed into a raft of silk sheets.
If she concentrates, she can feel the bed rolling. But instead of being surrounded by fog, in her smooth, silent lake, with a kind and honest Oksana, she's alone on her raft, in a dark storm threatening to tip her over.
Chapter 2: This Garden Was Not Sown For You
Eve's home office has remained the same. It's scattered with notebooks, nopepads, novels, psychological research, cognitive behavioral trials, an enormous amount of photos. In this house, it's the only true safe space she has. She can get lost for hours in here, scrolling through pages of books, diving into the internet, melting into her chair.
She's lucky, in many ways. Tracking down and killing a notorious psychopathic assassin had earned her the job which she'd always dreamt of. Sort of.
Eve spends her days distinguishing between domestic and foreign profiles of cases and flagging the ones which she suspects to be politically charged. Most murders in London are domestic disputes, and very few cases land on her desk, but whenever there's something dodgy (as Kenny would say), the case gets run by her department at Thames House, the MI5 headquarters, and when she's made her conclusion, she sends the case forward. She doesn't lead the department; she's part of a larger team, with people both above and below her.
More so, tracking down and killing Oksana Astankova had earned her some of Carolyn Martens' trust and respect back, regardless of her dirty trick in Moscow.
Eve treasures all of this; she knows how hard it must have been for Carolyn to swallow her pride and hand out a job on a silver platter to someone who had used her as a pawn on a personal level. From that day on, she's had to prove herself every single day.
Upon signing her contract, she'd felt so ecstatic her fingers had gone numb. After returning from Paris, she'd had no idea if she'd still be able to get a job since there was no need for their closed operation anymore, or if she'd get arrested and charged. She'd grasped her new pass like her life depended on it, but had hated the cost, the way she'd achieved her new position. But that was then, and Oksana isn't dead anymore.
Tonight she studies two different cases from a three weeks back: Both male, both in their late fifties, both high-ranking Met Officers with families. The ways in which they'd been murdered are weirdly similar; the first victim, John Griffiths, had died from a single puncture wound to the chest, hitting his aorta, and he'd died almost instantly in the middle of the street just after rush hour. His assailant had been gone before anyone had noticed him sagging to his knees.
Eve feels a cold shiver at the thought of how much force that stab would've needed to achieve that result. Her right hand starts itching.
The other one, Ashley Langdon, had been mugged down after a weekly after-work evening with colleagues, stabbed four times in the chest on his way home, died quickly, still with his wallet in his pocket, hundreds of pounds and credit cards not touched. No phone had been found at the crime scene, and both cases fit the timing of her and Oksana's latest meeting at the Hilton Olympia.
It had been a knife, after all. Eve rolls her eyes at herself. Still, she can't work out which one is someone else (and who?), and which one is the woman she'd spent the night with. It's driving her crazy, and she needs results, needs to conclude where each case should be shipped.
"You getting anywhere?" Niko comes in, carrying a bowl of noodle soup. He pushes some of Eve's notes to the side and sets it down on her desk.
Eve shakes her head, smiles at him to thank him for bringing her a working dinner. "Nah, you know how it is. These guys don't leave evidence."
"All the more fun for you", he says, and looks at her proudly. His hand goes to her hair, running his fingers through it. "You were mumbling in your sleep last night. Was it--"
"No." Eve cuts him off with a lie, because of course it had been her, laughing at Eve from somewhere in the distance, always disappearing whenever she'd been close to getting to her. Eve's body had dragged itself forward like she'd been stuck in a swamp, but Oksana had fucking walked on water, dancing around on her tiptoes, ankles extended like a ballerina. "It's this stuff right here. I don't really think about her anymore."
Niko seems to accept that. Ever since Paris, when he'd found out what she'd done, not once had he shown any signs of fear concerning Eve's newly discovered nature. He'd been relieved, for goodness' sake. Eve thinks that Niko imagines her killing a raging bull with a single spear, tearing through its intestines and leaving it to die with a spit to its feet.
It hadn't happened like that, though, but for the sake of peace, for the sake of their marriage, she lets him keep his fantasy. It's not like she hasn't got a few fantasies of her own.
"One gone, another one pops up", Niko says absently. Eve glances up at him. "Circle of life, isn't it? Or, death, if you could put it like that."
Eve doesn't like where this is going. "I'm not sure this stuff is good for you", she sighs, and reaches up to brush his arm. He moves it to interlock their fingers, squeezing her hand tightly. He's so warm, so safe. And she's so lucky, in many ways.
"You really can't come down to dinner?" he asks, a hint of disappointment in his voice.
Eve sighs. "No, honey. Time's ticking and I really need to get somewhere with these, or Carolyn's going to bite my head off. I can't afford to mess this up." It's true: Carolyn wants a detailed report of Eve's findings in the morning, sent over to her side of the river, to the SIS-building at Vauxhall Cross, but Eve also wants to stay in her own bubble, her safe space. It's one of those nights, tonight. She's feeling vulnerable and a little lost (and really angry with a certain someone), and she prefers to stay away from Niko whenever that happens.
She'd put him through hell, months ago. She'd sworn not to do it again, any more than she's already doing it without him knowing.
"Don't do your head in", he says and tops it off with a kiss to her cheek. "I'm right here if you need me, babe."
"Yeah, thanks." She reaches for the bowl, lifts it to her lips, breathes in the amazing mixture of garlic, thyme and ginger. A perfect dish for a cold evening, hurled up in the dark, surrounded by psychos. She smiles when she takes the first sip.
Suddenly, a compulsive thought occurs to her, and she has to set the soup down, has to reach into one of the drawers to the right of her chair, has to get her hands on La Villanelle. She opens the box, takes out the absurdly expensive looking flask, and screws it open just enough to get a hit of the scent.
The effect is immediate: Rich, glorious, a combination of so many things Eve couldn't work them out even if she tried, and her body starts pumping. The scent conjures up a reel of pictures and memories, flashing underneath her closed eyelids.
She does this whenever she needs to get back on her feet, needs her brain to become alert and awake. Her body associates La Villanelle with danger, fear and pain. Her mind associates Oksana with tension, arousal and hate.
They're strange things, scents and smells. They're the reason Eve had worked out Oksana wasn't dead, wasn't killed by her hand.
Half a year ago, she'd been walking past Covent Garden, nose in her phone, late for a meeting with a DCI, and suddenly, for a split second, she'd smelt Oksana, right after someone had bumped into her shoulder.
She'd stopped dead in her tracks, felt that familiar fight-or-flight reaction, scanned her surroundings for anyone with Oksana's hair, height, stance, but if she'd been there, she wasn't anymore. Eve had actually checked her body for wounds, and then gone home, blaming her memories for nearly giving her a heart attack.
But a thought had started brewing, and she couldn't shake it.
Much later that same evening, Eve had gone out to the garden to light a few lanterns in honour of her grandmother's passing ten years ago. It had been a windy, wet evening, traditional English spring weather, making it impossible for her to light a match. There, in the darkness, surrounded by trees and plants and growing grass, the wind had carried Oksana to her nostrils, and she'd felt it.
"I know you're there", she'd said loudly, scanning her surroundings but not seeing anything. She'd tried to light another match, but it hadn't burnt long enough for her to make out any shapes or irregularities around her. Still, her heart had been pounding, and her mind had screamed thank god before she'd come to her senses.
Still, nothing. Eve had let out a frustrated sigh, counted to ten, then tried a different approach. "Why are you here?" she'd asked, as if she didn't know.
The silence that had followed could easily have been the worst nerve-wracking thirty seconds of her entire life. She'd waited for a bullet, a flying knife, an arrow, anything that would pierce her heart and finally set their score even. But it hadn't come. Instead:
"To make your life interesting again."
And then, nothing more.
Eve rolls the flask around in her hands. Of course it would be like this. She'd imagined a bloodshed when wondering how Oksana would achieve her revenge. Then as time had passed, Eve had come to realize that Oksana killing her would be too easy. She does it all the time, for Chrissakes. Ending Eve's actual life would be too short-lived. Dragging it out, torturing her, forcing her to face her own nature, sating the needs she'd been too frightened to admit to having... that Oksana could do, could enjoy.
"Honey, the courier's got a package for you!"
Eve throws the flask back into the drawer and slams it shut, sits up straight and has to take a few deep breaths, has to get back to now. Then she realizes what Niko's said, and frowns. "What?" she shouts, wondering if she'd heard wrong.
"DHL", he replies from the hallway.
Eve jumps out of her chair and hurries to the door, gives Niko a thank you-smile as she passes him. At their doorstep, there's a rather huge, bald man in a bright yellow uniform, holding a small brown package. Eve shuts the front door behind her, wraps her knit tighter around herself and reaches out to accept the pad, to sign her name.
"Here, love", he says as he exchanges the package for the pad. "G'night."
"Goodnight", Eve replies on autopilot as she scans the package. Express delivery, basic brown paper, maybe fifteen inches times four, a label with her name and address, sent by a Lisa Meijer from The Hauge, the Netherlands.
Eve bursts out laughing. It's a sick joke, Oksana sending a gift from the city of the International Criminal Court. After all, Eve doesn't know any Lisa Meijers, so it has to be her. For a moment, Eve wants it to be a clue about which murder was Oksana, or anything to set Eve on the right course, on the hunt for that other killer.
Right there in front of her house, she tears the package open, rips the paper off and drops it to the ground. It reveals a navy cardboard box with Chinese or maybe Japanese symbols. Frowning, she opens it.
It's a Kamaasa knife. It lies on red velvet, the blade covered in cellophane. She peels the plastic off, picks the knife up, feels its weight in her hand, cuts her finger on the blade.
Wincing, she shoves it back into its box and brings her finger up to her lips. It has to be the sharpest object she's ever held in her hands.
There's a card. She takes it out, closes the box, puts it under her arm to be able to open the envelope. Inside, she finds the handwriting she knows.
For next time x
She shouldn't have taken Oksana's hands, there, nearly six months ago, in the very living room of her house, with Niko gone for the weekend. She shouldn't have touched her face, shouldn't have apologized and apologized, shouldn't have told her how horrible it had been, thinking she was dead, aching for another chance to see her, to talk to her, to see if they really were made of the same skin and tendons, the same muscle and blood.
She should have listened to logic, should have remembered who was in her house.
She should have fought harder when Oksana had claimed her mouth, ripped her clothes, held her down, made her cry, then made her come.
She shouldn't have told her that she forgave her for everything.
She shouldn't have told her that she understood Oksana is a fucking creation, a force of nature, and that keeping her locked up would destroy everything she is.
She shouldn't have believed Oksana when she'd said she was proud of Eve.
She shouldn't have done any of this, and she'd gone and done it anyway.
Eve crushes the card in her fist, closes her eyes in pure fury. It's humiliating. She feels exposed, feels her sins laid before her in the form of this simple weapon that isn't actually simple at all; it's what initially made her hate Oksana so much, for killing her friend. It's what Eve had almost killed her with, what Oksana had made her come with.
For next time. Eve bites the insides of her cheeks. Next time, she will fucking choke Oksana until she passes out.
She picks up the brown paper, together with the box holding the knife, and the card, and shoves everything into the garbage bin.
Chapter 3: Freedom, Illusion
On the eve of November 11th, there's a huge party at the Bridge Club. It's the Polish National Independence Day, and as a respected member of the Polish community in London, Niko and his friends have organized a feast of sorts; there are balloons covering the ceiling, ribbons and hats for both adults and children, national music and a lot of hard liquor.
The place is packed. Eve feels exhausted in her black dress and heels, exhausted to talk to so many people, exhausted from not getting more than a few feet through the sea of celebraters before someone stops her and wants to know how she is, what she's been doing, if they're having children. She makes small talk, smiles and hugs and exits her comfort zone because that's the sort of stuff she does for someone she loves, and every now and then, Niko catches her eye, looking at her with warmth and gratitude.
She wonders how these old Catholic people would feel it they knew what Niko Polastri's wife was up to in some of her free time. Immediately, she feels guilty, and the sensation steers her towards the clusters of younger generations, less conservative people, even though she's not planning on telling anyone about her twisted obsession, if she could call it that.
Elena shows up on the arm of Kenny, and Eve decides she doesn't want to grill them on whatever they are, or since when they are, or if they are. She doesn't see them that much anymore. She speaks to Kenny maybe once or twice a week, usually over the phone, usually work-related, if she needs help with cracking some code or getting someone's gps-data, and Elena's working in a completely different department across the river, at Vauxhall Cross.
Carolyn Martens had put Elena at MI6 while keeping Eve at MI5. Eve prefers not to think about it.
"You look phenomenal!" Elena exclaims and gives Eve a long hug. She gestures around them. "I had no idea there'd be so many people here!"
"Yeah, I know. It's crazy." Eve waves Niko over. "It's good they showed up though, organizing this thing has been a pain in the ass."
"A pain in the ass which Eve has conquered with beauty and grace", Niko adds as he strides up to her side and shakes hands with Elena and Kenny. "It's really lovely of you two to come, I don't think Eve invited anyone else from her job."
"Well", Kenny begins, "we're not really working together--"
"So nice of you to have us", Elena cuts in, beaming. "I think I spotted a cake somewhere, shall we have some?" Eve watches Elena scold Kenny with a frown, and he nods awkwardly, like this is the last place he wants to be, and god, does Eve sympathize with him.
"You three go right ahead, I've got some catching up to do." Nike sends Eve off with a kiss to her cheek, and she leads them towards the buffet.
"How are you?" Elena asks, and touches Eve's arm lightly.
"Um." The concern in Elena's voice throws Eve off for a second, because really, she's fine. There's no reason for Elena to think that she isn't. "I'm great. Why, what do you mean--"
"Oh, Kenny told me the investigations have come to a halt, the two stabbings." Elena's eyes are glittering, like she's jumping out of her skin to be able to talk about this. Next to her, Kenny's gone white. "It's a downright mess, isn't it? No trace, clean kills, like that one in Vienna, that first one you noticed, remember? Gosh, it's almost like Vil--"
"Villanelle is dead", Kenny says loudly, and looks Eve straight in the eye.
Eve feels her body go rigid. Something's wrong. Kenny hates eye-contact, but he keeps looking at her, as if he's waiting for her to say something and no, there's no way he could-- "Kenny, you okay?" she says quickly, to break the silence. Her heart's pounding so hard, she barely hears her own voice.
"I'm fine", he says, and cuts a piece of the chocolate cake.
Eve's limbs slowly come alive again, but she can't shake it, this horrible feeling that Kenny sees right through her. She reaches to accept the cake, then feels her phone buzzing in her purse. "Oh, hang on. I'll have some in a minute, I need to check this." She starts digging through her purse. When working on cases like these, there's no free time, not even Sundays.
"Oh lord, this stuff is reeeally good", Elena mumbles around the cake in her mouth. "Eve, work can wait. Have some, this is sort of your party!"
"Actually, it's Niko's party", Eve says, staring at the screen of her phone. "I'm not even Catholic."
There's a text from a country code that could be Ukrainian, or maybe Belarus.
"Nice dress. Come outside."
No way. Eve's stomach drops to somewhere around her heels, and she frantically starts looking around because no way in hell.
"Who is it?" Kenny asks. He's stopped eating his cake.
"It's, uh." She forces herself to act, quickly types in a reply, who is this? She knows there's no need for it, but this should not be happening.
"Eve?" Kenny asks again, sounding slightly upset. Elena's silent beside him.
"It's, um, it's--" Her phone lights up with an incoming message.
"It's your independence day country band, who else."
"Niko's sister", Eve lies, and puts her phone away. She looks at them apologetically, then looks around to locate Niko. "She can't get through to him, must be his operator, um, I'm going to call her, I think something's up. She's supposed to visit over Christmas. You guys wait here, okay? Save me some cake."
"Sure", Elena says, looking concerned. "I hope everything's okay."
"Yeah, yeah, I'm sure it's fine", Eve reassures, eyeing the exit. She needs to take this outside. "I'll be back in a minute." She makes her way through the crowd, towards the coat racks. Once she's got her trench, she quickly scurries out of the club, into the windy night.
There's nobody at the doors. She looks around, sees a figure on a bench maybe thirty feet away. It's dark, and she can't tell if it's Oksana or not, but it has to be, and this has to be some sort of joke, because how dare she?
Pulsing with rage, Eve heads towards the bench in her ridiculously high heels, while silently thanking higher powers for not making the streets freeze over just yet. It's the only thing she's got on her side right now.
"It really is a nice dress", the figure calls out to her when she approaches, and it's Oksana, all right. She's sitting there, legs crossed, wearing a black beanie and a... track-suit. She's wearing a North Face track-suit.
"What the fuck is this?" Eve screams when she gets to her. "Have you actually gone insane? No, sorry, that's just dumb because clearly you are and have always been, but have you gone even more insane? What the hell do you think you're doing, showing up here? Someone could have seen you! They know what you look like! I can't believe you're this stupid!" Once it's all out, she takes a deep breath, but then wants to scream some more because Oksana is smiling and Eve is two seconds from lunging at her--
"You didn't bring me any cake", Oksana says with a teasing grin.
Eve stares. "What?" she manages to rasp.
"You didn't bring me any cake", Oksana repeats and rolls her eyes. "I love cake. But I'm about to go for a run and I probably shouldn't eat before that. You can't run with heartburn. I hope you never do, it's really bad for you. But you run so early, I think you have breakfast after. You couldn't be so fast, otherwise."
"What?" Eve repeats, her voice low and trembling.
Oksana knows her routines. Oksana's been watching her. Of course. It's been months. Still, Eve feels like someone's blown up the ground beneath her feet and she's falling, falling, faster and--
"Did you like your present?" Oksana asks, sounding mildly interested.
"I, I threw it away." Her voice sounds hollow, like an echo in the rabbit hole she'd fallen into.
Oksana's face goes cold. "That's not very nice, Eve. I got it as a souvenir for you. It was expensive."
Eve scoffs. "Oh, please. You have more money than I could ever make in this life, or the next." She remembers her promise to herself, to choke Oksana all the way to unconsciousness the next time she sees her. She's this close to doing that, now.
"Become a contract killer", Oksana suggests, like it's the most natural source of income. She twists her face. "Wait. No, forget I said that. You would be terrible. You would totally die in training."
"What are you doing here?" Eve asks and clenches her fists. She could break Oksana's face, knock out Oksana's teeth, with the way she's feeling now. Her husband's party. She can't have the two of them in the same space. They can't co-exist, because there's no room for them both in her life, there never has been and--
"I told you", Oksana says, and shrugs. "I'm going for a run."
It suddenly dawns on Eve that Oksana would never wear these clothes, unless she had to. And she's in London, meeting her. And... "Who is it?"
Oksana blinks. "Excuse me?"
"Your target", Eve hisses and gestures at Oksana's outfit. She shouldn't do this, but she can't seem to stop herself. She never can stop herself when Oksana's involved. "You're going to kill someone, on your run, aren't you? That's why you're here. God, you think you're so smart. Who is it?"
Oksana leans back on the bench and crosses her arms, looking amused. "Did it really take you this long to figure out what I'm doing here every time? You didn't actually think I kept coming to London just to see you?"
"Fuck you", Eve says, and shakes her head. She's such a brat. "Well, do what you have to do. You're on your own." She wants to mean it, does her best to sound serious, to express the finality of her words. "You won't see me after. Enjoy whoever the hell you pick up, and I hope she bites a hole in your neck because I'm not coming to see you."
"Yes, you are", Oksana protests passive-aggressively. "You're coming to the Savoy and you're meeting me in the Beaufort Bar." She gets up, tucks her ponytail underneath her beanie and tilts her head. "Two hours from now, okay? Don't bother changing out of that dress."
"I'm not coming", Eve whispers, heart beating faster now that Oksana's on her feet, getting ready to go, to finish the job. "God, I should kill you for showing up like this. Someone could have recognized you, even in... that." The track-suit really is hideous.
"Yes, I'm so sure your little MI6 friends would just have 'taken me down' on the spot", Oksana giggles and rolls her eyes.
Right, because she's so fucking superior to everyone else, and Eve momentarily wants to 'take her down' herself, just for being so unbelievably obnoxious.
Oksana gives Eve a quick once-over. "You always come, Eve." Her eyes narrow. "One way or another, don't you?"
"Fuck you", Eve says again, blushing at the double-meaning of Oksana's words. She really is such a brat, but she's right, and Eve suddenly wishes she'd kept the knife so that she could hold it to Oksana's throat, carve her, make her feel what she makes Eve feel by simply existing; constant tension, constant anticipation. Constant pain.
"Two hours", Oksana says again, and takes out a pair of gloves from her jacket pocket. She slips her hands into them. "Try not to eat too much cake." With that, she's off, jogging past Eve, towards the city centre, leisurely, with light steps, and somehow Eve knows that this time, Oksana won't be using any weapons.
She's going to kill someone with her strength only. She must be trained for that, must be fast enough and strong enough to overpower someone.
Sometimes, Eve forgets how dangerous Oksana really is, but in moments like these, she feels it all too vividly.
Eve sits down on the bench, on the warm side, where Oksana had been sitting. There's a party to get back to, but her limbs feel like jell-O. Not in a million years had she expected Oksana to have the nerve to do this, but she should have. After all, it's her thing; catching Eve off guard, making her life interesting.
Eve groans loudly and covers her face with her hands. She's not going. She should be disgusted with herself, and with Oksana, knowing what she's doing at this very moment. Eve's not going, and still, the excitement - the promise of what's to come - starts taking over her body rather than her mind, and suddenly, her coat is too warm in the chilly night air.
She stays on the bench for a while, thinking about that hungover Saturday morning, when the news about Viktor Kedrin's assassination had come out. She'd felt so liberated then, so driven to find whoever had done it, so desperate to prove herself.
She thinks now, that that moment right there might have actually been the Reaper in disguise. That moment right there, that opportunity invading her mind, had actually just been the beginning of her imprisonment, her agony.
She sits on the bench until Elena calls her, and then heads back inside.
Chapter 4: Outbalance Me, Again
At a quarter past ten, Eve hops out of the cab on Strand by the River Thames. Her hands tremble as she shoves her credit card back into her purse; this is the first time Oksana's told her to meet her in a public place instead of coming up to her hotel room.
Eve had given Niko (and Kenny and Elena) a bullshit excuse about being called into work, and the guilt's already eating her up inside. She'd left directly from the party, still in her dress. She tells herself it's got everything to do with her not having time to go home and change, and nothing to do with Oksana telling her to wear it.
Regardless of the reason behind her choice of apparel, she's got to be out of her goddamn mind; meeting Oksana is always questionable, but meeting her at the Savoy? The place is like a castle, so huge Eve could easily get lost. She clears her throat and asks the concierge to point her in the general direction of the Beaufort Bar.
She finds her destination, and then fights the urge to let out a loud, sarcastic laugh. Of course Oksana would choose this place for their meeting; Eve has practically walked into something straight out of The Shining.
The whole Beaufort Bar is like a theater, with sharp lines and oriental furniture, covered in shades of black and gold, lit by chandeliers and candles, but only enough to light the way to the bar, leaving the little sofas and corners in darkness. It's an inviting and sexy space, a room made for low whispers and sneaking hands. There's jazz playing in the background. Sitting on a lounge sofa, half hidden by a sheer black curtain, is Oksana. Eve can't see her face, but she recognizes Oksana's blonde hair and her toned back.
Eve walks towards her. It's Sunday night, and Oksana's managed to seat herself away from all the loud businessmen and tourists enjoying their drinks here and there. When Eve reaches the sofa, Oksana turns to look at her. Again, Oksana gives her a once-over, but it's much slower this time. It makes Eve's skin crawl.
Oksana's wearing a silver dress. It fits her a little tightly, is held up by only two thin straps, but it looks smooth and soft, like rich silk. It's a classic cut, tailored to make its wearer look enticing. Her hair is tied up in a neat bun. Eve knows Oksana prefers it like that, prefers it not getting in her way.
Nobody would guess what Oksana's been doing, not with the way she's looking now.
"You're late", Oksana points out, and leans her head against the back of the sofa.
"You're lucky I showed up at all", Eve sighs, and ungracefully slouches down next to her. They match, tonight; both is slim dresses, both extreme contrasts of each other. Eve realizes Oksana has ordered a gin and tonic for her. The ice has melted a little bit. "Thanks."
"It's no problem", Oksana says and shrugs. One of her hands is resting around her own drink; a colourful mixture with mint leaves.
"How'd you kill him?" Eve asks as soon as she's had a sip.
Oksana's eyes go wide. She looks completely taken aback, and glances over her shoulder at a group of people a few tables away. "Wow", she says, and smiles widely, like she's actually impressed. "Eve Polastri, you are so bold."
Eve's isn't. She's just tired of Oksana's crap, and so nervous it's making her feel light-headed, even after the handful of times they'd met up under these same circumstances. "Just tell me, okay? I've had a shit night."
Oksana takes a sip, and then turns to look Eve straight in the eye. "I tripped her when she ran past me in the park, and then I dragged her into the bushes and broke her neck." She tells it like Niko tells Eve about his day at work, like there's nothing abnormal about it. Eve mimics Oksana's posture, leaning her head against the back of the sofa and letting out the breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding.
A woman, this time. Eve wonders if she'd been someone's mother, then scolds herself for even going there because most of the men Oksana had killed had been fathers to several children. It isn't any different. It makes Eve feel just as horrible as before.
"Why does no one at your work know I'm alive?" Oksana asks, eyeing Eve's dress. Eve snaps out of her thoughts, and meets Oksana's scrutinizing stare. "You haven't told anyone. Six months, several bodies. How do you explain that at work? Do you pretend to hunt someone else?"
Eve turns away. Somewhere along the way, she'd come to the catastrophic realization that Oksana dying, or being thrown in prison, being locked up in a padded room in some disgusting mental facility where she would pace around and roar like a caged tiger, was something Eve couldn't bear to put on her conscience.
That thought, she knows, is enough to get herself committed as well.
"You're not the only active contract killer in England", Eve says, and shrugs. The rest of it is none of Oksana's business.
"Duh", Oksana snickers. "I know that. I just wanted to see your face. You are very cute when you don't know what to say."
"Wait, how do you know I'm looking for someone else?" Eve asks, suddenly realizing what Oksana's said. She could help her, she could-- "Which man did you stab? Do you know who the other operative is? Can you tell me--"
"Nope", Oksana says gleefully, then gives Eve a cold smile. "I'm not going to do your job for you, Eve. You are smart enough."
Of course she'd say that. "You're such an asshole", Eve hisses, and gulps down half of her drink. It burns in her throat, but doesn't make her feel any lighter.
Elena had been right; Eve's completely stuck with her work. She has nothing to go on, and in front of her sits the woman who holds all the information Eve would ever need, but she won't share. Ergo, asshole. "Why did you want to meet me here? Isn't this a little too obvious?"
Oksana picks up her drink and passes it to Eve, as if ordering her to take a sip. "I saw this on the menu in my room before I went out. It sounded delicious, so I wanted to try it."
Before she'd gone out to crash Eve's husband's party, to see Eve, and from there, to kill a woman.
Eve can't think about that.
Fairly certain the drink isn't poisoned, since Eve had actually seen Oksana drinking it, she lifts the cocktail to her lips, and her mouth explodes with flavour. It's sweet and fresh, vodka and mint, with a hint of ginger and something else. "It's good." She passes it back, but instead of accepting the glass, Oksana's hand moves to Eve's thigh, to the hem of her dress.
"No, not here", Eve says sharply, looking over her shoulder. Not here, no matter how much the atmosphere and music are encouraging her. She stops Oksana's fingers the second they reach her inner thigh and begin to widen the gap between her legs.
"Where then?" Oksana whispers, and leans her face close to Eve's ear, lips brushing her neck. Oksana's breath is warm, and Eve shivers, because the voice she knows so well by now is laden with lust and challenge, with impatience.
She should shove Oksana away. She should be sick to her stomach, knowing what she'd done tonight, but an ache similar to the one that had made Eve leave the party to come to this bar is now chaining her in her place, holding her in an invisible grasp. And Oksana's question is so unnecessary. "Don't you have a room here?" Eve scoffs, hoping her annoyance will hide her nerves.
Oksana's face turns into a malicious grin, and Eve realizes that this is what she'd been waiting for; for Eve to suggest it. It hits her like a slap in the face, and her shame burns, even with Oksana gripping her arm and pulling her to her feet.
When they step inside the elevator and the doors close in front of them, Oksana turns her head to look at Eve; her body, not her face.
You have a very nice body.
Oksana's gazing at her like she can't wait to get her hands on her, and Eve wonders what the woman she'd killed tonight had looked like.
Maybe she'd been beautiful, stylish. Maybe she'd got Oksana all hot and bothered, struggling and whimpering in Oksana's arms before her life had ended with a loud snap. Maybe Oksana had looked at her picture and known she'd be turned on after the kill. Maybe that's why Eve's here, on this specific night.
Eve can't go there.
The elevator chimes, and Oksana steers them down a beautifully decorated corridor. Eve's legs carry her on autopilot. Upon reaching room 512, Oksana unlocks the door and holds it open.
Inside, Eve finds a cozy, dimly lit space in beige and white, with a queen-sized bed in the middle of it all. It's an expensive room, and possibly the nicest one she's ever visited. The curtains are open, revealing the river and the bright city lights. Eve crosses the room to get to the windows, but in the reflection of the glass, she sees Oksana studying her.
Oksana's urges seem to vary; sometimes she's downright violent, sometimes she's calm and focused. It makes it impossible for Eve to try to understand her drives, and tonight she seems quite aroused, yet she's waiting for Eve to swallow her pride and sanity, and then, finally, to submit.
Eve closes her eyes. She's here, now. She'd come, knowing what would happen. She thinks of her raft and her precious lake, all while slipping off her coat, moving to the bed, sitting down on it and stepping out of her heels. Out of frustration and self-loathing, she musses her hair, and in a heartbeat, Oksana's looming over her, gazing at her daringly.
"So how is it going to be, Eve?" Oksana whispers, licking her lips, then leaving them parted and inviting. She really looks beautiful, but it doesn't cover up the danger she's radiating as she traps Eve on the bed.
The surface underneath the raft starts boiling, shaking Eve to her core. Slowly, she lifts her right hand to Oksana's face and trails her lips with her fingertips, feeling wetness and warmth on her pads.
She knows Oksana wants to see all of her righteous hate dissolve into pure need and want, and god, hoping she'll someday be forgiven for being so weak, she lets it happen.
She kisses Oksana's lips, runs her fingers over her scalp, thrusts her tongue into her mouth like she wants to get inside of her and rip her apart, spilling all of her secrets out into the open air. She hears herself moan, hears Oksana taking quick breaths in between their wet and angry kisses, hears the sound of her own zipper being pulled down.
Somehow, she ends up with her dress down to her waist and her back on the bedspread. Oksana's open mouth is on her jaw, her neck, everywhere. The sloppy trails of her tongue make Eve shiver and gasp, make her claw at Oksana's back, and Oksana rises, pulls her own panties down, then does to same with Eve's. Once that's taken care of, Oksana climbs back on top, then bites and licks Eve's breasts while running her nails up her inner thighs.
A hand sneaks around Eve's throat, and Oksana squeezes, making Eve open her eyes, making her look into Oksana's bright and unyielding ones.
"Look at me", Oksana whispers, mouth open and panting. She's searching for something in Eve's eyes, searching for that final moment of surrender, of letting go; she's searching for supplication, and while knowing it's wrong to be this pliant, this aroused - while knowing whose hands are touching her - Eve still feels her face twist into silent, desperate plea.
The waves flip her raft over, and she starts drowning. She never learnt to swim, never learnt to resist Oksana, whose fingers suddenly work their way inside of her, roughly, making her let out a strangled moan of pain.
Oksana lets go of her throat and moves to kiss her instead, deep and wet kisses stealing her breath, scraping her lips; she's being kissed and fucked in rhythm, being devoured like Oksana wants to poison her with her mouth, and she whimpers underneath her lips, gasps at the slick pressure on her clit, and no, she's going to--
Oksana's gloves are on the floor by desk next to the bed; Eve sees them when she briefly opens her eyes, and her body goes rigid, her breath stopping in her throat.
Those gloves, on the hands of the woman caressing her face and fucking her, had twisted the life out of someone. Eve imagines the amount of pure strength it takes to physically snap a woman's neck, split her spine, her slack head rolling back--
To her horror, Eve feels herself throb harder, feels herself getting wetter as she bucks and whimpers, turning her head into the bedspread, trying not to think about the fingers tugging at her hair and sliding into her with almost no friction at all, strangling someone's throat and ripping their guts apart, but she can't help it--
"Look at me", Oksana commands from above her, breathing heavily. "Eve, look at me."
Eve forces her eyes open and feels her heart stop; Oksana's icy greys are full of longing. They're overpowering her with their heated stare, ordering her to give in and let Oksana win, ordering her to--
She can never fight this, and then Oksana's wet tongue is pushing into her mouth, and it's over; Eve comes violently, the release of tension like a wave of both warmth and ice through her body, making her tremble and moan underneath Oksana's weight.
Before Eve lets her head fall back, she thinks she sees something like awe, like wonder, in her tormentor's eyes.
When Eve's head stops spinning, she seeks out the gloves again, then feels bile in her throat because there has to be something so terribly wrong with her. Her stomach constricts, nausea threatening to take over the pleasant aftershocks still rolling through her body.
Fortunately, she hasn't got the time to dwell on her morbid thoughts; Oksana's cool is gone, replaced by a greedy look in her eyes, lips parted and breathing hard. Still wearing her dress, she straddles Eve's chest, probes her lips apart, tears her jaw wide open with her fingers, grips her hair so hard Eve's follicles burn, then lifts herself up and forces herself down on Eve's open, gasping mouth.
Eve wills herself to forget everything else but the taste on her tongue, so rich and salty, so slippery and different. She grabs Oksana's hips as she grinds onto Eve's lips and tongue, rubbing herself against her teeth, supporting herself against Eve's raised knees.
It never takes long; she starts moaning softly as she speeds up, and Eve feels herself throb at every gasp leaving Oksana's throat, but she forces herself to keep still, to keep her tongue slack, to let Oksana smother her.
"Mm", Oksana moans from above her, and then: "Oh, fuck, there", as she grinds down hard, trembling when she comes in Eve's mouth, whimpering softly, like she doesn't want it to end.
But it does; Oksana climbs off of her as soon as she's done, and Eve pulls the bodice of her dress up and heads for the shower.
Without bothering to take in the beauty of the en-suite, Eve strips out of her dress and steps into the shower. The rain head washes away all traces of Oksana's mouth and come; they run down her body, mixed with streams of cold water droplets, and then disappear into the drain, taking Eve's transgressions with them.
Before and after - but never during - Eve thinks that Oksana likes it best straddling her because she wants to be in a position where she could kill Eve with only the strenght of her thighs; quickly choke her to death, maybe break her neck. Eve suspects that she gets off on it, that the climax only hits her harder when she's holding someone's life in her grasp, after they've succumbed to her.
Eve gathers water into her open palms and splashes it around her mouth, to get Oksana's scent out, without messing up her make-up any more than it already is. She can't afford to have Niko recognize the taste of her lips for what it is.
The guilt will feel like its own cold shower once she gets out of here and into a cab. She will sink into a leather seat, wrap her trench around herself, and swear that this is the last time she does this, this drive of shame. She will go home, wipe her make-up off, and put her wedding ring back on.
Eve stays in the shower until her teeth start clattering. She dries herself off, uses the toilet, and slips her dress back on.
When Eve exits the en-suite, she sees Oksana's thrown the bedspread onto the floor and got rid of her dress. She's lying in bed with an open MacBook on her lap, the comforter up to her waist, her breasts bare and her hair released from its bun. She doesn't look at Eve, who quickly locates her panties and puts them into her purse.
Eve puts on her trench and heels and turns to the door.
"This was nice", Oksana says neutrally. Eve turns and looks at her, but Oksana's eyes are on the computer screen.
"Yes", Eve says quietly. It hadn't been completely not-nice. It had just been, like always, too much fighting between right and wrong, too much spilled oil on her conscience, too many internal struggles, all at once. She suspects Oksana feels differently; this is her game, after all. Eve grabs the handle of the door.
"See you", Oksana says from behind her, sounding absent.
Eve doesn't bother replying. She steps into the corridor, and shuts the door behind her.
Chapter 5: The Hamster Wheel
Eve's desk at Thames House, the MI5 Security Services headquarters, is slowly turning into a war-zone: Domestic crime rate's gone through the roof, files and folders are popping up everywhere, and not being able to separate between national and foreign operatives in questionable cases makes her feel like the most useless person in the whole office.
Carolyn's on her like a hawk from the MI6-offices across the river, grilling her about progress and leads and quotas and budgets and her choice of lunch, and Eve's beginning to look as drained as she feels. She suspects Carolyn is, despite giving Eve this second chance, still holding some sort of grudge, and she takes it out on Eve, simply because she can.
Eve knows that very few cases are by Oksana, but somehow, Oksana is all she sees.
Furthermore, she has no idea what to do about the cases that actually are Oksana's handiwork. It's not like she can pin the fault on someone random. It's not like she can knock on Carolyn's door, give her a cup of tea and reveal that she actually didn't kill Oksana over half a year ago in Paris, that she's actually seen her from time to time, that she's in good health and, apparently, still a murderous psychopath.
Eve lets her head hit the surface of her file-covered desk.
"Don't beat yourself up", her assistant Charlie tells her. He's tall, hipster-like, impressed by everyone and everything and probably fifteen years old. "Didn't you say like three days ago that you were getting somewhere with Langdon?"
Ashley Langdon, the mugged-down Met Officer. A little over a week ago, on her way home after she'd seen Oksana at the Savoy, she'd had a breakthrough:
She'd started thinking that for Oksana, sex just went hand in hand with killing. She'd started thinking that at this point, it would be rather unsurprising to learn that Oksana doesn't actually want Eve, but keeps inviting her over only because Eve keeps putting up a little resistance, which Oksana then gets to dismantle, gets to beat, every single time.
Eve had thought about how she kept stroking Oksana's ego, and couldn't blame anyone but herself.
She'd thought about the gloves, thought about how Oksana always touched her with such expertise, such finesse, like it all came so naturally to her, like taking a life. It seemed almost rehearsed, as much as her preferences could be; no accidental touches, no pillow talk that could potentially ruin the whole experience. Quick and clean, like her kills.
Eve had thought and thought and thought, and then suddenly, in the back of the cab, it had become crystal clear which one of the stabbings Oksana had carried out before Eve had seen her at the Hilton Olympia; Quick and clean, but Ashley Langdon had been a messy case in the street, and therefore, Oksana hadn't killed him. She'd killed the other one, John Griffiths, with a single stab wound (of course), and Eve had been able to look at the Langdon case through new eyes, but since she couldn't explain how she knew he'd been killed by an apparently new assassin, she hadn't been able to send the case forward.
"I did, but I'm stuck." Eve glances up at Charlie, who's giving her a reassuring, geeky smile. "I have a feeling that him and John Griffiths will just be swept under the carpet. Thirty years of service, both of them, and for what?"
"Secrets, probably", Charlie mumbles, and then his eyes light up. "Oh, I totally forgot, I have something for you!" He runs over to his desk, flips through some folders, then comes back with a heavy binder and slams it on Eve's desk.
"What's this?" She frowns, and looks at the tag on the binder: 18765-D, Lawrenson.
"You asked me to pull up everything from November 11th", Charlie says. "This is the only remotely interesting case I could find. I managed to get my hands on a copy, but don't leave it hanging around because this stuff isn't supposed to be here."
Eve sits up very straight and stares at the binder. A week ago, she had indeed asked Charlie to take a look at reports from the evening of the Polish Independence Day party, the evening she'd spent with Oksana at the Savoy. After asking, she'd sort of let it go because she'd decided she'd feel better if she didn't know who Oksana had killed on her jog. And now it's staring her in the face.
"Why shouldn't it be here?" Eve asks and starts opening the binder.
"They've arrested someone", Charlie says and clears his throat. "It's um, pretty ugly. Why are you so interested in this?"
"I'm not", Eve says quickly, and gives him a sharp look. "I just had a feeling. Intuition, whatever."
"Right", Charlie says quietly. He's keen to learn, keen to expand his knowledge, but he's also smart, and knows his place. "Well, I'll leave you to it then. I hope you find what it is you're looking for."
After he's gone back to his desk, Eve starts flipping through the binder, heart beating, telling herself she's not looking for a picture, she's just interested in whom the Twelve had sent Oksana to assassinate.
The victim's name is Sarah Lawrenson, thirty-eight years old, two daughters (ages seven and twelve), a former politics teacher from Wembley. Her contract had been terminated two years ago due to discriminating and hurtful behavior towards some of her students. She'd been married to Steve Lawrenson for only the better part of this year, and before that, to Michael Goodall, the girls' father.
Eve reads further, and apparently, Lawrenson had been an angry, far-right nationalist, whose frequent hobbies had included personal attacks online towards members of both liberal parties and open boarders-organizations. She'd had good relations with the board of the English Defense League, a far-right group. She'd held a lot of speeches, toured the UK and Northern Ireland to promote her new book about 'the dangers of Islamization', and she'd also launched a privately funded campaign in time for the next General Election.
Eve musses her hair with one hand. A domestically hated writer and wannabe-politician then, and Eve hasn't got a clue why the Twelve would want her dead. She wonders if they just pick someone they don't like over a game of football and beer, and decide to send someone to get rid of that poor bastard.
She turns the page, and there's a head-shot of Sarah Lawrenson. Eve feels a strange knot in her stomach. Lawrenson had been a natural beauty, despite her ideas; clear blue eyes, long dark hair, high cheekbones. A symmetrical face, if somewhat older than thirty-eight. She could easily have been a model at a younger age.
Eve flips the head-shot, but then the crime scene photos are right there in front of her, and she sees Lawrenson in a pile of dirt and sticks, behind a bush, limbs sprawled out, neck hanging like a loose rubber glove. There's a photo, a close-up, of her face; her cheeks are slightly blue-ish, and her eyes are staring up at the sky, wide open, like she's terrified.
"Jesus", Eve sighs, and rubs her face. She really would have been better off without seeing all of this, regardless of how it had made her feel in Oksana's presence at their last meeting. She feels a little sick now, thinking about the gloves. "How could you do this?" she whispers out loud. It's a stupid question; Eve is nothing if not aware of what Oksana is capable of.
How could I not?
Flipping all the crime scene photos as well, Eve leans back in her chair and stares at the ceiling, thinking. Any form of extremist propaganda is dangerous, she knows, but in the grand scheme of things, Sarah Lawrenson had just been a new face in an angry, racist crowd. She doesn't seem important enough to be terminated. She doesn't seem like a big enough threat. That said, Eve knows there's more underneath the surface. She could look into Lawrenson's benefactors for the campaign, but hadn't Charlie just said that--
--someone had been arrested. Shit.
Eve starts digging around, fumbling through the papers, searching for a familiar face, but Oksana isn't there. Her fingerprints are everywhere, but her actual face and her actual codename are nowhere, and finally, Eve finds the page she needs, and feels her heart stop.
Lawrenson's ex-husband's hairs and skin traces had turned up in forensics.
Sarah Lawrenson and Michael Goodall had divorced two years ago, over financial disputes and different values just after she'd been fired, but as Eve reads his statement, she sees that he'd claimed not to have had any contact with his ex-wife, except to discuss their daughters over the phone.
But now the London Police and Security Services have his DNA all over the clothes Lawrenson had been wearing when she'd died, and there's a copy of a subpoena in the binder, carefully prepared to take away his visiting rights, and to top it all off, there's an attachment at the end - Michael Goodall's profile. Eve opens it and lets out a loud groan, because Goodall is--
--working as a security guard at the fucking Savoy in London.
"I'm going to kill her!" Eve screams and throws the binder halfway across the office. Then she realizes Charlie is still in the room, his eyes like saucers behind his nerdy glasses, and she shakes her head apologetically and tells him to get them some fresh coffee.
Oksana isn't just assassinating people. She's framing people too, and Eve briefly wonders if Oksana's next plan of torment is to force Eve out of this office by making it impossible for her to actually do her job.
The coffee Charlie brings her sits untouched for the remainder of the day.
At home, Eve cleans every cupboard, every surface, every window. She vacuums the whole house, curses Oksana and the Twelve, does the laundry, attempts to make dinner, and ends up burning the potatoes two minutes after Niko's come home from the Bridge Club.
"I'll order thai", he says upon seeing her tired, sullen face.
But like the coffee, the thai doesn't even reach her hand. She locks herself into her home office and stares blankly at the computer, the knowledge of an innocent man facing trial for murder eating away at her insides.
She takes out her phone and calls the possibly Ukrainian number Oksana had texted her from on the night of the murder. As expected, a foreign voice starts speaking right away, probably telling her that the number's out of service.
She has no way of reaching Oksana; another thing that makes this game such a drag for Eve. Oksana controls everything; when they meet, where they meet, what they talk about, if they talk at all, how they have sex, how Eve succeeds at her job, even how she sleeps nowadays.
Not knowing what else to do, Eve opens a blank memo on her computer. She stares at the cursor, ticking on the screen to the beat of her heart. Anxiety's threatening to stop her altogether, but then, she starts typing:
"You absolute prick. You can't do stuff like this. I know you don't care, but these are real people. Please, fix this."
She waits, but nothing happens. She has no way of knowing if this will work, no way of knowing how skilled Oksana is at hacking, or if she knows how to hack at all, or if she even bothers herself with checking up on Eve. Eve's breath catches at the thought of words appearing on the screen in front of her, but she waits until the computer goes into sleep mode, saving its energy, clearly telling Eve to save some of hers, too.
Eve crawls to bed, limbs heavy and head too full for her own good. She hates second-guessing herself, loathes the feeling of incompetency nagging at her brain. She needs this job and she needs to do it well. She hadn't lost a best friend, two jobs, (almost) a marriage and her own sanity just to end up here.
Oksana would probably say that unfair stuff happens all the time, but unlike her, Eve has a conscience, and she can't let this innocent man go down for a crime he didn't commit.
And she can't tell Carolyn that it's still Villanelle who's responsible for keeping her up at night.
She can't do anything, except dig a nest in the space between Niko's arm and his chest, curl into him and try to shut the world out, even just for a minute. She's allowed to give him a couple of corner-stones here and there, but naturally, she can't tell him how she knows someone is being set up.
"You're doing your best, love", he comforts her, and pulls her into a tight embrace.
His touch becomes slightly rougher, his breathing a bit more laboured, and Eve lets him kiss her, lets him use his mouth to tell her how much he loves and adores her. His mustache tickles her face and she grins because this is where she needs to be, this is who she ought to protect no matter what, this is who's forgiven her.
Niko rolls on top of her, softly caressing her arms, her sides and her face, smiling down at her like she's the most beautiful thing in this world of his. It fills Eve's chest with warmth and guilt, makes her want to cling to him and get as far away as she can to protect him from her, because he wouldn't understand. She'd break his heart all over again, if she were to tell him what she needs, what she spends her days wanting--
Niko kisses her neck, and Eve opens her eyes. Oksana is sitting on the bureau on the other side of the bedroom. Her face is twisted into a gleeful, ugly thing, and she slaps her own knee while laughing. "Look at you, Eve, playing the little housewife!" She snorts and chuckles some more. "That is so funny."
"Shut up, shut up, shut up", Eve whispers. She wants her gone, out of this room, out of this house, out of what little life she has left. Right now, she feels like she could cut Oksana off. But she knows that feeling will pass. "I'm trying to be happy, so fuck off."
"Are you?" Oksana giggles. It's high-pitched and irritating and so, so smug.
Eve doesn't reply. She rolls them over, turns her face into Niko's neck, turns her back on the demon in her bedroom.
In the middle of the night, Eve wakes up from a nightmare that she forgets the minute she opens her eyes, but she's sweaty and shaking, and she has to go to the bathroom. Carefully wriggling out of Niko's arms, she throws on one of his shirts and pads to the loo.
When she washes her hands, she splashes some water on her face, to get rid of the sweat in her eyes. She feels ill. She glances down at herself in the mirror, imagines the remains of sex lingering on the soft skin of her inner thighs, then wets a towel to scrub all of it away.
Downstairs, there's something wrong. She feels a shiver run up and down her spine as she pours herself a glass of water, and instinctively reaches for a kitchen knife. She puts the glass down, sneaks through the dark kitchen and living room, towards the hall, then feels the lock with her fingers. Everything's in order; the door is locked and secure.
As if re-living a memory, she spins around and stares at the back door, but Oksana isn't there, in her dark jacket and beige pants. There's no one there, but there's a light illuminating the back part of the first floor. Eve realizes it's her computer screen.
She throws the knife back into the sink and hurries to her computer, leaning down towards the screen. There, under the words she'd typed into the memo only hours before, is a single line of text.
"If you keep stressing like this you are going to give yourself an aneurysm."
"You're giving me fucking aneurysm", Eve hisses through her teeth, then starts slamming down letters on her keyboard. Oksana might still be hacked in and monitoring her computer.
"Stop acting like you're twelve and come clean up your fucking mess. It's NOT funny. If they start digging around, I'll be in the SHITHOUSE. Get your ass over here. This is not an invite, I'm FURIOUS with you. Walk if you have to, I don't care, but just. DO. IT."
Eve lets out a harsh breath, proud of herself for giving Oksana a piece of her mind. She waits for her heartbeat to stop pounding in her ears; waits for Oksana to reply.
The cursor stays still, and Eve falls asleep at her desk.
Chapter 6: Tinker Tailor Soldier Cunt
It's the week before Christmas when Oksana finally deigns to show up, four whole weeks after leaving Eve the arrogant piss-take of a message on her computer.
Eve's having a late lunch alone at a tiny pub serving all-day-breakfast, lunch and dinner, located in a drive-through west of Millbank, around the corner from Thames House. Her fish and chips are so oily they're practically swimming in a pond of grease and tartar sauce, but Niko and her had fought about 'priorities' last night, and as punishment, there hadn't been any food to bring to work this morning.
She's sulking. She's in limbo with Niko, her work and Oksana, who seems to have disappeared into thin air. Eve had scrolled through every website, every intranet, every foreign liaison database she has clearance for, but there was nothing to suggest Oksana had taken anyone out during these four weeks.
Eve is starting to wonder if something's happened to her. What if the Twelve hadn't ordered her to frame someone, what if she'd gone rogue and pissed them off, what if--
"Hi!" Oksana exclaims cheerfully when she pulls out the chair next to Eve's, and Eve drops her fork to the floor. It clatters between them, and Oksana, clad in an expensive looking parka jacket and snow boots, bends down to retrieve it. There's snow in her hair, stuck to her eyelashes, and the wind has given her cheeks a bright shade of pink and--
"Where the hell have you been?" Eve hisses when the initial shock wears off.
"Aruba", Oksana replies nonchalantly while exchanging Eve's fallen fork for a clean one. She sits down, puts the new fork in Eve's dish, and only then does Eve realize that Oksana actually has a tan underneath her pink cheeks, and that there's trace of a burnt nose and--
"Are you serious?" Eve groans, and shoves the dish away.
"Yes. The sharks were amazing, their teeth--"
"Are you fucking serious?" Eve almost shouts, but then softens her voice when the cashier clears his throat behind the counter. "I thought--I mean, I thought you--"
"Aww", Oksana purrs, and brings a hand to her own heart, acting touched. "Were you worried about me?"
"No", Eve snaps, like the mere thought would be ridiculous. She knows her own reaction's given her away, and faintly disappointed in herself, she turns her head and focuses on a bike messenger riding through the slush. "I just thought that--"
"Yes, you were", Oksana giggles, and points at Eve with a gloved finger. "You were worried I wouldn't be around to have fun with you anymore." She drags her eyes over Eve and smiles at the sight of her snowy ankle boots.
Eve's cheeks flush, but it isn't arousal this time. She's fuming. "Is it just you, or are all psychopaths completely incapable of distinguishing between a person enjoying their little jokes and a person absolutely sick of their crap, because I've really had it up to here, but you're clearly shit at understanding anything about me."
Oksana's smile disappears in the blink of an eye, and her look becomes hard, glassy. She clears her throat and glances out the window, at the cars passing. "I can distinguish between a normal person and an arsehole. I have told you not to call me that."
Eve should stop. She should take a minute, to calm down. She needs to get over her anger right now, and focus on why Oksana's shown up today of all days. But she can't, and the words just keep flying out of her mouth: "Right, because the general rules of psychos don't apply to Oksana Astankova because she's so fucking special and gifted? Of course, it's not enough that you have to be better than all the other sickos--"
There's a grip around her collar, almost pulling her out of her chair, and it's painful and tight and she feels her stomach flip at the sight of Oksana's hard, unyielding eyes, just mere inches from her own.
This has to be what she looks like, up close, when she ends someone's life. Eve knows her, but this? This makes her breath stop, makes her blood turn into ice in her veins, makes her mind scream at her to run for her life. How Oksana looks at her in bed is nothing compared to this, and for the first time in months, Eve fears her as she knows she should always do.
"She's dead", Oksana hisses, and Eve feels the heat of her breath. "You don't talk about her. You know nothing about her, your whole profile is bullshit. You call me Villanelle, or you won't call anyone anything anymore. Do you understand?"
The grip tightens, putting Eve's mouth right underneath Oksana's. Eve had refused to go back to calling Oksana by her codename, because Villanelle is just an image, just a horror story, but Oksana is, despite her track record, still just one woman, and easier to comprehend because she'd had a childhood (no matter how horrible), a life, some normal things, at least at some point. And yet--
"Okay", Eve gasps, painfully aware of the cashier's eyes on them. "Okay, okay, take it easy, I'm sorry." Eve timidly lifts one of her hands to Oksana's, to the small area of exposed skin between glove and sleeve. She runs her fingers over it, lightly. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you."
The fury in Oksana's eyes doesn't dissipate, but the grip loosens, and she lets out a long breath that fills Eve's lungs with the scent of her. Relieved, but still terrified, Eve leans back in her chair and realizes her hands are trembling.
Oksana reaches over to Eve's dish and snags a couple of fries, back to normal, as if the whole thing never happened. She chews loudly, staring out the window.
"How, um, how did you know where I was?" Eve asks, and slowly pushes the half-eaten dish closer to Oksana's side, as a peace offering.
"Really, Eve?" Oksana rolls her eyes and pushes the fork into the fried fish, and then lifts it to her lips.
Right. Stupid question. Eve runs a hand through her hair and decides to focus on more important things. "Why'd you do it? Why did you frame Michael Goodall?"
More chewing, then: "He was rude. I didn't like his face."
Eve's fallen back into the rabbit hole, as if sitting here with Oksana isn't weird enough already. Oksana had framed Michael Goodall-- "Because he was rude?" This is absurd. She's absurd and twelve years old and such a little brat.
"Yes", Oksana says shortly, and hacks up a couple of fries drenched in tartar sauce.
The worst thing is, Eve believes her. She digs out her wallet, slams a tenner on the table and walks out the door, her body shaking with fury and anger and too much everything, because Goodall is going down, and Oksana doesn't give a shit, and Eve's shaking so much she thinks she's going to break down into a sob because of course someone being rude to Oksana is a crime big enough to send you to--
"Will you stop running?" Oksana's chasing her down the busy, snow covered Thorney Street. "You're going to slip and crack your skull and then you'll blame me for that too!"
Eve realizes there's only thirty feet from them to her office, the MI5 Security Services headquarters. Her feet screech to a halt, and despite the pain and outrage coursing through her body, she turns around, grabs Oksana's shoulder when she catches up with her, and starts shuffling her down Page Street, in the opposite direction of Thames House.
"You can't be here", Eve hushes, and walks them around the corner to Dean Ryle, out of sight. "The only reason I haven't told anyone about Goodall is that I can't tell them why I know he's being framed. How do you think that would look, an MI5-Officer deliberately withholding information about an international assassin? They'd get me for high treason."
"Look", Oksana says and squeezes her eyes shut, like she expects her next words to taste really bad in her mouth. "I came to help you."
Eve lets go of Oksana's arm like she's been burnt. "You--I'm sorry, what? Really?"
"Ugh", Oksana grunts and pulls her fur-lined hood up. The snowfall is thick now. "I'm already regretting it. Aruba was so much nicer than this place, but yes, I'm going to do you a favour, okay?"
"Tell me", Eve says sternly, feeling the beginnings of butterflies in her stomach.
"Later", Oksana says, biting her lower lip. "I need to take care of some things first. Meet me tomorrow night, at The Bull, room 403, at seven." She brings one of her gloved hands up to Eve's hair, brushes off a few snowflakes and snickers when Eve moves to take a step back. "Try to leave that attitude at home, okay? See you tomorrow."
Eve wants to ask a million questions: Where is she going, is she going to take back what she'd done to Goodall, is she in London to kill someone, is she going to give Eve the other assassin, but Oksana's already walking away, striding down the street, into a sea of late lunchers and uniformed school-children. And then she's gone.
Eve turns around to head back to Thorney, and comes face to face with Kenny and Elena.
She hasn't seen Kenny since the evening of the Polish Independence Day party. She'd completely forgotten to call him and ask why he'd been so tense, if he was all right, if there was something on his mind, something about Villanelle and no, this has got to either be telepathy or the universe playing some kind of sick game with her--
"Hi!" Eve gasps, too late, knowing she looks scared out of her mind. "What, how, I mean, what are you guys doing here?" There are over eight million people living in London, plus all the tourists, plus the fact that Kenny's and Elena's offices are at the MI6 SIS-building, all the way across Vauxhall Bridge and jesus, what if they--
"Hi", Elena smiles brightly, and leans in to give her a big, snowy hug. "We went over to the Home Office to check on the immigration process of someone, well, this wife of a man who's been detained here. What are you doing out and about? I thought you'd practically be living at Thames House?"
The Home Office is just a couple of streets away, and Elena seems like her normal self, so Eve forces her mind to come up with a believable story, still frightened by the close call. "I, uh, went to the Grocery on Vincent, I bought some yogurt there yesterday, but the date had gone to shit, so I went to get my money back. Idiots."
"Oh, I don't know what's up with that place", Elena says, and glances at Kenny, who still hasn't said a word. "Well, it's not like the Grocery down in Forest Hill is any better, but--"
"Who was that?" Kenny interrupts, nodding his head in the direction Oksana had gone.
"Who?" Eve asks, before she can stop herself and oh, she's so stupid.
"The woman whose arm you were holding like thirty seconds ago", Kenny says slowly, giving Eve one of his skeptical looks, and there it is; that same feeling he'd given Eve at the party, and now Elena's looking at her too.
"Jess", Eve lies, hoping she'll sound convincing enough. "She's, um, we go to yoga together. Sometimes. I've been so busy lately, so I haven't been, and I just bumped into her and she was worried and, um, well, I was trying to reassure her that everything's fine and that I'll go back once work lets up, which, I don't think it will."
"Jess", Kenny says.
"Yoga", he says, apparently determined to repeat the keywords to catch Eve in the lie.
"Kenny, you okay?" Eve asks. It'll become a mantra if they keep this up.
"Hello Kenny, have you seen Eve?" Elena laughs and gestures at her. "You don't look like that without some hot yoga, you get me?"
Kenny holds Eve's gaze for a long time. His hair is full of snowflakes. "We should probably get back", he says. "Mum's having fits left and right. It's really annoying."
"I know", Eve says sympathetically. "Some of that might be my fault. I'm behind with a couple of cases."
"You are amazing", Elena says, and touches her arm. She's wearing red mittens that look like something a grandmother would make. "Don't work yourself too hard, yeah? Come over for dinner when you're free. Bring Niko. All the way down to Forest Hill."
Eve chuckles, and knows it'll never happen. "Yeah, we'll talk about that. I, um, should get back. Workload, you know."
"We'll walk you", Kenny says. "It's down the way, isn't it?"
It is, but Eve can't shake the feeling of Kenny's eyes burning holes into the back of her skull as they head towards Thames House. The people and cars seem to pass her in a blur. Her cheeks and feet are wet from the snow, her toes freezing in her shoes, but it's nothing compared to the ice creeping up her spine, creeping into her brain, screaming at her that Kenny's figured it out.
Chapter 7: Hunger
Eve had been blissfully unaware of how excruciating it could be to wait for thirty hours to pass, but at five to seven in the evening, she's finally standing outside of room 403 at The Bull and The Hide, a little boutique hotel with a gastro pub and minimalist deco. She lifts her hand to knock, then changes her mind, and decides she needs another minute before starting her evening with Oksana.
Yesterday, after coming home from work, she'd taken the bull by the horns, so to speak; she'd called Kenny. The phone had rung forever until his nervous voice had answered, and when Eve had asked him if something was wrong, he'd told her it was nothing. Confused and very anxious, she'd hung up the phone, but the ice creeping up her spine had still been there; the equivalent of informing her that she was being royally rat-fucked.
Kenny had to be hiding something, but Eve had decided - despite being relatively sure that his weird behavior was somehow connected to Oksana - to let him be the one who should broach the subject.
Niko still wasn't talking to her. The distance between them as they slept and the dark rain-cloud over their home had somehow made it possible for Eve to pause the looming increase of the guilt she usually walked around carrying, and tonight, she finds herself feeling empty, more than anything else, when she thinks about her marriage.
"Why are you just standing there?" a voice asks from her left.
Eve's heart skips a beat; she'd been lost in thought, and when she looks to her left, Oksana's walking down the hall, carrying a tray with a whole selection of different dishes. Eve had been too on edge to eat anything beforehand, but upon entering the hotel, she'd been hit by the lingering scent of toast and burgers, and her stomach had made its emptiness known. Now, even though she shouldn't, she feels a small smile threatening to reveal itself. "I was just, um, thinking about something", she says quickly.
"Okay", Oksana says neutrally, and fishes a key-card out of her front pocket. She's in loose, comfortable jeans and a grey Alexander McQueen sweater, hair slightly tangled and feet in furry hotel slippers. Everything she's wearing makes her look beautiful and soft.
And Oksana is beautiful, but she isn't soft; she's treacherous, manipulating and dangerous, and Eve is supposed to be both annoyed and upset with her. "I shouldn't be here", she says, even as she stares at the plates of salmon and poached eggs, fresh avocado and bacon on toast, piles of blueberry pancakes. Oksana's carrying the tray like a French waitress; balanced on one hand, and there's more food than one person could possibly eat.
Eve realizes Oksana intends for them to share.
"Oh, please", Oksana huffs and pushes the door open. "You always say that."
They enter a spacious suite, decorated in warm shades of autumn. Despite the December weather, there's a window ajar. Next to a work space featuring an uncomfortable-looking Kartell chair, there's a small satin lounge sofa, and Eve chooses to sit there. Oksana puts the tray down in the middle of the bed, and then takes a seat, supporting her back against a mountain of pillows.
Eve feels her mouth water as she watches Oksana dig into the different portions, shoving half a pancake down her throat, then licking the sugar and syrup off her fingers. She must be famished. Eve fidgets on the sofa, and her stomach growls inconveniently.
"Accepting food doesn't mean you accept everything that I would like to do", Oksana says, munching on a poached egg. There's yolk around her lips.
"I thought I was here because you wanted to do me a favour", Eve says, a bit alarmed as she gets up and joins Oksana on the bed. She takes her coat off, steps out of her snowy boots and reaches for the plate with avocados and bacon. "Did I misunderstand?"
Oksana glances at her. "No", she says, and bites down on some toast. Still chewing her food, she says: "But you should always eat if you have the chance."
Eve ultimately agrees. She digs into her food more eloquently than Oksana, and it tastes heavenly. Her eyes close in bliss, and as she swallows, she notices Oksana's staring at her. It's a surprised look, and Eve remembers that Oksana and her have never actually eaten a proper dinner together, if they don't count the unfortunate evening at Eve's house involving a broken bathroom door and some Shepherd's pie.
It feels like forever ago.
Not that this is dinner, Eve reminds herself. She's here for that favour, here to get her career back on track, and it's this woman's fault it had run off track in the first place. "And when you're done, you're going to give me something I can use?"
"I am", Oksana says. "But it's only because you're starting to look really tired, and I like you better when you have more energy. Plus, no one else can help you."
No one else can help you. For Eve, it's the same as "you need me", and she doesn't want to need Oksana. She looks down at her toast. Suddenly, the food tastes like cardboard in her mouth, and she pushes her plate away.
She wonders if she should ask about the "things" that had prevented Oksana from meeting her yesterday evening. Nothing that could have been her handiwork had happened in London overnight, at least not to Eve's knowledge. She wonders if it's to come, this business of Oksana's - this kill - if she isn't here just because Eve had told her to come in capital letters... four weeks ago.
Eve doesn't want to risk not getting her favour, so she decides to leave it. If Oksana murders someone, Eve will know, sooner or later. And right now, she doesn't want to think about it. It doesn't mean she closes her eyes to Oksana's nature, but rather helps make this whole evening a tad more bearable.
They sit in silence, except for the occasional crunch of Oksana's teeth and the noises from the street coming in through the slightly open window. When Oksana's done, she wipes her mouth on the back of her hand, then gathers the plates onto the tray and sets it down on the floor next to the bed. Then, she turns to Eve, one leg tucked underneath herself, the other dangling over the side of the bed.
"Well?" Eve says impatiently, looking at Oksana, then around the room.
The corners of Oksana's mouth twitch. "Do you want to have sex?"
"No!" Eve groans, then laughs nervously, because damn it. The question had sent a sudden rush of adrenaline coursing through her body, like an awakening, but still: "You're supposed to be here to help me, remember?"
The twitching turns into a playful grin. "Sex can be helpful."
"Don't think I won't leave if you keep this up", Eve says sternly.
Threatening to walk out seems to do the trick, because Oksana raises her palms in fake surrender. "Okay, okay. Fine. I have a file for you. I'm sure you will find it very useful, and it's yours if you want it, but I still think--"
"Give me the file", Eve says right away, through her teeth, hoping Oksana will at least hear her frustration if she can't see it plastered all over her face.
Oksana meets her fiery stare, and seems to realize Eve's haste. Her face isn't exactly serious, but she isn't smiling either. She's wearing an expectant look, searching for something; fear, lust, surrender, something that usually reveals itself in Eve's eyes whenever they see each other, but whatever it is, Oksana doesn't seem to find it, because she exhales like she's done, and nods towards the desk. "On the minibar. It's for you."
Eve gets up with the speed of a cheetah and bends down in front of the desk, in front of the cavity holding the minibar. There, on top of the buzzing little fridge, is a beige folder, tied closed with a red ribbon. She picks it up and sits back down on the bed, and then she starts undoing the knot.
"You can read it at home", Oksana says, staring blankly ahead.
"I can read it now", Eve protests, and pulls the ribbon away. The folder's quite thick. "I want to talk to you about this."
"I don't", Oksana groans with dramatic displeasure. She could practically be rolling her thumbs, with the expression on her face; utter boredom.
Eve's fingers are itching like a kid's waiting to open her birthday present. "Is this going to help Michael Goodall get out of prison?"
"Nope", Oksana shrugs, and pouts at Eve.
But she'd said-- "Then what is this?" Eve practically shouts. She's really starting to boil now, knuckles white from clenching the folder. "I told you to come so that you could make it right! You can't just frame someone for your shit because you don't like their face! He's going to get a life sentence!"
Oksana laughs then, a real, vengeful laugh, and looks at Eve with round eyes. "Yeah. That's exactly what he's going to get. Trust me, he deserves it."
Eve stops fuming then, and takes a deep breath. "What is that supposed to mean?"
Oksana's eyes are resentful, like she's just been asked the most stupid question in the history of stupid questions, and without responding, she goes back to staring at the opposite wall.
Eve won't get anywhere like this. She'll figure it out on her own time. "Okay, well, can you tell me what this is then?"
Oksana mutters something in another language and turns to look at Eve. "That", she says, and points to the folder Eve's still squeezing, "is something that will make your career a lot more interesting and a lot more successful. Putting that together was the most boring thing I have ever had to do. Don't push it."
Eve looks down at the folder, then back at Oksana. "So because it was so boring, you're not going to go through it with me?"
Oksana nods. "Everything you need is in there, and because you're smart enough to find my apartment and stab me, you can figure out the rest of it yourself."
So they're back to that now. Underneath the frustration, Eve feels both gratitude and irritation building up, but regardless of what had happened between them in Paris all that time ago, regardless of the fact that Oksana really is twelve years old sometimes, she has done Eve a favour, and believes that Eve is clever enough to use that favour to her advantage at MI5.
It's actually a little flattering, and Eve loathes herself for falling for it, because it's evident that Oksana's subtle praise is just a trick to get what she wants.
"I'm not going to fuck you", Eve says matter-of-factly. Her voice is steadier than she feels, and most of her turmoil is starting to subside now that the folder is safely in her hands, but there's something else now, something building itself up inside of her; a flutter, a familiar ache.
Oksana smiles mischievously, like she's about to do something naughty. "Did I tell you to do that?"
Eve tries to believe that it isn't her own fault that her body reacts the way it does; it's déjà vu, memories, learnt responses, and Oksana knows exactly how to operate the control board. This whole debate isn't even that difficult of a riddle: Oksana enjoys power. She enjoys manipulating people into doing what she wants; it's the essence of everything she does. She decides what she wants someone to do, and doesn't stop until it's happened; dying, coming, anything. Eve knows this, and her body throbs. "No, you didn't", she says in a low voice.
Oksana's smile widens, and she looks so pleased with Eve, so pleased to be playing this infinite game, and then Eve gets it; the winning.
There's always a storm in the horizon, and Eve should sail away, should throw Oksana overboard and leave her to drown. But none of that would matter, because Oksana knows how to swim, and she'd always pull herself back onto the raft, to Eve, and force them to stay in the maelstrom. In the end, Oksana always wins, always gets her way, even in Eve's daydreams.
But sometimes, Oksana's way is Eve's way, too. Sometimes, they want the same thing. Eve is beginning to fear that tonight might be that kind of a night.
"Why are you looking at me like that?" Oksana asks.
Eve blinks, leaving the storm, coming back to this room. Oksana's eyes are curious. "Like what?"
"Like you're going to stab me", Oksana hisses, and her right hand moves backwards, creeps under one of the pillows. Eve doesn't need to look; she knows what's hiding underneath it, what Oksana always carries with her, even just for the sake of nostalgia.
Eve puts the folder down on the bed and gets up. She could leave. She could go home, but instead, she walks around the bed, to Oksana's side, and stops when there's only a few inches between them. Oksana straightens her spine, pushes herself deeper into the pillows supporting her back, still with one hand on her hidden weapon, and she holds her chin up defiantly, in a manner that tells Eve that she could try it, but she'd regret it.
It's nothing if not a small moment of triumph, seeing Oksana focused and alert, analyzing the situation in the complex maze of her mind. "I don't want to stab you", Eve says honestly, and Oksana seems to relax a little bit.
"Good, because I'm not in the mood for that", Oksana says with a hint of annoyance. Then her face softens, and so does her voice. "What do you want then?"
Eve lowers her eyes. She knows what her body craves, but an admission of that kind is such grey area, somewhere between right and wrong, between desire and order. "I don't know", she confesses, and looks into Oksana's eyes, and there's no doubt about what Oksana wants. Her eyes are hooded and dark, and she reaches out and grabs Eve's wrist, then tugs at it, and Eve falls into the lake, into Oksana, onto her lap, straddling her hips.
The shift of control vibrates in the thick air of the room, and Eve's momentary victory is long gone, and in its place there's tension, arousal, a hitched breath. They're hardly ever like this, and Eve being on top of Oksana is by no means the same as being in command, but it still makes Eve's lips part, makes the apex of her thighs pulse because Oksana's face is so close, and her eyes are dark grey tonight. She looks gorgeous, with her hair down, her slightly tanned skin, her soft sweater, but in a heartbeat, a familiar look overtakes her eyes; provocation.
"Why do you always have to be like this?" Eve sighs. "Why do you always have to look like you still want to hurt me?"
Oksana smiles; a real smile, not a spiteful one. "Why do you always have to look like you still hate me?" she inquires in lieu of responding, her gaze moving between Eve's eyes and her parted lips. Oksana licks her own lips slowly, and there's that pull between them, that black hole which Eve feels every time they're so close they're practically sharing the same air, the same breath.
Eve has no answer, and Oksana's hands move to Eve's waist, and she's pulling her forward, and Eve feels herself throbbing between her thighs when Oksana leans in and starts tracing Eve's parted lips with only the tip of her tongue, tasting her. It's so erotic, and Eve lets out a shuddering breath, then digs her nails into the skin of Oksana's wrists, but Oksana's hands start moving, from Eve's waist to her ribs, her breasts.
"Take your blouse off", Oksana whispers, and her lips briefly brush Eve's when she talks. "And open your hair."
Slowly, Eve reaches up to the back of her own head, unfastening the clip that's holding her bun in place. She's beyond questioning why she's obeying. Her hair cascades down her shoulders, wild and uncombed, and Oksana's sensual gaze travels over her. Almost feverish now, Eve unbuttons her blouse, quickly, then pushes it down her arms, and drops it to the floor. Oksana's eyes rake over the newly exposed skin, her mulberry bralette, and she lets out a low groan.
The sound goes straight to the wetness between Eve's legs. "I really hate how you do this to me", she whispers, and she hadn't meant to say that out loud. Oksana must sense that, because she looks up, and her eyes narrow.
"You're such a bad liar, Eve", Oksana huffs, and then she flips them over. Her fingers unbutton and unzip Eve's slacks, and then her hand's moving inside, fingers against slick, wet heat, and Eve's raft starts rolling with the growing waves.
"It doesn't feel like you hate this", Oksana chuckles, teasing her, but then she moves down, pulling Eve's slacks and panties off, and then suddenly, there's a wet tongue between Eve's legs, and long fingers holding her hips in place, and she can't come up with anything coherent to say, can't do anything but grab fistfuls of Oksana's blonde tresses; tresses she'd been too impatient to tie back, to keep out of her way.
It's quick: Oksana knows Eve's body by now, knows what she likes, knows what she needs to come, so she puts her wet lips and sloppy tongue right where Eve's desperate to feel them. Panting and moaning, Eve props herself up on her elbows, and Oksana doesn't have to tell her to look at her; she knows she ought to, so she does, and Oksana's eyes are insatiable and dark, and then Eve lets her head fall back, lets the waves hit her and pull her under.
Oksana lets out a strained breath, and smiles like she's just had the time of her life. "Mm", she hums as she licks her lips, and Eve closes her eyes in both exhaustion and slight embarrassment.
Then, Oksana climbs up from between her legs, grabs her head and kisses her - without wiping her mouth. It's dirty and brazen and it makes Eve blush, but Oksana stays true to her word; she makes no attempt at removing her own clothes, makes no move indicating she wants something in return. She simply holds Eve's head still, thrusting her tongue into her mouth, making Eve taste herself and it's so infuriatingly shameless, and so, so intimate.
"You could have just left", Oksana chuckles, smug again, her breath hot on Eve's lips. "I said I was going to do you a favour, not a trade. This was just a fun bonus."
It doesn't upset Eve, because she'd always known that. Nobody had forced her to do this, to want it, to enjoy it. She'd done those things all on her own... which is the problem itself.
She should get up, get dressed and leave with the folder that's supposed to salvage her career - it's what she'd come for - but Oksana's mouth is still leisurely planting soft kisses on her throat, and Eve's lake is smooth and calm again.
She should move. She should go home, and get to work.
She doesn't. Her addiction works in strange ways.
Chapter 8: Bang Bang, Shot You Dead
It's twenty minutes past one in the morning when Eve's woken up by a loud ringing sound. Niko grunts something incoherent next to her. Half-asleep, she fumbles around for her phone, then remembers she'd left it on the bureau by the door.
The beige folder Oksana had given her last night is on her nightstand, and Eve had been reading it until her vision had turned blurry. She stares at it, remembering the events of last night, and then she climbs out of bed and stumbles the few feet to her phone.
It's Senior Intelligence Officer James Pembroke from MI5. He doesn't apologize for waking her up in the middle of the night, and then he asks her to sit down.
Sometime after midnight, the City of London Police station on Bishopsgate had been hit; a transit police vehicle had been attacked upon its arrival at the station. Every department has been alerted, together with every on-call DI, every SIO, the crime scene investigation-team and of course, the Met Police and MI6. Apparently, several police officers had been killed in the hit, and the detainee who had been in transit is missing. By the looks of it, it had been an ordered extraction mission, and the news channels are labeling the attack as terrorism.
Everything Pembroke says becomes an abstract mess in Eve's brain because the City of London Police station on Bishopsgate is located literally four hundred feet from The Bull and The Hide, the hotel where she'd met Oksana less than seven hours ago.
It's a good thing she's sitting down.
"How many?" she whispers. "How--I--I mean, how many police officers were killed?"
Two from transport police, three from the Bishopsgate station, and the front desk officer. Six people, and Eve is going to vomit. She runs to the loo, phone in hand, and bends down over the toilet, and she gags over and over, but nothing comes up. Pembroke's still speaking to her, and she tries to take a deep breath, tries to calm herself, but she can't, because--
He asks if she wants to come down, how quickly she can be there. Eve tries to think, think, think; it's the middle of the night, no traffic. From Finchley to Bishopsgate at this hour, approximately forty minutes. The answer seems to do, and Pembroke hangs up.
Eve, shaking so hard she drops her phone, stays on the floor for nearly fifteen minutes before she's certain her legs will support her.
The scenes in movies, the ones in which someone faces something horrible and everything around them just slows down to the point of that person being the only one moving at a regular pace, had always made Eve roll her eyes. She'd told Niko it's all overly dramatized, and he'd told her that people react differently.
When Pembroke shakes her hand, she sees it, but she can't feel anything.
Bishopsgate is, after Kasia Molkowska and the officers at the hospital, only the second place where she's witnessed a real bloodbath. The whole place is cordoned off; the outside is a road block of police cars and medical first responders because Bishopsgate/A10, on which the station is located, is one of the busiest streets in central London. Even in the middle of the night, bystanders have gathered, accompanied by several local networks, and somewhere above them, a chopper is whirring.
The inside of the station is covered with barricade tape. The first walkthrough has already been done, the second one's underway, CSI are hard at work and everybody's shouting so loudly. The sounds of their voices echo in Eve's ears, get mixed up with the pounding of her own heart.
In front of the station, there are two bodies in the slush, in the middle of the street, covered by white sheets which are drenched with crimson red. There's an open tent set up around them, to protect them from possible snowfall. Eve stares, and it's so difficult for her to understand that there are actually people under those sheets, people whose lives had ended in the blink of an eye.
Next to the two covered bodies, there are clear tire tracks in the brown, melted snow, consistent with someone speeding off at a very fast pace.
Eve wants to sit down. She wants to tear her skin off. She wants to run straight in, to see what Oksana's done, but Pembroke grips her arm and pulls her back, frowning at her recklessness.
"Coverall", he says, and lets go of her arm. "Don't try to be a hero."
Right, Eve remembers, and rubs her eyes. The staging area is right next to where she's standing; a white tent set up for the purposes of avoiding contamination at the crime scene. When she steps inside, she gets the basic suit: White coverall that looks like something beekeepers wear, then gloves and boots. When a CSI tries to place a white mask over her mouth, she holds up a hand, feeling a new wave of vomit threatening to ruin the suit she'd just put on.
She can do this. She has to do this. She tells him to put the goddamn mask over her nose and mouth.
Breathing hard, and careful to step on the stepping plates spread out in the street and on the floor by the first investigators, she enters the station. She immediately sees the front desk officer, uncovered, shot through the glass of her booth, one bullet in, right between her eyes, blood splatter and brain matter on the wall behind her body, more bullet holes--
"Eve!" someone exclaims from behind her. She turns to see Aaron Sullivan, a middle aged crime scene investigator she'd worked with whenever things had occasionally gone to shit at P3, her old department at MI5. She can't make out anything other than his eyes, but she knows his voice and his height.
"Hey", she sighs when he hops onto the stepping plate next to hers. "I've just seen the desk officer. What the hell is this?"
"Pembroke didn't brief you, then?" he asks, frowning underneath his coverall.
Eve swallows. Pembroke had said a lot of things on the phone, but she can't make sense out of them, can't put them in order. "He did. I, uh. I think I freaked out a little. Run it again, please, if you have time."
"Well, it's not like these guys are going anywhere", he says, and nods towards the entrance of the station. "It looks like a rescue mission. The man in custody was a thirty-one year old Luca Colombo, Italian citizenship, arrested for smuggling and possession. This thing is a shitstorm, Eve. He came into the UK from Catania, Sicily five days ago with half a kilo of cocaine in his suitcase, then, according to CCTV from Stansted Airport, abandoned the bag at the baggage claim when he saw the dogs coming. He was out of there by the time the dogs picked up a scent."
"Typical", Eve whispers. "When was he arrested, exactly?"
"Three days ago. Monday, around five-ish. Picked up in South Hampstead."
Eve had seen Oksana at the lunch pub the day before yesterday, on Tuesday, around one. Fast work. But--
--why isn't Colombo lying dead in the snow outside?
"Rescue missions now?" Eve says before she can stop herself.
"What?" Sullivan asks.
"Nothing, I'm just thinking out loud." A camera flash goes off to her left, and she blinks. "So they pick him up in South Hampstead, and he ends up here three days later? There's got to be at least five police stations between South Hampstead and here."
"My thoughts exactly", Sullivan nods. "A transfer order came through around ten p.m. last night. No one thought it strange at the time. Something about a translator."
"So someone on the inside--"
"Fucker", Eve hisses. Someone had predicted both the timetable and the route of the transit vehicle.
MI5 had been compromised by Frank Haleton, who had fed the Twelve information. Eve remembers the anger, the betrayal she'd felt upon connecting the dots. "He's Italian. Was he on HST when he came in?" HST is the High Security Treat list, which Eve had become very familiar with at the P3 department, with Bill.
Sullivan shakes his head.
"So we couldn't even have seen this coming", Eve says. Good, no one's going to lose their job over this, except maybe the Stansted security officers. And the treacherous asshole who had Colombo moved. "Okay, so someone just, what, waltzed in here?"
"Looks like it", Sullivan says. "Casual middle-of-the-week night-time. This place wasn't even half-full at the time. Surveillance across the street got blotched, as well as ours. Clean shots. Imagine the panic, at a place like this."
Eve nods; they're in central London, and gun fire in the street and bullets flying across the A10 in the middle of the night had probably caused pure chaos.
"They took out the transit police, then came in, got the front desk, then three more officers down that corridor, basically everyone on the first floor." Sullivan points to a grey can a few feet away from them on the floor. "They killed the lights, then used smoke grenades and tear gas to stop the police on the upper floors from coming down. You couldn't see shite in here when we got in. Hate to say it, but it's absolutely ridiculous how fast it all must have happened. By the time first responders got here, they were already gone, and so was the transit vehicle. It's already been found, though, in Canary Wharf by the Thames, but they switched cars."
"How is this even possible?" Eve groans. "The Wood Street station is like, what, five minutes away?"
"Car accident on London Wall and a dead double-decker on the A10", he says and shrugs. "Slippery weather. Big operation. They came in prepared, so they've probably left the country by now."
"They", Eve says, like an echo. She, not they. She could not have pulled this off on her own in such a narrow window of time. Oksana is deadly, but she's still just one person.
Viktor Kedrin, she could do. Kasia Molkowska, right under Eve's fucking nose, she could do. Cesare Greco and his estate full of family and friends, she could do. Frank Haleton's safe house, she could do. But this? No way.
Still, the arrogance of the whole hit reeks of Oksana.
Eve walks forward on the plates, down a corridor, until she encounters a CSI taking pictures of one of the dead police officers; a woman in her early thirties, shot once in the head and three times in the chest. Her eyes are still wide open, mouth slack, like she'd been in the middle of realizing what was coming.
I think about your eyes, and your mouth, and what you feel when you kill someone.
Eve bends down, and reaches out to close the woman's eyes, but then remembers she's not allowed to.
Everyone in this station had been someone. Everyone working here must have had some sort of family, history, life. All gone, for some shitfaced cokehead.
You had help. You fucking psycho.
So this is why Oksana had been so different last night; she'd known she was about to do something extremely dangerous and risky - the perfect high - so she'd been nice to Eve. She'd been helpful. She had neither wanted nor needed her own release in return, because she'd known she was about to get something so much better.
Eve realizes that the ice creeping up her spine hadn't necessarily been only because of Kenny's weird behavior. Upon seeing her surroundings, the carnage and the graveyard created by Oksana, she realizes she had indeed been royally rat-fucked, but not just by Kenny. Oksana had played her.
"I want his file", Eve tells Sullivan, who's come up behind her. "Colombo. I need to see his file, everything we have on him."
"Eve, I think Pembroke called you down here as a favour", he says carefully, sharing a look with the other CSI. "These are our people. This is personal now, it's going to turn into a bloody war, Eve. You know this is going to MI6. It's a foreign target, by most likely foreign operatives."
Eve gives him a pointed glare, and tries to put as much determination as she can into her angry, shaking voice: "I'm pretty sure I know the people behind this hit. I can get them, and if Carolyn Martens has a problem with that, she can stick it up her ass. This is my area of expertise." She'd already wasted too much time on cases that hadn't led her anywhere with the Twelve, but this... this could go somewhere.
"Well, you can tell her yourself", Sullivan says. "They've called her, so she'll probably show up in a bit."
"Oh, don't think I won't--"
Eve's interrupted by loud voices shouting at the entrance of the station. Sullivan holds up his hand, as if telling her to stay put, and walks over to the front doors. She can hear swearing and something that sounds like "finally", and suddenly, her feet are moving her towards the voices. "What? What's happened?"
Sullivan lifts up the barricade tape and dives to the other side, looking like he's about to leave. He takes off his mask, revealing a sad smile as he turns to Eve. "All hail the wonder of teenagers up to no good", he says, and starts removing his coverall. "They've got them on video."
Again, the world slows down around Eve, until it stops moving completely. She knows what they will find on that video. She knows whose face she'll see, whose face everyone will see, and she holds her breath, thankful for the mask, thankful it's in place to muffle the helpless wail that's ready to escape her dry throat.
In the corner of her eye, she sees the front desk officer's blood on the wall, and suddenly she wants to destroy this wreckage, burn this whole place down, because Oksana's poured canisters and canisters of gasoline overboard, into the water, and then, she's set Eve's precious lake on fire.
Chapter 9: A Family Affair
Eve holds her breath as she clutches her cardboard coffee cup. She's on the fifth floor of the SIS-building and surrounded by a bunch of other officers, including James Pembroke and Carolyn Martens.
She's lucky to be here. These days, she has no business being at the MI6 headquarters, but because of the nature of the hit - and her good relationship with Pembroke, which is ultimately the reason why he'd called and alerted her in the first place - an exception had been made, just for tonight. Carolyn had shaken her hand, just like he had, and told her to stay hydrated. Alas, the coffee, which is now cold.
At the center of their crowded half-circle sits Johnny Nelson, a tech analyst at MI6, and he's just finished cleaning up the video, filmed by a teenager.
In the back of the police van transporting Eve and several other officers and investigators to SIS to view the footage, she'd found out that apparently, a group of adolescent boys had been out and about in the middle of the night, shooting beer cans at the abandoned Laindon Airstrip between Little Burstead and Crays Hill, about an hour away from Bishopsgate. A chopper had approached and landed, and one of the boys had filmed everything on his phone, but once they'd realized what they'd witnessed, the boy had woken up his parents, who then had contacted the police.
Eve is doing her best to keep her face calm as she counts down the minutes to her annihilation: The second Carolyn recognizes Oksana, she'll turn to look at Eve, and everyone else will follow, and that'll be it. Eve's stomach is churning, and she wants to run, but the weight of atonement keeps her in her place. She is, at the end of the day, solely responsible for her actions. Only she can make them right. Running wouldn't save her, no matter how Carolyn will choose to proceed.
Johnny connects the grainy feed to a projector, then plays the whole footage.
The image on the projector screen is quite bright; it moves around a lot, and Eve can clearly make out white snow, the barrel of an air rifle, the boys' voices hushing and whispering, telling the one filming to "kill the flash", and then the image becomes darker, and the focus moves towards the sky, at bright lights coming closer, and then there's the clear sound of a helicopter.
The footage is filmed from a good fifty feet away, and a crunchy sound indicates that the boys are diving down into the snow, and someone's telling them to "get the fuck out of here", and then the camera zooms in on the landing helicopter.
"That's a bloody Helix, that one", someone in the room says. Eve has no idea what a Helix is, but the helicopter is a dark shade of grey and looks rather old, like some sort of warfare chopper from the 90s.
The kids keep whispering to each other, but Eve doesn't care about that; her eyes are trained on the helicopter, hoping someone will get out, but nothing happens, and then the camera moves sharply to the right, zooming in even more, and there's a van approaching, from far away.
Time goes by too slowly. Then, when Eve is about to take a sip of her cold coffee, the camera zooms out, the light shifts, and she can make out the colour of the van; it's white, and it looks like some sort of Renault. There's a license plate, but the image is too grainy to make out any specific letters or numbers.
The side door of the van opens, and Eve's heart stops. "The fuck" gasps one of the boys, and so do several people around Eve; a black-clad figure, moving smoothly as a cat, hops out of the van. It takes a couple of steps, looking like it's trying to brush snow off of its boots, and it's obvious that it's a woman, even from far away; Eve can make out the curve of the figure's chest and her hips, clad in something that looks like a plain black jacket, and skin-tight black pants.
The woman's face is covered by a black ski-mask, revealing just her smudgy eyes and the bridge of her nose, and Eve breathes out a silent thank you to the Gods, because of course Oksana had covered her face; the hit had happened in central London, and Eve forgives herself for being stupid enough to assume Oksana would reveal her identity so easily. Eve, though, knows without a doubt that this is Oksana; she moves with the same finesse, the same arrogance.
Eve carefully sneaks a peek at Carolyn, but there's no recognition on her face. There wouldn't be with Oksana's face covered, Eve reminds herself; Carolyn thinks she's dead.
Next, a man falls out through the side door, onto the ground, landing on his side in the snow, and Oksana violently hauls him to his feet. It's Luca Colombo, his face visible, if somewhat smudgy, but something's wrong; Oksana is keeping her arm around his neck, and he's fighting her, like he's trying to get away. Next, a third masked figure jumps out of the van, this one clearly a man; taller than Oksana, broad shoulders, muscular arms visible in his tight jacket, even from far away.
"What the hell?" someone from behind Eve whispers, reading her thoughts.
The man in black is pointing his gun at Colombo's head, and then Eve sees Oksana practically elbow him in the ribs, then drag him towards the helicopter. She's strong, Eve knows, and she's doing all the dirty work, because the other operative doesn't even touch Colombo, he just follows them.
The boys are whispering, scared to have witnessed the whole thing, repeating that they'll get in trouble. Squinting, Eve takes half a step closer to the screen. Oksana is pushing Colombo into the chopper, and then she and the other man get in as well, and the sound of the rotor drowns out the voices of the boys. The camera follows as they take off, then moves back to the van which is already long gone, and then the footage is cut.
Johnny shuts the projector off.
A few moments of confused silence, then: "Can someone tell me what the bloody hell is going on here?" Pembroke exclaims, looking around angrily, as if the people in the room should know more than him.
Eve fidgets, but then she can't stop herself. "I don't think it was a rescue mission."
"Yeah, no shit", someone says from her right, but all seventeen heads in the room, including Pembroke's and Carolyn's, turn to look at her, and she feels her heart sink, feels the heat of their frustrated gazes.
Eve sighs, and pushes her hair out of her face. She might as well. "Look, we all saw the same thing; that guy was not going anywhere. It's a family thing, it has to be! He dumps what, ninety thousand pounds worth of cocaine at Stansted, well, more, if you consider the price of cocaine in Italy, and just expects to get away with it?"
The room is quiet. No one's rolling their eyes, so she goes on: "I'm just saying, this thing reeks of revenge. I'm just saying. It's an honour thing, with the Italians, especially the Sicilians. I bet his whole family lives in some sort of drug import area, and I think if you want to know who hired those two to break him out and bring him home so someone could kill him properly, you need to look at his family." She takes a deep breath and a sip of her cold coffee, then tries really hard not to look at Carolyn.
"You think MI6 should hold off the investigation concerning the identities of these two operatives, and instead focus on digging through his family history?" a Senior Officer, whose name Eve doesn't know, says slowly, like he'd heard her wrong.
"What identities?" Eve exclaims, knowing she should put a lid on herself, but she's too tired to consider the consequences of speaking her mind. "Two people in black, no CCTV of their faces, no clear license plate and the van's probably stolen anyway, and no number on the chopper. What exactly is there to go on with those two?"
"It's a Kamov", an older man says from behind Pembroke. "A Ka-27. It's a Soviet navy chopper."
"Well, great", Eve says, and raises her eyebrows. "I still think you should get in touch with Europol and get a warrant for his family's premises because, well, where else would they be taking him? I think if you want the people or the organization that employs those two, you need to get the client first."
"What's the matter, Polastri?" a douche named Leigh Stokes snickers from behind Carolyn. He'd taken her statement, together with Carolyn, after stabbing Oksana, and then the gossip about the closed "Villanelle" operation had spread out like pollen within the agencies. "Scared you'll find out who they are and you'll go on a little trip to Paris?"
"Oh, fuck off!" Eve groans, and walks out the door. Behind her, the others seem to get into a heated discussion, dissecting everything she'd just said, but she can't bring herself to care. MI6 will handle this, the media is screaming "terrorist attack", and she'll be lucky to hear anything about any sort of progress, anything about Oks--
"Eve!" Carolyn calls out from behind her.
Eve stops in the corridor, so irritated she's close to crushing her cup. "What?" she sighs, completely disregarding her manners.
Carolyn comes to a stop a few feet from her, and frowns before she speaks. "You think it's the Twelve", she says, sounding like she always does; a little bit thoughtful.
"Um, yep", Eve says, and raises her eyebrows. "Come on, Italian low-life gets arrested for drugs, and they break him out instead of killing him? Someone wants to decapitate this guy himself, and this was a clean hit. I saw the scene. Whoever those two were, they knew what they were doing. Unless there's a whole selection of corporations who offer these sorts of services, I think Colombo is somehow related to someone in the Twelve, and that someone is pissed off. He dumped his stash like a coward. He messed up. He's dead."
Carolyn looks at her quietly, head slightly tilted, like she's working on a decision.
Eve can't stand the silence, so she continues: "Look, I know this isn't their general way of doing things, but that guy was scared. It's them. If he'd been Russian or Mexican or something, then I might consider something else, but Italian? Remember Cesare Greco, who got himself a freaking hairpin through the eye because he messed with the drug cartels? It's them." She has to make a good case. Right now, she knows more than anyone else, but she can't tell Carolyn how she knows.
"And the woman?" Carolyn says. Her face reveals nothing.
Eve swallows. Has Carolyn been talking to Kenny? Their relationship had, according to him, been somewhat complicated since Moscow, and Carolyn wouldn't be this calm if she was suspecting something.
It would have to be now, if there ever was a good time to tell her how things really are. Eve opens her mouth, and says: "Yeah, well, she's new. Obviously." She exhales slowly then, and feels the shame hit her tenfold.
"Apparently", Carolyn says. Then: "Are you alright?"
Eve hadn't been expecting that, but it's a valid question, because she's not alright. She hasn't been alright for over a year now. She's not alright with people getting butchered left and right, she's not alright with feeling like she's stuck in clay, and she's certainly not alright with lying to everyone, and yet: "Yeah. I'm good. Um, tired."
"Mm." Carolyn sticks her tongue into her cheek, and then glances down the corridor. "I'm inclined to proceed with your suggestion. We haven't got anywhere with the Twelve since, well, Konstantin, and few people are still on them, so I will carefully consider your input. Thank you, Eve."
"Let me do it." She didn't mean to say that. She's instantly embarrassed, instantly mortified. There's no way Carolyn would ever, in a million years, let her--
"I believe you have quite the workload already, if I'm not mistaken." She gives Eve a tight smile. "And more will come, in the wake of this catastrophe. Try to focus on that. Stick to the job at hand."
"Yes, ma'am", Eve grits out without making eye contact, and then turns to leave before she can say something she really might regret in the morning.
Once outside in the freezing morning air, she rounds the southwest corner onto Vauxhall Bridge. She'll take the underground home, get a shower, then try to sleep for at least a couple of hours once Niko's gone to work, but right now, she just wants to stand on the bridge and look at the dark, icy water underneath.
The Thames has frozen in places, but there are still a few spots where she can make out the black water streaming slowly. She wonders about its temperature and contents, imagines the railing breaking underneath her hands, and taking her to the depths. Would it hurt, or would it feel like a blessing with what she's carrying on her shoulders every day? Would it feel the same as drowning in her lake?
Her phone rings in her pocket. She picks it up, sees a foreign country code, and wants to throw the whole thing into the Thames. She cuts the call off, presses the silent-button, and puts the phone back into her pocket.
She's pulsing with rage and disgust, but when she starts walking towards the Vauxhall station, hoping the lines are running by now, her phone begins vibrating. Frustrated, she takes it out and stares at the screen. Plus, four, nine. She knows these numbers: Germany. Fucking Greta Müller.
"I was hoping the helicopter had crashed", Eve says upon answering her phone, but it lacks bite; she's so tired. "I really don't understand why hell doesn't want you, with everything you've done."
Eve snorts, glancing around at the empty streets. "It's half five in the morning and you just executed an entire police department so yeah, I'm awake, and what the fuck are you calling me for?" she hisses, because she doesn't have it in herself to shout anymore. She's so angry with Oksana, but mostly angry with herself for getting tangled up in sweat and sex and favours, for forgetting, again, who Oksana is by birth and nature.
She just hadn't expected something so disastrous.
"I actually didn't kill anyone, Eve. The tear gas was me, and they will all look like they got stung by bees, but they will live."
It doesn't make Eve feel any better. She tightens her woolen scarf around her neck and decides to get a cab. "You shouldn't call. They can trace you."
"I have a router."
"Okay, well, I don't want to talk to you." Eve had picked up the phone, but if she's honest with herself, she actually doesn't want to talk to Oksana right now. She doesn't want to remember that she knows her, right now. She wants to distance herself.
"It's my job, Eve."
Of course she'd say that. "Yeah, your fun job, right? I'm turning you in."
Oksana snorts. "No, you're not."
Eve isn't, but she needs to feel some kind of power, needs to feel like at least something is in her hands. "I am."
"If you wanted to turn me in, you would have done that after I came to your house seven months ago."
Oksana's right, and Eve wishes she could scream what she's feeling, tell Oksana how awful these last few hours have been, but Oksana would just laugh, or worse: Not react in any way, not care at all. "They got your whole takeoff on video."
There's a long silence, and Eve checks her phone to see if it's still connected. It is. "Villanelle?" It feels weird to pronounce that name. Eve hasn't used it in a long time.
"How did I look?" Of course she'd brush it off with a joke, but her voice isn't completely carefree.
Eve feels her eyes getting wet, and she wipes her nose with the back of her hand, and tilts her chin down, eyes on the snow-covered pavement. She thinks about last night, of how she'd felt when Oksana had pretended to adore her body, had pretended to revel in touching her, because none of that had been real, had it? She'd just been warming up. "You looked really good", she says quietly, and feels her voice tremble. "Is Colombo alive?"
"I don't know. Obviously he was alive when we delivered him, but now, I don't know."
"Mm", Eve hums, and feels the first tear fall. She bites the inside of her cheek to keep herself from bursting into a sob on the phone. "Did you really not kill anyone?"
"No, Eve, I didn't. I promise. That guy was, like, insane, he just went for it. I am never working with him again."
Eve nods, then realizes Oksana can't see her. "Okay."
"Did you read the file?"
Eve had indeed read it, several times: A collection of information about a new operative, a Lithuanian male. An independent contractor, not on a leash for the Twelve, and essentially, Oksana's competition.
The whole file had been carefully prepared and, to Eve's genuine surprise, handwritten. Oksana must've done it herself, and it had been incredibly specific, with dates, times, photos of both the man in question and his targets, personal observations and comments, and once Eve had read it through, she'd understood perfectly why completing it had felt so boring to Oksana; finishing the whole thing must have taken at least seventy hours of hard, detailed work, if not more.
Apparently, the hit - the messy stabbing - on Ashley Langdon on his way home from the afterwork had been carried out by this new operative, Tomas Dauksa, known as Kazimieras on the market. Now Eve had his name and some of his kills, and all she had to do was figure out a credible excuse for how she'd come by this information, which she'd then use to finally ship her (currently unfinished) case-assessments to their rightful investigators.
Oksana's handwriting had been symmetrical and beautiful, exactly like it had been in Anna Leonova's letters, in Moscow, and the file hadn't been just a favour; it had been a life-safer, and now, Jesus Christ, it hurts.
"I did", Eve croaks, and feels a big lump in her throat. She's not going to cry over the phone, and especially not with Oksana on the other end of the line, but her cheeks are wet nonetheless. "Thank you."
"Will you career get better now?"
Eve hates that Oksana asks, hates that she actually seems to care about Eve's work when all logic tells her that she doesn't... except for making and giving her the file, but that could be her way of trying to get rid of her rival. "Um. Well, Carolyn won't let me come work at MI6, so I'm not sure how much better, or, well interesting, my career can get at MI5. I'll try to find a way to use the file, though."
There's silence on the line. Eve checks her phone again, but it seems to be connected. Maybe Oksana is just thinking.
"Did she recognize me?"
Eve tilts her head back to look at the sky. In winter, the sun doesn't rise until late morning. The stars are incredibly bright, the constellations clear. Eve wonders if Oksana can see stars, wherever she is. "I tried to read her face, but she's got no reason to think it's you. She didn't say anything, or, you know, look like she knew. She thinks you're dead."
"And you haven't told her I'm alive." A statement, not a question.
"No", Eve says, and nothing else.
"And why not?"
Because she can't. Oksana's fishing, but Eve's the biggest fool who ever walked this earth, and she can't.
She seeks out Orion and counts the stars in its belt. Her shame burns, and she needs to be alone right now. "I have to go", she rasps, and ends the call before Oksana can object. Then, she turns her phone off, wipes her wet face with her jacket sleeves, and hails a cab.
Chapter 10: O Come, All Ye Faithful
On Christmas Day, Eve wakes up to the smell of cinnamon and loud noises from the kitchen downstairs. Groggy, she rolls onto her back and feels around; Niko's side is empty. The clock on the nightstand reads 11:18.
She sits up straight and looks around like she's never seen her bedroom before. She hasn't slept this late in months.
Niko's sister Natalia and her children had flown in the day before yesterday. They'd taken over the living room, the upstairs study that holds most of Niko's mathematical research, and the cramped hallway separating the front of the house from Eve's small home office in the back.
Yesterday, they'd had a home-cooked dinner together, their kitchen table covered with different dishes ranging from uszka (red borscht with ravioli, Eve's favourite) to kutia (a traditional Christmas Eve dessert). The food had been out of this world, Niko yet again proving himself skilled in the kitchen, as if they all weren't already aware of his talent.
After the dinner, around ten in the evening, Eve's phone had rung: James Pembroke himself had called her to let her know that she "might have been right about something", and when she'd asked why, he'd told her to log into the inbox of her Security Services account.
She'd done so right away, and upon opening her inbox, she'd found an e-mail titled "From our friends in Sicily". The e-mail had been sent to a bunch of other recipients as well, all employed at either MI5 or SIS. She'd clicked on the attachments - eight photo files - and then she'd let out a sound bordering on retching.
Luca Colombo had turned up on Saturday the 22nd of December, two days after the hit on Bishopsgate. His body - stripped completely naked - with a noose around his neck, had been found hanging from the historical bridge Ponte San Francesco in Caltagirone, outside of Catania, Sicily. All of his limbs had been cut off unevenly, like someone had used a chainsaw to remove them as slowly as possible.
Apart from receiving the photos yesterday, Eve has been completely shut out of the investigation. It's understandable: It isn't her job, but her arms itch with the need to get her hands on some kind of information about the progress of things - especially now that Colombo had been found - but so far, she hasn't heard anything from anyone, not even a slip of the tongue. The networks are still calling it "terrorism", and Eve suspects MI6 won't release any statements contradicting that assessment. News about espionage and prisoner transfer meddling don't get out; that's just how it works.
Eve has no idea if Carolyn's following up on Eve's suggestion, although she should be doing exactly that, since Eve had been right.
The shrill noise from downstairs gets louder, snapping Eve out of her thoughts. She groans and wants to pull the comforter all the way up to her ears.
It's not that she doesn't like children: She loves them, especially Natalia's twin girls Emilia and Lena, but with the whole gang in the house, she hasn't got that much peace and quiet to actually do her job - which she doesn't even have to do because it's Christmas - and it's really starting to drive her crazy. Her head is full, and she needs to sit down in silence and focus on her work, no matter what jolly season it is.
Regardless of how Eve feels and what she wants right now, she gets dressed, brushes her teeth, and makes her way downstairs.
The living room is cramped with air mattresses and suitcases, presents and decorations, and even a small Christmas tree. The kids are busy tearing through their presents when Eve walks in, and only throw her a quick glance, since their uncle's wife's presence naturally can't compete with new iPads and colourful stationary for school.
"Good morning", Niko says from the kitchen. Natalia's seated at the table, dark hair tied into a sloppy bun, a warm smile on her lips as she watches her happy daughters. There's porridge mixed with butter and cinnamon simmering on the stove. It smells heavenly.
"Merry Christmas", Eve says and quickly puts her hand on Natalia's shoulder as she passes her, and then rises to her tiptoes and gives Niko a quick peck on the cheek. "This stuff smells amazing." At a closer look, there's a plate of cold cuts on the kitchen table, as well as some sort of curd with crumble on top.
"The kids want to go see the Christmas Tree at Trafalgar Square", Niko says when he turns the stove off. "We'll leave after brunch. Do you want to come with us?"
He's finally forgiven Eve for choosing to bail on an evening out with friends instead of choosing to bail on her work, and Eve knows she should say yes, to keep the peace, but there's a thick folder calling out to her from her home office, and a zillion things for her to do. She takes his hand and squeezes it. "I can't, honey. Bishopsgate--"
"Is not even your job", he finishes for her, and gives her a stern look.
Eve bites her bottom lip, then glances at Natalia, but she's busy watching her children gushing over their presents. "Yes, honey, I know, but I was there, and I'm so behind on my other cases, and Carolyn doesn't like me very much right now, so I really need to stay in. I'm sorry. We'll do something this evening."
The atmosphere in the kitchen is much heavier after Eve's decision. They eat in uncomfortable silence, the kids sharing looks between them, Natalia watching Niko with empathy. Eve wants to get up and lock herself into the bedroom; it's not her goddamn fault she has a job that's more important than most other jobs, and she'd paid a hell of a price for it, too.
When Niko, Natalia and the girls close the front door behind them, Eve sags down on a stair-step and musses her hair in frustration.
She needs a breakthrough. She needs a win. She needs to get her hands on Kazimieras legally, somehow. She needs to figure out a way to have the information about him sent to her, without any possibility of being traced, and that's no piece of cake.
It would have been better if Oksana had just shipped her the file instead of giving it to her. Oksana knows how to pull off untraceable deliveries, but Eve immediately chastises herself for having the nerve to be ungrateful in the current position she's in. Jesus.
Oksana hasn't made any contact since the phone call after Bishopsgate five days ago. It's a good thing, because it probably means she hasn't slaughtered anyone in England during this time.
It's also a good thing because Eve has decided to start distancing herself, to at least try to want to find a way out of Oksana's clutches, out of her addiction.
It's a very good thing, because Eve has realized she'd been completely blind since the first time she'd let Oksana lay her hands on her; sleeping with her had clouded her judgment, had reduced the weight of the facts known about her brain, her way of operating. Seeing the havoc she'd wreaked in her wake at Bishopsgate had served as a wake-up call in the form of a cold shower.
It's an excellent thing, because no matter how tempting, how bewitching Oksana is, she's still a cold-blooded, murderous psychopath.
Eve wants to see her so much she thinks she might be losing her mind.
She hates not knowing what Oksana's doing, whom she's meeting, if she's alive, if she'd got a Christmas bonus this year, if she's all alone with a sad cup of eggnog.
Eve gets up, gets a can of diet soda, and then slumps down in her home office chair. The computer wakes up slowly, and she feels a sting in her chest upon realizing that there's still no word from Oksana. The white memo Eve always keeps open is blank, exactly like it's been for over a month now, since the middle of November.
Maybe Oksana's tired of Eve.
The thought doesn't feel like a sting; it feels like a bullet to her stomach, and it shouldn't, because Eve had seen what Oksana had caused.
Deciding to finally focus on her work now that the house is empty, Eve goes, for the tenth time already, through everything about the dead Met Officer John Griffiths - the man Oksana had killed with a single stab of a knife on the night Eve had met her at the Hilton Olympia in the beginning of October.
Digging through his finances had revealed several deposits made from completely untraceable off-shore accounts, and Eve's fairly certain that he'd been an informant of sorts, for someone. That someone had probably decided that he'd outlived his usefulness, and then that someone had got Oksana, most likely through the Twelve, to end Griffiths as a security measure.
The case will just have to go unsolved, Eve knows, and her heart sinks for Griffiths' family. Revealing who was behind his death would end her career like a falling deck of cards, one achievement after the other, demolished. Her credibility would be destroyed for good. She'd face charges. She'd be considered a traitor to her country, withholding that a presumed dead operative is still walking around, executing people left and right, including six police officers (even though Oksana had claimed not to have killed anyone that night, but who knows).
She'd go to prison, and Oksana would go on with her life.
All this death and for what, Eve wonders.
Because of Eve going rogue, stabbing Oksana, then spending the rest of her life regretting it.
Because of Eve not being able to cage her, put her in a cell where she belongs.
Because seeing her chained and imprisoned would hurt too much, as if Eve isn't responsible for the hurt of so many others.
Michael Goodall flashes before Eve's eyes. She'd seen a replay of the arrest online, a shaking news camera catching Goodall being escorted out of his house in nothing but sweatpants, wrestling and fighting the police officers, screaming "I didn't do it, I didn't do it!" and then falling to his knees, before the officers had managed to get him into the car.
He's going to be found guilty, once the trial starts. Due to the conclusive DNA, the police aren't even looking for anyone else. Nationalist riots are raving all around, demanding justice. Sarah Lawrenson's husband is convinced of his guilt. No one would believe Eve if she said he was being framed, since she can't explain how she knows that.
The crime scene photos of Sarah Lawrenson lying dead in the dirt don't bother Eve that much anymore; she's more haunted, more preoccupied, with pondering over the living people who get hurt, who become plain collateral damage simply because Oksana exists. Like Michael Goodall.
Oksana's words, "he deserves it", had driven Eve nuts. She'd gone through everything about Michael Goodall after meeting Oksana at The Bull, from his early years to today, and apart from a couple of minor offences concerning vandalism at the age of seventeen and a parking ticket at forty-five, there'd been nothing to suggest he deserved to get sentenced to life in prison.
Eve had begun thinking Oksana had just been messing with her head, justifying herself. Goodall had probably just been, like Oksana had said, rude, and for that, a skilled assassin had somehow harvested his DNA from his workplace and planted it on Lawrenson's body. So easy, and so devastating.
Eve will have to do better, in the next life. Until then, this is what she has.
There's no doubt about Kazimieras being behind the stabbing of the other Met Officer, Ashley Langdon. Oksana had written it down. If Eve could reveal his identity through honest work, pick up a trace, catch his face on some camera, somewhere, she could get him. If she could conclude he's private hire, and connect him to the other kills in the file given by Oksana, she could hand him over to MI6 and then to Europol, let them catch him, and then take the credit as the officer who cut his spree short.
She will make Kazimieras her priority. She'll even ask Kenny to help, if she can't find another way, and he'll just have to take her word for it. That probably wouldn't go too well, though, considering how weird he'd been around Eve for a while now, even though he'd told her that everything was fine.
"Don't you have anything better to do than to sit here and obsess about me?"
Eve exhales and slowly spins her chair around. Oksana's standing behind her, her right foot raised, pressing it against the wall, arms crossed over her chest. For some reason, she looks exactly like she'd looked on that day in Paris; salmon-coloured sweater, dark jeans, boots, hair in a messy bun. The only difference is her face; it's free of bruises. Her expression reads amused pity.
"You show up at the weirdest times, you know that?" Eve spins the chair back around and faces her computer instead of facing Oksana. At least Eve is alone now, and not with Niko. In bed.
"Well, you were thinking about me. Are you still angry with me?"
Eve bites her lower lip. "Not really. It's weird. I'm pissed at myself, mostly."
"Why?" Oksana's voice, conjured up by Eve's own delirious mind, is soft. It hardly ever is, in reality.
Eve closes her eyes and musses her hair again. "Oh, I don't know. I think I might, I don't know, miss you, or something."
"No", Eve chuckles, because of course not. "I'm just thinking about you. You do a lot of stuff that calls for thinking, so I think. You know I do it all the goddamn time. I told you so forever ago."
"It has not changed?"
Eve swallows. "No", she admits in a low voice. She glances over her shoulder to look at Oksana's smug face, but the wall is just a wall, and Eve tilts her head back.
She wonders if she'll keep seeing Oksana even when she's older, even when Oksana's long gone, even when she's just someone who used to be something beautiful and deadly. At the rate she's going, she will die before Eve. The thought feels heavy, like a pile of bricks on Eve's chest.
Eve opens the blank memo on her computer. She's pensive, uncertain. Maybe Oksana hasn't written anything, because Eve had hung up on her. Maybe she doesn't have anything to say, or maybe she's waiting for Eve to say something. Eve shouldn't, but there's a lot she'd like to say; how she resents the way Oksana just comes and goes, how she's still furious about Michael Goodall and intends to get him out one way or another, how London is a bloody war-zone now, and how she's so tired of this thing that they've been doing for what feels like forever.
Saying all of this wouldn't do Eve any good, though. She'd feel better for maybe five seconds, and then she'd be right back to where she is now.
Still, her fingers move over the keys of their own accord, and before she knows what's happened, she's written: "Where are you?"
It isn't the same as "are you alive?", because that would sound like Eve's worrying, and she's not.
The soda fizzes in its can. Eve stares at the screen, trying to force the cursor to move.
The front door opens. Niko and the others are back, and Eve blinks at the clock in the far right corner of her computer screen. Two and a half hours had passed since they'd left. She's losing track of time; losing herself in this shitstorm of bodies and blank memos and hallucinated Oksanas.
"How was it?" she shouts, trying to sound genuinely interested.
"It was very pretty", one of the girls, probably Lena, shouts back in her Polish accent. The r's roll, like Oksana's. "But it was crowded. Niko lifted us up to see it."
"Oh, did he?" Eve laughs, and gets out of her chair, and the cursor moves. She freezes, a second from dropping her soda, and puts her face very close to the screen.
Her bottom lip trembles a little. She wonders where "home" is, for Oksana. It's strange to think that she has one; one that Eve hasn't trashed.
She will not ask Oksana to come and see her. The last time she did that, she got her favour, and six people lost their lives. If she asks Oksana to come and see her without Oksana having a new target, there's a chance Oksana will refuse. And then...
... the bullet would be to her heart. She doesn't know why, but she knows that's how it would feel.
She probably should ask herself why. At the end of the day, addictions mess up your head, not your heart.
When Niko comes in, Eve is still staring blankly at the screen.
Chapter 11: In the End of '89
The Security Service and the Secret Intelligence Service New Year's Eve celebration is held at the Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith. It's a huge theater with a gallery overlooking the whole first floor, and is known for hosting live events such as smaller concerts and stand-up evenings. It had recently been renovated into a modern, fashionable space, practically inviting people to dance and drink; to enjoy themselves. The agencies' New Year's party is a yearly occurrence, and this is the first time it's being held in a place far from patriotic, Victorian settings.
The whole thing is always a sordid affair with information changing hands like cigarette lighters once people get a few drinks in them, so naturally, Eve attends. It's invite only, and she's in a (rented) simple and symmetrical strapless Donna Karan dress. The fabric is coloured a warm shade of umber, matching both her eyes and her skin. She usually doesn't like brown that much, but wearing black, under current circumstances, would be morbid.
The turn-up is far greater than she'd expected. It's clear that people are choosing to spend New Year's with other people who understand their reasons for being under the weather, and Eve is no exception: Niko had wanted her to attend a party hosted by some of his close friends from the Bridge Club, but Eve had felt she needed to be in a place where she didn't have to fake smiles, a place where she could be pissed off and show it. It had come down to the couch or this, and tonight, she's in good company; she suspects most of the people at the party feel even emptier than she does.
"Could be worse", Aaron Sullivan says from next to her, champagne flute in hand. "They could've got metal-heads."
Eve chuckles; he's referring to the stage of the theater, currently occupied by six men in their late fifties playing songs by Duran Duran. The disco-like red and blue streams of light dancing over the crowd don't match the outdated look of the band at all, and it's actually quite embarrassing. 200 thousand pounds well spent on this fête.
"Well, I am hungry", Eve says, and quirks an eyebrow. "Like a wolf."
Her joke earns her a pleased chuckle, and Sullivan points to two people jamming to the song. "Aren't those your friends?" he asks.
"Yes", Eve says. He's pointing to Elena and Kenny. "I can't believe he's dancing. It's really brave of him." She watches Kenny moving his body rather stiffly, whereas Elena's got her hands in the air and is really going for it - like Eve wishes she could.
She decides she'll go and greet them later. They're having fun, and she doesn't want to make it awkward. "Why aren't you at home?" she asks Sullivan.
He takes a sip of his drink and makes a face. "It's complicated. You?"
Eve bites the inside of her cheek and feels a very familiar-by-now pang of guilt. "It's complicated. I need a drink."
There are two open bars inside the actual theater, but they make their way through the crowd towards the bar situated just outside of the entrance. The area there is packed as well - a stage between hanging coats and running to get shit-faced - and Eve leans her body onto the marble surface of the bar.
"It's a clusterfuck", she says, and glares at Sullivan, who knows exactly what she's talking about.
Almost two weeks later, and the tabloids are still ripping the authorities apart for their so-called fuck-up with the London Police on Bishopsgate. Apparently, every department, especially The Met and MI6, is completely incapable of preventing any sort of terrorism, and tax payers' money's being pissed down the toilet. Having no information to release to the press about any sort of progress concerning the identification and capture of those responsible isn't exactly helping the matter, and Eve's pretty sure someone's been fired.
"You'd think they'd be getting somewhere with the transfer order", Sullivan says. Apart from stripping down crime scenes and forensic work, he isn't that involved in the progress of things. Eve knows this, because the frustration's clear as water on his face and in the way he sips his drink.
"They're powerful people", Eve says absently, and orders a gin and tonic when the bartender comes up to greet her. It's a woman in her twenties, blonde and tall, with high cheekbones and hollow, grey-ish eyes. Her posture is proud, focused. She looks Eve straight in the eye, and Eve feels a different pang in her chest.
"They're tossers, s'what they are." Sullivan orders a glass of Scotch and looks at someone behind Eve's back. She turns, and sees some of her old co-workers from P3. They're looking at her, but then enter the theater instead of coming to greet her.
"Wow", Sullivan exhales, and looks at Eve. "They really hate your guts, don't they?"
"Well, I got me and Bill fired", she says, and stares at the bottom of her glass. "And then he died, so. They liked him. Everyone liked him."
Sullivan nods, signaling that he's leaving the subject alone, but after a while, when they're back inside the theater, he says: "Speaking of getting people killed; about two months ago, I don't know, maybe less, I did the forensics on a case, and yesterday, the poor bastard got stabbed in prison. Well, not "poor" bastard, just bastard, he killed his wife and all, but--"
"What?" Eve gasps, suddenly realizing what he'd said. "What, who?"
Sullivan raises his eyebrows. "Christ, Eve, there's a lot going on here right now. I just saw it on the news, apparently it was a big thing because his wife had been some sort of racist icon or--"
"Sarah Lawrenson", Eve whispers, and takes a step closer to Sullivan. "The wife, was her name Sarah Lawrenson?"
Sullivan tilts his head back, like he's thinking. "Could have been, yeah. Yeah, it probably was."
Eve feels her body sink through ice water, the hairs on her arms prickling. "The guy they arrested got stabbed?"
Sullivan takes a sip of his Scotch and makes a face, like it doesn't taste good at all in his mouth. "Oh, that's rank. But yeah, I guess you could call it karma. Jesus. Let me tell you, Eve, that woman was brutally murdered and then left to rot. Doesn't matter how mental she was. I know we're not supposed to take sides in this stuff, but I'm so happy the fucker who did it is dead, piece of shit." He exhales deeply after his big speech, and takes another sip of his rank drink.
Having her hands tied had plagued Eve for the last six weeks, and now Michael Goodall was dead. Oksana had framed him, and now he was dead.
Eve feels like she's let him down. She's let herself down.
She'd lost a fight she hadn't even properly begun yet, and now, he was dead.
She'll carry this with her until the day she dies, she knows. Momentarily, she wonders if all the agony she'd felt this last year had simply been retribution for a future crime to come; letting an innocent man die because of her cowardice.
It's a good thing there's an open bar tonight. Eve excuses herself, then goes outside to get some air. Briefly, she considers bumming a smoke from a couple of people outside, but it wouldn't help. She'd simply cough and choke, and then she'd feel even worse.
She spends the evening circling the theater, mingling where it's necessary, not really wanting to talk to anyone, then eavesdropping on some of the drunk Senior Officers. She's keen to hear something - anything - about the Bishopsgate investigation, keen to hear what their current plan of action is. Parties with people from both sides of the river are usually a grand opportunity to score some intel, but so far, no one's mentioned the words "contract killer" or "Carolyn Martens".
Speaking of which, Eve hasn't seen Carolyn all evening. Kenny's here, so it's clear they're not celebrating New Year's at home. Or maybe Carolyn's at home with some friends and sisters or nephews or dogs. Maybe she's under so much pressure, she couldn't bring herself to come. Maybe she's following up on Eve's hunch about Luca Colombo's family. Still, Eve knows Carolyn Martens enjoys her drink. This seems like a good place to be, among friends, at the end of a long and exhausting year.
"How's that for starters?" someone sighs next to her. She turns, sees Leigh Stokes - the jerk who'd made the joke about her Paris trip - drunkenly staring at the band playing ABBA.
"How's what?" she asks, glad she's still relatively sober or she might accidentally break her glass on the back of his head.
"May we all have our hopes, our will to try", he snickers and raises his glass. "If we don't we might as well lay down and die."
Eve realizes he's quoting the song that's currently playing. "Yeah, you go right ahead and do that", she mutters as she leaves him to laugh at his own joke. He's an arrogant prick, and clearly completely trashed by eleven-thirty.
Something catches her eye. It's the waitress; apparently off duty, she's talking to some older (and no doubt rich) Senior Officers, wine glass in her hand. She's not in her uniform anymore; the dress she's wearing is charcoal and long. Elegant. There's something about the way it settles on her toned body, how the hem sways lightly when she laughs.
Eve bumps into someone's shoulder trying to get a bit closer. The theater is uncomfortably full by now, the clock bordering on midnight and a whole new year of possibilities. She dodges a man swinging his drink, then frowns when she gets a bit closer: The waitress is laughing loudly and telling some story in what Eve hears is an Essex accent, but the waitress at the bar had sounded Scottish.
The woman throws a glance over her shoulder, right at Eve, and there's a bright, wicked grin, and Eve feels a stab in her gut.
She's seeing things. She's drunk and warm and the music is too loud and she's seeing things. She blinks, and the woman's turned her head away, brushing the arm of one of her acquaintances, then slipping away through the crowd.
It's almost a full minute before Eve realizes she has to move. She starts elbowing her way through the crowd, catches a glimpse of blonde hair by the entrance of the theater, makes her way there while being acutely aware of her beating heart, the slight rush of adrenaline and alcohol.
Outside the theater, the blonde waitress is still at the bar. Eve looks in the opposite direction, towards the stairs that lead to the gallery circling the inside of the theater like an arc, and she takes a guess. Her heels fly up the soft beige stair-steps, taking her a whole flight above the party.
Reaching the top of the stairs, she locates the entrance to the gallery, and hurries inside. And inside, Oksana's waiting for her.
She's standing at the end of the right side of the gallery, above the upper right corner of the stage. The red and blue beams of light flicker over her face, and she holds herself like a statue, one hand on her hip, the other on her small clutch.
Eve zigzags through the rows of folded chairs, hears the music beating in her ears, her pulse matching the tempo of the song. She sees the dancing people out of the corner of her eye, but knows they can't see her, can't see them. She stops ten feet from Oksana, who makes no move.
"It didn't even occur to me that you're suicidal", Eve says, heart sinking as she speaks. "If someone recognizes you, you're not getting out of here."
Oksana doesn't move. Her make-up is dark, eyes smokey, and she's wearing brown contact lenses. She looks like a goddess, like some ancient creature in Greek mythology; someone who has crept up from the underworld and now walks among the mortals. "You'd be surprised how easy it is for people to forget your face once they think you're dead."
She sounds so amused, and Eve gets it: This is the ultimate thrill for her, getting away with executing a whole team of police, then parading under the noses of those going insane trying to find her.
This is Oksana's favourite game; hiding in plain sight, untouchable.
"You shouldn't be here", Eve says. She hadn't expected this, and feels disturbed about Oksana being here, in a place where everyone would fight over who gets to shoot her first. "You should go. Some of them know what you look life."
"None of them are up here", Oksana says and tilts her head, eyes narrowing. "Except for you. Tell me Eve, are you not happy to see me?"
Eve says nothing, but takes two slow steps forward. The bloodbath at Bishopsgate keeps flashing before her eyes, the young officer with a hole in the back of her head. She sees Bill, sinking to the floor at Funkeln, his chin and shirt covered in blood. She sees Frank on the bed at the safe house, eyes empty, castrated and wearing Eve's dress.
Eve sees herself stabbing Oksana. She blinks, and Oksana's grinning.
"Michael Goodall is dead", Eve whispers. Oksana might not even hear her over the music. "He got stabbed to death in jail."
Oksana blinks, and then her face turns completely blank. There's no trace of any emotion at all in her eyes. "Good", she simply says, and remains the same; inaccessible.
Eve can't win: Oksana has beaten her completely. She fumbles to open one of the folding chairs to her right, then sits down and buries her face in her hands. Her eyes are stinging. "I'm so tired", she nearly sobs. The music is so loud. "I can't keep doing this, it's too hard." She blinks through the wetness in her eyes and turns to Oksana. "What am I supposed to do with you?"
Oksana stays completely still, and Eve gets up, walks straight over to her and shoves her against the curtain-covered wall behind her back.
"Auch", Oksana hisses, squeezing her eyes shut and touching the back of her head with her hand. "That was rude."
"You are rude!" Eve all but shouts, and shoves her again. This time Oksana inhales sharply and pinches her lips, like she's daring Eve to do it a third time. Eve doesn't, but she holds her grip on Oksana's upper arms, shaking her as she speaks. "Can't you see how bad this is for me? My job, my husband, my fucking sanity! You don't care, you just show up and jerk me around and hurt me because it's so fucking entertaining! I can't do this anymore!"
If Eve's fingers are hurting her, Oksana shows no signs of pain. Her gaze keep flickering between Eve's rage-filled eyes and her slightly panting mouth, and Oksana's smile turns challenging and taunting, and Eve wants to hurt her.
"You're a monster", Eve hisses, and she wishes Oksana would at least try to protest, but she just keeps staring.
After a moment, Oksana finally comments: "By the standards of society, yes. But you already knew that. You have always known that. Don't you remember how we met?"
"Fuck you", Eve grits out through her teeth, and squeezes Oksana's arms harder.
"Do it", Oksana prompts, and moves Eve's hands from her upper arms up to her throat instead. "Do it."
Eve knows she's being manipulated. She knows Oksana's playing her to get whatever it is she wants right now, but Eve wants to hurt her, physically hurt her so bad, even if that's what Oksana's manipulating her into doing, to test her limits.
"Like I have said", Oksana sneers, "you like me too much. So now, what are you going to do?"
So what now, Eve?
I'm gonna tell you something.
The music stops and somewhere underneath Eve and Oksana, people start counting down from ten. With hundreds of voices echoing, Eve sinks her teeth into Oksana's bare shoulder, as hard as she can, breaking the skin, letting her fangs do all the talking, letting the force behind her bite tell Oksana the story of just how much she wants to hurt her back. There's a genuine, surprised shriek of pain in her ear, nails digging into her lower back, and something warm and metallic in her mouth. Blood.
At midnight, the theater erupts in cheers, horns and applause, and somewhere above them fireworks start exploding, but Eve hears nothing apart from Oksana's strangled cries and groans; she's completely and ruthlessly overcome by pure fury and raw need, biting, scratching and bruising Oksana's body - hurting her - until she feels like they're finally even.
Chapter 12: Old Age Should Burn and Rave
On the crisp and bright morning of January 1st, the world learns that last night, in the early hours of the evening, Carolyn Martens had, in the face of a terrible illness, committed suicide in the living room of her townhouse in Chelsea.
Eve is among the first people informed; James Pembroke calls her, and it takes her several minutes of incredulous silence to actually comprehend what he's telling her, but when she does, she drops her glass of hangover juice all over the floor, and has to tiptoe around the shards to avoid cutting herself. In the living room, where everyone is still alive, Niko rushes up and gets a towel, and starts cleaning up her mess while Eve sits down in the armchair and stares blankly ahead.
Her head is pounding, hard and fast, like a fist banging on a door. She looks back at her phone and brings up Carolyn's contact information. She wouldn't answer anymore, if Eve called her phone.
"What's happened?" Niko asks, crouching down in front of her, placing a hand on her knee.
"Suicide", Eve whispers, on autopilot, and she can't believe the word when she hears it out of her own mouth. Like at Bishopsgate, she doesn't register Niko's touch. "Carolyn Martens, the one who hired me to--and then, gave me this job, and, and, and she's dead. Last night. She was sick. Oh, my god." Her voice echoes in her head like a scream in the forest, breath coming too fast, gasping--
"It's alright", Niko says, and pulls her into a tight embrace. He strokes her hair and holds her close while she tries to calm down.
"Kenny", Eve manages to choke out. She clasps and unclasps her hands. "I need to go and see him." She has to. It's the only thing she can think about right now. Kenny's father is dead - Carolyn had told her so after Bill's death - and now, his mother--
Eve wrestles out of Niko's arms and runs upstairs to get changed.
The townhouse belonging to the late Carolyn Martens and her current husband is cordoned off by two police cars and four police officers patrolling outside. First responders are long gone by the time Eve jumps out of the cab, and she flashes her ID before rushing up the steps to the front door. There, she finally stops, realizing what she's about to walk in on.
It's just dinner, come in.
She snaps out of her memory and looks straight into the eyes of Pembroke, who's opened the door. He's wearing a solemn expression, and he slowly reaches out to touch her arm. Behind him, there are several other people in the house, most likely colleagues from MI6. She tries to speak, stops to clear her throat, then tries again: "How did she do it?"
Unexpectedly, he puts his hand on the small of her back and steers her inside, through the left doorway to the so-called small family room, where Eve had stood while everyone else was having dinner, the night Oksana had broken into her home. There's no dog on the chair this time, and Eve briefly wonders where it is. There's a fist inside of her chest, squeezing the air out of her lungs.
"Overdose", Pembroke says, and looks at his shoes. He sticks his hands into his pockets, gaze fixed over Eve's shoulder. "Upstairs. The son called 999 a little before seven in the morning. He's upstairs with Miss Felton. The pathologist's come by already. It's all been taken care of."
To her absolute horror, upon hearing that the body's been taken, Eve realizes she'd been wishing to see Carolyn, to see that she really is gone. But she would've known the body had been taken if she'd bothered to open her eyes: No barricade tape. No crime scene. The police cars outside are a formality, due to Carolyn's rank.
"You're sure it's suicide?" Eve asks, and glances at the staircase.
Pembroke nods. "Of course there's still the autopsy, but there's nothing to suggest foul play. We swept the room, the front door, the garbage. No signs of forced entry, no signs of anything out of the ordinary. There was nothing left to do here, except take her to the coroner's."
Eve swallows. The house feels cold somehow, even with a bunch of people inside. "The funeral? Will there--I mean, do you know when...?"
Pembroke sits down on the flower-spread sofa and runs a hand through his grey hair. "You need to ask the lad. It's just him now, isn't it?"
Eve frowns. "What about her husband?"
Pembroke raises his eyebrows. "Which one?"
"The current one", Eve snaps, feeling rage beginning to boil in the pit of her stomach.
"The husband's in Bermuda, so I don't know what to tell you, Eve." He shrugs, and averts his gaze.
Eve decides that a sad and hurt Pembroke is as good as no Pembroke at all, no matter how well they usually get along or how much they appreciate each other. She heads towards the staircase, passing several people with long coats and troubled eyes as she goes, then she climbs up the stairs, and on the first landing, she finds the doors of the living room wide open.
It's a gorgeous and stylish room, decorated in shades of white and beige. Carolyn's taste had been expensive and classical, that much was obvious from the significant, well-thought details like the elegant chandelier hanging from the ceiling, the sheer curtains, the vases atop the fireplace and the emerald couch and matching armchair surrounding the white, wooden chest in the middle of the room.
On top of the chest there's a heavy-looking glass and an empty bottle of pills. Next to each item, there's a yellow mark with a number. Forensics must've forgotten them. Eve walks closer to the chest and leans down to smell the glass. Scotch.
"It doesn't feel real", a low voice says from behind her. Eve straightens herself back up and turns to find Kenny in the open doorway.
Her heart aches. Kenny's face is chalk white, and the skin around his eyes is pink, and so is his nose. His lips are completely chapped. He must be distraught. He must be so exhausted, and Eve doesn't know what to say. She'd just needed to see him.
"I'm so, so sorry", she whispers and feels her eyes getting wet. She blinks back her tears and softly touches his arm.
It's strange to be here with him. Whenever they'd seen each other after the whole operation to capture Oksana, Kenny had been very tense and awkward. At first Eve had suspected it to have something to do with his mother embarrassing him in front of Eve in Moscow, and then she'd started to think it had something to do with Oksana. But now, all of that seems so trivial. He's just a boy who's lost both of his parents.
Kenny inhales sharply and looks at the chest. "Multiple myeloma", he says, and then he walks over to sit in the emerald armchair facing the couch. "Stage three. Simon didn't know. He's flying back tomorrow. I didn't know until a couple of days ago when I walked in on her vomiting in the loo. She'd been having symptoms for a good while now, but I thought it was her job."
Eve frowns. "She hadn't told anyone?" Carolyn had looked wrinkled and tired that last time Eve had seen her at SIS, but she'd been under tremendous pressure, so Eve hadn't thought about it for more than a few seconds. Still, it's just such a shock: Stage three. "Can you talk about it?"
Kenny stares at the couch. "There's nothing special about it. I wanted to stay in with her, but she told me to go out. After I went to meet Elena--"
"Where is Elena, by the way?" Eve asks, and throws a look over her shoulder. Pembroke had said she was here.
"Food", Kenny replies. "She went out the back door. I can't eat, though."
"Of course not", Eve says softly. "Your mom--"
"I left around seven to go to the Apollo. After, I dropped Elena off, and I got in around half three. There was nothing off, so I thought she'd gone to bed. I didn't want to disturb her." He points to the doors behind Eve's back. "They were closed. I found her when I got up to get some water. I walked past and remembered I'd left a charger in here." He breathes slowly, and then his voice cracks. "I slept while my mum was dead in the next room."
"No, no", Eve says and holds her hands out. "Don't do that. Please, don't do that. You couldn't know."
"I probably wouldn't have seen the signs even if they'd been obvious", Kenny whispers, and points to the empty pill bottle. "She took every single one of those."
Death by painkiller overdose is terrible: You dance between two worlds for a long time, groggy and unable to move but still breathing, still feeling. Carolyn hadn't died quickly, and she hadn't died peacefully. Eve feels her stomach flip.
"I just don't understand", Kenny says, bringing Eve back to the present. "She didn't leave a single word. I didn't find any note when I went through her drawers and her safe. It's like, she'd decided she was going to do this, and once I left for the party, she just went upstairs and killed herself. What kind of person does that? What kind of mum can do that?" The anger in his voice breaks through, and he starts trembling, holding back strangled sobs.
Eve walks over to him and crouches down to put her hands on his arm. She keeps her eyes down as he cries, keeps squeezing his arm until his sobs become low and uneven.
It's the worst possible way for Kenny to start 2019, Eve thinks as she tries to soothe him. The house is empty, his stepfather is on the other side of the globe, work will be a disaster now that the head of the Russia desk is--
Will your career get better now?
Abruptly, Eve lets go of Kenny's arm and stands up. The room tilts, spinning clockwise and she has to grab the back of the armchair.
Oksana had been at the New Year's party, but Eve had thought she'd come for her, and not...
... for someone else.
It has to be a coincidence.
"Eve?" Kenny whimpers, and searches her face, but she can only stare at him. "What? I'm sorry, I didn't mean to--"
"No, ssh", Eve shushes, putting a hand on his shoulder and shutting her eyes tightly. The room has to stop spinning if she's ever going to be able to think a clear thought about this.
Will you career get better now?
Carolyn won't let me come work at MI6.
The room won't stop spinning, and her head is so full, so full, she can hardly think straight.
Carolyn had met Oksana in Moscow, and she'd never explained it to either Kenny or Eve, and neither had ever asked.
Slowly, her balance starts to even out, until it's back to normal again. She looks up, and to her horror, sees Oksana sitting on the couch, in the same dress she'd been wearing last night, at the party; sitting where Carolyn had killed herself slowly.
"Tsk", she hisses, the ghostly sound of her voice a mere echo, her smile so wide, so amused. Her eyes are gleaming. "Don't act so surprised, Eve."
Eve squeezes her eyes shut again, for longer this time, and when she opens them, the couch is empty, and Kenny's still staring at her. "Kenny, I'm sorry", she hears herself say from far, far away. "I need to take care of something."
Chapter 13: Our Bare and Violent Truths
The London sky is dark and clouded, reflecting Eve's mood as the cab she's in comes to a screeching halt in front of the Andaz, a contemporary design hotel by Hyatt next to Liverpool Street Station. She pays, gets out and hurries through the slush to the entrance, where the concierge greets her.
At the front desk, she digs through her purse and takes out her phone, then goes through the image gallery until she finds the shots she'd taken of Anna Leonova's photographs of Oksana. She shows the front desk her credentials, then asks for the number of Oksana's room.
Last night, when they'd finished, Oksana had cleaned her bruised and bleeding body with some tissue paper and told Eve she was welcome to drop by the Andaz in the morning, if she felt like she wanted Oksana to "return the favour". Then she'd straightened out her dress and walked out of the gallery, like Eve hadn't just drawn blood and fucked her raw over the heads of eight hundred people.
"I believe she's in 204", the front desk tells her, but she looks uncomfortable. "But, uh, she's due to leave in an hour. We're fully booked and with New Year's, late check-out isn't really--"
"Thanks", Eve mumbles, and heads straight for the elevator.
She wants to be wrong. She doesn't think she's ever wanted anything as much as she wants to be wrong about this, but the more she'd gone over the timeline in her head, the more anxious she'd become about being right. And she really needs to be wrong about this.
When she reaches room 204, she bangs on the door loudly. "Villanelle!" she shouts, and bangs on it some more.
The door opens slowly and reveals Oksana in nothing but a towel, covering her body from breasts to thighs. Her hair is tangled and wet, she's got rid of her contacts, and her eyes are back to their regular shade, somewhere between hazel and grey. Her neck is blue and purple, her throat bears several bite-marks, and on her shoulder there's an actual patch of gauze taped to her skin.
Eve doesn't care; she pushes past her, inside, and throws her bag onto the bed. "What did you do?" she asks, turning to face Oksana. "What did you do, please, tell me, what did you do?"
Oksana puts away the knife she'd apparently hidden behind her back when she'd opened the door, and she crosses her arms over her towel, looking at Eve like she hasn't got a clue what she's talking about, forehead in a frown. "Okay, you need to relax. I have been awake for less than twenty minutes. What is the matter?"
Eve exhales slowly and closes her eyes. "Carolyn."
There's a spark of recognition in Oksana's eyes, and her frown turns into a curious smile, like the cat who ate the canary. "Did something happen?"
Eve slaps her. Her reflexes take over, she opens her palm, and before she knows it, she slaps Oksana - like she'd slapped Niko - so hard her head swings to the side, and she stumbles a bit, but regains her balance. Then, she turns to Eve, fingers on her already reddening cheek. She looks shocked.
"What did you do?" Eve repeats, clenching her right hand into a fist. It's stinging a little, but she will beat the truth out of her, if she has to. She will keep hitting her until--
"Nothing!" Oksana shouts, and walks over to the minibar. She takes out a beer can and softly holds it against her cheek, and then she glares at Eve. "I didn't have to do anything to Carolyn. She was going to do it anyway. Death just came a little early."
Eve wants to believe her. Oksana doesn't sound like she's lying; the tone of her voice would give her away, in this state. Eve wants to believe her, but she has to know. "I need you to tell me every detail, or I swear to god, you are never laying a finger on me again. I mean it."
Oksana moves to sit down on the bed, beer can still in hand. The towel rides up a bit, revealing deep scratches and purple and blue bruises on her upper thighs. Eve feels a small sting deep inside of her. "It's really not that interesting. Pills and Scotch. She and Konstantin should have got married."
"What Carolyn and Konstantin should have done is beside the point", Eve grits out, and suddenly wishes for a gun, no matter how useless she is with them. She'd like to hold one, feel its weight in her hand, point its barrel against Oksana's temple, just to have some control, for once.
"Okay", Oksana pouts, and slumps onto her back. She lets out a puff of air, then resumes her version of events: "She was sticking her nose where it didn't belong, I suppose. I rang the doorbell, and she saw me through the glass. She opened the door, she didn't even try to run."
"Because she knew you'd catch her", Eve whispers, and for the tenth time today, feels her eyes tearing up.
Oksana hums. "Probably. I went in, and she said she'd been waiting for someone to come."
"Why?" Eve frowns. "What did she know? Why was she waiting for you?"
Oksana groans. "I just said, she was looking into things that didn't concern her. I don't know anything more about that. Anyway, she said she didn't want it to be messy. I agreed, because bloodstains are really hard to get out. She got some pills and Scotch and we went upstairs."
"Did you know she was sick?" Eve asks. Her face feels wet.
"Of course", Oksana says. "But you can never know how long someone with cancer will live, and I had to do my job. You should understand that by now."
Eve thinks she'll climb on top of Oksana and strangle the life out of her if she blames the horrors of her making on her fucking job one more time. She clenches her fists again.
"She took all the pills with the Scotch", Oksana continues, in a tone that speaks of her boredom. "She talked. She had so much to tell me about me, just like Konstantin. Blah, blah, blah, about how impressive it was that I lived. She asked if I was going to kill you. She asked if I was going to kill her son. I didn't, by the way. He's not a problem." Oksana pauses to wrap the can into the thin sheet next to her. "She took forever to die. Pills are so slow, but I wanted to keep it clean so it was fine."
Eve hides her face into her hands and her shoulders start shaking. She imagines Oksana sitting there, in the emerald chair Kenny had sat in only an hour ago, talking to Carolyn. Talking about her. "What did she tell you in Russia? She came to see you in prison."
Oksana sighs. "She said she wanted to exchange any information I had about my employers for a transfer to British prison. I told her to get a face-lift. She was so full of herself."
"She wasn't", Eve whispers, and wipes her nose on the back of her hand. "She was brilliant, and you were going to kill her."
"Ugh, stop." Oksana's sitting up now, and Eve feels her eyes on the back of her head. "She told me she'd got the pills for herself. She didn't want to be in pain, and myeloma is very painful. It was going to happen anyway. And you should be happy. Now you have a chance to get the career you deserve."
Eve snaps. Of course Oksana would see it like that. If something gets in her way, she gets rid of it. Eve turns to look at her. "Normal people don't think like that. She was someone to me. She mattered to me."
"Normal people", Oksana snorts, and her gaze turns chilly. "I was just thinking about what is best for you."
Eve turns away and scoffs; Oksana thinking about what's best for Eve has to be the worst joke ever made by anyone. Jesus. She has no idea who this woman is; no idea what she'll think of next, what she'll do, how she'll justify it. She doesn't know Oksana, and it feels so, so cruel.
Oksana clears her throat. "This is not what I had in mind when I said you could come over. I understand that you're a little upset, but I need to get ready to leave, so--"
"What about me?" Eve whispers, because this is it. This is the horrible conversation they should have had seven whole months ago, at Eve's house, instead of forgiving each other and fucking on the carpet. This is it; the terrible, terrible aftermath of closing her eyes from Oksana's true self. This has to be the worst it can get, and the fog around Eve's precious lake is so thick she can barely see if Oksana's still on the raft with her.
"What about you?" Oksana says it like Eve's question is totally unnecessary.
And then, it comes; everything Eve's been bottling up from the very beginning. "How long are you going to keep this up?" she asks, and gestures at the air between them. Oksana only blinks at her. "This game we're playing, but you're really just killing time until you decide to kill me. You're going to do it eventually, I know. You're going to enjoy this as long as it's fun, and when you get bored, when I don't do it for you anymore, you'll kill me like you kill everyone else. How will you do it? Let me guess, you'll stab me. How's that for fucking irony?"
The look on Oksana's face isn't just blank anymore; she looks absolutely bewildered. "Eve, what are you talking about?"
"You heard me", Eve says, feeling so, so empty. It's like speaking her mind has opened a huge cavity in her stomach, a black hole sucking up every little thing she thought she knew. "I don't know what you want from me, anymore. You don't make any sense half the time."
"Oh-kaay", Oksana exhales, and falls back down on the bed. "Eve, you are such an idiot. Why would I want to kill you?"
"Seriously?" Eve gasps, and looks around the hotel room like she's waiting for backup, for someone else to slap Oksana and explain the numerous obvious reasons why Oksana would want to kill her. "I stabbed you." She looks at Oksana over her shoulder.
"Um, yes, but did I die?" Oksana laughs, and points to her stomach. "I don't think I did. I told you, I'm not mad anymore. I was never mad, just surprised, and in a lot of pain. I get why you did it. I understand how revenge works much, much better than you think."
"You've had your fucking revenge", Eve chuckles. It sounds horrible in her mouth. "Can't you see what you've done to me, to my life?"
"I haven't done anything to you that you didn't want", Oksana protests, then sits up again, and points at Eve with her index finger. "You keep meeting me. You have never said you didn't want to have sex with me, so how should I know?"
"Well, if I hadn't always agreed to meet you, you would've killed someone just to take it out on them", Eve says, but she knows she's always come to Oksana willingly. It's always been about her addiction. She knows her attempts at resisting have been aimed at herself, not at Oksana. She knows who is to blame. Oksana has just been having fun.
She glances at Oksana's face, and then freezes completely: Oksana looks hurt, and suddenly, the room starts spinning, like it had done in Carolyn's living room. Eve recalls what she'd just said. "You wouldn't?"
Oksana shakes her head and opens her mouth, but says nothing. She glances out the window, like she's making her mind up about something. Then: "After sex, people become these affectionate little monkeys and I really could not give a shit. But you..." Oksana pauses and returns her eyes to Eve. "It's incredible how you go back to pretending that you hate me the second we stop having sex. I have never forced you to do something you didn't really want to do, and I would never hurt someone if you refused. That would be very pointless."
Eve is silent for a long time. She thinks about Oksana's words, thinks about how they make perfect sense, from her side. Eve is always fighting with herself, and Oksana sees it as fighting her. When she's got Eve in her hands, Eve always gives in, but it's only for a short while. She goes back to wanting to hate them both, sometimes really hating them both, and Oksana has to break her down, has to beat her, over and over and over. It's a wheel of power.
"What I don't understand", Oksana begins, and moves a little closer, "is if I hurt you so much, if you want to hate me so much, then why are you even here?"
It's the million dollar question, Eve figures, and stares at a street art painting on the wall opposite of the bed. Why does she keep seeing her, when all she gets is pain?
She had felt obliged, had felt like she'd owed Oksana so much for nearly ending her life at just twenty-six, but she hadn't felt like that about the sex, just about... everything else.
She's wants to know why Oksana's brain patterns work so differently from everyone else's since, apparently, a very young age.
She wants Oksana to fuck her, because with the sex comes the thrill, the twisted arousal which she can't reach otherwise, with anyone else. No one else is dangerous enough, insane enough, to make Eve's blood run cold and make her get off on it.
She wants to take all of Oksana's control away from her. She wants to talk to her. She wants to make her feel, to hurt her, because even the most ignorant and evil creation in this world has to care about something.
(Don't break my heart), you either.
Oh, shit. Eve lifts a hand to her mouth.
"I can actually see the light-bulb above your head", Oksana chuckles, and lets her eyes drop to Eve's half-covered mouth. "Penny for your thoughts?"
I really liked you.
They're here, because Oksana still likes her.
All along, Eve had been thinking that all of this - the anger, the (pretend) hate-fucking - had simply been Oksana's way of getting back at her for the stabbing: Dangling her on a string, breaking her defenses down, slaughtering people around her and making her face her filthiest demons by aching for the touch of a coldblooded, insane murderer - the touch of the woman who had killed her best friend.
Seeping into Eve's veins and taking over her organs, one by one, like poison, was something Eve had thought Oksana would revel in; it is the ultimate act of revenge, and hurting someone so badly while caring about them shouldn't even be possible, but apparently, it is for Oksana, who likes Eve, who cares about Eve.
Eve had kept meeting Oksana because she'd reached the point of not being able to be without her, and Oksana had kept meeting Eve, because she fucking cares.
Oksana's hand touches hers.
The sky above the raft and the lake cracks wide open, lightning striking, thunder roaring in Eve's ears.
Eve pushes her away, gets up, away from the bed, to the other side of the room.
There's pure panic pumping through her veins, going straight to her heart, and out again. Oksana cares about her, and now she doesn't know what the hell she's supposed to do with that. She'd already been going out of her mind when it had just been them and occasional communication and disturbing sex, but here's Oksana, and she cares about Eve, and Eve can't be the only thing Oksana cares about, because then--
--then this obsession would still be mutual, like in the beginning, before Paris, and if that's the case...
... she'll never be able to escape.
I'm gonna find the thing you care about...
... and I'm gonna kill it.
"You can make it difficult for me if you want", Oksana grins, and pushes her wet hair out of her face. She crosses her legs, making the towel ride up even more. "I like it when I have to work for it, but I'm really sore, thanks to you, so--"
"No, stop!" Eve shouts, and puts her hands out in front of her body. She can't think straight. "Please, just--don't touch me, okay?"
"Eve--" Oksana frowns and starts moving to the edge of the bed.
"Don't!" Eve actually screams, because she can't breathe, she can't get enough air, and her head is spinning and her legs feel powerless and if she doesn't get some air soon, she's going to pass out--
"Eve, I'm not going to hurt you", Oksana says sincerely, raising her hands as well. "I told you, I'm not here to kill--"
"I need to go", Eve croaks, and reaches for her purse. Without looking at Oksana, she stumbles out the door, vaguely hearing protesting behind her, but she's already out, she's running for the elevator, and Oksana won't follow her in nothing but a towel, and no, she'd thought this was some sort of sick game, but Oksana cares, and she's not going to be Anna Leonova and end up with a bullet through her brain and Niko's not going to end up like--
She gets into the elevator, hits the button that will take her out of this place, and finally, she can breathe; in through her nose, out through her mouth. But with the air comes the intolerable pain of realizing what she's finding herself in - again - and she slides down the elevator wall, squats down right there, and bursts out sobbing.
She ends up going up and down several times, random people coming and going, checking out.
She has no idea how to get to shore, away from this hurricane. She has no idea what she's supposed to do now.
Chapter 14: Philosophy of Space and Time
A month after the death of Carolyn Martens, Eve still walks around like a ghost among people. The inside of her shell feels like an event horizon holding all of her sorrow and fear in its clasp, and nothing gets out, nothing escapes, nothing makes her feel better.
Carolyn's funeral had been two weeks ago, and the church had been so full Eve had found a seat only in the far back. Like Pembroke had said, there had been nothing to suggest foul play, and after the pathologist's report, Carolyn had been laid to rest at Brompton Cemetery, next to her relatives.
A respected, hard-working Senior Intelligence Officer ending her own life due to a terrible illness had added to the tense atmosphere at Eve's job; Carolyn had worked on the other side of the river, mostly at SIS, but she'd been involved in countless investigations together with MI5, and at Thames House, her death was felt.
Not being able to figure out what had put Carolyn on the Twelve's kill list makes Eve want to nearly claw her own skin off. She wants to dig, she wants to investigate, but since she's the only one who knows Carolyn's death wasn't just a suicide, she's all alone with her heavy burden on her shoulders, weighing her down like she's carrying a cross on her back.
Eve and Charles work in comfortable silence, most of the time. He gets that she's going through something, and she lets him do what he does best, in peace. She hasn't got that much fight left in her these days, with someone she'd truthfully admired dying, and someone she'd come to need disappearing.
Oksana's gone. There's no trace of her, no string of bodies, no bratty one-liners on Eve's computer.
Eve tells herself the aching feeling in her stomach is just hunger. She hasn't been eating all that much. She tells herself that the longing in her chest is just withdrawal. Shredding addiction isn't supposed to be easy.
She lies awake a lot, not being able to find a good sleeping position, listening to Niko's soft snores, checking her phone a million times each night.
She wonders just how ignorant, how blind a person can be, because now she knows the signs had been there for a long time; an anonymous bouquet of beautiful sunflowers in July, a birthday present in the form of an expensive diamond necklace shipped to her house, occasional phone calls from foreign numbers (which had always stopped working whenever Eve had decided to call Oksana herself).
Whenever Oksana had called, it had seemed like she didn't really want to talk to Eve; she'd be short-worded and sound annoyed, but perhaps, she'd called simply because she'd wanted to listen to Eve's voice for a minute or two.
Eve thinks about an evening at The May Fair hotel, in August, only their fourth time together in bed. Oksana had been on her way to kill a lawyer (Eve had seen the news the day after), and she'd taken all of her frustration out on Eve, pinning her down and devouring her for what had felt like hours. Afterwards, Eve had been too beat to immediately get up and shower, so she'd started to drift off into a light slumber. She'd woken up to Oksana's fingers tracing her hair, her face, her cheek so lightly and reverently, like in Paris.
Eve had freaked out due to the similarity, and then she'd stumbled into the shower to get away.
Now, she spends her nights analyzing every encounter, every phone call, everything about Oksana's behavior, her touches and her jokes, her.
She spends her nights trying to see the clear, turquoise water, but it's black, black, black, like the sky above London.
She thinks about how she and Oksana had been in two completely different orbits, and Eve had just waited for their worlds to collide, to crash and explode, to create something entirely new.
This isn't exactly what she'd had in mind when she'd imagined the "new".
She considers that maybe, just maybe, all of Oksana's feelings had disappeared the moment Eve had understood that they'd still been there - even after Paris - and in a fit of panic, had run out of the hotel room at the Andaz.
Run out on Oksana.
Eve takes a lot of showers, standing under the spray until the water's so cold it feels like it's burning her.
Niko's back to himself, mostly. With Oksana gone, Eve notices different things about her own behavior around the house. She makes a point to touch him, support him and praise him much more than she'd done since this whole thing, this maze that had started with Viktor Kedrin and Kasia Molkowska, so long ago.
Despite walking around like the living dead, Eve has managed to get a win at work: Thanks to Oksana's thorough file on Kazimieras, Eve had known which kills had been his, and they'd come up as unsolved when she'd used a cross-reference search engine for similar methods of killing. He'd taken out another man in London, and a woman in Manchester - both under suspicious circumstances; phones or laptops gone, money left behind.
Eve's bullshit explanation for her break-through had, in the end, luckily been fairly simple to come up with: She'd gone through the records of cases similar to the stabbing of Ashley Langdon, and found the matching two, together with a whole bunch Kazimieras wasn't guilty of. She'd gone through all the CCTV (provided by Charles), including the irrelevant cases, so it would look right. It had taken forever. Then, pretending to have quite the photographic memory, she'd "recognized" the same face and the same stance from three different locations all close to where each stabbing had taken place, and then she'd run the CCTV screenshots through facial recognition, and voila: Kazimieras' face, under his birth-name Tomas Dauksa, had come up. Apparently, his Lithuanian passport had been scanned at Gatwick last year.
Eve hadn't been able to stop herself from comparing Villanelle to Kazimieras, and for a second, she'd felt sentimental and proud of how smart Oksana was next to him, and then Eve had righted herself and forced the thought away, because seriously, what the hell?
"Blimey", Charles had mumbled upon seeing everything that she'd gathered together.
"Yeah", Eve had agreed, and closed her eyes in relief. Soon after, she'd sent her personally put together file over to MI6/SIS, and now Kazimieras was their problem. Or Europol's. It didn't matter to her; the most important thing was cracking the Ashley Langdon case - which had been open for over three months now - and upping her reputation a bit after her rogue-mission in Paris.
She'd done a trick, though: Ashley Langdon's murder had happened only an hour after Oksana had taken out Met Officer John Griffiths on that same night in October, the night of the Hilton Olympia, and Eve had added a note suggesting that Kazimieras might be guilty of killing Griffiths as well. That way, she didn't have to consider Oksana. That way, she'd officially have no unfinished cases anymore, and Griffiths' family might finally get some peace. If she got lucky, it could fly.
Today it's half a week since her little win, and while she's eating her lunch (made by Niko) at her desk, her phone rings.
It's Jenny Barlow, Allison Perry's assistant. Eve nearly chokes on her food, because Allison Perry is the newly appointed Head of Operational over at MI6. Eve had received the memo on the change of department management, and felt a cold chill at the mention of Allison Perry; she's basically the new Carolyn Martens without directly running the Russia desk, and now her assistant is calling Eve.
Jenny kindly asks her if she'd mind "popping down" to the SIS-building at exactly a quarter past four this afternoon, and both Eve's calendar and her mouth are wide open, so she agrees, then screams, startling Charles in his chair.
At ten past four, security clears her at the entrance of the SIS-building at Vauxhall Cross, and Jenny, a slim and slightly brainy looking woman in her thirties, is there to meet her. Eve feels both nervous and incredibly pleased; she can basically feel the tempo of the people working for MI6, and the sensation makes her feel content, like she's home.
Allison Perry's office is on the sixth floor and is made entirely out of glass, and Eve immediately sees Perry pacing inside. She's on the phone, and her hand keeps going through her long, platinum blonde hair, then swinging around, then back to her hair.
It's not good that she's agitated, and Eve's heart sinks a bit; she'd heard Perry is ruthless. Years and years of service, in places like Bosnia and the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. She'd been trained for espionage in the field, and had, around the time she'd turned forty, given up her double-life and settled at Vauxhall. She deserves her rank, and Eve hopes she deserves Perry's time.
Soon enough, Perry is gesturing for her to enter, and Eve does, shaking her hand. It's a firm grip, and Perry tells her to take a seat.
With the desk between them, Perry regards Eve with an inscrutable stare, and Eve is momentarily scared that she'll start stammering, but Perry hasn't asked her anything, so maybe the feeling will pass.
"Eve Polastri", Perry says with a tilt of her head. Her voice is rasp, like she's been smoking for thirty years, but her skin doesn't look like it. Everything about her is sharp and focused. She reminds Eve of someone. "I've heard your name before."
Eve exhales and looks at her own lap. "All bad I guess?"
"If all of it were bad, you wouldn't be sitting here with me now, would you?" Perry smiles, and it makes Eve feel a little lighter straight away.
"I guess not, ma'am", she says, and nods slowly, clasping her hands.
"I heard an interesting story once", Perry continues, while tapping the desk with her fingertip. "An MI5 P3-officer cocks up the security concerning the lone witness of an assassination, carried out by a foreign, female operative with a striking kill rate. Said officer and her superior get the sack, are then hired by the late Carolyn Martens herself to run a closed operation focusing on the identification and capture of this female operative..."
Eve feels her mouth twitch. She wants to sink through the chair, but everything Perry has just said had actually happened, and it sounds, now that Eve's hearing it, like a really bad movie.
"... who then forms some sort of relationship with our officer in this story. To skip forward a bit, things go to absolute shit in Russia, and said officer goes on a personal man-hunt, finds the operative in Paris, France, and eventually, stabs her to death."
And there's the lie. Eve feels sweat on her forehead.
Perry's regarding her with a curious expression. "Once back in the UK, this stubborn and utterly idiotic officer gets, against all odds, re-hired at MI5, and spends the rest of her days flipping through cases, seeking things that don't fit in. Does any of this ring a bell?"
Eve clears her throat. "Yes, ma'am. The stubborn and utterly idiotic officer would, uh, would be me." She feels colour mounting in her cheeks, and wishes for a glass of water.
"It's a good story", Perry chuckles, and crosses her arms, precisely like Carolyn had, that Thursday at the Purple Penguin, after Eve - as Perry had put it - had got the sack. "Imagine my surprise when that idiotic officer's fifty-page memo on a new foreign contract killer lands on my desk with the words "hold onto your knickers" scribbled on the binder."
A quick and nervous laugh escapes Eve before she can stop it, and she clamps a hand over her mouth. "Sorry", she says through her fingers. She lowers her hand when her apology comes out muffled. "I mean, sorry, I'm, uh, I'm a bit taken by all of this. And I didn't write that, I--I wrote something else. Um. I'm not really sure why I'm here."
"You're here because it's a bloody good story", Perry grins, and quirks an eyebrow. "It's clear you've got some serious issues with authority, but you seem to have a keen sense of intuition about these things. I'm surprised Carolyn put you at MI5."
Well, I stole her private correspondence with a Russian agent, and traded it for a dead girl, Eve should say. Thinking about it feels horrible. She bites her tongue.
"I'd like you to move to the other side", Perry says, her tone zero-bullshit. Her face has become serious, and she's watching Eve like she's trying to read her mind. "There's a position for you here, if you want it. Basically, you'd handle some foreign affairs. Less paperwork, more fieldwork. Not any sort of IO, but escorting people of interest, establishing foreign relations, that sort of thing. You're likable, I can see that right away. You're also very smart, if somewhat reckless, and I could use your nose."
For once, Eve falling down to rabbit hole isn't due to Oksana playing tricks on her. Allison Perry is offering her a job. A real job. At MI6.
These things don't just happen.
Perry tilts her head and stares at Eve for a long time. "Very well, Eve. What will it be?"
Eve feels her face break into a huge smile, and for the first time in weeks, the event horizon lets something escape to the outside; joy.
Niko's less than excited about her new position, probably because it's all a little bit déjà vu, but he supports her decision and gives her a huge bear hug. She feels thankful for him and thankful for this nest they've built together. She isn't back to her old self, but her ghost of a shell feels a little warmer, a little more sane, and while in Niko's embrace, she realizes she hasn't thought about Oksana for a couple of hours, at least.
Ex-smokers crave their nicotine, from time to time, too. This is normal, she tells herself. She breathes in Niko's familiar scent and helps him make dinner.
While cutting up some lemon grass, she thinks it a little ironic that Carolyn dying had let to this. The thought feels like it shouldn't even be allowed to exist, but it's right there on Eve's mind, and her conscience burns.
Will your career get better now?
Carolyn had been sick, and Oksana had been selected. It had nothing to do with Eve getting ahead. Still, she doubts that Carolyn would have moved her to MI6 even with the Kazimieras-file.
That thought shouldn't be allowed to exist, either.
Halfway through their noodle soup dinner, Eve's phone rings in her bag. Looking apologetic, she gets up to retrieve it. The screen reads "Kenny Stowton".
Eve's heart sinks. Kenny never calls. Something has to be really wrong for him to pick up a phone without being told to. "Kenny? Hello?"
"Hey", she says, and glances at Niko before retreating to her home office. She lowers her voice. "Is everything okay? How are you?" She'd only seen a glimpse of him at the funeral, and he'd looked like he'd lost several pounds. She'd spoken to Elena last week, and she'd said Kenny still wasn't eating well.
A long silence, and then: "Could you come and meet me?"
Eve swallows. "Uh, yeah. Yeah, of course. When, and where?"
"At my house. Simon isn't here. Can you come, you know, as soon as possible? I really need to see you."
It could be that he's missing his mum and wants to talk about her. It could be that he's found some documents he thinks could be significant for some case at MI6. It could be that he's heard of her new job, and wants to talk about it with her. It could be that he simply needs a shoulder to cry on, and is too embarrassed to ask Elena.
It could be all of those things, but Eve's sixth sense - her nose - tells her that it isn't. "I'm leaving now. Kenny--"
"Good." He hangs up.
Eve goes to collect her things, and the event horizon sucks up all the happiness she'd felt today.
Chapter 15: Caught In the Act
The townhouse seems sinister, somehow. The windows are dark, and there's inches of light snow in the front between the gate and the stairs. On the tube from Finchley to Chelsea, Eve had almost bitten her nails off, and now, a second away from ringing the doorbell, she wonders if there's any point to any of this, at all.
Kenny opens the front door before Eve's finger even touches the bell. "Hey", she sighs, upon seeing his weary face.
"Hey", he says back, and lets her in.
The hall is completely dark, as is the family room. From the top of the stairs, there's a golden, dim light, casting shadows on the different portraits hung up along the staircase. Kenny leads her up to the second floor, to his room.
Kenny's batcave is something out of a spy-novel; the walls are navy blue, and there are several computer screens on and around his desk, as well as piles and piles of software, chargers, pads, headsets and gaming consoles. His bed is unmade, and next to it, on the nightstand, there's a picture of him at a younger age, with his mother and, presumably, his father.
It looks like a young boy's room.
"What's the matter?" Eve asks, and sits down on the edge of the bed when Kenny takes a seat in his chair in front of his disaster of a desk. There's something on one of the computer screens, something Eve recognizes: GPS-data.
"Okay", Kenny says, and furrows his brow. "I need to ask you some things."
"What things?" Eve presses. She knows Kenny, knows he needs time because his brain is a hundred times quicker than his mouth, but her skin is crawling with nerves, and she needs him to get on with it. "Just jump right in there, okay?"
"Okay you got really weird like before summer." It comes out like a single word with no stops, and he inhales sharply through his nose, like he's preparing himself for chew-out. Eve just stares, and he continues, without looking at her. "You were an absolute mess after Moscow, and, well, Paris, obviously, because, yeah, but you went back to being, like, normal. And then you got really weird again."
"I've had stress at work", Eve says, and it isn't a lie, but it is an excuse. "The cases just piled up, and you know I wasn't getting anywhere--"
"I did something", he interrupts, and folds his hands in his lap. His eyes are darting around the room, looking everywhere except at her. "Something I'm not proud of. I'm, erm, apologizing in advance."
Had Kenny hacked her computer or something? Oksana had, so obviously, Kenny could have. Eve feels her whole face turn into a frown, and she scratches her scalp. "Kenny, what did you do? It's okay, tell me."
He exhales slowly and scrunches his face up. "Remember what I did when you had to find Jin, in Berlin?"
Eve nods. "Yeah, you said you could track his exact position through his e-mailing address if he was connected and-- Kenny." It dawns on her like a cold shower. "You hacked my phone?"
He scrunches his face up even more. "Hacked your position, to be exact. Please, don't be angry with me; I did it because I was worried. Whenever I've seen you now, you've been lying so hard your nose is like, well, you know, Pinocchio. I got worried. That, plus you being really super weird for like, forever, got me thinking."
"Thinking about what?" Eve presses. This is bad. This is really, really bad.
"If you were having an affair", he says, and squeezes his eyes shut.
Eve stares at him blankly. Shit. "Kenny, oh my god, I--"
"I'd sort of get it, with everything you've been through, and with Niko, and I let it go, I did let it go, for a long time, but then mum died."
Eve clamps a hand over her mouth. She knows where this is going, and she is, for the millionth time, back in the rabbit hole, and she's falling through black space, into the abyss, into the vacuum until all she can make out is a Johnny English-poster on Kenny's wall. "Kenny."
"Yeah", Kenny says, and spins the chair around to face his desk. He brings up something that looks like CCTV, and Eve forces herself to get up, to go sit on the other side of the bed so that she can see the screen clearly, just from behind his shoulder.
"You ran out of here like your bum was on fire", he says quietly. "I couldn't think straight, but I know you, and you're a kind and caring person, and you wouldn't just leave me like that, with what had happened. So I followed you." He taps a key, and a CCTV window pops up.
It's from the Andaz, dated January 1st. The picture is overly sharp, focused on the front desk, and there's Eve digging through her purse and showing the front desk her phone and her credentials.
"I didn't know what I was looking for", Kenny says while drumming his fingers on the desk. "I just wanted to see what was so important, but there's no CCTV in the actual corridors, so I waited until you left. And then--"
Eve's glad Kenny is looking at the screen instead of her. Her facial muscles have gone slack, and she's derailing, hard, because he's too smart for his own good, and then it comes; the inevitable, disastrous wave that rips her raft to pieces.
"--imagine my surprise, when I wait until check-out, and I see her." He taps some keys, brings up another CCTV window from a different angle, and presses play.
It's Oksana checking out from the Andaz.
Eve bends at the waist, letting her head fall all the way down to her knees. Her hands scrape her scalp again, and she tries to come up with something, anything, to explain herself, all while knowing that nothing would be a good enough explanation for this.
"Can you", Kenny begins, and spins his chair around to look at her, "tell me why you went to see Villanelle, who should be dead?"
Eve feels a single tear escape her eye, and she inhales sharply, then wipes her nose with her sleeve. "No, Kenny. I can't."
Kenny's eyes are solemn, like he understands the pain she's in, the humiliation of getting caught. He turns back to face the feed of Oksana.
"Kenny", Eve whispers, and wipes her face. "I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry, I--"
"Why did you run off to see her when I said my mum hadn't left a note?"
Eve feels herself freeze, and she stares at Kenny's profile with wide eyes. "Kenny", she begins, and then can't think of anything to say. "No, it wasn't--"
"I need to know", Kenny says, and looks her straight in the eye. "Did Villanelle murder my mum?"
Eve shakes her head. Her throat's clogged up. This is easily the worst day of her entire adult life.
Kenny gets up from his chair and starts pacing around the room, clenching and unclenching his fists, and his face is bright pink now, instead of chalk white. He looks at Eve with wild eyes, storming around in his cage like a sick animal, and then something on his face snaps: "I need you to say it", he shouts, and points at her, then paces again. She's never seen him like this. "I've been sitting on this for weeks, so you tell me, why the hell is that woman still alive, and what are you doing with her, you tell me, did she kill my mum?"
"No!" Eve shouts, and the first sob breaks out, burning in her throat, because she won't do this; no matter how much she needs to know why Carolyn's gone, she won't do this to Kenny.
Kenny stops, breathing hard, and the look on his face changes from anger to despair. His eyes are wet. "No?"
"No, she didn't", Eve says. "I thought she did and that's why I ran because I had to know, but she didn't do it, I promise." She sobs some more, trying to wipe her nose again. "I'm sorry, I couldn't stop myself, I--"
"Did you--when you've seen her--are you--?" He starts stammering, looking at the walls, away from Eve, and she knows what he's trying to convey.
Eve can't stop crying. The truth is like a hot poker through her stomach. "Yes. Yes, I was. I'm not anymore. I haven't seen her since that morning."
"Kenny, it doesn't matter what we--"
"Where is she?" Kenny asks, and crosses his arms over his chest.
"I don't know", Eve says truthfully. She'd been wondering about that, too, but not too much, because it would drive her insane, it would drive her to try to find her. "I don't know where she is, or even if she is anything anymore. She's just... gone. This is the longest time we've never, you know, not talked or..."
Kenny's looking downright livid and says: "Did you even stab her?"
"Of course I did!" Eve snaps, because she wouldn't be here if she hadn't. "Of course I did, just... apparently, not hard enough."
"You've known for what, nine, ten months?" Kenny hisses, like that part is the worst one in this whole ugly, shitstorm of a mess. "You got that promotion, you saw Allison Perry, and all along you've known she's alive. Even when mum was still alive, you never--"
"What could I say, Kenny?" Eve shouts, and holds her hands out. "What, was I just supposed to tell everyone at work that I happened to know that someone who was supposed to be dead is actually not dead, and she's still killing people, and the only reason I know that is because I've been having a some sort of messed-up fuck-buddy thing with her, huh? Can you hear me say that?"
Kenny shakes his head and runs a hand through his hair. "Why isn't she in prison, Eve? Why didn't you report it when you found out she was alive?"
"Because!" Eve shouts, and sobs several times in a row. Her heart feels like it's bursting out of her chest, and the event horizon inside of her is finally letting all of her secrets and all of her frustration out.
"She needs to be in prison", Kenny says sternly. "If she's still killing people, and even if she isn't, she needs to be locked up. She's a psycho, Eve, why can't you just--"
"Because I'm a fucking dick, okay?" Eve shouts. "I'm a fucking coward. I mean, yes, she's a fucking psycho, don't you think I know that, but can't you just try to understand how someone like me might just go a little bit crazy having all that attention on me, having someone like her fucking caring about me? I know she's a psychopath, I know that, but she's also so extraordinary, and I couldn't do it, I couldn't do that to her, not after what I already did. I thought about her ending up in some fucking mental facility and she'd die there, she'd just die there, and I need her to be alive."
And there it was.
Kenny stares, mouth slack. "Are you in love with her?" he finally chokes out, like the whole sentence is pure poison, his face scrunching up again.
"No", Eve whispers. She has never asked herself that question, and her answer feels honest on her tongue. Her daydream had never been about love, it had been about being still, together, on the lake. "No, I don't think so. I think I might be addicted, and obsessed, or something else completely screwed up, but no, not in love, or anything like that. Love's got nothing to do with--what we've been doing."
"Oh, for godssakes", Kenny hisses, and turns to face the wall. He stands there with his hands on his hips for a long time while Eve cries over her own stupidity, over the release of emotions, over the terrible emptiness inside her chest. She cries over the job she'd just been given, which was now going to go up in flames. She cries over Niko's reaction when he'll hear about--
"She stabbed Bill", Kenny says quietly, still facing the wall. "She murdered you best friend."
Eve turns to look at him through wet, blurry eyes. "I know. I know. I don't know what's happened to me, I don't know why I'm like this, I just, I, I didn't want to be a killer. When she showed up in May last year, I saw her, and god, I felt happy she wasn't dead, and I know that's a whole new level of messed up and I'm so, so sorry."
Kenny stays still, breathing hard, not looking at her.
"You've known for weeks", Eve whispers. "Why didn't you...?"
"I wanted to make sure you weren't undercover or anything", Kenny says to the wall.
Eve rubs her wet eyes. "Jesus, I sit at a desk all day, why would I be working undercover?"
"I wanted to give you the benefit of the doubt, didn't I?" Kenny says, and finally turns to look at her accusingly - so, so disappointed in her.
It stings. "I'm sorry", she says for the millionth time, knowing a billion sorrys wouldn't even begin to cover what she's done, so she might as well let it all out: "She's basically been in London to kill someone almost every time I've seen her. It's so fucked, I don't know how I've done this. She was at Bishopsgate, the whole thing was orchestrated by the Twelve, but she didn't shoot anyone, I think, and god, she also framed the husband of that woman who died, you know, the racist one up for election, and then they stabbed him. I lost my sleep for weeks, Kenny, I--
"That last one's probably the only good thing she's done in her whole life", Kenny says, and walks over to the bed, to sit next to her.
Eve blinks. "What do you mean?"
Kenny looks at her, and his face goes blank. "Don't you know?"
Eve frowns. "No, what?"
"Don't you ever read the news?"
"No, Kenny, what?" How could someone like Kenny possibly think that it's a good thing that Oksana had framed--
"He was a pedophile", Kenny says quickly. Eve feels a sudden clench in her chest, like she's been punched. "After he died, his daughters told some social worker he'd been, um, assaulting them for, like, the last three years. Both of them. How did you not know this, it was all over the n--"
"Oh, my god", Eve gasps and buries her face in her hands, because everything finally makes sense. "Oh, my god, she knew. I was so angry with her, and she just took it. She knew all along, and she didn't tell me. She said he deserved to go to prison, and I thought she was just fucking with me."
Kenny clears his throat. "That doesn't make her a good person."
"I know", Eve says, but she's stuck on the fact that Oksana had done something bordering on kind - and not for her own benefit; the kill had been clean and had taken place in a blind-spot. The framing had been completely unnecessary, and now-- "Are you going to tell Allison?"
Kenny sighs. "No." It comes out directly, like he doesn't even consider any other answer. Eve stares at him with wide eyes, and he gives her a stern look. "You don't need me to tell you how unbelievably mental you are, and you don't need me to tell you what she's done. And I can't even begin to understand you, so I won't try to."
Eve blinks. "Then what--"
"I just want to know when you're meeting her. I want to know you're safe." He swallows his bottom lip, like he's uncertain about his next words. Then: "I haven't really got that many people left."
"She's not going to hurt me", Eve says, to calm him. "Her life is much more interesting with me in it, alive. But I really haven't seen her since that morning. I might have upset her, so I'm sort of thinking we might be done. She might be done with me."
He seems to consider her words for a moment, then: "I will never, ever forgive you if you end up dead because of her. You'll literally be the most idiotic person in the whole universe if you let that happen."
"I already feel like I am", Eve sighs, and nudges his knee with hers. There are still tears falling from her eyes, slowly. "She just showed up one day, out of the blue, and I was just so, I don't know... She was there, she was real, and I wanted to get into her head. And she got into mine."
"Don't forget about Anna." Kenny nudges her back. His posture is tense, like he's still waiting for the impact.
"Trust me, I think about her a lot", Eve groans, and glances at him. "I've felt like shit. I've felt like utter shit. Even this new job is because of Oksana. Oh, please don't hate me."
"I don't." He says it like he means it, and Eve feels some sensation return to her fingers. "I did wonder how you figured out it was Tomas Dauksa. Don't get me wrong, you're brilliant, but there was something dodgy, there. I don't think anyone else has noticed. As for actually accepting her help, you're just... human, I guess. But Villanelle isn't. You really need to consider your plan here, Eve. What are you going to do now?"
Eve bites her lower lip and releases it with a plop. "I have no idea."
"You need to tell Elena."
"Oh, god", Eve sighs, and buries her face in her hands for the tenth time tonight. She hadn't even thought about her until now. "I don't want to."
"I've been going insane sitting on all of this", Kenny says quietly. "With mum dying, I can't--Just tell her. Please."
Eve lets out a groan. "Fuck. Fine."
She will, for him. For sticking with her. She will sit down, take every curse, every bucket of shit Elena wants to pour over her head. She will take it all. She will go and see a goddamn psychiatrist, if Elena wants her to. She will face the consequences, whatever Elena throws her way, because after months and months of walking around with a terrible secret in her chest, she actually feels relieved that someone finally knows.
Chapter 16: The Fairest of Them All
March hits London with a wave of humid warmth, and Eve buys a tiny table fan for her desk at Vauxhall Cross. The place has slowly begun feeling like her own office at home; in here, she's allowed to be herself, allowed to decorate her desk with various books of crime and psychiatry, as well as photos from cases that occasionally pop into her dreams. Everyone knows her story, so there's no reason to hide who she is, at work.
Her direct superior is Matthew Jenkins, a well-groomed gentleman in his late fifties. He reminds Eve of the actor Michael Caine, and she greatly enjoys listening to Matthew's various career stories, topped with his polished London accent. He's charming, likable, and amazing at what he does. Whenever Eve thinks about all there is to learn from him, her cheeks get a little bit warmer, and a smile erupts on her face.
So far, her favourite parts of her new job have been the time she'd been told to accompany Matthew to a security briefing, attended by Ivan Derkach - a high-ranking member of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine - and then another time, joining Matthew at a counter-agency dinner, where Matthew and Jianguo Liang, a member of the Chinese MSS, had exchanged information about a Russian under-the-radar military base being built between Guran and Sergeyevka, close to the border between Russia and China.
Eve is up to her neck in classified information, and it makes her bounce around like a little kid.
Allison Perry has dropped in all but twice, checking to see how she's doing, updating her on the process of finding and catching Kazimieras. Eve appreciates it, but she doesn't feel the same kind of adrenaline about Kazimieras as she did about Villanelle. Oksana had handed her this new contract killer on a silver platter instead of Eve having to track him down from scratch, and it isn't quite the same.
She could be dead. Two whole months had passed without a single word or a single obvious case. There were no bodies with her name written all over them, and Eve had looked a lot. Twice, she'd caved and written a line or two in her blank memo on her computer, but there'd been no reply, so Eve had erased them, and now she tries very hard not to think about Oksana bleeding, screaming, fighting for her life, and then losing that fight.
Eve had meant what she'd told Kenny: She needs Oksana to be alive. Why that is, she suspects she couldn't completely work out on her own.
Elena's reaction to Kenny's findings and Eve's wrong turn hadn't been what Eve had expected, at all. Not long after visiting Kenny at the townhouse, the three of them had sat down in his family room (he still stayed away from the living room), and Eve had started at the beginning.
Eve had told Elena how a few weeks after Paris, Oksana had shown up in her garden, and then disappeared for a good week. She'd told Elena how Oksana had come into her house at the end of May last year, and had wanted to sit down to eat, but Eve had been too everything to be able to even consider food, so instead, she'd opted for apologizing a hundred times because the thought of what she'd done had been killing her.
She'd told Elena how seeing Oksana had made something snap in her head, how she'd felt an uncontrollable need to just get inside of her, split her mind open and carve out her brain patterns to finally be able to understand her.
She'd told Elena how she hadn't been able to stop.
"I always knew your infatuation with this psycho was a tiny bit over the line", Elena had said. "Frankly, I'm not even surprised about this. I totally see you doing something like this. You even got out of the bloody car while she was shooting at us, and I'm still not over that."
At that, Elena had earned herself a distressed look from Kenny, and Eve had considered Elena's words. Would she have ended up like this, no matter what? If she hadn't stabbed Oksana, would she have tried to split her mind open and carve out her grey matter, right there, in Oksana's Parisian bed?
"So when's the next murder date?" Elena had asked.
Eve had fallen back to earth, and then, she'd resumed explaining that she had no idea where Oksana was.
Elena had listened patiently, every once in a while raising her eyebrows, but in the end, they'd been back at the beginning: "You need to bring her in. I know it's really hard to imagine her facing the consequences of what she's done, especially with your, uh, relationship, but Eve? She murdered our friends. She has murdered so many people. I understand she's special, and probably one of a kind, but then bring her in so they can study why she is the way she is."
Like an animal in a cage.
"You don't have to decide anything now", Elena had said, reaching out to touch her hand. "But if she makes contact, I want you to think about what I said. Think about bringing her in. It's what you were supposed to do, at the start, isn't it?"
Yes, it was, and as Eve sits in her chair at work, wishing for coffee and wanting Matthew to take her to see someone important so that she'll get her mind off Oksana, Elena's little plea keeps coming back to her.
It's been over two months since she'd seen Oksana last. Eve had run out of the room like a deer in the headlights, and it feels almost melancholy to think that bolting for the door could be the last thing Eve ever got to do to her.
Eve needs Oksana to be alive, but Elena's suggestion had started growing inside Eve's mind, like a seed in her garden; slowly, waiting to reach the light of day.
Two weeks later, Niko boards a plane from London to Krakow. He'll be visiting Natalia and the girls from Friday to Sunday, and Eve goes with him to Heathrow, nags about his suitcase, then kisses him slowly.
Now that Kenny and Elena know - and they'd told her that she absolutely should not utter a single word about Oksana, ever again, to Niko - she feels lighter, she knows she's doing the right thing, and kissing him feels safe and sweet. She sends him off with an affectionate slap to his lower back, and he glances over his shoulder to give her a warm, familiar grin.
Then, he's gone, and Eve takes the underground back to Finchley.
On the tube, she thinks about how nice it is to sometimes just be nobody, in a space full of people coming and going, reading and talking, tired and awake. She looks at the different faces on the tube, wondering about their stories, who they are and where they're coming from.
Eve wonders if Oksana had ever taken the metro in Paris. She wonders if someone had looked at her, and seen her story on her hard and guarded face.
When Eve gets back to their house, she kicks off her shoes and heads straight for the fridge, pouring herself a large glass of white wine. She deserves it. She'd heard, today, that Matthew was very pleased with her, and apparently, he'd told Allison Perry as much.
The wine is dry on her tongue, and instead of crashing down in her home office chair like she usually does, her feet take her to the couch and her hand reaches for the remote. It's not like she doesn't deserve this, too.
She flicks through the channels until she finds a talk-show that looks interesting, but soon, her eyes keep drifting to the moss-coloured carpet on the living room floor.
She shouldn't think about it.
She wills herself to listen to the host, the audience laughing, the guest of the show telling some wild story, to not look at the carpet and the floor, but her mind's playing tricks on her, and nostalgia is a fucking bitch, and she can't not look.
Ten months ago, on that same living room floor, she'd touched Oksana for the first time; really touched her, of her own accord, initiating the contact. Oksana had stared at her with wide, slightly alarmed eyes, and Eve had traced her jaw and her temple with the pads of her fingertips, all while apologizing for being too stupid to have understood right away how extraordinary, how amazingly different she was.
Eve had raised her other hand to Oksana's stomach, caressing it, and underneath it, Oksana's breath had hitched. Eve had slid her hand higher, pressing firmly, all the way to her heart, feeling it beating rapidly, and then, to her pale neck. Eve had cradled her face like she couldn't believe it was real, like she couldn't believe Oksana was real and skin and muscles and bones.
Oksana had gazed at her with hooded eyes, her lips just slightly parted, breathing through her mouth, and then she'd said: "If this is just another trick to get me to put my gun down so you can kill me for real, tell me now."
Eve had shaken her head and breathed in her scent, the same scent she'd smelt by Covent Garden - in her own garden, too. Then, she'd raised herself onto her tiptoes and put her forehead to Oksana's, exhaling deeply. "You're a goddamn creation", she'd whispered, so close to Oksana's mouth she'd practically felt her breath. "I'm so sorry I couldn't see that before."
There, on a humid and wet spring evening, Oksana had claimed her mouth, whole-heartedly, with so much eagerness and thirst and greed, Eve had practically lost her breath because to be touching her - to be invaded by her taste and scent - had engrossed Eve like a thunderstorm enfolding a ship at sea, and she'd clawed and stroked and grazed any part she could get her hands on, and they'd fallen to the floor, Oksana underneath her, and without thinking, she'd slid her body between Oksana's jeans-clad thighs and ground down hard, wanting to get inside of her, wanting to rip her chest open to see that they really were made of the same matter, to see if maybe Eve was extraordinary too, and Oksana had kissed her with everything that she'd had, and then, with them still in their clothes, she'd shuddered underneath Eve's knee, and thrown her head back with a series of desperate gasps and moans.
Momentarily defenseless and vulnerable, Oksana had, in the fading throes of bliss, been so beautiful Eve had wanted time to freeze, to just keep her looking like that. But the moment had passed, and Oksana had come back down to earth, to the floor, and she'd flipped them around and touched Eve with such skill and resolve that in the end, when their clothes had come off, and she'd finally been able to dig her fingers into Oksana's arms and muscles and hips and shoulder-blades, Eve had felt so fulfilled, she'd burst into a low sob, eyes wet and forehead glistening from sweat.
But that was then, and from then on, things had taken a darker turn, and now, ten months later, Eve's cheeks are flushing at the memory, and the living room is too hot.
She should get up and open a window. She's breathing through her mouth, fingers itching, pulse roaring in her ears. Her right hand digs its nails into her thigh, and even with everything that had happened between them, she's aching, and she needs.
She's never done this. She'd tried, once, when she'd been in Moscow overnight, not being able to sleep. She'd thought about Oksana in her kitchen, how she'd leaned in and smelt Eve's neck, how Eve had felt Oksana inhale her skin, how taken Oksana had been when she'd smelt her own perfume.
Eve had tried, but it had felt like admitting something, so she'd stopped.
In the months that had followed, with Oksana alive, Eve had never allowed herself the pleasure, because doing so would have meant acknowledging that Oksana turned her on, instead of being turned on by the danger Eve felt when actually with her, together, in a concrete room.
There's an acute throbbing, deep and low, and suddenly, her body's strung tight. She can't.
She gets up and heads for the upstairs bathroom.
In there, she splashes cold water on her warm face, letting it drip down her cheeks, her jaw, letting her mascara drip with it. She looks at her own reflection in the mirror; at her dark eyes, her tousled hair, the small wrinkles at the corners of her eyes and above her upper lip.
Almost forty years on this earth, and this is where she's ended up.
Her phone rings downstairs. Giving herself one last look, she makes her way down the stairs and into the hall, where her purse is resting on a bench. Still slightly off-balance, she pulls her phone out. It's work. "Hello?"
Eve spins around and stares at the front door. Then she comes to her senses, and checks the screen of her phone. Unknown number. It's always an unknown number when someone from SIS calls her on the desk line, but this isn't someone from work.
"It's you", she whispers, and then exhales slowly.
Eve has too much and nothing remotely clever to say. "Hi", she says, and Oksana's alive. She's alive and calling her, and it has to be some kind of fucked up telepathy. "Are you--how are you?"
"Can you come to see me?"
Eve walks into the living room and sits down in the armchair, feeling something strange creeping up her spine. Oksana sounds weary. "Are you alright?"
A long silence, followed by: "Eve, please."
Please. Eve closes her eyes. She's feeling too many emotions at once, ranging all the way from instant relief to sour self-loathing. "Where are you?"
Well then, of course Eve's going. "Are you serious?" she scoffs.
Eve knows right away that she is; there's no hint of a lie or manipulation in the sound of her voice. She sounds strangled, like she's exhausted, and Eve can't help but wonder what's happened to her, if she's hurt, if she's-- "You disappeared."
A pause. "Yes."
Eve wants to ask where she's been, but then: "You knew Michael Goodall was abusing his daughters. You framed him so he wouldn't hurt them any more."
Oksana's quiet for a long time, but Eve can hear her breathing, and then: "Yes."
It shouldn't touch Eve so deeply. It shouldn't affect her perspective, but then she hears herself say: "Where in Amsterdam are you?"
Another silence, and Oksana sounds like she's moving. She grunts. "Do not write down anything I say, okay?"
She's actually going to tell Eve where she is. Her heart starts racing. "Okay."
"And do not repeat what I say, okay? Keizersgracht." She spells it out for Eve, to help her memorize it. "Number 107. Can you remember this?"
Eve says the address three times in her head, and tries to connect the street number to something familiar. One, oh, seven. She'll remember. "I can. Which apartment?"
"You'll know when you see it."
Elusive, as always. Eve snorts. "I haven't said I'm coming." Because the mere thought is ludicrous, and how would she even--
"You have a new job now, don't you? Take a few days off. You'll think of something."
Eve has friends from school in Amsterdam; friends she hasn't seen in close to fifteen years. Still, this is insane. "I haven't heard from you in months. You can't just call me up and expect me to come running when you whistle, okay? It doesn't work like that."
"Then how does it work?"
Eve has no idea, she just had to say that, to show Oksana that she isn't wrapped around her little finger that tightly anymore. "I really, really can't. I'm sor-- I can't. Work is really busy--"
She just had to go and say that, didn't she? Eve rubs her eyes, smearing her mascara even more. Thank goodness Niko's away; he'd instantly know something's really, really wrong.
Eve thinks about Elena and Kenny. She thinks about their talk. "Okay", she sighs, and gets up to go to her computer, to look up some flights. "But then, we're even, okay? For Kazimieras. This is it. I don't owe you shit after this."
There's a hint of a smile in Oksana's tired voice. "You don't owe me anything, Eve. See you soon." A pause, then: "Thank you."
Eve hangs up without another word, and she knows she has to tell Kenny and Elena. She won't call them; she'll go over and see them instead, hoping they're at the townhouse.
But first, before she gets a chance to think about what just happened - before she gets a chance to change her mind - she logs into her British Airways-account and buys an economy ticket that will take her from London Gatwick to Amsterdam Schiphol at 8:40, tomorrow morning. Then, she sits in her chair, staring at the computer screen, wondering what the hell she'd just agreed to do...
... and most importantly, why.
Chapter 17: Wild Embers In the Rain
The following morning, close to eleven, a tired Eve and her worn-out in-flight suitcase board a train that will take them from Schiphol Airport to Amsterdam Centraal in under less than twenty minutes.
Last night, she'd gone over to the townhouse in Chelsea, and told Kenny (Elena had been at home in Forest Hill) about the phone call from Oksana. Kenny had insisted on a tracking device, but Oksana isn't stupid, and in the end, they'd agreed that Eve would stay for only one night, and she'd leave him the address, even though it might be fake.
After visiting the townhouse, Eve had called Matthew Jenkins to inform him (and to give a valid reason for leaving the country) that her friend Gina from Amsterdam had invited her over for the weekend. Matthew had called Eve an idiot for flying over for only two days, and he'd insisted she'd stay until Monday at least, and Eve had agreed in order to keep everything as believable as possible - all while knowing there was no way in hell she was staying until Monday.
Niko would be flying in from Krakow around ten in the evening on Sunday, and Eve was going to be there to meet him at Heathrow.
She hadn't told him she was going away when he'd called her to tell her he'd arrived safely at his sister's, and now, on-board the Inter-City, speeding through tunnels and green fields, she feels like one, huge, walking-around traitor.
The central station is swimming with tourists, and Eve frantically looks around to find the tram she's supposed to take. After bumping into too many shoulders and cursing herself for not packing an umbrella, she locates platform B2, with tram number 13 parked and bound for Geuzenveld.
When she's finally on the tram and locates a window seat, she allows herself to enjoy the scenery: Amsterdam truly is gorgeous. She hasn't been here in years, but from where she's sitting, she can see the gabled facades, the tilting buildings and the idyllic bridges which are usually found on postcards. The harbour is crammed with canal tours, bright red boats taking tourists into the city.
There's the sound of a bell, and the tram starts moving. She's supposed to get off at Nieuwezijds Kolk, then take the street to her right and cross two bridges in order to get to Keizersgracht. She'd memorized the route from an actual map she'd had in her house, buried at the bottom of a box containing stuff from the years she'd spent travelling. Most of the information is outdated today, but the streets and tram tracks remain the same.
The thing about Amsterdam: When you're in the city center, you really are in the city center. Eve is aware of this, so she isn't surprised by the masses of people being out in the rain. She doesn't gawk at the signs, the neon lights, the artists blowing bubbles out of soap water through giant rings; she knows this place. She feels a warm sense of recognition, and underneath that, her nerves start waking up.
She's got to be out of her mind.
She'd tried not to think about it in the morning, or during the flight, or at the airport, or on the train. She'd tried to keep her cool, but the bell rings again, and a deep, automated male voice tells her that the next stop is hers, and now, her legs are trembling a bit. She has absolutely no idea what to expect.
It's strange to be in one of her favourite cities, about to visit someone who used to be her favourite thing to analyze. It isn't irony, per se, but the thought makes her chuckle nervously anyway.
The rain seems to be letting up for a bit, and Eve starts walking, her suitcase making noise on the street built from uneven cobblestone. She crosses a bridge with railings covered in bright flowers and bikes leaned up against the metal railings. She passes delis, restaurants, small contemporary art galleries, t-shirt shops, and suddenly, she's at a large crossing in front of another bridge, and on both sides of her is Keizersgracht.
Eve studies the street numbers. To her right is 95, and to her left, 97, so she heads to her left, keeping her eyes on the street numbers the closer she gets to 107.
The area's really nice and expensive; Eve wouldn't expect any less from Oksana, but she doesn't know under which circumstances Oksana is here. She could be here for a job. But then, she'd probably be at a hotel somewhere. Maybe she'd rented an airbnb. Maybe she's on holiday, but she'd sounded so tired on the phone. Maybe--
107 is staring Eve in the face. She backs up and cranes her neck to look at the building.
The house is five stories high - at least. Eve can't make out if there's an attic floor or not, but the whole facade is so essentially Amsterdam; it's a classic canal house, white stone, sticking out due to both houses on either sides being dark brown, like sand. High, possibly floor-to-ceiling black-framed windows face the busy canal behind her, and in front of her, there's a dual entrance made from iron, and behind it, another set of doors, made out of glass.
Eve inhales sharply. She'd better get on with it, if she ever wants to get back to London.
Next to the dual entrance, there's an intercom. There are seven names, and Eve's mouth twitches when she spots one that she knows: Meijer. Amsterdam could be considered a downgrade from The Hauge, but then again, Eve doesn't know The Hauge as well as she knows this place, and Lisa Meijer might prefer being in a city that seldom sleeps.
She presses the button for E5, Meijer.
She's got to be out of her idiotic, useless, goddamn mind.
The door buzzes open, and Eve's stomach drops to her knees.
She enters a well-lit but narrow hall covered by a red carpet. Grabbing the handle of her bag, she starts climbing the stairs, up, up, up, until she starts to feel a little out of breath. On the next floor, she finds D4, and then, finally E5, white letters on a black door, which isn't open.
Eve bites her bottom lip, then pulls her hair free. She runs her fingers through it, tucking it behind her ears, and then, she lifts a trembling hand to knock on the door.
After only a moment, the door opens inwards and a very familiar but drained face appears in the doorway. Eve feels her own face twist itself into pure shock; Oksana's cheeks are hollow, her neck and right temple are covered in fading bruises, and she looks like she's lost at least five pounds.
Without a word, Oksana reaches out and takes Eve's suitcase - the same one she'd stolen in Berlin - from her hand, then sets it down by the door, and Eve enters, baffled and confused. She pushes the door closed behind her, then turns to face Oksana.
Five pounds doesn't even begin to cover it, now that Eve takes a moment to truly look at her; Oksana's shoulders look bony and her chest and midsection have shrunk considerably. She's in a plain long-sleeved top and navy sweatpants. There are significant bags under her eyes, and there's a tiny cut on her bottom lip. She looks like death warmed up.
Apart from that, she looks insanely normal, like any other woman in her comfortable in-home clothing.
Oksana takes a tentative step towards Eve, then reaches for her hand, and pulls her into a hug. Eve's arms hang frozen next to her body, but she wills them to move, to rest on Oksana's lower back. Her spine feels like it's come out of her body.
"I am so happy to see you", Oksana breathes into her hair, and holds her tightly.
Eve inhales the scent she knows so well by now; not Oksana's perfume - because she isn't wearing any - but the smell of her skin, the smell of her. Feeling a lump in her throat, she carefully eases Oksana's body back, hands on her upper arms, and searches her eyes. "What happened to you? Where have you been?"
Oksana's smile is tight, and she raises an eyebrow. "Chechnya", she says, like it's an inside joke, and she moves her own hands to Eve's. She doesn't elaborate, and Eve has no idea what it means to be in Chechnya. Oksana seems to sense her confusion, because her face twists into something distasteful, and she shakes her head. "A shit trip, okay? Come in, sit down."
Eve had been so occupied with staring at Oksana, she'd completely forgotten to actually look around and see where she was. But now, she realizes she's in an apartment as big as her own house: She's standing in the middle of huge loft-like space with three floor-to-ceiling windows, black framed on the inside as well. Standing in front of the windows is a plush black leather couch, paired with a table of emerald glass, and under it, a large white sheepskin rug.
Eve tilts her head up. There's an open staircase to her left, simple black stepping plates leading up to a mezzanine, built above the windows and the couch. Eve backs up a bit and can tell there's a bed up there, and three smaller windows. Her eyes travel back down, to her left, where Oksana's crouching in front of a modern Smeg fridge, and she sees the whole wall's covered with sleek cupboards and kitchen hardware. Behind Eve, there's the entrance, and then a set of double doors she suspects lead to a bathroom.
Eve has walked into the cover of Architectural Digest; the whole place feels so light, so airy, even with the rain drumming down on the windows.
At a closer look, she notices some personal items. To her right, there's a black coat rack with all sorts of colourful things on the hangers, and more clothes lie scattered around here and there. There's a painting covered in sheer plastic leaning on the wall, like it's recently been purchased. A few more black and white silhouette portraits already hung up, a plasma television with a cracked screen, a chair that looks like it's from the 17th century, and Eve realizes, with a sense of wonder, that Oksana actually lives here.
Eve is in Oksana's home.
"Do you like it?" Oksana asks from behind her, startling her.
"Yes", Eve says, eyeing the two glasses of something that Oksana's holding. It's a strange question, coming from Oksana. "It's beautiful."
Oksana nods her head in the direction of the couch, and when Eve goes to sit down, Oksana sits down beside her, just a few inches away...
...exactly like Eve had sometimes imagined them sitting on the raft; together, in stillness.
At a loss for words, Eve raises her glass to her lips, then winces when she recognizes the smell of vodka. Of course. You can take the girl out of Russia, but you can't take Russia out of the girl. Still, out of politeness, Eve takes a sip, then scrunches her nose when the liquid starts burning in her throat. Next to her, Oksana's grinning as she takes a big sip, and her smile doesn't falter when she swallows. Eve watches the movement of her bruised throat.
"Are you going to tell me why you look like someone beat the crap out of you?" Eve finally asks, and sets her glass down on the table.
Oksana takes another sip and, probably unconciously, touches one of her faint bruises with her fingertips. "I upset someone." She leans back and lets out a huff of air, then turns her head towards Eve, so close. "They didn't like that I didn't kill Carolyn Martens myself. I was supposed to set an example, make the British understand that they need to keep their noses out of some things, so technically, I disobeyed them. "
It hadn't occurred to Eve that Oksana could have got in trouble for letting Carolyn go on her own terms. Still, if Oksana had actually killed Carolyn, Eve probably wouldn't be sitting here now. "If you disobeyed them, why didn't they just ki--"
"Kill me?" Oksana finishes Eve's sentence for her, and shrugs. "Compared to many others, I am too valuable. Training someone like me doesn't happen over one night, Eve. It is a process. Killing me would be like them throwing away a year of input. It isn't worth it, if they can spend a few months on reprimand instead."
"Reprimand?" Eve whispers, and suddenly, she gets it, she gets why Oksana looks like someone had beaten the shit out of her: Someone had. "What did they do to you in Chechnya?"
Oksana averts her eyes. "I really don't want to talk about that. Let's just say it involved a lot of exposure, very little food, and a lot arsehole Kadyrovtsy. I will follow orders more closely in the future."
Eve frowns. She knows the Kadyrovites: They're a military organization, trained to protect the Head of the Chechen Republic, and there'd been widespread rumours about their cruelty, about torture and murder. "Why would they send you to the Kadyrovites?"
Oksana giggles, in a way that lets Eve know how stupid her question is. "Do you think the people that I work for have some kind of boarding school that creates an army of people like me? You should know to never put all your eggs in the same basket, and a place like that would not stay hidden. You need to hide in plain sight." Oksana glances at her. "We get sent to different places. I went halfway around the planet when I got out."
Eve considers her words. She'd always known someone had trained Oksana, someone other than just Konstantin, because she was so skilled at so many different things, but Eve had never thought about the Twelve having their soon-to-be-employees infiltrate other agencies or organizations. "So, basically they can ship your around to, what, the SEAL-program, and then some North Korean interrogation-camp?" It sounds both ludicrous and incredibly clever when she says it out loud.
"Basically", Oksana confirms, and takes another sip of her vodka. "Don't bother doing anything with this information. You will end up like Carolyn."
Eve feels a sting in her chest; Carolyn had really got somewhere with the Twelve, specifically. Somewhere far, and she'd died for it. "I see", Eve says, and leans back, mimicking Oksana's posture. "Thank you for telling me."
"Mm." Oksana's staring blankly ahead, at the double doors across the room. The light from the windows makes her honey blonde hair glow, like it could burst into flame. "You need to be careful, Eve. Stay inside the lines of your new job. Do not upset them."
Eve wants to press the matter, but she also hasn't seen Oksana in a very long time, and the way they'd parted last time had left a lot of unfinished things in the air, so she decides to play along. For now. "I'll try not to." Then, with some difficulty: "Thanks for looking out for me."
"Mm", Oksana hums again, but then she turns her head towards Eve, and Eve looks straight back.
Over two months: All that time wondering where Oksana was, what she was doing, if she was doing anything at all, if she was still breathing.
Over two months, and Eve had thought about her so much it had hurt. Every once in a while, she'd felt she was finally letting Oksana go, felt like she was getting better at being without her.
She'd thought about Elena's proposition. She'd considered it.
Now, in this apartment, in this clean, bright room - in Oksana's safe place - she imagines this is what a drug addict feels like, when faced with a line of coke; weak. Her longing springs to life, pulling her in.
Oksana reaches out and brushes Eve's knee with her index finger. The touch is light, like a quick breeze, but to Eve, it feels like electricity. Oksana must sense this, because she pulls her hand back, all the way back into her own lap, like she'd been burnt.
I (still) think about you all the time.
It's on the top of Eve's tongue, but she can't say that, she can't say anything, because now that she's seen Oksana alive, she has no idea where to go from here. The future, even this one day, today, feels like a black hole, inevitable, and Eve isn't ready for it.
"Eve", Oksana says softly. "Did you book a room yet?"
Eve hadn't. She'd told Matthew she'd be staying at Gina's, and even though she doesn't think anyone's keeping tabs on her, she doesn't want to leave trace of a credit card transaction. She'd figured she'd pay for a room in cash, once she knew what this was. "No", she says truthfully. "No, I didn't."
If Oksana's pleased, she doesn't show it. Her eyes dart around her apartment, scanning her stuff, before returning to Eve. "Would you stay for a bit then?"
Eve feels the déjà vu seeping through her while looking deep into Oksana's eyes. They're almost hazel today. She wonders if they're thinking about the same thing, about the same moment. They probably are, and they can't keep repeating themselves forever, so she decides to break their samsara, their pain-laden cycle of life, and says: "Yes."
Chapter 18: The Healing
The clouds break in the afternoon, revealing a deep blue sky above Amsterdam. Eve stands by the first floor windows, looking out over the canal, the tourists and the little shops, and then further, over the rooftops, towards the sun.
Above her, in the bed on the mezzanine, Oksana's sleeping.
Once Eve had told her she would stay, they'd sat in silence for some time, and then, Oksana had told her she needed to put her head down, to rest for a little bit. She'd told Eve to make herself comfortable, and then she'd tiptoed up the stairs, and Eve had heard the sound of her, climbing into bed.
That was three hours ago. Oksana must be absolutely exhausted, conking out in the matter of minutes and sleeping like a log, while having Eve in her home. Also, she probably doesn't suspect a damn thing, doesn't have a clue about which thought had been growing in Eve's mind, since her confession to Kenny and Elena.
These hours had given Eve some time to think, to stroll around on the first floor and look at Oksana's various belongings, to consider her next move.
Unfortunately, she hadn't become any wiser.
Still, being able to touch the things Oksana had chosen for her new home had, to Eve, felt like a gift of sorts.
Now, her stomach groans loudly, and Oksana had told her to make herself at home, so she quietly opens the fridge, and finds... alcohol.
Eve sighs. Drinking the vodka earlier hadn't done any magic for her empty stomach, and she really doesn't want to make it worse. Biting her lower lip, she gives into her hunger, and turns towards the stairs.
She takes the first step tentatively. Oksana probably has a knife or a gun or a freaking bazooka tucked under her pillow, so Eve clears her throat, to alert Oksana of her presence, and then she ascends the stairs up to the mezzanine. "Villanelle?"
"Mmh." Oksana sounds groggy. She's sleeping on her stomach, still in her clothes, with one arm under the pillow. Her hair is covering half of her face and her sheets are bundled around her feet.
Eve's chest feels tight as she looks at her; she looks so small. "How are you feeling?" she asks softly, not wanting to make Oksana think she's annoyed.
"Tired", Oksana says, and rolls onto her back. She shoves her blonde hair out of her face, and peers at Eve. "Is something wrong?"
"No", Eve says, frowning. "I'm just, um. I'm starving."
"Oh", Oksana says, and sits up. She frowns too, then seems to remember her fridge is as good as empty. "We can order in if you want."
Eve glances out the window, at the radiant sunshine and the people outside. "I'd like to go out", she says, because she really would. Being still for a few hours had been completely fine, but now, she's beginning to feel the tell-tale signs of going stir-crazy. "If you feel up for it, or, you know, you're not too tired. A late lunch, or something. You look like you need the calories."
"I look fine", Oksana says indifferently. She stretches like a cat, then throws her legs over the side of the bed. She squints at the bright sunlight. "Let me take a shower, and then we can go, okay?"
Eve runs a hand through her hair, fidgeting. "I can go on my own, if you'd rather--"
"I'll come with you", Oksana says, in a no-nonsense tone.
Eve smiles at her small victory. "Okay."
Oksana walks past her, down the stairs, towards the double doors. She pulls off her top before she enters the bathroom, and from the mezzanine, Eve sees large light purple bruises covering her back, from shoulder blades to ribs.
It's like throwing paint on a blank canvas, a portrait that didn't need any other colours than white to begin with, and when Oksana disappears into the bathroom, Eve sits down on the unmade bed, confused and angry with herself; she knows she shouldn't feel furious at the thought of the Kadyrovites giving Oksana those bruises. The ones of her own making, on Oksana's skin on January 1st, hadn't churned her conscience nearly as much as she'd expected them to.
She should feel happy Oksana's finally getting a taste - a proper mouthful - of her own medicine.
It can't be helped. Her fingers itch with pure vengeance, and she lets her body fall all the way down to the mattress.
Upon arrival, Eve hadn't known what to expect, but it certainly hadn't been this: She's walking back towards the city center, side by side with Oksana, who acts like there's nothing unusual about the situation, and Eve tries to focus on the people, the colours, the shop windows, but all she sees is the woman to her right.
After her shower, Oksana had walked out of the bathroom looking as immaculate as ever; she'd covered her fading bruises with something, and apart from her tired eyes, she'd looked absolutely fine. Maybe a little bit skinny. She'd disappeared into a room Eve hadn't even noticed hiding behind a sliding door, and then, she'd re-emerged wearing plain tight denims, a black top and a cyan biker jacket.
As if she'd felt Eve needed a little reminding of whose home she was in, Oksana had opened a kitchen drawer, taken out a gun, and tucked it into her jeans, just below the small of her back.
In the street, Eve keeps glancing at the hem of Oksana's jacket, knowing what hides beneath it. It makes her feel uneasy, in this city full of people, even though she knows it's probably normal for Oksana to always be armed.
"Why do you keep checking out my ass?" Oksana asks, dead serious, when they reach the Royal Palace in the Dam Square. Her face doesn't crack up until Eve rounds on her with flaming cheeks.
"Oh, come on, I'm looking at your--" She lowers her voice and looks around, "--your gun, of course. It's making me nervous."
"If someone attacks you, you're on your own." Oksana purses her lips and looks at Eve's clothed hips the same way Eve had been looking at hers. "You're shit with guns. They suit you, but you're shit. Don't think I don't remember."
Eve is a little hurt then, because Oksana's right, but even though guns make Eve queasy, she'd still like to be good at handling one.
Oksana takes her to Bierfabriek, a huge restaurant built inside an old factory, just down the road from the Dam Square, Madame Tussauds and de Bijenkorf, Amsterdam's luxury department store. It's only a little past five in the afternoon, but the place is crowded with people enjoying some after-work pints and stouts. It's a loud venue, with real beer tanks parked inside, by the entrance. At a closer look, Eve notices the tables are covered in peanuts, and she's thankful for Oksana's choice; the whole restaurant seems like a welcoming, relaxed living room. Eve needs this, after the day she's had.
A casually dressed waiter leads them to an empty table in the back, and Eve grins at the peanut shells crunching underneath her shoes. Oksana orders for them in British English, not Dutch, but Eve isn't surprised; learning a new language isn't something one does if one has just been through two months of hell in Chechnya. Not even Oksana could do that, with her current need for sleep.
"Why here?" Eve asks, referring to the city, not the restaurant. Schiphol is a great airport for someone who travels a lot, but Amsterdam isn't classy in the same way as Paris is.
"It wasn't up to me", Oksana shrugs, and takes a sip of her Rosso. "I like it here."
Their food arrives, and Eve finds herself face to face with a whole grilled chicken only missing its head. It's served with a light salad, fries and mayo, and she can't help but gawk because she doesn't like eating food that actually looks like something that had been a real living animal. Her and Niko had owned a chicken, for godssakes.
Eve looks up, and Oksana isn't even using the cutlery; she's ripping the drumsticks right off the rest of the chicken with one hand while pouring barbecue sauce on her fries with the other, and Eve has to chuckle, has to memorize this image because she has never seen Oksana be so unabashedly herself. Pancakes and poached eggs at The Bull and The Hide in December had been nothing compared to this blatant display.
When Eve gets over her visual problem, she finds that the chicken absolutely melts in her mouth, and tastes even better with a spoonful of barbecue sauce.
After their dinner, Oksana insists on crossing a bridge and a street, taking them directly into the heart of the Red Light District. The food must have elevated both her mood and her energy, because her eyes are brighter, and her mouth isn't a thin stern line anymore.
It's alarming that Oksana doesn't seem to have any kind of actual plan for Eve's visit here. It seems, undoubtedly, that Oksana had asked Eve to come simply because she'd wanted to see her.
Like the phone calls, every now and then; just to hear Eve's voice.
Oksana guides Eve up the Achterburgwal, shamelessly commenting on the different women in the windows framed by red lasers, on the men staring at the women, and even on the rough smell of cannabis. Eve listens, but mostly she just watches Oksana's mouth move, because she's never talked this much in the time they've spent together. She points and makes faces, like a child with no boundaries, and Eve has to remind herself it's because Oksana doesn't have any.
Oksana does exactly like she pleases, no matter the consequences, and she's free in all the ways most people aren't. She plays with that freedom and must know it's neither guaranteed nor infinite, but it doesn't seem to trouble her as she stops to bum a cigarette from a bouncer, and after getting a hit, hands it to Eve, who politely refuses.
Oksana's steps are light, even in her boots, but what nags at Eve the most is the obvious fact that something's different within Oksana. Her treatment towards Eve is different. It isn't cold and challenging and mocking, anymore. Instead, it's funny and carefree and sweet - like when someone cares about you.
Eve is slowly drowning in pain, because she feels so torn; torn between doing what she should do, and doing what she wants to do.
She should be keeping her word. She should be thinking of a way to bring herself to accept the fact that the freedom Oksana enjoys should, by all means necessary, be taken away from her. Her delight and her jokes don't make her any less dangerous, they don't erase all the things she has done, and it could all be just one huge performance, skilled as she is at any kind of deception.
Eve should be asking herself: If Oksana's mood isn't a performance, where does it put Eve?
Eve should be asking herself: If Oksana's way of caring for someone is getting rid of everything else in that person's life, stripping them of everything they have, until Oksana's deranged love is all that's left, where does it put Niko and is there any way for him to stay safe, at all?
Eve should be doing a lot of things, but instead, she does what she wants to do: She looks at Oksana's face and keeps brushing her side on purpose. They stroll past gorgeous facades and inviting cafes and beautiful women-for-hire, but Eve doesn't see any of it; she doesn't want to see any of it.
They walk all the way to the Oude Church before Oksana stops her with a gentle grip on her wrist. "Why did you run?"
Eve knows Oksana's referring to New Year's morning at the Andaz, but telling Oksana all of Eve's thoughts; how she'd felt frozen in the wake of Oksana's affection, how she'd felt like Anna, and how she'd realized that if Oksana genuinely cared about her, Eve would never be free. Telling Oksana all of that would create a cloud so dark above them, their whole evening would be ruined. Eve doesn't want to say any of those things, so instead she says: "You scared me a little", which isn't a lie at all, but only the tip of the iceberg.
Oksana nods like she understands, but she doesn't let go of Eve arm. "I did not mean to do that. I was trying to tell you something."
"I know", Eve says right away, because she does know. Right here, on a busy street, with evening transitioning into night, Oksana's intentions are as clear as her eyes. "I didn't see it. I thought you--I didn't see it."
"Will you come home with me?" Oksana asks then, carefully, as if preparing herself for rejection. It's strangely appealing, Eve thinks; Oksana, with uncertainty in her voice, Oksana, ready to maybe, for once, not get her way.
There's a hotel down the street. They'd passed at least thirty hotels on their walk tonight. Eve's in-flight suitcase is in Oksana's living room. Oksana's eyes are searching, timid and craving, all at once. She looks exactly like she'd looked that first time they'd properly met after Paris, in Eve's living room - beautiful.
The hand resting on Eve's arm moves to her shoulder, and then to her neck. Oksana's fingers are cold.
I can't, Eve knows she should say, because there's still all the damage that's irreparable, all the people in her life to think about, all the immorality inside of Oksana to consider, but when her lips part to speak, the sound comes out in the form of a "yes", and Eve knows right away that it's what she's been wanting and waiting for all evening.
Chapter 19: This Danger We Came From
Oksana doesn't own any curtains, so Eve's woken up by the sun rising over the rooftops of Amsterdam. A bit disoriented at first, she squints, trying to understand why she isn't looking at the ceiling of her own bedroom, and then she remembers where she is, and she slowly turns onto her other side.
Next to her, Oksana's still sleeping, and god forbid, she looks innocent, with her slightly parted lips and her long, tangled hair. Eve reaches for her phone - she'd left it on the floor by the bed - and the digital clock on her screen reads 06:57. She huffs, and sets the phone back down. She rolls over, and turns to look at Oksana, who's looking right back at her.
Eve's heartbeat flickers for a split second. Last night, they'd got back to the apartment quite late. The sky had stayed open, revealing a sea of stars over the busy city, and Eve had tried to look, had tried to stay in the moment to take in the great beauty of rooftops and moonlight and the different constellations, so clear right before her eyes, and yet, her gaze had wandered to Oksana, who'd been watching her. Walking over to Oksana, Eve had stood before her silently, waiting for the usual dare in her eyes, waiting for them to fall back into the same old pattern, but Oksana had looked at Eve like she'd looked at her in the street; uncertain, open, needing. She'd taken off her armor, dropped it to the floor, and touched Eve's face softly, like she'd never seen it before, had never seen something so breathtaking.
"Hey", Eve whispers, gazing into Oksana's bright eyes. They're clear grey in the warm morning light.
"Hey", Oksana says back, but she looks pensive; she's studying Eve's face, as if she's looking for something, and then she opens her mouth, but instead of saying any actual words, she reaches for Eve's right hand, pulls it under the covers, and places it between her legs. Underneath their bodies, the lake is still, the raft intact, the air around them fresh and quiet.
Last night, Oksana had been pliant and receptive, encouraging Eve to take more, to take anything she wanted, like the act of being touched had been the most wonderful, lovely thing Eve could ever do to her. Now, while she holds Eve's hand against her already wet flesh, Eve wonders if this is the way Oksana asks for forgiveness - if she ever finds herself needing such a thing.
"How'd you sleep?" Eve asks, her voice low, like a murmur, while she starts moving her fingers softly, with Oksana's loose grip still around her wrist.
Oksana's eyes flutter shut, and her hips twitch lightly. "Really well", she says, and her voice is husky, becoming excited. "And you?"
Eve reaches with her free hand and pulls the covers down, revealing Oksana's breasts and stomach. Her eyes travel over the fading paint-splatter of blue, purple and yellow, the way Oksana's rib cage rises and falls when her breath hitches. "Surprisingly well", Eve replies, and gazes at her own handiwork - the scar on Oksana's naked midsection. It makes something twist inside of her own stomach. "I was really tired."
"Mm", Oksana hums, looking like she's finding it difficult to keep her eyes open. "Me too. You exhausted me last night." She says it with a raised eyebrow and a pleased smile, and Eve feels herself mirroring her expression, even with her cheeks burning.
As punishment for being a little bit cheeky, Eve presses harder with the pads of her fingertips, moving them in a steady circle, and Oksana gasps, squeezing her eyes shut. She lifts her hips into Eve's hand, her cheeks a light shade of pink, and then, she moves closer, until her lips are but an inch from Eve's.
"Morning breath", Eve whispers, and she can't quite keep her voice steady.
"Do you really care about things like that?" Oksana groans, half from annoyance, half from the fact that Eve's slid her fingers lower, inside.
It would be wonderful if they could just stay in this moment, but Eve's return home is looming just around the corner, and uncertainty starts pulling at her seams, and the waves start breaking, and if only she could make sense out of why Oksana just touches her without actually laying a finger on her--
Oksana doesn't seem to be able to wait for Eve's reply about the necessity of brushed teeth; she leans in and kisses her, bruised lip and all, the movement of her mouth adoring and sultry, and then she winds both of her hands into Eve's dark tresses, gently pulling on her head, guiding it down her body.
Still moving her fingers, Eve kisses Oksana's breasts, traces her bruises with her tongue, scoots down to lick the scar. Putting her lips to it wakes something inside of her; a need to possess, just like Oksana has spent almost a year doing, with Eve.
Oksana's fingers are still tangled in her hair, and from above her head, she hears: "Down, down, down, please, down", the words trembling with Oksana's strained breaths.
Eve grins against Oksana's stomach. She isn't surprised; her mouth has always been Oksana's favourite thing - after her hair. She pulls her fingers away - Oksana whines - and moves in between her legs, draping them over her shoulders, digging her fingers into the top of her thighs.
It's so different to be the one who's initiating, as opposed to being on her back and having Oksana do what she wants. The animal inside of Eve stirs wide awake, and sense and logic be damned, she buries her face into Oksana's drenched heat.
Oksana says something from above her when she starts lapping at her - pressing the tip of her tongue against her - but the sound is muffled by Oksana's thighs, so she stops, and looks up. "What?" she gasps, and then she feels a victorious grin on her own face, because Oksana's covered her eyes with one hand, and she's blushing all the way from her cheeks to her chest. She gulps, and lowers her hand.
"I said: Thank you for staying." Oksana's voice is as earnest as Eve's ever heard it, so honest and stripped bare, and her eyes are bright, her whole messy look so obscenely arousing.
Eve feels a lump in her throat. She's glad she'd stayed, too, and that's the whole issue, isn't it?
Not knowing how to respond, Eve slides one of her hands up Oksana's torso, to her left breast, cupping it softly, and then she gets back to Oksana's favourite thing.
Oksana says something else as well, but Eve can't hear her, and this time, she doesn't stop to ask what it was.
The flight back to London leaves a little after midday. Eve has a window seat in the far back of the plane, and a plastic cup of white wine in her hand. The seats next to her are empty (thank god), and apart from the flight attendant pouring her a drink, no one bothers her.
She stares out the window, at the clear blue sky, at the smooth water below them, so far away she can't make out any waves.
Lose an hour, gain an hour.
Eve had lost an hour when she'd flown to Amsterdam, but she's coming home with so much more than an additional sixty minutes to her day.
They hadn't decided on anything, probably because neither one wanted to experience the awkwardness that always goes hand in hand with where-is-this-going-conversations. Eve doesn't even know if what they're doing is something that is supposed to go somewhere: Oksana had kissed her goodbye, given her a happy smile, and sent her off. Eve had gone to the airport, wondering when they would see each other again, or if they would see each other again, and under which circumstances.
Eve's cheeks flush at the memory of this morning, while the guilt starts making its way into her body, starting with her toes. It creeps up to her crossed legs, her chest, her fingers holding the plastic cup.
She's married, and she isn't in love with Oksana, but thirty thousand feet above the earth, she finally admits that she is indeed cheating on Niko - and has been cheating on him for a long time now.
Eve briefly wonders if the past twenty-four hours had simply been the perfect, final act of manipulation, but something about Oksana's light steps, her goodnight kiss, and her worshiping touch tells Eve that she still cares. She still feels like she'd felt at the Andaz - even with Eve slapping her - and if possible, feels even more strongly now, after whatever the hell had happened to her in Chechnya.
A child screams somewhere, and Eve starts in her seat. Exhaling slowly, the way she would after coming home from a long day at the office, she lifts the plastic cup to her lips and rolls the fruity wine around in her mouth, and immediately, the seat-belt sign comes on with a loud chime. Eve puts her cup on the tray table, fastens her seat-belt, then picks the cup up and folds away the tray. They'd tell her to do it anyway in a few minutes, and she doesn't want to speak to anyone, be commanded by anyone, so she sits still, eyes on the rocky shoreline outside.
There's a shiver of fear sneaking up her spine, slowly paralyzing her from the legs up, because of all the possible outcomes Eve had imagined on the plane to Amsterdam, none of them had actually happened, and on the plane back, in this cabin, she feels like she's falling through the sky, her parachute gone, her wings going up in grey embers and ashes.
The wheels hit the runway, and the rest of the wine splashes around in Eve's cup. She's home, but she doesn't know where she wants to be.
Once the plane rolls to the gate and the cabin door opens, Eve struggles out of her seat and retrieves her in-flight from the cabin shelf above her head. She's in no rush, so she lets the other passengers exit before her. Once she passes the cockpit and the flight attendants thank her and wish her a good day, her own greeting comes out as a whisper. She's lost her footing, and apparently, her voice.
Since she didn't have anything in the cargo hold, she walks straight past the baggage claim, past customs declaration, through the sliding doors and into the arrivals area of Gatwick Airport. She'll get a cab to her home, and put her ear-pods in so that the driver doesn't bother her.
She thinks about Niko, about how she's supposed to go and meet him at Heathrow. The whole thought feels uncomfortable and straining, somehow. Oksana knows she's married, but she hadn't asked anything about Niko, hadn't even mentioned his name. It's a good thing, because that probably means she has no need to hurt him.
It's a bad thing, because it makes it so much more difficult for Eve to guess how deep Oksana's feelings actually run.
Her phone rings as soon as she's in the cab line, and the screen reads "unknown".
It could be work.
It could be Oksana.
Glancing around, Eve clears her throat, hoping her voice will sound at least a little bit normal, and then she picks up. "Hello?"
"Was the flight okay?"
It's Oksana, of course. There's a flame of warmth in Eve's chest, but she immediately forces it away, forces it back to where it came from. "Uh, yeah. It was fine, everything was fine. How, um, how are you?" She covers her eyes with the palm of her hand, like Oksana had done, this morning. She feels like she's seventeen and speaking to her high school crush.
"I am just fine, thank you. I ordered some food. You told me I could use the calories."
Eve had said that. Her hand slides from her eyes to her mouth, and then down to her throat. "You did, huh? I'm happy to hear that."
"I am a little sad that you had to leave."
Eve's heart stops. Her throat feels clogged up.
"Are you there?"
"Yeah", Eve answers quickly and looks around to see if anyone's eyeing her suspiciously. There's a young boy looking at her while his parents are fighting. Eve looks straight back.
"Are you sad?"
Not sad, exactly. More like lost. Still, Oksana probably wouldn't understand that, and it would take Eve too much time to explain it to her, because she doesn't even know how to explain it to her goddamn self, so she says: "I am, yeah."
There's a hum on the line, and then a familiar sound. Oksana's looking for something, rummaging through some things. "I have a postcard."
Eve has no idea what that's supposed to mean. "Okay. Um, from, from who?"
"My handler. He came by after you left."
Eve's heart plunges right to her knees.
Please don't ruin this, she prays. Please, just stay like you were.
"It isn't for some time yet because there are some things to organize, but he's sending me to London." There's a pause, and Eve can't think of anything to say, but then Oksana says, softly: "Do you want to meet me?"
Do you want to, with a question mark. Oksana's asking if Eve wants to come, instead of telling her to show up, instead of ordering her around. Oksana's asking, and Eve walks away from the cab line because she's certain she's going to scream from this feeling inside of her. "Do you really care about me?" she whispers, regretting it as soon as it's out.
"Of course I do." There's no pause, no time to think - it comes out like a reflex.
Eve believes her. "Then why can't you just stop?"
Now there's a real pause, a long one, and Eve holds her breath. "You are not supposed to use someone's feelings to get them to do what only you want."
"Oh, my god", Eve groans, and pinches the bridge of her nose. That's really something, coming from Oksana. "We're talking about--" She looks around to make sure no one's listening, "--about killing people and not about which movie we should watch. Come on."
"I know that, but you are asking me to stop doing something that comes very naturally to me, and I don't like it. You don't have to decide right now, okay?" Oksana exhales slowly. "I just wanted to tell you that I'm really happy you came to see me. I enjoyed it very much."
Me too, Eve thinks, but in her mind, she sees Oksana getting into her predatory mode, sees her sharpening a knife or loading a gun, sees blood-splatter and hears screaming--
"I also wanted you to know that I understand if you are not completely fine. I hope you don't think I don't understand what goes on inside your head. I do, but I am who I am, and you wouldn't like me otherwise, would you?"
Probably not, if Eve's completely honest with herself. And yet. "Why do you have to do it?"
Because of the money. Because of the thrill. Because Oksana caring for Eve doesn't mean that the adoration and the feelings she may have automatically obliterate her primary drives, the essence of what makes her who she is. Eve knows this, but wishes so hard that things could be different, somehow.
"I have to do my job, Eve. I like my job. I like my life, and my life is easier when I do my job well. Less bruises."
Oksana will always do her job - deep down, Eve knows it; she'd seen it in Moscow, when Oksana had shot down Konstantin in front of his daughter. She'd seen it with Frank Haleton, had seen Oksana complete her mission, even though she'd known that Frank had already told them everything.
She's going to keep doing her job. She's going to keep living her nice life. Ultimately, that's exactly how it is and how it's going to be, no matter what Oksana and her are, or what they do, or if they do anything at all, together or apart. Oksana is a creation, just like Eve had said; a force of nature, and no one, not even Eve, is going to be able to bind her.
She ought to get used to it, if she doesn't want today to be the last time she ever sees Oksana.
"Okay", Eve says, because what else can she say, with a familiar knot forming in her throat, threatening to destroy all of her recently made lovely memories. Her voice is strained and frustrated. "Can I think about it?"
There's a pause, a sniff of breath, and Oksana's mildly annoyed voice says: "Yes, you can. But I want you to stop this "I hate you" shit. You have never hated me. You have been very angry with me for many reasons, and you have always wanted to hate me, but you really don't. You can't, and we both know that."
Eve wants to hang up, because fuck Oksana for daring to psychoanalyze her over the phone. "I did hate you."
"No, you didn't. Yes, of course you hated me a little bit, just like I hated you a little bit for practically cutting me in half, but you have always felt other things, and those things matter a lot more."
Eve hates how good Oksana is with her words, how spot on she is in her fucking assessment, but at the same time, she feels a little impressed, a little taken with the fact that Oksana obviously has spent a lot of time thinking about her thoughts...
...and Eve realizes she's just put Oksana's obviously correct theory into practice, and seriously, fuck her.
Eve lets out an angry groan and actually stomps, attracting the attention of a couple of security guards.
"Okay, I heard that. I will speak to you when you feel better, okay?"
"Fine", Eve grits out, and it's better that way, because she really doesn't want to talk to Oksana in this state of mind. The hand that's holding her phone is trembling. "Bye."
The line disconnects, and Eve resists the urge to throw her phone into the garbage bin next to her.
Oksana is inevitable. Eve has no way to escape her, to rip herself free from the vines which have attached themselves around her brain, around her stupid, over-emotional heart. She can't break free, because since the beginning, all Eve has ever wanted to do is chase Oksana. She'd run to her, even when she should've been running in the opposite direction, away from danger, and now, she's got her. She's got Oksana, alive, with her vines around Eve's goddamn heart.
The rain begins, and Eve should move to take cover.
She should pry Oksana's vines away, burn them if she has to, but she can't. She doesn't want to, anymore. They've been part of her for such a long time, she doesn't want to imagine what it would be like to be without them.
Standing in the pouring rain, Eve looks at her phone. The hood of her jacket covers the screen, keeping it dry, and she opens a new text message window between herself, Kenny and Elena, and starts typing.
"I can't do it. I'm sorry."
Chapter 20: Delinquency and Disclosure
The following Monday morning, Eve acutely feels the sensation of being on a train that keeps speeding, faster and faster, only to derail and crash, leaving her buried under the wreckage of her own ride.
At Vauxhall Cross, Matthew Jenkins pats her shoulder and assures her that he would have survived one day without her, that she could easily have stayed with her friends in Amsterdam until Tuesday. Eve accepts his kindness with a tight smile and agrees to join him for lunch, to tell him about her trip, to talk about the arrival of a Hungarian Minister, but her body feels heavy, and not just from the constant lying; she's physically tired, like her time with Oksana had been equivalent to running a triathlon.
Down in the lobby, when Eve and Matthew are heading out of the SIS-building, they see Kenny and Elena parked in front of the entrance, and with polite smiles, they snag Eve by both of her arms and give Matthew an excuse about needing her for the planning of a mutual friend's wedding.
They drag Eve to the busy Pizza Express on Millbank and seat her down in a booth, and she can't keep up, because they're both talking at the same time, throwing things like "are you out of your bloody mind" and "I'll report you, I swear", followed by "we will tell Niko", and finally "what is wrong with you?"
Eve knows something's wrong with her; there's no other way to explain this ludicrous decision she's made, this decision to let Oksana roam free, to let Oksana keep doing her job, to let her live--
--so that Eve can see her.
"Can you just explain what happened in Amsterdam?" Kenny asks when he finally calms down. The waitress arrives, and Elena orders three fizzy drinks and three margheritas.
Eve can't even imagine eating under these circumstances. Her train is derailing fast, and she covers her forehead with her palm and supports her elbow on the table. She's exhausted, but she resumes her story, resumes telling them both what had happened in Amsterdam, what had happened to Oksana in Chechnya, what the two of them had done, what it had been like.
Being there, with Oksana, had been so easy. Now, though, as she tells Kenny and Elena how her perspective had shifted, the memories are no longer warm and light; they're as heavy as her body, with dark rain-clouds looming over them.
"You've lost your bloody mind", Elena sighs, and Eve feels herself nod, in agreement.
She has. She stares blankly ahead, at the space between Elena's and Kenny's shoulders. The waitress arrives with their drinks; three Cokes.
"Do you not understand what this woman's doing?" Elena continues, narrowing her eyes, like she doesn't want to believe that Eve really is this stupid. "She's totally manipulating you."
"I know that", Eve hisses, and glances out the window. "Of course I know that, of course I know none of this is fucking normal, but you don't get it. You didn't see her. It's like she was a completely different person, like the Kadyrovites had actually broken something in her, and I just--" Her sentence dies in her throat, and she reaches over to gulp down some of her drink, to at least get some calories into her body.
"Is she going to keep killing people?" Kenny asks.
Eve looks at him. He's not even blinking, he's just staring at her. Swallowing her bottom lip, she nods slowly, and rubs her eyes. She hadn't bothered with make-up this morning.
"Eve, what the actual fuck?" Elena whispers, and shares a concerned look with Kenny. "Who? When?"
Eve shrugs. "There's something in the works. Her handler came by with a new target, she said, and, um. It's not for a while yet, but she's coming to London."
"London", Elena scoffs, and looks around the Express. "Great. That's just great, that's fabulous, really. She could be coming to kill one of us, did that even cross your mind?"
"It did", Eve admits. "But I think she would have told me. She seems to, um. I don't know, trust me? I think Amsterdam might have been some sort of test, to see how far I'd go for her, maybe--"
"And how far would you go for her?" Kenny asks, because that's the question all three of them must be thinking about. It's what Eve's thinking about, now that the words are out of his mouth.
"I don't know", Eve says honestly. "I think--I mean, if she hurt me, or someone I care about, like--"
"Like Bill?" Elena cuts in, and shakes her head. "She did that already. She stabbed your best friend to death."
"Yeah, and I stabbed her", Eve says, because that's what had happened. Oksana had made it personal, had stabbed her friend to death in a club in Berlin, and then, Eve had found Oksana, and stabbed her. Simple. They'd got even, in a way. She clears her throat. "I, um. I understand that I'm not in a good head-space right now, so I really don't know what you guys are expecting to get out of me."
Elena leans against the back of the booth and sighs deeply. "No kidding." She stares out the window in silence for a good minute, and Kenny stares at his soda, but then Elena looks straight at Eve, eyes skeptical and forehead in a frown. "Is it really that good? I mean, what the hell does she do to you?"
"Oh, jesus", Eve groans, and covers her face with both palms. "We're not talking about that." Her voice comes out muffled. "I just, I need some time, okay? My brains are all over the wall right now, and I get that this is so incredibly messed up, but I need some time, okay? Can you guys just give me some time to figure this stuff out? I can't do something I don't want to do. I need to be in a place, where I want to do it, like, after Berlin, and I'm sorry but I don't see that happening. No, I'm not sorry, it's a good thing I don't see it happening, because that means everyone's alright."
"So she has to kill someone you love in order for you to see through your crazy crush and finally understand that she belongs in a fucking prison cell?" Elena hisses, grabbing the edge of the table and leaning forward, towards Eve. Elena's eyes are bewildered, but then she leans back and crosses her arms over her chest. "I'll say this, all right. I would not want to be Niko right now."
Eve looks at Kenny. Kenny looks at Eve. Their margheritas arrive, but no one except for Elena touches the food.
After sitting at work in a daze until six in the evening, Eve gets on the tube to Finchley. There's an itch she wants to scratch; she wants to write to Oksana, but what would she say? Yesterday, Eve had been too upset on the phone to say anything coherent at all, and she isn't any better off tonight, but she just wants to say something.
Elena might be right. Eve might have lost her bloody mind.
Elena is right, but Eve had lost her mind long ago. It isn't news.
Niko's waiting for her when she gets home from work. He's sitting in the armchair in the living room, reading something, and he doesn't look up when she walks in and greets him.
Eve does a mental check concerning their last conversation with each other, last night, when he'd flown back from Krakow, and everything had been fine - as fine as it could have been, with the way Eve had been feeling. They hadn't fought, he hadn't been annoyed about anything, and he'd been completely normal this morning. She hadn't been, though.
"Honey?" Eve asks quietly. The word feels so strange now, like old gum in her mouth. "What's up?"
Niko closes his book, but doesn't meet her questioning gaze. His fingers travel from the book to his mustache, rubbing it lightly, and then he cocks his head towards the stairs. "I put your slacks in the laundry", he says matter-of-factly.
Last time Eve checked, doing the laundry wasn't some kind of award-winning performance. "Okay?" she says slowly, because there has to be a trap somewhere. She feels a shiver, a sudden flip in her stomach.
Niko shifts a little in the chair and digs into the pocket of his pants. He pulls out a rumpled yellow card with a silver slice, and holds it up in front of him.
It's the train ticket Eve had purchased at Amsterdam Centraal, for her journey back to the airport.
"This one expired yesterday", Niko says before Eve can come up with anything to say. "Second class, a total of five euros, to Schiphol Airport."
She could say she'd just picked it up. She could lie, but her face has already given her away. "Niko, honey--"
"Care to tell me what you were doing in Amsterdam while I was visiting my sister?" he says very slowly, very sternly. His rage is boiling underneath, Eve knows, and she raises both of her hands.
"Okay", she says, while her heart's hammering. "I had a work thing."
Niko gets up and shoves his hands into his pockets. "A work thing?" he says, and shrugs his shoulders. "Like Berlin? Like Moscow?" His voice starts rising, an Eve hears the fear he's trying to keep inside of himself. "Like Paris, when you stabbed a psychopath to death and then came home as--"
"Listen!" Eve shouts, and pushes her hair out of her face. "It wasn't like that, I just had to follow up on something--"
"Then why didn't you tell me when we spoke on the phone?" he actually screams, and throws the ticket in her direction. "You could have called me, you should have called me the minute you found out you had to leave, and you're not even supposed to be doing this sort of shit anymore, Eve! Isn't that what this whole new job is about? You're supposed to be safe!"
"I am safe!" she screams back, and takes a deep breath while her hands clench and unclench. She can't have this conversation, not right now. She's still tense from the godawful lunch with Elena and Kenny, she still doesn't know what the hell she should do with herself, and she can't have this conversation with Niko. Not again. "It was just following up on some intel. It was one night."
"Was Matthew with you?" Niko asks sharply, and he's breathing so hard Eve can practically see his chest raising and falling.
"No", Eve says, because she's been lying so much, so, so much, for so long. "I went alone. Everything went fine. I was safe the whole time." And that's practically a lie, too; she hadn't been safe. She could never be completely safe with Oksana, and yet--
"How am I supposed to trust you when you don't tell me these things?" Niko shouts, and his arms cut the air, and he looks like he's five seconds from kicking their living room table to pieces. "I need you to be safe! I need you to have a job that doesn't put you in danger, doesn't send you off on your own and you shouldn't have been, because they know what you went through!"
"Of course they know what I went through", Eve scoffs, and rubs her face. "Everyone knows what I did, but you know what? You can't do this every time something like this happens. Not everything is Paris, not everything is--"
"You didn't tell me you were going!" Niko interrupts and points at her. "If your husband can't know where you are, then that place isn't safe, and this new job is supposed to be about relations and communication between agencies, so what the hell are they sending you to Amsterdam for, and without Matthew?"
"God", Eve sighs, and she wants to sink down into a warm bath, she wants a glass of wine, she wants to be anywhere but here right now. He's so frightened, and so blind, and she feels awful. He's not even considering the possibility of her having an affair. He's angry about her job. "I can't tell you."
"Is this--" Niko closes his eyes and looks like he's trying to calm himself. "Are you hunting someone again?"
"Oh, for the love of--" She runs a hand through her hair. She isn't technically hunting anyone right now, because she knows where Oksana is, and she could get to her, could find her straight away if she wanted to. "No. No hunting. I'm just--I'm new at this, and I want to do well, so I felt I had to go. Okay?"
She wonders if she'll ever be able to be completely honest with him again. She wonders if there's ever going to be time to be honest with him, or even just to be with him. She should hold him to her heart. She should tell him that everything's going to be all right, but her heart is blocked, and she doesn't know what's going to happen.
"Not okay", he says, and shakes his head solemnly. "I can't keep worrying about you."
"It's not my fault it's all you do!" Eve snaps, and regrets it immediately, because the hurt on his face is real and visible, and he loves her. He loves her, and she feels like he's chaining her when all she wants to do is--
What does she want to do?
She wants to roam free.
Maybe even with Oksana.
That's why she can't bring herself to report her, or resist her, or end her, and everything's suddenly falling into place, a horrible notion of the train moving faster and faster, and it's going to crash, it's almost there--
"I'm sorry", Eve whispers, still shocked from the realization that's just hit her. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean it like that, I didn't--"
"No, I get it", he says quietly, and turns his back to her. His shoulders hang, and so does his head, and his hands are back in his pockets. "You think I'm so silly to worry about you, but I don't think I'm the problem." He exhales slowly, like he's going to say something terrible, and then: "You are the problem. You don't care how reckless you are, you'll just blow everything to pieces, and then you dare wonder how the shrapnel ended up in your face."
Eve shakes her head, but he's right: That's exactly what she's like. She decides to do something, she commits herself to doing something, and when everything goes up in flames, she has the audacity to wonder where she went wrong, when she shouldn't have gone down any path at all in the first place.
And she's hurting him.
"I'm going out", Niko exhales, and walks straight past her into the hallway. He even dodges to the left, to avoid brushing up against the coat she's still wearing.
"I don't want to hear it", he says as he puts his own coat on and grabs his keys. He raises his chin and looks at her, and his gaze is filled with sadness and disappointment. "Don't wait up. I have a work thing."
Eve watches him open the front door, and then close it. With a loud slam, she's left alone in their house, and there's something blurring her vision, something wet. She wipes her eyes with her sleeves, then shrugs out of her jacket.
Her computer waits on the other side of the first floor, and Eve takes a few steps towards her home office, but then she stops, and decides it won't do her any good right now. She still hasn't got anything clever to say to Oksana, especially not after the day she's had. The white wine in the fridge seems much more soothing at the moment, so she pours herself a glass, and thinks.
She can't even recognize herself right now. She isn't the woman who saw a photograph of Viktor Kedrin in a pool of blood, and she isn't the woman who came back from Paris after stabbing someone in the stomach.
She's someone completely different, and it's both thrilling and frightening.
Some things are still the same, though, and with the weight of her whole day on her shoulders, she grabs both the glass and the bottle, and goes upstairs to have a bath.
Chapter 21: Let's Rock
April's looming just around the corner when Eve walks into the lobby of the SIS-building and finds Allison Perry herself waiting for her.
"Morning", Eve groans, and then clears her throat. "I mean, good morning, ma'am."
Perry's lips twitch a tad, and she tilts her head. She's in a dark suit and a long leather jacket, and she looks nothing like someone would expect a high-ranking MI6-Officer to look. "Good morning, Eve. You're looking rather famished. Have you had breakfast?"
Eve hadn't. Niko is still angry with her, or sad or annoyed or whatever it is that he is, and he'd been home a lot less, had cooked a lot less, and Eve is upset with him too, and she doesn't have the patience to prepare any sort of food on her own, so for the last two weeks, she's been skipping breakfast and going into the city at lunchtime instead.
"No, ma'am", Eve says, and looks around. The security guards are staring at them, and with good reason, because why on earth is Allison Perry asking her about food? "I could, um, go get you something. Or, us both, if you'd like. Do you, um. Do you want breakfast?"
"Splendid idea", Perry exclaims, and steers them in the direction Eve had come from, towards the entrance.
It's a humid and sunny morning in London; rays of sun peaking through the clouds, students walking around in tops and shorts, and Eve carries her trench instead of wearing it on her white button-down. Perry doesn't speak, and Eve doesn't know what to say, so she stays silent. It reminds her of the time Carolyn Martens had come to her house and asked her if she'd come to the shop with her.
They walk across the Vauxhall Bridge, and Eve wonders if they're on their way to Thames House, but after a few minutes, she finds herself in front of Altitude London on Millbank. She throws a panicked glance at Perry; this is an upscale, ridiculously expensive event and restaurant building, and she can't understand why they're here at nine o'clock in the morning, but the doors are open, a security guard greets them in the stunning marble lobby, and then she's in an elevator, next to Perry, going up to the 29th floor labelled "Skyloft".
The elevator doors open, and Eve has to force herself to leave the tiny cube of safe space, because this is nicer than the Savoy, this is nicer than any place she's ever been in her whole life: She's in what looks like a huge living room, with secluded couches and lounge chairs in different styles. The walls are high and made from old tile, warming the space, and the whole place is surrounded by huge, floor-to-ceiling windows revealing the River Thames, the London Eye, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and the slowly awakening sky above London.
"I don't think they serve breakfast here", Eve gulps, and looks at the bar. There's a waiter there, polishing a glass.
"They do if you're me", Perry grins, and walks further in, then seats herself on a beige Chesterfield sofa. She nods her head in the direction of the couch opposite of the one she's sitting on, and Eve walks over on shaky legs.
The waiter immediately walks over to them, and bends towards Perry, who orders "the usual" for both of them. He bows, and then scurries off.
"This is um, like, super nice of you", Eve says awkwardly, and resists the urge to muss her hair in front of Perry. "But, um, I probably can't afford to pay for this, and, well, I can't help but wonder if something's on your mind, since we're, well, here." Eve looks at Perry, who simply looks back, still wearing a tiny, amused smile. Eve fidgets, and mumbles: "This is very unusual."
"That it is", Perry agrees, and crosses her legs. "To cut to the chase; I'm finding myself in a bit of a pickle."
Eve's eyes widen. "Oh?"
In contrast, Perry narrows her eyes, like a cat thinking about its next move, and then she says: "The Bishopsgate hit last year. You told Carolyn to look into Luca Colombo's family relations."
Eve gives up, and musses her hair with one hand. "How, um, how did you know that?" She doesn't remember Perry being in the room when Eve had gone off her head and told the entire department at SIS how to do their jobs if they wanted to find who had ordered Colombo's extraction.
Carolyn had listened to her, and she'd ended up dead.
"Carolyn left something behind when she ended her life", Perry says quietly, and there's no hint of a smile on her face anymore. "While going through her office at SIS, I found some... questionable items. A memorandum of sorts, and a flash-drive." She stops talking then, because the waiter is back with a tray carrying their breakfast and their beverages. He sets down two plates of something that looks like amazing french toast, eggs and butter, and two mugs of steaming hot coffee. Politely, he bows again, and then he's gone.
Eve swallows. The food looks mouth-watering, but she's too pumped up to eat. Apparently, Perry seems to be a bit "pumped up" too, because she only takes a sip of her coffee, and doesn't even touch her plate.
"Inside this memorandum, I found a note with your name, and then the words "Questura", "UniCredit" and "retainer". She'd written down her thoughts, and apparently, she'd got somewhere, because the flash-drive contained several encrypted bank statements and transaction records, or, what I basically like to call a "trail". Seems to me like she'd got some help from the Italian authorities."
She was sticking her nose where it didn't belong, I suppose.
Oksana's words ring in Eve's ears, and she feels a knot beginning to form in her stomach. Perry doesn't know someone had sent Oksana to kill Carolyn. "Do you have any idea who?"
Perry shakes her head. "I'm still looking into it. The reason why I asked you to join me here today is that the force is still rightfully upset about Bishopsgate. They want results, for the same reasons as Carolyn did, I imagine. Unfortunately, we decided to pursue things differently - a mistake on our part - and the transfer order trace ran cold, but Carolyn, seemingly, took matters into her own hands."
Eve nods. When Carolyn had enlisted Eve and gone after the Twelve, she'd done it off the books, with an "unofficial official" tap on Eve's shoulder. Eve isn't surprised to hear this, but she still feels a tightness in her throat at the thought of what it had led to.
"Concerning the late Oksana Astankova", Perry says, and Eve sits up like a mongoose. "Carolyn's problem was that not enough people cared when she began noticing that something was happening. The events unfolded, and Astankova took out several important people, and she would have taken out many more if it hadn't been for you."
Eve's stomach starts to feel really, really uncomfortable, like the inside of a washing machine. "Well, um, if it hadn't been for Carolyn, Vil--Astankova would still be out there, so, yeah. And I hope people would start caring."
"They would", Perry says, and finally reaches for her plate. "And they have." She bites down on the toast and washes it down with a gulp of coffee, then sets the plate back down. "There's a lot of information that needs to be decrypted still, on that flash-drive. It was set to auto-encrypt upon restart, so whatever Carolyn had seen, we couldn't. My daughter's working on it, on the outside. She's halfway done, actually. Once she cracks the whole thing, I will have it analyzed by our people. But, in the matter of people not giving two shits about the so-called Twelve, we won't have that problem this time. Bishopsgate was a disaster, and the agency - and people in general - want to see some heads roll."
That's a good thing, Eve thinks, and wills her stomach to settle down. "I'm glad to hear that", she says. "But Carolyn didn't share anything with me after Paris, so I don't know how I'm supposed to be helpful with this. Or, am I supposed to be?" It has to be what Perry had brought her here for.
"If I want these people caught, I'm going to need several right-hand-men", Perry says, and pinches her lips. She looks Eve up and down, and then smiles kindly. "And women. I'd very much like for you to be one of them."
Eve's eyes are about to pop out of her head, because-- "Are you serious?" she gasps before she can stop herself. "But, I mean, why?"
"You've proved yourself competent enough", Perry says casually. "You did quite well with the Lithuanian one. He's probably in hiding, but we know who he is, and he can't stay under a rock for the rest of his days. He's a young man, and young men have many things to attend to."
Eve nods; she'd wished for the Kazimieras case to get her somewhere, and it had, to the other side of the river, to her current position, and now Perry wants Eve on her team. And if Perry's daughter's cracking the drive, and Perry's making the investigation official, then it's not a closed operation anymore, and then things are progressing at a very fast pace. But...
You need to be careful, Eve. Stay inside the lines of your new job. Do not upset them.
Eve has to talk to Oksana. Eve has to tell Oksana what she's being offered. She needs to know what will happen if she accepts the position. She needs to know where it will put them. "Can I think about it?" she asks, and she knows it's not what Perry had been expecting to hear.
Indeed, Perry raises her eyebrows and simply stares at Eve for a few moments. "If you need to. I'm calling an internal briefing in two weeks, on the 9th. I've only shared my thoughts with a few others, and we haven't got the crucial data that we need yet. I'm hoping Nora will finish before the 9th, so I can make it public at the briefing. You might want to make your decision before that."
Eve nods slowly, still thinking about Oksana. "Of course. And, don't get me wrong, I'm really flattered and, well, grateful for this. This is obviously what I want to do, well, what I've always wanted to do, but I need a little time to think about it."
Perry nods too, but then she narrows her eyes again. "How are you sleeping these days, Eve?"
It's a strange question. Eve blinks, then frowns. "Fine. I sleep just fine. What, why do you ask that?"
"They never found a body", Perry says with a small smile. "Several pints of blood, but no actual corpse, and I wonder." She pauses and meets Eve's alarmed eyes. "You're not worried she's still out there somewhere, wounded and bitter, plotting her revenge?"
Oksana is still out there, but as far as Eve knows, that's all she is, regarding the things Perry had just listed. "It's been almost a year, ma'am", she says quietly. "She would have come for me by now."
"Mm", Perry hums, and takes another sip of her coffee. "The Grim Reaper is always early, but never late."
Eve's eye twitches at that, but she gets the point. "She's not--I'm not doubting or anything, but I'm having a little trouble at home right now, and I think, if I were to join your team and track down the Twelve - for real this time - then I think I'd need to talk to him about it. I mean, not about it, obviously, but just tell him that my work is going to change. I'm, uh, in the doghouse, right now. He's struggling." It's not a total lie; accepting this position would be exactly what Niko doesn't want her to do, but he's not the reason she's stalling.
"They always are when it comes to these things", Perry says, like she's speaking from experience. "You don't strike me as a woman who lets someone stand in her way, Eve. You'll do well to hold onto that."
There's the honest truth if Eve ever heard it, and she feels herself smile. "Yes, ma'am. I will."
"Mm", Perry hums again, and uncrosses her legs. "Well, now that we've got that out of the way, have some toast. My children love it, it's marvelous."
Eve feels a little lighter - and very excited - and reaches for her plate.
Four days later, Eve's phone rings in the late evening. Dom and his friend Matias are visiting Niko and all three of them are playing chess (and ignoring Eve while Eve ignores them because she doesn't want to fight in front of them) at the kitchen table, so she gets up from the couch and walks into the garden to take the call. It's from an unknown number, so it's either work or Oksana, and both of those are reason enough to go outside.
"Hello?" Eve says as she sits down on the porch.
"Hello." It's Oksana, and she sounds like she's smiling.
Eve feels herself smile, too. She hasn't heard Oksana's voice since Gatwick - when they'd had a row of sorts - and it sounds both light and familiar. "Hi. You're calling me."
Eve rolls her eyes. "Of course. Um, how are you? Are you okay?"
"I'm fine, thank you. I don't have to use concealer when I go out anymore. It's nice."
Eve thinks about the bruises on Oksana's neck, back and ribs. She'd looked awful. "I'm glad to hear that. Listen, I'm really glad you called. I need to talk to you about something."
"You can talk to me when you see me."
Eve blinks. "You're here?"
"No, but I will be soon. Are you free to meet me on Saturday?"
Saturday is March 30th. It's tomorrow. It's also when Niko's friends from the school are coming over for dinner. Eve bites her bottom lip, but there really isn't anything to consider here, not with the way things are. "A little heads-up would have been nice, but I'll make it work. Listen, I really need to talk to you."
"It can't wait for twenty-four hours? Are you sick or something?"
"No, I'm fine", Eve says quickly. She'd been waiting for Oksana to contact her by phone because she couldn't afford someone other than Oksana monitoring her computer, with the job offer hanging in the air.
"Well, if you are fine, that means you can meet me, and we will talk then."
"I want you to stay over."
Eve's mouth falls open, and she glances over her shoulder again. "What?"
"Stay over. Sleep. I slept very well when you were in Amsterdam."
In Amsterdam. Does that mean Oksana isn't in Amsterdam right now? "Where are you?"
There's a low chuckle on the line. "I'm sneaking around. Scanning."
She's probably creeping around outside the house of whichever poor sod she's going to take out tomorrow, or the day after, which means she's already in England. Eve feels cold, and her stomach tightens a bit, but she'd known this. She'd known what Oksana would be coming over for. She'd known, and it is how it is. "Are you in London?"
"Maybe. Are you staying over?"
It would mean more time with Oksana. It would mean more time to tell her about the (possibly) new job, more time to talk to Oksana about her job, more time to ask her if she could, somehow, try to find a way out of it, out of hurting people. Something that would make this a little less terrible.
"Yes", Eve says, and straight away wonders what the hell she's supposed to tell Niko - if he even cares anymore. "Where, um, where do you want me?"
More chuckling, and Eve knows what Oksana's thinking. She tries very hard not to think about that, because there are more urgent matters to deal with. "The Millennium in Kensington. I have a suite there, number 605. Ten p.m. Don't repeat this."
Eve memorizes the information and feels a sudden rush of adrenaline because it's tomorrow. Back to Kensington then, but a different hotel, and Eve won't be bringing a knife with her this time. It feels weird that it's already been six months since their meeting at the Hilton Olympia.
"I know what you're thinking about."
Eve scoffs. "No, you don't."
"I will use something else this time."
Eve's cheeks catch fire and she suppresses a small smile. "You're really annoying, you know that?"
"And you're a prude. I will see you tomorrow. Goodnight." Oksana hangs up before Eve can say anything else, and then the home screen of her phone is staring back at her.
She's going to talk to Oksana, seriously this time. She's going to sit her down, and they're going to talk about them and whatever the hell it is that they're doing. Eve can't turn her in, but she might be able change things, if Oksana really cares for her in a real way, and not in a manipulative one.
It's chilly outside at this hour, but she can hear the men laughing in the kitchen, so she pulls her cardigan tighter around herself, and then she calls Kenny.
Chapter 22: No Shores In Sight
The Millennium Gloucester on Harrington Gardens street in Kensington doesn't look like much from the outside, but it's surprisingly elegant and loyal to classic English design. When Eve enters, the lobby is quiet, and she nods at the front desk before getting into the elevator and pressing the button for the sixth floor.
Last night, she'd told Kenny about her so-called plan to talk Oksana out of her lifestyle. He hadn't been happy, but he'd also appreciated that Eve was trying to do some sort of right thing, so he'd told her to call on Sunday and wished her to be safe.
She'd told Niko that she'd be joining an all-night stake-out in preparation regarding the arrival of an important foreign liaison. He'd barely acknowledged her, and somehow, that had made it easier for her to leave the house and get on the tube at half past nine in the evening.
The elevator chimes, and her lake is smooth and beautiful. Her raft is intact, and Oksana's sitting opposite of her, calm and harmless.
Oksana looks everything but harmless when she opens the door of her hotel room. Her eyes are smoldering and bright with excitement, and she grabs Eve, who barely has time to register her attire of the evening; a loose white t-shirt and denim shorts.
Once the door is safely closed, Eve finds herself with her back against it, and Oksana's hands are on her arms, her shoulders, her neck.
"Hi", Eve manages to rasp, and unconsciously, her hands move to Oksana's waist.
"Hi", Oksana says back, and she's so close to Eve's face, right there with her smiling mouth, her pouting, pink lips. "I'm very happy to see you."
"I can tell", Eve whispers, and meets her gaze defiantly. She isn't scared of her, not anymore. "Are you going to let me come in properly?"
"Mm, depends", Oksana actually giggles, and it isn't high-pitched or smug; it's sweet, and Eve feels a storm beginning to build inside of her; a summer rainstorm, the kind that feels welcomed and fresh. Oksana's thumbs stroke the skin just beneath Eve's jaw, and her eyes, a warm shade of grey tonight, keep flickering between Eve's lips and blouse. "We could do it here. I'm so frustrated."
"Are you?" Eve says cheekily, and her hands travel from Oksana's waist to her ribs. They're less prominent than they'd been in Amsterdam; she's got some of her weight back. Having her hands on Oksana's body stirs something deep inside of her, stirs the want she'd been trying to suppress on the way to the hotel. She needs to keep her lake smooth and still, she needs to stay focused. There's time for rainstorms, later.
"Yes, I am", Oksana practically whines, and leans her forehead against Eve's. "There's only so much I can do by myself."
Eve chuckles at Oksana's boldness, and breathes in her scent; her perfume. She's wearing it again. For Eve, La Villanelle had, for the longest time, stirred feelings of danger, fear and pain. Now, the scent is just Oksana, with tension, arousal, and much less hate, and Oksana's lips are right there, with her mouth open, already panting lightly.
"I still need to talk to you", Eve teases, and runs one of her hands over Oksana's breast. It earns her a surprised gasp and a thrust of Oksana's hips.
"Can't we talk after?" Oksana groans, and her grip on Eve's neck is a little tighter now, a little more desperate, and god, to have Oksana like this. It feels incredibly gratifying. "The bed is really nice. Firm." Oksana's body is practically pulling itself to Eve's, and she's so eager, her skin feels so warm, even through the t-shirt she's wearing. "It's right there."
"We will talk first", Eve says, and her hands move to Oksana's open hair, stroking the soft, blonde tresses.
"Argh", Oksana groans, and takes a step back. The frustration's practically radiating around her, and Eve could almost let out a joyous laugh with the way she's feeling right now. She'd had no idea that having the upper hand with Oksana could be this much fun. Maybe this is how Oksana had felt, in the past, with her.
"You can survive a few more minutes", Eve taunts, and carefully sets her bag down by the door.
Oksana crosses her arms over her chest, and she raises her eyebrows at Eve. "A few more minutes, and then we can have sex?"
It shouldn't make Eve feel so victorious, but it does, and she exhales slowly. Oksana is a brat, but she's quite cute when she's ready to climb the walls. "Yes."
"Thank you", Oksana sighs, and moves further into the suite, then sits down on the, apparently, nice, firm bed. She clasps her hands, looking like she's about to explode. "Okay. Tell me. What is this big thing you need to talk about?"
Eve's arousal decreases then, and she chooses to keep standing instead of sitting down next to Oksana. Wondering how she should explain the events of the week, her eyes travel around the hotel room, which is very similar to the room at the Hilton Olympia. "I got a job offer this week."
Oksana blinks, and then she slowly strokes her chin with her index finger. "Okay? And this is a bad thing?"
"It could be", Eve says, and shoves her hands into the pockets of her dress pants. "When they sent you to get Carolyn, did they really not tell you what she'd been investigating?"
Oksana shrugs. "No, and I told you that. My handler doesn't tell me those things. It's better if I don't know. He just said that it was an important job and that she had been sticking her nose somewhere it didn't belong. Why are we talking about Carolyn?"
"They're on to you", Eve says slowly. Oksana's face remains indifferent. "Well, not you, but the people you work for. MI6 has made a connection, or, um, Carolyn made a connection, before she died. Something about the hit on Bishopsgate, about Luca Colombo. Does this ring any bells?"
Oksana shakes her head.
"Do you know where the extraction-order came from?"
"My handler", Oksana says with a hint of annoyance. "Eve, they don't tell me these things. I get a name and a location, and how I do it is up to me, and with the Italian, it was not even completely up to me. That other one made all the decisions, and it went to shit. I would not have gone into that station if I had not been told to."
Eve considers this for a moment. "Okay, well, apparently, Carolyn found a trace of a money transfer, a retainer of some sort, concerning the extraction. Something's still being decoded, or something, I'm not really sure what's going on, but people at work think she managed to find the person who paid for the whole operation, and they also think that whoever paid for it, is someone connected to the Twelve. They have to be right, otherwise you wouldn't have been sent to kill her. They're going to make the investigation official."
Oksana exhales, and then she nods slowly, not meeting Eve's eyes. "And they want you to work on it."
"Yes", Eve sighs, surprised by Oksana's cleverness - though she shouldn't be.
"But they haven't made it official yet."
"No. It's going out on the 9th, and I need to make my mind up before that."
Oksana looks up. "You haven't accepted this job yet?"
Eve shakes her head. "I wanted to talk to you about it first."
Oksana's eyes travel around the room, like she's thinking, and then back to Eve. "Why? Do you care about my opinion?"
"You told me to be careful", Eve reminds her. "You basically said I shouldn't get involved in that stuff, that I'd end up like Carolyn, and I'd very much like to stay alive, so I need to know if I can do this or not."
"Do you want to do it?" Oksana asks.
Eve had thought about it a lot. She'd thought about what it would mean for her, for her career, for Oksana personally. She'd thought about who she is, and how driven she is, and how she still feels the need to prove herself, to succeed, and to, maybe on some level, avenge Carolyn. "Yeah, I do. These people are pulling some very thick strings and basically dictating how the world should spin, and who should be its captain, so yeah, I want to do it."
"I see", Oksana says quietly, but her face doesn't betray any particular emotion, if she's feeling any. It makes Eve a little suspicious, and very frustrated, whereas Oksana's frustration seems to have disappeared completely.
"Villanelle", Eve begins, and crosses her arms. "I know you're just doing your job, but if this thing happens, if they actually get somewhere, and it becomes an inter-agency investigation, and I mean Euro and Interpol and the whole shebang, then you'll be out of a job."
"Eve", Oksana chastises in a low voice. "Don't pretend you're worried about my source of income. This is not about me."
Eve takes a few steps forward, towards Oksana, and considers her next words carefully. She feels a little nervous now, a little anxious about how Oksana will react, but Eve had set out to do this, and so she will. "It is about you, though." Eve pauses, and Oksana's gaze is curious. "I'm not worried about the money. There's always a way to get money. I'm worried about what will happen if they find out you're alive."
Oksana's smile is dreary. "You are worried about what will happen if they find out you knew."
"No!" Eve exclaims, and jesus, she's actually kneeling down in front of Oksana, putting herself at a lower height, to get through to her. "I worry about what will happen to you. They will shoot you dead. I have no doubt about this. They will execute you for what happened at Bishopsgate. And I want you to--" Eve looks down at the floor and squeezes her eyes shut. She has to say this. "I want you to consider getting out before MI6 gets in. I want you to consider making this trip your last job. Actually, I'd like you to not do this job at all, but I don't want you to get sent away again. I don't want you to get hurt."
Oksana looks baffled. "Where is all this coming from, Eve? Are you on drugs or something?"
Eve shakes her head. She knows how crazy she must sound. "No, Villanelle. I'm not. I'm concerned."
"I have to do my job, Eve." Oksana says it with determination, with finality, but there's something new in her eyes, something that almost looks like doubt.
"I know", Eve says softly, because she does know. She'd seen Oksana in Amsterdam, and now, she knows how it works. "I know you do, but you're so young. You could do anything. They won't punish you if you decide to get out of the game, will they?"
"What would I do?" Oksana says and lifts her palms. "I'm amazing at what I do, so what would I do instead, where would I go?"
Eve hadn't actually come up with any sort of specific plan concerning Oksana's hypothetical escape. "You could disappear", she says. "You could do anything. You're so good at getting what you want, at making stuff happen. You could just disappear, and start anew. You'd stay free, and alive. I really want you to be alive."
Oksana seems to consider her words, and then, she lifts a hand to Eve's cheek. It's warm, and a little rough, but it caresses Eve's skin tenderly. "Would you come with me?" Oksana asks. Her voice is barely a whisper.
Eve hadn't thought about that. Except she had indeed thought about it a lot, ever since she'd fought with Niko after Amsterdam, ever since she'd realized that what she wants more than to succeed, more than to shine at her job, is to actually be free; to be able to do what she wants, to be whoever she wants to be. To be whoever she is. Like the woman touching her face, but less violent, with a stronger conscience.
"Can I think about it?" Eve asks. Her voice trembles lightly at the thought of actually doing it, actually setting her whole life on fire, actually throwing all caution to the wind, with this woman. It's an insane thought, and yet, she's thinking about it. She's considering it.
"Can I think about it?" Oksana asks, and pulls her hand back. "Let's not make any decisions tonight, okay? But I think I could like it."
"Like what?" Eve asks, and her eyes land on Oksana's lips as she speaks.
"To go somewhere with you", Oksana says. "It's a nice idea."
It is. It's such a nice and insane idea that it makes the fog around their raft evaporate, and they're left with nothing but turquoise waters for miles, and maybe they're not even on a lake, maybe they've always been out at sea, and Eve puts her hands on Oksana's knees and spreads them a bit, to fit her body in between them. "When is the job?" she whispers. She has to ask, has to know, before they do this.
"Tomorrow night", Oksana replies, and her hands move to Eve's hair. She combs her fingers through it and briefly closes her eyes. "I wanted to see you. I wanted to have some time with you."
Eve still has time to change Oksana's mind, to keep her in this room, to let Carolyn Martens be the last one; a kill of kindness, not even by Oksana's own hand. She still has time to figure out a way for Oksana to believe that she can get back to Amsterdam to get her things, whatever she needs, without the Twelve reprimanding her. She has several possibilities, but right now, she wants to feel skin, wants to get lost for an hour or two, for the whole night, wants to rouse the surface of the water, together with Oksana.
There's still one thing left, though.
"Anything else on your mind tonight, Eve?" Oksana asks with raised eyebrows.
Eve looks down, smiling, and then back up again. "I've got a birthday present for you", she whispers. Oksana's eyes light up. "It was your birthday, wasn't it? The Tuesday before I came to see you in Amsterdam." Eve bites her lip, regretful. "I'm sorry I didn't think about it then. Things were a little--"
"What is it?" Oksana asks excitedly.
Eve smiles. "It's a cake. Well, a piece. A big one, from, um, the Hummingbird Bakery. It's in my bag."
Oksana blinks. "I buy you a 2000 euro diamond necklace, and you buy me a piece of cake?"
Eve's smile turns into a full-blown grin. "Cake is food."
Oksana's eyes widen at that, and she glances around, processing Eve's words. "You're right. Oh, Eve." She puts a hand to her heart, but it isn't mocking, this time. "It's like you know me."
Eve should take it with a grain of salt, but that small sentence right there makes her skin tingle all over.
"I will eat it once I have burnt off some calories", Oksana says, all high and mighty, and then she smiles mischievously, like she always does, at one point or another, when they see each other. "Are we done talking now?"
Eve feels herself smile too. "I think we might be." She stays completely still when Oksana bends down and kisses her, softly at first, like she's just tasting her mouth, and then hungrily, thrusting her tongue inside, moaning in the back of her throat, tangling her hands into Eve's dark hair.
The raft starts moving then, slowly rolling with the waves as Oksana rolls her hips into Eve's, and when Oksana sighs and gasps, when she swears at higher powers and trembles under Eve's touch, she moves to sit next to Eve instead of sitting on the other side of the raft, and her body's hot and steady and real, a beacon to hold onto, in the roaring rainstorm.
Chapter 23: All Good Things
On March 31st, a warm Sunday morning, Eve wakes up to the sound of a door opening and closing. It takes her a few moments to recall where she is, and slightly alarmed, she looks at the white sheets covering her naked body, but then she remembers she's at the Millennium Gloucester - with Oksana.
Eve rubs the sleep out of her eyes. She hadn't removed her make-up last night, and her fingers get smudgy, and when she looks over her shoulder, she sees some of her mascara on the white pillows. Her mouth feels sticky; she needs to brush her teeth.
"You look amazing."
Eve starts and sees Oksana coming towards the bed, clad in her hotel robe, pushing a tea trolley covered in a white cloth. The scent of fresh coffee goes straight to Eve's brain, and god, she's starving. "Good morning", she whispers.
Oksana's honey blonde hair is a mess, but her bright smile is genuine, and she hops into bed, crawls up to Eve, and tries to kiss her, but Eve brings a hand up between their mouths.
"Toothpaste", Eve grins, then actually starts chuckling. They're back to this again, and last time, Oksana had kissed her anyway. "I really need some toothpaste."
Oksana's eyes are beautifully naughty. She parts her lips and lowers her face towards Eve's hand, sliding her index and middle fingers past her lips, into the warmth of her mouth. It's both silly and exciting, and Eve feels colour rising on her cheeks.
"You are insatiable", Eve whispers, and crooks her fingers inside of Oksana's mouth.
Oksana moves her head up, sucking on the tips of Eve's fingers, and then she releases them with a loud pop. "I'm hungry", she shrugs, then goes back to smiling playfully.
Eve pinches her lips. Her hand tingles. "There's breakfast on that trolley, isn't there?"
"Mm", Oksana nods, and her expression turns thoughtful. "I might be hungry for something else."
They'd had sex until three in the morning, and even then, Oksana hadn't wanted to stop. Eve's limbs had melted together with the bed, they'd both been lying in a pool of sweat and god knows what, and Oksana had still moved her fingers against Eve, coaxing small aftershocks, keeping her turned on while feeling like she'd been run over by a truck; a gorgeous, exquisite truck, but a truck nonetheless.
Afterwards, Oksana had eaten her birthday cake, slightly melted and gooey by then, and her face had been such a mess, Eve had known no other way to clean it, but with her own mouth.
The memory of last night makes Eve's joints grumble. "I actually think I'm kind of sore", she says apologetically, even though it's completely Oksana's fault. "And I need a shower. I don't even want to know what we slept in."
Oksana laughs then, and it's so beautiful and real, Eve has to reach up and cup her cheek, to touch her smooth skin. Oksana, like a purring cat, turns her face into Eve's palm, and kisses it. "I could shower. I just got up to get the food."
Eve glances at the trolley. There are several cloches covering what must be delicious dishes, considering where they are and the rate of the room. And, she's still starving. "We could eat first, if you want."
"It will stay warm for a few minutes", Oksana chuckles, but Eve knows they're both thinking the same thing; if they actually get into the shower together, there's a huge risk of a few minutes turning into a whole hour.
In the end, thirty minutes is enough; with the shower head spraying warm streams over them, Oksana keeps Eve pressed up against the black tile wall and softly rubs her palm over her in slow circles, but Eve is everything but soft as she digs her nails into Oksana's shoulders, rubs her mouth against her neck, into her wet, golden hair, and hooks her leg around Oksana's hip. Somehow, the pace of her fingers matches Eve's heartbeat, and when she finally comes, Oksana's fingers stop, and for a split second, so does Eve's heart. She's overcome by a strong wave of acceptance, an engrossing feeling of pieces falling into place, all while shuddering and gasping at the pleasure flowing through her exhausted body.
This is what she wants. She wants the two of them - just the two of them - lost in each other, surrounded by warm water.
Oksana has to get ready for whatever it is she'll be doing tonight, so Eve leaves in the late afternoon, warm and sated from light talks, spicy food, sort-of-amazing sex. They'd stayed away from the matter they'd discussed last night, wanting to keep the atmosphere comfortable and stress-free - as much as they could, because towards the end of their time together, Oksana had become a little tense, like she'd been troubled... like she'd been nervous. Eve had wanted to ask why, had wanted to tell Oksana not to go, but then she'd realized, she didn't actually want to talk about tonight's kill, if there was something tricky about it, or perhaps dangerous, for Oksana.
Eve had chosen to stay in her bliss, her bubble of conscious ignorance. It's better for everyone, that way, in the long run. If she thinks about Oksana's actions too much, the rainstorm will be just a storm, thunder booming and rough waves crushing her raft.
Instead of going home and facing the load of crap that's coming her way from bailing on Niko's friends last night, she stays out, in the humid spring air, wandering around Kensington. She's always loved the area, with its colourful townhouses and private, blooming gardens. Her steps are light as she walks towards Hyde Park and Kensington Palace, deciding to sit down on a park bench and just be, for a little while.
She thinks about Oksana asking if she'd come with her. She thinks about what it would mean for them to do something like that - what it would mean for her to consider something like that.
Come with me. Just, you and me.
When she'd said that, then, in Moscow, she'd meant exactly that. There'd been no knife in sight, no wish for her to fire her gun.
The benches are taken by people enjoying the streams of the afternoon sun, so Eve sits down on the steps of the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain instead, looking out over The Serpentine pond. There's a child there with his father, feeding some ducks, throwing bread and clapping his tiny hands when the birds start quacking and sploshing around.
Freedom is a tricky thing: Eve had spent the better part of the last eleven months thinking she was free, then being pulled back down to earth, whenever Oksana had been in town. To think now, that actual freedom could exist with Oksana is both terribly ironic and so, so nice a thought.
Eve knows she wants Oksana out of this business that constantly puts her in danger. She's pompous and, admittedly, ridiculously good at what she does, but it doesn't mean a stray bullet can't fly, and it doesn't mean that a bullet won't, one day, end up in Oksana's skull.
The thought feels unnerving, and Eve wants her out. She'll start with that, with getting Oksana to at least take a hiatus, after tonight's job. Maybe then, she'll realize that it can indeed be nice to have some peace and quiet, together with Eve.
Tomorrow, Eve won't read the news. She won't want to look. Accepting Oksana's capabilities doesn't mean she wants them right there, in her face. Once upon a time, that malevolent behavior - that incredible strength to take life after life - had fascinated Eve to no end, but what she's experienced and read during this last year is a lot more than she'd allowed herself to see before she'd actually met Oksana, in her very real and physical form. A body on a picture is just a picture, and it's easier to look at, than at the actual skin and shell of a person - and with Oksana back in Eve's life, there had been several skins and shells.
The father and his child leave, but Eve stays on the steps, thinking about Oksana, while still tasting her on her lips.
Hours and hours later, after sitting in the park and eating dinner at a chippy, when Eve finally returns home, Niko's in the kitchen, washing up last night's dishes. It's worrysome it's taken him almost twelve hours to clean up; he's usually very tidy, very precise about the state of his surroundings, the state of their home. Eve's the messy one, but not once, in their years together, had he chewed her out for being careless with her clothes, her things, his things.
Now, though, she knows he's about to chew her out for being careless with their life, and it's completely justified, because Eve is careless - and reckless, like he'd said.
She wonders what he'd say if she told him she was thinking about leaving - really leaving - for good.
She's more than thinking about it. She's leaning towards it.
She wonders if he'd be surprised. They've always been the sort of couple that everyone absolutely adores. They've been steady and safe, until Eve hadn't been steady and safe anymore, until she'd stopped wanting to live inside of all the steady and safe.
Would you come with me?
Eve takes a deep breath. "How was last night?" she asks, but Niko's still got his back to her, gloved arms elbow-deep in the sink.
"Does it matter to you?" he asks, and that question, too, is completely justified.
Eve shrugs out of her trench and goes to sit down on the couch. She'd be lying to herself if she said it didn't hurt, seeing him like this, seeing him so disappointed in her. But Eve is who she is - exactly like Oksana is who she is, and Eve's accepted she cannot change Oksana's nature: She can only try to change her deeds, and Eve changing her own deeds wouldn't make this situation any easier to bear. She'd still feel the call to run, just like Oksana feels the call to be a fucking tornado, destroying all the things that land in her path.
Now though, Oksana bypasses Eve, shielding her, as well as she can. She bends around her, lets her live, wants her there, in the wake of what she is, what she does.
"I don't know", Eve says quietly. Niko probably can't hear her over the clattering of dirty plates and bowls in the sink. "Look, it's been a long time coming. We both know that. I--"
Eve's phone starts ringing in her purse, in the hallway. Niko's still not looking at her, so she huffs, and hauls herself up, then goes to get her phone.
It's Kenny. Eve had completely forgotten to send him a text saying she's fine, after seeing Oksana. Shit. She's probably about to get a chew-out from him, too.
"Kenny, hi." She scrunches her face up. "I forgot, I'm sorry, I went to the park and I just--"
"Are you at home?"
Eve blinks. Kenny sounds upset. Really, really upset. "Um, yeah, I'm at home. Um, why?"
"I'm coming to get you."
Eve's eyes widen. She glances at the watch on her wrist; 9:47 p.m. "Now? Why?"
"Get your credentials. I'm in the car, I'll be there in less than fifteen."
Eve's heart starts beating really quickly, and there's that feeling she knows; someone pouring a bucket of ice water over her head, in slow-motion. "Kenny, what's going on?"
"I need to show you something. Just get ready, alright? I'll be there in a bit." With that, he hangs up, leaving Eve confused and agitated, because what--
Eve's stomach churns. She sits down on the stairs, hugging herself, staring blankly at the front door. Niko stays where he is.
I really want you to be alive.
Stray bullets fly, sometimes hitting the wrong things, sometimes destroying something beautiful. Eve puts her palm to her heart, rewinding their whole morning together in front of her eyes like a movie reel - the way people claim one sees one's life flashing before one's eyes, before death - praying it isn't what she thinks it is, all while knowing, that with everything Oksana's done, with the way she'd been so tense before Eve had left... it could be.
It really, really could be.
Chapter 24: Hell Always Walks With You
Eve and Kenny have been driving for a good half hour which feels like forever, and the minute Eve had jumped in, she'd tried pressing him for information: Where are they going, is Villanelle alright, is someone hurt, why is he creeping her out, is Villanelle dead, but Kenny had, clearly, lost his ability to form coherent sentences, because he'd opened his mouth several times, but nothing comprehensible had come out. He'd kept his eyes on the road, knuckles white from squeezing the steering wheel.
Eve prays quietly. If something's happened to Oksana, if she'd been caught, or if she's dead... Eve can't even think about it. She won't think about it, until she knows.
The memory of this morning pains her; such warmth, such a solid body against her own. Real laughter, shared emotions, shared plans. It could all be gone.
They drive until Eve realizes they're arriving at Winchmore Hill - a rather expensive suburban area north of central London. It's one of the areas Eve wishes she could afford; the old houses are stoic, elegant with their old English facades, and nervously, she says as much, but Kenny stays quiet.
Kenny takes a right off Broad Walk, and Eve's heart starts to sink. At the end of a dark road, with stone houses and alders and cottonwoods on both sides, there are blue and red lights flashing at a fast pace, and then Eve sees the outline of an ambulance, and then several other police vehicles and forensics cars.
"Kenny", she gasps, and turns to look at him. "Who lives here?"
"Do you remember how Elena asked what it would take for you to understand what's happening?" he asks, finally speaking. He parks the car down the road, and then he gets out.
Eve stares after him with round eyes, recalling the conversation she'd had with him and Elena on the Monday after she'd returned from Amsterdam. And, no. "Kenny, wait!" she shouts and hurries out of the car.
They pass the open back of the ambulance, where paramedics are attending to a young girl, maybe ten years old. She's wrapped in a grey blanket, and her face is chalk white, eyes staring ahead, wide and terrified. Eve stops and looks at her features. Somehow, she knows this face, but--
Eve follows Kenny to the barricade tape, which is blocking the open iron gates of a spiked, brick wall circling the whole property. Both Kenny and Eve take out their credentials, and an older police officer lifts the tape up to let them in.
They walk up a well-lit driveway with rose bushes, an old swing-set, garden chairs and an open grill on one side, and a large garage holding two cars on the other. A white tent swarming with CSIs in coveralls has been set up next to the garage, by the right corner of the house. Eve frowns and looks at the actual building; it's Victorian style, built of stone, three stories high, with pillars supporting the majestic balcony above the main entrance... and standing by the main entrance, is Matthew Jenkins, who's looking right at her.
Eve immediately knows who lives here, and she stops walking.
She won't find Oksana's lifeless body here.
She'll find what Oksana had chosen to leave behind.
Kenny turns around to look at her, and Matthew, in his long suede coat and fancy suit, slowly descends the stair-steps to the driveway and walks over to them.
"Eve", he says, and his face is weary, skin pulled tight. "My dear, you should go home."
"How bad?" Eve manages to choke out. There might as well be barbed wire cutting into her throat with how hard it feels to utter actual words.
"Quite bad", Matthew mutters, and casts a glance over his shoulder, at the house. "I'd rather you didn't go in there."
Eve looks at the people passing, the several officers in black suits and the white crime scene investigators, and it's apparent that it's worse than bad, with so many people here, but she needs to do this. Kenny had brought her here for a reason, after all. He must think that whatever's in that house will be "what it takes" for Eve to see straight, but she doesn't want to see straight, she doesn't want to see what Oksana's done, and still, she knows she has to do this. "I'm going", she croaks, and heads for the white tent, but then she stops and turns around. "Kenny?"
Kenny exchanges a panicked look with Matthew, and then he shakes his head. "I'll-um-I'll wait here, thanks. I'm not really that good with bl--"
"Right", Eve says, and continues towards the tent.
It's the same process as at the London Police station on Bishopsgate: White coverall, white boots, mask on. When she's done being suited-up, she carefully steps on each stepping plate laid out, and then, she enters the house.
The inside is a storm of camera flashes and yellow markers and CSIs and incoherent shouting. The minute Eve gets past the threshold, she's hit with the sensation of walking through a gush of cold wind; the atmosphere inside is laden with something terrifying, something that makes the hairs on her arms stand up beneath her suit.
Aaron Sullivan appears from out of nowhere, and he holds his gloved hands up. "Oh, no", he says behind his mask, "this is no place for you, love. Not tonight."
"Don't you think I know that?" Eve snaps, and looks to her right, up a long staircase. There are CSIs running up and down the stairs.
"The husband's upstairs", Sullivan says, following Eve's gaze. "In the top floor home office. Shot once, at close range. He was dead before he knew it. All the equipment's been torched in the bathtub, in the loo on the second floor, and I mean all of it, plus one plugged-in hairdryer."
Of course, Eve thinks, and takes a deep breath. "Just the husband then?"
Sullivan shakes his head solemnly and points to a set of open double doors to their left. "The rest are in there. You might want to--"
"No, I'm good", Eve says quickly, and makes her way past him, through the large wooden doorway, down a corridor with family photos and honor shots and vases of roses on side-tables, and there is nothing good about what she's feeling, but what she's going to see, she understands now, has somehow always been inevitable. It had just been a matter of time.
She sees the first body of the night before she's through the corridor; just in front of the threshold to the next room is what looks like a young woman, blonde and delicate, sprawled on her stomach, her cheek resting on floor, mouth agape. Her blood is a bright red splash of paint on the white hardwood, and lifting her gaze, Eve sees there's something that looks like the handle of a bread-knife sticking out of her upper back, just next to her spine.
Eve bends down in front of the body. The woman can't be more than twenty, twenty-two. She'd probably been making a run for it, and she'd almost made it out of the room.
Eve gets back up and forces a wave of nausea to return to the pit of her stomach. There's no time for that now.
A couple of CSIs pass and acknowledge her with a nod, so she moves forward, continues over the threshold, into what appears to be a large dining room. In there, she finally lets out a sound, something between a whimper and a sob.
There are several suit-covered CSIs taking photos of the room. The dining table's covered with a large, woven white tablecloth, and on top of it, there's a casserole roast chicken, several saucepans, a bowl of greens, two bottles of wine, glasses, plates and cutlery for five people. Everything's covered in blood-splatter.
Eve needs to see everything, every part of this massacre, so she walks around the table, carefully examining the details. The chair closest to the entrance of the corridor has fallen over; it must've been the young woman's, trying to get out. Next to that chair, there's another one pulled out, but empty. Eve casts a glance towards the corridor; the girl in the ambulance, probably.
On the other side of the table, in one of the chairs, sits a young man. His body's sloped, his torso and head hanging over the tablecloth, over his empty plate. He's wearing an expression similar to the young woman's; surprised, horrified, and when Eve moves closer, she realizes it's not a young man at all.
It's a boy, not a day over sixteen.
Between his shoulder blades, there's a hole the size of Eve's fist, messy and dark, like he'd been burnt by the barrel of the gun. She realizes he must've been shot with something like a shotgun, the pellets of the bullet spreading, tearing through his lungs, his heart, his liver, killing him instantly.
Eve glances down. There is, indeed, a shotgun shell a few feet away, next to a yellow mark. The inside of her mouth starts to feel yellow, too, like something's about to make its way out, and again, she forces it down.
She had on purpose kept her eyes away from the head of the table, but now there's nothing else to look at, so preparing herself, she raises her chin, and then, she turns her head to the last body remaining.
Unlike the boy, Allison Perry hadn't been shot in the back; she'd been shot in the head, from the side. The impact had thrown both her and her chair onto the floor, and she lies on her side, still in her polished jacket and dress pants, arms and legs limp, with half of her skull spread out all over the floor. There's nothing left of her head except for her lower jaw, her teeth, some of her platinum blonde strands attached to the follicles right above her neck.
Everything about the scene screams pure and remorseless execution. There are no stray bullets here.
Eve closes her eyes. She stands there for a long time while people come and go, taking photos, taking swabs, looking for prints, bagging evidence. She stands there, wondering if she's alive, if she's in a nightmare of her own making, if any of this is actually real. She wonders if Oksana had saved Allison for last, killing her husband and older children first, and then leaving the youngest girl alive, only to have to live with the memories of tonight for the rest of her scarred life.
It's clear why this has happened.
Eve is so, so stupid.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry." She repeats it like a mantra under her mask, again and again, squeezing her eyes shut.
This is on her.
Carolyn had found something on the Twelve, Oksana had been sent to kill her, Allison Perry had decided to move the investigation forward on the basis of what Carolyn had found, and Eve should have known, she should have known this would happen: Oksana had warned her.
You will end up like Carolyn.
You need to be careful, Eve.
Stay inside the lines of your new job.
Do not upset them.
"Fuck", Eve sobs and brings her gloved hands up to her covered hair. She digs her nails into her scalp through the hood of the suit, deeper and deeper, wanting it to hurt, wanting to be in pain for being so unbelievably stupid.
Perry had said her daughter Nora had been working on cracking the encryption. She'd said that she had spoken to only a few colleagues about her plans to make the investigation public, to bring them down, and somehow, in Eve's head, that had meant there wouldn't be any imminent danger anymore, but someone must have talked, and fuck.
She opens her eyes. Perry's grey skull fragments and red brain matter are all over the white hardwood floor.
Eve runs out of the dining room, through the corridor, into the hall and then down the steps, all the way out until she gets to the lawn, and there, she violently pulls her mask off, and finally, retches. Her stomach cramps several times, pushing the whole contents of it up her esophagus, into her mouth, and then out.
She stays bent over for a while, hands on her knees, shaking. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Matthew's shoes approaching, and she wipes her nose and mouth on the arm of her coverall, and then she starts stripping it off.
"Allison had quite the impressive security system, of course, but it was hacked and shut off", Matthew says from behind her. "The neighbours heard the shotgun."
Eve doesn't comment. She gets her suit off, then scrunches it up and leaves it on the lawn because of course it had been hacked, and of course everything about the Twelve had gone up in flames in the electrocuted bathwater, and of course this was always going to happen, and of course Oksana had to take out Perry's whole goddamn family, minus one.
"I need a minute", Eve grits out, and starts walking away, towards the swing-set. There, she slumps down onto one of the swings, staring ahead, at the red and blue lights still flickering, at the house, the place where four people had been butchered by the woman Eve had woken up next to, just twelve hours ago.
Oksana had always radiated darkness, had always pulsed with that special morbidity which Eve had always been so fascinated with, had always obsessed over, had always searched for in her work - anywhere - to make her own life more interesting. She'd been face to face with Oksana so many times over the past year, and still, she'd refused to both completely see and completely recognize the pure ugliness of it, the sinisterness and the grave menace living inside of Oksana.
Everything Oksana's capable of - everything she's done and everything she still might do - is staring Eve right in the face, and there's no accepting it; there's no dialogue, no debate, because she'd been able to keep looking into Oksana's beautiful eyes for so long, instead of looking behind them, and now, on the cold swing, in the garden of Allison Perry's home, Eve finally sees.
Something to her right catches her attention. She turns her head, and in one of the garden chairs is Oksana - or Oksana's physical manifestation; a living ghost, created by Eve's screaming mind. Oksana's leaning back in the chair, casual, wearing the clothes she'd worn last night at the Millennium Gloucester, hands in her pockets, legs crossed. "Sorry, baby", she mouths soundlessly, and then her lips turn into a sneer.
Kenny walks up the driveway, and Eve hears him sit down on the swing next to her, but her eyes are strictly on Oksana.
In her mind's eye, the green grass between their bodies turns into dark water, as dark as the sky above them, turquoise stillness long gone, and the thunderstorm roars.
There's no way for them to sit on the same side anymore, on the same raft, to bridge the gap between them, and the black waves lick Oksana's feet and calves, sticking to her legs like oil. She doesn't move or speak - she just keeps staring at Eve, waiting for something.
"Are you okay?" Kenny asks carefully.
"No", Eve rasps, and the waves grow bigger and bigger. She holds Oksana's gaze.
"I'm really sorry, Eve. I know you liked Allison. I was listening in, and I just, well, I thought you should see what... what she'd done, what her being here means, that it's, like, I'm sorry but, larger than just the two of you. This isn't--"
Eve hears his words, and they're honest: there's no gloat, no malice. He'd brought her here, because she'd needed to see this.
She still wants to roam free.
She still wants to feel like there are no limits to what she can do, where she can go...
...but she doesn't want to - can't - do all of that with someone who could do this.
Watching the black water splashing onto Oksana's shorts and t-shirt, Eve draws a long breath, lets it out until her lungs are completely empty, and then, she says: "Let's do it."
Kenny starts on the swing next to hers. "What?"
Eve nods to herself, all while keeping her eyes on the demon to her right. Her voice is steady, certain, this time. There's no need to wait for the proper head-space, anymore: It's here. "I'm going to stop this. I'm going to get her."
In the chair, Oksana's eyes gleam. She raises an eyebrow, feigning surprise, and her wicked sneer turns into an impressed little smile.
Eve keeps looking at her until the oily waves of her black sea drown the grass, the whole yard, the garden chairs, and with them, Oksana.
Chapter 25: Ultimately, It's Just a Trick
On their way to Kensington, Kenny's phone rings, and him and Eve are informed that two other Secret Intelligence Officers had been slaughtered in their homes, their families included. Both of them had worked directly with Allison Perry, but they'd both lived quite far from each other - and far from Perry's house - and somehow, Eve knows that everything that had happened tonight had been a simultaneously coordinated hit, carried out by three different operatives, taking out every single one of the people who'd known real facts about Carolyn Martens' findings.
The message is loud and clear, but they won't come for Eve, so she flashes her credentials and storms Oksana's room at the Millennium Gloucester at midnight, but she's gone, and so are her things.
Such a waste, everything that had happened in this room.
Oksana must've just left without checking out, because the breakfast trolley with their empty plates is still by the foot of the bed. The bed itself is unmade, and breathing hard through her nose, Eve stands beside it, looking at the mess of tangled white sheets. She reaches for one of the pillows - the one Oksana had slept on - and brings it to her face.
La Villanelle fills her lungs like poisonous gas. Violently, she rips the pillowcase off and throws it onto the floor, then does the same with the other pillows and the comforter, pulling until the fabric makes the sound of being ripped apart, and then she proceeds to destroy the actual duvet, the warm blanket they'd shared, and she keeps going and going and going until small, white feathers are floating in the air around her, pieces of what had been her happiness, only hours ago.
Down in the lobby, she hands the front desk fifty pounds for the damage, knowing it won't even begin to cover it.
Kenny's sitting on one of the brown leather couches opposite of the front desk, and Eve walks over to sit down beside him.
"Did you trash the room?" Kenny asks carefully.
Eve shakes her head and stares blankly ahead. "Just the bed. It felt symbolic."
They sit quietly for some time, listening to the faint chimes of the elevators, the sounds of tired people's suitcases being pulled, the front desk speaking softly on the phone, and Eve digs her nails into the leather because she has to do something, and she has to do something now, while she's still enraged, while Allison Perry and her family are still clear in her mind.
She could alert Europol and have Dutch armed forces storm Oksana's apartment on Keizersgracht, have them ambush her, have them waiting for her, to catch her off guard.
No. Eve needs to--
She needs to see her. She needs to see if something's different within her, after doing something as horrible as what she'd done tonight. She needs to see if there's even an iota of regret, even a flicker of remorse, anything...
...although, there wouldn't be, would there?
Eve should know that by now, and still--
"We should tell someone", Kenny finally says, and Eve feels him looking at her. "There has to be someone who's on your side in this, someone who could--"
"There's no one", Eve says, and he stops talking. "And I don't want to tell anyone. Not because I'm afraid of losing my job, which I'll probably lose anyway once this is over. I want to do this on my own. I need to be alone in this. I need to see this through. She's been fucking with my head for a year now, Kenny. My head. This is as personal as it gets. It can't get any worse."
Kenny fidgets next to her, and she knows the thought of her going off on her own makes him uncomfortable.
"She trusts me", Eve says quietly, and it's so awful, so terrible to know it's the truth. Oksana trusts her, and that's Eve's key, if she wants her to pay for what she's done. "I need to see her. I need to isolate her. If I can get to her, to get her to let her guard down, and I know I can, then I can catch her. I can end this."
"But aren't you afraid she'll--"
Kenny's sentence is cut off by the loud ringing of Eve's cell phone. They stare at each other with wide eyes, instant panic hitting Eve like a cold shower, and she starts fumbling for her phone, looking through her pockets until she feels its familiar weight. She looks at the screen, and it's indeed a call coming from an unknown number. With Allison Perry and two other agents being butchered, it could easily be a work-related call, but Eve knows, and by the look on Kenny's face, he knows too, that it isn't.
"You're not seriously going to an--"
"Hello?" Eve rasps when she pushes the green button, and Kenny's face goes positively white.
There's a new wave of nausea clogging up Eve's throat, but she swallows and tilts her head back. The light from the chandelier is very bright, and she squints. "Villanelle."
"Oh-oh. That doesn't sound good. Am I in the shithouse?"
The hand holding the phone is shaking, and Eve closes her eyes, trying to remove herself from this place, trying to think of a way to not let Oksana hear exactly what she's thinking. "Was it you? Allison Perry, was she yours?"
There's a pause on the line, like Oksana's thinking about what to say. "Yes."
Eve takes a couple of deep breaths. She'd been wishing for someone else, someone else to have caused what's currently making her want to vomit again, but her sixth sense had been right, of course. "I saw the scene."
"Why?" Oksana, surprisingly, sounds a little upset.
Eve opens her eyes. It's a strange question, because Oksana must've known that-- "She was my boss."
"What?" A pause. "Oh, shit. That's very unfortunate. I didn't know it was her who offered you the job. I thought it was one of the bald men, so I chose her instead." Another pause, then: "Eve, please don't be mad. I wish you hadn't seen it, it's not good for you."
Eve scoffs. "You mean you don't want me to see what you're capable of. It's all fun and games as long as it gets me in the mood, but not if it can come back and bite you in the ass. Is that what you mean?"
There's the sound of Oksana clearing her throat, and then: "I'm sorry I robbed you of your potentially new job. I told you to wait."
They'd spent the whole night together. Oksana had looked at her with a straight face when Eve had told her about the job offer; she'd been the perfect liar. "Why didn't you tell me you knew what I was talking about?"
"Because I knew you would make a big thing out of it, and what happened tonight had to be done. I had to do my job--"
Eve sighs deeply and glances at Kenny, who's sitting still as a statue.
"--and I didn't want you to end up on the same list as Carolyn Martens and Allison Perry and the others. You people need to stop sticking your noses where they don't belong, or they will send me or someone else to kill every one of you. I don't want that to happen to you, okay?"
It's bullshit. It has to be bullshit, Eve tells herself, and if Oksana can lie, so can she. Oksana had called her a bad liar, once, but clearly, she'd forgotten just what Eve's truly capable of when she's properly motivated.
She hasn't felt like this since Bill had died, and Oksana shouldn't let herself forget; she bears the scar of Eve's righteous vengeance, after all. "You can't expect me to be okay with this just because you thought I didn't know her."
"Eve, I tried to make it easier for you."
Bullshit. "Right, sorry, I should probably be thanking you then. Jesus, listen to yourself."
"Okay, bad time. I understand. Does this mean you're politely refusing to come away with me?"
There's a terrible pang of something bittersweet in Eve's chest. She holds Kenny's stare, and swallows twice before answering. If she says no now, she won't get to her. If she says no now, that'll be it, and Oksana might get her ego bruised, and then there might not be another chance, ever. "Look. It's different for me, okay? I'm not that used to--It was terrible, okay? Terrible isn't even the right word, there are no words for what you made me feel tonight... but, it's not like anything's going to change around here now, so no. No, I'm not refusing. Just give me some time, and, and then, I'll come with you."
Kenny's eyes become round as saucers, and he opens his mouth, but Eve holds up a finger.
"Really?" Oksana sounds suspicious, to say the least.
"Yeah." Eve nods slowly, to herself, and tries to soften her voice. "There's nothing here for me, anymore, and if you'll do what I asked you to do, then yes. I'll come. I mean it." It isn't a lie, and she hopes Oksana can hear that, because if Eve wants to catch her - really catch her - this is what she must do.
There's a long exhale that turns into a relieved laugh. "When you said Perry was your boss, I thought that was it. I thought you were going to be too angry with me. Phew."
Eve tries to fake a smile, but her cheeks feel like they're cramping. "I am angry, but I'm always angry when I see what you can do. It'll pass, it always does."
More joyous laughing. "Okay, that's fine. Wow, this is going to be so much fun! I need to take care of some things, but I will call you, so we can discuss it."
"Okay", Eve says right away. "I need to take care of work, though, so it'll take me a bit to get everything into order. I can't just disappear, or someone will come looking for me." She can buy some time this way, more time to come up with a solid plan that won't backfire when push comes to shove.
"Yes, of course." There's a long silence on the line, but Eve can hear Oksana breathing, and then: "Last night was so nice. I'm very happy you stayed with me, Eve."
Eve's fury cracks; with everything that she's got, she pushes down the sob that's making her shoulders shake, making her eyes and nose sting, and then, she puts a hand over her eyes. "Me too", she gasps, hoping Oksana can't hear her pain. "Listen, things are sort of chaotic here, so I need to go."
"Okay. I, uh--"
Don't say it, Eve prays, and holds her breath. Please don't say it, not now, please don't--
"I will think about you. Bye."
Eve hangs up, and immediately, she lets the sob escape; she covers her mouth with both of her hands and bends at the waist, her elbows on her knees, and she cries. Kenny's hand comes to rest on her back, patting it, and she doesn't care that the front desk's probably looking at her like she's insane, she doesn't care about the people passing, because in just twelve hours, her heart had filled itself with something so pure, and then, Oksana had broken it by simply being herself.
When Eve gets back to her house that night (early morning), Niko's in the bedroom, and the doors is shut.
He never shuts the door if she isn't home yet, and that simple act, one that most people would claim to be perfectly normal, tells her that there's no going back.
There's no going back from any of the things that had happened, tonight.
She won't be able to be here after what she's about to do. She won't be able to look him in the eye anymore. She won't be able to pretend to be someone she's not: She will be the woman who stabbed someone, fell into their trap, and ultimately, broke free - and that woman has no place in a house that's supposed to be filled with love and warmth. This won't be her home, anymore.
Somehow, she now feels like she should've known things were too good to be true: Wanting to see the best in people is a treacherous, treacherous virtue, and wanting to - being foolish enough to want to - see the best in Oksana, is the worst thing she could ever do, and still.
And still, the memory of this morning plagues her so deeply it's like thorns being pushed into her skin, everywhere, into her body, past the tissue, all the way inside, until the tips of them scratch her very bones.
She feels betrayed, and she shouldn't: Oksana hadn't done anything new, she'd just done what comes so "naturally" to her. And still.
And still, Eve can't. She can't see past the horror, past the ugly, anymore, to see the person she'd come to... love?
There really is no other word for it, but still, it feels like a shock.
She shouldn't be surprised: Oksana had destroyed Anna Leonova's whole life, but when Eve had spoken to her in Moscow, Anna had laughed about Oksana being rude, even after what she'd done to Anna's husband. Anna's eyes had shone, and there, in the tone of her voice, though she'd clearly been trying to hide it, had been the ghost of real love and affection, so strong before, and now just a whisper, but still there.
Eve makes the downstairs couch into a temporary bed, and still in her clothes, she lies down and stares at the living room ceiling.
The living room.
A whine escapes her throat then, beaten and drained, because god, is there anything anymore that doesn't remind her of Oksana? Is she really going to have to keep seeing her everywhere, all the time, with what she's about to do, what she should have done all along, but hadn't wanted to, would have given anything not to have to?
She's about to set her own lake, her beautiful sea, on fire. Her, not Oksana. She's doing this all on her own, now.
Of course, Oksana had poured gallons and gallons of gasoline, time and time again, standing there, laughing, with a lit match, but the sea had always come together, new waters flowing in, drowning the carnage of burnt surfaces, and they'd returned to the raft, over and over, and they'd found stillness, and peace, and contentment in each other - if only for a short while.
Eve doesn't cry again. She won't cry over something that's her own making, for exactly like Niko had said, she'd blown everything to pieces, and then been surprised when the shrapnel had ended up in her body.
She thinks about a question that's crept into her brain so many times now: If she knew everything about Oksana - if she knew every little thing there was to the entity of her - would she truly be happier, and how would she feel about everything else in this life, knowing life itself created something so devastating and so deadly inside of someone so tantalizing, so enchanting?
It's the ultimate trick, the grand act of deception, she understands, now: Hiding the devil herself inside of someone who freely roams the earth while those she meets want to let her exist, let her live and run, for as she destroys everything in her wake, she does it with an inexplicable beauty, such stunning skill, making every poor soul see only how she does what she does, and not what she actually does, what she's wrecking and ruining on her way.
She will keep breaking in, and she will keep hurting people until I catch her, okay? I have to find her, she wants me to find her!
A memory engulfs Eve's whole body; Oksana's long fingers skittering over her skin, drawing circles, setting her skin on fire, making her surfaces still, turning them into pure silk.
Eve wants to grab Oksana's hand, twist her fingers and break them, one by one, for making Eve love her so blindly.
She's awake now. After months and months of closing her eyes, drifting through her life, overlapping with Oksana's, Eve is finally awake, and she is going to stay awake.
She's not going to close her eyes again, not even when Oksana's captured and she's placed in a cell, pacing, screaming, fighting against the bars imprisoning her, keeping her from her nice life, even then...
... Eve is going to look at her.
Chapter 26: Come Full Circle
On April 14th, two whole weeks after the massacre at Allison Perry's house, Oksana finally calls, evidently having no sense of what the concept of "calling later" means to normal people.
During the time passed, Eve's life had been a whirlwind of anger, second-guessing, panic, disgust, feeling her broken heart, agonizing memories, vivid nightmares, fighting with Niko, fighting with Kenny and Elena, zoning out at work, Perry's and her family's funeral, two more funerals, so much pain.
Since all evidence of Carolyn Martens' private investigation had been destroyed, the motive for the murders of the three Senior Intelligence Officers had remained open. Most people had concluded the kills to be an act of late revenge or a counter-hit of some sort, because the Officers killed had both worked closely with Perry during the Afghanistan intelligence gathering covert op as part of Operation Herrick in 2013, and the Donbass armed conflict in Ukraine in 2015. Their shared experiences must have been why Perry had chosen to share her findings with the other two; mutual respect, mutual trust, but one of them could have talked, or then, there was a third person, a rat, still alive, inside MI6. Unfortunately, Eve had no way of knowing.
Now, Eve is in the middle of preparing herself for the fifth briefing concerning inter-agency security, and her phone screen reads "unknown". This time, she knows it isn't work.
"Two weeks is a damn long time to sit around and wait", she says, trying to sound like she's pissed off but still glad to hear from Oksana, stomach in knots.
"Hello, Eve." Oksana sounds carefree, like she's smiling. It makes the hairs on Eve's arms stand up. "I needed to check some things. How are you now?"
"I'm good." A lie. "Work is a little busy because of, well, you and your contract killer colleagues. Thanks for that." Not a lie at all, and she tries to keep her own voice light.
"I know that, but it's not why I'm calling. I have some news."
Eve's heart starts beating faster. Knowing what she's about to do, but not having an actual timeline, an actual day to wait for, has been nerve-wracking. "What news?"
"I have to do a job in a very nice place, and when that is done, I will take a little reprieve. I have a lot of money now, so my handler understands that I want to spend some of it. We can go somewhere."
Eve's beating heart sinks. This is really happening. "You're serious?"
"Yes. Once the job is done, you could join me."
"When is it?" Eve asks, running her fingers through her hair.
"April 25th. You could come maybe, a day after or--"
"I'll come before you do it", Eve says quickly. She has no means to stop Oksana from actually doing her job, but maybe once Eve's there, she'll find the perfect window, and maybe one last soul could be spared.
"No, I don't think it's--"
"I could help you", Eve says, forcing her own voice to sound soft. "To, um, you know, take the edge off, before you do it. You like that."
Oksana's breathing slowly, like she's thinking. "You don't mind?" she asks quietly after some time.
"No, of course not", Eve says, and covers her eyes with her free hand. "You seemed a little tense last time, and, well, um. I'd rather you were in a better head-space this time. I could, um, help you with that. I seem to remember you needing it, sometimes." Oksana had always needed it, one way or another, when she'd been in London, no matter how easy or difficult her job had been.
There's silence on the line, then a clicking sound; Oksana's tongue against the roof of her mouth. "Mm."
"I'd, um, I'd love to", Eve says, trying to sound like she means it. Her hand moves to her hair. "I'll come meet you the day before. Where, uh, where are we going?"
A slow exhale, then: "Italy."
Eve's heart skips a beat; she'd traveled through Italy when she'd been younger, and she'd loved it, but no, this isn't about that. "Where in Italy?"
Eve swallows. This isn't good. "Why can't you tell me?"
"Because you had something very close to a hissy fit the last time we spoke, and frankly, I'm not too sure where we are right now."
Shit. Eve takes a few deep breaths, trying to calm herself, trying to remember which psychological approach is the best one in situations like these, but what good would that do, when Oksana's anything but normal? "You don't trust me, is that what you're saying?"
"She was important to me, okay? You know how I get when you do something like that", Eve tries, thinking of Bill, thinking of Carolyn, trying to reach Oksana that way, to make her understand. "I'm still a little shook." Then: "It doesn't change how I feel about you, though."
"Really?" Oksana sounds like she's rolling her eyes.
"Really", Eve insists. She needs to know where she's going. "Tell me, please."
"What are you going to do about your busy work?"
Eve squeezes her eyes shut. Goddammit. "I'm just taking a leave", she says, because that's what she'd been thinking about doing, once she knew when she'd be seeing Oksana - when she'd catch her. Also, saying she's taking a leave instead of lying that she's quitting will fly better with Oksana. Under current circumstances, she might not believe Eve - she might start to suspect something, if she isn't already - if Eve was to tell her that she's leaving her job and going to stay with Oksana for as long as she wants. It would be too much, too fast, regardless of how much it would expand Oksana's already enormous ego. "I'll blame it on my mental health. It's not like I'm totally fine, you know."
"Okay, that sounds good. I have something for you. Are you home?"
Eve frowns, and then she panics. Oksana couldn't possibly be-- "Are you here?"
Oksana laughs on the line. "No, no, I'm somewhere else. I left something for you in your garden. Underneath the second fruit tree from the right, by the fence. You might have to dig a little. Use it for your flight. You don't want to leave a trail."
It has to be a passport and some money, or a credit card, Eve figures. Oksana's up to her old tricks, but when the hell had she been in the garden? As far as Eve knows, the only time she'd been there had been almost a year ago, in last May, when she'd said she'd come to make Eve's life interesting again, and--
She'd planned this. All along, she'd been wishing for Eve to--
"Are you there?"
"Yeah", Eve says quickly, still pulsing from the realization. "But, Villanelle, seriously. I need to know where I'm going, how am I supposed to--"
"Book a flight to Rome, okay? You can take a train from there."
Eve could be taking a train to freaking anywhere from there. "That's it? That's all you'll give me?"
Oksana hums. "Yes, for now."
Eve's so tired of this "who's playing who"-game, but she inhales deeply, forcing herself to stay sane, knowing there's a lot to take care of, before she leaves. Before she finally does this. It's a wonder she's kept it together, this far.
"Do you want to know something?"
Eve blinks. It's a very weird question, and there's an undertone there, something downright giddy. "What?"
"I miss you."
Oh, Christ. Eve covers her eyes with her hand again, because now, against all odds, she feels terrible. Oksana's voice is so honest, and Eve feels so terrible. "Me too", she grits out, feeling the beginnings of a sob in her throat, but no, she's done crying about this, this mess of hers. "I'm sorry I'm like this. It's just rough, to, to accept everything. I'm, uh, I'm going to go and get my hands dirty in the garden, so..."
"Don't pack too much. We can buy whatever we want. Get a morning flight. I will let you know where to meet me."
"Sounds like a plan", Eve says quietly. "Well, I'll, um, I'll see you soon."
"Bye", Eve whispers. She hangs up the phone, and sets it down on her desk.
Her heart is going a thousand miles a minute.
She's going to Italy.
She calls Kenny right away, scheduling a meeting for tomorrow, then pads into the kitchen to get a pair of gloves and a big spoon, and then, she goes into the garden to dig up her new identity.
The next day, Eve tells Matthew Jenkins she needs a couple of weeks off due to her and Niko divorcing. It's the honest truth, just uttered before it has actually happened, but Eve knows it's where they're heading, no matter what she does in Italy, no matter if she survives it. Whatever they'd had for over fifteen years had gone up in flames the moment Eve had put her career before him, because he would never have done that to her, but she had, and as she looks into Matthew's sympathetic eyes, she knows she's going to need time to herself after her trip.
Niko had tried to open the discussion about their future several times now, but each time, Eve had fled: She can't take his hurt right now. It's coming, she knows, but it will have to wait, for now.
What she's doing is by no means easy for her; it's dreadful and frightening and it feels as much wrong as it feels right on so many different levels she can't even begin to compartmentalize them, but things are as they are, just as Oksana is who she is, and what she is needs to be stopped.
All of Eve's thoughts about Oksana being a creation, such a beautiful thing of this world, are nearly as drained as Eve's lake.
Kenny and Elena are not pleased with Eve's plan of action; there's too much that could potentially go wrong, too much that puts her at risk, too many ways to become exposed, to get caught, when she should be catching Oksana, and not be getting herself trapped and killed. Hazardous doesn't even begin to cover what Eve's thrown herself into, but there's no backing down now, so over a cup of coffee at a little cafe close to Vauxhall Cross, they go over the necessary details.
"Why can't you just wait until she comes here and let MI6 take care of it?" Elena asks while sipping her cappuccino.
There are several reasons behind Eve's choice. "Well, first of all, she said she was taking a break, so she'll have no reason to come here, and me asking her to come here when we've been talking about going away would be, I don't know, um, stupid? She'd see through it. She's so bright, you know." Eve's latte tastes rather dull in her mouth, but she drinks it anyway. "Plus, I don't want there to be any trace of who did this, because if my name shows up in this thing, that's it for me, at work. That's it."
She's right, of course, and Kenny and Elena share a few looks between them. "So...?"
"So either I call the cops from a payphone, which is a really stupid idea unless it's some really remote city with no cameras", Eve says and looks at Kenny, "or I'm going to need you to do it."
"What?" Kenny gulps, and stares at her with wide eyes. "What, me? Why?"
"You can mask the call, can't you?" Eve says, and it isn't really a question, because she knows Kenny can do things like that. After all, he really is brilliant.
Kenny frowns and fiddles with his pie, eyes darting around the cafe like an honest-to-god schoolboy getting caught for stealing the milk money. Then, he looks at Eve. "It'll have to be the Carabinieri then, or La questura. But those guys don't kid around, Eve. If we call it in, she won't go quietly. She could die."
Eve knows this. She'd thought about it so many times during the last week, she'd practically considered trying to take care of Oksana herself, but that would never work, because Eve can't kill her: She knows herself, and she can't kill Oksana, and Oksana would never go gently into that good night if Eve was the one trying to take her there, so in the end, Eve would die trying to catch her, and all would be lost.
Out of vengeance and righteousness alone, Eve thinks Kenny and Elena might initiate an MI6-led man-hunt in the wake of her death, but then all of their knowledge would be revealed, and then, they'd go down, too, no matter what, and Eve can't let that happen. She really needs to stay alive through this.
Also, for reasons she can't quite begin to explain, she really wants Oksana, too, to stay alive through this, no matter what she's done, though she thinks Oksana would probably rather die than become imprisoned again. Everything about the way she is screams of the way she thrives on freedom, on not living by any rules.
Oksana's life might very well be ending in less than two weeks. If that happens, Eve will deal with it then, like she'll deal with the divorce. Right now, she has too much to think about. The shameful sorrow that would follow Oksana's death has no room in Eve's mind, not at the moment.
"We'll do it when she leaves to do the job", Kenny says then, mouth full of pie. "You won't be in the room with her, so you'll be safe. You just need to figure out where she's going."
"I'll find out where she's going, alright", Eve mutters and crosses her arms over her chest. "I'll get her to trust me again. I can get it out of her."
"And then you'll get yourself home, okay? I'm going to trace your phone, so just, I don't know, keep it on you, so I'll know you're alive. I could wire up an untraceable mobile for you, too, if you felt like you wanted to make the call yourself, but in case she goes through your things..." Kenny passes the rest of his pie to Elena.
Eve nods. It's as good a plan as they'll ever come up with, without the help of outside forces. Eve will find out where Oksana's going and who her target is, and then she'll call Kenny, and he will alert the police or whatever armed response he can get in touch with. "Once it's out, they'll negotiate handing her over to us. The Italians must know we want her, even with Colombo and all. I mean, sure, they'd probably love to hold onto her because of all the information she has, but Bishopsgate happened, and three Senior Intelligence Officers were murdered. She's ours."
Kenny frowns. "How will the Italian police know that? You can't just call them up and give them a list of everything Villanelle's done here."
"She will tell them", Eve says with certainty. "She's so fucking narcissistic about her work. She's so proud. She won't talk at first. She's trained not to, but I think, once she realizes she's done, she'll gladly exchange any information in return for staying alive. The Twelve will probably try to send someone to make sure she doesn't talk, so she'll probably try to work out a deal, to stay protected. I'll be out of the country by then, back here, before they can make the connection. As far as Matthew's concerned, I'm at home, packing up my stuff. He'll never even know I left the country. She's made sure of that."
Kenny and Elena exchange a worried look, but then, both of them nod simultaneously, like they agree.
"I can't believe you're doing this", Elena says, eyes round. "You've really thought this through, and I actually can't believe you're doing this. You were in a completely different place a month ago."
"I can't believe I'm doing it either, but she killed her kids." Eve sticks her tongue in her cheek, remembering the knife five inches deep in Nora's back. "She killed Allison's kids. It doesn't feel like anything, to her, except exiting, probably. I just, I need to do this. I got sidetracked, but it's been a long time coming." It has been - almost a year.
It's sort of ironic how in the end, it's still the three of them trying to catch Oksana, and it's still Eve who's diving in head first.
"What if she gets away?" Kenny asks, in a low voice, like he doesn't even want to bring it up, but has to.
Eve looks at him for a long time. She'd thought about it too, of course. Oksana's cunning and clever. It's not at all an impossibility that she'll escape, but at least Eve will have tried. And then, if Oksana connects the dots, Eve will face her. "Then she does. She might not realize it was me, in case her target is someone guarded and has a lot of security, but if she does... Well, at least Italy is a pretty place to die." She says it with a hint of sarcasm, because really, she doesn't want to think about Oksana's wrath, were she to find out what Eve has really been up to behind her back.
It had been different with Bill, with the stabbing. Oksana had somehow forgiven that, in her own way, probably because she'd understood Eve's motive, understood her reasons.
I understand how revenge works much, much better than you think.
Oksana had said so on January 1st, at the Andaz, when Eve had confronted her about Carolyn's suicide. That lone sentence right there was proof that something had happened to Oksana; something that had made her understand Eve's compulsive need to avenge her dearest friend, but Oksana wouldn't understand this. In Oksana's mind, killing Allison Perry's children had in no way been personal enough to Eve. For Oksana, there'll be no reason heavy enough for Eve to turn her in. There'll be no justifying any of this, to Oksana.
A few times a day, Eve wonders if she's actually lost all sense of self-preservation and logic, but then something stirs, something that pushes past her fear of Oksana's vengence, and she feels her own hunting mode spring to life - narrowed eyes, the relief of finally ending this long chase, and without looking back, doing what she knows is the right thing to do. What it might or might not make her feel is beside the point - this isn't about her, anymore.
She just needs to be the one to do it. She needs to make amends with herself, for everything that had happened over the last year.
It doesn't stop her from wondering if everything will come crashing down, once she sees Oksana.
Then again, it might not. Eve's skin is thicker, these days.
She still has ten days; ten days to breathe fresh air and know that she's alive. Ten days to make sure Kenny and Oksana (and Niko) know how dear they are to her, ten days at the SIS-building, knowing that when she leaves, it could be for the last time.
She still has ten days to live in the before: Once she does this, her life will permanently be divided into a before and an after, and she'll just have to stand it.
At the end of the day, redemption isn't supposed to feel easy, and so, the countdown begins.
Chapter 27: Once More, Us
At two thirty in the afternoon on April 24th, Eve (under her new name Charlotte Blackstock), anxious and so unbelievably hot, hops off the Frecciarossa train at the Santa Maria Novella station in Florence. Even though it's only spring, the historical city lies in scorching heat, the air barely moving except for a light, warm breeze, and sweat drips down Eve's forehead as she tries to navigate her way out of the busy, loud train station.
She'd left Niko a letter, hidden away in a desk drawer at SIS. As far as he knows, she's on a trip for work, but if things were to go south, if things were to end badly for her, at least he'll know why. He'll know how she'd felt, how she had never wished him any harm, through any of this.
Oksana had sent her a text from an Italian number just two hours ago, "let a hundred flowers bloom" - a saying by Chairman Mao - and when Eve had tried calling back, the phone had naturally been out of service. Luckily, Eve had quickly connected flowers to flora, then flora to fiore, fiore to fiorentina, and finally, fiorentina to Florence, and so, she'd taken a guess and hopped on the first Frecciarossa from Roma Termini to SMN, heading north.
Apparently, her guess had been good, because just a few minutes before arriving in Florence, there'd been a new text from the great riddler Oksana, telling Eve to make her way to "the second king". It's a good thing Eve knows her history because otherwise, she'd have no idea who or where the second king is. Now, though, when she's standing in front of the station and looking out over a patch of green grass, and behind that, buildings as old as time, she knows to look to the sky and search for the three hundred foot high bell tower of the Palazzo Vecchio. She will find the second king - Michelangelo's David - in front of the palazzo, most likely surrounded by two hundred tourists. Eve hopes she's right; at university, during art history, she'd read that the original sculpture of David had been moved somewhere, but she can't remember where, and google isn't an option, in case someone other than Kenny's monitoring her phone.
While keeping her eye on the sky, she makes her way past the Basilica di Santa Maria Novella, and then she starts heading east, towards the city center. The air smells of sewage and burnt rubber, vespas and mopeds nearly running her over at every crossing, but after only ten minutes, she enters a huge piazza, the palazzo's tower looming in the distance, and she knows she's close.
The piazza is full of street artists selling gadgets and paintings, tourists taking photos of the mighty pillars supporting a huge engraved arc above the passage, waiters beckoning people to come and try their food, but Eve rolls her in-flight steadily on the cobblestone, taking a path that should lead towards the river. A few more minutes, and out of the corner of her eye, at the end of a narrow alleyway, she recognizes the palazzo's rusty brown facade, the same colour as the bell tower.
Once she's through the alley, she's standing in the Piazza della Signoria, and she knows this is the furthest she's ever been inside actual history. The crowds are enormous, but she makes her way through, several world-known statues visible from afar, posed in front of the palazzo and around a platform next to the Uffizi Gallery. There's Perseus with the Head of Medusa, almost green in the bright sunlight, and Eve's eyes seek out Michelangelo's David, and then the people looking at his marble form.
Eve's heart skips a beat as her chest freezes, even in the heat; Oksana's standing in front of David, hair flowing freely, clad in a beige sundress and black combat boots, but she isn't looking at him. She's looking at - and around - Eve.
Like when she'd gone to Amsterdam, Eve had tried her very best to keep her cool, to not let her nerves get the better of her, but Oksana's grey stare is burning, and after staying still for ridiculously long, suddenly, like an ambush predator, she starts moving towards Eve, side-stepping the tourists, like she's strategically managed to trap Eve right where she wants her, and now, she's going in for the kill.
Or then it's all just in Eve's head, because the minute Oksana reaches her, her face is nothing but soft and bright, and then her hands are in Eve's hair, pulling her close, and then, god, she kisses her.
For a split second, Eve's mind goes completely blank, her lips unmoving beneath Oksana's, but then she snaps out of her shock, feels the urge to pull back, but instead wills her mouth to move, and in the end, she doesn't have to will anything because Oksana's mouth is so familiar, and so is the scent of her, and she can nearly pretend this is just a woman she's in love with, not a murderous psychopath, so Eve kisses her furiously, knowing it has to be a test of sorts, figuring Oksana's kissing her just to see her reaction; to see if it's genuine, or not.
"You made it", Oksana says once she breaks the kiss, but she's wearing a closed look, a look that tells Eve: I had to be sure.
Eve bites her lower lip, thinking fast. She should, by all means, be frightened, knowing what the woman opposite of her is capable of, but somehow, she knows Oksana won't hurt her, so she raises her own hand to touch Oksana's wrist gently, and then she exhales in mock frustration. "Jesus, what a hike. You and your fucking breadcrumbs. You couldn't just meet me at the station?"
Oksana touches Eve's hair and smiles gleefully. "I wanted you to see this beautiful place. It's one of my favorites. If I had come to meet you, you would have looked at me instead."
She's a smug cunt who's about to get sent to prison for the rest of her life, but she's also right: Now that Eve actually sees her for the first time in weeks, there's a flutter of real uncertainty in her chest; Oksana looks vibrant and gorgeous, back to her old self, back to what Eve had considered to be pure beauty... but she'd murdered everyone in cold blood, and Eve can't. "What other favourite cities do you have?" she asks, to steer her own thoughts away.
Oksana pinches her lips and tilts her head back, like she's rummaging through a mental check-list of places. "Paris, of course. Geneva, Vienna--"
Viktor Kedrin. No surprise there, Eve thinks.
"--Nice, Milan." Oksana looks at Eve, who's thinking that all the cities on Oksana's list are expensive ones for people with cultivated tastes; places Oksana had probably only dreamt of, as a child.
"Not London", Oksana says seriously, with round eyes, like the thought of it would be offensive. "There's only one nice thing to see there."
Just one nice thing, with all the time Oksana had spent there during the last year. "What's that?" Eve asks curiously, thinking it has to be something elegant and one of a kind, something for rich people.
Oksana raises her eyebrows. "You, of course."
Of course. Eve's burning waters start roaring.
"Are you hungry?" Oksana asks then.
Eve isn't. She hasn't had an appetite for a long time now, but she also knows she can't afford to act out of the ordinary, so she forces a small smile onto her lips, and nods quickly.
"We will have room service", Oksana says with finality, raising her chin, and she puts a hand to the small of Eve's back, sends shivers up her spine, and starts steering them away from the crowds, past the Fountain of Neptune, and then down a side street.
"Where are we staying?" Eve asks, trying to take in as much as she can about their whereabouts.
"Right here", Oksana chirps, and points to a tall, yellow building with light blue window-shades: Hotel Bernini.
Eve follows her wordlessly. They enter a huge salon-like space with pillars of gold and white marble, classical armchairs, vases with flowers on every surface, spotlights throwing beams of warm light over black stone floors. Eve gawks at the interior, then remembers she's in one of the oldest cities in the world, with Oksana, whose style is nothing if not extravagant.
Oksana leads her to the elevator which takes them several floors up, and finally, they exit and come to a stop in front of a wine red door. Oksana reaches into the folds of her sundress and pulls out a brass key.
Inside, Eve finds a smartly furnished space with golden chandeliers and several expensive-looking artworks. The whole place reminds her of a warm lounge: All surfaces are decorated with rich fabrics and classic Italian motifs, reminding the guest of a different period of time. There's an en-suite, a rather large living area with satin sofas and windows that face the street, and then separately, a sleeping area holding a king-sized bed with drapes tied to all four bedposts. Next to the bed, behind a set of French doors, there's a small balcony overlooking a courtyard.
Eve shouldn't marvel at any of this - it isn't what she's here for. Still, it moves her, takes her breath away, reminds her of how plain her life had been before meeting the woman she's about to turn over to the authorities.
Oksana's taken hold of her in-flight, put it on the bed, and is now rummaging through its contents.
"You've got some nerve, you know that?" Eve huffs and sits down on the edge of the bed, watching Oksana go through her things. "Not that I didn't appreciate all that expensive stuff you got me from Berlin, but, um, what happened to the rest of my clothes?"
Oksana waggles her eyebrows and bites her bottom lip.
Eve knows that look; she'd found the scarf in Oksana's Parisian wardrobe, but not the rest of her stuff. "Seriously, what did you do?"
Oksana's face returns to normal, and she crooks her index-finger, signaling Eve to come closer, to lean in. Eve does, and Oksana bends towards her face, eyes focused and sharp. For a second, Eve thinks Oksana might kiss her again, but then Oksana licks her lips and says: "I am taking that with me to my grave."
Eve scoffs, and has to bite her tongue: She'd like to tell Oksana that it's quite possible her grave is just around the corner, but as soon as the thought's drifted in and out of her mind, the after-sensation feels awful. Eve frowns at herself, then shakes her head. "It's okay. I'm not mad. I was just wondering."
"We need to get you some new clothes", Oksana says as she holds up one of Eve's ratty t-shirts.
"This is a warm country", Eve protests, and snags her shirt out of Oksana's hands. "Cotton is good in this kind of weather."
"O-kay", Oksana cringes, then throws a glance at her wrist-watch.
"Are you nervous about the job?" Eve asks.
Oksana looks offended. "No. It will be very quick, and when it's over, I will take you to see this city like it's meant to be seen."
In another life, Eve might have loved having Oksana as her personal tour guide, but now, all she can do is smile tightly and curse herself for coming a day early. She has no idea how she's supposed to be able to be with Oksana for another twenty-four hours (although she suspects Oksana has some ideas about what they should be doing), especially not when Oksana clearly doesn't suspect a thing anymore, and she's simply happy to have Eve with her, here, in one of her favourite places.
When flying to Amsterdam to see Oksana, Eve had felt like a traitor for going behind Niko's back. Handling that emotion feels like a walk in the park, now, compared to this.
"Are you okay?"
Eve snaps out of her thoughts. She'd been, like Bill would have said, staring into the abyss. The memory of it feels like a fist squeezing her heart. She blinks it away, and meets Oksana's questioning stare. "I'm fine, sorry. Long day."
"Mm", Oksana hums in agreement, although Eve has no idea how long she's been up, or even here; there are some clothes scattered around the hotel suite, but Oksana might just be a naturally messy person. "Should you take a nap instead of eating?"
Eve's eyes widen. That's one hell of a strange suggestion, but then she remembers that Oksana trusts her. Oksana had taken a three hour long nap when Eve had visited her in Amsterdam. "No, thanks. Sorry, this is just a little, um, overwhelming. It feels sort of weird that I'm actually here."
"But I'm so happy your are!" Oksana exclaims, and claps her hands together. "Okay, we can order food so you'll feel better. What do you want?"
Eve realizes she will go stir-crazy if she stays in here with Oksana. Pretending to think about her answer, she looks at the various artworks in the room, and then she says: "I've always wanted to come here, you know. I'm so exhausted but, but--I think--I think I'd like to go out with you. You know, sit down somewhere, and..."
"Oh, okay. Wait a second." Oksana looks around to locate something - her sunglasses. She slips them on, looking stylish as ever. "Now we can go. You ready?" She holds out her hand.
Eve takes it.
They walk around the historic center for nearly two hours, getting a water bottle here, an ice cream there, all while Oksana tells her where they are, what they're looking at, when it was built, if she likes it or not, and Eve reminds herself that it's Oksana's nature - the nature of a psychopath - to be all-knowing, to be the absolute best at everything.
But you can't be the best if you don't know the facts, and clearly, Oksana knows hers.
They have dinner in a little cozy restaurant close to Il Duomo, a large, historical cathedral right in the heart of Florence, and Eve picks at her portion of spaghetti alle vongole while Oksana ungraciously munches on a pizza with cold salmon, mozzarella and rocket, not giving a shit about the way the waiters are eyeing her rude table manners.
It's so normal. They're just two people travelling together, having dinner together, and Eve knows Oksana can't read her silent distress because for her, Eve hasn't got a reason for any distress. Oksana's levels of empathy, if there even are any, don't reach nearly as far as they would have to do in order for her to understand just how much seeing Allison Perry's children slaughtered had affected her perception of Oksana.
"What are we doing here?" Eve asks quietly. Oksana looks up, frowning, like she doesn't understand the question. "This whole thing. This would never have happened before New Year's. You came back from Chechnya like, I don't know, like someone had pushed a button and changed you."
Oksana chews slowly, holding Eve's gaze, but says nothing.
Eve sighs in frustration. "I know you know what I mean. We hardly ever talked about anything, we hardly did anything other than f--you know, and I'm not complaining, I'd just like to know what changed." Because she would like to know, very much. Not knowing had driven her a little bit crazy in Amsterdam, and this Oksana in front of her is not the same one she'd bitten and bruised, had hurt and made bleed, at the Eventim Apollo; that woman would have been easier to drop into the lap of La questura, but this one... this one is messing with her head.
Oksana takes a sip of her red wine, and stares at Eve for a long time. She doesn't look offended or annoyed, but thoughtful, uncertain. Then: "They told me they'd kill you."
Eve's eyes widen. She puts down her fork and places her palms flat on the table. "What?"
Oksana shrugs. "My handler knew I'd been seeing you in London. He thought I'd let Carolyn go on her own terms because of your old relationship with her, so he used it against me. He didn't mean any harm, he just wanted me to go back to how I was. They told me what they'd do, and sent me away."
Oksana had gone back to the way she was, considering her way of operating, but she hadn't gone back to being manipulative and frightening, with Eve. "You thought they were going to kill me?" she whispers, because then--
"When I got back home, my handler told me he let you live", Oksana mutters with her mouth full of pizza. "He had been very clever. Still, I sort of hated him for the idea, but you know how it works: Had I killed him, they would have sent me another one, like after Konstantin, and it's really exhausting." She swallows, then licks the tips of her fingers, looking as content as a tiger after eating half a zebra.
Eve picks at her food again while thinking about Oksana's words. It's a wonder her handler hadn't actually sent someone to kill her, if they'd really thought she was the reason for Oksana going soft. "So, what, you thought I'd die while you were there, and, and then you found out I was okay, and--"
"And I called you", Oksana finishes for her. She wipes her mouth with the back of her hand and leans back in the chair, clearly full from her dinner. "He said I could keep you, as long as it doesn't interfere with the way I carry out my assignments. It made me realize I really want you to be alive so we can do things."
Eve feels a sting in her chest.
"Sex is nice", Oksana continues while she inspects her fingernails, "but in Chechnya, I realized that I might have wanted to do other things, too. Normal stuff, you know. I was sad to think it wouldn't happen. We have never watched a movie. I wanted to watch one with you in Amsterdam, but I was so tired."
Normal stuff - someone to watch movies with.
Eve thinks that if Oksana tells her one more beautiful lie, she will break down right here.
But it isn't a lie, because Oksana had said it then, in Paris, with such candour in her voice, in her eyes, and she'd said it now, looking at Eve like she could see the whole universe in Eve's eyes - like Eve, alive, was her whole universe. And that couldn't be, because what good would that do, now?
We're never going to do that, Eve thinks while trying to keep the tears out of her eyes. We're never going to have time for the other things.
They sit in silence for the remainder of the dinner, but Eve hardly touches her food.
On their way back to Hotel Bernini, while they're passing Il Duomo, Oksana interlaces her fingers with Eve's, and Eve's heart stops right then and there, in front of Santa Maria del Fiore. On the steps of the catholic church, her shame burns her from the inside, so much her cold chest becomes searing hot on the inside, and she wants to let go, but instead, she squeezes Oksana's hand harder, just to have something to hold on to, and Oksana looks up, alarmed.
"Was the food not okay?" she asks, looking concerned.
The food had been okay, but Eve isn't; she isn't feeling remotely okay to be honest, with any of this: It's everything she'd found herself wanting just a few weeks back. It's everything she'd found herself wishing for: To be free to roam, with Oksana, who might really love her.
Not having to care about anything, and having everything in the palm of her hand. If only.
If only, they'd come sooner, before the horrors of March 31st. If only, Eve had stayed at the Millennium Gloucester, and talked Oksana out of going at all. If only, but there is no way. Not anymore.
Oksana may very well be the devil in disguise, but Eve isn't that pure of a soul herself, and while standing in front of the church that's looming over them like a judge, Eve wraps her arms around Oksana, pulling her in, breathing in her scent, feeling the warmth of her slightly damp, sweaty skin. She holds her tightly, because this will be the only time she allows herself to touch Oksana like this, like they're in love, like this is their first trip together, and they're so happy, just the two of them.
Eve feels Oksana smell her hair while her hands travel up to Eve's shoulder blades. The air has been laden with tension and heat for hours now, but for different reasons, each to their own: Oksana wants Eve, in the way that she wants to touch, hold, devour, claim her. Eve wants Oksana, in the way that she wants to memorize her, learn her by heart, feel her... even with what's coming.
One more time, then, Eve decides: Once more, their time.
When they enter the suite at their hotel, they stand by the door for a long time, just looking at each other. Eve's want doesn't know how to express itself, how to concretely manifest itself in any other way - the very reason she and Oksana are here in the first place, the very reason they'd started anything at all - and she leads them to the bed, closes the distance between them, pushing Oksana's body down on the beautiful bedspread, grazing her skin with her nails, learning, again, the contours of her body, the little dips and creases, the hard bones beneath her skin, the taut muscles she so obediently takes care of. Eve memorizes, like she can't get enough, can't learn fast enough, and in the middle of it all, Oksana stops her wrists.
"Are you still angry with me?" she asks, panting and pupils blown, cheeks red from the heat in the room and the jolts of pleasure Eve keeps coaxing out of her body.
Eve's breath is strained, too, and she knows she's being rough, she knows she's grabbing instead of touching, pushing instead of stroking, but she can't stop herself, she can't calm herself, she can't - doesn't want to - see anything beyond this moment, see what's waiting for them, tomorrow. She feeds her addiction like she knows she'll never get another hit, so she answers Oksana's question in the form of an all-consuming, passionate kiss, and Oksana moans, the sound re-vibrating all the way down Eve's throat.
Their surroundings are burning, cloaked in black smoke oozing from the surface of the sea aflame around the bed, their raft, but Eve lets the fire come, lets it lick her legs and Oksana's golden hair because this is the last time they will ever do this. This is the last time Eve will hear her, taste her, smell her like this, and when the sheets catch fire, and everything around them becomes a blazing inferno, Eve closes her eyes, buries three of her fingers inside Oksana, buries her face in her tresses, and buries her fantasy - her fantasy of what they could have been - at the bottom of the sea.
Chapter 28: Oh Honey
Eve can't sleep.
The Florentine night is warm, and she's been awake for hours now, tossing and turning, trying to find a good sleeping position, moving her phone every now and then so that Kenny will know she's alive, in case he's actively tracking her.
She lies in the still lingering after-scent of melancholy, desperate sex, licking her lips every once in awhile, swearing she can still taste Oksana. Luckily, she doesn't feel disgusted with herself, disgusted that she'd been able to touch her, even after what she'd done. Eve doesn't regret it - she'd needed it, despite knowing she should feel sick to her stomach.
Eve had drunk Oksana up like the very essence of her would reveal all of her secrets, answer all of the questions Eve'd been wishing to ask for over a year now, since she'd first learnt of her. Meeting Oksana had always been half compulsion, half the want to ask anything, say anything, get to know anything - anything to finally figure her out, but now, there won't be any time for that, no time to figure out who she is beneath the mask she wears. Too much will be left unsaid, hanging in the air around the end of them.
Eve wonders if after Oksana's gone - or dead - will she still keep wanting to learn more, to get inside of her?
Eve's phone starts ringing. She jumps, and next to her, Oksana stirs. Eve immediately ends the call; it's Niko. Heart still beating rapidly, she quickly types in a message telling him she can't talk while working... even though it's in the middle of the night.
"What are you going to do about him?" a very groggy Oksana mutters from next to her.
Eve's mouth twitches at Oksana's cleverness. "I'm divorcing him", she answers shortly, and Oksana sits up, staring at her in the dark.
"Really?" she whispers, incredulous.
Eve has no idea why she's so surprised, but after a moment, it dawns on her that once upon a time, Oksana must have asked Anna to divorce her husband Max. Oksana had been so in love, and Anna refusing to leave her husband - refusing to even entertain the idea - must have wounded Oksana deeply, and both Max and Anna had paid a terrible price. Eve doesn't want Oksana to have a reason to hurt Niko; Eve's divorcing him, in peace, not wishing him pain. "Really", she says quietly.
Oksana touches Eve's shoulder lightly and hums sleepily, like she's happy.
When Oksana's gone back to sleep, it occurs to Eve that if Anna refusing to divorce her husband had hurt Oksana so much she'd castrated him, what would Oksana feel, if she were to find out about Eve's plan?
"Villanelle?" Eve whispers, and rolls onto her side, towards Oksana. Timidly, she lifts her hand and strokes Oksana's arm, from shoulder to wrist.
"I need to ask you something", Eve whispers, and Oksana must sense the uncertainty in her voice, because slowly, she sits up again, peering at her. "It's been driving me crazy for months now."
"What's that, darling?" Oksana asks in a low voice, and that little term of love right there hits Eve in the gut like a punch.
"Why did you forgive me for this?" Eve asks and gently touches Oksana's scar. "At the Andaz, you said you understood revenge, and I just, I mean, I've been wondering who made you understand it? How did you learn what it feels like?"
Eve should be careful; she doesn't want to give herself away, but she needs to know, and now is a good a time as any, in the darkness of the night, with Oksana tired and sated, less alert, hopefully less suspicious.
Oksana sighs and pushes her hair out of her face. "It's not so complicated, Eve. I killed the people who killed my father. An eye for an eye, I think is the right expression."
Eve isn't surprised by Oksana's deeds, but she is surprised by the admission. She stares, and wants to ask: When? How?
"Can I go back to sleep now?" Oksana inquires, voice barely audible. Clearly, she doesn't want to talk about this.
"Yes", Eve replies, and for good measure, reaches out and caresses Oksana's cheek. She shouldn't push it. If she wants to find out more about it, there will be records somewhere. "Yes, go to sleep. Sorry, it just, it was on my mind."
"Mm", Oksana hums again, and then she lies back down, pulling the sheet up to her midsection, mirroring Eve.
Oksana falls asleep quickly, but Eve stays on her side, staring at Oksana's profile in the dark.
The clock keeps ticking away.
The next morning, when Eve gets out of the bath, Oksana's eating breakfast - a panini with cheese and something - and she's sitting in bed with her MacBook open, with a postcard next to her. Eve immediately knows what it is, so she walks over in her bathrobe and picks it up.
It's a classic shot of Florence, taken from a hill or a tower above the city, showing the river, the old buildings, the churches. On the other side of the postcard, there's a line of sloppy handwriting, "Buon compleanno", but there's nothing else, nothing that looks remotely suspicious... except for a series of small numbers on the top right corner.
"This is how they communicate?" Eve asks, frowning. It's both simple and smart.
"Mostly", Oksana says as she taps on some keys and peers at the screen. "I have a nice little collection of those at home. I could decorate a wall."
No doubt a zillion postcards "from" London, Eve thinks to herself. "You have your target there on your computer?"
Oksana glances at her with narrowed eyes, like she's considering whether or not to tell Eve any more about her job, but then she sighs and turns her laptop to face Eve. "Yes. I will start getting ready after dinner. It's Liberation Day, and he's participating in a military parade. There are too many people there, so I will have to wait for him at his home. He should go there to get changed before the evening celebration."
"That sounds dangerous", Eve says, absent-minded; she's busy memorizing the information on the laptop screen, since she will need it later, but then Oksana grabs the edges of the laptop and places it back in her lap, hiding the screen from Eve.
"It isn't", Oksana says shortly. "I'm very good at this." Then, she looks at Eve, with a hint of the classic, Oksana-style smug smile. "Oh, you poor baby, look at you. You don't have to worry about me."
"I know I don't", Eve says, and then she gets up to go and comb through her hair.
The weather outside is lovely, but they stay inside the whole day. Eve stands on the balcony every now and then, getting a hit of the sun, looking at the people, wondering if she's out of her mind to be doing this, but even with the events of last night, doubt makes no move to visit her, so she stays calm and collected, wills her restlessness to stay away.
After eating yet another pizza, Oksana finally starts getting ready: She pulls a suitcase out from underneath the bed, inspects and loads her gun, attaches the silencer on the barrel, checks her computer one more time, then packs a small folding knife into the waistband of her shorts, together with the gun. She looks nothing like someone who's about to assassinate a high ranking member of the Forze armate italiane, but that's the beauty of her deception, and Eve watches the whole captivating process of Oksana wiring herself for her kill of the evening.
This is the closest she's ever come to Oksana, before she's leaving to end a life. At the Millennium Gloucester, she hadn't started any preparations with Eve in the room.
Eve's heart is heavy. She feels like she can hear the minutes ticking down to the moment Oksana's leaving, and it's so unbelievable that she's made it this far. She feels exactly like she did in Paris, in bed with Oksana, the knife in her pocket, eyes closed and pretending to be resting while she was gathering up the strength to plunge the blade into the woman next to her, who was, undoubtedly, trying to decide on the best method of seduction.
Eve had been a good liar then, and she's a good one now. When Oksana ties her hair into a bun, Eve watches the movement of her arms - the last movements she'll ever see Oksana do both free and alive, because at the end of this day, she will be arrested or dead - and Eve will have to find a way out of her addiction, all on her own.
"Okay", Oksana says cheerfully, but her eyes are clear and intent, so sharp and focused, precisely like Eve had described her to a sketch artist - the way she'd looked minutes before killing the police officers, the nurse, and Kasia Molkowska, a long time ago. "I will go now. Stay here, okay? This should not take long."
"I need to ask you something", Eve says then, although she knows it's the worst possible time. She doesn't want to sound like she's taking what she can get before they say goodbye, doesn't want to be tying up loose ends, doesn't want to even hint that this might be it for them, but the truth is, Oksana might very well face her long overdue death tonight, and Eve has to know.
Oksana looks a little impatient, and she glances at her wrist-watch, but then she moves towards Eve and sits down next to her on the sofa. "Okay", she sighs. "What is it?"
"What did Carolyn Martens and Allison Perry know?" Eve asks bluntly, and Oksana's face goes blank. "I know you're good at your job, and I know you'll come back, but things can happen..." Stray bullets can fly, "...and eight people died because of that information, and I have asked you before, and you've always told me you don't know anything, and that your handler doesn't tell you anything, but I know you by now, so I know you know. I need to know, now. Tell me."
For a fleeting moment, Oksana looks confused, and then, impressed. "Eve Polastri. I always knew you were so smart", she muses, eyes glistening, like she's proud. "Why do you need to know that?"
Eve thinks for a moment. "I need to know the reason why my life became what it is. I don't think we'd be here, if Carolyn and Allison were still alive, so tell me. Please." It's completely true; if Carolyn had lived, Oksana wouldn't have been sent away, and they wouldn't have ended up here.
Oksana scoffs and rolls her eyes. "Are you sure you want to hear this?"
Eve's eyes widen. She'd been right. "Yes, Villanelle. I do. I can't do anything with that information. I don't want to do anything with it, I just--it's just for my peace of mind. Please."
Oksana looks around the room then, and finally, at Eve. "Carolyn found the pay-trail that paid for the Colombo extraction. She traced it to what we call a keeper."
Eve blinks. "A keeper? As in--"
"As in someone who knows the identities of the bosses. They decide these things. After Konstantin, my new handler shared a little more with me than I'd known before. I don't know which one of the keepers Carolyn found, but she traced the money through some back-doors with the help of an officer inside the Italian agency. Someone in the whole Colombo matter messed up and forgot to use the correct account, it was such a stupid mistake." Oksana looks at Eve, who says nothing, so she continues: "The Italian officer was working off the books, and he wanted to get my employers as much as Carolyn did, so they co-operated, and he encrypted all the information he had gathered about the organization, and sent it to Carolyn. By actual mail."
Eve's heart is pounding. She knows Oksana's telling the truth. Finally.
"They couldn't intercept it, so they took him out, and then, they sent me to get Carolyn. Of course, he'd sent the drive to her office, not her home address, and even though the New Year's party was really fun, I couldn't just walk into MI6 and go through her desk. We knew that someone would find it at some point, someone with a rank as high as hers. The one we have on the inside couldn't get to it, but Allison Perry could, and our contact heard about it. Once we knew she had it, it was done."
Once they'd known who had it, Oksana had torched everything and killed nearly everyone in Allison Perry's house. Eve takes a minute to process, both relief and hate bubbling up inside of her. She'd been wondering about this for almost four months, and now, she knows - she knows that the agent who's feeding the Twelve information is still alive and at MI6.
"You and I will never go over this again", Oksana says sternly, interrupting Eve's thoughts. "Can I go now? I don't want to be late. It's very rude."
The Grim Reaper is always early, and never late.
"Yeah", Eve whispers, still thinking about Allison Perry, about Oksana's story, but then she realizes that Oksana's actually going, that the moment's finally here, that everything is about to end, that this could be the last time she sees Oksana alive, and her heart twists painfully, her chest filling up, like she's drowning. "Hey, listen--"
Oksana stops by the front door and turns to look at her.
Eve swallows. Oksana looks beautiful, and she's about to walk into a trap. Eve had memorized everything about her last night, but now, in this very moment, she lets her eyes travel over Oksana's form, taking it in, hoping that the look on her own face will disguise her guilt as worry.
She will not get up and stop her, not after everything, everything they'd been through, all the danger, all the passion, all the hurt, all the gratitude, all the agony, all the regret, all the love she'd felt because of Oksana. She will not.
"Be safe", Eve whispers, instead of everything she'd like to say.
Oksana's gaze is curious, and she tilts her head a little then, eyes sharp, like she's working something out, but then her face softens, and she winks instead, glancing in the direction of the bed. "You had better be here when I get back. I might want to work off a little energy."
Eve swallows. "I will be", she whispers. "I promise."
Oksana grins, and then, she walks out the door.
Chapter 29: The Lioness and Her Lamb
Eve gives herself fifteen minutes to gather herself - fifteen minutes for Oksana to get to her target - and then, Eve grabs her phone and heads down to the lobby, and from there, out into the piazza, into the humid night air. She doesn't want to be in the hotel suite in case Oksana has forgotten something and comes back to retrieve it.
"Eve?" Elena's voice on the line, sounding both relieved and worried.
Eve had expected Kenny to answer his own phone. "Um, yeah, I'm here", Eve says, heart pounding. It's late evening, but it's still so warm outside, and she's right next to the palazzo, and there are too many people and tourists, so she moves out of the piazza, towards a side street. There, she sits down on a stair-step and digs her nails into her scalp. "She left."
"Are you alright? Did she hurt you?"
"Of course not", Eve scoffs. Her hands are shaking. "Listen, I know where she's going. I need you to call the armed response."
"Yeah, we've been ready all day. I've got you on speakerphone, Kenny's all set. He's got a secure line, definitely untraceable he says, so just tell us what you need us to do."
Eve can actually hear her heartbeat in her ears, steady, quick, and so, so loud, like seconds ticking down. Her gaze fixates on an older man with, presumably, his wife, walking hand in hand, a camera around the man's neck, an expensive handbag on the woman's arm.
She can do this. "Call them and tell them..." She has to do this. She closes her eyes, counting to ten, pushing away the memories of Oksana laughing, pushing away the memories of Oksana looking at her, pushing away the memories of Oksana's husky breath and her lovely scent, pushing--
Eve takes a deep breath. She bites the inside of her cheek, and then she opens her eyes. "Call the Carabinieri and tell them someone armed and dangerous is at Via Giovanni something, next to the Santa Croce piazza, in Armata General Romano's home. And tell them..."
There's a long pause on the line. "What? Tell them what?"
Eve gulps. "Tell them... shots fired. Tell them to proceed carefully." Eve's voice breaks then, and her eyes start stinging. She draws a shaky breath, forcing herself not to cry, and in the background, she hears Kenny tapping some keys on his computer.
"We will. Eve, are you alright over there?"
"No", Eve groans, and damn it, her eyes are burning. She's never going to crack the mystery that's Oksana, she's never going to touch her again, she's never-- "No, Elena, I'm not alright."
"Are you coming home now?"
Eve wipes her nose with the back of her hand and tries to blink away her tears. "Once I know what happened, if, if she's been arrested or... or the other thing. Can you, um, can you follow the channels and text me once you know what's happened? Don't call, please."
"Of course. We're monitoring everything here at the moment, Kenny can hack into the radio feed if--wait--he says he can hack in if he can find the server that--"
"Okay. Sorry. I'll let you know. Just, come home then, okay? Be safe." She pauses, and then: "We know this can't be easy, but you're doing Bill justice, you know. We're really proud of you, him and Allison would be, too. Carolyn as well. You did what she wanted you to do."
Eve smiles a bittersweet smile, but feels no pride about anything. She hangs up, and puts the phone back into her pocket.
She wants to believe that what she's feeling now is the greatest possible pain there is to feel, born out of loving someone, and then having to betray them. She'd thought, before, that the worst had already come, but only now does she recognize it, when Oksana's absence from her life is final.
Eve's world collapses in the blink of an eye.
She becomes gripped by a sudden sensation of both heat and ice: She's staring her great and unspeakable anguish in the face, her burning sea submerging her body, throwing her into the dark cliffs of the shoreline, grinding her face against the rough surface of the rocks, again and again, slamming her to her death, and still, she won't drown, she won't die. She simply feels everything.
She doesn't know how long she sits there, but the screaming sound of sirens reaches her ears before she notices an increase of people moving into the city center, away from the Piazza Santa Croce, away from the home of General Romano.
Of their own accord, her feet start moving her towards the sirens, against the stream, and she knows it's not far, maybe four or five blocks, and she pushes past the tourists either running from something or simply leaving the Liberation Day festival late, and the street is dark and narrow, and her heart echoes in her head, and she shouldn't be doing this, she shouldn't be going anywhere near the piazza, and yet--
Her phone starts ringing in her pocket. It takes her a moment to realize it's hers, because she'd told Elena not to call her, and she doesn't want to talk to anyone, but she has to know, she has to know what's happened, so she picks up. "What?" she gasps, elbowing her way past a group of military uniformed students.
"You need to come--get me."
Eve stops and bumps into the shoulder of a rather large man carrying a drum. She drops her phone and it clatters. Her heart jumps and she bends down to retrieve it; the screen is broken, but the call's still connected. "Hello? Oksana?"
There's pained swearing on the line, and her words come out gritted, like she's hissing them through her teeth: "I thought I--told you not. To call me that."
Oksana's alive, and Eve's chest floods with relief, a sensation so strong she thinks she might pass out until she realizes that since Oksana's calling her - and telling Eve to come and get her - she hasn't been arrested. She's on the run...
...and Eve's plan has failed.
"Are you hurt?" Eve asks, trying to calm herself. She moves to the side, out of the way, and covers her other ear with her palm. "Villanelle, are you hurt? Where are you?"
"Filippina!" Oksana's crying out, then gasping hard, and there's a sound, like she's crawling. "Eve, please!"
"Stay where you are, okay?" Eve says and ends the call, hands trembling.
Oksana's injured. She'd sounded like she was dying, and Eve needs her alive, she needs her to be alive, so screw anyone who could be monitoring her phone; she opens her google maps app and types in "Filippina", and the location comes up on her screen.
She'd already passed it.
Panicking, she turns around and heads back up the street, eyes on the little blue ball showing her position, and then she turns right, onto Via Filippina, but it's a short, dirty street with bars over small windows, and she can see an arc at the other end, see more people moving towards the city center below it, and she picks up her pace, heads towards the other end, and then suddenly, to her right again, there's an opening, a narrow alley. Eve stops.
There's blood on the ground, dark brown splatter, coming from the other end of Via Filippina, and continuing down the alley.
Via Borgognona: There's street art on closed shop doors, more bars on windows, no lighting. The street lamps are off. Eve inhales sharply, eyes on the blood trail, and she starts moving forward, quickly, as fast as her legs will carry her.
Twenty feet away, there's a parked car. Behind the car, in the grey darkness, there's the heel of Oksana's combat boot.
"Shit", Eve hisses, and runs before her body can freeze.
Oksana's shivering, lying in a pool of thick blood, face drained, body covered in an army jacket way too large for her. She must've picked it up to get through the crowds without being spotted. There are rivers of red running down her left thigh, from under the jacket, and Eve bends down to lift the hem.
Oksana's been shot; there's a gunshot wound at the top of her left vastus, literally a quarter of an inch into her leg, a black hole the size of Eve's thumb, blood slowly oozing out.
Eve feels sweat on her forehead. Oksana hasn't opened her eyes, and she's practically shaking, her body quivering, her breaths coming in quick gasps, like she can't get enough air. Eve opens the jacket further, and her hands suddenly become warm, almost drenched in dark fluid.
There's another wound in Oksana's right side, straight above her hipbone. Her shirt and hands are practically floating in blood.
Time seems to slow down for Eve: She takes in the whole scene, takes in the damage done to Oksana's slender body, takes in her open mouth, her strained gasps, her body sprawled against the dirty wall, hands uselessly clutching her side to stop the bleeding, but she look so powerless, and the pressure's not helping at all, and she's dying.
It's worse than in Paris. There, Eve hadn't seen her like this. There, Oksana had managed to get out, like she'd apparently managed to do tonight, and she'd made it several blocks with a bullet in and out through her thigh and her side, and how she'd done that, Eve will never understand, but this--this is bad.
Like at the crime scenes of Oksana's making, everything moves in slow-motion - even Oksana's chest as she struggles for air - and Eve tries to think, tries to figure out what she should do now. Calling an ambulance will be the same as throwing Oksana to the wolves, but that's what she'd set out to do. Oksana had escaped, barely alive, but now...
"We need to get you to the hospital", Eve whispers, and places a hand on Oksana's forehead. It's cool to the touch. "You're bleeding out."
Oksana groans, and then, she slowly opens her eyes. She squints. "You found me", she whispers, breathing hard through her nose.
Eve freezes then, and blinks. There's something nagging at her, creeping up her spine again when she hears Oksana's words. "What?" she gasps.
"I said", Oksana whines, trying to put more pressure on her side, "you found me. No hospital." She starts mewling then, eyes looking around in horror. "Fucking--security. Mistake. Get me--" She's breathing so hard she's practically spitting every word out, "--hotel. Gauze. You can--"
But Eve can't, because she's stuck on "you found me", and she's in Paris, knife handle-deep in Oksana's stomach, blood colouring her hands bright red, colouring Oksana's top, exactly like now, colouring the white sheets, colouring--
Trying to help Oksana then is what had got Eve into this mess, in the first place. If she'd stayed on top of her, twisting the knife in her gut, they wouldn't be here...
...and so many others might still be alive.
In a split second, Eve sees their entire life; every meeting, every conversation, every angry kiss, every bit-back moan, every outfit, every message, every dead body.
Eve's pulse slows down.
It would have to be like this, if she ever wants to break her addiction, if she ever wants to move through a world without the cutting pain of Oksana's vines.
"Eve, shit, pre--put pressure there, I can't--" Oksana's voice is coming from far, far away, beyond this street, this place. It cant reach her.
It would have to be like this, if Eve wants her precious sea to stop roaring, to stop burning, to calm down, to be still and shimmering again in the bright sunlight.
It would have to be like this, if she ever wants a day in her life without Oksana attached to her skin like a spiked collar around her neck.
"--Eve, it hurts, just help me, Eve!--"
It would have to be like this, if she ever wants to be free.
The reason for Eve's reluctance seems to finally dawn on Oksana, and right there, in the dirty, dusty alleyway, with rivers of blood running down into the creases between the cobblestones, her face changes from unspeakable agony to pure, solid fear: Panting still, her grey eyes go wide, staring at Eve like she's never seen her before, like she can't believe she'd been this stupid, like she can't believe she'd fallen for this, like she can't believe she'd trusted Eve.
Eve had set out to do this: She'd gone head first into this, knowing that Oksana could meet her fate today. She'd prepared herself for a life without Oksana. She'd felt the grieving, the inevitable clashing, the waves gripping her like chains. She'd faced the acceptance.
Eve can't kill her...
...but she could let her die.
Oksana mouths something then, something that looks like "no, no, no", but she's too far gone, hanging onto what little's left of her life, and her eyes become glazed over, like actual tears are about to roll down her pale cheeks.
It would be the ultimate betrayal--
--but it is a concrete way out, exactly like Oksana is who she is, and will never change.
Eve stays bent down, keeps staring, her brain thinking so hard its brakes are screeching, her heart hammering in her chest, her waves roaring in her ears, watching Oksana's blood colour the ground black, like spilled oil in her clear waters; watching Oksana squirm and desperately try to stop the bleeding herself, but failing, her body giving up, and then, hearing her cry out from the devastating comprehension that this might very well be as far as Eve would ever go for her.
Chapter 30: The Beginning of Always
Oksana sleeps for days.
During that time, Eve visits the Santa Maria Nuova hospital and makes up a bullshit story about her husband having the stomach flu and needing some fluids, and she walks out of there with an IV-bag and the right instruments to be able to hook it into Oksana's arm.
She goes to the Uffizi Farmacia - because she'd used up every towel in the hotel room - and looks for the strongest pain-killers she can find, together with povidone-iodine, gauze, cotton, vitamins, magnesium, iron, crutches. She purchases a sewing-kit.
She looks up youtube-videos about how to keep wounds from getting infected. She learns that she's stable enough to dig through another human's stomach and look for bullet fragments, while using only tweezers.
She descends the stairs to the lobby of the hotel and makes sure the room is paid for well into the foreseeable future, because she can't have the staff waltzing in and finding Oksana in bed, not with the Italian news-channels going on and on about General Romano being shot dead on Liberation Day.
She searches for a good wine shop, ends up at the Enoteca Alessi by Il Duomo, then buys several bottles of Chianti, parts with close to two hundred euros, and asks the cashier to open one of the bottles right there on the spot, because how can she not, with the way her life had gone to hell for the millionth time because of a choice she'd made - the choice to keep Oksana in the book of the living.
She waits in line for thirty-five minutes at a sandwich shop called All'Antico Vinaio - because that's where all the locals are queuing - and when she returns to the hotel room, Oksana doesn't stir, and Eve chews up both sandwiches on her own.
She calls Kenny and tells him she's hit a wall, but she doesn't elaborate, and instead of interrogating her, he's simply happy she's alright. She checks her voicemail, but since she's officially on vacation, no one from SIS bothers her.
She hopes the maids will read (and respect) the "do not disturb"-sign on the door, and she wonders how in hell she's supposed to get the blood out of the ridiculously expensive bedspread, the comforter, the goddamn carpet.
She lays her body down next to Oksana's drained and sleeping form and places the palm of her hand on her heart. She feels its beats, faint but steady, and stays like that until her own heartbeat matches Oksana's.
She makes her mind up, while Oksana's still unconscious: She decides what to do, and as she does, she puts a wet cloth on Oksana's forehead, and wipes away the droplets of water that run down her temple.
She falls in and out of dreamless slumbers, awake and not awake, hot and cold, morning and evening. She loses herself in a vacuum in which there's neither an end nor a beginning, there's just now, and Oksana's fading perfume, gone from her skin.
She hears violins and tourists, melodies from somewhere beneath them, the sounds flowing in through the open balcony doors. She wishes Oksana would finally wake up.
Eve starts and sits up straight, inhaling sharply through her nose.
"Hey", Eve whispers, and turns towards her, bringing a hand up to her hair which hasn't been washed in several days. Oksana's face is chalk white, even with the fluids and the iron in her system, and her eyes are laurel green - a shade Eve has never seen before, no matter how much time she's spent gazing into them. "How are you feeling?"
Oksana's mouth clicks and she scrunches her face up, in pain, probably. She squeezes her eyes shut, and then, Eve manages to hear: "Bathroom."
Shit, of course: Eve has been pumping Oksana's body full of fluids for hours on end, and she has no idea if they're going to be able to reach the en-suite a good twenty feet away, but she'd managed to get Oksana up and back to this room, so they'll manage, somehow. "Hold on", Eve says, gets up, walks around the bed, and pushes her left arm in between Oksana's back and the mattress.
Oksana whimpers. She must be in inscrutable agony. Careful not to rip the stitches Eve had spent a good hour sewing, she helps Oksana up into a sitting position, and then, she drapes one of Oksana's arms over her shoulders, helping her up. Oksana shakes her head violently, but Eve ignores her protests, because there really isn't anything else to do here, and with Oksana leaning on her in supplication, she hauls her to the bathroom, sets her down on the edge of the bathtub so that her back is to the wall, supported. Oksana's panting, wheezing for breath, and looking royally pissed off.
"Do you want me to...", Eve begins, but one look at Oksana's expression tells her not to even think about that question.
"I need a minute", Oksana rasps, still squeezing her eyes shut.
"Hang on", Eve says, and returns to the bed, where the crutches she'd bought at the Farmacia are leaning against the wall. She picks one of them up and brings it with her to the bathroom. "Just in case." She places it down so that it's leaning on the edge of the bathtub, and Oksana glares at it like it's the most offending thing she's ever laid her eyes on.
"I'm right outside", Eve says softly, and then she exits the bathroom, closing the door behind her.
Oksana stays in the bathroom for what feels like an hour, but Eve has lost all sense of time, so she waits patiently behind the door, listening for sounds of Oksana's head clonking against the floor, but she hears nothing but her pained groans, then a flushing toilet, then the sound of water running.
Eve decides she'll risk it; she slowly opens the door, and Oksana's back on the edge of the bathtub, looking like she's two seconds away from passing out. "Okay, okay, I'll take you to bed", Eve says softly, then helps her back up. The crutch remains untouched, and silently, Eve both curses and admires Oksana's pride.
Once in bed, Oksana lets out a sound bordering on a howl, and she leans her head back into the plush pillows, gasping for breath. Eve feels a churning in her stomach: There's nothing she can do to make Oksana more comfortable at the moment. Trying to keep herself calm, she lies down next to Oksana, and gently starts stroking her bare arm.
"It really hurts", Oksana gasps, and blinks at the ceiling. There are tears in her eyes.
Eve had been hurting for so long, on the inside, but for a fleeting moment, she thinks about how utterly absurd it is that when it comes to the two of them, it's always Oksana who ends up bleeding. "Do you remember what happened?"
Oksana licks her lips, like she's trying to find the right words, but then she wails instead, and closes her eyes. In just a few seconds, she's out cold, and Eve stays right there next to her, stroking her pale skin.
The next time Oksana wakes up, the room is pitch black. Eve has been up for a long time, getting food from the hotel restaurant, changing the dressings on Oksana's wounds, reading about the Uffizi online, but at the end of the day, she'd simply wanted to look at Oksana - to make sure she kept breathing because goddamn her if she'd decide to kick the bucket on Eve's watch - and now, she reaches for Oksana's hand, squeezing it softly.
"I think this city is ruined for me", Oksana chokes out, and with some apparent strain, turns her head towards Eve, who can't help but smile at this little brat who's still trying to make jokes, even with two bullet wounds in her body.
"Do you remember anything?" Eve tries again while shuffling closer so that there's no distance between them, not even an inch. She isn't asking because she's afraid Oksana will remember that Eve had almost left her to bleed out in the street. She's asking because she wants to know how in the world Oksana had managed to get shot - twice.
Oksana blinks at her, eyes filled with stardust and sleep, and she licks her lips like before. Her mouth must be dry, but if she wants water, Eve knows she'll tell her so. "I got the target."
"Yeah", Eve chuckles, because it's unbelievable how that's the thing Oksana cares about. "Yeah, you got him, and a little more."
Oksana closes her eyes and groans, like she's miserable and hurt and so, so annoyed. "I might have made a small miscalculation concerning the blueprint."
"You got shot by the blueprint?" Because Eve can't help but tease a little. She'd been living in the dark for days now, and she'll never survive this trip if she doesn't try to find a little light even in the most dreadful details.
"Arsehole", Oksana hisses, but she's smiling. "Mexican stand-off, you know how it is. They got me, I got them."
"It's a good thing it was Liberation Day", Eve points out, and brings her hand up to brush Oksana's hair out of her eyes. "Santa Croce wouldn't have been that full otherwise. Someone would have seen you." The crowds of people had also helped with getting a nearly unconscious Oksana, covered in the long army jacket, back to the hotel room. Luckily, the front desk staff had believed Eve's excuse about Oksana falling and hurting herself at the celebration while drunk as a lord, and they'd let them pass without calling an ambulance or the police.
"Mm", Oksana hums in agreement, closing her eyes when Eve's fingers caress her cheek. Then: "Are you okay?"
Eve's eyes sting. Oksana still stirs something wonderful and terrible inside of her, so she smiles softly, and nods. "I'm fine. Just focus on getting better, alright? You need to get some of your strength back."
"I'm cold", Oksana says, and only then does Eve realize that she's actually shivering. She presses her whole palm to Oksana's cheek, but she's really just that: Cold, not hot, so she's not running a fever, and her wounds aren't infected.
"You probably will be for a while", Eve sighs, and reaches down to pull the bedspread onto the sheet which Oksana's already covered with. "It'll get better."
"Are you sure?" Oksana whispers, and Eve's heart aches; she looks so young, so vulnerable. She looks nothing like the woman Eve had spent so many terrifying, hateful, inexplicably painful hours with over the past year.
"Yeah", Eve says, and she means it, because she knows this is all just temporary.
Everything about this limbo is temporary.
Oksana's eyelids fall, and gradually, she stops shivering, and then she's asleep.
The circle keeps repeating itself for a few days: Oksana wakes up, Eve helps her to the bathroom, Eve gives her pain medication, makes her eat and drink, just enough to keep her on the upper side of the tightrope, not enough to make her nauseous, and Oksana falls asleep, and then again, and again.
The drip is gone; Oksana's got a healthy amount of fluids in her body now, and foremost, everything's working like it should, and that's all Eve can hope for.
"You gauged a hole in me?" Oksana screams one rainy afternoon, referring to Eve's attempt at making sure there weren't any bullet fragments left in the wound in her side. "You make me wear these horrible things and then you gauge a hole in me?"
"There already was a hole in you, silly", Eve mutters, inspecting the wound. It's healing nicely, and Oksana's clothes aren't that horrible; Eve had dressed her in an over-sized white t-shirt and black tennis-shorts. "Two holes, actually. Flesh-wounds. You got incredibly lucky, so stop moaning."
"You like it when I moan", Oksana teases, back to her old self so quickly it's almost scary.
Eve's cheeks turn a little pink at that, but she stays focused on the task at hand, removing the dressing from the wound in Oksana's left quad. It's looking a little irritated, so she reaches for the bottle of antiseptic on the nightstand, flicks it open, and pours a little around the stitches.
"Oh, you arsehole!" Oksana swears, because it burns like hell, Eve knows. She pinches her lips to keep herself from smiling at Oksana acting like she's twelve. She's surprised at how naturally all of this comes to her; tending to Oksana's sores, making sure she's hydrated and nourished...taking care of her.
"If I ever walk again, I am going to chase you down the Lungarno and spray that shit at you with a water-gun", Oksana mumbles before she drifts off again.
Eve knows better, but the mental image - Oksana limping down the road by the Arno river and trying to shoot her with antiseptic fluid while Eve zigzags through the masses of tourists and pretend-screams for help - is just too good, and when Oksana's breaths even out, Eve allows herself to grin like the idiot she is.
Eight days after getting shot, it's May again, and Oksana manages to put a little weight on her left leg. Against hotel regulations, she hops to the open balcony doors and lights a cigarette, drowning the whole suite in the smell of smoke; it's rude and unhealthy and totally her, and Eve watches her from the bed where she'd been half-asleep, half-daydreaming.
The sea is quiet and still, but they're on different rafts. Tides and currents pull them apart, sailing in different directions, and when Eve calls out to her over the water - when she tells her to put the cigarette out or they'll have to pay a fee - Oksana doesn't hear her.
Ten days after the night of the 25th, Eve feels Oksana staring at her. They're in bed, because it's the logical place to be in the suite, and Eve has been trying to fall asleep for a long time, but she can't, and now, she feels the burning sensation of Oksana's eyes digging into her face.
"What?" Eve rasps without opening her eyes; she doesn't need to, she knows Oksana's looking at her.
"You were going to leave me there."
Eve's eyes open immediately, round and alarmed, but Oksana doesn't look angry. She doesn't look shocked or betrayed; she looks sad. There's a small frown, so small Eve wouldn't even notice it if she didn't know every part of Oksana's face by now, and in her eyes - hazel, tonight - is a flicker of uncertainty, a splash of trying to put the pieces together, but not quite getting there.
Eve exhales slowly. There's no use in lying about it, and she doesn't want to lie about it. She's lied enough. Oksana remembers, and telling her she's wrong would be pointless, so Eve says: "Yes", softly but steadily, baring her transgression, her almost-mistake. "Yes, I was. But I changed my mind. Everything was just...too much. I was in Paris, and you were hurt again, and I-I freaked out. I needed a minute. I didn't want to leave you there, so I didn't, but everything about your life is just--I'm just not cut out for this sort of stuff." It's the truth; no matter how much planning and preparing she'd done, no matter how much easier Eve's life would have become with Oksana finally gone from this earth, in that alleyway she'd realized that her conscience would have killed her, and there wouldn't have been any life left to live, carrying that with her every day.
Oksana worries at her bottom lip, gaze flickering between Eve's eyes and her mouth. They haven't kissed. They haven't shared any sort of intimacy, apart from Eve tending to her wounds, and as Eve thinks about that, it's possible that Oksana's remembered the events of that evening from the very beginning, but she'd chosen not to approach the subject. Now, though, the cat's out of the bag, and Eve waits for the impact she deserves to feel all the way to her bones.
"I'm glad you changed your mind", Oksana whispers, voice low but earnest. She doesn't say anything else.
Two days later, while Oksana's still sleeping soundly, Eve packs her bag. She goes to the lobby to make sure that the hotel staff will leave à la carte lunches and dinners on a trolley outside of the suite every single day for the following week, and then, she (finally) asks for clean sheets and new terry-cloth towels to be brought up and placed behind the door.
When Eve gets back, Oksana's wide awake and sitting up, back supported against the pillows, and Eve remembers a night in London at The Bull And The Hide, in wintertime. Oksana looks the same, except for some weight-loss, more tousled hair, paler skin.
In a few days, it will be a year since Eve smelt Oksana in the Covent Garden area, rushing to her meeting, stopping to see if it really was her, stopping to see if her own stomach was still intact. It will be a year, and somehow, that's exactly how it's supposed to be.
"So this is when you go", Oksana says, even though Eve hasn't said anything about leaving, and her bag is out of sight. She stands by the sofa, a little taken aback, but meeting Oksana's pensive stare.
Eve sighs, but instead of sitting down on the sofa where it's safe, she approaches the bed and sits down by Oksana's feet, which are tangled in the soft sheets. She caresses Oksana's legs, pressing down on the thin sheet, moving her hand up and down slowly, memorizing her calves, her kneecaps, her tibia, her thighs, careful not to touch the still healing wound in her quad.
"I thought you cared about me", Oksana mumbles. She averts her eyes towards the balcony, away from Eve, who's looking at her so intensely.
"No", Eve says gently, searching for Oksana's gaze, but it's stuck on the blue sky outside. Eve smiles to herself, because if there ever was a right moment - if there ever was a moment to feel it at all, to say it - it's now: "No, I don't just care about you. I love you, you insufferable dick."
Oksana turns her head sharply, looking at Eve with wide eyes, and then, her face breaks into a shit-eating grin. "Duh, I know."
"Oh, you--" Eve runs a hand through her hair and chuckles, because she's such a brat, but Eve had finally said it, once - the only time she ever will - and her chest feels warm, like there's spring sunlight streaming in through her ribs. "You really are annoying, you know that?"
Oksana's smile turns a little less smug and a lot more genuine. She looks so beautiful, with her colour back and her eyes a shade between grey and hazel, just like Eve knows her. "Eve, of course you love me. If you didn't, I would be dead now." She touches her thumb to her forefinger three times, glancing down. "Are you sure you want to go back to London?" she asks then, not exactly hopeful, but concerned.
Eve will walk away from this without telling Oksana the full extent of her actions, what her plan had been. She will walk away from this, and let Oksana roam free, in whatever way she chooses to, because no matter her horrors, no matter the devil lurking just behind her eyes, Eve knows her own limits: She knows what she can live with, and with what she can't.
She will walk away from this, because Oksana has people who will care for her, and when they arrive, this room will have no place for Eve, and she doesn't know if there'll be any place for her in London either, anymore, but she won't worry about that today.
She will walk away from this, faintly disappointed that she hadn't managed to find the real strength and will to capture Oksana, all while knowing that maybe, since the beginning, she wasn't really meant to.
She will walk away from this, and know that in a small fragment of time, in a place completely empty of anyone but them, she'd loved Oksana. She'd loved her, purely and with her now-fleeing soul, and that can't be erased no matter what Oksana does, no matter who she hurts, no matter what she decides to do with her life. Eve had loved her, and god, it's like fireflies lighting her spine from the inside out, knowing that for the first time in such a long time, she's being honest with herself - she's choosing to set fire to her wishful bliss, instead of closing her eyes and hiding behind it.
Oksana's still smiling, and gently, she lifts her right hand, bringing it up to Eve's tangled, dark hair, running her fingers through it. Her nostrils flare for a split second, and when she lowers her hand, her eyes are still bright and kind, but otherwise, her face is neutral. "Do you want me to find you when I'm better?"
You found me.
Eve smiles and shakes her head: This is all she needs. This is what she wants to keep with her, and Oksana seems to understand, because she smiles sadly, but she doesn't try to talk Eve out of it, she doesn't try to change her mind, she doesn't even seem that hurt; she simply looks at Eve, eyes hooded, for a fleeting moment, a clear window into her soul.
"Are you going to kill me?" Eve asks, because it has to be voiced, because Oksana could. She could, possibly, see Eve making this decision as the largest betrayal ever made. She could secretly be angry and vengeful about Eve's momentary doubt in the alley. She could see the act of being left behind today as being abandoned, being wronged, and Eve knows very well that revenge is no stranger to Oksana.
Oksana looks at her own lap again, then back up, and slowly shakes her head.
"Are you going to let me stay free?" Oksana asks, eyes narrow.
There's something Eve has to know, though. Reaching out to run a finger down Oksana's neck, memorizing the little hollow by her clavicles, she asks: "Have you ever been on a lake, or at sea?"
Oksana frowns and tilts her head, like she's confused. "How would you know that?"
Oksana's question is an answer enough in itself, and Eve feels her eyes burn. "I didn't know, actually. I used to see us there, on a lake at first, and then out at sea. Just you and me, on this stupid little raft we had, I don't know, maybe built, or something."
"Mm", Oksana hums, and her eyes glitter. She seems pleased with the idea of them together, surrounded by water. "My father took the boat out once, on the Rusalka, when I was little."
Eve doesn't know where the Rusalka is, or what it looks like, but she imagines clear blue waters, maybe birches and pine trees in the distance, towering behind a smooth and sandy shoreline. She wipes her nose on the back of her hand, then reaches to run her fingers through Oksana's honey blonde tresses - precisely like Oksana had done just a minute ago, to her. "Can I be there with you?" she asks, and her voice hitches a little, because they are real, and they are now, but her precious lake, her smooth sea, her calm waters - they are always: No matter how many times they burn, no matter how hard the sea roars, the waters and the raft always come back together, like magnets.
"Yes", Oksana says right away, and that's all she says.
Eve leans in to press a kiss to Oksana's forehead, lips touching both her skin and her hair, and Eve smells her - the real scent of her - and then Eve's on her feet, walking to get her bag, walking away.
Oksana will be fine, she knows: She's a survivor, made from things Eve couldn't even begin to imagine, but still, when she's got her bag in her hand, she has to round back to look at Oksana once more, one last time, and to say: "Please, don't do anything stupid."
Oksana bursts out laughing then; a beautiful sound, so light and whole-hearted. She smiles brightly, looking so lovely Eve wishes to put the mental image of it into her pocket, keeping it with her until the end of her days, and Oksana runs a hand through her hair, pushing the honey strands back. She pinches her lips, suppressing her smile, and says: "You either."
On the raft, Oksana's there, next to Eve with an arm around her shoulders, warm lips against her neck, leaving languid kisses while Eve slowly rows them forward to chase sunsets and enjoy the stillness, the simple pleasure of being together in silence.
Eve grips her bag tighter, and her feet take her to the door, then into the hallway, in and out of the elevator, through the lobby, and finally, out of the hotel, into the piazza; into the warm, shimmering sunshine of the Florentine spring.
Chapter 31: Epilogue: I Really Liked You Too
So make time, decide when it's over. - Lisa Bregneager
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The end of July in London is nearly as hot as Florence had been in April. Eve's enjoying her ham and cheese toast lunch on a warm bench in St James's Park, just a short walk away from the SIS-building, while looking out over Park Lake, towards the back of Buckingham Palace visible in the distance.
Her work is good; politics don't snooze in the summertime, and Matthew Jenkins is busy taking her with him everywhere, keeping her occupied, keeping her mind off the divorce.
The day following her return from Italy, she'd finally passed the Rubicon and done the unavoidable: She'd gone home and sat down with Niko. He'd been very understanding of her thoughts and feelings, because at the end of the day, they'd been moving in different directions for over a year, even though they'd tried to make a life out of it, tried to make it work. The whole conversation had been quite civil, ending with Niko demanding they sell the house because Eve didn't want it and Niko alone wouldn't have any use for a home the size of theirs, so now, the realtor's put it on the market, and they both have their own apartments on opposite sides of London.
On June 1st, Eve had moved down to a charming little two-floor home in Lambeth, located close to her work. Now, she's got nearly four hundred square feet of space to fill with things that interest her, and at night, she sleeps well, always with her window open so that she doesn't have to be alone in dead silence. She'd got used to the sound of light snoring coming from next to her, but it isn't there anymore - no one's there anymore - so she listens for other sounds to lull her to sleep, all while missing Niko a healthy amount, and knowing she'd made the right decision.
Elena had insisted on helping Eve decorate her new apartment, so she'd let her, and both Kenny and her had stood by in silent horror while Elena had painted one of the walls black. "To suit your soul", Elena had explained in all seriousness, and at that, Eve had chuckled, and then, she'd agreed with the reasoning behind the colour choice. The black wall had become her "thought wall", the place where she hung up all the news articles or murder cases that caught her attention, tickled her fancy.
A flock of some sort of geese quack around close to Eve's park bench, and for a moment, she considers throwing them some of her toast, but her appetite's back; she's eating well again, staying nourished, so while peeking at the birds, she munches down all that's left of her lunch and feels a tiny bit savage.
Two weeks ago, Eve had received a memo, together with a proud tap on the shoulder from Matthew; the late Tomas Dauksa - Kazimieras - had turned up in Innsbruck in Austria, near the cemetery in Pradl. His body had been left in the street, propped up against the wall, and the coroner's report had concluded the cause of death to have been fatal blood-loss; he'd been shot once in the stomach and once in the leg, both at close range in the dead of the night. No signs of any physical struggle. Eve can't know for sure, but it all seems too fitting, and before chastising herself, she'd smiled at the computer screen, smiled at the irony of it.
La Villanelle is in her bag. Eve carries it around with her, afraid that she'll feel the compelling need to take a trip down memory lane, but not being able to do so without Oksana's preferred fragrance.
The perfume is the only thing Eve's got left of Oksana. Upon moving into her new flat, she'd got rid of everything else: The clothes, the notes, the original Kazimieras file with Oksana's handwriting - even the 2,000 euro diamond necklace she'd got as a birthday present - but she'd kept La Villanelle, because it's the only thing she really needs.
Eve has developed the ability to control what sort of images La Villanelle conjures up. She doesn't hallucinate Oksana anymore, doesn't see her in any form, but if she's at work and needs to get herself into an alert and focused state of mind, a hit of the scent gets her there. If she's at home, in bed, missing what could have been Oksana's comfortable weight next to her, the perfume makes Eve taste her, smell her, feel her as if she were really there.
Most of the time, Eve's happy, but these days, she's living with something she hadn't realized she'd have to face: The absence of Oksana's physical presence, and the excitement Eve used to feel, knowing she'd be seeing her. Where those two things had been, there's now a massive void - a vast space, completely empty. She carries it around like a black hole, and nothing - not even La Villanelle, not even the best of daydreams - seems to be able to fill it. She hadn't understood just how much room Oksana had taken up inside of her physical body. All she can do is feel it, and hope that perhaps one day, the tissue around the void will grow together and mend her.
On the bench, she reaches into her bag and closes her fingers around the round flask. It's there, like it always is, real and solid. Eve feels like she wants to remember Oksana's laughter - to hear it clearly in her head - but a large shadow falls over the empty space next to her, and she lets go of the flask, then looks up.
She breaks into a sarcastic chuckle, because she can't stop herself. If she'd thought that her life had sounded like a bad movie coming out of Allison Perry's mouth, it just got worse - way, way worse.
A figure wearing nothing but a heavy black suit - even in July - sits down next to her on the bench.
Eve manages to finally get her laughter under control, and then she snorts once, and turns her eyes back to the water. "Are you fucking kidding me?" she sighs, the corners of her mouth still wanting to turn upwards, because seriously, but then she calms down, and something terrible occurs to her: "Have you come to tell me she's dead?"
Konstantin Vasiliev shakes his head, and Eve sees the movement out of the corner of her eye. "No", he says, and folds his gloved hands.
Eve stares at him, but he says nothing else: He simply studies the back of the Buckingham Palace, looking rather taken with it, and Eve rolls her eyes. "How's your daughter?" she says in lieu of knowing what else to say.
"Irina's alive", Konstantin says in his rough Russian accent, smiling wearily, and then he glances at Eve. "That is all I can hope for." Another long silence follows, and then he says: "Villanelle is like a daughter to me."
"She shot you!" Eve exclaims, staring at him with round eyes.
"And you stabbed her, or so I heard." Konstantin raises his eyebrows, looking very smug. "Do you think that made her love you more or less?"
Eve bites her lip. "I don't know what she felt", she admits, thinking that if Oksana had loved her - really loved her - it's possible she wouldn't have let Eve leave. It would have been in Oksana's nature to want to hurt Eve, or someone close to her, if her leaving Oksana had felt the same as Anna's rejection, once upon a time...but after escaping prison five years ago, Oksana hadn't gone after Anna, and Eve is still alive, and so is everyone she knows. Therefore, she doesn't really know what to think, but maybe, maybe...
"Don't break my heart", Konstantin mumbles, and it takes Eve a couple of seconds to understand that he's quoting Oksana, just before she'd shot him. "It was for both of us."
Eve sighs and squints at the bright sunlight. "About that: How the hell are you still alive?" She'd seen Oksana shoot him. She'd tended to his daughter, to his wounded body.
"I defected", Konstantin explains with a shrug.
Eve feels another bubble of laughter erupt. "Wow", she grins, looking at his polished suit. "I didn't know you could defect if you work for an organization that kills people for a living. What a time to be alive."
"My god, you really are as annoying as I remembered", he grunts without looking at her.
"It must be your lot in life: Being surrounded by annoying women", Eve says, still smiling widely, but then she remembers Moscow all too vividly, remembers Oksana holding a gun to Irina's head, and she feels a tiny pang of sadness in her chest.
She has to ask. She'd been doing fine for a couple of months now, but Konstantin is here, and it's all too coincidental, so she can't not ask him. "How is she?" she mumbles, and as soon as it's out, she realizes this must have been what Anna had felt like; wanting to hate Oksana for what she'd done, but still caring so deeply, caring through all that time that had passed.
"How would I know?" Konstantin says. "I defected." He looks at Eve then, and he must see the disappointment - the flickering hope - in her eyes, because he sighs dramatically, and rubs his white beard. "She's out."
Eve's pounding heart skips all the way up to her throat. "What? Really? Wait, how do you know that?"
"The enemy of my enemy is my friend", Konstantin grins. "When you are as old as me, you have connections that last for a whole lifetime. She's out, for now. She's surviving."
Eve's eyes start stinging, and she draws a shuddering breath. Oksana's out. "Have you--um, have you seen her?"
"Not up close", he says, tilting his head, "but she's doing her thing again. Working out. I think she's healing okay. Flesh wounds, I heard."
Eve's heart expands then, so warm and happy in her chest. "Do you know anything about Kazimieras' death?"
Konstantin scoffs. "Like I said, she's doing her thing."
It's neither a yes nor a no, but it's clearly leaning more towards the former, and god, Oksana taking someone out shouldn't make her pleased, but it had been Kazimieras. It had been for Eve, who now feels a strange mixture of emotions. "You said she's out for now. Do you think she'll--"
"The first time I saw Villanelle", he interrupts, smiling to himself, "was so strange. She was so hard. I could not reach her. It was clear that she was different, and very different from the girl I originally came to collect. Villanelle was exactly what I was supposed to find: This merciless woman, born to kill, but you know, when she warmed up a little bit, I realized, she was so funny."
Eve does know, because Oksana is funny. There's a lump in her throat now. "Did you know what she was, then, when you met her that first time?"
"Not completely", he admits, and his smile falters. "The first man who trained her told me she was a psycho when I came to get her. Of course, he had a broken face, so he might not have been so objective."
Eve smiles genuinely at that, because of course Oksana had broken his face. Heaven forbid someone tries to teach her anything, and heaven forbid someone actually calls her "psycho".
"Would you like to see her again?" Konstantin asks, and looks straight at her.
Eve's heart stops completely, and she turns her head to meet his gaze, but the look on his face is more pensive than suggestive; he's not proposing anything, he simply wants to hear her answer. "No", she says quietly, and then a low chuckle escapes her. "God. I'd probably go nuts and throw my life away, and I sort of like this--this quiet and peaceful thing I've got going on, so no. Not really." She'd thought about it a lot, but her answer feels valid and true.
"Do you think she will come visit you?" he asks then.
Eve had thought about that too: She'd thought about what would happen if Oksana were to somehow find out about Kenny alerting the police, but she'd been shot by General Romano's security, and not by the Italian Carabinieri. Eve can't think about it too much, or she'll lose her sleep. "I asked her not to. I have a feeling she'll respect that, or, if--if she comes to see me, she'll probably do it so that I don't see her."
A month back or so, Eve had felt a sensation almost like a memory; the memory of Oksana looking at her, but Eve hadn't seen her anywhere, hadn't felt followed for the remainder of the day, so in the end, she'd swept the ghostly feeling under the carpet.
"You do know you're alive only because she wants you to be?" he asks casually, like it's the most normal question in this world of his.
"She's alive only because I saved her", Eve replies, and earns herself an impressed look. "She knows that." Oksana carries three marks of Eve's now: The stab wound, and the two bullet wounds Eve had cleaned and sewn up.
Oksana will remember who had kept her alive.
Konstantin seems to agree, because he nods once, and then he hauls himself up, looking downright ridiculous in his dark suit which is probably burning him up on the inside, in this heat. Eve doesn't envy him in the least. "It's good to see you still have a life", he says, and sticks his hands into his pockets. "Very few people who meet Villanelle actually live to tell the tale."
"Speaking of telling tales", Eve says quickly, because a thought has just occurred to her. "Carolyn's dead. In January. Did you know that?"
Konstantin makes a face and glances up at the clear sky. "Yes, I heard. It's, uh." He clears his throat. "It's a shame."
Eve studies his expression for a bit, and then she says: "There's a mole inside of MI6. He's working for the Twelve. Villanelle told me." Eve had spent a lot of time trying to single out who he could be, but she'd got nowhere, and even with everything she'd left in her past, she wants him to go down. She wants to get him, for betraying Allison Perry. "Do you know who he is?"
Konstantin laughs - his real, hearty laughter, full of glee. "How would I know anything about that?"
"The enemy of my enemy is my friend", Eve replies, quoting him from just a few minutes ago. He must be working for someone else, since he's alive and walking around, since he's here, with her. "The Twelve got Villanelle to shoot you. They're your enemy now."
He slowly shakes his head, his mouth in a tight smile. "Eve Polastri", he says slowly, "you are so annoying. But also, so clever. You're too clever for your own good."
Eve feels victorious, feels like Oksana would be proud of her. "So you do know who he is?"
Konstantin throws a glance over his shoulder, at the other people enjoying the sunshine, and then, he quirks an eyebrow. "This is a good place for lunch. You made an excellent choice." With that, he nods once, and then he starts walking away.
Eve keeps looking at him for as long as she can, but then he disappears behind a hedge, and then he's gone. She turns back to look at Park Lake. She'll be seeing him again, she knows. She'll get the mole, one way or another.
A girl throws a flat stone into the lake. It skips thrice before its journey ends, and then, it sinks to the bottom.
Eve's own waters are slowly coming together again, like she'd known they would. She adds some blue colour here, a warm, light breeze there. She puts the wooden pieces of the raft together, day by day, whenever she has the time. She ties the ropes tightly, so that it will hold through the heaviest of storms.
Sometimes she sees fog. Sometimes the air is clear, like in the middle of the ocean. Sometimes she's alone, and other times, Oksana's with her, steady and real, smiling and comfortable, with Eve's head in her lap as the waves slowly roll their little raft, roll their bodies into each other. Oksana doesn't talk to her in this daydream, anymore. Now, she simply exists.
That's all Eve can want - for Oksana to exist.
Eve finishes her sandwich, and then, she goes back to work.
Holy f*cking shit I can't believe this ride is over. First of all, a huge THANK YOU to everyone who read, everyone who left kudos, everyone who commented, everyone who made this feel like a mutual ride into the abyss. This summer and you guys have been amazing. For anyone who stumbles upon this after it's finished: I hope you enjoyed it, and feel free to leave your thoughts! I will always, always, want to discuss these two idiots (they really are dorks, come on).
I've had some inquiries about the locations: Amstedam was chosen as Oksana's new home because of its phenomenal airport Schiphol. It's the perfect location for someone who travels a lot. Florence was chosen for two reasons, 1) When speaking to Nadia, Oksana gives a list of locations: Paris, Florence & Vienna. Therefore, I knew she liked that city, and 2) Just like AMS, it's like a second home to me, so it felt fitting.
(Now that this is finished, I will comb through this and correct any spelling errors that have slipped through my fingers. No alerts should be sent, but in case AO3 for some reason shows this work as updated, it's not. This really is the end. I'm just adding commas, correcting grammar, that sort of stuff.)
It goes without saying that Luke Jennings, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Sandra Oh, Jodie Comer & everyone else on the KE-team are amazing. Special thanks to these guys for putting together the show which finally made me grab myself by the horns and actually plan, write out and complete a proper fictional work. Obviously, the characters in this story are the property of Jennings, except for the ones I made up on my own.
Last but not least: Everyone's okay, you guys. Eve and Oksana are okay. I will leave these two like this, suspended in some sort of happiness, apart. I hope it feels like fresh air after the dark ride that was this fic. Once more: THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU. - Dani