Chapter 1: part one
They weren't really big on holidays, and they never had a reason to celebrate Easter. But one year for one of his classes, Niko had signed up for an Easter egg dying event at his school that was to set up a charitable hunt at their local park. Eve helped him bottle up the food coloring that he was tasked in bringing. They spent the whole night at it not knowing how many colors were needed. He was neat about it. She got it everywhere. It was a happy night that broke up the monotony of the week.
They funneled the dye into empty liter bottles and then boxed them up. They made far more than was needed, and what Niko brought back home sat in their kitchen for weeks afterward. They ate a lot of colored cupcakes the month following. It was easy to overestimate how much a liter really held, even for a math teacher.
The human body contained on average five liters of blood. Eve could easily picture all of hers in her trauma induced Easter egg delirium. She had managed to turn herself over so she could try and get ahold on the bleeding. It couldn't have been a liter, but it wouldn't stop. She couldn't even find where it was all coming from. Too much was pouring out in front of her. She deduced it was an exit wound. She couldn't even reach the pain in her back, and her heart began beating far too quickly. If it wasn't a liter of blood yet, it would be soon.
She needed to get out of there. If she did not eventually bleed out, then the Twelve's men would find her. She and Villanelle hadn't been that far ahead of them, and it wasn't like they hadn't left a trail from the hotel. But she couldn't even sit up. The tension throughout her abdomen wouldn't let her. It was like her body collapsed in on itself.
She pushed through and began to crawl. Eve had been doing a lot of crawling lately. This time it withered into dragging herself forward. She had gone nowhere and already had to stop. It was so quiet aside from her ragged breathing. It wasn't the worst thing to die alone. She wouldn't have to account for anyone else's feelings. This wasn't the worst place for it to all end.
Do you think if we died down here anybody would notice?
She must have passed out. Commotion woke her. There were people here suddenly. This was it then. They had found her. Maybe they'd even finish her cleanly instead of this agony Villanelle had chosen for her.
But the pair didn't look her way. They were walking cautiously and speaking in low tones. Then they started taking pictures. They were tourists who must have snuck in through whatever exit Villanelle had made for herself. One of them even had a selfie stick, the assholes. With her luck this would be the lasting image she saw right before she died.
It was savage, but she took a small joy in completely freaking them out when they finally turned and spotted the bloody mess she had made. They immediately rushed over, and it became clear they were French which bothered her, all things considered. Still.
It was better than Russian.
Rome, Villanelle decided, was the greatest city in the world.
It was the last place she should have been at the moment. There was no making amends with her former bosses this time and staying here did nothing but put a giant target on her back. But she hadn't been able to leave it. She had tried several times in the last few days. She could go anywhere now. The entire world was hers. Yet she hadn't left.
So her impeccable taste told her that it must have been because Rome was the greatest city in the world.
You could find anything here, and everyone was so cooperative. Right now for instance, she was sitting in an excellent restaurant, skimming through the book on Mandarin she had picked up in a little tourist shop. It was too early in the day to serve spaghetti, but Villanelle had insisted until they accommodated her. She had eaten nothing else in the past three days. She doubted it was the best in the city, but the Bucatini all'Amatriciana she ordered off of this menu had thus far topped her list. The use of white wine made the dish.
The restaurant was filled with couples. The one on her left was tucked into each other, sitting on the same side of the table, kissing with poor technique. The one in front of her was feeding one another in a gross display of oblivion. Worst of all was the one near the widows who were both reading off their phones silently. Even if she ever found anyone worthy of her, she wasn't sure she could stoop to certain levels. She didn't think Eve ever would have enjoyed dates like those three either, but Eve was no longer her concern.
She left halfway through her meal to do what she did every day: shop. She didn't bring anything with her to Rome, only Billie Marie Morgan's outfits. It was too much of a risk to go back and steal all the gorgeous clothes Aaron had picked out for her. Shopping was a necessity, and Villanelle had gone all out. She had her own separate accounts and aliases to access, but using them too consistently would draw attention eventually. So in the meantime, flaky tourists and their shiny credit cards were filling the gap.
Today she ran into the same annoying problem she had every single day so far. Nothing much grabbed her attention. Rome had everything, and she looked great in most of it. It wasn't difficult to spin around and choose an outfit for herself. Instead, all she kept finding were clothes Eve would have looked perfect in. She wouldn't have seen that on her own. Villanelle would have had to pick them out for her until she learned. But Villanelle had killed her, and Eve didn't deserve the pretty things she would have bought for her anyway.
It didn't sit right, thinking of Eve as dead. She never had that issue before. When Anna shot herself, Villanelle's attentions were already elsewhere. Now, with Eve, it was all she could think about until she made herself stop. But what was the alternative? Looking for her? Hoping pointlessly that she wasn't dead? Finishing the job for good on the slim chance that were true?
None of those outcomes would aid her in moving on. Eve was dead. It was a simple fact that wouldn't change, and the world became simpler with it. It was good to be untethered. Villanelle wouldn't be making that mistake again unless she knew for sure that the other person was the right one. That she could give Villanelle everything she wanted, in the way she wanted. That they could live the same life.
Who knows, maybe that very woman was standing in front of her right now. She was the right age, but her hair was a shade too light. She looked too comfortable to be a tourist and was most likely local. She was plain, but how she dressed made up for it. Yes, she would do just fine, and Villanelle greeted her with a keen confidence.
It was a new day. Eve felt it without question. But she didn't know what day. She didn't remember getting to the hospital or anything that transpired after the ruins. How long had it been? She was groggy, and her stomach growled. Her room was too bright, and the monitor next to her bed was too loud. Her arm ached around the IV. She never much liked needles. Worse than all that, the physician who woke her for rounds was an obvious morning person. She wished for death.
His, if anything.
"Come ti senti?"
She tried to clear her dry throat. It didn't do much good. "I'm sorry. I don't know much Italian."
"Ah. I am Dr. Russo. We don't have your name."
"Eve," he repeated with a smile; genial in ways people never actually were in real life. "It is nice to finally meet you. You were brought in with a gunshot wound. We, what is the word, scanned you. There was no internal damage. It was perforating. So the location was more toward your side, and the bullet went clean through. You sustained tissue and muscle damage, and you lost a lot of blood so we had to give you a transfusion."
Eve frowned. That was it? After all that? "So I'm going to be okay?"
"Oh yes! Yes, you should be fine. Right now, we are making sure you are stable and no infection sets in. That is the biggest concern. It will take you a few weeks to heal fully and get your strength back, and you will need to take care around the stitches when washing. Do you have someone at home who can help you?"
Eve didn't have anyone now. She has never truly been alone before. But every single bridge had been torched to ashes. It should terrify her, especially in these circumstances.
It only felt liberating.
"Yes. So I can go home?"
"Not yet, no. We need to monitor you. Get you sitting up and at least walking the hall. It will probably be about a week still."
"But I feel fine." She couldn't stay a week. If she stayed here, she'd die. It was sharp in its clarity. They would find her here. She could feel the adrenaline burrowing in her once more.
He chuckled. "That is the drugs."
Eve struggled to sit up. This was already going to be a hassle. "I'll take my chances."
"La polizia have questions for you. The couple who brought you in was French. I think they said they found you in an alley." A lie. The tourists probably didn't want to reveal they were trespassing. One less problem to deal with. "Do you remember what happened?"
"No. I was shot in the back. I didn't see who did it." Maybe it would have been better had she seen it coming. She wondered how it was possible after everything that she still wanted to know. What did Villanelle look like in the moment? Did she ever feel anything when leaving someone to their death? Did she at least bask in Eve's? "I think they stole my purse."
Which was another problem. After the safe-word-that-wasn't, she had left the hotel so quickly that she didn't think to collect her identification or her phone. It was later taken along with everything else by the cleanup crew. Carolyn must have been in Rome the entire time monitoring and waiting to jump in. Jesus. She hoped Carolyn didn't hear her fuck Hugo.
Eve shook that thought off swiftly.
"So then it was a robbery?" he asked.
"Are you here on holiday?"
It probably should have worried her how quickly the lies continued to come. "Yeah. It was a birthday gift to myself. I've always wanted to see Rome. Don't take this the wrong way, but I'm beginning to regret that decision." He laughed again here. He was remarkably easy. "I should call my husband. He can bring my papers."
"Oh, that is good. Very good," he said relieved. That was probably one less problem for him too. "I will report what you told me and come check on you again later, okay?"
She thanked him and watched him leave her room. At least it was private. She would have to stay until the catheter came out. It shouldn't be too much longer now that she was awake.
Eve didn't call Niko. She would find another way home and was unwilling to give up this newfound freedom within the chaos. If she could even go home. They would find her there too.
Everything hurt. The drugs didn't do much to mask the pain once she began moving more. They just made her dizzy. It wasn't a good enough distraction. She kept replaying it over and over again. The sound of the gun going off. Her hands scraping the pavement. The words spoken just before. But not the feeling of being shot. That wouldn't come.
She wondered if this was how Villanelle felt after being stabbed and then chided herself for thinking about her at all. It would only be fair, though. They were balanced now in that respect. Except she doubted Villanelle was thinking about the shooting as much as Eve had thought about the stabbing. She had walked away without turning back. She didn't even care to check whether or not Eve was really dead.
Other people are just objects to them, to be picked up and put down at will.
Against her will, Eve slept on and off throughout the day. She tried frantically to keep her eyes open, but her body wouldn't allow it. She felt better the following morning. Physically at least. The rest of it began returning too. If she imagined, she could still feel the chunks of brain and skin and skull hitting her. The first hit had been the hardest. After breaking through the surface, the blade of the axe sliced through cleanly with only a quiet squelch. Like cantaloupe.
She remembered an axe in her shaking hands far more clearly than a bullet flying through her. She wondered if it was a coping mechanism. Being shot by Villanelle somehow existed seamlessly in her reality. It was a simple fact that came of no surprise in the end. It was personal. The ultimate severing of ties. Chopping a man's head up into tiny pieces? Not so much.
She distracted herself by focusing on her treatment. They did take the catheter out on the second day and then put her on solid food. They didn't want her walking without assistance or to anywhere farther than her room's loo yet, but Eve ignored the nurse's orders. She needed to leave, and she couldn't do that if she couldn't walk on her own. It was difficult without using the IV stand as a crutch. She didn't get much farther than her monitor. Nothing was beeping at a worrying rate, and they appeared to only have her on painkillers and antibiotics.
The rest of the room was routinely sparse. Her effects bag was mostly empty. She came in covered in blood. Hers. Raymond's. Even Hugo's. Her boots and bra were all that was salvageable. By the afternoon, her nurse had brought her a change of clothes for when she eventually left. It was a plain t-shirt, socks, and a pair of sweatpants. Eve had been in and out of hospitals when her dad died. She had some understanding of how they worked and knew the clothes most likely came from a deceased patient. That felt fitting, and they were comfortable.
The police followed shortly. They sat with a translator, and Eve delivered the same story about a robbery gone wrong. They didn't have a problem accepting it, but Eve knew it was time to go. The trail had certainly started now. Except she was still in pain and the drugs made her drowsy. In the morning. She'd leave in the morning. One more night of rest wouldn't kill her, and if it did, well, that was an acceptable way to go. She was too cranky to think otherwise.
Sleep came. Rest did not. She dreamed of ruins and everywhere else she shouldn't have been. Eve awoke with a start. Someone was in her room. Upon first glance, it was just a nurse. He wore the scrub top well, but he had combat boots on.
Eve moved. Like she hadn't been shot. Like she felt no pain. He was on her just as quickly. The IV ripped out of her arm, but she barely noticed. He towered over her. She wouldn't have been able to fight him off alone even if healthy. That irritated her. As did having to stay in the hospital for any duration at all just because an absolute asshole decided to shoot her with her back turned. Eve had faced her head on when she stabbed her. Villanelle could have at least–
She was suddenly outraged. It did wonders for not having any fear. She managed to reach past his grasp to latch onto anything she could. There was a bedpan left on the counter, unused in her stay, but stainless steel. She hit him with it, right under the chin. Then again to the side of his head when he turned. And again over the top when he went down. Eve didn't stop hitting him until he was on the ground and bending over was asking far too much of her.
She dropped the bedpan and caught her breath before moving to do a quick frisk. He carried a knife which was probably how he had intended on killing her. Quietly, right in her bed. Like Kasia. Eve dropped it in the biohazard waste bin. She wasn't about to stab someone else and was far more interested in the gun strapped to his boot. It was small and easily hidden as Villanelle's had been.
She hated it. And him. And her most of all.
Eve would have gone with her. Villanelle didn't need to make her kill Raymond. She had already chosen her. Why couldn't that have been enough?
A groan caught her by surprise and interrupted the otherwise silent room. So much so that Eve jumped and squeezed the trigger. The unexpected force knocked her into the bed and her ears rang at the volume, but she fared far better than the man on the floor. The man on the floor who now had a bullet hole in his head. Eve stood straight again, taking the sight in.
"Oh. Oh. Oh God's shit."
She didn't mean to do that. Was she just a magnet for murder now? No. No. No. No. No. She wanted to take it back. He may have been trying to kill her, but she didn't mean to do this. With Raymond, she at least had a moment to think before making her final decision. Villanelle hadn't died, but the knife wasn't an abrupt accident. This was somehow worse. It didn't improve when blood pooled out against the clean white floor and leaked all the way to her toes. It wasn't stopping. He most definitely would not have survived the Easter egg hunt.
Someone was going to come in and find her standing over a dead body. She panicked and tore the sheet off her bed to throw over him, but the blood just immediately soaked through.
"Right. Okay then." She paused. "I'm sorry."
She grabbed her bag of effects from the room's closet and made to leave. It didn't matter now. Eve would just point the gun at anyone who stood in her way. That's how she was getting out of this. But it wasn't necessary. The scene outside of her room was eerily familiar. The corridor was empty and silent save for the phone at the desk continuing to ring. She saw more blood on the floor and followed it. Behind the desk, a night nurse Eve recognized lay dead. She wasn't in uniform yet and was probably caught changing shifts in a bout of bad timing. She felt bad, but Eve stole her purse.
She didn't come across anymore bodies or any men or women belonging to the Twelve. Eve calmly took the elevator down to the ground floor. She held the gun in her hand, concealing it in the purse, but it was of no use. Everything on this floor was perfectly normal. It was a slow night. There were no patients on beds or in the waiting room. No one would know an attack had taken place upstairs if this was all they came in and saw.
Eve walked out the main door like it was the most natural thing in the world.
The woman–whose name had by now escaped Villanelle–was a sloppy kisser. She couldn't hide her enthusiasm, and it already felt distorted. Villanelle could have anything here if she wanted it. This didn't require an effort. There was no challenge. Normally, she wouldn't have cared, but today it bothered her.
The hotel room she had chosen to stay in had a beautiful view. The sun rose every morning right over the distant hills framed in her window. The furnishing was strong wood adorned with a gold trim. The natural lighting along with the high ceilings made everything more vibrant than it actually was. She contemplated more than once taking the abstract painting that hung near the door with her whenever she finally left. Paintings were typically the dullest of art to her, but the center piece in this one changed depending upon how the light touched it.
She liked that. It was like a game. She began modeling herself after it. Ahead of the four-poster bed, sat a gorgeous wardrobe and vanity. The mirrors on top were not dissimilar to the ones she had in Paris but they stood taller, and Villanelle had taken to making up her face at separate hours depending upon how the light hit it. She never changed so prominently as the painting. Her makeup at the moment didn't match up to it properly, she noticed inanely, but adjustments would have to wait.
"No. The other way. I want to watch," she instructed, guiding the woman around so her feet were toward the head of the bed.
People would get a look in their eye right as they came that was as close as Villanelle had found to watching the life drain from them. She's never looked for it in herself. She couldn't find it in the mirror now either as she grinded against weak, directionless fingers. All she could focus on was the scar from a moment she was no longer thinking about.
This wasn't working. She couldn't stop thinking about her. Why was she still thinking about her?
"Am I boring you, dear?"
"A little, yeah." Villanelle didn't even bother to look down and engage. Instead, she climbed off of her and grabbed her pants from the floor, intent on getting redressed. "You can leave now."
"Leave? But we haven't finished. We've barely started."
"Get out while you still can," she warned, no longer disguising her accent, and that seemed to be enough to alarm the woman.
She left with a slam of the door, and Villanelle sat undignified on the floor, curling her knees to her chest.
It had been different after Anna. Not worse or better, just different. She hadn't stopped thinking about her either, but the frequency had lessened over time. Anna hadn't been dead when they parted, only horrified by Oksana's actions. She could never tell how horrified, though. Anna liked to deny responsibility and just how much she pursued having Oksana in her life. That was all she had wanted then. Oksana had tried so very hard to fit into Anna's world. She revolved around her.
She hadn't had a life of her own then, and the one that found her, Anna never could have been a part of. She didn't belong in it. Not like she had been fooled into thinking Eve did. Why was that betrayal so much sharper? And why couldn't she just go back?
Following prison, she hadn't been searching for someone special to share her life with anymore. She had been satisfied enough doing her job and decorating her apartment and playing with whomever she found looking her way. It was a good life, and Eve Polastri had stolen it from her.
Eve took everything from her, and she didn't even want it. Because she hadn't wanted Villanelle. She had only wanted to prove something to herself and escape from her tiresome life. Eve was nothing but a disappointment. So why did it still matter to her?
Irritated, Villanelle decided to go out again. Rome felt smaller today, and everyone here was ugly. It smelled like body odor under the humidity. One body in particular looked to be especially rank. He was too easy to spot. She never would have made such obvious mistakes. So this was how it began then. Took them long enough. She shouldn't have stayed in this shit city.
Villanelle led him on a slow chase. He fully believed he was the one in pursuit. He had to have been briefed on her, yet he didn't feel threatened. Men tended to underestimate her more, and this one was clearly arrogant. She led him past the busy energy of the main roads and increased to a brisk walk once she hit residential streets. Eventually, she found a secluded alleyway that would do just fine. He slinked in after her, misplacing her in the shadows.
He jumped back like some sad amateur he most definitely was, and Villanelle knocked him out cleanly. Bodies weighed too much. It was rarely ever required of her to move them, but she had on several occasions enjoyed displaying them in certain acts. It left an impression.
That wasn't the goal now, and Villanelle peeked inside the nearest window to see if there were any occupants. The house was empty. She broke a window and unlocked the door before dragging him inside. She found a chair to situate him in and yanked out a few extension cords from the walls to tie him up. Then she searched him, got comfortable, and waited.
The brain was like heavy gelatin. He came out of it soon enough as expected, but Villanelle took the opportunity to make it seem longer.
"Finally. You have been out a while. You probably have a concussion. You might want to get that looked at." She sat up from where she had been lounging in the corner chair, fiddling with his cellphone and hunting knife. He didn't have anything else on him. Everything that had transpired tonight left her feeling insulted. How could they think so lowly of her? "Is this really what they sent after me? Some nobody with nothing but pictures of dogs on his phone? Are they your substitute children? But who will feed them when you're gone? They'll be all alone. So sad."
He only laughed, which she found equally insulting. She was going to enjoy killing him, she decided. It had been days since she slit Aaron Peel's throat, and that had been far too quick for what she had planned for him. She'd make up for lost time now.
"Do it. They'll just send another." He bared his teeth, looking very much like one of his dogs. So that adage was true.
She sighed. "They always do."
He charged, still tied to the chair like some hunchbacked maniac. She slit his throat easily and then dropped his knife next to him in frustration. This had to stop happening to her.
"Way to make it anticlimactic."
Well that led to nothing. She didn't even get to ask him any of her very important questions, and now they had ruined a perfectly fine home with his blood.
Still. This was only the beginning, and she wanted to know what they were planning for her; if it was possible to get them to stop. She didn't understand why they were so intent on getting rid of her even before Raymond. They should have been grateful. She had done everything they asked of her, better than they ever could have imagined, and they brought a cleanup team to Paris. They could have killed her if Eve hadn't come close to doing so first.
She could relocate to someplace where she'd have a better go at evading them. At least for a little while. If she found the right place, they might give up their search entirely. But then what?
Then what? The same question persisted as it had since leaving Eve. The private sector was boring and unworthy of her. No one even cared what she got up to. They were just regular old murders to anyone who may have investigated. She didn't even have contacts or protection without Konstantin, and he hadn't chosen her. She didn't have anyone now. It should have been freeing.
Instead, she felt nothing. That wasn't new, but before she at least had the anticipation of completing her work and leaving it for Eve to find. If she searched hard enough, she could latch on to something near enough to anger. Everything was gone. Everyone had deceived her. She wouldn't give them the satisfaction of disappearing. They brought this on themselves.
There was a farmacia not too far from the hospital. She explained her predicament as best she could, but as soon as she wrote down the name of her antibiotics, the pharmacist went to collect them. She used the rest of the money in the nurse's wallet to pay for them and then her phone to call a taxi. She removed what she needed from the nurse's purse and then left it stashed for someone to find and hopefully return to her family.
Eve had the taxi take her far from this neighborhood. She'd get lost in the busier parts of Rome. It would be easier to hide there, and she needed to slow down for a break. She was about to pass out. She didn't want to stay in another hotel. The notion felt too out in the open, and she was using a stolen credit card of a dead nurse. Hopefully, she'd at least get a day or two before authorities noticed.
She settled on a cheap guesthouse with a manager who asked no questions. It was either that or a convent. The first thing she did was run a steaming bath. She wasn't supposed to be bathing yet, not fully, but she didn't have it in her to stand for a shower and a sponge bath wouldn't do. It felt like she would never get clean, and Eve washed and rubbed at her chest until it became red. It helped enough that she was able to get some rest.
No one found her there the next day either, but she knew it was only a matter of time. Eve was out of options, and even though in this situation it felt close to using him for his accommodating nature, she made the call. Niko didn't answer. He didn't return any of her calls which was to be expected. It wasn't like he would recognize the number, and he'd probably be even less likely to pick up if he did. She only had herself to blame.
Except blame implied a certain amount of shame, and she wasn't sure anymore if she was ashamed over her marriage falling apart. Eve skipped on dwelling over it.
She wouldn't call Carolyn for her noose removal services. They were past that now, and Eve didn't want to ever be in her debt. A part of Eve still wanted to scream the truth of what had happened to anyone that would listen. Carolyn Martens had hired an enemy assassin to kill someone off the record, and she had used Eve to do so. Someone, somewhere, had to care.
The rest of MI6 was out. Carolyn would have barred them from contact with her, for one. But even if she worked past that, Kenny would never keep anything from his mother. Jess quickly became an amicable coworker, but they weren't close enough for such a favor. And Hugo…she didn't even know if Hugo was alive. Also her fault.
She wasn't about to call her mom, who still thought she was working as an assistant at MI5. She shuddered to imagine what her mother would think if she knew the direction Eve's life had gone in over that past couple of months. Hey, Ma, so I stabbed a woman in her bed, but other than that, Paris is a highly recommended vacation destination!
Briefly, Elena came to mind. She would come. Eve would explain the entire sordid tale, and Elena would crack a few jokes before declaring, with an insincere apology, that her worship of Carolyn had only grown. It would reap familiarity of a simpler time. Back when she and Elena would sit back to back comfortably and trade zingers to tease Bill with whenever he joined them. It was a good life. It should have been enough.
But Elena would come. Without overthinking it, the promise of momentary excitement and adventure would lure her back in, and Elena got out for a reason. One that was becoming smarter by the second, and after everything, she may in fact be the only person Eve didn't want to take advantage of like that. No, she would have to get out of this on her own.
Eve left the credit card in the room in order to avoid making a trail. She would find other means of getting out of Rome. Safer means. It only took the morning shuffling painfully around the district she was in to find a workable exit strategy.
After her parents had separated, Eve's mother always used to advise her to use her UK citizenship when traveling. Her mother thought Americans to be too loud and brash. Despite neither of her parents ever being big fans of a ruckus, her father disagreed with the stereotype, and all of this led to many pointless arguments. Point in her mom's favor, though, because American tourists were very, very easy to spot.
Take Mr. Ivy League proudly sporting a Team USA Ralph Lauren polo. He was white. Young. Fit. Fair-haired. One day he would probably run for an office he was unqualified for and win. And he sat in a sleek convertible across the street from an obviously pricey hotel without a care in the world. She didn't even second guess it. Amazing, how easy these choices were becoming after putting an axe into a man's brain. It all seemed so small in comparison.
"Hi, I don't mean to impose, but are you from the US?" Eve approached him, friendly smile in place.
He returned it with an easygoing grin of his own, happy at being engaged. "Yeah, I am. Good eye."
"I thought so. It's nice to spot a fellow…patriot." She hid her slight cringe behind a laugh. "I just wanted to come over and say hello. So, hello."
"Hello," he echoed her laugh. It was a very obtrusive laugh. "I've met a couple of Americans now in Rome. I'm from Boston. Where are you from?"
"Look at that, we're neighbors. I'm Charlie. Charlie Prust."
"Hi, Charlie. Nice to meet you. What brings you to Rome?"
"Just taking a summer trip. A gift from my dad actually."
"Oh a family trip. That's so heartwarming." Nauseating is what it was.
"Ah no, just me." While traveling alone at his age, Eve would have been worried about being kidnapped into a human trafficking ring. She hated him on principle. "My parents are really proud. I just got into grad school. Woo!"
"Woo!" she echoed with all the enthusiasm of working in retail or dealing with her in-laws. Shit, her in-laws. If they could see her now, they'd probably faint outright…It might be the one positive outcome in all of this. "This is a really nice car." She traced a hand over the door; spotless enough to see herself in and red because of course it was.
"Thanks, I figured why not go all out. You only live once, right?"
"Does the roof go up on it?"
"Pretty sure, yeah–Hey, what are you doing?" He shifted in alarm as Eve entered into the passenger seat.
She pulled out her stolen gun, keeping it below the windows. "Put the roof up."
Charlie Prust jerked back, arms up on instinct. "Whoa, lady, are jacking my ride?"
"Uh-huh, sure am. Put the damn roof up, Charlie."
"Wait. Is this a prank? Patrick hired you, right?"
"I've killed two men since coming to this city. Don't make me kill a third." That seemed to put him in gear. The car followed suit. "Start driving."
"Doesn't matter. Just drive."
Eve's home hadn't changed. The mailbox was overstuffed with the post, and newspapers had collected on her front porch, but nothing else was amiss.
Villanelle brought the post inside and nudged the newspapers in with her foot as she pocketed her lock picks. Eventually, someone would notice that the Polastris had been gone for too long, and she didn't want to be bothered while she was here.
She hadn't intended on coming back. She had other business in London that was more important, but her feet carried her here. It was…sad in a way, that no one had come to check on Eve. Villanelle didn't think anyone even knew she was dead. Fudgestache, of course, hadn't returned either after their last encounter which, well, oops. That could at least be explained away if anyone had decided to look. It wasn't his home anymore, and the current news surrounding Niko Polastri was grim in ways she hadn't even intended.
She was that fabulous.
Villanelle couldn't tell who left a bigger impression on the house. Eve was so much more than what she married in every feasible facet, but she didn't seem to have much of an interest in creating a home. She didn't cook or decorate, and her style had always been unfortunately common. She probably let her husband take care of most of that. His style was even worse. Villanelle would have been better at doing all of that for her. Eve's loss.
She hadn't explored as much as she could have the last time she broke in. Or the time before that. She took the time to do so now.
Their bedroom matched their sex life, drab and colorless. She thought of masturbating to give the poor bed some action while leaving her own mark here, but she wasn't remotely in the mood. She went through their drawers instead. Much of his clothes were thankfully already gone with his leaving.
Eve's still smelled like her.
She banged the drawer closed in a panic and took a moment before reopening it. The clothes were folded neatly but were wrinkled. They weren't work shirts. Villanelle had never seen her in any of these. She must have worn them lounging around her home. Villanelle had never been privy to that side of Eve. It felt cold knowing she never would, but they were boring shirts and that made it a little easier. One tucked away in the bottom corner was especially ratty. It was worn thin, older than the rest. Eve had saved it for a long time, and Villanelle didn't understand why when she held it up. It was just a plain white t-shirt.
"FRANKIE SAY RELAX," she read off of it with a frown.
That was ironic. Eve never relaxed. She tossed it aside.
Her underwear drawer was another disappointment, all cotton and shapeless.
She'd never know why Eve hid such a beautiful body under such frumpy clothes.
Villanelle moved on to the corner wardrobe. It wasn't much of an improvement. Plain work clothes. The shirt that doubled as a sweater (it wasn't two pieces). But there was a gorgeous blue dress. The one Eve wasted on Niko's night. The one Villanelle barely got to enjoy because of Raymond. She would be taking that with her. Someone, somewhere, would be willing to wear it for her for a bit of fun.
On the bottom of the wardrobe was a nondescript box she knocked the lid off of. She clenched her fist and evened out her breathing.
This was her box. Everything in it was attached to Villanelle. Shopping bags full of the clothes she had sent her, still with the tags. The perfume with her name on it. Her note. Eve had kept all of it. On top of the bags rested a single white rose from her funeral arrangement. Next to that was the veil she left behind. Villanelle slipped it on. She was in mourning, after all.
She left the bedroom to continue snooping elsewhere. A hall closet led to photo albums. She tossed aside his school ones with an eye-roll and pulled out one that belonged to Eve. Villanelle didn't remember ever sitting for photos. She doubted there were any photos of her childhood anywhere outside of a police file. Eve's parents had taken plenty.
She had big ears as a kid, which made Villanelle smile. Eve was lanky growing up, all sharp elbows and that same wild hair. Several photos were of Eve holding a ribbon or trophy or certificate. It was nice to know she had always been that proud of herself. There were stiff family photos before they shifted and separated to Eve with each of her parents. Then it was just Eve. Eve at university and graduation. Eve at work in low-level offices. Eve in shabby apartments, then nicer ones. She looked vibrant at this stage in her life, and Villanelle loved every single one of them until she flipped to the wedding photos.
They looked happy together, like something on a greeting card. A picture perfect couple. She wondered how long that lasted. How long did it take before Eve began to feel unsatisfied? The photos didn't indicate anything being wrong, but it so clearly was to her. Suddenly he was everywhere in the book. The photos began to annoy her.
She took the time to turn several of them over in their slots before giving up and slamming the binder closed. She hated it. She hated how Eve let herself disappear. Less and less photos near the end had her in them. It reminded her of a search that led to Nikolas Polastri's dumb bridge club with Eve standing blurred in the background. That was all to be found of her. Villanelle should have killed him for that alone.
Their shared office was an improvement. Eve dominated it. She was everywhere, even invading his side. It was comfortable in this room. Villanelle dominated it too.
Everything was about her.
There was a stack of books on criminal psychology and female murderers. Villanelle knocked them over with a scoff. As she did with the MI5 documents of far less impressive female assassins. She was more interested in her files. There were so many files, each of her murders. Crime scene photos. Detailed reports. Research into her victims. Eve's personal notes on all of them; dated long before they had met.
She had meant something to Eve first.
The thought pierced her and wouldn't leave. Eve cared about her before she even knew her. She was captivated by her without even seeing her face. She had figured her out before she even found her. Her notes were…Eve had made conclusions about her murders that couldn't have come from the crime reports. There were things written in them that until now only Villanelle had known.
It felt like someone had reached inside and twisted everything around. She had been rearranged by an outside force. It happened entirely against her will and would never be solved because Eve was gone.
This must have been what people meant when they spoke of longing.
Eventually, her explorations led into the deep hours of the night, and Villanelle went to sleep in Eve's bed. She woke up starving and determined. She was going to keep the house for herself. It wasn't difficult to figure out Eve's password to her bank account, and she had a decent amount in savings. Villanelle set up payment for this month's mortgage and the next. She decided she would keep coming back. At least until she was satisfied leaving Eve behind.
Food ended up being the bigger obstacle. There wasn't much edible left in the kitchen. Everything in the fridge was spoiled. She settled for a bowl of stale cereal to fill up on before spending the morning cleaning up what mattered. The rotten food had to go. It would bring bugs and mold, and she didn't want either in her new home. She began packing it up for the dustbin in what passed for the backyard and was met with a horrible clucking sound.
"Jesus!" she yelped, when out from behind the bin, waddled a ruffled, little chicken. "Well, hello," she greeted dryly.
Villanelle took a quick survey of the yard and spotted a small coop in the corner. The caged wall looked to be chewed though, and if the old waste on the ground in front of them was any indication, that is what it had been surviving on.
"That is not a healthy diet."
Was this really all people left behind once they were gone? Photo albums? Old clothes? Unpaid bills? Hungry pets?
She went back inside to grab the box of cereal and poured it out in the grass. The chicken pecked away with relentless precision, and the day was dreary enough that it was mildly impressive, in that structured way animals were. When the cereal was gone, Villanelle emptied out old grapes, a few of which were fuzzy, but the chicken continued to peck. And peck. And peck. Absolutely desperate.
It was a shame starving people took so long. Things were so easy to control when they were denied their basic needs.
She turned slyly back to the door and went to rifle through the fridge, finding exactly what she wanted. Grimacing at the foul odor as she removed the lid on an old container of leftovers, she began to break it up into little bits.
"I wonder. Do chickens eat chicken?"
She dropped some cooked chicken to the uncooked chicken, and within seconds it was all gone.
Villanelle beamed, tossing more scraps to the ground only to watch them be gobbled right up. "That is sooooo messed up."
She emptied the Tupperware and went back inside to collect everything that possibly had a shelf life. Most of it she scattered in the yard for the bird to do with what it wished before bagging the rest up. She decided to deposit it in the neighbors' dustbin to avoid making a stench. When she was finished, she returned to the yard and propped open the back gate with a brick, turning to her new feathered friend.
"Here. Run free. Don't get eaten by a dog."
She had spent enough time in this house, and now she could come back whenever she wanted. It was time to do what she set out to when coming back to this city. After a quick and final assessment of Eve's closet, she settled on an outfit, locked up, and headed out.
It took barely anytime at all to get to Carolyn Martens's home, and really, you'd think the big shots at MI6 wouldn't be so careless with revealing their residence to the handler of an assassin. Truly, they were lucky she had her own reasons for playing along with them in the ways they wanted or all of this would have been finished a long time ago.
Of course, those reasons were gone now.
It was all so foolish of them.
She waited across the street on the neighbors' front steps, watching as no one came in or out of Carolyn's house. When she was sure it was clear, she went about finding a way in. It would probably have some type of security if she picked the lock, and she wasn't in the mood to deal with such interruptions. The downstairs was useless, but someone had left a window open on the second floor. She used the fence in between properties to reach acceptable handholds and pulled herself through the window. Inside, she roamed around a bit until she found the room she was looking for.
It was obvious by the multiple laptops and video game controllers lying about. And, god, were those outer space sheets? She ran a finger over them, groaning. Polyester on top of it. Who lives like this?
She most likely had a few hours to wait before he would get home and decided to kill the time by turning on one of his gaming systems. The games were especially violent but somehow utterly dull. She shut it off and browsed through his bookshelf and drawers instead. He had multiple editions of the Harry Potter books which she rolled her eyes at before realizing she couldn't even waste time rearranging his clothes as every shirt and pair of shorts was exactly the same as the last.
She was in the room of a cartoon character, and by the afternoon it felt as though she was starting to decompose in it. Finally, the front door opened and closed, and she tugged up the waist of Eve's hideous trousers that didn't fit her nearly as well as she would have liked and ducked under his bed. She sighed loudly, not that anyone was there to listen, because it took him forever to come upstairs and settle down for the day.
Villanelle casually popped out only to be met with the back of his big, dumb Lego head. "Can I ask you something? Why do you still live at home? Isn't that a little pathetic?"
Kenny spun around and registered her with a sharp scream in a nice, hefty pitch. Another squealer then.
"Relax." She grinned easily, and it widened upon a thought before she began to sing incredibly off-key. "Don't do it. When you want to sock it to it. Relax. Don't do it. When you want to come." Kenny didn't seem to know what to make of her abrupt performance, and the bemused look on his face indicated to her that he most likely had never come. Certainly not with another living person. "Do you know that one? Isn't it catchy?"
It wasn't catchy. It was a terrible song, but Villanelle had wasted much of last night listening to it on repeat after going through Eve's CDs. She figured Eve must have really liked it. None of her other shirts were related to music.
This lapse in thought allowed Kenny to dart to his phone on his desk, but Villanelle was quicker. She intercepted him by the collar, pulling him in.
"Don't do that," she warned.
"You," he gasped.
"Me. We have never met properly, but I know you. And I've come a long way to visit."
"Are you here to kill me?"
"You know there are nicer ways to greet me."
"Like you greeted Bill?"
Villanelle's eyebrows rose as she glanced over him. "Oh. Not just a mouse then."
"Where is Eve?"
"I don't know." The lie came easily enough. "I haven't seen Eve since Rome."
"I haven't been able to find any trace of her in Rome."
No trace? Was Eve's body still lying in those ruins? Was she just pigeon food now?
What an unflattering end.
"Sounds like you need a new career."
"My mum said she chose you," Kenny continued. "That she ran away with you."
"She did choose me. And then she changed her mind."
"Right. And I'm supposed to believe you just let her go?"
She tilted her head from side to side. "Yeah. Pretty much."
And upon that, his face dropped as he paled. "She's dead, isn't she?"
"I don't know. Maybe, maybe not. There aren't that many options to choose from."
He slackened against his desk, seemingly no longer concerned with the threat she posed. That wouldn't do. "I knew this would happen. I warned her over and over again about you."
"Hmph. Who didn't?" Oh great. Was he crying now? Jeez.
"She trusted you."
"And I trusted her."
"Why? She stabbed you?" he asked perplexed, and she can imagine how he must have been like this throughout his entire working relationship with Eve.
"So you know about that?" No one had brought it up during the Aaron Peel job. It had clearly been their dirty, little secret. And Villanelle found it difficult to believe that Eve would choose to tell this man something of such importance. Had she really been that alone? "I thought she was different. I thought she was like me. But I was wrong." So incredibly wrong. "Do you think she loved me?"
"I don't know. I could never figure out what she felt for you or why she felt it." And that clearly weighed heavily on him.
"That's okay," she soothed. "Love is not something that's easy to understand."
"It is, actually." He straightened up to his full height, as though this was a dire argument to make. "And you don't love her."
"Not anymore, no. But I did. Very much."
"People don't get the people they love killed. You're a psychopath. You just use people for your own ends."
That was enough indulgence. Villanelle pulled out the dull knife she swiped from Eve's ugly set of silverware. She pressed the tip into his pale throat and guided him into his desk chair.
"I am not going to listen to the opinion of a man who has never been in love himself or looks like he should be wearing a hat with a propeller on it." Kenny touched his head self-consciously. "Now, find me where Carolyn stashed Konstantin or I will start flaying the skin from your absurdly small toes."
He looked down, confused, and wiggled his toes in his house sandals. "My toes are perfectly normal."
"Please, they are like stubs. Why are they so short and wide?" She shook her head, pushing the knife farther into his neck. "You are someone who should always be wearing socks."
He flinched back. "Right. So Konstantin?"
She spun him around in his chair to face his computer, and he booted it up diligently.
"Good boy. And don't try anything stupid." She leaned in toward his ear, dropping her voice to a taunting whisper. "I hear the little piggy likes to go wee wee wee."
Kenny brushed her off. "Konstantin is with his family. Are you going to kill them?"
"Aww. Would you refuse to help me if I said yes? Are you going to be brave like Mummy?" she mocked.
"Yeah, I have never called her that."
"No. I'm not going to kill him or his loud family. I just need information from him."
"Information on what?"
"You are nosy. Has anyone ever told you that? I need to know how to find the Twelve so I can take care of them. Don't worry so much, Kenny." She playfully pinched his cheek with her free hand. "We are all on the same side now."
He turned away from the screen to stare at her for a moment; the least like a wet blanket she had seen him. "Is that the side Eve was on?"
Villanelle lost her smile at once. "Don't talk about her anymore. I did not come all this way to be reminded of Eve Polastri."
Kenny frowned, glancing toward her hairline. "Isn't that Eve's hat?"
She glared. "Shut up. Start typing."
"Can I ask you what your name is? That might make this a little less awkward."
It was the first thing that was said by either of them, and it wasn't uttered until they had driven out of Rome's city limits. It hadn't been a steady drive. Charlie Prust looked younger since she had gotten into his dickbag car. Somehow just asking for her name had caused his hands to fidget on the wheel more noticeably. He thought it to be a calculated risk, she realized. One he felt willing to take. She supposed if she were being carjacked at gunpoint, she'd want to know the name of the person that may or may not end up killing her.
Eve knew both of her names, but how many more were there? Who had Villanelle been to everyone else she had killed? Was it better not to know?
"Billie," she tried, but it didn't sit right on her tongue. "No. My name is Eve."
"Okay. Eve." She couldn't tell if he believed her. "So have you really killed two men?"
"Yep. Are you scared, Charlie?"
"Good. That's good. It's good to be scared." It was empty not being scared.
I'm like you now.
"Why'd you kill them?" he continued tentatively.
"Because of the world's biggest prick. Do you have a girlfriend, Charlie?"
"Not really, no."
He frowned. "No?"
"Lucky you," she sighed. "It's a long story."
"I'd imagine so."
She had never told it to anyone, not in full. She didn't do so now either, but she told enough to generate an out-of-body experience. She hadn't even known Villanelle that long, and she had invaded every corner of Eve's world. Eve's entire life was gone as surely as if a gunshot wound to the back had, in fact, killed her.
"With an axe?" was Charlie's only response. "Like Leatherface?"
"No, that was a chainsaw. You might be thinking of Jason."
"Sorry. Those movies came out, like, twenty years before I was born."
"That's disgusting." Eve shook her head. This was a fully formed person who was probably too young to remember Y2K. She looked over his relatively calm demeanor. She would have expected otherwise after being compared to villains from slasher films. "You don't seem too alarmed."
"I mean…all of this kinda sounds like self-defense."
Which made sense.
She had left out the stabbing in her recount. The words simply wouldn't come.
"It's still murder. Most people would be freaking out."
He shrugged. "I've been playing a lot of Red Dead Redemption lately."
"I don't know what that means." And she didn't care to find out.
"I might be desensitized to violence."
When leaving Rome, Eve had directed Charlie to drive on quiet back roads and hand over his cellphone. He was a diligent hostage, but she needed to get rid of him. When she felt they were far enough from the city, Eve told him to pull off in the next town they drove past. She watched him closely to make sure he wasn't going to tip anyone off, but he only did as she had asked. They stopped in a small taverna, and Eve told him to order what food he liked to go. She had him buy extra bottled water and checked Google maps on his phone for the nearest stretch of empty road.
"Come on. I really have to pee." Eve began to lead them to the restrooms, but Charlie stopped in his tracks when he realized she was pulling him in with her.
"What? Dude, no."
"I don't trust leaving you alone."
"But," he gestured desperately to the patrons around them.
"They'll just think we're a couple with kinks. Come on."
"This is mortifying."
"How do you think I feel?"
Charlie convinced her to stay for a quick meal, which was ridiculous, but he seemed to enjoy her company. As if a gun wasn't hiding under her shirt. He followed her out without issue when she was finished. Nothing felt real anymore.
They stayed there too long. It was a fatal error as they'll soon learn.
They were about to make another one.
"Pull over," Eve ordered, following along on the maps, and waited until the car came to a complete stop. They had driven far enough away from any notable civilization. "Okay. Get out."
"We've gone far enough. You have food and water. Just walk back to the nearest town. Enjoy your life."
"But I…" He frowned, obviously trying to collect his thoughts. He eventually landed on a look of torment, and vaguely, constipation. Eve doubted she'd like wherever this was heading. "But you're going north, right?"
"Yes. I guess. Why?" She didn't exactly have a plan here.
"Okay, well, I mean, it's just Florence was next on my itinerary anyway, and we're not too far out. And, like, you can just drop me off there. My bags are in the trunk. You can have the car. It's cool. There's insurance. But I really don't want to walk. It's so hot out," he whined.
"We are not on a road trip here, Charlie. Big, scary people are after me. They are trying to kill me. This is dangerous."
"It's not even an hour drive. And you kinda owe me. You've been a total inconvenience."
This was reckless in the way only youth can bring. She couldn't remember lacking that much self-preservation at his age. Maybe that's why it had only gotten worse as she had gotten older. Clearly, she should have rebelled more in her twenties.
"If you die, it's not my fault."
He grinned. "Deal."
Konstantin and his family were relocated just southeast of Edinburgh.
On a farm.
Konstantin the farmer. Villanelle laughed for a long time over that.
Kenny didn't appear to have alerted anyone of her coming, as threatened not to. She supposed it was a good thing for him that she hadn't come here with plans to murder Konstantin or that decision would have mortified poor Kenny for the rest of his sad life. It wouldn't stay secret for long, regardless. There was no way Konstantin wasn't being monitored.
It was so restricting. This was the price of Konstantin keeping his unremarkable life and unremarkable family. Villanelle thought it was a fitting end. That and the farm that smelled like pig shit.
It was sprawling land with not much on it as far as she could tell. Some cows. No chickens. That had been a letdown. Perhaps she should have brought Eve's with her.
Konstantin didn't live in the main house. His family had a smaller house on the north end of the property. It was cozy and beige and much unlike the one she broke into in Russia. That must have rankled him. He had so much less now after working so many years to establish himself. There was no fireplace or logs in sight, but he had a gun at least. Villanelle found that rather easily in the master bedroom and tucked it under the back of Eve's shirt.
Her day was spent waiting. It seemed all she did lately was wait. It left too much time for thinking and thinking only led to Eve.
Killing Eve might have been a huge tiny mistake.
Villanelle didn't make mistakes. Not permanently.
This was the worst.
She finally perched herself on the back of the sofa when sounds of someone's arrival filtered through the door. She spotted the wife first. She never bothered to learn Konstantin's wife's name, but she looked like a Bertha so that's what Villanelle thought of her as. Irina followed in right after her, and whatever joyous conversation they were having–about something incredibly important Villanelle was sure–came to a halt.
"That's right, honey, I'm home."
Villanelle didn't flinch as the book Irina flung sailed right past her. Bertha grabbed onto her daughter in a fret.
"Why is it that no one is ever happy to see me?"
Irina charged forward out of her mother's grasp. "Because you are an arsehole."
"Whatever. Here." Villanelle picked up the rope resting next her and tossed it to Irina.
Irina simply frowned. "What is this for?"
"To tie up your mother. Don't worry. It's cattle rope. I'm sure it will be long enough."
"I am not tying up my mother for you."
Villanelle reached behind her and pulled the gun out of Eve's terrible pants. "Fine. I'll just shoot her then and save us all some time."
"Wait. Fine. God."
Irina reassured her mother in Russian then began tying up her hands. She was gentle as she did so. They seemed to have close relationship based on the few times Villanelle has been with both of them at once. Irina was doted on by both her parents. It was unbearable in its virtue. What did she even do to earn it?
"Tighter. We don’t want anyone escaping our very fun afternoon together, do we?" Irina rolled her eyes but did as ordered. "Now, put her in the closet. See, that wasn't so hard." Villanelle grinned once the woman was secured and guided Irina to the kitchen. "Take a seat." She gestured to the table. "I made lunch so you wouldn't start screaming at me."
"Oh, you're so considerate," Irina said sarcastically, sitting down.
"Yes, I am considerate."
Irina seemed to enjoy the sandwiches at any rate.
"So. How have you been?" Villanelle asked. "Do you like your new life?"
She shrugged. "It's okay. It's not that different from our last one. I'm learning Hebrew."
"What about you?"
Villanelle frowned. "What about me?"
Irina scrutinized her for a moment. "You seem even sadder than before."
She cackled, not bothering to have swallowed her last bite. "You are such a child. You have no perception. I am not sad at all now. I have gotten rid of everything that made me sad. Poof."
"Really? Because you look terrible. Even worse than last time when your face was all torn up. You're dressed so sloppy now."
"Style is important. It's a new look I'm trying."
"It's not that bad." It was that bad, but Irina had no reason to be laughing at Eve's clothing. "Shut up. Look at you. You look like you're wearing a tablecloth. Is that even a real pattern?"
"I do not," she snapped.
"I do not," Villanelle mimicked perfectly.
"You're stupid." Irina groaned dramatically at being duped, full on tossing her head back, and Villanelle thought it time to move on to more pressing matters. "When does you dad get home from work?"
Irina glanced at the clock on the stove. "In a few hours."
Villanelle bit her lip hopefully. "Do you want to watch a movie?"
Over the course of the next two hours, Villanelle learned that none of them worked on the farm. The farm was run by the family in the main house who had lasting ties of some nameless sort to MI6. Konstantin now did vague work in finance. Vague enough that Villanelle suspected it was just a cover for him staying in the game.
All of which was considerably less fun for her so Villanelle went on choosing to believe Konstantin was now a farmer.
By the time he arrived home, she had grown bored by the movie. They were always the same story about the torment of some man who lost something. But she liked watching them. It was what people did. They would spend hours together mostly in silence, focused on something other than themselves, and enjoy it. It was supposed to be comfortable doing nothing with someone, so Villanelle stopped herself from pacing around.
She stayed on the sofa and smiled pleasantly in greeting when Konstantin came in. He startled midsentence, clutching a hand to his chest once he spotted her. She always loved making him jumpy.
"Hello, Konstantin. You look so surprised. As if I didn't promise to find you."
"Villanelle, what are you doing here?" he asked agreeably, but behind it she could tell he was trying to assess the situation.
"Watching terrible movies," Irina answered for them, pleased with herself until the moment was ruined.
Villanelle had an arm around her throat in seconds. "Time for the grownups to talk."
"Irina!" Konstantin cried out in alarm, ignoring Villanelle completely. Rude.
"You stay there," she ordered him, pulling Irina in closer. In other circumstances she was sure it'd appear like a friendly hug; which probably only made it worse for him to look at. Good. "Her neck seems a little flimsy, no?" Konstantin stayed put, and Villanelle dragged Irina to what she guessed was her room, shoving her in. "Sit and do your homework."
"Just don't be a dick, or I'll kill your father for real this time."
"Ugh you are the worst. I hate you."
"I hate you more." Villanelle pulled her door closed with a slam and rejoined Konstantin in the sitting room. "I really do like her. I can't understand how she came from you."
"Where is my wife?"
"Closet. It's been a while. I hope she hasn't wet herself."
Villanelle steered them back to the kitchen. She grabbed glasses and poured him one from the bottle of whiskey she found earlier. They sat across from each other, and he sipped his drink silently for a minute in challenge.
"What do you want?" he finally asked. He seemed tired, as farmers undoubtedly were, but now was not the time to make fun of him. Maybe in a minute.
"They're after me. They want me dead. I'm going to kill them first," she promised. "But I need your help to find them."
"Last I checked, they still want me dead too. And now you've risked bringing them here."
"I was careful."
"No, you weren't."
"Fine. But I'm sure if you need to, you can round up more contacts to help you tuck your tail between your legs again." Poking fun wouldn't do, and Villanelle found herself subdued as she felt pressure mounting behind her eyes. "I don't have any contacts. I just have you."
"Where is Eve?"
"Dead? Are you sure?"
"I shot her. So, yes, I'm sure."
He laughed once in shock rather than humor. He did that a lot to break up tension. His or everyone else's, she could never figure out. "You shot her?"
"She deserved it. She broke my heart. What is it you think you deserve from me, Konstantin?"
"Villanelle," he said softly, the same hurt look on his face as was there the last time they spoke.
"You left me for this? Some moldy potato farm?"
"They are not moldy. They are good potatoes. Help yourself." He pointed toward them on the counter. "I'm afraid that's all I can offer you."
"Bullshit. Your cow's shit."
Agitated, Villanelle got up from the table. She rifled through his cupboards, looking for any alternative. She didn't want his stupid potatoes. She didn't want anything from him other than what she came here for and settled for munching on a box of biscuits.
"The Twelve can't be found," Konstantin said. "They're everywhere. They're untraceable. You know this."
"These are delicious. What are these?"
He sighed like he always did whenever her attention waned. "Off brand dark chocolate McVitie's."
"They taste like brownie batter."
"Is this how you and your wife got fat?"
He tilted his head in consideration. "Yes."
"The Twelve's a very serious organization." She gave a stern finger wag. "And more importantly, it's worth a lot of money. Nothing like that isn't going to keep some sort of records of everyone involved. How do I access them?"
"You really think the Twelve are that stupid?"
"All power-hungry men are that stupid. You said they had keepers. Or was that just a lie too?"
"This would be suicide."
"So I'm just supposed to let them come after me?"
"You'll have a better chance of surviving that way." He held up both arms and gestured to the room around them. "Or you can disappear yourself. Put all this behind you. Become someone new," he beseeched.
"I like who I am. I like my life." She sat back down and offered a small chuckle in order to ease him. "You don't need to worry about me anymore."
"A part of me will always worry about you." He took another sip of his drink, still looking very troubled.
"Well, I don't want you to. You were wrong before. It's better not to have anyone."
He closed his eyes for a moment before holding up a finger as she had imitated. He didn't seem to notice that. "Villanelle, I want you to listen to me-"
She stretched expertly in disruption, purposely adjusted the waist of Eve's revolting slacks, and placed his gun on the table between them.
"Sorry. These are just so itchy." She brushed at her knee, but Konstantin only saw the gun. "Are you sure you don't remember any records?"
There was a horn blaring that wouldn't stop. It was going to call attention to them. That was the least of their concerns. That wasn't why she should be panicking here. Eve couldn't move. She couldn't see anything until she pushed out ahead of her and shoved the airbag out of view. They had hit a fence post and her door was jammed up against it, but the wired meshing between the posts was down. She could climb out.
There had been a gunshot as they approached Florence. Charlie had been midsentence, something or other about climbing buildings like an Ezio, when the windshield had shattered. The black SUV driving toward them was responsible. It drove them off the road. No. They swerved in front of it, causing both vehicles to crash. They swerved because Charlie had lost control of the wheel because Charlie–
There was so much blood. They must have thought she was the one driving. Eve wrenched her seatbelt off, and immediately her hands were on him. His throat was emptying out wave after wave of pure heat. It was the one thing she never pictured getting used to. Blood was noticeably warm in mass amounts. The warmth clung to you, seeping inside. Every fading pulse beat would bring new heat. It wasn't until you pulled yours hands away entirely did it cease.
"Come on, Charlie. Stay with me."
There was no response. He wasn't breathing, and this wasn't something CPR could fix. Death had become too common of an occurrence in her life. Eve didn't feel the shock or horror that should accompany such an event. Only exhaustion and the defeat of again?
She let him go and wiped her hands on her sweatpants, collecting her gun and his phone. Pulling herself through the open window wound up hurting more than the crash. There was no balance or coordination. Her side burned, unrelenting, as she dropped to the grass. In that moment, Eve hated her. Truly. If she hadn't actually wanted Eve dead, then this must have been what she had had sought. Eve, in pain and in dirt.
She wouldn't give her the satisfaction.
Eve braced herself against the car door and stood straight. She pointed the gun ahead of her and approached the SUV, devoid of any leftover fear. She was still furious. At this and so much else. If they wanted her dead, then fine. Do your job. Shoot the right person. Not a kid who eats chocolate cake for lunch. It was sloppy.
Eve yanked open the driver's side door of the SUV, not surprised to find a woman. But critical. Deeply critical. Irrationally so. This was a poorly executed job. It was a smaller employment pool and it led to skewed statistics, but in her research, female assassins tended to have a far higher efficiency rating than this.
The woman didn't look like Villanelle. She was plain and wore no makeup. Her hair was cropped, she had several tattoos, and she sported a military esque getup. She was broad-shouldered and toned and clearly cared a lot about her physique. She was also unconscious against the steering wheel where no airbag had deployed. The SUV had T-boned them in the rear seats.
Eve readjusted her grip on the gun. This wouldn't end here. Eve was this woman's target.
It would solve everything for a time.
Don't think, Eve. He will come after us.
Until they would send another one.
He will kill us. Hit him.
They were alone together on this empty stretch of road. No one else would ever have to know.
She needed to do this. It was an accident before, but if she hadn't shot the man in the hospital, she would probably be dead by now. She could do it again. She was angry enough to do it.
Imagine he's a log.
The anger stung in mounting pressure. She couldn't breathe under it. There wasn't enough air getting to her lungs, and briefly she wondered if she had hit her head too. Warm trails of blood were cascading down her face, running under her chin, staining another shirt.
Then she realized they were tears.
Quick, do it!
Eve's stomach contents emptied out on the ground next to her. This time she didn't swallow it.
She could kill her. Without thought or hesitation. Eve could end this woman's life. It didn't matter now. How could it ever possibly matter again? She could do it.
She chose not to.
Eve unbuckled the woman's seatbelt and dragged her out. She didn't wake even as her body hit the ground. The horn finally stopped, and Eve climbed in behind it, backing away from the scene. It was hard to steer a vehicle of this size while wounded where she was, but she sped away until it was too far to see in the rearview mirror. She changed course and avoided going to Florence. She didn't want to get trapped in another city. There were too many eyes to hide from.
It brought up the question of how they even found her riding in a car in the middle of nowhere. How would she ever hope to escape them? Where was she even going? Eve pulled over on the side of the road to collect herself. The SUV had a full tank of gas and a box of peanut butter granola bars sitting on the passenger seat. They were high in protein and grain and were probably tasteless energy bars to garner added muscle, but she was suddenly starving and unwrapped one with haste. She really should have grabbed one of Charlie's water bottles on the way out because there was nothing to drink in here.
There didn't seem to be much else in the SUV at all. The glove compartment had papers of false identification. There were several aliases here that she could go over at a more suitable time. The box on the floor was filled with nothing but plastic protractors that Eve didn't know what to make of. But that and a spare tire in the back was all there was. She moved on to the last resort and flicked on the GPS mounted to the dashboard.
The woman had been at the taverna earlier that day. So that was an answer to that question. Eve scrolled back further to find the previous destination of interest. She wanted to know where they were coming from. Villanelle had an apartment to work out of. Was that true for all of them? Or did the Twelve have an office they distributed their endless supply of trained killers from?
Eve wasn't sure she cared anymore. She only wanted to get ahead of them. It didn't matter what waited for her on the other side. It was time to start taking everything back.
Konstantin had reluctantly directed her to a remote location about an hour south of St. Moritz. Villanelle checked into a hotel room before she did anything else. She hadn't slept properly since the night at Eve's, only catching a few hours on the journey back across Europe. Dreaming certainly didn't help matters. Roman ruins were no longer so beautiful in her head.
He wasn't terribly clear, and Villanelle cursed Konstantin out several times once she realized the building she was heading to was in the middle of a forest. There was only one dirt road, and it hadn't seemed like anyone had been using it recently. The eventual turnoff was easy to find. The building was a small warehouse under lock and chain. If she didn't know better, she'd think Konstantin had screwed her.
She didn't see any tire tracks on the rocky lot. It was doubtful anyone was already here or would be joining her, so Villanelle went ahead and used a hefty stone to break in. There was no alarm. There wasn't anything worth noting.
She found a light switch that turned on a few dim, hanging lamps toward the center floor. She took in the aisles of shelves, perplexed. There was nothing here but boxes of office supplies. The adjacent office toward the back was completely empty but for a desk covered in dust. The paper work she found stacked on it was as meaningless as everything else here.
It was safe to say Konstantin was officially out of the loop. As amusing as that was, it was still an inconvenience.
She gave a helpless whine. Sorting through this was going to take all day, and she hated menial work. Briefly, she contemplated calling the whole thing off and just disappearing to some faraway cabin alone. Switzerland wasn't all that different than Alaska looked in pictures. It was fancier and had multiple national languages she could play with. She'd probably like it here more.
Villanelle ignored the notion and got started.
Eve pried the gate open with no small amount of effort before returning behind the SUV's wheel. It had been a stiff drive. More than once she wanted to pull over to get out and stretch. Either that or prop the seat back. She needed to lie down on a bed, preferably for a month without interruption.
The GPS had gone off grid somewhere in a Switzerland forest, but there had only been one turnoff road in view. Eve followed it until she spotted the current rocky path she found herself driving on. The gate was promising. It meant there was, in fact, a viable destination. One that the Twelve cared enough about to keep people out of.
It turned out to be an unremarkable building. Paint chipping. Rust prominent. There were no other cars out front where she parked, but the chain lock on the door had been broken off. Eve drew her gun, determined to still see this mad plan through even if that was becoming increasingly less wise by the second. There had to be something here to use against them. She just knew it.
The interior was dimply lit in the distance. It appeared to be a warehouse of some sort. The high rows of shelves surrounding her were lined with boxes. Quietly, she opened a few up. All she found was blank printing paper and an odd box of unused rubber erasers. This didn't make any sense. There had to be something to find of importance.
She jolted at an echoing thud ahead of her. It sounded like one of the boxes hit the concrete ground. Someone else was here. She gripped her gun tightly with both hands and approached the middle of the room soundlessly. It was brighter there where most of the lights hung down from the roof. She could make out the long table; the papers and boxes emptied out on top of it. The figure standing behind it.
She wanted to laugh because of course. Of course. Of all the secluded warehouses in the world, and she had to walk into this one. Eve was distinctly aware that they mirrored their positions of the last time they were together. She could kill her like this. She could finally finish all of this right now. Back turned, Villanelle wouldn't even get to watch her do it. She wouldn't get to be in the moment, sucking it all up as always. And wouldn't that just piss her off?
But she couldn't even raise the gun in her hand. Why was she here? How was she here? Was there ever any escape from her? Would Eve even want it any other way?
She opened her mouth to call out, but nothing came. If she waited any longer, Villanelle would undoubtedly turn around and get in the first word. That would kill her more effectively than anything else possibly had. Eve wanted to say something clever that would get her attention and possibly insult her all in one go, but it had been a shitastic couple of days. Everything she came up with sounded stupid in her own head, so she settled on something that would at least have the same effect in surprising her.
It wasn't real. It was an evil trick.
She turned at the voice anyway.
Eve stood in the shadows, looking worse for wear. Her beautiful, beautiful hair was tangled, and she looked unnaturally pale. The aggressively ugly sweatpants she had on were the only thing that made it clear this wasn't a dream.
"You're dead," Villanelle finally said, quite stupidly, and she wished to have that moment back.
She looked so confused to see Eve; so impacted with incomprehension as though Eve really was a ghost. But Eve looked at her and only saw flashes of blood on her hands. It became a mantra. Hers. Kasia's. Bill's. Hugo's. Raymond's. Charlie's. Villanelle's most of all. Not for the first time, Eve wondered why she hadn't just finished the job then. She had gone so far. Why not see it through? How could she cross that final red line to pull Villanelle out of danger rather than plunge her in?
Villanelle almost smiled. She wanted to rush over and tell Eve how glad she was that she wasn't dead or whatever people did in these situations to start over, but then Eve came fully into view. Eve pointing a gun at her no longer suited her so well. She knew what to do with it now. That much was obvious.
"We're even now. Put that away," Villanelle reasoned, and she looked so smug while doing so that Eve fired.
It wasn't aimed close enough to do any damage but enough to get Villanelle to duck behind the nearest row of shelves.
"You seem upset," she called out from behind them.
"I am upset!" Eve stayed on the side of the shelves parallel to her and followed Villanelle's movements down the aisle.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"You shot me!"
"You stabbed me! And you never even thought to apologize."
"Are you going to apologize?"
"…no?" Villanelle peeked up from between the shelves and immediately ducked when Eve fired again. "Can you stop doing that?!"
"Why should I?"
"I could have shot you in the head or the heart. Instead, I shot you where I knew you would survive. The same place where you hurt me. I only wanted to punish you."
"No, you didn't."
"Yes, I did. I really did." She paused. "Granted, I thought you'd bleed out and die before anyone would find you, but I was being poetic."
"Oh, that's just-" Eve fired another shot, nowhere near either of them. It hit the containers near the back wall, sending pens flying. The clatter of them hitting the ground was a harsh sound and seemed have the effect of centering both of them.
"Enough!" Villanelle shouted before taking a few deep breaths, weighing her options. "I'm going to come out."
Sure enough she came around the corner without hesitation. Without fear. She stood right in front of her as though Eve wasn't armed and highly motivated. Villanelle didn't think she'd really do it. Eve didn't want to do it.
She was going to do it.
Eve aimed straight ahead and pulled the trigger one last time. It caught them both by surprise. As did the lack of action. Eve frowned and squeezed once more only to be met with another dull click.
"What the-" She looked helplessly to the now unloaded gun. "Oh, come on."
Villanelle, genuinely offended over nearly getting her brains blown out, scoffed over Eve's sudden predicament. "Oh, dear. Now what?"
Eve took slow paces backward. She would corner her in no time and made to do just that. Villanelle charged at her until the useless gun hit her square in the face, causing her to stagger and clutch at her forehead.
Villanelle looked up at her with bloodlust instead of anything resembling feelings. Good. That was what worked here, in a space where nothing worked at all. Hate was manageable. Hate she understood. She'll love you to death.
Death seemed, once again, eminent.
She lunged at Eve's ankles, tripping her on the ground. She dragged her in by the legs that continued kicking out at her. Villanelle flipped Eve over and fought off incredibly irritating punches. She couldn't get a grip on her arms to stop her. Eve was moving too frantically, too violently. A few shots actually hurt. She just wanted her to stop fighting her off and screaming and ruining what could have been a very nice reunion. Villanelle climbed over her, trying to pin her down. Both hands grabbed her by the throat.
"Stop squirming!" she shouted, but it was contradicted by the mounting pressure she began applying. "Stop it!" She sounded more alarmed than Eve felt despite not being the one getting choked. "I don't want to do this!"
Eve pushed against her face and aimed to scratch at her eyes, but Villanelle twisted away. She moved to bang useless punches against her wrists. Finally, Eve managed to grab ahold of one of the fingers squeezing around her neck and bent it at a sharp angle until something snapped. Villanelle gave a shriek and released her on instinct, clutching at her finger. Her trigger finger, no less. Eve was petty enough to give herself a mental high-five over that one.
"My finger," she said dazedly. She didn't even notice the cardboard tube coming to hit her in the side of her ribs, allowing Eve to crawl out from under her. "You broke my finger? Eve, you broke my finger?!"
Eve would have responded had she not still been gasping for breath after being strangled, which seemed like the far bigger slight if she were being asked.
Her side felt like it was being torn open again as she propped herself up against the shelves. A sob she didn't want to be dealer to bubbled out. She was so tired of this. And angry. And distantly nauseous yet again. Maybe Eve was the one who needed to be hateful. Villanelle's anger only appeared waning as she sat opposite her, loosely holding onto her wrist. She suddenly seemed tired, too, and wore a look that asked are you done?
Was she? Was she ever?
"Can you bend it?"
Villanelle glared. "Don't you think I would be bending it if I could bend it?"
"You need to splint that."
Eve couldn't stay staring at her and got up under the guise of being productive. She pulled open a few boxes to find something useful. Office tape and scissors turned up shortly, as did a variety of paperclips, and honestly, where the fuck were they? She chose two of the thickest paperclips available for each side of her finger and brought them back over. Villanelle held out her hand with all the deliberate propriety of an Austen protagonist. Eve rolled her eyes at the antics and taped up the tip of her finger in a makeshift splint briskly.
"Don't be such a baby."
But her pout and inherent dramatics went nowhere. It looked ridiculous paired with the current state of her face. The slice above her eyebrow where the gun hit her continued to drip blood down her cheek. Eve reached out on reflex to wipe it off. Villanelle went as still as a painting. It didn't appear like it was too deep and Eve wasn't sorry, but her hand stayed soothing it until Villanelle turned her head away and out of her grasp.
Eve took the time to finally look the younger woman over. She was uncharacteristically unkempt. Her charcoal pants weren't the high fashion or well-fitting ones Eve had grown accustomed to. They looked to be too short and were tucked into combat boots that, at the very least, felt more like Villanelle. Likewise, her jacket was stylish even while being practical. But underneath it was a simple t-shirt that Eve could just make out the word FRANKIE printed on, along with the hole on the collar. A hole that was acquired the summer she reluctantly agreed to watch Niko's mother's insane cat that favored shoulders as a perch.
Was she seeing things?
Eve narrowed her eyes. "Are you wearing my clothes?"
Villanelle quickly yanked up the zipper of her jacket and began to pull herself up. "Don't be ridiculous, Eve. Your clothes are ugly."
Eve ignored the proffered hand and stood up on her own. In less than a second, said hand–damaged and all–was grabbing at the back of Eve's head and the cool metal of a blade rested precariously under her chin. A spark of excitement lit Villanelle's eyes. This was just a game to her.
"You have a knife?" Eve asked, the sense of déjà vu hanging over her.
"Oh, Eve," Villanelle goaded with an undercurrent of when will you learn?
"Then why didn't-" She sighed.
What did it matter? This was how it would always be between them. She was trapped in every sense of the word. Villanelle kept her pressed tightly against her, leaving barely any space to fight back if she chose to. Her hand moved on its own accord. Eve watched it trace down a rumpled jacket and latch onto the waistband of what were most certainly her pants. The knife pressing into her neck didn't move a hair. Villanelle remained utterly composed and yet–
"These are my pants," Eve breathed.
"They're terrible pants."
"They were on sale." She was too close, and Eve didn't care if it meant having her throat possibly slit. She twisted away restlessly, ignoring the slight nick. "So what's it going to be? Are you going to make sure it sticks this time?"
Villanelle had seen Eve angry plenty by now. She had seen her scared and excited, often at the same time. Eve has been tired and confused in front of her. Cold and distant. Proud. Hateful. And everything in between.
She was a well of emotions, overflowing with possibility, even if she usually tried to bury them. People always tried. Rarely did they succeed.
Villanelle had never seen her like this before. There was nothing behind her eyes now. Nothing to stop her from hiding.
She could keep Villanelle out.
It was a perilous position to be in; to no longer have power over someone. Villanelle felt like she was right back in Rome before Eve turned away. Back in her apartment when Eve had talked her way into Villanelle lying down next to her. How could she have forgotten this feeling so soon?
She lowered her good hand holding the knife to her side. "You are different."
"Well I guess being betrayed and shot in the back and left for dead does that to a person."
"No, that's not it," she dismissed easily. Villanelle knew what it was. "You've killed again, haven't you?" She smiled. Eve's reaction was more telling than if she had actually answered. That was a faster turnaround than Villanelle's when she had first taken a life. "How was it?"
"How do you feel?"
"No." She wouldn't be pulled back into the spider's web. Coming here was a terrible idea. "No."
"Don't walk away from me again, Eve."
"Aim higher from now on, Oksana."
"That's beginning to wear a little thin, no?" she snapped but then crumpled. "I missed you." Upon that, Eve stopped walking. "I didn't think that would happen. That wasn't how it was supposed to go."
Eve spun back around, slack-jawed with incredulity. Villanelle was able to read her again like this through her fury. Somehow, that wasn't any better. Villanelle didn't know which Eve would have been better.
"You missed me? You don't get to miss me. Not after everything."
"Yes, you will. So will I." As evidenced by oh, let's see, the last ten minutes alone. "You and I can't coexist together."
"My life is gone. I have lost everything. I turned my back on everything and everyone because of you. Because I thought you were in trouble. I wanted you to be safe. I didn't want you to take the fall for Aaron Peel. But it was all just another lie. None of it was real."
"It was real to me."
"You were playing a part like always. This time so you would get what you wanted at the end of it. Until you didn't." Because she hadn't wanted Eve. She got rid of her the second that became clear. Eve had only been a projection to her of, what, Villanelle's warped idea of normalcy? A partner in crime? Something malleable for her to model after herself? Which wasn't even to speak of what Eve had thought she wanted. "The fantasy's gone now. There is nothing left here for either of us."
Villanelle's blood boiled at the pure look of contempt that marred Eve's features. As if this wasn't all her fault to begin with.
"And what about my life, hmm? You always go on about how I supposedly ruined your life, but what about how you've ruined mine? I was amazing. So was my flat. So was my job. But I don't have a home anymore." Eve had the decency to look guilty at that. "You know, I could have just stayed doing private contracts. I didn't need to come work for you. Konstantin gave me a way to disappear, to get away from Raymond, but I didn't want to leave you there. And now they are trying to kill me, and I am stuck in some smelly warehouse, wearing itchy clothes-" she cut herself off in visible disarray.
It should have been easy not to care. Villanelle's life was killing people for money. It was good to have ruined it. In a way, that's all Eve had been chosen to do. She should be proud.
But Villanelle didn't look well. She looked…lost. As equally adrift as Eve felt. They both did this. Despite being warned by everyone in their lives, they both tugged at the seams until it all came undone. It had been a mutual destruction.
It begged the question of why Villanelle didn't simply disappear now. Or at least after Rome. She wasn't even sure if Villanelle knew.
"Why are you in a…smelly warehouse?" Eve asked and watched as Villanelle straightened. Like a flip of a switch, she was no longer vulnerable.
"I'm looking for something. Why are you here?"
"You're not the only one they're trying to kill. I stole one of their cars. This was the last location on its GPS."
"And you thought what? You would spy on the Twelve. Maybe get ahead of them on your own?"
"It seemed like a good idea at the time, yeah."
"That is a stupid plan."
"I'm not going to stand around and let them dictate my life–or what's left of it."
It was said with that same uncaring detachment, and Villanelle couldn't curb her earlier curiosity. "How did you do it?"
"With," Eve gestured somewhere back toward the fallen gun.
She nodded in understanding. "That way is quick."
"Yeah." Except when it's not.
As though reading her mind, Villanelle glanced down to her side and the lasting wound she had inflicted. She wondered what Eve thought of it. Did she treasure it like Villanelle did hers? Her eyes sought Eve's, a sort of armistice passing between them.
"I'm looking for a file," Villanelle eventually elaborated. "Konstantin said I'd be able to access it here. He never mentioned anything about staplers." She picked one up just to drop it on the ground. Neither flinched at the sound.
"What kind of file?"
"Konstantin called it the Manifest, which is a little melodramatic, but it's supposed to keep track of everyone in the Twelve."
Eve shifted in her stance, suddenly antsy. If Konstantin wasn't lying as he was prone to, this could change everything. "So what do you want with it?"
"To use it," Villanelle explained what should have been obvious. "So I can find them and kill them. At least enough until they realize it will be better if they let me go."
"And what else?"
"What do you mean?"
"It's not your style. Like you said, you're expensive. You want to be showered in gifts. You want people to find your work. Take notice of it. You don't typically run around killing people if there's no payment or if there's no personal connection."
Villanelle stiffened, not wanting to admit she only came here because she had nothing else without Eve. "Maybe I do now. Things have changed. What do you care?"
"You're right. I don't." She did. "It's reckless in ways you're not. You don't even know if it will work. If they'll get your message. What if they just send more? Or like a task force–I don't know–but something."
"Then I'll deal with it."
"You can't just-"
But Villanelle cut her off. She didn't need to hear Eve worrying about her only to immediately deny worrying about her. "How many have come after you so far?"
Eve sighed but took the change of topic in stride. "Two."
"Were they together?"
She looked her over, giving a silent appraisal. "They are taking you seriously. They send out newer recruits who haven't been training long in teams. Just to get their feet wet. It leaves less room for error. But for important targets, they use someone more tiered."
"Someone like you." Was it messed up that Eve found that a little flattering?
"There's no one like me."
"No. No, there's not." An inconvenient truth. "I take it you haven't found it yet. This Manifest." It was a terrible name.
"I'm guessing it's been relocated. All I've found is office supplies and receipts for office supplies."
Villanelle led them back to the center table and passed over the file folders she had been sorting through before she was rudely attacked. They were all in Russian, and Eve did her best to make sense of them.
"Same name," she pointed out. "Petrov. What is that? Iskander? If he's buying all these supplies, you think he owns the warehouse?"
"Maybe. It's a start. We can look him up. Or maybe give Konstantin another visit."
Eve dropped the folder. "I'm not working with you on this. I won't ever be making that mistake again."
Villanelle replayed the recent strangling in order to ignore how annoying Eve was being–as though she wasn't the one who hired her! But she didn't want her to go yet. No, she would play nice. For now. "You need me to get out of this. You can't take on the Twelve alone."
"Why not? I've been doing fine on my own so far."
"Please, you nearly just died in a warehouse."
Eve glared, gobsmacked. "Because you just tried to kill me in a warehouse. Again."
"I have never tried to kill you in a warehouse before. Admit it. I chose much nicer scenery."
Villanelle's eyebrows lifted as Eve stepped away and released a guttural scream, but she let her have a go at it. Angry Eve was starting to become preferable.
"We both want the same thing here," she continued once she was sure Eve was finished. "And they're not going to stop. Where else are you going to go?"
Nowhere. Eve had nowhere to go. They would kill her eventually.
Villanelle was right.
That was the absolute worst part of this.
Chapter 2: part two
They left the SUV at the warehouse, knowing it would be traced eventually. Villanelle had a bag of Eve's clothes with her in the hotel room she had rented because of course she did. But it gave Eve something to change into after her shower.
She had stayed under the hot spray of the water longer than necessary. She looked terrible. That was all she could focus on in the fogged up mirror. That and what a nonessential thought that was to have and why she was having it.
She couldn't stay in here forever. Eve would have to be in the same room with her again. She wanted to be. She wasn't afraid to be with her anymore. That wasn't the appropriate response to being shot.
Eve gave up and exited the bathroom. She noticed Villanelle had left and returned at some point. She was wearing a proper splint from a pharmacy and had a bucket of ice on the table in front of her. She sat on the chaise opposite from the bed, looking all the while like she belonged in an elegant room such as this. She had changed out of Eve's clothes into a silk set of pajamas. Where she got them from was anyone's guess.
Eve ignored her staring and grabbed a bottle of water from the mini fridge to take her antibiotics for the night.
"Shouldn't you eat something with those?" Villanelle advised.
"Not hungry. Where'd you get the laptop?"
"Oh. I found it sitting completely unattended in the lobby. Strange," she said innocently before relenting. "I'll give it back. Just doing a little research."
Eve snorted, taking a seat next to her. "I'm sure we'll find better use for it than some rich asshole who thinks skiing is a personality trait." They did seem to make up the bulk of the Swiss countryside and this very hotel.
"Recreational athletes really are the worst."
Villanelle's eyes gleamed. "Do you want to see his kids? They like to wear matching argyle."
Which was as absolutely disgusting as Villanelle made it sound, but Eve stopped her from clicking open the photo album. Research. That she could handle. Not Villanelle's idea of bonding. "You really think we're going to find Petrov by Googling him?"
"You know better than anyone what you can find with a simple search. People are so careless with what they let out into the world."
Sure but it would take forever.
"I almost feel like calling Kenny," Eve said, mostly to herself.
"Why don't you?" She obviously wouldn't, but Eve seemed particularly reflective.
"They all think I'm…gone. And I'm not sure I want them to know differently yet."
More like dead but it'd be better not to reveal that tidbit right now. Eve was somewhat at ease, and Villanelle saw no reason to set her off.
"They probably wouldn't trust us anyway," she reasoned.
Eve was inclined to agree. Besides the fact, they definitely shouldn’t think of trusting them. Carolyn made a puppet of her, of both of them, and Eve had no idea how long that con actually was. None of Eve's choices felt entirely her own now. The only solace in being lied to was knowing she had lied just as much in return. How much worse would it have been had Carolyn known of all that transpired between Eve and Villanelle? How far back did Carolyn start manipulating her? It was before Rome. Before Nadia's note. Was she looking for someone to possibly take the fall the entire time?
You've been fired, so no one cares about what you do next.
"Hey, what did Carolyn want with you in Russia?" That grabbed Villanelle's attention again, brow furrowing. "She met with you in prison and lied about it and then flat out refused to tell me why after I found out," Eve elaborated.
Villanelle shrugged. "She just came to question why I had killed Nadia. She was pretending to go along with my cover, though." She cringed at the mere memory of controversial hats.
"But–why? How did she even gain access?" Was Vladimir still assisting her at that point? If so, why not ask Villanelle about the Twelve. Unless they were, in fact, both dirty.
"I don't know. Konstantin, probably."
"No. He was working against us until you kidnapped his family."
"I'm pretty sure Konstantin was working against everyone." Villanelle frowned again. "Do you think she wanted me out?"
"Konstantin said they were going to keep me locked up, and that the reason they wanted me to kill him was because he was helping the British to get me out." An obvious lie. Villanelle still had no idea why they wanted Konstantin dead, or more importantly, why she would be included in that. They had always been so proud of her. "I was stuck in solitary until Carolyn came to visit. As soon as she left, I was being transferred and freed."
"Well, that's a…thought." She grimaced. Certainly not a pleasant one. Eve never knew how much merit to put behind her insane and borderline paranoid theories about Carolyn having ties to the Twelve. But then insane theories were her forte.
"What? That maybe Carolyn's the real bad guy?" Villanelle joked for a moment. "Or maybe they're just all the same."
"And that doesn't bother you?"
"No. I liked doing my job. I didn't care who I was working for."
"I don't understand that. They sent a team to Paris to pack up all of your things like you had never existed. They went there to kill you."
"So did you. Maybe you should go work for them." Eve deflated at that, and Villanelle tried her best to move on. "You're tired. We should sleep."
"No, we need to get started."
"Even if we had the Manifest in our hands, it will take months to sort through. It can wait a few hours."
"Well, I can't." Months with Villanelle was not sustainable. This night barely was.
"Suit yourself." Villanelle left the laptop in her seat. "The room service runs late if you get hungry."
Eve avoided looking as Villanelle tucked herself into bed across the room. It was an image she could do without having seared into her brain. Instead, she picked up the computer to get started. Its wallpaper was a saccharine family photo. Husband, wife, two kids, a baby, and a goddamn golden retriever. It was a Norman Rockwell image that needed to be remastered by Norman Bates.
She might be a little bit of a horrible person.
Charlie's phone continued to get texts and notifications as she charged it up. She couldn't respond, of course, but she kept reading them. He had a lot of contacts. So far most of them seemed joyous and understanding that he was on vacation and couldn't respond. His parents were already worried. She researched any news on the accident first but found nothing of note. Eve tried to breathe even breaths as she felt the bile rising. This was her fault. It was as if she killed him herself. Her body count was now at three, and she was traveling with the one person who wouldn't care about Charlie Prust at all if Eve confessed.
It was too much, and Eve moved on to the more heartless research. She wouldn't be sleeping tonight. It was fine. Better even. She may no longer be afraid, but it was probably smarter not to sleep in the same room should Villanelle feel the need to try and murder her again.
She wouldn't have fallen asleep anyway even if she wanted to. Eve always lost track of time like this, and tonight was no exception. But it was exciting. She hit her groove just past one in the morning. One article after another. It was a compulsion. She couldn't stop until she found Petrov. Eve had it all organized by sunrise. All that was left was sharing her findings.
Villanelle looked too peaceful when she slept. Eve doubted she knew the meaning of contentment. It didn't look right on her face. But she also looked human like this. She was no longer so put together or imposing and she left a bit of drool on her pillow.
"Villanelle." She tried to wake her with a nudge far gentler than she deserved. Eve was discomforted and opted instead to drop the laptop right on her chest. It was effective. Villanelle jolted awake immediately. "Oh good you're up."
She caught her bearings, calming as she took note of what happened. "That's a dangerous way to wake someone. I could have thought I was being attacked."
"What's the worst you could do? Shoot me?" Eve sat on the edge of the bed as Villanelle scooted over, holding onto the laptop.
"You're very funny in the morning."
"Look at this." Eve reached over and opened up her research. "Sándor Novák, head of a smaller biotech company, found dead of an apparent overdose in Budapest. By itself it doesn't really lead to any connection at all. I only found it because they're in the same profession." She clicked over to a new tab. "Meet Iskander Petrov. Also an exec in biotech. Has a much bigger reputation. Spends some time every winter in Moscow on business, but the rest of the year, he resides in Cuenca, Spain. And it seems like every single upstart and potential rival keeps dying if these dozen of news articles are anything to go by. They're mostly local stories from all over the world, spread out over the last few years. All the deaths are of an unforeseeable cause that doesn't warrant that much attention on its own. Mostly drug related," she finished, breathless with satisfaction. "Quite the pattern."
"Incompetent pattern. Why would he choose someone so sloppy to do his kills?"
"And here's the real kicker." Eve directed them once more to another site. "The guy's super lavish, right? He lives in some historical mansion. Boasts about collecting a bunch of rare finds. Hosts parties every few months, which all sound likes some underground meet up behind closed doors."
"Oh, I am in love."
"It must cost a shitload to maintain, and he's got an auction set up in couple of weeks. Look at one of the backers listed on his property's site."
"LYNtext Distributors," Villanelle read.
"The manufacturer of all those office supplies."
Eve like this was a sight. This wasn't her usual expression of pride. This was more like triumph. Her cheeks were lightly flushed with exhilaration, and Villanelle felt herself being drawn in imperceptibly. She was entranced.
"Looks like we're going to Spain."
"Spain," Eve's lips popped over the word.
Villanelle could only watch. What a pity. Such a waste of a good bed.
"Would you like to hear a joke about the Spanish Inquisition?"
"It is hilarious."
"I wanna go." Eve hopped off bed, feeling particularly chipper for a recently shot person. "Start getting ready."
"No. Breakfast," Villanelle whined. "We need to eat. And you need to sleep." She pointed between the shadows under Eve's eyes.
"I'll sleep on the train."
More like when she was (actually) dead. Villanelle collapsed back to the bed with a groan.
Eve did sleep on the train. It was a feckless nap that left her as exhausted as their impromptu trip would.
First, they hopped on a local train ride to Zürich. Traveling openly between countries without ID presented too many potential obstacles. There were safer and more remote ways to cross borders. So after Zürich, the way to Spain was comprised of taxis, busses, hitchhiking, and Eve's personal favorite, in the back of a wagon of hay. None of which seemed unfamiliar to Villanelle despite knowing she'd rather not deign to anything less than first class.
Eve still wanted to know why such escapades were so familiar. Who was she before she was Villanelle? Back when she was just your average young woman in prison for murder and mutilation. Before the Twelve found her and Nadia. Who was Oksana Astankova? What happened in that life that led to this one? What of her family? Her home? The violence had always been there. Had anything else? Was there ever any remorse? Any love?
Even now Eve still only had fragments to work with. But it felt like the closer to Villanelle she got, the further those answers slipped out of reach.
She needed them. Maybe now more than ever. Eve craved them in a way that refused to leave room for anything else. So much had been destroyed because of this–this feeling. It was relentless in its demands and left nothing untouched. In its wake was left a void.
Yet it felt like everything would finally make sense if Eve could say, indubitably, that she knew her. That she knew her better than anyone. Why she was. What she was. What she wanted. What Eve wanted. How Eve was able to drive in a knife and swing an axe; care about her at all after Bill.
Eve needed it all to make sense.
For now, she would have to settle on making it out of Valencia. It was taking longer than necessary given Villanelle's need to buy lunch and outfits that weren't Eve's. They needed to find a place to lie low for the time being. Petrov's residence was only a couple of hours away now. Their later research over dinner led them to an abandoned village just north of Cuenca and away from any major roads.
The homes were a failure leftover from Spain's housing crisis and never belonged to anyone until recently. Apparently, there was a bit of a black market for renting them out–mostly to take advantage of immigrants as far as Eve could tell–but the government had cracked down on the scheme in the last couple of weeks. Villanelle picked out a suitable one immediately once they arrived. She strode to the front door without a care.
"Lock picks?" Eve tried not to look too enthused, but it was just so cool in a way nothing ever was.
Not that she would ever tell Villanelle that.
"They're good to have. I broke into your house again. Twice." She frowned in concern, looking over her shoulder to Eve. "Too far?"
"On brand," Eve responded dryly. "Also, we have a hide-a-key."
Villanelle gave what Eve had begun to recognize as her charmed smile. "I can teach you if you want."
Eve did want, but she wasn't about to tell her that either.
The house smelled like it hadn't been aired out since whoever lived here had left. They must have packed up in a hurry if they had any choice in the matter. The place was still mostly furnished. A light layer of dust covered everything and cobwebs were in every corner. There were no curtains, so they would have to cover the downstairs windows in some inconspicuous way, but it could work.
"We should be safe here. It's actually a bit cleaner than yours," Villanelle said, scrunching up her nose, and Eve was so incredibly fucked up for still finding that attractive. "You had so much spoiled food." She continued wandering through the house with Eve following diligently behind. "Also, I paid your mortgage for the next month to get ahead. But you're alive now so I guess I didn't need to worry about that."
Eve frowned. "Why would you need to worry about that?"
Niko was still on the mortgage with her. They paid it together. They paid for everything together. She wasn't even sure who would get the house long-term. Given the way things were going for her, it would probably serve him better. There was so much to divide even if they had mostly kept separate lives within their marriage. Well, she did anyway. Niko's life had always just been...Niko's life. She participated in it when it had been required of her. Likewise, her line of work tended to keep him out of hers. It had always been balanced in that regard.
The idea of divorce was already such a clusterfuck. At the very least, braining a man with an axe better keep her from having to sit through those proceedings.
The avoidance had become easy to spot over time. Villanelle preferred confrontation and taking up space and everything else that would ensure being noticed. However, in these moments, she would look away as she never typically did. She was blasé and open, but it was always too calculated not to give her away.
"But no one was there," Eve concluded. "Niko was supposed to finish packing up his things. He wouldn't have left food to spoil or bills unpaid. And even in a fight, he'd try and reach me if that's what he came home to." She stopped walking, suddenly horrified. "Tell me you didn't…"
"Of course not. I wouldn't have done that to you then. He was alive the last I saw him."
She approached where Villanelle now stood stock still and a bit uneasy. Eve was pissed. It was evident. About this. About the continued gloating over her marriage falling apart. About telling him Eve stabbed her in the first place. "And when was that?"
"Before Rome. Relax, I didn't kill him." It was casual. Like she was doing her some great favor by not slicing up Niko.
"There are other ways to hurt someone. You castrated Anna's husband."
"It was the only reason she stayed with him. That and her guilt of God," she sighed before giving Eve a measured onceover. "That's not why you stayed with your husband."
The superiority was infuriating. As was Eve falling right into it. She was such an asshole. "Enlighten me then."
"Because it was safe. You weren't alone. You wouldn't have to acknowledge that you stab people. Or that you think about me. All the time." She took a step closer. And another, recalling a confession that still played on a loop in Eve's head. Villanelle's, too, apparently. It shouldn't have been comforting. "About what I'm wearing. And what I'm doing. And who I'm doing it with."
"And what did you do?"
"Nothing. Really. I just followed him to his storage unit and asked him some questions. He gave me most of the answers I wanted, and then I left him alone." Which was, of course, true. "I didn't do anything. To Niko." It was deliberate enough that Eve shut her eyes tiredly. "Niko, why don't you just move all of your stuff into mine? Niko, can I show you to your new bedroom? I'm afraid I only have the one."
Expectedly, the accent was perfect, and it was as annoying hearing it secondhand as it had been straight from Gemma Whomever's mouth.
"Oh, I did." She smiled, bright and wide. "Are you really going to pretend you're not happy about this? You had to have hated her."
"You killed a woman in front of him."
"Don't be so dramatic. I knocked him out before I killed her. Wouldn't want to damage his innocence like you did. Poor guy."
Eve paced away, searching for space to breathe beneath this latest bit of oncoming rage. "You wanted to punish me. Make me feel guilty for bringing you into his life."
Villanelle chuckled lightly. "Do you even?"
No. No, she didn't. How was that possible? What the hell was happening to her?
"So why didn't he go home and get the rest of his stuff? Get me out of his life for good." Because surely he was done with her for good after this.
Villanelle gave a childish shrug; her mouth downturned in what she must have thought resembled shame. "There was a violent murder in a small space with no witnesses. He came out of it. That doesn't look so good. Also, it probably doesn't help that his estranged wife is missing."
"You framed Niko for murder?" Niko, who didn't even yell when he accidently spilled coffee on himself.
"If I did, it wasn't on purpose. I locked him in from the outside. I didn't even take his cellphone. The authorities will have to figure out there was a third party. Unless they're especially dense. Eve, there's nothing you can do for him now. Let him handle it," she said it as though soothing. As if she wasn't the cause of this.
"Why? He left me. We were separating. So why-"
"Because he still loves you," Villanelle stated plainly like she was presenting a researched set of facts. Detached. Critical. She saw that as a flaw, and Eve recoiled. "And he's spineless enough to take you back despite everything you've done to him. That's what people do when they love someone. They go soft. But he only slows you down."
Eve's first assumption was wrong. This wasn't punishment. This was strategy. Villanelle wanted her to be alone. Isolated from everyone. Like her. And it worked out wonderfully.
There was nothing she could do for Niko now, not from here, and there wasn't anything he'd ever be willing to do for her again.
It was no longer such a relief to rely only on herself.
Niko must have felt like he was living in a nightmare…even ignoring the whole framed for murder aspect.
It had to have occurred to him by now.
Either his wife had become someone he no longer knew, or there was a whole side to her he had never known at all.
Eve wasn't sure which was the truth, and she didn't guess at which conclusion would have been more horrifying for him to reach. So she went to bed, resolved to stop thinking about it entirely.
Sleep still wouldn't come without effort, but it was gradually getting better. She no longer closed her eyes and saw ruins. Eve ignored the fact that it was because she felt safer traveling with Villanelle. The cognitive dissonance was, frankly, too much to handle; especially waking up to it again in the morning.
Equally outlandish was coming downstairs to find Villanelle in the kitchen making breakfast. Where she got the food, let alone the pans and dishware, was too much to contemplate. It was a buffet of surrealism.
"You're up," Villanelle greeted with a pleasant smile, shifting into whoever she was trying to be this morning.
"Yeah. I am," she answered slowly. This was either going to result in her being poisoned or Villanelle believing she had been forgiven. Neither worked for Eve. "What's all this?"
"The house has no power, but we still have gas and water." She moved to serve two plates onto the table. "I went out this morning. You were sleeping pretty soundly, so I thought we could have a late brunch."
"This isn't a vacation, Villanelle. We're on the run, hiding in abandoned houses because people want us dead."
Villanelle ignored her entirely, taking an excessive bite of food. "Right. What did you call us? Bonnie and Clyde? I think I prefer Thelma and Louise. Have you seen that one?"
Eve sighed. "Yes. I've seen Thelma & Louise."
"Good movie. It was very funny." She pointed to Eve's plate. "It's going to get cold."
"I'm not hungry." God was she hungry. And it smelled good on top of it. Honestly, fuck her.
"Yes, you are. Try it. Please." Her smile grew rictus as she tried to hold in in place.
She grabbed onto Eve's wrist to stop her from leaving. "You're still mad. I know. You'll get over it. Eggs aren't good reheated."
Eve wrestled her arm loose. It wasn't hard to do since it hosted the broken finger.
Villanelle could only watch as Eve walked away from the grand effort she had made and tossed down her fork in frustration. She would finish her brunch later. Eggs were fine reheated.
She found Eve secluded in the room she had claimed for herself. The bed was barren save for the quickly draining laptop and Eve's notes spread out around it. They really needed to buy some sort of linen.
"So is this what you've always done?" Villanelle plopped down onto the mattress with a childish bounce. She read over the notes, not retaining any of them. "Hide behind your work when things get too messy?"
"Or we need to actually figure out some sort of a plan. And I'd rather do that than sit across a table from you and pretend everything is fine. When it's not fine. None of this is fine."
"I went through your office. I read your files on me. I had never seen it all laid out like that. You're a little obsessive, you know?"
Eve hated that she even cared to hear her opinion on it. "And what did you think?"
"That I'm very impressive." Eve rolled her eyes. "Which one was your favorite?"
"I did not have a favorite murder of yours."
"Eve," she said knowingly.
Okay, fine. So she did. Sue her. "The showerhead."
Villanelle grinned in remembrance. "That was a sensational way to poison someone."
"The fact that it was pulsating made it last far longer than it should have." Eve pinched her nose. "God, what am I saying?"
"It fascinates you."
"Is it not just with me?" Villanelle tilted her head inquisitively. She had dismissed Eve's files on other assassins, but perhaps it was rash. Was she not special to Eve either?
It hadn't been just her. Not at first. Eve had been interested in any female assassin's psyche she could get her hands on. They got her through the day. The Ghost's methods were some of the most intricate and impressive she had come across. But the woman behind the mask didn't match up to her crimes. The work had been purposefully discreet. Jin hadn't wanted to be noticed, and day job aside, she seemed perfectly normal. Sane. The Ghost hadn't been a psychopath at all. Neither had Nadia. Everyone who was a part of the Twelve couldn't have been like Villanelle.
And what did that say about Eve and her own murders? People killed people every single day. It was common, really, when you thought about it. But where was the line redrawn after you stepped over it? Villanelle didn't have one at all.
"It's different with you," was as understated a way as she could put it. But Villanelle was still visibly pleased, and that was cutting it far too close. "But then you were always much flashier," she added airily, as if they weren't talking about murder.
"I am an artist." Eve snorted at that. "Don't laugh. People go crazy without a creative outlet."
"And you're suddenly the expert on crazy?"
"After all I've seen? Of course. I mean look at you." And like that she was colder suddenly. It could no longer pass as playful.
"Me?" Right, because Eve was the crazy one here.
"You had all your conspiracies and research into female assassins stifled, and you wound up sticking an axe into a man's head. Repeatedly. And with great bloodshed."
Eve recognized that she was chasing after a reaction. She didn't want to give it to her, but the agitation once again began to stir up. Villanelle manipulated her into doing it. She only killed him because she thought Villanelle was about to die.
The first hit into the shoulder maybe. The rest had been on Eve.
"You are so rude. You should be careful. That will get you in trouble one day."
"God, I hate you."
It was a common turn of phrase, and she delivered it with light exasperation as she always did. Thoughtlessly. Eve had said it plenty over the years, sarcastically to Niko and Bill and Elena. But of course it meant something else entirely here.
"No. But you hate that you don't. Even after I shot you. You're so damaged."
"And what does that say about you?" Eve got up to leave again. Suddenly cold eggs seemed preferable to this conversation happening within another one.
The dregs of Villanelle's already nonexistent patience evaporated. Every time anything remotely pertaining to Raymond came up, Eve closed up again, and she was so beyond tired of it. Like it even mattered. She was right. Eve would get over it eventually. Villanelle expected she already had, and that was the real issue Eve was having with it. She cared that she didn't care which just sounded like an endless cycle of self-inflicted punishment for absolutely no reason.
"I freed you."
Yes, the expert on crazy. Eve came back into the room. "Freed me? From what?"
"You had nothing in your life."
"You think I had nothing in my life?"
"Nothing special. You were just like everyone else. They're all the same, don't you see that yet? They're afraid of everything. People spend their whole lives creating rules for themselves and then worry about breaking them. As if anything would happen to them if they wore the wrong outfit to a party. Or if they didn't hold a door open for someone. Or if they don't return a call in time. Their world is so small. You don't have to live like them now. You're free. You should be thanking me."
It hurt, and Eve didn't know which one of them she was hurting for. Maybe it hadn't been anything special and maybe that wound up being too much to bear, but that didn't mean there had been nothing in her life. She hated that Villanelle felt nothing. She hated the idea of becoming like her.
I feel things when I'm with you.
"That's what you'll never understand. You wouldn't have a problem walking away from all those silly things because you don't see anything else. You don't see the connections. If you disappeared, no one would care. Who would even know you were gone?" Eve would, and that did nothing but piss her off. "You're not afraid of anything because you have no one to lose. Of course it's small to you."
Villanelle bristled noticeably at the disregard, and Eve stood taller in preparation for the next blow. They were too good at trading barbs and getting under each other's skin now. Not to mention literally. She was starting to suspect they lived there.
Villanelle didn't disappoint.
"And who do you have, Eve? Your best friend who's dead? Your boss who's done nothing but use you and lie to you? Your husband who doesn't want you? Not the real you. How could he? He doesn't even know you. Don't forget that I'm the only one who knows what you truly are." Villanelle stood up calmly, but her steps across the floor were threatening. "And I want you to know I understand that. I know why you're so angry and want to blame me for everything that's happened to you since Rome. But I remember. I remember you breaking into my flat. And coaxing me into bed." With an echo, she traced over Eve's face, from her hairline to down past her ear. It was a touch Eve had never expelled from her mind, but the gesture was emotionless now. A facsimile. "Pushing a knife into me." Eve flinched away. "You did that all on your own. Long before we got to Raymond. Just let it go," she encouraged. "This will all be easier for you when you do."
Easier. As if any of this would ever be easy.
Eve winced in something she couldn't call pain as she yanked out the final stitch. It had been overdue for a couple of days, and she sat undignified on the loo using a first aid kit they had picked up somewhere in France. She hadn't been able to bring herself to do it until today, and once she was finished up front, she couldn't say why. It didn't hurt to do it.
But she couldn't reach the ones on her back no matter how many times she contorted in front of the mirror. It was a two hand job. The obvious solution was to ask Villanelle to do it. It was either that or go out and risk blowing their cover to ask a stranger to do it–something Eve contemplated quite thoroughly.
Villanelle set aside the worn paperback she had found, and was most definitely not reading, to frown over the surgical scissors and tweezers Eve had handed her. "What is this for?"
"I can't reach the stitches on my back. I need you to take them out. It's been three weeks, I'm pretty sure they'll start growing into my skin soon."
Villanelle obliged by scooting back on the couch. Eve sat hesitantly in front of her, unbuttoning her shirt and shedding it off. She folded it and held it to her lap, as though that made a difference. She wanted this to be over with quickly. She wanted Villanelle to be clinical and focus solely on the stitches. She didn't need Villanelle to do anything else.
So of course she touched her. She held the instruments off to the side, tracing around in small circles with the pad of her thumb. It felt good. Eve hadn't wanted to touch either wound, telling herself it was due to not risking infection.
"Does it hurt?"
"Yes." Less now, but yes.
It was small, as entrance wounds were, and Villanelle wanted to see the rest of it. It had to be messier in the front. But she didn't picture Eve turning around and letting her look.
There were only nine stitches. The doctor did an adequate job. Villanelle pulled up on each suture knot before snipping it off and clearing it away. Shooting Eve had nearly taken away everything that mattered, yet all it came down to was a few bits of nylon. Life was so funny sometimes.
"There. All done."
Villanelle trailed her fingers along Eve's spine. They begged to be replaced by her lips, but she settled for exploring her like this. Eve's breath hitched unevenly as Villanelle pressed her palm flat. She shuddered again as Villanelle's fingertips slipped and skittered under her bra strap.
But nothing came of it. Villanelle didn't get how Eve could murder someone in chunks but still deny having sex with her. For someone like Eve, shouldn't that have been the smaller deal between the two?
Work, if you could call it that, was better to talk about in the long run.
Over the next couple of weeks, Eve took it easy for the first time since Rome; maybe even before that. The adrenaline behind staying on the move wore down and her body ached. She kept inside, mostly staying upstairs where she could have the windows open, which ultimately gave her cabin fever. They had fixed the house up as much as it needed to be. The downstairs windows were covered in newspaper, and Villanelle had gone out to retrieve blankets and essentials. Running water was a godsend, though they were trying not to overdo it.
Still, it was a depleted house, and they were essentially stuck in it. Villanelle at least got to go into town a couple of times. Eve had to distract herself with research. She had Charlie's phone turned off since Switzerland and used it now to copy archived blueprints of Petrov's residence. The floor plans were of public domain since it was part of a historical sight.
Villanelle took to the outdoors and spent a day away scoping out the mansion. No one came in or out and it remained heavily guarded. Simply breaking in on a normal day wouldn't do. They were right to wait for the auction that was set to draw a crowd. They made a good team when it came to work.
There was just…the other thing.
They were living together even if Eve desperately wanted to call it something else. Anything else. She's seen Villanelle at all hours of the day now. She knew her natural sleeping schedule. She knew how long she spent braiding her hair. They ate meals together and had nothing to talk about over them. There was too much to say. It became stifling and lasted until the time finally came to put forth their plan, and they could focus on something else without pretext. Or what should have been their plan. A plan. A single shared plan. That was the false impression Eve had been under, but Villanelle apparently had an entirely different idea in mind.
"You never said we'd be going undercover."
Villanelle shrugged off her worry. "It was implied."
"No, it wasn't."
Well. Yeah. And this was why. Can you blame her?
"It is better to blend in than to sneak in. We're less likely to be seen that way."
"I don't know how to blend into some Spanish auction. I don't even speak Spanish." This just spelled disaster. Should she have researched the artifacts being auctioned off?
"It will be host to many languages. There's too much profit to be made," Villanelle dismissed. "Do you not speak any?"
"Some, but no more than my French. It's better than my Polish but-"
"Are you not fluent in anything else?" she asked out of pure curiosity.
"Korean." Her parents had insisted on it. Something to this day she was still grateful for despite using it much less after her grandmother passed. She and her mom did their best to keep it up.
Villanelle smiled like she had done something right. "I'm still learning that one."
A part of her wanted to ask just how many languages Villanelle could speak and how many did she know even before joining the Twelve. But Eve was more focused on the fact that she was better than Villanelle at something. She should make her flashcards as a gag gift. That was bound to tick her off.
"What if they recognize us?" This was, of course, the most pertinent concerns of all.
"They're not going to know you. It's not like everyone is handed the same target."
"I will wear a disguise."
So that was a yes.
"There has to be a smarter way to do this."
"There isn't. Besides, aren't you a spy?"
"…Yes." Eve lifted her chin, finding sudden confidence. "Yes, I am a spy."
The Casas Colgadas were gorgeous in person, and the Walled Town was somewhere Eve would have enjoyed vacationing in under better circumstances. Petrov's mansion was the talk of the town and easy enough to find. Eve was already clad to the nines, wearing her blue dress and heels that did wonders for her legs. They were still in search of Villanelle's outfit and found it being worn by a waitress taking a break out back. She was a little shorter than Villanelle but of similar build.
"Smokers." Villanelle shook her head in disgust. "They make it so easy."
"Do you want me to distract her?"
"Villanelle, no!" But that quickly it was all too late. The waitress's neck was broken and her body hit the ground with a dull thump as Eve followed over. "You didn't have to kill her."
"It's a needless loose end. Now is not the time for your false morality complex." Eve may have been shocked when they happened in front of her, but she had never, ever been disturbed over any of Villanelle's kills. Who was she still trying to fool here?
Villanelle began undressing the former waitress and placing the items off to the side. It was a simple uniform. A white button down under a white Eton jacket. Plain black slacks. And a garish red bowtie that she was already fond of.
"A little help?" Villanelle huffed, pulling up the body under its armpits when she was done. Eve grumbled but finished lifting the body up by its ankles and helped hide it in some bushes alongside the building. "I need to change. Be our lookout?"
Eve walked the few feet to the corner of the wall and peeked around. There was nothing there, and Villanelle was by far the more tantalizing sight. As if sensing Eve's staring, she glanced over. She wasn't offended, of course, only energized. Villanelle finished dressing, looking very much like the cat who ate the canary.
"Do you care about these?" Villanelle finally asked, holding up her previous outfit.
"So that's why you went back to wearing my clothes today."
Villanelle smirked and tossed them into the bush with the body. She adjusted her wig of the night–short, platinum blonde, and borderline ridiculous–before leading them around the back of the mansion and into a small alcove playing host to slim door.
"Wait here. I'll swing back to the staff entrance and come let you in," Villanelle paused. "Are you ready? No matter what happens, you can't hesitate in there."
Eve nodded. It didn't feel like a lie. "I'm ready."
The auction floor was stuffy under the cigar smoke, abrasive conversations, and the all-around asphyxiation that rich people tended to dole out. Eve Polastri would have hated it and how fake everything was. There wasn't a single genuine connection made all night. But Marjorie Sloane, the high class art dealer Eve decided she was tonight, did not mind at all. She was used to it. She went to several of such auctions a year searching for valuable pieces, and Marjorie was enjoying the chats of business tonight. She had made several potential clients in the last hour for her gallery in Bordeaux.
Eve found that she didn't mind it either so long as she could be someone else. It was freeing not having to be herself or think about her issues. Not for the first time since she had begun researching assassins did she wonder if this was the main appeal.
Eve turned at the voice to find Villanelle. She displayed no recognition. A stranger with a familiar face. It was striking.
Eve took the proffered flute of champagne. "Thank you."
"I found him," Villanelle informed in low tones. "He's on the balcony. Don't look now," she scolded as Eve immediately began to turn around. Honestly.
She took her tray to begin serving other guests and not draw any more attention. She didn't get far.
"Hey. You." Eve snapped her fingers, regaining Villanelle's attention. She shoved the champagne glass back at her with all the dignity of someone who asked for managers. "This tastes like seltzer. Show me to the bar."
"Si, señora." Ever the dutiful waitress, Villanelle led them away in the direction of the bar. "Enjoying yourself?'
"You know what? I am." Eve grinned. "What's our next move?"
"I'm going to follow him. He's only come out in intervals. He's arrogant. He doesn't even have a personal guard."
"So let's finish this."
"No, you are going to stay and mingle."
"But–no. You're not doing this alone."
"Watch the floor. Make sure no one comes after us." Villanelle left no room for argument and went off in pursuit of her target.
Villanelle snuck into the study she had been surveying throughout the night. Iskander Petrov had thus far spent most of his night in it when he wasn't watching the main floor. It could get cooler up in the mountains, but she wasn't sure tonight warranted the fireplace being lit. There was no computer on the desk. It was doubtful she'd find the Manifest in here so she began going through the drawers. She found an ornate flintlock pistol in the second drawer down. Its handle was covered in ivory with an intricate dragon carved into the base. Probably from the eighteenth century.
Rich people were ridiculous.
Villanelle tucked herself into the corner next to the bookshelves so he wouldn't see her when he came in. She had timed her incursion perfectly. Iskander reentered almost to the exact minute she predicted, placing his items on the desk. It was every twenty-five minutes without fail.
He was a sweaty man. The top of his bald head seemed to glow. He sported a silver goatee that probably hadn't been restyled in decades as men tended to do.
He looked like a light bulb.
"You know how to throw a good party. I will give you that much."
"I do. Even to those who were not invited, it seems." He didn't seem surprised by her sudden appearance in front of him. He only sat calmly behind his desk. "It's good to see you again."
"We have never met."
"Not eye to eye. But I have spent some time watching you."
Villanelle pulled a face. "How creepy."
"Why have you come? I doubt you are interested in the art."
It was slight, but she caught his glance toward his desk drawer. It will be fun once he reaches in and finds nothing.
"Maybe if it wasn't all naked people. Are you really that depraved?"
"You must know there's a price on your head. You and I have no history. So why walk into the lion's den?"
"Is that what you are, Iskander? A lion?" She chuckled. "You look more like a keeper. Do they have zoos here?"
He hid it well, but he was getting angry. Good. "Our organization put a lot of effort behind molding you into what you are, Villanelle. But you haven't repaid us in kind, have you?"
"Maybe you should have appreciated my work more. Not demote me and pair me with Raymond." The name alone got a nice reaction. "He was so annoying. Being around him really did cause a splitting headache."
His hand banged down on top of his desk. "What do you want?"
"For you people to leave me alone. My life is in transition, Iskander. I currently don't have a job. Unemployment is a massive conflict society has yet to solve, and you're not helping matters."
"Good thing you're in a business that will never go under." He eased. "Come back home. I don't like wasting time and resources, and you were one of our best."
"I am the best. Are you offering me my job back?"
"What else are you going to do for work? Will you drag Konstantin out of whatever hole he's dug for himself for more private contracts? They don't pay nearly as well as we do. It's beneath you. To think of all you'll go without. Seems like more waste to me."
"I have money."
"For how long? Hmm? We keep records. Your purchases were opulent. Whatever you have saved will be gone in no time. Then you'll have to live like some street rat that owns several sets of tracksuits." She couldn't help but shudder at the image. "Please. Sit. Let me help you."
She ignored him and stretched out with both hands to lean casually over his desk. "I'm not the one here who needs help. And there is no way you have any interest in bringing me back. I would cost you far too much."
"You're costing us too much now. The one you killed in Rome? He was also one of our best."
"He was shit."
"I don't like you," he said bluntly. "And you're right, I don't want you. I see this more as a concession. Maybe we will kill you, but by the time it happens, how many of ours will you have taken out? It will ultimately cost us more if we don't take you back. And as a personal advancement, in order to earn your trust, I'll even let your friend live. Surprisingly, she has cost us too. I did not expect that."
"I don't have any friends."
"Oh? Not even Eve?
Villanelle stood straight again, on edge as always when someone from the Twelve tried to bait her with Eve. "Eve. Eve who?"
"Oh, that Eve. She's been taken care of by me. And free of charge. Perhaps we should talk about a new stipend while I'm here."
"Are you sure?"
"I'm a good shot."
"That's interesting since she's currently on my auction floor."
Iskander turned his tablet toward her. The surveillance was pinpointed in the main hall on Eve. It looked to be a live feed.
"Huh. What a coincidence," she dismissed. They gave a great synchronized bout of fake laughter. "Why are you looking at me like that? I didn't let her in." He clicked on another video, and sure enough, there was earlier footage of her and Eve coming in through the side entrance. "You must have very small cameras."
"The ones you can see are just for show. People will think they have bypassed them but ahhh."
"So. It would seem you're at a crossroads. You simply know too much for us to ever 'leave you alone'."
"It would solve a lot of my problems to come work for you again." Which was true. She would need more money eventually, and after she undercut the Twelve, she still had no idea what direction to head in. Plus, she did miss her job so long as she was allowed to do it her way. Except Eve was in their crosshairs, and returning to the Twelve would surely put an end to whatever was between them. "But that cost would be too much for me. Now where is the Manifest?"
She couldn't be sure if it was the mention of the Manifest or pulling out his tacky gun that finally brought out the fear in his eyes. Not that it mattered either way.
"You fire that in here, you won't make it out of this building alive," Iskander warned.
"I know," she sighed, weighing the gun from hand to hand. "That's why I unloaded it."
Throwing a gun at someone's face was effective. It hit him square in the nose, and Iskander could only clutch at it as the blood began pouring out. He was helpless in stopping her from hurdling over the desk.
Eve stood very still as the auction lot moved once more. The most recent purchase was some dead lord's tea set. The excessively vague history given in the catalog made her think it was stolen. And it went for only twice as much as her house. At the very least, it was comforting being able to hate everyone in this room for reasons beyond their presumed criminal records.
The next item wheeled out was another sculpture. The third so far. Most likely also stolen. Of yet another naked man. Thankfully, this one was erect. It was obscene in the tackiest way imaginable.
She sort of loved it. If she could afford it, she'd use it as a hat rack. Or maybe a ring toss during backyard birthday parties. That'd go over well. A multi-functional sculpted penis. It was a bargain buy. What's not to like?
It's possible she was once again losing her mind. Villanelle still wasn't back and panic had begun to set in. It got worse when there was an audible thud reverberating throughout the hall. It had obviously rung out from upstairs, and a second thump followed shortly. That one began to turn heads. It was only a matter of moments before security would decide to investigate.
"€500,000!" Eve abruptly shouted, far louder than anyone else had been so far, and thrust her paddle into the air.
They probably all thought she was nuts to be overpaying for something so hideous, and no one reached to outbid her. The host confirmed her bidding in Spanish, and then the translator followed up as he had all evening.
"Sold to the woman in blue!"
"Woo!" she hooted obnoxiously as possible. "My husband is not going to love this one." She laughed loudly then playfully elbowed the gentleman standing next to her as if to say he was in on the joke. "Or maybe he will." She winked.
Niko, of course, would have hated the statue. And he most definitely would have found this persona she had taken on for the evening to be unbearable. As the rest of the room seemed to. But it was fine. She had accomplished what she set out to do. All eyes were now on her and far away from whatever was going on upstairs.
Iskander had a stronger build than initial glance would indicate. Villanelle regretted not just shooting him as he rammed her into his bookshelves for a second time in as many minutes.
He looked ugly with his broken nose and flaring eyes. He trained himself to hide his rage well because he clearly had a lot of it. The temper behind his flying fists wouldn't do well in board meetings. Once it was let loose nothing seemed to contain it. She might have appreciated that had they still been on the same side, but as they were, it was sloppy. His tunnel vision left him vulnerable to outside attack.
There was beautiful, ringing clunk that brought Iskander to his hands and knees. In his wake stood Eve, fire poker in hand, prepared for another swing.
"Took you long enough," Villanelle rasped.
"Stop complaining. I aimed for the head this time, didn't I?" Not hard enough, Petrov was still moaning as he sunk into the ground and began rolling around.
"Give me that."
Villanelle took the fire poker from her, and Eve stood fascinated as she shoved it right through Petrov's eye, giving it a slight twist. His body twitched erratically for a few moments before finally going limp. So. That's what happens when taking a fire poker to the brain then.
"Did you find the Manifest?" Eve asked.
"It's not in here."
"Are you sure?"
"Look around. The leather bound books. The tiger rug. This isn't a real study. It's just for show."
"You don't know that."
"We don't have time for this." Villanelle yanked open desk drawers, looking for something concealable and, more importantly, quiet. The letter openers would have to do. At least they were made of metal. "Here. Suit up."
"Where am I even going to put that?" Eve held up a finger. "Do not say something smart."
Villanelle shoved one in her pocket and took off her jacket to hand over. "Wear this."
"Oh yeah, this completes the outfit," Eve said sarcastically as she put it on only to look up and find her counterpart breathless.
"You look amazing."
Difficult as it may be, Eve got them back on track. "Do you know where the real office is?"
"There is a third floor. And it wasn't on the blueprints."
"Whoa, sneaky," Eve said, impressed. It was the perfect level of subterfuge she'd expect from an operation like this.
They shut and locked the door to the study and calmly took a left into the next hallway. Two security guards in crisp suits stood looming, noticing them immediately. The study wasn't near enough to the festivities. It was secluded in a separate wing of the building. Villanelle had been careful all night to avoid suspicion, and wandering further into this quiet hall was as obvious as you could get.
"I'll handle this." She held Eve back behind her, but Eve ignored her entirely and grabbed her by the elbow.
"Hey! You!" Eve called the men over, back in character for the night. "Yeah, you. Are you in charge here? Do you speak English? Well? I'm waiting."
"Little bit," one of the men answered, puzzled by the intrusion.
"This…" Eve glanced over her with pure contempt. Villanelle thought it was spectacular. "Waitress tried to poison me. I want her fired."
The guard frowned. "Poison?"
"No. No. She lie," Villanelle emphasized in a broken accent; fearful look fully on display.
She was too much of a natural at this. Eve had to up her game.
"I watched her drop the caviar from her tray," she gestured emphatically, "and instead of going back to get a new serving, she scooped it up right from the floor. Is this how your guests can expect to be treated?"
"We will sort this," he assured glibly, looking put-out by having to do the tedious parts of his job, and pulled Villanelle from Eve's grasp. "You come with me."
Once close enough, Villanelle clutched her letter opener and stabbed him in his jugular. Letter openers turned out to be terrible weapons of choice. They were hard to grip and required more force than usual to break through muscle, but it got the job done. Copious blood flowed past his hands as he desperately failed to stop the bleeding.
Eve barreled into the next man as he reached into his jacket and pulled out a gun. She gouged him in the hand, causing it to drop to the floor. He spun sharply and backhanded her in the jaw. She had never been punched in the face before and was surprised that it didn't really hurt. It was more the shock of it that made her stagger, enough that the guard was able to kick out at her. Eve's back hit the wall forcibly. That hurt much more.
Villanelle slashed away at him, but he dodged out of range. She swung down again and he ducked, grabbing onto her wrist before bending it at a harsh angle. He twisted it until the letter opener fell from her fingers. Villanelle jammed the heel of her free hand into his nose. He stumbled away but managed to stay upright.
She jumped onto his back and wrapped her arms around his neck in a chokehold. He rushed them backward into the wall. He reached up behind him to grab at her face. Off flew her wig as he slammed her head against the wall. The building was mostly made of stone, and it had a dizzying effect. Her grip on him relaxed as a result. He elbowed her in the side, not helping matters at all. He was seconds from getting the upper hand until Eve got back to her feet and picked up the fallen gun.
But she pulled the trigger because of course she did. Villanelle was just able to wrestle herself away before the gun went off. The distant screams from the auction floor followed immediately. She thought that was mildly hypocritical considering the night's collective occupants but was more focused on Eve. She didn't look to be hurt in the scuffle but was obviously shaken.
"Well, that will draw a crowd. And you need to learn how to finish." Villanelle took the gun from Eve's trembling hand and shot the withering guard right in the forehead. "Come on." She tugged them down the rest of the hallway.
"Wait!" Eve abruptly stopped them, leaning against the wall with one hand. "It's impossible to run in these." She slipped her heels off, and then stood perplexed as Villanelle went back to pick them up.
"These are very expensive shoes," she explained, handing them back over. "You will never be able to find another pair."
They were gorgeous. "How did you even get them?"
"Um. You probably don't want to know."
They turned the next corner, and more men flooded into the new hallway. Villanelle shot one of them cold before shoving Eve through the nearest doorway. She reached out past the doorframe to fire at the second guard. It was too sharp of an angle. It would have helped greatly if she could have switched hands.
"You really shouldn't have broken my finger," Villanelle grumbled.
"Let it go."
"It hurt. A lot."
"Over here!" Eve crossed the billiard room they found themselves in diagonally, yanking open another door. "There! Stairs."
The led up to a thin hallway that was far more modern in architecture than the rest of the property. It was an added addition. Sterile. Fluorescent. And completely disregarded the laws of living within a historically protected landmark. It was beyond arrogant but easy to navigate, and the correct room found them shortly.
"I think this is it," Eve said, darting into the office, but Villanelle had to hang back.
Another guard came up behind them. There was no sharp angle in her way, and she shot him cleanly, gliding to stand over him. "Do they grow you on trees?"
Eve gave a shriek, and Villanelle rushed ahead after her to find a man groaning around the shoe now stuck in his neck. He stumbled backward into a filing cabinet and slid down to the floor. A waste of a perfectly good pair of heels that looked great on her. Yeesh. Villanelle locked the door behind them. This was clearly the right room. It looked like a computer lab of some sort.
Eve could only watch helplessly. "I didn't see him in here. I-"
Villanelle gave her an awkward shoulder pat. "Relax. You did well."
Eve frowned and let the other shoe drop from her hands. She moved to the computer that the man she hadn't spotted had been using. It was set to a live video feed downstairs. The auction had officially stopped and the guests were either huddling together to gossip or departing early. She closed the feed out to browse through the files stored on the hard drive. Everything was in Russian which boded well for them.
Villanelle watched impatiently. She could no longer appreciate the clever ruse to hide the flash drive on the end of a long gold chain that dipped below Eve's dress enticingly. They had minutes at most. "Hurry up, Eve. We don't have all day here."
"Well it's not like they're going to label it 'Manifest' in big, bold letters. I'm looking by file size."
If she didn't think it would distract Eve from the task at hand, Villanelle would have pointed out how that's probably exactly what Eve would have labeled it. She rolled her eyes and went to listen at the door. Nothing yet, just the overall commotion of a ruined night.
"Here! It's here. I think this is it."
Villanelle came back over. "You sure?"
"Astankova. There you are."
"Hey! They are so ungrateful." Villanelle pointed to screen in way of explanation. "Under the notes. It's says that I am attention-seeking and don't follow orders, and that my termination status is valid." Eve shot her a look. "Don't say it." Villanelle went to survey out the window as the file began saving. "So how is your upper body strength?"
"Uh, fine? I tried yoga for a while?"
"Good. Remember that."
"Why?" she asked slowly, spinning away from the desk, and Villanelle leaning calmly against the window was enough to draw a conclusion. "No. We are on the top floor. Are you crazy?"
She simply shrugged. "You can either leave out the door and most certainly get shot in the head. Or you can leave through the window and maybe not fall to your untimely death."
"Why are those my only options?" Eve shook her head as the file thankfully finished saving.
"There's a small roof below us. It's not that big of a drop." The blasé attitude wasn't helping matters like she hoped so she traded it for some sincerity. "I won't let you fall."
"Fine. Let's get this over with."
The roof was not even two meters below them. Villanelle scaled down swiftly. Eve had less of a clean go at it, but aside from a few minor scrapes to her hands, she had no protests.
"See." Villanelle braced her at the small of her back as though she worried Eve would walk right over the edge. "That wasn't hard."
Eve shook her off. "Now what?"
Villanelle did a quick charting of the estate and courtyards below. Eve watched with rapt attention, trying to figure out how her mind worked in these situations. She only saw more roofs and window ledges no one without a death wish should be climbing on, but Villanelle found exactly what they needed in seconds.
"Look, that terrace. We can climb down the trellis."
"Of course we can. Except for where it's across the courtyard."
"Working on it."
She guided them to where their roof made a junction with the brick wall next to them. There was a small ledge of concrete jutting out, barely wider than either of them. It scaled the entire wall, the ceiling of a sophisticated set of stone columns leading up from the ground. It finished at the opposite roof's terrace and was clearly the only way they were getting out of this.
"It looks harder than it is. Just lean into the building," Villanelle explained.
"Lean into the building. Got it." Eve did not, in fact, have it.
"And if you start to fall, don't grab onto me."
Eve glared, pointing to the ledge. "You first."
Villanelle stepped up onto the ledge, parallel to the wall, and began shuffling her feet down its length. Eve followed, and they moved at a slow pace. It was fine so long as you didn't look down. The only snag came halfway through their crossing. Eve stayed focused on the jagged stone bricks in front of her face and missed the bird nest at her feet. She slipped outward until Villanelle darted a step back over to grab her. Eve watched, horrified, as Villanelle's free hand scraped hopelessly, looking for any natural purchase to seize onto.
She found a barely protruding rock between the mortar but her broken finger skidded right off, and okay, for now Eve would admit that was on her. Eve braced their forearms together in a balance, slamming them both back against the building. They took a moment before standing up straight again. Villanelle didn't look all too pleased.
"Into the wall, Eve," she grounded out.
The rest of the climb was mercifully uneventful until they reached the end of the ledge.
"Okay," Villanelle said brightly and so obviously insincerely. "So there is a small jump."
"Just follow my steps."
Her fluid steps made it look easy. She hopped over the gap between roofs and hoisted herself over the balcony's railing. Eve wanted to point out she was shorter, and it wasn't bound to go the same way.
"I've got you. Don't worry." Villanelle stood with her arms out waiting; a stance for the world's worst trust fall exercise if Eve ever saw one.
Screw it. She took the leap and landed on the balcony. But it wasn't a steady landing. She had a second of peace before the world seemed to fall out beneath her. Villanelle pulled her in by the arms, keeping her upright.
It was fitting.
In a really gross way.
"There. You're good." Villanelle sounded equally shaken but relieved and began to drag Eve over the railing. "Step over. Careful."
"Aside from the almost dying parts, this is actually fun." Eve laughed far too loudly, but Villanelle could only smile.
"Stop laughing. You will blow our cover."
"Oh, we're well past that."
The fountain just below them managed to hide most sound, and Villanelle didn't want to let her go. Eve was always so tense when she got close, which was super fun, but this was nice too. Eve, laughing freely without worry.
But it would have to wait.
"Come on. They will be on the grounds by now. We'll be taking the long way back."
The long way back consisted of staying on foot and using the woods as a cover. It wasn't until they made it to the stretch of road leading to the abandoned village did Eve finally rest. The sun was starting to rise. They did it.
"Can you slow down?"
Villanelle spun around and waited for Eve to catch up. She had been lagging for a while, but then she didn't have any shoes on. Eve's feet were covered in dirt and probably sore. She should have noticed sooner.
"Do you want to borrow my boots?"
"What?" Eve looked down as though she only just remembered she was barefoot. "Oh. No."
So it was something else then. That was reasonable for now. Eve was still fairly new at this, and she still had her empathy.
"You did what you had to do," Villanelle did her best to reassure her. "It was us or them tonight. You don't need to feel bad about any of it."
"That's what scares me." Eve didn't feel anything. She felt empty. Depleted. Hungry.
"That you don't feel bad? It's better, right? It will hurt you less."
"It's not…normal not to."
"Eve," she made it sound like a caress. "You're not normal. You're so much more."
Grinning sunnily, Villanelle bounded ahead again and Eve willed herself to follow a moment later.
There was no one in the house. Rationally, Eve hadn't expected anyone, but the adrenaline of fleeing armed guards on rooftops and throughout Spanish forests was only just wearing off. They were okay. They had made it out successfully. This was home for at least one more day to lie low. She wondered if that was how it was going to be from now on. Temporary home after temporary home. It left her despondent.
Villanelle had no such compunctions. She was chatting happily, something about offering Eve the shower first. Eve faded out and didn't hear much else. She left Villanelle washing the blood off her hands and headed upstairs. She rested against the wall of the central hallway and removed the chain from around her neck. The flash drive was perfectly intact. It was amazing how something so small held so much power.
This was what they wanted. But that felt no closer to the truth than a plan for a cabin in Alaska before everything went to shit.
They didn't know their next move. That much was obvious. What exactly was going to happen here? They would choose an influential name from the list and off whoever that person was? Until the Twelve decided they were no longer worth the trouble? It felt like an excuse. A reason to keep moving. To stay moving forward together.
She shoved the flash drive in her pocket, no longer wanting to look at it. It would change things, for better or worse.
She wasn't afraid of those changes but of what else tomorrow would bring. Even if this all were to end, if she was ever able to let Villanelle go for good…Eve had become someone else. Someone new. She had been changed, irrevocably, into someone she no longer recognized. It had happened so quickly she wasn't even sure how much of a hand she had played in it. There were no exit strategies in this reality as there were in the last. Her life had been dull and common, and maybe it wasn't so surprising that escapism had eclipsed it.
But what of this one? There was no direction in which she could turn away from this one. Even if they solved the riddle that was the Twelve and were free of them, there was nothing to go back to. Who she was now would no longer fit there, in a world where comforts had begun to feel like binding. She didn't picture this Eve allowing it.
"Are you okay?"
Eve turned sharply at the intrusion. "I'm just…still trying to figure out how I got here. But you've never felt the need to do that."
It would have been easier to just ask outright, but Villanelle heard what wasn't being said anyway.
"It wasn't a good life I had before."
"And this one is?"
"Yeah. It is," she said plainly. "I have money. More than most people will ever see. I buy what I want. I wear what I want. I go where I want. Whenever I want. I can see what people only dream of. No one has more time than me. Or more freedom than me. There is no keeping me out of anywhere or anything if it's what I choose. What is better than that?"
"Anyone." That was the only answer. Eve couldn't picture anything else mattering in this new world built on endless persistence. Yet it was the one impossibility. It would always be missing. "You can't have anyone. And having someone is better than that. Having people to come home to. Or complain about your day to. Or have dinner with. Or to just feel at peace with. To do nothing with." It was everything she took for granted. Everything she would never have again.
"I want those things too."
"But you can't have them in this life."
"Yes, I can. I just need to find someone who wants the same exact things. Who wants the same life I have."
"That person doesn't exist."
Villanelle's face dropped, and she went cold in the way Eve had come to know as her response when hurt. "You don't know everything, Eve. You just think you do."
Eve doubted she really believed that and ignored the absolute irony behind it, pushing forward. She came closer, unwilling to let her out of close range. She needed Villanelle to understand. Nothing could ever hope to work here if she didn't understand.
"Even in a less complicated world–the regular one…a normal one–it doesn't work like that. No one only wants the same things or leads the same life."
"So how does it work?"
"You find a balance. You make compromises. Never to the point where you lose yourself, but enough that the person-" She swallowed. "That the one you love can still have room to find what they want. To pursue what they want. To live how they like. Together. However it may be that works for both of them. That's what that is."
"Sounds a lot less fun."
"If you had someone who agreed with all of your ideas, and who had all the same thoughts…Who only wanted to go everywhere you did. Who only did everything you wanted them to…you would get bored. You'd completely lose interest."
"No. No, I wouldn't. Not then. They would be mine." She latched onto Eve's hand, but it went limp in hers at the words. She did it wrong. She licked her lips nervously, needing to fix this in a way Eve would understand. "And I would be theirs."
Eve shut her eyes at that, stricken, and Villanelle didn't know how to make it better. This wasn't going the way it was supposed to.
"Except they wouldn't mean anything to you. They'd just…be luggage."
"You wouldn't be luggage," she forwent with the silly hypotheticals, brushing the back of her hand against Eve's jaw. It was already tinted pink where she had been hit. She didn't flinch, and Villanelle moved her hand to tease at the back of her neck.
Eve's eyes snapped open. The pain behind them was gone. In its place was thriving conviction.
"You can't control me and still have me. It wouldn't be real. I would no longer be me. So which is it do you want?"
Her answer wouldn't matter, not really. Eve already knew that. It never would. I and it. Not I and you. But Eve wasn't sure she cared anymore. She wasn't sure she ever truly did. She wanted her any way she could have her.
"You don't get to control me either."
"I know that."
"Yes. And it terrifies me."
"Terrifies?" Her hand moved down the slope of her neck, thumb rubbing soft patterns against Eve's collarbone. "Nothing else?"
Villanelle moved to cup her cheek and leaned forward with finality, but Eve turned away, pressing her lips into the palm of Villanelle's hand. She turned away completely and left Villanelle sinking into the wall with a frustrated whine until she realized which bedroom Eve had entered.
Eve stood in the middle of Villanelle's room, tossing the now dirt covered Eton jacket to the floor. She took a deep and stabilizing breath, feeling it tighten in her chest and uncurl down her spine. Villanelle could only watch as Eve reached behind her to pull at the zipper on her dress. She stepped further into the room, unwilling to lose pace and joined her. Her hands covered Eve's, and they finished unfastening it.
She caressed over the available expanse of her back and was met with even breaths. Eve wasn't nervous but welcoming. She hooked her fingers under the dress's straps and slipped it off her shoulders and down her body, listening as it pooled softly to the floor.
"I love your body." She buried her nose in the curve of Eve's neck, breathing in the scent of her hair. "I want to know every inch of it."
One inch in particular. They matched now. They were the same.
Her arms curled around Eve's front. Her right hand hugged her closer, and Eve shivered as it settled lowly on her belly. It was tempting not to savor this. They had waited so long, for reasons Villanelle still did not entirely understand, and she wanted nothing more than to just shove her hand into Eve's unthinkably plain, cotton panties that were probably purchased in a pack. She doubted Eve would mind.
Instead, the fingers on her left hand began to trace smoothly over the mark of the shooting. It felt uneven and smaller than expected, a simple imperfection. But one Eve would never be able to get rid of. It couldn't be hidden from anyone else. Eve could tell lies and wash the blood off her hands all she wanted, but this she would have to live with.
Villanelle felt a grip to her wrist, stilling her ministrations. From her profile she could see that Eve's lips were parted. They released tiny huffs of air under heavy lidded eyes. Villanelle watched, mesmerized. She felt frozen yet entirely unbalanced. The proximity was too much and not enough, and she didn't want to risk disturbing the moment. It felt too intimate suddenly. It felt like leaving letters for Anna and watching her read them over her lunch. She used to count the ones that made her smile and measure them against the ones that didn't. That was so long ago now.
She jolted when Eve linked their fingers; noticeably enough that Eve let go just as quickly in order to turn around in her arms. Eve could see her face clearly, but she didn't know what to make of the initial reaction and soon lost the time too. Villanelle's demeanor instantaneously shifted again once standing opposite each other. She glanced over her in a meticulous appraisal, appearing all the while like she was fully prepared to eat Eve alive. It was intoxicating.
Eve reached out to remove the ridiculous red bowtie, brushing her hand up to play with the fine hairs at the nape of her neck once it was off. Villanelle hummed languorously, like she fully expected this was only the beginning of a lasting affair; an all-day event. Eve's chest went tight and her fingers clenched and she tossed away the final vestiges of anything even resembling self-preservation.
She pushed forward and kissed her, and time stopped. She could have stayed there for days. Everything was alleviated yet somehow exacerbated. She felt like she was on fire, that there would be nothing left of her once this was over. She felt her blood run cool at the implication, numbing her from attachment. But it was much too late for that. Villanelle kissed the way Eve always expected she would. Direct, greedy, and with a single-minded focus.
She only knew how to consume, unapologetically. With utter abandon. Nothing remained, and Eve could only acquiesce to this armed abyss.
Eve sank into her. Eager. Craving. It was the first time there was a complete absence of resistance here. Villanelle loved it. It made her feel like she was the only person in the world. It was addicting. She could get lost in Eve's mouth, in the sounds she pulled from it. She sucked on her bottom lip gently then bit down on its fullness, enjoying the harsher exhales against her mouth. Eve's breath smelled like expensive hor d'oeuvres and crisp champagne. It was delightful, and the grip she had on her hips tightened to clasp painfully.
Eve gasped at the contact, but it only seemed to embolden her. She felt dizzy with too many demands running through her head as she bunched up Villanelle's shirt, yanking her impossibly closer. Eve worked open cheap buttons, twisting harshly in annoyance at the ones that wouldn't immediately pop off. She tugged up and untucked the shirt instead, rubbing over the coarse material. She stayed hovering near Villanelle's side until pulling back entirely.
"Let me see it."
There was too much evidence of this ugly, ugly thing they created. The mutual destruction. It marred them both. Stretched beyond them, devouring everyone else near enough to their orbit. It was an untethered force, and yet they had made it entirely on their own. In this moment, Eve wanted to face it head on.
Villanelle finished taking off her shirt, nonchalantly dropping it to the floor, and Eve's first thought–a wholly senseless one–was that the scar was prettier than hers. And cleaner. It was smaller and more precise; belying what had actually happened. There hadn't been any precision on her part. It had nearly faded back into Villanelle's natural skin tone. There was a slight elevation to it, but it was a mark that wouldn't stand out to most when looking. Eve's still looked angry. This had healed. But when she touched it, Villanelle's breath quickened.
She was no longer measured. Her eyes shut on their own accord. Somehow what she was feeling was more accessible than ever like this. Eve could see every tick with every caress she made.
"Take your boots off," she told her.
Villanelle raised an eyebrow but diligently sat on the edge of the bed and pried her boots off one by one. She let her eyes travel back over Eve. Over her hair and neck, her breasts to the lesion on her abdomen to the darkening patch between her thighs. It felt potent, as though another marking was taking place. It was good to be watched, to be desired. Eve didn't hesitate when she was beckoned over.
She stood between Villanelle's spread thighs, watching as she leaned forward to kiss her stomach. She worked slowly, tongue darting out to suck and sooth at the dip of Eve's waist. Eve stiffened, holding Villanelle's head to her. She ran a hand through her hair, loosening it from its bun. It was soft, fuller than expected. She dragged her nails lightly across her scalp, causing Villanelle to suck harder. At this rate, she wasn't going to last ten minutes.
What a letdown that would be.
Eve shoved her away. "Lie back."
She quirked her lips but did as instructed. "Lady in charge. I like it."
"Stop talking," she ordered, but it was too gentle; too much like a vow as Eve's thumb stroked along her bottom lip.
Villanelle tugged her forward to the center of the mattress until they were lying side by side. She reached out, recalling the last time they were here. "Have you really never done this before?"
"You should take your time. Figure out what you like."
It was a gentle encouragement, underlined with patience and endearment, and Eve resolved not give herself over completely. She would never know if any of it was genuine or not. How deep or how lasting. There was a definitive Before Villanelle and a definitive After, yet nothing here seemed permanent. All of it was severely limited. She only knew what she wanted to believe. And what Eve wanted would be all too easy to fall into.
She pressed her lips to the underside of her jaw, and Villanelle tilted her head to the side in invitation. Eve dragged her wet tongue down her neck as her hands wandered aimlessly. She unclasped her bra and discarded it off her arms carelessly. She palmed her breast, cupping it fully. She liked the weight of it and how it filled her hand and how Villanelle arched into her instinctively with every touch. It made her feel in command until she glanced back up to find a shit-eating grin.
"I know. I have good tits."
Eve chuckled in spite of herself, remembering a small-breasted psycho. Which, ale decha her ass. But that would be too ridiculous to explain, so she quieted Villanelle's impending questions with a searing kiss. She blindly reached between them to unbuckle her belt, straddling her hips. The action pushed Villanelle flat on her back. It was a gratifying position to be in.
She often wondered in the doldrums of her mind what Villanelle would be like in bed. They were private fantasies, born in moments of frustration and discomfort and a growing indifference toward reality. They reflected her mood in accordance. They never merged with comfort or domesticity. Certainly not with the fondness Villanelle was displaying as her eyes soaked her in.
Eve was hit with a robust wave of clarity. It was gnawing and demanded submission.
"I want to taste you."
Villanelle leaned up on her elbows, eyes wild in ways that thus far Eve had only known to mean murder. "I think you should tell me what I taste like, in great detail."
God, she was insufferable. Kissing her proved to be the superior method in shutting her up, though.
Eve pushed her back down, fingertips trailing over Villanelle's arms; curling over her wrists. Her hands were a delicate fallacy as Eve knew exactly what they were capable of. Of just how deadly they have been. There was no weapon of choice to make up her profile. There often wasn't a weapon at all. She was singular and exceptional, yet here she lay relaxed and docile and brimming with anticipation.
Eve let her go to pepper kisses across her chest and down her torso. She drew back completely in order to yank off her pants by the ankles. Villanelle was no help at all, and Eve suspected she liked the added struggle, no matter how minor. The knowledge sank and knotted in her stomach, a pleasant little promise.
It must have shown on her face because Villanelle only smirked and scooted back up the bed. She took her sweet time peeling off her boyshorts down each leg. She bent one knee, splaying it out while her hand drew teasing strokes on her other thigh. She was completely shameless, and Eve could only envy that. She looked at Eve, all-knowing and self-important, but her breath skipped when Eve kneeled in front of her and fingers began dancing under her calf.
She palmed up the back of her leg, crawling over to her. Spread before her, Eve felt her mouth water at the sight. Her scent was inescapable, and her arousal was evident. She looked flushed and swollen as wetness coated her inner thighs. All because of Eve. Only because of Eve. It made her feel charged. Confident and capable. It was her reward, and she wasted no further time, draping Villanelle's leg over her shoulder.
Eve licked her fully, enthralled by the immediate reaction of Villanelle rolling her hips closer to her face. She tasted like nothing. And everything. A pure heat, sure and true as the other. But this one she could get used to. This warmth was a welcomed invasion. As was the hand fisting into her hair. It was all force and no pain. Eve found she liked it.
Villanelle gave another tug, pulling Eve away this time and looking too smug to exist. "Well?"
"Warm," was the succinct response.
She dove back in, adjusting to how Villanelle responded. She savored the moans coming from her throat and how sharply her back arched off the bed. She measured every audible lilt when Villanelle chanted her name. Eve could direct her body in various ways like this. Villanelle had given herself over entirely. It didn't happen through violence or manipulation or cunning. But through pleasure. Eve couldn't get enough of it.
Her tongue lapped at her entrance, pushing inside. Villanelle froze unexpectedly for a moment, and Eve explored deeper. She peeked above her to find that Villanelle was no longer so smug. Eve grinned at the whimper that snagged as it fell from her lips. It was such a minute sound from someone who demanded so much attention.
Villanelle's heel dug painfully into her back, and she held her close enough that it was nearly impossible to breathe. It was like Eve was drowning. There was no space to add in her fingers. Neither took issue. It was an absolute mess of welcomed friction. Perfectly chaotic.
Eve licked upward as much as Villanelle's grip would allow. Her tongue circled her clit, lips sucking languidly. That's what Eve always liked, and she received no complaints. Villanelle seemed equally attuned. Her breaths became shallow and quickened like they did in an earpiece when Eve had listened to her fucking herself to the thought of her. This was an improvement. It was better to watch her come undone. To feel it quake through her whole body with her bare hands. For a single moment, Eve could finally believe with certainty that Villanelle wasn't putting on a performance.
Eve wiped her mouth when she was sure she was finished and tried to slow her pounding heart before slinking back up to lay next to her. Villanelle didn't engage. She stared resolutely at the ceiling, eyes intense with passion that would never live or die within reason.
"What do I look like?"
Eve frowned. "What do you…"
She softly grasped Villanelle's chin, turning her face toward her. "Excited."
"What else?" she barely asked, breathless as her chest heaved.
"Completely in the moment."
"Attached." Utterly so. Villanelle looked at her like she couldn't see anything else. That bothered Eve, and she slid her hand down to Villanelle's slender throat, letting it rest there. Her pulse was racing. "Engaged." She applied pressure to her grip before pulling away entirely. "Ready to be released."
Villanelle smiled brightly, perfect teeth fully on display. Her eyes clouded over with a sheen of wonder. Eve desperately wanted to know what was behind the raw shift in emotion. Just like she did every time these moments occurred. It never fit with the notion of a psychopath who needed to be manipulated through praise and reward, or who killed whomever she pleased without any remorse. It had to be a significant piece to the ongoing puzzle, but Villanelle was happily gripping at her waist and flipping them over before she could even think to ask.
"You are wearing far too many clothes."
Eve laughed, carefree, because she was hardly wearing anything, but Villanelle made it sound like a dire oversight as she divested her of her stockings and underwear.
Villanelle hovered above her as Eve sunk into the mattress. She shut her eyes, looking spent and blissful despite them only getting started. If she stayed like that, she'd even look happy. Villanelle could make the compromises, she realized. The dreadful ones Eve spoke of earlier, she could do it if it meant having Eve like this. If this was an image she could watch every day. She wanted it. She no longer knew how to want anything else.
Villanelle's hands were doting as she asked this.
And absolutely absurd.
Eve's eyes snapped open in stunning defiance. "No."
Villanelle let out a harsh breath, pinching at Eve's hip.
"So stubborn," she countered with soft kiss to Eve's neck, relishing in how she melted at it.
She didn't know what Eve liked, whether she wanted to feel in danger or in control. If her marriage truly was a faithful one, then she didn't think it even made a difference yet. That many years of bad sex, and anything was bound to be an improvement. Villanelle had thought of this happening many times in many ways, but there would be plenty of future opportunities to live them all out. She wanted to bring Eve to orgasm. She didn't much care how they got there.
Like this could do fine. Villanelle wanted to watch, and she wanted to be above her when she did so. Undoubtedly this was the position Eve was most accustomed to, which only enticed her. Villanelle was willing to try most things once and didn't even have a favorite position. People constantly overthought sex. It should happen naturally in the moment and was usually a successful endeavor. But the people she was with never mattered. Anything she felt only lasted momentarily, if even that long. It all changed with the right person. She would show her that. By the end of this, she wanted to ensure that Eve could no longer deny Villanelle being that person.
She smiled into Eve's neck at the thought. She nibbled over her pulse point, pinching the flesh between her teeth long enough to leave a love bite. She soothed it with her tongue, working her way down her throat and to her chest. She kissed over her in a pattern, enjoying the thumping of her heart just past her lips. They moved on to latch around a hardened nipple while her fingers played leisurely with the other. She was dedicated enough to leave faint marks behind here too.
Eve's leg curled tightly around her own, pulling her in flush as she clutched at her shoulders. Villanelle's breath hitched at the contact, and her hand skimmed past Eve's hips into dense heat. She ran her fingertips through the slickness gathered just to get the feel of her.
"How often did you touch yourself and wish it was me?"
She wasn't granted an answer–so probably an embarrassing amount–and slid into her with ease. Villanelle had felt Eve dancing around inside her ever since being stabbed. This was a much nicer bit of retribution.
"You are so wet. Have you ever been this wet before, Eve?"
"I thought you weren't talking?"
"Rude, rude, rude."
She snapped back abruptly to clamp Eve's arms against her chest. Her breaths deepened noticeably like this. It turned out to be a good test in boundaries. She gathered Eve's wrists deliberately, pinning them over her head. The desire that flashed across her face was palpable. As it always was.
Villanelle held her gaze as she removed one hand and brought it back between her legs. Her excitement had only grown, and Villanelle wasted no time continuing where she left off. The room was silent save for their erratic breathing paired with the shitty bedframe scraping against the wall.
She could hear herself fucking Eve. There had never been another sound so sweet. Not even the unbidden whine of Oksana when her fingers twisted up roughly. Eve was close. So close. Close enough that Villanelle stopped, pulling her hand away entirely.
"Well, that's enough for me," she said innocently, sucking in her lips ruefully. Eve reacted accordingly.
"Are you serious?" She tried to sit up, but Villanelle's grip was the stronger of the two.
"I am always serious."
Her mirth died down. She liked Eve like this. Waiting. Denied, as she always denies herself. It got even better when frustrated hips rocked feverishly against hers.
"No." Villanelle forced them back down. Eve went deliciously pliant, but her eyes sparked to life with a specific yearning. She filed it away for future use, brushing her thumb softly over her hip in a nice balm. "Good."
Her thumb stroked down over her thigh, and she felt muscles tighten with the restraint it took not to move. Villanelle lost herself, having to kiss her again. The grip she had over Eve's wrists loosened until it became something closer to holding hands.
"If you want it, then earn it," she whispered out against her lips and then pulled away again with much effort. "I want you to tell me what it felt like."
Eve looked horrified for a moment once it registered, but not enough for Villanelle to take it back. Not that she ever would have anyway. She deserved to know, and Eve deserved to unburden herself. Her body was alive and stimulated and ready to spill over. There was no rationale to stop herself now. She wouldn't hold herself back.
But the answer she received wasn't the one Villanelle was aiming for.
"Horrible," Eve finally said. Villanelle leaned back a hair, interested in where this was going. Their eyes connected as she moved to tease at her entrance, encouraging her to continue. "I used to spend a lot of time thinking about it. Every day was just–the same. I'd wake up knowing exactly how I'd spend it."
Villanelle pressed a knuckle to her clit and guided her hips to push at the back of her own hand, grinding against her.
"And I would wonder how a woman could do it. Not just why, or what motivated her, or the psychology behind it. I wanted to know how she could do it, physically. How did she find the strength to," she hissed when Villanelle entered her once more. "But it's not hard at all."
The truth had been unflinching in its lack of sympathy. One minute someone was here and then they're not. That was the coldest lesson. It didn't require power, it created it.
"I didn't like crossing that line."
Villanelle curled her fingers with purpose. "Why not?"
"Because there's nothing to stop me now from crossing it again." Villanelle applied the perfect amount of pressure with her thumb and coaxed out the final admission. "It felt like anything was possible."
Villanelle smiled, triumphant and invigorated. She quickened her pace, grinding faster as her thumb continued to swipe over her clit. Eve untangled their hands to bury one in her hair and hug her closer.
"Did you like that feeling?"
Eve grew tighter around her fingers, and she pushed past the resistance, adding a third.
"Do you want to feel it again?"
It stung to admit, and Eve bit sharply down onto her lip when she kissed her. Villanelle only laughed into her mouth, twisting to thrust harder. Eve dug her nails into her back, strong enough to leave an impression.
"Are you ready to let go?"
The After was different than the Before.
Nothing was clouded anymore. It made everything worse, but she was ignoring that for now. She would allow herself this one thing.
Eve hadn't spent the whole day in bed with someone in years. She stroked her fingers lazily through Villanelle's hair as her head rested in her lap. It was the only time she had seen her content while awake. Maybe in her bed in Paris before Eve rewrote the story taking place, but that was too brief to acknowledge.
Villanelle turned, nuzzling and smiling against her. "Sated yet?"
"No. Not remotely." Eve laughed a crazy laugh that felt separate from reality.
Hearing it echo throughout her body alongside her heartbeat put Villanelle in motion. She turned herself around on the bed and hooked a leg around Eve's torso, straddling her.
"I want you to know," she leaned down to kiss her, "that I could be doing a lot more for you," and again, "had you not broken my finger."
Just kissed was a good look on Eve. Darkened eyes, swollen lips, completely unrestrained. She could get used to it and never grow bored by it. It was the one thing that would never grow stale. She was hers. Hers. It didn't even matter which one of them she was referring to. Villanelle belonged somewhere. She had somethi–someone to call her own. They couldn't be separated now. One did not exist without the other.
She pulled back for a moment. "When this is all over, will you stay with me?"
Eve nearly felt that same laugh creeping upon her once more. Stay with her? How could she possibly entertain the idea?
But Villanelle looked so earnest, so adoring, as she asked this that the immediate refusals died down.
She was gorgeous. Deadly. Inappropriately angelic. Disregarding the dried blood staining her hair, she looked more like the Oksana Eve had seen in Anna's photos just then than she did Villanelle.
An easy lie to accept in the moment.
No one who looked at her would ever expect a proficient killer. They would only see a beautiful, young woman on the verge of taking on the professional world and carving out her place in it. This was the sight people meant when they spoke of someone in their prime. She drank it in greedily until her eyes landed on the scar she had branded her with.
The sole blemish. Eve's blemish.
She reached out to touch it again. She liked the reaction that followed; the heat of Villanelle's arousal pooling against her stomach. It made her feel powerful. Like she had found some lost erogenous zone that only she could see. It felt like it belonged to her for she knew if anyone else were to touch it, there would be no effect at all. This was hers. A tiny piece of Eve left behind in the most violent of acts, and somehow it was cherished.
"I'll be with you."
It would be true, even if it wasn't in the way Villanelle sought.
Martin Martens was a friendly dog. He had nearly ruined her incredibly stealth attempt of the day when breaking into Carolyn's house. He yipped at her ankles until Eve held out a hand for him to lick. Eve sat with him on her lap for a while, waiting for the sun to rise in the early morning hours. She knew Carolyn awoke first provided she didn't have any house guests.
So Eve had poured out two glasses of what looked to be Carolyn's best wine and sat, waiting at her small dining table just next to the kitchen. She felt dirty and underhanded even being here, but the actual look of subdued surprise crossing Carolyn's face was worth it.
Carolyn gave a long pause for a moment, taking in the scene and probably still waking up. She then finally addressed her with a crisp, "Ah. Eve."
"Hello, Carolyn," she spoke with polite authority, nearly belaying her impatience. "Please. Sit."
Her once mentor looked fantastic as always which had somehow become frustrating to Eve in her time away. Carolyn had no right to look so sharp after all the damage she had helped inflict. But the woman straightened the cuff on her sleek button down pajamas and obliged by taking a seat across the table.
"We thought you were dead," Carolyn said. "Kenny will be overjoyed to find out otherwise. He's been rather cross over all that transpired. Even with me. It's getting a touch exasperating, in truth. He never had the phase of teen rebellion."
Eve couldn't picture such a phase either, but she softened at the notion of Kenny mourning her before quickly reminding herself to keep up her determined face. They would have to talk before she left again. For now, Eve had bigger fish to fry.
"Niko's been arrested. For a murder he didn't commit."
"Yes, I had read that in the paper."
"I imagine it makes things easier for you. Just a common domestic dispute rather than an unchecked assassin that MI6 hired off the record."
"Well it certainly doesn't hurt."
Eve bristled at the continued nonchalance. "You are going to do whatever you can to get him out of this."
She kept herself in check and slid a cellphone over. "That belonged to a kid from the States. Charlie Prust. The Twelve killed him, and I fled the scene. I don't know if they did anything with his body or not, but I'm sure Kenny can use his phone to find his family. They should know he's dead and not missing if they don't already."
"You're making an odd amount of requests for someone who walked away from this job. Why don't you start by telling me what happened in Rome after that."
Carolyn paused again, and Eve recognized that she was debating how best to continue as she so rarely did. Carolyn always jumped right in and said things without tact. That didn't bode well.
"We were monitoring where you were staying. That's how we had known Hugo got shot–He's fine, if you were wondering." Eve winced at that. She probably owed him an apology at the very least. Do they make cards for this situation? "The point being, we were still watching the hotel after we had left."
Eve's stomach dropped. That meant there was video footage of her murdering someone. Carolyn had seen it along with who knows else.
(A part of Eve wanted to see it.)
"I didn't think I had a choice."
"It's reasonable to assume you didn't. We rarely do in those situations."
"We?" She frowned, remembering that day all over again. She remembered Carolyn's calm questioning over whether or not Eve had been the one to kill Aaron Peel. It had been like she was expecting it. As if it wouldn't have been out of the ordinary. "So you've…"
"In cleaner ways but yes. I've been at this for decades. It is, on occasion, part of the job. I should have done better in preparing you for that." She looked Eve over again in silent assessment. Eve knew she looked like a mess. She hadn't showered or slept, and the bruise on her jaw had turned purple. "You need something stronger than my wine supply," Carolyn concluded. That sounded about right.
"Scotch?" She got up to pour them two glasses in her kitchen before serving them. She sat back down silently and didn't broach a new topic of conversation. It was a quiet comfort until Carolyn broke it once more. "Shouldn't it be 'SAYS'?"
"Your shirt. I always thought it should be 'FRANKIE SAYS RELAX'."
"Oh. I think it's because of the whole band?" She couldn't say for sure. It was college sleep shirt she once picked up at a yard sale. Eve had no idea why Villanelle had even chosen to bring it with her. "Frankie Goes to Hollywood. So they all say relax?"
"Odd name for a band. Valerie's Peaches."
"That was the name of my band."
"You were in a band?" Eve blurted. She really did have a point she was planning on arriving to, but her curiosity got the better of her as always in these peculiar moments with the older woman. "…Well what did you play?"
"Triangle and lead trumpet." A beat. "We were dreadful. But I doubt you've come here to discuss musical preferences so perhaps we should just get to where this is going."
"Here." Eve passed over her final playing card. "They call it the Manifest."
Carolyn frowned over the flash drive. "Am I to guess?"
"It's a file on everyone affiliated with the Twelve." Carolyn sat up, impressed at that; which was more than a little flattering in the moment. "But they know it's been stolen, so I'd work through it quickly before they all go back into hiding with new identities."
"How on earth did you acquire this?"
"What difference does it make?" she retorted, clipped and exhausted. Eve didn't want to dwell on the sacrifice it took to acquire it.
"And in exchange?"
"I'm one of their targets now. I want to put all of this behind me. Do for me what you did for Konstantin and his family. I want to be free from it. All of it."
A lie but a necessary one. She didn't want to be free. That was another impossibility. This was about survival now; about clinging to any life left at all. She'd settle for healing properly. Eve hadn't recovered right. Nothing felt right except–
"Is she still alive then?" Carolyn asked.
There was no need to ask who she was. "Yes."
"Villanelle is a highly skilled asset with ties to the Twelve and no need to convert them back into loyalty. I would be a fool to close that door permanently. As would you."
"You mean she's an asset for you to use and discard as you see fit?"
"Do you know what holds you back, Eve? Despite your intuitive brilliance and tenacity and the ability not to turn away from sights that most can't bear to look at…you fail in seeing the big picture. I brought you in to help unbury an organization that is murdering countless people of importance, and yet all you could ever see was her. I was able to manipulate you and Villanelle into doing what I wanted in Rome because, for whatever reason, the two of you cannot look past each other. Neither of you noticed what was going on around you. Or worse, you did and simply chose to ignore it."
Eve sat perfectly chastised, hating that her former boss still had that ability with her.
"All this time," Carolyn continued, "and we still don't know what they want beyond chaos, if that's even true. I like to think it’s more about control. Then I suppose the two are often linked," she mused for a second. "These high profile individuals they are killing, who enters into their place once their gone? What will be their purpose? What order will they create from their chaos? The Twelve must be stopped, and I will use whatever I might find at my disposal to stop them. If that includes her or you, then so be-"
"Wait," Eve interrupted. "You still think I can help catch them? You want me to?"
"But of course. You're able to spot patterns quicker than anyone, and you're already up to speed. Further now with this so called Manifest. I hate having to prep new people. Why would you ever think otherwise?"
"Uh, I quit. Even before that you shut down our department. The only reason it was reopened was because of Alister Peel, and that was solved."
"New circumstances have come to light. As part of our deal, Konstantin was forced to pass along certain information to me. Not to mention what looking into the man you axed has led to. I cannot stress how inefficient that was, by the way."
"I-I know. Carolyn, I-"
"Have you never chopped wood before? You need to separate your hands before swinging it," she demonstrated, "or you'll wind up with too wide a spray chart. This is common tool etiquette." She shook off her apparent disappointment. "At any rate, the investigation into the Twelve remains open as does your position on my team. So I guess all that's left is for you to decide. What is it you want to do? I can make arrangements for you to disappear. Start over. But can you really walk away from this for good? Because I'm afraid that's what it would have to be this time. I can't keep going back and forth over this anymore than you can, Eve."
This wasn't a turn of events she had prepared for. She hadn't dreamed of there still being a connection with her old life at all. This hadn't been her intention.
Villanelle would see it as a betrayal. Leaving her the way she did, if Eve followed through with her initial plan, then maybe Villanelle could have understood why she came back here. Villanelle had no true interest in hunting down the Twelve. She simply had no other outlet to pursue after she had lost everything. Then it became a reasonable way for the two of them to stay together. Eve knew that notion equally well, but Villanelle wouldn't admit to that any sooner than she would.
By handing the Manifest over, Carolyn and MI6 could take care of the Twelve, and she and Villanelle would be free to live whatever lives they chose. Separately. If they happened to find a balance in continuing their game of hide-and-seek, even better.
It would, in fact, close that door permanently, and Eve wasn't sure she was ready for that. She didn't want to. She might not ever want to. But she couldn't deny a part of her wanting her job back. She loved her job. She was good at it. It was the first time she ever felt like she was doing what she was meant to in her whole life.
She tried to deflect by picturing what Villanelle must have thought waking up in that abandoned house alone. Her job couldn't be worth that, could it? Eve could only think of the promise left behind of things to come. Something that, two nights ago, had felt awfully close to that elusive middle ground.
The morning in question was meant to have been the best of mornings, and it almost was.
Villanelle didn't often wake up with people in her bed and get to bask in it. No one had ever meant anything to her like that other than Anna. But she and Anna had never gotten a chance to do much honest sleeping. They had sex and went on dates that Anna would never call dates because she was still beholden to her worthless vows to the even more worthless Max.
This was new. She liked it. It didn't feel like she was doing it just because she knew that was how people behaved when they were in normal relationships.
It felt real.
"Morning," she grumbled face down into the blankets, sleepy and spent and good. "Did you sleep well?"
She felt her smile slide off her face in layers when she rolled over to find an empty bed. So much for lazy morning sex. Still, they could get a late breakfast or lunch or whatever time it was. And it would be a real meal to compliment the day. Nothing like what they've been eating.
They could go anywhere now. They would be together always. It wouldn't matter if they were running from the Twelve or hunting after them or ignoring them entirely. They could get a cabin or a farm or another flat like her old one. They could find a townhouse like Eve's. She could take her shopping and buy her everything she's always wanted to. They could figure out how to cook something other than shepherd's pie. Eve could make a new photo album where she was front and center like she deserved.
Villanelle was looking forward to all of it, but the sheets were cold.
There was no answer, and further investigation divulged that Eve wasn't in the bathroom or downstairs. Nothing else appeared to have changed. No one had found them here. But she couldn't have just–
Eve wouldn't leave her again. She cared about her. She loved her. Villanelle knew she did.
Returning to the bedroom didn't help matters. The flash drive they had worked so hard to gather was gone. As was the bag of Eve's clothes.
She was gone.
Everything Villanelle woke up feeling died on the spot when she walked across the hall to what Eve had been using as her room. She felt sharper for it, seeing the gift that had been left for her. Love clouded things and hid ugly truths. That would never do here. She almost forgot again. The only trace that Eve had been here at all sat waiting on the shabby bed. A violent juxtaposition.
It was the dress that Villanelle had stripped her from, folded neatly with a note resting on top. Eve had won this round then. Seeing as the last one ended with Villanelle shooting her, she would allow it for the moment. Her time would come again soon enough. She could even admire the machinating behind it and bit her lip over the anticipation as she crumpled up the note and the inscription she wouldn't be forgetting any time soon.
Find me, Baby x