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between the shadow and the soul

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She’s bored.

Summers are the worst time of year for Eve. For most of her colleagues—her husband included—its wonderful. No students to worry about. Time to take vacations. No being haunted by punctuation errors from students who should certainly by now know what a fragment is and how not to use it in an essay.

Eve hates it.

She’s bored.

And so in the summer, she throws herself into her research. Throws herself into literature reviews and publications about the psychology behind the minds of female assassins. Thankfully, its easy to get a couple of students to apply for summer positions with her for assistance—really, she has students in the department lining out her office door ever since she began teaching her course on psychopathology, with a unit focused specifically on psychopathy, three semesters ago.

It’s thrilling to Eve, to try and understand something she simply can’t fully comprehend, the (not-so) simple why behind the reason someone, a woman, would turn to a life of murder.

It’s fascinating.

It’s caught the attention of her department chair, Dr. Martens.

Eve is really fucking good at her job.

But in that process, she’s become married to her work.

Which is awfully awkward, considering she has a husband.

Who also works at the university.

“Good morning,” Niko calls with a faux joy that Eve has been able to see through for weeks now.

They’re pretending at this point.

At least, Niko is.

“Morning,” Eve replies flatly.

There’s a sigh from Niko as he grabs for a box of cereal from the cabinet behind her.  

“What are you so upset about already this morning?”

Eve rolls her eyes while Niko is still behind her and continues to stare intently at her iPad as she reads through an article about the relationship between the size of the cavum septum pellucidum of the brain and psychopathic traits in incarcerated women.

Niko used to be so secure in their relationship.

Now he’s needy, begs her to spend more time at home, expresses concern about how much time she spends thinking about death and psychopaths.

It’s annoying.

Eve wonders if he’s jealous. Jealous that she’s having more professional success—presenting at conferences and being recognized. That she’s the more well-known Dr. Polastri, even if Niko is very renowned in his own circles.

Media seems to focus more on murder than English literature, and as such, Eve gets more attention.

“Nothing.”

“You sound angry.”

“You’re reading into things.”

“Eve—”

They’ve been struggling for awhile.

Eve realizes its problematic when her coworkers ask how Niko is, and all she can think to answer with is, “he’s nice.”

Like she’s trying to convince herself.

I moved back here and basically married my dad, she had told Dr. Martens when she had first interviewed.

(She then tried and failed to walk that back after she saw the horrified look in Carolyn’s eyes.)

“I haven’t finished my coffee yet, and semester classes start tomorrow. I don’t have everything ready. That’s why I’m upset. Not everything is about you, Niko.”

Eve does regret the way it comes out, just a little. But not enough to apologize.

It’s a flimsy excuse too, and she knows that. Knows that Niko knows that. Eve has plenty ready—she’s just gotten a little too caught up in her research to double-check that she’s printed enough syllabi.

“I can see that,” Niko mumbles.

He wordlessly puts his cereal bowl in the sink and leaves it there. He doesn’t say another word as he moves around their townhome, grabbing his laptop and heading toward the door.

“See you at work,” he calls.

“See you later,” she responds out of reflex, still focused on the article.

It’s only when she gets to the department office that she feels less tense. The walking on eggshells at home with Niko makes her whole body tight, makes her brow furrow until it gives her a headache, just makes her overall angry. Eve hates being home. It feels like a breath of fresh air to be back to her long days at work, where she can stay later now and come up with better excuses to do so later.

Dr. Martens just gives her a firm nod as Eve enters the copy room, and honestly, she’ll take it. Carolyn Martens is a force, a clinical psychology god.

Eve just feels fortunate that the woman pays attention to her.

And that she hasn’t killed Eve yet, considering that the second-year Master’s student that Eve advises is Carolyn’s son, Kenny.

(Eve honestly can’t tell if its made Carolyn like her more or less.)

“Morning, Eve.”

Eve turns to see her friend and coworker Jess sifting through papers in her mailbox.  

“Hey, Jess.”

Eve offers a soft smile and turns her attention to the copier, running her pages of policies and procedures for PSY 475: Psychopathology through.

“You okay?” Jess asks when Eve doesn’t say anymore.

“You seem a bit frazzled.”

“What? No, nothing, its fine.”

But Jess is one of Eve’s closest friends at work. And though the emotional intelligence of the psychology department isn’t as high as one would think, Jess has the awareness to notice that Eve is off.

“Things still rocky with Niko?”

Eve doesn’t answer.

She wouldn’t even say things are rocky.

She’s just bored.

And work makes her happier.

What’s wrong with that?

“Nothing a BJ and a compliment won’t fix in my experience.”

Eve fights the urge to roll her eyes as Jess smirks. Eve doesn’t dignify the comment with a response. They still have sex, which is about the only thing about Niko and Eve that isn’t boring.

(Most of the time.)

They coexist.

Lately, its been less fun to coexist.

Maybe it’ll pass.

Maybe being nicer would help.

And maybe work will put her in a good enough mood to be nice, Eve thinks.

“Speaking of compliments, Hugo is waiting outside your office.”

“Jesus, that kid,” Eve responds, thinking about the junior psych major who is well known around the department.

(Not necessarily for the right reasons.)

“Maybe he can cheer you up.”

Hugo had been in Eve’s social psych class the previous semester, getting braver as the term had gone on with his suggestive comments both toward his classmates (of any gender—Hugo had made it very clear in class one day that he was more about falling in love with people than a particular gender, an odd transition from Eve’s mention of the non-discrimination policy at the university).

Hugo’s ridiculous, a giant child still trying to grow up, but deep down, Eve can’t help but find him endearing.

Maybe even is a little jealous of him.

Because he’s out and about, doing whatever (and whoever) he wants.

Hugo doesn’t seem to lead a boring life.

And Eve can respect that, admire it even. 

“Jess, I am not going to indulge advances from a student.

“Oh, he’s harmless. Just a dumb rich boy who likes to look but doesn’t touch.”

Eve chuckles and, with warm copies in hand, heads back to her office to see Hugo waiting in a chair outside.

“Dr. Polastri, how was your summer?”

“Oh, good. Vacationed in Europe for a couple weeks. Other than that, nothing too exciting.”

She fiddles with her keys and unlocks her office door, Hugo following her inside without bothering to ask.

“Fantastic. Where did you go?”

“Oh, London. Paris. Rome.”

Eve drops the stack of papers in her arms on her desk and takes a seat, Hugo mirroring her movement.

“Did you go with your husband?”

She didn’t.

Niko had been with family in Alaska for two weeks, and Eve decided she would take her own trip instead.

She now considers it the beginning of the end for them.

“Uh, no, actually. It was more of a solo trip.”

“Oh.”

Hugo looks concerned, like he’s waiting for Eve to elaborate on it. Like this student of hers can play therapist for her.

She’s not in the mood to talk about Niko with anyone, let alone Hugo.

“So what brings you here before classes have even started, Hugo?”

This seems to be enough to snap him out of it.

“Oh, right. So I really enjoyed when you touched on psychopathology in Social Psych last semester and was actually wondering if I could get involved in some of your research about female assassins and their psychopathic tendencies. Gotta start getting serious about grad school, you know.”

Hugo’s ridiculous, a bit of a lothario, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s brilliant.

(The problem is he knows it, a little too well.)

“Well, typically what we’ll do is set up a short interview with myself, Kenny, and Jess, and if we decide it’s a good fit, then we'll discuss it further with Dr. Martens.”

Honestly, Eve has no doubt it’ll be a good fit.

“Sounds great.”

“Send Jess and me an email to set up a time?”

Hugo nods and rises from the chair across from Eve. He turns around when he reaches the door.

“Oh, and Dr. Polastri?”

“Hmm?”

He smiles softly, and honestly, it’s the most sincere she thinks she’s ever seen Hugo.

“I hope things get better with your husband.”

Eve hates herself a little when the first thought that comes to her mind is:

Well that makes one of us.

Hugo leaves and shuts the door behind him, thankfully, leaving Eve to her own thoughts.

She sighs and stares at the framed picture on her desk, thinking about everything over the past year or so that’s led to this point.

She looks fondly at the man in the picture and thinks everything started to go downhill everywhere when Bill died.

She misses her best friend.

Bill was the one who helped her get the psychopathology class started, made her a better professor, made her a better person.

Niko never liked him, was always jealous of him.

(The joke was on Niko though because Bill was extremely gay.)

Bill had been the unfortunate victim of a robbery and was stabbed to death outside of a club about a year ago.

And with Bill’s death went Eve’s sense of purpose for awhile.

It had happened last summer, and Eve wasted most of the season in bed wallowing, missing her friend. Until she threw herself into her work and never looked back.

Eve laughs at the irony of being so well-versed in human psychology and how she still falls victims to coping to tragedy in an unhealthy manner.

It’s easy to do.

It’s easy to avoid. To keep herself busy and then when she’s still, and Bill crosses her mind, blame it on being bored.

It’s just easier. Eve turns the picture face-down on her desk and gets up, heads out of the office and toward the bathroom.

She heads inside to find one stall door closed, two feet peeking out underneath the door, and the other with an Out of Order sign.

Eve sighs and waits patiently, taking her hair out from the bun its in, running her hands through it, trying to decide whether she should leave it up or down.

It’s easier to keep it up.

Easier to tame.

A young woman emerges from the stall as Eve continues to play with her hair. She stops at the sink next to her and stares over at Eve, completely lost to the fact that Eve can see her staring.

“Are you alright?”

Eve finds she’s not bothered by it, more than anything she’s just concerned because this woman is looking at her like she’s having an existential crisis just seeing Eve.

Eve stares back.

Her hair is dark blonde (maybe honey). It’s tied back. She’s slim, about 25, Eve decides. Delicate features. Her eyes are sort of cat-like. Wide, but alert. Her lips are full. She has long neck, high cheekbones. Smooth and bright skin. She has a lost look in her eye that was both direct and also chilling.

She’s totally focused, yet almost entirely inaccessible.

There’s something about her that’s so alluring.

(If Bill were here, he knows he’d be giving her shit about it.)

You ever been interested in women?

No, not like that.

Not even ones with cat-like eyes? he’d probably say.

And just like that, the woman bolts toward the door without another word (without even washing her hands, Eve notices).

She wonders what about Eve could have possibly elicited that reaction.

Before the door closes behind her, she turns back toward Eve and in an accent she can’t quite identify, makes a suggestion.

“Wear it down.”

So she does.

 

xx

 

She dreams of Anna.

She dreams of Anna loving her, Anna leaving her, Anna telling her she refuses to leave Max.

The dreams become nightmares quickly.

Oksana tosses and turns, burrowing her face deeper into her pillows as she tries to lose consciousness again.

At least then, if she dreams about Anna, she won’t be as aware of it as she is now.

“Oksana.”

It’s a different voice that says her name now, a child’s voice.

And then a weight dipping the mattress with a sudden force.

“Oksanaaaaaaaa,” it calls again, louder.

Oksana groans, turning over and covering her eyes with her arms as she does so, the weight on the bed being lifted, and the owner of the annoying voice rapidly flickering the bedroom lights on and off.

“Dad said you have to take me to school before you leave. Get up.”

She sighs as she opens her eyes to see Irina standing there with her arms crossed, fully dressed, backpack on and ready to go.

“Wake up, asshole!”

Oksana flashes her a middle finger, and Irina gives her one right back.

Oksana doesn’t move any further.

“I’m going to be late.”

Oksana grabs her phone and looks at the time. They’re definitely going to be late. Oksana has to be at the university in two hours to meet with some professors in the English department, meet with her advisor, get everything all ready for classes tomorrow.

In her half-awake state, she questions why she chose to pursue her doctorate when sleep is so much more appealing.

Oksana finally swings her legs over the side of the bed, tightening the robe around her waist as Irina impatiently taps a foot.

“Calm down.”

“You take forever to get ready! We’re going to be late.”

She walks into her closet, pulling out the outfit she’d chosen for the day and disappearing into the bathroom, leaving the door open just a crack so she can continue to talk to Irina.

“Remind me why your dad couldn’t take you?”

“He left for a business trip early this morning.”

Oksana groans. Her uncle Konstantin should really know better than to leave her alone with Irina when they’re both starting a new school year.

“So I’m stuck with you all by myself for the next few days.”

Oksana pokes her head out of the door as she says it, pulling a fake disgusted face.

Irina rolls her eyes.

“Fuck off.”

Oksana gasps.

“Language! What will your father think I am teaching you?”

Irina just shakes her head as Oksana closes the door completely, leaving Irina waiting outside while she puts on her makeup.

Oksana rushes through it more than she’d like to but is still pleased with how she looks when she finally exits fifteen minutes later.

Irina has become increasingly pouty as she points at the clock.

Yeah, Irina’s definitely going to be late.

Oksana sings along off-key to 80s music in the car just to further bother Irina.

Deep down, she loves her cousin.

(But its more on-brand for them to annoy each other.)

Oksana had moved in with her uncle when Oksana was seven, when her parents were killed in a car crash. She grew up in Russia until she was 18 and moved to America with Konstantin and Irina.

It’s not the worst set-up in the world.

Irina takes after her father (and Oksana) in regards to her attitude.

Oksana will never admit to either of them how much she enjoys it.

It gets boring when she doesn’t have someone to banter with.

And lately, when she’s bored, she just thinks of Anna.

Which is the last thing she wants to do.

Oksana pulls up at Irina’s school, and the teenager mumbles a “thank you” under her breath.

“Smell you later,” Oksana yells out the window, and is met with a glare from Irina.

Oksana drives over to the university, grumbling as she circles around for fifteen minutes trying to find a parking spot, complaining to herself about how schools oversell parking passes and don’t have enough spaces to accommodate.

She finally finds a spot and heads into the nearest classroom building to find a bathroom.

When Oksana emerges from the stall, she swears she’s seeing a ghost.

It’s not Anna.

It’s definitely not Anna.

But one look at the beautiful mess of curly black hair being combed through in the mirror, and Oksana’s heart nearly stops. She tries to make her way up to the sink like a completely normal person but finds her eyes still transfixed on this Asian woman with amazing hair.

The woman’s hands stop suddenly and turn toward Oksana. She watches intently as the woman’s hands drop from her hair.

She’s beautiful.

“Are you alright?”

The moment is broken, and Oksana suddenly returns to reality, realizes that this poor woman probably thinks that she’s insane.

She bolts for the door, pleading internally that this woman will wear her hair down.

Before she can stop herself, Oksana turns around and tells her so.

“Wear it down.”

The woman gives her a confused look, but her hands remain at her sides as Oksana turns away and hopes that she never sees this woman again.

Thank god the English department isn’t in this building.

The woman is probably a professor, probably thinks Oksana is some creep who just wandered in off the street.

It’s a huge school.

She’ll never see her again.  

Later that evening, Oksana is back home, Irina next to her on the couch scrolling through some social media site, when Oksana decides to google search her advisor.

She’s met him in person before for her interview, met him again earlier this morning, knows his accomplishments, knows he’s sought-after as a literature scholar.

But Oksana’s curious.

She types Nikolas Polastri into the search bar.

She finds a private Facebook page that shows the same picture that shows up on the English department website and not much else. She scrolls further down and finds a website for a local bridge club and finds that Dr. Polastri is a bridge tutor, a national champion in the year 1998.

She switches over to the image search, sees a picture of Niko in a large group of people.

Oksana sees a woman posing next to him in the picture and—

Oh fuck.

Oksana clicks the picture and zooms in, and smiling innocently back at her on her laptop screen is the same woman from the bathroom earlier that afternoon.

Oksana gasps aloud, which earns a confused look from Irina. The girl responds by putting in her earbuds and ignoring Oksana.

She pushes the laptop away from her, sucking in a shaky breath at the realization that based on the way Niko’s arm is slung around the woman, she may very well be his wife.

God, she hopes not.

Or this is going to be a long four years.

Chapter Text

Eve isn’t bored.

She’s excited.

It’s the start of a new semester, a new school year, and she only hates herself a little bit for being excited to not need paper-thin excuses to be out of the house and away from Niko.

Said husband is making an omelet when Eve comes barreling down the stairs and heads for the door.

“Have a good first day of classes,” he calls.

“Thanks, you too,” she replies over her shoulder, fighting with one of her shoes to get it on her foot.  

“Oh, I’m on sabbatical.”

Eve drops the shoe and nearly falls over.

Did she miss something?

Has she really been that disengaged?

Does she even care?

“What?” Eve yells, with just a little too much venom, and Niko rolls his eyes.

“I’m joking. Stop by later if you’re free for lunch. I have a meeting with my new doctoral student but we can go after that.”

She used to find his sense of humor endearing—still does occasionally, but right now, Eve just wants to leave. She wants to go hole up in her office for hours and be in front of her students and share with them the excitement of learning about the human psyche.

She pretends she doesn’t see the omelet already on a plate and clearly waiting for her.

(Eve can barely bring herself to care.)

“Uh, yeah, I’ll see if I can.”

She shuts the door behind her before Niko can say anything, shoes still in her hands and not on her feet.

It’s fine.

She can put them on in the car.

She arrives to the psychology department office in record time and immediately runs into Kenny, who’s already waiting for her outside her office, bouncing his leg nervously.

“Morning, Dr. Polastri.”

“Hi Kenny! I’ll be right with you.”

She reaches for her office key with practiced ease and balances the stacks of paper she’d grabbed from her mailbox in the copy room, swinging the door open and waiting for Kenny to follow her inside.

“Ready for teaching that section of Intro?”

Kenny sighs and takes a seat, now bouncing both his legs.

“I think so. As long as mum doesn’t show up to observe, I think I’ll be good.”

“Don’t count it out,” Eve quips as she sits down across from Kenny at her desk.

“I think you meant that as a joke, but you should know I did not take it as a joke.”

When she looks away from her computer desktop, Kenny’s face has paled, his hands gripping the arms of his chair, his legs bouncing so quickly Eve wonders if he’s going to catapult himself backward into her cabinets.

He’s a nervous one, Kenny is.

But then again, Eve imagines she would be too if she were the child of Carolyn Martens.

“Right. Sorry.”

Kenny just nods, then gulps, and they begin sorting out logistics for their first day, and Kenny’s first day teaching PSY 100.

Eve’s first class of the day is her favorite, her child, the one she’s figuratively (and literally) written the book on.

PSY 475: Psychopathology has been Eve’s passion project since she started here five years ago, had been creating the syllabus on her own time and was finally able to bring it to an institution that gave her more freedom in curriculum building.

The results have been astounding, even Dr. Martens would admit.

The class fills up within hours when registration opens, and Carolyn has asked her if in coming semesters, she would be willing to teach multiple sections (the answer of course is a resounding—but not too resounding, Carolyn can’t think she’s desperate—yes).

It’s a medium-sized class, about 40 students, open to juniors and seniors with psych majors or minors.

Eve tries to ignore the way they fawn over her—Eve swears that these students are going to end up giving her a god complex with the way they rave about her, and particularly this class. She’s never loved a job more.

In the small lecture hall, the class only takes up the front half of the space. It creates a grand yet intimate vibe, and Eve feels like she’s on a stage as she rolls through the policies and procedures piece of the syllabus before excitedly discussing the different sections of the course, the assignments, the content.

(Hugo is of course sitting front and center, drinking it all in.)

The rest of the students do too.

She’s missed this. Eve has tried teaching summer classes, but for some reason, it’s just not the same atmosphere. There’s something particularly exciting about the fall semester—the new beginnings, the traditional start to the year, to so many students’ journeys.

There’s something about it that’s electric, and Eve loves it.

Hugo approaches her after class to briefly discuss his getting a start on work in the lab, and Eve finds that she can’t remember the last time she was in such a good mood going to see Niko.

(She ignores the part where it actually has nothing to do with Niko.)

Eve steps outside and begins her walk across campus to the hall that holds the English department offices. Everything is still warm and bright in the summer air, and Eve thinks about how in just a few weeks, the leaves will turn and a chill will blow through the air.

She can’t wait. Eve loves autumn—just like the beginning of the semester and its excitement, she finds the season to be significant of the start of something new.

That’s what spring is for, Niko had argued once when she explained it.

And maybe that was true.

But for Eve, the real newness and excitement begins when its decided that a change should be made.

Autumn is change. Ever-evolving—bursting so quickly with changes of color and temperature and transitions to all things pumpkin.

It’s like winter happens because the earth needs time to process all the change that just occurred.

But for now, it’s still extremely humid, and Eve’s thick hair cascades all around and sticks to the back of her neck. As she walks, she reaches for it, placing her hands underneath the layers and fluffing it away from her skin.

Are you alright?

Wear it down.

The simple action reminds her of the strange encounter from yesterday.

Who was she?

Was she a student? A young professor? Just someone off the street walking around and needing a bathroom?

It was the only the excitement of the start of the semester that was strong enough to push the woman out of Eve’s mind the previous evening, and now, it doesn’t seem like enough.

The way she’d stared at Eve—it was like she was seeing a ghost.

Was she? Did this anonymous woman show up on campus to hunt ghosts? Was she practicing scenes to be part of the next Ghostbusters revival?

Did she recognize Eve from a conference? From a textbook?

Or maybe Eve just reminded her of someone that she knew. Or used to know.

It’s only when Eve realizes she’s walked past Niko’s building and has to turn around that she decides she should probably stop thinking about this random woman she’ll never see again.

(But Eve swears she sees someone with the same honey-colored hair disappear into a classroom building as she turns around.)

She puts her hair up.

 

xx

 

Irina is dropped off at school after a screaming match about control over the radio.

Irina wants to listen to the Jonas Brothers.

Oksana will never admit that she’s unironically started to like them.

Sucker is catchy, Oksana! It’s my pump-up jam.

Irina will never know that that exact song plays through her headphones as Oksana strides across the unfamiliar campus.

Besides, she desperately needs something else to focus on as she heads toward Dr. Niko Polastri’s office and thinks about how she basically made a pass at his likely-wife in the bathroom of White Hall.

She heads to the tower that houses many of the university’s department offices and takes the elevator to the 10th floor, then searches for room 1052 once she passes the reception desk with a polite nod.

She can tell the receptionist has no idea who she is, and Oksana rolls her eyes as she goes by.

You’d think she’d have made an impression by now.

She approaches the office to find the door propped open and the man with an incredible moustache staring at emails.

“Dr. Polastri?”

She kind of likes the way it rolls off her tongue with the sound of her voice.

It makes her think of how Anna was always in awe of her love of languages.

She puts a pin in that thought as Niko whirls around in his chair, raises his arms, and greets her cheerfully.

“Oksana! Lovely to see you. Welcome.”

“Thank you. Good to see you again.”

He motions for her to have a seat, and Oksana’s legs nearly give out as she drops into the chair with more force than necessary when she gets a glimpse of a framed picture that looks eerily similar to the one she’d seen online last night.

She’s hallucinating.

That’s what it is.

It has nothing to do with the fact that Oksana is 90% sure the woman she met in the bathroom yesterday—the woman who nearly sent her into cardiac arrest because she reminded her of Anna…the extremely beautiful woman who looks like she could do much better than Niko Polastri… is actually her advisor’s wife.

Lovely.

“How are you enjoying campus so far?” Niko asks.

Oksana shrugs as a start to her answer. When she had moved to the United States with Irina and Konstantin, they had selected this particular area. A mid-sized city with plenty to do but still non-descript enough for her uncle’s suspiciously private government job. Oksana had gone out east for her undergrad, then west for her Master’s.

And then settled right back here with Konstantin and Irina for her doctorate.

It also just so happens that Niko is very well-known for his work.

It’s not her first choice. She’ll admit that.

But after Anna, Konstantin wasn’t too keen on letting her out of his sight again.

“It’s great. Easy to manage.”

God, she hates small talk.

“So your office will be over here, but we’re still waiting for the desk and IT equipment to be delivered. So in the mean time, we’ll have to share my space if that’s alright.”

Niko goes on to explain that he can provide her a schedule of when he plans to be here and coordinate with hers—he can plan to leave and work via laptop, and Oksana is welcome to have the space when he’s not around until everything is set up for her.

“That’s fine.”

(It’s not fine.)

“I actually have to run out to meet my wife for lunch, so the computer is all yours if you need it.”

Oksana nods vacantly, and she’s back in her head thinking about how now she’ll be sitting here trying not to stare at the picture of him and the wife he’s going to meet that Oksana is pretty sure she’s also met.

“I’ll be back in about an hour, and we can talk more then?”

Oksana fakes a smile that must be good enough to appease Niko, as he gathers his things and leaves with a wave.

She peeks out the door and watches him go, then turns and slams the door shut with a roll of her eyes.

Niko is successful. Will help her network and get her where she wants to go professionally.

But god, he’s so nice. So cheerful. It’s annoying.

He’s no Anna, she thinks.

But that’s a good thing.

That was kind of the whole point when she was seeking out advisors for this next stage of schooling.

Oksana stares at her email listlessly for fifteen minutes before shutting it down and walking around campus for an hour until she has class.

It’s too nice out to sit inside anyway.

Konstantin has returned early, she finds out when she leaves the classroom. Irina won’t need to be picked up from school or looked after.

So Oksana finds a bar and tries not to think about women with dark, curly hair.

Oksana stares at the amber-colored bourbon melting the ice in her glass and ignores the young man who slides on to the stool next to her.  

“Hey,” he offers, and rather than rolling her eyes, Oksana downs the rest of the alcohol without acknowledging him.

“Can I buy you another?” he asks, pointing at her empty glass.

At this, Oksana turns toward him, just to shut him up, maybe get him to leave or at least move.

“Only if you’re not expecting this to end in sex. Because you’re really not my type.”

“Wh—”

Oksana points at a blonde woman standing with a group, smiling and laughing.

“She’s more my type. Make the connection.”

Usually, she’ll be left alone after that. But this young man with his cocky smile and floppy brown hair seems undeterred.

Instead, he turns toward the bartender and points between the two of them.

“Another round, please.”

Oksana can’t decide if she wants to wring his neck or if he’s just bored like she is and wants someone to talk to.

She’ll give him two minutes.

“I’m Hugo.”

“Oksana.”

“What brings you here?”

She lifts the new, full glass that the bartender has just handed to her.

“Celebrating the first day of school.”

Hugo raises his glass in response.

“Me too. I’m a psychology major.”

“What year?”

“Junior. You?”

“First year doctoral student. English.”

“You woo the ladies with poetry then?”

“Only when my looks aren’t enough.”

She hates to admit it, but Oksana is actually enjoying Hugo’s company. After being surrounded by overly-excited moustache man and all of the uptight students in her cohort, Hugo’s forwardness and willingness to engage playfully is actually refreshing. He’s the most interesting person she’s spoken to all day.

“And no one uses the word ‘woo’ anymore, don’t say that,” Oksana adds.

Hugo chuckles and takes a sip of his own drink.

“Well maybe I’ll see you around campus sometime?” Hugo asks hopefully.

“It is a big place.”

“Well, stop by the psychology department office sometime.”

“Are you there often?”

“Yeah, I’m hoping to get more involved with a research project about female assassins and psychopathy.”

Honestly, not at all what Oksana was expecting. Based on his demeanor, Oksana expects Hugo to be more into Freudian psychology than anything.

A pleasant surprise, then.  

“Quite the undertaking.”

Hugo nods empathetically.

“Yeah, the professor’s a babe too. Married though.”

Oksana can’t help herself. She laughs at that. He’s ridiculous and charming and honestly? Oksana kind of wants to be his friend.

“Oh, that’s what’s holding you back from being together?”

Hugo blushes at that and turns away from Oksana, muttering into his glass of whiskey.

“Piss off.”

They fall silent for a couple of minutes, and then, because Oksana can’t help but want to share in the joys of beautiful women with Hugo, asks, “What does she look like?”

Hugo holds up a finger as if to say wait while he pulls out his phone and taps a name into a search engine. He seems to waver between a couple of options before pressing to enlarge one of the pictures and passes it to Oksana.

Oh fuck.

To her absolute horror, the brown eyes of the woman from the bathroom are staring back at her with a confident smile plastered on her life.

To make things even worse and confirm all of Oksana’s worst fears, she sees the name that Hugo had searched.

Eve Polastri.

Oksana throws back her drink and scans the area to call the bartender back.

She needs another. And maybe another after that.

Because she’s definitely going to have to interact with her advisor’s very hot wife with hair that reminds her of her ex and who probably thinks Oksana is fucking creepy.

Who is also a psychology professor.

Great. She’s probably analyzed the shit out of Oksana after their odd interaction.

Oksana has been staring at the picture with wide eyes for too long, because Hugo finally takes the phone back and gives a confused look.

“What? You know her?”

“No, just—”

She struggles to recover, but Hugo gives her an easy out.

“Hot, right?”

So hot.

“Not really my type,” Oksana says instead.

Exactly my type.

Hugo laughs and puts his phone away.

“Well, damn, what is your type then?”

She thinks of Anna. She thinks of her ex-girlfriend from undergrad, Nadia. She tries to quickly find a common thread between the two.

She’s got nothing.

“Women,” she answers.

Hugo just shakes his head and laughs again.

Oksana shrugs.

“I don’t date professors,” she says, like it’s the most obvious thing in the world.

Anymore.

“You are so interesting.”

“And you haven’t even unlocked my tragic backstory yet,” Oksana quips.

She almost feels guilty at the intense look of hope and excitement that crosses Hugo’s face.

“And you won’t.”

Hugo pouts at this, and they fall silent again for a few moments.

Oksana asks him where he’s from. Partially because she wants to know. Mostly because she doesn’t want to think about Niko’s wife. About Eve.

They end up making it through one more glass each before Oksana realizes they’ve been talking for almost two hours and signals the bartender to close her tab.

“We should really do this again sometime, Oksana.”

Oksana smiles and hands Hugo her phone with the New Contact screen pulled up.

Even though her family has lived here for almost seven years, Oksana is technically new in town.

She doesn’t want to be lonely.

And Hugo certainly isn’t boring.

“Can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m really glad this didn’t end with sex.”

Oksana rolls her eyes as they exit the bar.

“You never had a chance.”

He smirks and starts walking in the opposite direction.

“See you around campus,” he calls over his shoulder.  

Oksana walks briskly to Niko’s office to use the space before she heads to class to find the door of 1052 already open.

She carefully peeks into the open door and fails to suppress the immediate gasp.

The woman turns at the sound before Oksana can clap her hands over her mouth to stop it.

Her heart skips a beat because sitting there at Niko’s desktop with a shocked look on her face (that Oksana is positive she is mirroring) is the woman from the bathroom.

Niko’s wife.

The hot psych professor Hugo from the bar wants to fuck.

Eve.

“Hi,” she offers timidly.

Eve opens her mouth and closes it a few times, pointing a finger at Oksana like she’s still trying to place her. Like she’s trying to be sure to know where to place her.

“You—"

“I see you didn’t take my advice.”

Eve’s hair is up in a ponytail, and Oksana figures the only way out is through.

She’s relied on her charm plenty in her life. Surely it can somehow work now.

Eve just stares at her with an open mouth. Oksana shifts uncomfortably and tries again.

“Uh, I’m looking for Dr. Polastri.”

Eve furrows her brows and just stares at her blankly.

“I’m Dr. Polastri.”

“Really? Yesterday you had an excellent moustache.”

Oksana immediately finds it interesting that as this woman sits at her husband’s desk, she seems to have completely forgotten his existence.

A look of realization dawns on Eve’s face when Oksana mentions the moustache.

“Oh! You’re looking for my husband, Nik—"

“Yes, that’s why I’m in his office,” Oksana finishes, now growing impatient.

She can’t decide if she wants Eve to stay or go.

She knows for certain that she is extremely uncomfortable.

“I’m his new PhD student,” she clarifies.

Eve again seems to have a sudden realization, like even now that she has remembered Niko’s existence, she’s just now remembering the details of his life. And the fact that she’s in his office. Eve rises and reaches out a hand for Oksana to shake.

She’s clearly flustered.

And so is Oksana.

Oksana just hopes she’s hiding it better.

“Oh! Hi. I’m Eve. The other Dr. Polastri.”

“Oksana.”

Oksana gently takes her hand and suddenly remembers why the useless lesbian stereotype exists because Eve’s hands are really soft, and Oksana is still thinking about the awkward encounter in the bathroom.

“Nice to officially meet you.”

Oksana can’t decide if Eve is saying that in acknowledgement of their brief encounter or because Niko has probably mentioned the fact that he’s working with a doctoral student.

She wonders briefly if she should go so far as apologizing for the incident in the bathroom.

Sorry if I came off as creepy. Hope you didn’t psychoanalyze me too much. If you’ve already started, you should know my parents are dead, and I have a complicated history with authority figures. Thanks!

But she also hopes that Eve just doesn’t remember.

Oksana just nods instead.

“It’s hot,” Eve says suddenly.

Oksana nearly chokes on air because without context, what the fuck does that mean?

“What?” Oksana manages to ask in something resembling a normal tone.

Eve gets that flustered look again.

“Outside. It’s hot outside.”

Eve must realize that she still has explained absolutely nothing as Oksana continues to look at her with a mix of what must be registering to Eve as panic and confusion.

“Thick hair,” Eve clarifies finally.

“That’s why I wear it up.”

Somehow, that’s even worse. Because now Eve is definitely acknowledging the fact that they’ve met before, which means she recognizes Oksana and probably thinks she’s fucking weird, and wow, this really is going to be a long four years.

“Oh, I—”

Oksana begins to say… something, she’s not even quite sure what, when her honest-to-god knight in full moustache shows up to interrupt the moment.

“Eve? Two days in a row you’ve deigned to make time for lunch with me. Must be a record.”

Oksana doesn’t miss the biting sarcasm in Niko’s voice and wonders if maybe Hugo has a better chance of fucking his professor than he realizes.

Niko notices Oksana and immediately schools himself back into cheerful, nice Niko.  

“Eve! I see you’ve met Oksana.”

It’s odd.

It’s so odd.

“Yes!” Eve responds, not missing a beat.

“And it sounds like you two have a meeting, so I’ll just… see you later.”

Niko seems disappointed, upset. But he also seems to remember that Oksana is still watching and hearing everything.

“Oh, okay.”

Eve quickly logs out of the computer and brushes by the both of them, calling a goodbye over her shoulder.

“I’ll see you later.”

Oksana watches her leave, clearly flustered again, and she knows that curiosity is going to absolutely kill her when it comes to Niko and Eve Polastri.

She can barely bring herself to care.

Chapter Text

Over the past couple of weeks, Oksana finds that in her dreams, Anna’s face is starting to be replaced by another.

She throws herself into her school-work, makes menial small-talk with Niko as necessary, and does shots with Hugo until she forgets.

She’s maybe spent a total of ten minutes with Eve Polastri, but based on the short interactions, the time in proximity to the man who’s her husband, and Hugo’s comments about how he “would let Dr. Polastri peg him,” Oksana feels like she can’t escape her.

She’s particularly curious about the tense phone calls she occasionally overhears between Eve and Niko when Oksana is in his office.

A few things have become clear in the three weeks since she’s met Eve Polastri:

   1) She and Niko’s marriage is in shambles.

   2) She’s really fucking good at her job.

   3) Eve is universally loved at the university and seems to have a similar gravitational pull on others in her orbit as the one Oksana feels.

She hates it.

Because when she thinks of Eve, she inevitably thinks of Anna.

The converse is true too.

When she thinks of Anna, she thinks of Eve.

Oksana is pretty sure that their similarities almost start and end with the hair. She imagines that they both have the same charisma that Oksana loved about Anna.

But even from what she’s gathered about Eve from others, Oksana thinks she’s different.

Or maybe just hopes she’s different.

Oksana stumbles down the stairs, mouth dry and body shivering with a hangover, to see Konstantin waiting for her with a bottle of expensive whiskey.

“I’m worried about you, you know.”

Oksana brushes it off.

“Why? I am amazing.”

Oksana takes a seat at the kitchen counter across from him as he leans against the countertop and stares at an empty glass in front of him.

“New school. New program. You sure you’re ready for this? After everything?”

Oksana bristles. He’s been gone so much that they haven’t had the chance to have this conversation yet, something for which she’s been glad.

Something she’s been avoiding.

But of course, in true Konstantin fashion, he catches her when she’s weak.

“I am fine. You have nothing to worry about with my new advisor.”

It’s true. He doesn’t.

She’s not going to mention the part about her sudden fixation with his wife, though.

(It’ll pass.)

“Oh?” he presses.

“Well first of all, he’s a man. Second, he’s married.”

Konstantin sighs and folds his hands together.

“I still think its too early to be sure.”

Oksana’s head begins to hurt, a combination of the dehydration and Konstantin’s pressing into this dreaded topic, so she rises and heads for a cabinet where she knows the medicine is kept and grabs for the extra-strength Tylenol.

“So what are you saying?”

He looks away from her before responding sincerely, “I think you should, uh… be evaluated.”

Oksana drops a handful of pills onto the counter when he says it, cursing under her breath.

Oksana remembers the intensive therapy that Konstantin demanded she go through after Anna all too well. The same therapist who suggested she take a year off from school to get her head straight, to take a step back.

(Which she had complied with.)

(It was awful.)

“It’s been almost a year.”

In reality, Oksana knows it’s been helpful, having the space to process through everything. Or at least start to.

(That’s the problem. She knows she’s not done with it yet.)

She doesn’t want to go back.

“Oksana—"

“I’m not going back to therapy.”

She again thinks about Anna, about Eve.

How she and Anna’s relationship began out of necessity—she was her Master’s advisor after all. About how the extra time, the extra attention, the extra love came from a place of feeling sorry for Oksana. A place of pity.

Oksana knows she can be persuasive, charming. It’s how she got Anna in the first place.

But Anna had no shortage of a manipulative streak.

It’s probably what made everything so intense, so electric.

And ultimately, so toxic.

Oksana doesn’t think Eve would be the same way.

“I am making an appointment. I will tell you when. You remember the address?”

Oksana realizes she’s probably been staring off vacantly for too long, that Konstantin realizes she’s thinking about Anna.

And when Oksana notices her thoughts are drifting to a hypothetical relationship with a women she’s heard more about from others than actually spent in-person time with, she wonders for a split second if therapy might be a smart choice.

“Ultimately, it is up to you whether or not you go.”

But it’s fine.

Thinking about Eve will pass. She’s just the new, shiny object that’s exciting right now. It’ll go away.

She hopes.

“I understand.”

Konstantin goes to grab another glass from the cabinet.

“Now, come and join me for a proper glass of whiskey?”

Her stomach rolls at the scent when he opens the bottle.

“It’s noon.”

He shrugs.

“At the end of the day, we have so much to celebrate, don’t we?”

“I’m hungover.”

He gives Oksana a disapproving look before only pouring half the amount he’s poured himself into her glass.

He pushes it toward her, and she just groans.

“So tell me about this new advisor.”

Oksana has half a mind to tell him that if he wants to talk about this, then there’s no use in her going to therapy where she’ll just have to explain it all again.

“He’s married,” she says again, hoping he’ll drop it.

“You mentioned that.”

He stares at her as he takes a long sip.

“That also hasn’t stopped you before.”

Oksana knows he’s needling her, trying to get her to snap, trying to wake her up to the fact that she’s not as okay as she’s letting on.

Oksana knows she’s probably not okay.

She’s just not going to tell Konstantin.

“I don’t date men,” she adds.

She pushes the glass away from her and makes to get up from the stool she sits on.

“If this is just going to turn into your own version of therapy, you can have my glass too.”

He laughs and throws up his arms in mock surrender.

“I am just trying to make conversation.”

Oksana sighs and sits back down, changing the subject.

“Where is Irina?”

“Out with friends. She’ll be back later. Besides, I wanted to spend time with my other daughter.”

Oksana tries to hide a smirk and fails, so she just rolls her eyes instead.

“Shut up.”

“How was your first week?”

“Good. Campus is easy to navigate. Classes are fine so far. I’ve met a couple of people.”

Konstantin shoots her a curious look.

“Not like that. Can you please stop relating everything back to your intense worry about my interpersonal relationships?”

He eyes Oksana’s untouched glass and shrugs as he grabs it for himself.

“What kind of people?”

Oksana shrugs and thinks of Hugo, his brash demeanor, outrageous sense of humor, and willingness to keep Oksana company over the past few weeks. She thinks of her classmates, none of them too exciting and all seemingly devoid of personalities from what she’s seen in class so far. From what Oksana has seen, they’re good for small talk and not much else. She thinks of the professors she’s met in her department—mostly Niko and some woman who follows him around named Gemma. (It’s really quite tragic to see how painfully she pines for Niko, she’s noted, and Oksana wonders if the grumpy man with a moustache even notices.)

“Just from classes or other departments.”

She debates adding Eve into the conversation, despite the woman being the first Oksana thought of.

But maybe honesty now is the best policy with Konstantin.

(Not that anything in the future would happen that Oksana would need to worry about being up front now, of course.)

“And Dr. Polastri’s wife. She’s a professor of psychology,” she adds casually.

Konstantin hums thoughtfully.

“I have heard of her. Carolyn Martens is the department chair, yes?”

Oksana suddenly wishes she had the glass of whiskey back.

How does he know that?

How does he know of Eve?

“And how do you know this?”

“Psychopathy inevitably comes up in government work.”

She knows Konstantin won’t elaborate if she asks. All she knows about her uncle’s job is that he works for “the government”—he’s never even disclosed how high: municipal, state, federal.

She can easily guess federal with how much he travels to DC and other places. But he always keeps his locations private, never brings back souvenirs even when Irina begs.

It’s odd. It’s more than odd, Oksana knows. And Irina does too.

But on the other hand, she kind of prefers the secrecy. Prefers that it doesn’t interfere with the picture of her uncle, her father-figure, that she’s created in her head.

Maybe its better that way.

“I’ve met Carolyn in passing. Met Dr. Polastri once. Eve, right?”

Oksana just nods in reply and has a feeling he’s not done yet.

“Yes, I believe that was her name,” she adds casually, not at all giving away the fact that yes, she definitely knows who Eve is and probably scared her in a public bathroom.

Konstantin chuckles and adds, “Has dark, curly hair too, no?”

Oksana doesn’t meet his eyes, just rises from the table and heads to the toilet as she hears him laughing and calling, “Better be careful!”

When she spends the next fifteen minutes throwing up, she can’t decide how much of it is from drinking with Hugo and how much of it is from the fact that her uncle has definitely got her number.

Maybe therapy wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

 

xx

 

Eve is curious about Oksana.

In fact, she’s one of the few topics of conversation she can stomach with Niko these days. He tells her about how mysterious she is, with a biting, witty sense of humor, how he’s seen previous poetry works of hers and how he honestly doesn’t understand why she isn’t at a larger institution (not that Niko is chopped liver, he always adds).

He talks about how she seems polite, with an extraordinary work ethic, how she’s secretive about the gap year she took in between her Master’s and starting her PhD.

She sounds brilliant.

But all Eve can think about when Niko brings her up is how she made herself look like an absolute fool the last time they spoke.

It’s hot.

Oksana had looked at her like she was insane in the brief moment before Eve clarified that she was talking about the weather.

Eve wonders if she imagined the sharp intake of breath and the way Oksana’s voice cracked when she asked, “What?”

And she still thinks about the first time they met, when Oksana’s face paled at the sight of Eve.

She just wants to know… everything.

Eve just chalks it up for her job as a psychologist: she wants to know about people, how they function, what makes them tick.

Oksana Astankova is just an experiment.

(Immediately, Eve sees Bill’s face, the one that would shoot her a knowing look and question the use of the word experiment for that situation.)

Maybe you should experiment with women, he’d joke.

And then Eve would throw a book at his head.

Eve is rudely brought back into the present by the sound of Elena’s voice. Elena had started in the department last year with a deep love of social psychology and massive hero worship for Dr. Martens. She’s quickly become one of Eve’s favorite people with her passion for their work and ability to make any business trip or conference more exciting with drinking games.

“Did Dr. Martens just ask you to lunch?”

And honestly, Eve’s been so lost in her head for the past ten minutes, she completely forgot that right before that, Dr. Martens had invited her to lunch in—she looks down at her watch and her eyes widen—15 minutes.

“Yeah,” Eve replies, quickly rising from her desk and gathering her belongings.  

“Please find a way to bring me up in conversation,” Elena calls, following Eve out her door.

“What?”

Elena shrugs, like it’s the most obvious thing in the world that Eve should be willing to do this favor for her.

“Well, I need something positive to distract her in case she ever finds out that her son and I made out at the holiday party last year.”

The mental image of her grad student and—okay. Wow.

That’s all kinds of unprofessional.

And totally worse than Eve randomly thinking about her husband’s grad student.

(Eve relaxes knowing she has some sort of moral high ground.)

And when jumps back to the present moment—where Elena has just revealed that she made out with Kenny.

“You what?”

“Keep it down!” Elena stage whispers.

Eve just stares at her with an open mouth and wide eyes.

“You kissed Kenny?”

Sweet, innocent Kenny?

“It was almost a year ago now, and we’ve sworn never to talk about it again.”

Elena looks off fondly and hums, like she’s remembering it.

Oh god, please don’t—

“You know, you’d never expect him to be aggressive like that but—"

“So why are we still talking about this?” Eve interrupts.

Elena shrugs innocently and makes a motion of zipping her lips, continuing to walk with Eve out of the department office.

“So did Carolyn say what she wanted to have lunch about?”

“No. Just to meet her in ten minutes from now.”

Eve runs halfway to the restaurant down the street, power-walking the last stretch trying to catch her breath and make sure she’s not sweating too much upon arrival.

Carolyn is already seated at a table, AirPods in and transfixed by something on her laptop, when Eve approaches.

Carolyn closes and deposits her laptop in her bag, along with the earbuds.

“Do you know why I didn’t invite you for breakfast, Eve?”

Eve isn’t really sure what to say to that.

“I can’t stand breakfast. It’s just constant eggs. Why? Who decided?”

Again, Eve really isn’t sure what to say to that.

“I—"

“How’s Niko?”

Carolyn Martens is one of the most respected professionals in their field.

But god damn if she isn’t fucking weird sometimes.

“Niko’s…good. Good. Nice.”

It’s a terrible answer, Eve knows. One that Carolyn will probably jump all over.

Who describes their husband as nice?

Sure enough, Carolyn smells the unconvincing answer from a mile away.

“Oh dear,” she replies.

“What?”

“You don’t sound particularly enthralled with the topic.”

Eve can’t help but get defensive at the way her boss says it. She swears if this is just some convoluted way of Carolyn getting Eve to talk about her problems for some unbeknownst reason—

“Is that why you asked me to lunch? To talk about my marriage?”

Carolyn smirks and takes a sip of her gin and tonic, clearly pleasantly surprised by the reaction it’s caused.

“No, but we can if you’d like. I’d do pro bono work for a colleague.”

Eve sighs heavily and shakes her head, grabbing the menu and looking away from Carolyn.

“Oh, Eve, just jokes.”

Eve fights the urge to roll her eyes. She doesn’t need Carolyn Martens telling her that her marriage is falling apart, and that she’s realizing she has little interest in saving it.

She’s tried with little things, like making more of an effort to see Niko on her lunch hour, more exciting sex.

But the excitement and rush of endorphins that come from the beginning of a new semester and thus, her ability to transfer that energy to pretending things are wonderful with Niko are starting to fade.

Eve forgets about Niko entirely when Carolyn reveals the reason she’s asked her to lunch.

“I asked you here because your research has come to the attention of the federal government.”

Eve feels a lot of things all at once.

First, she feels fear that Carolyn is just joking.

Then, she feels grateful that she’s only holding the menu and not her glass of water or something more breakable, as the menu falls from her hands and bounces off the table and onto the floor.

Then, she feels excitement. Sheer exhilaration.

The federal government?

Then, she worries she heard wrong.

Eve isn’t quite sure how she’s even able to form coherent words, but she somehow does it.

“I’m sorry, did you say the federal government?”

Carolyn nods and chuckles, reaching to bring her laptop back out.

“The very one.”

Okay.

So she did not hear incorrectly.

And then, Eve has so many questions.

They all start to flood out at once.

“What—why? How?”

“They’re quite interested in your work on assassins. A man by the name of Konstantin Vasiliev reached out to me.”

Carolyn does some typing on her laptop before turning the screen toward Eve to show her a picture of a stocky white-haired man in a large black jacket smiling back at her.

He looks vaguely familiar, and Eve can’t place him.

“Have I met him before?”

She looks at the name next to his picture.

Vasiliev… Vasiliev…

She still can’t place him.

“You may remember him from the APA conference last year,” Eve supplies.

It jogs her memory, and she remembers a brief conversation with the man after Carolyn had brought him to Eve after a presentation about personality disorders and assassins.

She distinctly remembers him being impressed with her work, but then he had disappeared into the crowd before she could so much as get a business card or ask about his line of work.

“What was a government official doing at a psychology conference?”

“I guess now we know.”

She’s not entirely sure what Carolyn is implying, but she supposes it has something to do with the fact that this man must work pretty covertly in some government work involving assassins.

Her next thought is that Niko is going to be pissed that Eve is getting this opportunity.

The one after that is back to wondering what this Konstantin wants from them.

“So, like, what does he want?”

Carolyn shrugs and guesses aloud.

“Information, consultation, sex maybe.”

Eve pulls a face at her final suggestion, and Carolyn adds casually that she finds Mr. Vasiliev quite sexy.

Which is something she never needed to hear from her boss.

“I’m not entirely sure yet. He says he would like to meet.”

“With me?”

Carolyn nods and pulls out a pen.

“Yes. I can give you the address if you’d like?”

Carolyn begins writing before Eve can even answer and is handing her the address to…somewhere before Eve can even reply.

“Of course,” Eve replies once the piece of paper is in her hand, an address that she recognizes as somewhere on the other end of town in an affluent neighborhood.

Carolyn informs Eve that she’ll tell Konstantin that she and Eve will meet him tomorrow afternoon, and between the overwhelming excitement of the opportunity, the nerves that are coming from an upcoming meeting with an enigmatic government official, and the complete disregard she has for Niko, who’ll inevitably try to talk her out of something that could potentially be dangerous—

Eve has a feeling she won’t be bored for awhile.

Chapter Text

Eve types the address Carolyn has given her into her phone GPS and heads out on the 20 minute drive across town. It’s about ten minutes in that she realizes she’s headed toward the rich, affluent part of the city and nearly screams when she parks on the street in front of the large white house with pillars out front, surrounded by similarly expensive houses.

“Holy shit.”

But she’s really not surprised. Of course Konstantin would have a fancy house.

She barely knows him, but it seems to suit him somehow.

As she gathers her bag and reaches for the driver’s side door, she thinks about how she had told Niko the day before about her meeting with Carolyn, how visibly jealous he had been.

You sure he just doesn’t want to sleep with you? he’d said in a tone that was trying to be joking.

But failing miserably.

It really is the beginning of the end, she thinks.

Probably not even the beginning.

They’re somewhere in the middle of the end, to the point where Eve thinks she should probably be looking into divorce lawyers.

Maybe she’ll ask Carolyn, she thinks. She knows she’s been married three times.

Eve realizes that in her thoughts, she’s autopiloted herself to the front door and is reaching for the doorbell.

She pushes through the sudden anxiety that bubbles up and presses it anyway, to the tune of some elegant tone because of course it is.

Eve hears voices inside and then the sound of feet quickly thumping against the floor, getting closer.

And then the door opens.

And in front of Eve is definitely not Konstantin.

Instead, in joggers and a very tight tank-top is Oksana.

Oksana who she hasn’t seen in three weeks since she met her in Niko’s office.

Oksana who’s been intrusively creeping into her mind every now and then.

Oksana who looks ridiculously good in such casual attire, and Eve chalks that thought up to the fact that she’s just envious of how effortless her beauty is.

And nothing else.

Oksana is staring back at her with an amused smile, and Eve prays to whatever is out there that it’s not because she’s been standing at the door for thirty seconds without saying something.

Right.

She should say something.

“I—Oksana?”

And really, Eve is frustrated. Because in all three of their meetings thus far, it’s been like something out of a goddamn meet-cute in a romantic comedy.

And that feels significant somehow.

Eve likes to attach meanings to things, makes a whole career of it.

She hasn’t quite made meaning of that yet.

She notices Oksana shift on her feet in a way that presents as uncomfortable but quickly recovers.

“You know, if you want to get to know me, take me out for a drink. You don’t have to show up at my house like a stalker.”

And Eve’s heart is pounding as she tries not to think about how her odd meetings with Oksana have been one of the most exciting things to happen to her in months.

Especially considering she’s literally about to have a meeting with a government official.

Right.

Where is Konstantin?

“I—I’m—"

And Eve struggles to get the words out, Oksana clearly amused and smirking at Eve’s discomfort.

“I’m—here to meet someone? Maybe Carolyn gave me the wrong address.”

Eve adjusts the bag strap digging into her shoulder and makes a move to back up on the doorstep when Oksana takes a step forward into the threshold of the door.

“Who are you here to see?”

“A Konstantin? Vasiliev?”

Oksana full on laughs now.

Eve doesn’t get the joke.

“That would be my uncle.”

Oh fuck.

Eve wonders if now that she’s met Oksana that they’re going to be somehow cosmically linked forever.

It’s starting to feel like it.

And then she can’t help but wonder why Oksana is here in the first place.

Does she live with Konstantin? Is she just visiting? Is this where she lives during the school year?

“Oh.”

She’s not really sure what else to say.

Oksana seems to pick up on that, and the vibrant, confident energy she’s been exuding seems to dampen just a little.

“Yes. He’s just upstairs. He will be down in a minute.”

Oksana holds the door open and ushers Eve inside, leading her through the foyer and into an elaborate, open space split between a pristine kitchen and well-decorated living room.

It’s all white or shades of muted gray or beige, with little accents of color tastefully sprouting around the space.

It’s gorgeous and extravagant and chic as shit.

“You have a lovely home,” Eve comments as Oksana leads her to the kitchen.

“I guess my uncle’s secretive job pays well.”

Eve takes a seat at the kitchen counter on a barstool that she thinks probably costs more than what she makes in a week.

“Hell, you might know more about it than I do.”

Oksana rummages through cabinets looking for something as they continue to talk. Her tank top rides up just the smallest bit, and Eve thinks she should really feel more ashamed for looking at the skin that’s revealed.

“What’s your meeting about?”

“Well, if he’s that withholding with family, I’m not really sure I should say.”

Oksana glares at her, but there’s no malice behind it.

She likes this.

From the little bit of time she’s spent with her, Eve thinks Oksana is the kind she could banter with for hours.

Oksana finally settles on grabbing a champagne flute and filling it only with orange juice.

Something about it fascinates Eve. Everything about Oksana seems interesting.

“Are your classes going well?”

Oksana strides around the barrier between them and takes a seat at the stool next to Eve.

She realizes it’s the closest they’ve ever been to each other, and Eve can smell her perfume.

She smells really good.

Jesus, is Konstantin coming down or not?

Was this all just somehow an elaborate ruse for Oksana to spend more time with Eve?

She honestly wouldn’t put it past her.

“They are. Your husband has been very helpful these first several weeks.”

Eve wonders if she imagines the disdain Oksana seems to stress on the word “husband.”

“Good.”

Eve continues.

“He talks about you a lot. All good things.”

And it’s true. Oksana seems to be one of the only surefire points of conversation for Niko and Eve that doesn’t devolve into passive-aggression or yelling.

Oksana smirks.

“Well, make sure to let Konstantin know I’m being a model student.”

Eve watches Oksana focus on her orange juice champagne flute and wonders what she’s thinking about.

Oksana catches Eve watching her just as she hears the sound of footsteps on the stairwell.

Konstantin rounds the corner as he greets Eve in a boisterous voice.

“Dr. Polastri! So wonderful to see you again. Welcome to our home.”

He greets her with a firm handshake and a gentle squeeze on her shoulder.

“Thank you for having me, Mr. Vasiliev.”

Konstantin peers around Eve to Oksana, who holds her glass up in a mock toast.

“I see you’ve met my daughter, Oksana.”

Eve hopes he doesn’t catch the briefly confused look on her face because she definitely remembers Oksana telling her that Konstantin is her uncle, but she files that away to ask later.

“Yes, my husband is her doctoral advisor.”

“Ah, so I’ve heard.”

Konstantin rounds the counter and begins looking for glasses in the same cabinet Oksana had just a few minutes prior.

“Oksana, how about you take Irina out for the afternoon? I thought this might be an in-house meeting.”

Oksana drains the rest of her orange juice and grumbles as she places the glass in the sink.

“Fine.”

Eve watches as she goes upstairs and wonders who Irina is.

Konstantin offers Eve some water and gestures for her to move to the large kitchen table behind them.

Eve hopes that Konstantin is the small talk type as she asks what she’s been fixating on for the past two minutes.

“So Oksana mentioned that you’re her uncle, but I heard you call her your daughter?”

Konstantin chuckles and wags a finger at her.

“Observant one you are.”

Eve takes a sip of her water as she smiles.

“Occupational hazard, I’m afraid.”

Konstantin looks her in the eyes as he mirrors Eve’s motion and makes a point to set down his glass at nearly the same time as Eve.

He sighs and leans back in the chair.

“Oksana’s parents died when she was young. Her mother and I, being siblings, were always very close growing up. I felt quite a kinship with Oksana. It only made sense for me to take her in.”

It makes Eve more curious. She knows from Niko that Oksana was born and grew up for awhile in Russia but nothing about her family. She wonders what happened to her parents.

“And Irina?” Eve asks instead.

Konstantin smiles.

“My biological daughter.”

Konstantin chuckles and shakes his head, a wistful look on his face.

“They’re a handful, those two.”

Eve smiles at the fact that this mysterious government official (who’s probably killed people or had them killed, Eve realizes) is made softer by these two girls.

“Do you have children, Eve?”

Eve shakes her head.

“Oh, no. With both Niko and I working university jobs, we just never made it a priority.”

And they didn’t. At least, Eve didn’t. Niko had asked, and Eve was never willing to take the time off.

“Well, you have quite the resume to show for it.”

Eve nods. She does have that, and a marriage that’s falling apart.

Sometimes she almost questions if it was worth it.

Until she remembers at the end of the day, she has plenty of support from her coworkers.

(Especially when Bill was still around.)

“Thank you.”

They pause in their conversation as they see Oksana coming down the stairs with a shorter, red-headed child in tow.

Must be Irina.

The child runs to her father and wordlessly hugs him as Oksana waits at the door impatiently.

Eve catches Oksana’s eye, and Eve wonders how she manages to look equally as good in pajamas and in the outfit she wears now.

It’s annoying.

The two head out the door but not before Oksana makes a point to catch Eve’s eye and wave.

She knows it doesn’t go unnoticed by Konstantin.

With the two gone, they’re able to resume business.

“So I suppose you’re wondering what exactly I need your help with.”

Eve nods, ready to think about work and not about Konstantin’s niece slash daughter.

He opens his laptop and begins typing.

“I have been tasked with tracking down a mysterious group of assassins in Russia and feel that your understanding of psychopaths and female assassins could be useful in a consulting role.”

Consulting. With the government. On an international project.

Eve hates that the first thing she thinks of is how Niko is going to try and talk her out of it.

But she can’t bring herself to care.

She’s doing it.

“Do you have reason to believe the assassins you’re looking for are female?”

“There is one in particular we’ve nicknamed The Ghost. Known for extremely subtle, almost undetectable kills.”

“As in she’s able to make the deaths look natural?”

“Precisely. We’ve seen a woman of similar stature on CCTV cameras of multiple sites where high-profile murders have taken place for the past several months.”

Konstantin pulls up several pictures of blurry images of a woman in different outfits, of the victims and their information, page after page of information.

She has to physically restrain herself from calling it “cool” out loud.

“Any other information on her?”

The Ghost.

Eve’s already thinking of the article titles she could come up with down the road after this is all over with.

Konstantin shrugs.

“Not much. Hence the nickname.”

Eve nods slowly, trying not to let on that she’s ready to basically sign her life away to this project if she has to. Tries to fake that she needs more answers.

“So where exactly do I fit in?”

Konstantin sighs and gestures at the screen.

“Well, we haven’t been able to catch her. It’s been months. Our hope is that your expertise can provide us with a unique insight into tracking her down.”

Eve just smiles.

“Are you interested?”

Fuck yeah, I am.

She wonders if she’ll get to travel.

She wonders if she’ll get clearance into secretive government buildings.

She wonders if she’ll meet The Ghost herself.

Eve ignores that she may be engaging in a bit of magical thinking.

She wonders if this means she’ll see more of Oksana.

“Yes.”

Konstantin smiles and shakes her hand. He closes his laptop and makes to rise from the table.

“Wonderful. We will be in touch.”

Eve rises along with him and follows him to the door.

“Thank you for the opportunity.”

He shakes her hand and nods as they reach the foyer.

“We will set up another meeting with you, me, and Carolyn soon.”

She thinks how jealous Elena will be until she remembers that she definitely can’t tell anyone about the exact nature of what she’s doing.

Eve is about to shut the door behind her when Konstantin calls out to her.

“And Eve?”

She turns.

“Yes?”

“Be careful.”

Eve’s heart skips a beat.

Has she just put a target on her back?

Is this a warning?

“I’m sorry?”

“With Oksana,” he clarifies.

What?

“You’re her type.”

Konstantin presses the door closed in Eve’s face, and Eve is left to stand there with a whole lot more questions than answers.

 

xx

 

Oksana white-knuckles the steering wheel as Irina scans the radio for music.

Her stomach is still in knots because despite her (hopefully) calm exterior…

Did she really just imply to Eve that she should ask her out for a drink?

They’ve literally spent maybe a total of fifteen minutes together in the month they’ve known each other.

But Oksana still thinks about her all the time.

It’s already bad enough that they’re connected through Niko.

Now she’s working with her uncle.

Which is a whole other thing she hasn’t even begun to process.

Thankfully, Irina’s voice pushes her out of her head.

“What’s wrong with you?”

And then right back in.

“Hmm? Nothing,” Oksana lies.

Oksana turns to face Irina once they approach a stoplight and shrugs in further response.

“Who was that lady Dad was talking to? Do you know her?”

Oksana isn’t even sure how to answer that.

Kind of?

She wants to?

“No.”

“Liar.”

Oksana presses the gas a little too hard, and it throws Irina back in her seat.

The younger girl just glares at her.

“She is a professor at the university.”

Irina settles on a station as “One Way or Another” plays in the background.

“What was she talking to Dad for?”

“That I honestly do not know.”

Oksana wonders, tries to make the connections.

Eve works in psychology.

With assassins.

Her uncle works for the government.

At this point, she can safely assume the federal government.

So apparently he’s running around with assassins.

And Eve may be too.

Oksana is ready to unpack the implications of that.

“So how do you know her?”

I hit on her in a campus bathroom and am now unable to focus my attention on any other woman, apparently.

“She is married to the professor I work with.”

Irina hums thoughtfully, and Oksana fears for what comes next.

Irina is only 14, but she’s smart.

She’ll figure it out.

“We’ve only met a couple times,” Oksana adds, as if that helps anything.

And then Irina has to go and say it.

“She looks like Anna.”

Oksana goes quiet for several seconds and wonders if she should pretend she didn’t hear Irina, make something up about how she’s too focused on the road.

Part of her thinks to say “I know,” but Oksana knows that isn’t true either.

“Eve isn’t anything like Anna.”

Oksana doesn’t know that for certain, but while Anna was smart and gifted and well-loved by all students just like Eve is, Anna wasn’t ambitious like Eve is.

Anna didn’t have the confidence that Eve has that Oksana has heard so much about but hasn’t gotten the opportunity to see much of herself.

“I thought you said you’d only met a couple of times.”

And it’s true. They have only met a couple of times. But Oksana believes it.

Maybe she just wants to believe they’re different.

As if it’ll somehow make her growing fixation with Eve any better.

“We have. But she’s just different.”

Irina goes quiet for a few minutes before continuing the barrage of questions.

“You like her, then?”

Oksana nearly crashes the car.

“Will you stop with the questions?”

Oksana pulls into a parking lot and stops the car, turning to face Irina, who is just looking at her with a shit-eating grin on her face.

“You do. Otherwise you’d answer.”

“I barely know her, Irina.”

And that’s true, too.

But she’d barely known Anna at first too.

Oksana points to the building they’re about to go inside.

“Ask another question and we’re not getting ice cream.”

Irina furrows her brow and opens the passenger side door with a huff and soon becomes too transfixed by a large amount of ice cream to ask any more questions about Eve Polastri.

They return home when Oksana receives a text from her uncle signaling that Eve has left.

Oksana is on the fence about going back to therapy, but when she dreams of kissing strawberry ice cream off of Eve’s lips that night, she decides to go to the appointment.

She didn’t ask for this.

She doesn’t want Eve in her head like this.

It’s unnerving.

Oksana heads to the inconspicuous office downtown that afternoon and hopes she can prove that same thing to herself and Konstantin.

“Miss Astankova. It’s been awhile.”

She’s greeted by Martin when she knocks on the office door, and he ushers her inside.

The anxiety that quickly creeps up—the suddenly feeling too warm, the rapid heartbeat, the familiar ache in her stomach when she feels like something terrible is about to happen—surprises her.

It disarms Oksana.

And suddenly she remembers that’s why she doesn’t come here anymore.

“Hello, Martin,” she replies coolly.  

“What brings you back here today?” Martin asks, sitting in a chair across from Oksana as he gestures for her to sit down on the couch that sits behind her.

She sits.

“My uncle made the appointment. Thinks I need to be evaluated.”

Martin nods thoughtfully.

“Any particular reason he would think that?”

“Started a PhD program last month.”

Martin’s face is a mixture of pride and worry. They’d talked about this at length after everything with Anna happened. Martin was the one who suggested she take a year off rather than going straight into her doctorate to wait and see if she still wanted to.

“So you did end up applying.”

She smirks and answers with, “And getting in.”

“And he’s worried history may repeat itself?”

He always is.

“I suppose so.”

Martin hums and reaches for a file that she knows is full of past notes from past sessions.

“And are his worries rational, do you think?”

Maybe.

She thinks of Eve and all the weird ways they’ve run into each other.

She thinks of Eve and how she keeps seeing her in dreams.

She thinks of how last night, she dreamed of kissing Eve.

She thinks of how often she’s going to see Eve because she’s working with Konstantin.

She thinks about how Eve is extremely smart, extremely successful, and probably a little manipulative too.

But not like Anna was. Not like Anna brought out Oksana’s manipulative streak.

Oksana doesn’t think that’s the case.

Hopes that’s not the case.

She loved Anna.

But Oksana hates who she became because of her.

She has at least that much self-awareness.

“Well, as I have assured him, my advisor is married. And a man.”

Martin chuckles as he writes some notes.

“And the spouse?”

Oksana clenches her jaw out of reflex and knows that Martin notices, his eyes flitting down toward her chin.

It’s a fair question to ask, considering how Max had become involved.

“We’ve met a couple of times.”

Martin regards her for a few moments and seems to pick up on the sudden shift and shift back when he asked about Eve.

But he doesn’t press further.  

“Have you heard from Anna at all?”

She hasn’t heard from Anna since last fall, sometime around November, she thinks.

She had called Oksana out of the blue.

She’d been in the mountains by herself, trying to get away.

When Anna Leonova’s name popped up, as well as the contact photo that Oksana never changed.

“Not since Max dropped the charges.”

“And you haven’t reached out?”

Oksana shakes her head.

“No.”

(Konstantin had seen to that. And now, she’s grateful.)

“Any relationships since we last spoke?”

She thinks of the several girls she’s slept with over the past year, nothing more than one night stands.

“Nothing notable.”

“Do you still have dreams about her?”

Kind of.

Sort of.

“Yes.”

She doesn’t mention the new woman who’s been showing up in her dreams lately, completely replacing Anna.

No—not replacing Anna.

Anna can’t be replaced.

Besides, Eve is something, someone, else entirely.

“And how are you coping with those?”

I’m not, she thinks.

And she answers honestly.

“I’m not.”

Oksana shrugs and clutches the fringe ends of a pillow that’s propped up near her on the couch, looking away from Martin.

“I think I just kind of hope they’ll go away.”

“How often are the dreams?” he presses.

“Used to be almost every night. Until a couple of weeks ago.”

“What changed?”

Oksana shrugs.

She knows. Of course she knows.

It was after the second time she and Eve met, after she knew for certain that she was Niko’s wife. After she’d met Hugo, and he had begun telling Oksana stories of the professor. She remembers dreaming of being in one of Eve’s classes instead of Anna’s. She remembers dreaming a few nights later of Anna’s face only for it to change to Eve’s later on.

So no, she’s not quite telling Martin the truth.

She still has dreams nearly every night.

It’s just not Anna who’s in them anymore.

“I haven’t quite figured that out yet.”

But she has. Or at least, has begun to do so.

Oksana just doesn’t want to admit it to herself, let alone Martin.

“And how often are the dreams now?”

She shrugs again.

Anna will still make an appearance but not regularly.

“Maybe less than once a week.”

Martin nods and scribbles down some notes.

“Well, I would challenge you to be thinking about what is causing the decrease in dreams. But for now, I think we’ll just go over some general questions.”

She lets out a sigh as they change courses, and of course, it doesn’t go unnoticed by Martin.

He asks her various measures—how anxious she’s been? Any change in motivation for different activities? Increase in impulsivity? Withdrawing from important relationships?

She answers them all, the whole time wondering how she can get Eve Polastri out of her system.