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Infancy

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It's not real.

It's like buying a dress online and seeing the receipt in her inbox. The email tells her that the outfit is real, but it isn't, not really, until the package shows up at her doorstep.

The two lines on the pregnancy test are the same thing. They're telling her that something exists, but it doesn't, not really, not yet.

Eve Polastri couldn't care less about children. It had come up, once, ten years ago when Niko had made some offhand comment about loving kids at a dinner party. Eve had sidestepped the entire conversation, throwing out some joke about his passion for teaching, and he had taken the hint, let the laughter of their guests fill the childless void that Eve knew had always been in his heart.

She was careful. And then she was old. And then she was careless. Apparently. Some precaution must have fallen by the wayside. Complacency always did get the better of Eve. Every time she felt secure in her life, something had to go wrong. She had to make something go wrong. Subconsciously. Usually.

She debates taking the little white stick to work and burying it at the bottom of a dumpster in the back alleyway behind their building. She debates not telling Niko about it at all. She debates just getting rid of it. But she can't get rid of something that isn't real, so she just… waits.

She waits to decide what to do with the pregnancy test by leaving it on the coffee table when she leaves for work. She waits for Niko to hug her the moment she walks through the front door that evening, Thai takeout in hand. She waits to eat her fried rice until Niko is done telling her he loves her exactly one million times. She waits for Niko to fall asleep, arm wrapped tightly around her waist, to pull out her phone and browse through the photos Kenny sent her of Villanelle's latest crime scene.

She waits for everything to be real.

*

She doesn't tell anyone. Mainly because nothing sounds worse, but also because two and a half months in Jess gives birth. She and Eve don't know each other that well, but they're still friends, and it's common courtesy not to upstage your colleagues’ major life events by announcing your own.

She throws up in the bathroom at work and tells her coworkers that she's hung over. Which was true once… or twice.

For the first and only time she's glad that Bill is dead. He would have read her like a book. He would have known before she did.

It's Niko who ruins everything, predictably.

He brings her lunch and flowers one snowday off of school. It's home-cooked shepherd's pie because Eve had craved it once, and he tells everyone in the office that it must be the baby's favorite.

Hugo gives her that smarmy eyebrow raise, Kenny looks at her like he doesn't understand where babies come from, and Carolyn looks like she's finally going to have to give Kenny The Talk.

The room goes silent and Niko quickly catches on that he's crossed the finish line of a race Eve never fired the pistol to start. He stutters, then apologizes.

"Surprise!"

He scours the faces of the room and jumps back when he sees a dead one on the corkboard. Yesterday Villanelle killed a gondolier in Venice. With his own oars, she rigged his limp body standing and pushed his boat out into the waters. He's a bloated scarecrow of the canals, trails of dried blood stringing from his neck like straws of loose hay.

"Jesus" is the last thing Niko says before he leaves the office, face matching the pale of the gondolier's.

"You're pregnant?" Carolyn asks. She's confirming a factum of data, not satisfying a curiosity.

Eve admits it for the first time to anyone but Niko. "Yeah."

"Very well then."

Carolyn follows Niko out, and Eve loves her for not offering a forced congratulations.

*

"You didn't tell them?" Niko asks when she gets home.

"I was waiting."

"For what?"

Jess? No, Jess left for maternity leave weeks ago.

"Until we knew everything was okay. We're older. Sometimes there's complications." She hopes Niko doesn't hear the way it sounds like a prayer.

He puts his hands on her shoulders, massages her there with calloused fingers. "You are the pinnacle of health."

That morning she boiled hot dogs for breakfast because Niko slept in and hadn't cooked for her like usual. The other week she nearly threw out her back carrying a box of case folders into an upstairs supply closet. Her doctor told her that her job was getting the better of her blood pressure during her last check up - over two years ago.

"Everything's going to be fine," he says, and he sounds resigned, like he's going to materialize Fine into existence the same way he expects her to create an entirely new life form from nothing.

*

Jess calls her the next day. Hugo told her. Because they're adults and not recently-engaged, recently-graduated college students desperate to one up each other for the tiniest semblance of social status, she's thrilled to hear the news. Jess feels a connection, not upstaged.

She says the time away from work is nice, but that she misses speaking to adults who aren't her husband. She says all her other friends are busy with work, and that, unless they have kids themselves, they just don't get it. She says that pregnancy sucks but it's worth it to see that first gummy smile on those little chubby cheeks. She says to go to the dentist before the little bastard ruins her teeth. She says to stay away from raw fish and to take as many prenatal vitamins as she can get her hands on.

The whole conversation leaves Eve craving sushi.

***

She gets to go to Pirot.

Villanelle kills some Serbian politician in what must be the only European city Carolyn doesn't have connections to, so she has to send someone from Operation Manderley to the crime scene. Jess is still on maternity leave, Kenny doesn't have the social skills, and Hugo has a hot date this weekend that he doesn't want to miss. Eve gets to go alone, and it's not until she has her suitcase packed in 15 minutes flat that she realizes how much she's looking forward to the closest thing she's had to a vacation in years.

She and Niko went to Warsaw six months ago to visit his parents, but that doesn't count.

She gets so caught up in the rush of it all that she forgets to tell Niko she's leaving. She doesn't realize her mistake until she’s sitting on the plane and sees an old man with a handlebar mustache that rivals Niko's sitting in the row ahead of her. Scrambling, she takes her phone off airplane mode and sends a single text. "On a work trip for a couple of days. Be back Monday." The phone is silenced and in her pocket before he has a chance to respond.

*

The body is still hanging out of the window when Eve arrives on the tenth floor of the office building. The politician looks like a dog on a road trip, face wind beaten and tongue flopped out. If she touched him with any pressure at all, he'd somersault forward and spray paint the sidewalk below, destroying all evidence that Villanelle had ever been here.

Villanelle must be gone by now, Eve thinks.

And then she doesn't think that anymore because Villanelle is sitting right outside at a cafe across the street.

Half of a pastry disappears into her mouth. Golden flakes of dough flutter onto the table as she chews. Her nails are painted sunshine yellow. The two of them lock eyes across the road.

A car speeds past, and Eve expects Villanelle to have evaporated by the time it's finished crossing her vision. But Villanelle is neither a magician nor a mirage, and she doesn’t move in the fraction of a second that their gazes are separated.

Eve waits for someone else to notice. Would the local police recognize Villanelle? Would some worker in the building remember her talking to the victim moments before he was killed?

Of course not. That's Eve's job. She's the expert. She's the one who's supposed to tell the armed forces under her command that the murderer they’re looking for is camped out 50 meters away from the crime scene and that they need to capture her before she gets away.

But she doesn't give the order. She just stares.

Villanelle gets up. She tosses her napkin and throws a clearly recyclable coffee cup into a trash bin. A smile lifts her lips, and Eve's stomach rises similarly.

The baby's kicking Niko would say, and Eve would let him think that.

Villanelle takes off in the same direction as Eve's hotel, and Eve wonders if it's a happy coincidence or something more sinister.

*

There's a knock on her door just before midnight.

Part of Eve wants to ignore it and pretend to be asleep like she should be at this hour, but she knows who it is, so she gets up and answers the door, not even bothering to feign a yawn as if she'd been disturbed.

Except the person at the door isn't who she expected. It's a bellhop who looks more tired than she feels.

"Room service."

"I didn't order-"

He hands her a tray of white chocolate-covered strawberries and a bottle of champagne. Before Eve can protest once more, he's gone.

Villanelle better have paid for this. If the order shows up on the MI6 credit card attached to Eve's room, Carolyn's going to have a field day.

There's a note on the box. "I'm downstairs, if you want someone to share with.”

This is one of those moments where she’s supposed to call Jakov, the chief of police who’d escorted her to the crime scene this afternoon, and tell him exactly where to find the assassin they’ve all been hunting for months. But of course she doesn’t do that. Her life has been like a movie ever since that first murder in Vienna, and at this point Eve is fully aware that her role is the white dad who knows that suspiciously cheap house in the middle of nowhere is probably haunted but decides to buy the property anyway. So she kicks on her slippers, grabs her champagne, and goes downstairs to meet the serial killer who’s just bought her a drink.

The most annoying thing is that Villanelle isn't in the lobby. When Eve steps off the elevator, there’s hardly anyone in the lobby because it’s midnight. The guests consist of two drunk girls giggling by the vending machines and a definitely-not-suspicious-at-all businessman in a suit on his laptop checking his watch every twenty seconds. The bellhop who brought her the champagne gives her the stink eye from behind the check out desk as if to scold her for bringing the bottle back down to the ground floor when he had just spent all that time bringing it up to her.

Is this a trap? A time-wasting torture scheme? Probably. But Eve grabs two paper cups from the water cooler, sits down at a table where - assuming she lives long enough - she’ll eat her continental breakfast in a few hours, and decides to wait for ten minutes.

She waits for twelve.

“You took too long.” Villanelle slides into the seat opposite her. She’s wearing a completely different outfit than she wore that afternoon. Her nailpolish is blue, not yellow. “I went across the street to use the bathroom at my hotel. It’s way nicer.”

Eve had seen that hotel in the listings when she was finding this one. She had almost booked a room, then decided the extravagance wasn’t worth getting banned from the next mission by Carolyn.

Eve pours the champagne and Villanelle holds up the flimsy paper cup as if to prove a point.

“What do you want?” Eve asks.

“I thought we’d meet somewhere public. In case you tried to stab me again.”

The two drunk girls have snuck into the pool area, which is definitely off limits at this time of night. The bellhop has gone to scold them. The businessman taps the keys of his laptop without purpose, eyes twitching between the screen and the window outside. He might stab Villanelle before Eve gets a chance to.

“That didn’t answer my question.”

“It’s been a while since I’ve seen you.” Villanelle chugs the champagne like a shot then pours another glass. “I thought you’d forgotten about me.”

Eve takes a drink of her own. “Were you waiting for me? Outside the office?”

Villanelle raises an eyebrow. A hum reverberates into her cup. “You showed up for once.”

“I’ve been busy.”

"Did you eat your strawberries?"

"I left them in the room."

"Were you planning to invite me up?" Villanelle's smirk is infuriating.

"Do you actually have something to say to me?” Eve asks. “It's late. I want to go to bed."

"You're the one who came downstairs. If you didn't want to see me, you didn't have to."

"Fine." Eve stands and takes her champagne with her.

There's a flash of surprise on Villanelle's face as her eyes trail Eve upward, but then her eyes sink lower and her mouth falls open. She's on her feet in an instant, and a hand shoots out to slap the champagne bottle from Eve's grasp. The glass smashes onto the ground, turning the air sour and the carpet wet.

"You can't drink that while you're…" Her eyes don't leave Eve's midsection. There's only a hint of a bump, so small that Eve had almost forgotten about it. "Is it Niko's?"

"Obviously. What kind of question is that?"

"I wouldn't blame you if you cheated on him."

She hadn't. She thought about it, once, but that was after she knew she was pregnant. Hugo had made a pass at her, again, more boldly than his usual standard flirting, and Eve had entertained the idea for a mere moment. She blamed it on surging hormones and his stupid smile. He was the type of boy she would have crushed on when she was 15, and she's only slightly bitter that it took her 40 odd years to get that kind of attention from a man like him.

"Is it a boy or a girl?" Villanelle asks. The surprise has faded. A child-like curiosity laces her words.

Eve grabs her hand and leads them into a deserted hallway, away from anyone who will blame them for the mess they've made of the dining room floor.

"I don't know. It'll tell me after it gets here."

"Can I feel?" Villanelle sticks a hand out preemptively. Eve doesn't know what to say. She's not pregnant enough that anyone but Niko has tried to touch her yet. She doesn't protest and Villanelle takes that as permission.

Her palm is warm through Eve's shirt, neither black heart cold nor hellfire hot. Not what Eve expected. Villanelle’s thumb strokes slightly, wanders. Eve wonders if it might slip inside her naval, reach farther in, and pull whatever's inside of her out.

"I thought you looked extra beautiful today. I couldn't tell you were pregnant from across the street, but you were glowing."

Glowing? Eve feels radioactive. Is Villanelle the only one who can see it? Is she responsible? Her mother died of cancer from Chernobyl, if her file is anything to go by. Some remnants of that must remain in Villanelle, and Villanelle must have tainted Eve with it too, scorched it into her being with the intensity of that first look they'd shared in the hospital bathroom.

"You should sleep," Villanelle says when her touch fades away. "Babies like sleep." There's a softness to her voice, a sadness to the crinkle of her eye, but she nods her head decisively. "Eat the strawberries too. Fruit is healthy."

"Are you a doctor now?" Eve finds her own words softened, the gentleness of Villanelle's touch rubbing off on her.

"I've played a few." To kill people is the unspoken finish to that sentence. "Goodbye, Eve. I will see you again soon."

Eve wonders who will have to die for that to happen.

***

"I bought some books."

Great. Niko already has an entire bookshelf of unread Polish mystery novels. More of them is exactly what they need in their already cluttered house.

"I know you said you were nervous, and I don't want you to be." He spreads a few paperbacks out across the coffee table, and it's worse than Eve imagined. All of the titles are things like 101 Parenting Hacks and New Parents, New Beginnings. They're all scams as far as Eve is concerned. Anyone could write a hundred pages of drivel about their kid and call themselves an expert. Who would be dumb enough to buy these? Niko, apparently.

Her brain tells her to give him a polite smile, but she just can't manage it. "Thank you. I'll take them to work and read them on my lunch break." She won't. More often than not, she works on her lunch break, and when she isn't working, she's eating, like a normal person.

"That's great. You're great." He kisses the top of her head, and she hopes the fact that she didn't wash her hair this morning deters him from doing it again. "I wanted to help," he explains. "As much as I could. I know you're the one doing all the real work."

So far the real work of growing a child has consisted of nothing more than eating an extra helping of pasta every now and then. She's practically a war hero.

"Can we get pizza for dinner?"

*

The books are only the beginning of it all.

She comes home one evening to find herself locked out of the cabinet beneath the sink, the one with all the cleaning supplies and the secret bag of crisps stashed behind the Windex. It’s like Niko’s afraid she’s going to clean the windows for the first time since they moved in or like he saw her eyeing that bleach a little too closely in the grocery store aisle last week. It takes her a solid forty-five seconds to figure out how to undo the latch, and she really wonders how she ever got a job in government security.

There are locks on all of the knee-level drawers and a baby gate at the bottom and the top of the staircase. Going up and down the steps feels like navigating American airport security. It’s overkill. Newborns don’t even crawl. Right?

Niko decides that the workout room will be renovated into a nursery, and that doesn’t help make it feel real for Eve. He decided that the guest room would become the workout room two years ago when they realized they didn't have any friends, and she’s pretty sure she only saw him use it to exercise once. The room never amassed more than a single pair of dumbbells, a few old boxes of junk, and a pile of clothes Niko promised to donate months ago.

A package shows up on the doorstep one Saturday while Niko is at a bridge tournament. Eve opens it to find a crib. A really nice crib. She doesn’t see a price tag, and it’s a small blessing because she doesn’t want to know how much money they’re spending on something that isn’t even here yet. She lugs the box upstairs - something her doctor explicitly told her not to do anymore - and sets it down next to all the other boxes in the nursery.

Three days later she comes home to find it assembled, the tiny mattress dressed with crisp white sheets and sky-blue pillows. A mobile hangs overhead, all spinning teddy bears and smiling elephants hung distastefully by their plastic necks. Eve presses a button on the handle and it plays a scratchy, mechanical lullaby. She presses the button fifteen more times, but the song doesn’t stop until it plays out in its entirety. Alone in the empty house, it sounds like the soundtrack to a horror movie.

"You put together the crib," Niko says when he gets home. He's surprised. He's proud of her. "Where'd you learn how to do that?"

Then she realizes.

"Bing," she lies because she's not about to tell her husband his baby will sleep in a bed gifted to them by a serial killer who also broke into their house to put it together for them.

"Impressive." He gives her that look that says he's into her, and it's been a long time since she's gotten it from him this often. Why did he have to pick now to be attracted to her when she's the least attracted to him she's ever been?

She gets out of sex by saying it can upset the baby. It can't. Even Eve knows that. Even without reading the books. But he believes her, and she's almost able to sleep peacefully for once.

There are other gifts. Or omens. Or whatever Villanelle thinks she's giving Eve. Most of it is things for the baby - stuffed animals, diapers, multilingual storybooks. But some of it is for Eve - maternity dresses, comfortable designer shoes, a vibrator that she refuses to use (more than once).

She tells Niko that Carolyn gave her a raise. He jokes that he should come work for MI6. It's not that funny.

*

The murders stop for a brief period of time. Either Villanelle is too busy online shopping to kill anybody or Eve is too tired to piece together the clues that point to Villanelle. Her ankles are swollen.

Then a government official is murdered. In London. In the MI6 building. In the same hallway where Eve works. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out who's responsible.

Sarah Crawford was in charge of "minor budgetary matters" according to Carolyn. Eve had met her once or twice. Her first reaction to hearing about Sarah's death is that it's karmic. Maybe if she hadn't taken the last chocolate chip muffin from the cafeteria the other day when Eve was behind her in line, then this wouldn't have happened.

And who knows. Maybe Villanelle was watching from one of the lunch tables and she really did kill Sarah in an act of revenge for Eve.

But probably The 12 wanted her dead too.

No one knows exactly how Villanelle got in. Not a single personnel in the entire building remembers seeing her that day. Carolyn thinks someone is covering for her, but Eve just thinks it's impressive.

Villanelle doesn’t stay shy. Over six weeks, three more people are murdered, all within a mile of the office building, all by Villanelle.

At this point Eve is resigned to being stalked. She stops searching all the faces on the tube. She stops paying attention to who’s shopping beside her in the aisles of Tesco. She doesn’t bother to close her curtains at night because she figures Villanelle is going to find a way to watch her sleep anyway. The longer it goes on, the more comforting it becomes. If she goes into labor while ordering her 13th plate of japchae this month at that Korean restaurant way on the other side of town, she knows Villanelle will somehow materialize to drive her to the hospital, and she knows Villanelle will somehow make even mid-day London traffic part for them when she does it.

Carolyn suggests she take her maternity leave a little early, to distance herself from work, to lay low. Eve knows sitting at home all day isn’t going to make her any safer, but she’s not going to turn down paid time off.

***

Eve goes into labor at 2:34 in the morning because of course she does. She’s so delirious from the lack of sleep and the excruciating pain of it all that everything is a blur. When the nurse asks if she wants to hold the baby, Eve pretends that she’s already passed out asleep.

She doesn’t see him until the next afternoon. He looks like her. So much like her. He’s real and there’s no denying it anymore, and yet Eve does. When Niko says, “He has my eyes,” Eve lies and says, “Your nose too.”

She stays in the hospital for two days, and she spends most of those days sleeping. It’s a good distraction technique until it backfires. Her sleep schedule goes whack. She sleeps all day, and when she finally wakes up, it’s late night and Eve is no longer tired. Niko has refused to go home until Eve can go with him, and he’s taken to sleeping slouched over in the uncomfortable arm chair by her bedside. When the night-shift nurse comes to check on her, Niko is fully conked out, and Eve is wide awake. The baby is in a nursery somewhere, being taken care of by someone who actually knows what they’re doing.

“Your cousin came by to see him earlier,” the woman says, and Eve can only stare as the nurse makes note of the vitals on her monitor.

“My cousin?” All of Eve’s family is in America. Or Korea.

The woman looks at her, realizes Eve is not white, and says, “Maybe your husband’s, then.”

Niko’s family is in Poland.

Villanelle.

Eve isn’t surprised. It’s a wonder she wasn’t camped in the vents, staring out through a crack in the ceiling tiles, watching the birth. Maybe she was.

Eve falls back asleep and is awoken in the morning by screaming. Niko is rocking the baby, trying to shush him back to sleep, and it isn't working.

“Someone’s hungry,” the nurse says before leaving the room, and Eve is suddenly cognizant of how empty her own stomach feels.

Niko places him in the bassinet, then pushes it toward Eve with a smile. The screaming starts to quiet as he lays down, but the moment Eve picks him up, the wails start up again, full force.

The next ten minutes are a headache-inducing blur. Eventually, the baby stops crying, but that's only half of the problem solved.

"I can't get him to latch." It's an hour before they're scheduled to be discharged and Eve hasn't even figured out how to feed the thing yet.

"Sometimes it takes a while. Like on The Office." Eve stares Niko down. "The American one."

"You're not helping,” she tells him.

"I'm sorry." Niko smooshes the chub of the baby's cheek closer to Eve's breast. Predictably, it does nothing. Then he tries the opposite approach; smooshes Eve's breast toward the baby's face.

"Could you not?"

"Sorry." Sheepishly, he retracts his hand.

"We'll just do the bottles like the doctor said. We'll figure it out later."

*

They decide on Michael.

Niko suggests it, and Eve says yes because she hasn’t thought about names at all. But when Niko tries to spell it “Michal” on the birth certificate, Eve still has the good sense to stop him. He claims it’s the Polish spelling, but Eve reminds him that they both live in the UK now and that she’s not going to be one of those parents who names their kid something as boring as Michael and then has the audacity to butcher the spelling so badly that the pronunciation becomes unrecognizable.

Niko builds a wooden sign with his name and hangs it above the crib. "It's my contribution," he says. "Since you did all the rest of the work."

Villanelle did most of the work as far as the nursery is concerned, but his guilt gets Eve out of everything, so she doesn't correct him. Six a.m. bottle runs? Niko's problem. Eve sleeps in. Mid-dinner diaper change? Definitely Niko's problem. Eve scavenges the french fries off of his plate while he's gone. Life's as good as it’s ever going to get with an infant bothering them with everything all the time, and Eve is smart enough to draw it out for as long as possible. She’s not ashamed to butter Niko up.

“Thank you for getting up in the middle of the night to take care of him," she tells him as they're settling into bed one night. "You know I sleep like the dead."

"He takes after you. He hardly ever cries at night."

"Really?"

"One of my mates in the history department is jealous. He said his son woke up every night like clockwork. At 1, 3, and 5. He'd drain the entire coffee pot in the teacher’s lounge before the first bell."

Eve falls asleep fantasizing about the speciality brew Villanelle had sent her that afternoon. Some imported Colombian hazelnut roast she's beyond excited to try.

It's dreaming of liquid that's her downfall. Only one thing can wake Eve in the middle of the night: her bladder. Her eyes flutter open, she feels that familiar pressure, and her bare feet meet cold flooring.

When she steps into the hallway, she hears it. A humming. Not the fritzy air conditioner. Not the idled desktop in Niko's study. A voice. A woman. From the nursery.

Eve slinks toward the closed door on the other side of the hall, past the bathroom, bladder forgotten, half convinced she's half asleep and one foot into a nightmare. The door handle, when she turns it, is ice cold.

Villanelle is inside, swallowed in the seat of the rocking chair, singing softly, Michael nestled into the crook of her arm.

The only thing about the scene that surprises Eve is that the song has lyrics. They're in Russian, or something Eve assumes is Russian, and Villanelle mumbles them like a guilty pleasure. The tune is simple, easy, familiar. Eve feels like she could almost sing along, but as quickly as the melody penetrates her, it leaves. Villanelle falls silent, her mouth morphing from speech into a smile.

"Did I wake you? He gets fussy if I don't talk to him."

Michael coos as she goes quiet, as they both wait for Eve to fill the space with sound.

She doesn't.

"You look beautiful," Villanelle says when she can't hold it in any longer. She's love struck, Eve can tell. Mouth just slightly open. Roaming eyes sparkling in the moonlight. She's undeniably pretty sitting there on her rocking chair throne. A goddess of the night. Totally in her element. Totally entranced.

Eve must look wild with her untamed hair and wrinkled white linens. The moonlight exposes her like a blacklight. She's glowing. She can see her own reflection in Villanelle's eyes.

"You do this a lot?" Eve asks.

"Of course. You don't need the beauty rest, but it's doing wonders." Those grey eyes continue to roam, eventually settle over Eve’s chest. She's not wearing a bra and the room is drafty, the window cracked open when it should be locked shut. She can feel how hard her nipples are, and she's glad she has the cold as an excuse for it.

Michael coos again. A tiny fist wrestles a strand of blond hair, and when Villanelle yelps he laughs.

She lifts him, nose to nose, and scolds him in a high-pitched voice. "Naughty." He laughs again, reaches for another bleached lock.

"You are still hungry?" Villanelle asks him. An empty bottle sits on the floor nearby. A soiled bib lays beneath it. "Insatiable." She turns to Eve. "I think he wants the real thing."

Eve crosses her arms, covers herself, tries to stay warm despite the chill in her spine. "He's used to bottles. I'm not always home to-"

"Then he really wants the real thing."

Villanelle stands and offers the seat to Eve.

Eve takes it before she knows why.

Delicately, Villanelle lowers Michael into her arms. Hands capable of murder shouldn't be so gentle, but the brush of her knuckles against Eve's skin is feather light. Villanelle sits on the floor at Eve's side, chin resting against the arm of the rocking chair as she looks up toward Eve expectantly.

Eve rocks Michael for a moment, tries to situate him properly. The scrunch in his nose means he's uncomfortable, and Eve doesn't know how Villanelle makes it look so easy. It's Villanelle, finally, who props his head on the wing of Eve's elbow and smooths back the fluff of his hair, soothing.

"Feed him." The command is gentle, encouraging, but the excitement in Villanelle's eyes betrays her tone. Eve can't quite predict how Villanelle would react if she refused. She isn't sure Villanelle could predict it either. So Eve unbuttons her shirt.

Villanelle's eyes latch onto her before Michael does. Eve tries to coax him onto her without success, and Villanelle only tolerates the wait for a few moments before she's reaching forward, fingers dangerously close to Eve's skin, and encouraging him to suckle. He responds to her, and within seconds, they both shamelessly indulge, hungry and greedy.

There's a long moment of staring before Villanelle's hand comes down heavy on the seat of the chair. She builds and maintains a rocking motion for Eve. As Eve's feet settle into the groove, Villanelle's eyes flit up to her face.

"Beautiful," she repeats, and her hand moves from the chair again, travels everywhere. Over Eve's arm, in the curl of Eve's split ends, across Michael's cheek, around the dent of an exposed collarbone. It's a ghost of a touch and Eve can feel the goosebumps creep up in the wake of Villanelle's path.

Villanelle rises to her knees. She's not quite Eve's height, but almost. Her face hovers below Eve's, inching closer, her breath too warm to exist in such a cold room.

"Eve?"

Niko, from the hallway.

Eve stands suddenly, as if sitting was the infidelity she almost committed, and it does nothing more than jerk Michael awake from his half-lidded, milk-drunk purgatory between the dream world and the real one. He fusses and Eve ignores him to tend to Villanelle. But Villanelle doesn't need help. Thoughtlessly, her body blurs, slots into the space between the dresser and the closed door. When Niko opens it, he can't see her. But Eve can see both of them staring back at her. One worried, aroused from sleep. The other calm and just plain aroused.

Eve can see the question in Niko's eye before he asks it.

"I got up to pee and went to check on him," she says.

"Oh." He's surprised that Eve has a completely normal explanation. So is Eve.

"Go to sleep. I'll come back to bed in a minute."

"Okay." He takes a step forward and kisses her. Eve keeps her eyes open, looks out over his shoulder, watches Villanelle gnaw her bottom lip.

Niko leaves the door open when he leaves. Villanelle closes it for him. She steps forward, stands in the shadow of Niko's presence. She's not as tall as him, but Eve feels more towered over than when he was in the room.

Villanelle leans in. Eve prepares to be kissed, but her lips only meet the scratch of fabric. The sleeve of Villanelle's top smears across her mouth, and it's rough, feels nothing like the soft Eve imagines Villanelle's lips to be. It's rougher still when Villanelle pulls away, the pressure of her palm dragging the edge of Eve's mouth down. Her lips feel numb and raw by the time Villanelle is finished with her.

"I don't want to taste him when I kiss you."

The moment Villanelle's lips meet hers, all sensation floods back. It's hard and soft at the same time. It's sweet and sour. It tastes like pink lemonade.

When the kiss ends, Eve swears the goosebumps overtake her lips too.

“Let me put him down.”

Eve has no objections to handing Michael over. Villanelle lays him down, swaddles him faster than Eve has ever managed to, and plucks his favorite stuffed animal from a shelf of toys. The tiger. Eve doesn’t want to know how she knows exactly which one to grab.

“I’m here almost every night. He wakes up around two, so I try to get here a little earlier. If you want to spend time with us.”

Eve feels bold, like she's immune to Villanelle's venom after having a taste of her bite. “I know you’re a psychopath, but if you think I’m going to voluntarily wake up at 2 a.m. every night, you’re actually insane.”

*

She does, of course, wake up at 2 a.m. sometimes. She can’t help it. Her body sets an internal clock that she can’t seem to reset. Sometimes there’s kissing. Sometimes there isn’t. Sometimes there’s standing outside the nursery door and being too afraid to go in. Sometimes there’s crying and sometimes it’s Michael. Sometimes she just really needs to fucking pee.

But one night it’s Niko that wakes her. It’s midnight when he wraps an arm around her and then tries to steal three fourths of the blanket. Eve opens her eyes to look at the clock and scold him, but as soon as she’s fully awake and able to register what’s happening she remembers that Niko is in Oxford chaperoning some field trip.

“I’m cold,” Villanelle says as she wraps the blanket around herself, and a jolt of ice rips through Eve’s spine.

The second she calms herself and realizes that Villanelle isn't here to murder her, Eve steals part of the blanket back.

It’s immediately apparent that Villanelle is the worst type of bed-mate. She tugs the blanket back again. She shifts around, pauses for five seconds as if she's settled, and then shifts again - multiple times, each time not so subtly encroaching on Eve's half of the bed. When she finally decides she's close enough, her frozen bare feet press against the back of Eve's calves. Eve tries to fall back asleep, but Villanelle has no plans of that for either of them.

"You're warm," Villanelle says, her breath hot in Eve's ear. It sends warmth spreading through her stomach before eventually settling lower. Villanelle's body presses against her back shamelessly, and Eve suddenly feels hot enough to combust. She can't see what Villanelle is wearing in the dark, but the material of her shirt is thin and she’s definitely not wearing a bra underneath. The pebbles of her nipples press against Eve's shoulder blades.

Her hand lifts Eve's top, just far enough for her palm to snake around Eve’s abdomen and settle over her hip bone. Her fingers are cold enough to make Eve squirm, but Villanelle holds her down to stop her from moving, to pull them impossibly closer together.

"Can I?" Villanelle asks as her fingertips trace the edge of Eve's waistband.

Eve responds by tugging her underwear down to mid-thigh.

Villanelle groans into her ear. She bites down on the lobe and dips her hand lower. Eve doesn't have the fortitude to be embarrassed about how slick she already is. She throws a hand back and grabs a fistful of Villanelle's hair, spurring her on as she settles into a quick rhythm.

Eve bucks into the hand and becomes increasingly aware of Villanelle’s hips mirroring the movement and grinding into her ass. She thrusts her own hips backward and Villanelle practically growls into her ear. Eve twists her head and brings their lips together and that's all it takes.

Eve's heart rate slows, but Villanelle's movements don't. She lets Eve ride out the wave of her orgasm past the point of overstimulation, and it's Eve who grabs hold of her wrist and pulls her away.

Villanelle's fingers quickly relocate and find a home beneath the waistband of her own pants. Breathless, Eve watches the rhythm of her wrist beneath the blanket, watches Villanelle bury her face in Eve's pillow, in the loose curls of Eve's hair. She listens as Villanelle's breaths become more shallow and her moans rise in pitch.

It's intoxicating to see someone so powerful so vulnerable. Eve knows Villanelle has probably been with a hundred women, but she can't help but think that she's the only one who's seen her this undone.

She comes embarrassingly fast, but where Niko would apologize, Villanelle indulges, selfishly savors the moment and rides it out as long as she pleases. Eve wishes she could be that free.

Eve wants to touch her, to feel her, to share the moment. She reaches out. “Do you want me to-”

Villanelle cuts her off with a hand over her mouth. The slick of her fingers slides across Eve’s lips like balm before forcing its way onto her tongue. Eve sucks Villanelle clean. It’s familiar and novel at the same time, and Eve can’t tell where her own flavor ends and Villanelle’s begins.

She reaches out again, tries to touch Villanelle, but Villanelle grabs her hand, brings the back of it to her lips for a kiss, and keeps hold of it. Her free hand tugs Eve’s sweatpants back up her thighs. “Rest,” she says. “I’ll get up with Michael in a bit.”

*

When Eve wakes up, the sheets beside her are wrinkled and cold. She wonders if the whole night was a dream, but when she pads down the staircase she’s met with the heavy aroma of freshly-brewed Columbian hazelnut coffee. Michael's bottle is already made, and on the counter is a box from a local bakery. Inside is a half dozen gourmet donuts and a message on the lid.

Come over for a play date sometime?

The word “date” is underlined and beneath it is an address for what Eve can only assume is the place where Villanelle is staying while in London.

It would be so easy to tell Carolyn and turn Villanelle in.

Eve pours herself a cup of coffee, chomps into a maple bacon pastry, and washes the sheets before Niko gets home.

*

Eve is halfway to her third orgasm when Michael’s screaming stills Villanelle’s tongue.

“Can we put him in the other room?” Eve asks.

“It’s a studio.”

“The bathroom?”

“That’ll just give him better acoustics.”

Villanelle gets up to deal with him. Eve wipes the sweat from her brow as she watches Villanelle reach for Michael’s diaper bag, backtrack to the kitchen to wash her hands, and return to dig out a pacifier. The offering soothes Michael, but with her mind unclouded by lust, Eve can’t help but regret putting his car seat on top of the piano. It’s weird, him looking down at her from across the room.

Villanelle reads Eve’s mind. She hangs a blanket over the seat's handle to block his vision, and then she crawls back to bed.

***

“You’ve got the emergency contact numbers?”

“Yes.”

“And the extra set of diapers?”

“Yes.”

“And that little poncho in case it rains?”

“Yes, Niko. I packed everything.”

“Okay.” Niko pats his pockets, finds his keys, and hands them to Eve. “Make sure you give Elena the carseat.”

“I will.”

“Okay.” He kisses her. His mustache twitches in that way it does when he’s worried. It tickles. Eve scratches her upper lip when he pulls away. “Tell Elena I said hi. And thank you. Promise her we’ll watch her kids if she ever has them and she needs a weekend off to celebrate her anniversary.”

*

Every time Eve comes over, Villanelle’s apartment is annoyingly more chic and more baby-proof.

Michael is asleep in his car seat when Eve sets him on Villanelle's bed. The silk sheets must be worth more than Eve's entire mattress, and she gets a sick sense of satisfaction from ruining them with Cheez-It crumbs from the bottom of the car seat.

"Niko says hi."

Villanelle raises an eyebrow. "You told him?"

"I told him Elena was babysitting."

"I once pretended to be a woman named Elena to kill a flight instructor in St. Petersburg, so if the guilt is eating you, then technically you didn't lie."

"The guilt's not eating me."

"I take it Niko won't be either."

Eve twists her jaw, bites the inside of her cheek to keep from scolding Villanelle.

"Happy anniversary." Villanelle’s laugh is mischievous, mocking. "When you come back, you and I can celebrate for real."

*

When Eve comes back a week later, Michael and Villanelle are wearing matching black and blue striped outfits. Michael is jumping around in a bouncer Eve has never seen before, and Eve steps on a giant plastic Lego as soon as she walks into the apartment.

"Mommy's home!" Villanelle lifts Michael into the air until he's soaring like an airplane toward Eve. "Let’s give Mommy a kiss." Villanelle kisses her and Michael is just kind of there with them. His mouth is wet against Eve's cheek. "We missed you."

"You did?"

"Well, I did. He took it pretty well." She reverts back to the baby voice, puts her face close to Michael's. "You barely cried for me at all, didn't you?"

He giggles. A confirmation. Villanelle sits him back in his bouncing chair.

"You interrupted story time," Villanelle tells her, and Eve notices the books spread out on the duvet. She picks one up. Les Mis. In French.

"This might be above his reading level."

"I'm trying to find his language."

"I'd guess English."

"No, it's not English."

"I'm pretty sure we're going to teach him English."

"It's not about what you're going to teach him. It's about passion. Everybody has that one language that they feel in their soul. I want to find his favorite. It's not French or Spanish or German. I'm running out of books."

She picks up a copy of Dante's Inferno and reads a paragraph in what Eve can only assume is perfect Italian. Michael's face is as blank as Eve's.

Villanelle sighs. "I didn't want to have to do this." Free verse, without the aid of a book, Villanelle switches languages. This one Eve recognizes. She picks out a couple of words. "Baby." "Cute." Something about tomatoes? Polish. Villanelle studies Michael carefully as she speaks. When she stops, she sighs again, but this time with relief. "Thank God," she says. "I don't think he's Niko's kid at all."

Villanelle rolls the bouncer toward Eve. "Say something to him in Korean."

Eve hesitates. Her Korean is rusty and there's no quicker way to suddenly forget an entire language than to be put on the spot. She isn't sure what to say, but Villanelle has that excited look on her face and Eve can’t bring herself to disappoint her, so she squats down face to face with Michael and… tries.

"Hi. Um. This is what Korean sounds like. I guess. I don't know why I'm doing this. It feels pretty stupid. I shouldn't be listening to a sociopath, but here I am, so I guess that makes me just as psycho as her. Sorry I've subjected you to all this."

Michael's face lights up. He laughs, like he understands her somehow, like his sense of humor is just as dark as hers.

"That's the one!" Villanelle mirrors his smile. She bounces him up and down, celebrates with him. Then, in absolutely flawless Korean, probably better than Eve’s own, she tells him, “You are very lucky. You have two mommies who can teach you Korean.”

Eve feels frozen in space. She can’t even see herself as Michael’s mother, and here’s Villanelle, crossing every social boundary known to man and staking such a bold claim over another human being with no hesitation, no remorse. And somehow it’s Eve who feels like the fool for underestimating Villanelle’s intellect.

It’s the absolute absurdity of the moment that makes her say it. “Niko and I are getting a divorce.”

Villanelle looks surprised, and she really, really shouldn’t be. But it’s the type of surprise that turns into joy, like coming home on her birthday and finding all her friends crouched behind the furniture in her living room.

Villanelle scoots toward the side of the bed, takes Eve’s hand, and coaxes Eve to sit down beside her. Villanelle keeps hold of the hand, moves closer until she’s practically sitting in Eve’s lap. Her eyes are sparkling.

“We can be a family now.” She kisses Eve’s neck, tries to drown Eve in her own joy, but Eve can’t succumb to the moment. She keeps an eye on Michael watching them from the foot of the bed.

“I told Niko he can have full custody.”

Villanelle stops kissing. She pulls away, but her voice is loud and rough in Eve’s ear. “What?”

“I don’t want him.”

I want him.”

“He can’t grow up here. You…”

“What?” It’s a challenge. There’s fire in Villanelle’s eyes.

“You kill people.”

*

And kill people she does. The first week Eve goes back to work, there’s a new body waiting for her every day. Five of them are mothers. One is a father. And the last is a 16 year old boy.

Michael wakes her up crying at 2:00 a.m. every night. Villanelle is never in the nursery when Eve goes to check on him.

***

Declaring divorce isn't as immediately liberating as Eve hoped it would be. Niko is still living with her. Michael is still living with her. Eve is sleeping on the couch while they look for a new place.

Niko looks tired. All the time. Like he's cried for a week straight and just doesn't have the tears left in him anymore. He doesn't speak to her except to tell her to turn down the retro horror movies she watches past midnight and to remind her (three times) to take out the trash. He never looks her in the eye, even when he’s scolding her, and Eve tries to stay away from him all together.

She spends as much time in her office as she can justify, and it's not hard to do when Villanelle is on a killing spree. She's looking at the body of a woman hung to a ceiling fan with a baby blanket when she hears a rumbling upstairs. Normally, she would go see what Niko was up to and tease him for falling in the shower or tripping over the laundry basket, but she had been so absorbed in her investigation that she hadn't even heard him come home. She knows she's not allowed to speak to him, so she ignores the noise, hopes he isn’t in dire need of medical attention, and goes back to clicking through the slideshow of crime scene photos.

It's so jarring when Niko walks into her study twenty minutes later that Eve can't help but meet his eye whether he likes it or not. Even more surprisingly, he looks back at her, and it leaves Eve a little unsettled.

"Where's Michael?" he asks.

"The nursery."

"Do you think that's not the first place I checked?"

Niko is still in his work clothes. He hasn't been home. He wasn't upstairs.

Eve scrambles for an excuse. "Oh, I forgot." She tries to appear apologetic. "I had a lot of work to finish tonight and I really needed to focus, so I left him with Elena for a couple hours. I'll go pick him up."

She's out of her chair before Niko can poke any holes in her story. As she slips past him out the doorway, it's her who can't bear to look at him. She's too worried there will be doubt on his face.

It's a twenty minute tube ride to Villanelle's apartment, but it feels much longer. The train feels slower. Time feels slower.

Villanelle's front door is unlocked. She's waiting for Eve.

So Eve walks in.

Michael is strapped into a high chair, a spoonful of mashed peas halfway to his lips and a quarter of the jar spread across his cheeks. Villanelle doesn’t bat an eye at Eve in the entryway. She feeds Michael with enthusiasm, airplane noises accompanying the spoon on its flight to his mouth.

As he swallows, she says, “Hi, Eve.”

Eve doesn't know what to do. What to think. She just stands there.

"I didn't poison the food, if that's what you're wondering." She feeds him another heaping spoonful. Eve doesn't know if she's telling the truth.

“I have to take him back.”

Villanelle ignores her. "He was very hungry, Eve. It's way past his dinner time. Why didn’t you feed him?"

“Villanelle, I have to take him back.” She takes one step toward the kitchen.

“Stop.”

The command is so sure, so final, that Eve does. Villanelle digs into the bottom of the jar. She takes her time, scrapes until the jar turns clear. Michael reaches out for the last bite with sticky hands, but Villanelle slides the spoon into her own mouth instead. She considers the flavor, savors it with a grimace and a small hum.

"You know, you’re not a very good mother," Villanelle says.

Every book, every movie, everyone describes relief like wearing a lifejacket filled with rocks in the middle of the ocean and finally being able to undo the clasps and take it off. But for Eve it's the opposite. Relief barrels toward her and runs her down. It piles onto her, wraps around her like a tight hug from an old friend. She feels seen.

"I know."

Villanelle sets down the spoon and the container. On the counter is a washcloth and a kitchen knife. Villanelle grabs the rag. She wipes Michael's face clean.

"I can take care of him for us."

"He has to go back to Niko."

Eve moves forward again, and it sets Villanelle off. She throws the rag into the sink, grabs the knife, and points it at Michael's throat.

"I will kill him before I let Niko have him. If you take one more step, I will slit his throat."

Eve looks at Michael, fist in his mouth as he cleans his hands, brown eyes smiling up at her with recognition. He's so innocent, so unaware.

"Do it."

Eve takes a step forward.

"Eve…"

"Do it." Another step. "You already know I'm a bad mother. You already know I don't want him. I thought about killing him long before you ever did. So do it. I don't care if he dies."

Villanelle swallows, fully caught off guard. Eve moves closer still. "But know that if you kill him, we are over. I am not putting up with the bullshit of a federal investigation for you. I am not going to listen to Niko cry about it and blame me for the rest of our lives. I am not being made into some fucking sob story. If you kill him, I won't care, but I won't forgive you."

Eve is in the kitchen now with them. She leans over the high chair tray as she taps Villanelle’s knife hand. She coaxes it closer to Michael’s throat, taunting. Villanelle holds firm, won’t let her take full control of the blade.

"You can give him back to Niko and have me, or you can kill him and have no one. Take your pick."

Villanelle is a lot of things. Eve has seen her be a lot of things, a lot of people. But Eve has never seen her think this hard. She's never seen her confused or cornered or so many steps behind. Her mind works like a steam engine, and Eve watches her decision settle over her face, over her entire demeanor.

Villanelle puts down the knife in surrender.

Relief tackles Eve to the ground again. She finally feels like her feet are rooted to the floor. Her mind isn't floating in an atmosphere of what ifs.

Villanelle sits across from Michael again. She leans her elbows on the high-chair tray until they’re face to face. For a moment, she just… looks. She pets his hair. When she speaks, it’s with purpose. "I'm sorry I threatened to kill you. I'm sorry your dad will teach you Polish instead of Korean. I'm sorry I fed you those nasty peas." She kisses him on the nose. “Goodbye, Mishutka.”

Villanelle lifts him out of the chair and hugs him for long enough that Eve thinks she might change her mind. But with a reluctant tenderness, she passes him on to Eve. The next hug Villanelle gives is to both of them.

"I wasn't going to kill him,” Villanelle admits. “I was going to take him and run away."

"Because you love him?"

Villanelle nods. "But not as much as I love you."

*

A man stands and offers his seat on the tube. It's a white man of all people, and that's how Eve knows she looks as exhausted as she feels.

She takes his seat and settles Michael into her lap. He's perfectly calm and unfussy. It's the way he usually is with Niko and Villanelle and the way he never is with Eve.

He grabs her coat zipper and tugs, but it only slides a couple of inches.

"It's stuck," Eve says, but he doesn't understand, so he keeps tugging.

His confidence inspires Eve. "It's stuck," she tries again, this time in Korean. There's no way he understands her any better, but he looks up at her, makes eye contact, tries to understand her. "I can't unzip it either," she continues. "I'd buy a new one, but you're expensive."

He stops. He looks at her. He listens. Eve's never held such a raptured audience. She keeps going because she doesn't know what else to do.

"When you are old enough to know what Mother's Day is, I expect a new coat. And reparations. You owe me a lot of money, you know that?"

He giggles.

"You think I'm joking? I'll leave you with Villanelle again. The next time she tries to kill you she might actually do it."

Another chuckle.

She smiles.

"You're a… wait, I don’t know the word in Korean." She thinks, then gives up. "Masochist."

The woman in the seat across from her glances over with worry. Eve stares back. The woman returns to her phone and pretends that she hadn't been eavesdropping.

Michael celebrates Eve’s small victory by cheering. And drooling all over her jacket. It’s kind of… cute.

She wipes his face with her sleeve. Then regrets it. She grimaces at the wet patch on her wrist, and he laughs at her poor decision making.

The gummy smile on his face makes Eve laugh too.

*

Niko is stress cooking in the kitchen when Eve gets back. Pierogies. Comfort food.

Quietly, Eve sneaks past him, Korean barbecue take-out in hand, and lays her dinner out on the coffee table. She has a soap opera playing on the TV and a mouth full of pork before he notices her. His gaze refuses to linger on Eve and his eyes dart straight to Michael, sitting on the sofa beside her.

“I’ll take him,” he says, slinging a dish towel over his shoulder and abandoning the stove, but Eve stops him before he makes his way fully into the living room.

“Finish cooking. I’ve got him.”

Niko looks at her again, finally, as if he’s trying to discern if that’s really a good decision. The nod of his head is subtle and reluctant, but it’s there, and he goes back to cooking.

When she’s sure Niko isn’t looking, Eve tears off a small bite of scallion pancake and shoves it in Michael’s mouth. He gums it happily.

“Niko.”

Niko is slow to turn around. Eve takes the moment to take a breath, to look him in the eye and admit the truth to herself before she does to him.

“I want joint custody.”

***

It's Michael's first time on an airplane. Eve feels weird showing her real passport to airport security, but Michael doesn't have a fake one to match hers yet and she can't risk anyone questioning why Nakano Hajime the Japanese archaeologist is flying with a baby from the UK and a Ukrainian Olympic-hopeful swimmer. The whole situation has bad sitcom written all over it, and this trip to Athens is definitely supposed to be a spy thriller.

Michael is two, and despite Eve's best efforts, he isn't terrible at it. He refuses to eat any of the first class airline food, and Eve thinks they would have been better off in Economy with a nice plastic tub of microwaved chicken tenders. He's also more restless than Villanelle who shifts every five minutes and complains that the cheap leather of the seats is chaffing the backs of her thighs. If Eve weren’t here for work, she'd gladly never travel with either of them ever again.

Landing is a blessing. Briefly. They get to relax in the hotel room for all of an hour before Villanelle is anxious to get out into the field.

Eve is learning how Villanelle works. She's learning about the first class flights. She's learning about the tunnel-vision drive to complete a mission once she starts it. She's learning about the methods and the planning and the cold-shoulder attitude when she gets too lost in a case. She’s learning to appease Villanelle because it’s usually the most productive course of action.

The three of them end up on a walking tour of some ancient temple. Eve isn’t paying much attention. She’s trying her hardest to blend in with the other American tourists and to keep Michael under control when he gets bored. She carries him on her shoulders because Niko insisted he enjoys it the last time she went to pick Michael up from his apartment, but the more Michael tugs at her hair, the more she thinks it was a cruel joke to spite her.

“They used to paint these statues, you know.” It’s the first thing Villanelle’s said all tour. She’s eyeing some sculpture of a wounded soldier in the center of a desecrated fountain in what Eve assumes used to be the temple’s back garden. “Tacky yellows and bright reds. Hideous.”

By the end of it all, Eve’s tired. She wants it to be over so she can go back to the air conditioned hotel and have a bath.

“Go get something from the gift shop,” Villanelle tells her. Eve watches her walk away and flag down the tour guide for one last question. She watches them round the back of the building, out of the way of the tour group, and she follows the crowd into the shop once Villanelle disappears.

Eve isn’t interested in overpriced plastic jewelry and keychains that say “Eve” and “Michael” but never “Villanelle” and never "Oksana" and only occasionally “Oxana.” Michael reaches for a toy set of twelve plastic gladiators with varying weaponry and armor, and Eve purchases them to keep him occupied.

Eve is learning about how the The 12 works. She’s learning about what happens when you get too close to figuring them out. She’s learning about what happens when they approach you to join them instead. She’s learning about how much more they pay than MI6.

She buys the gladiators and a miniature replica bust of the statue Villanelle pointed out earlier. It’s painted, just like she said. Red and ugly and garish. Cheap.

Michael clashes two gladiators against each other in mock fight as they leave the shop. One’s spear is already bent.

She's learning a lot about him too. She's learning that the older he gets, the easier it is for him to break things. She's learning that the older he gets, the more he likes to break things.

It's not a long wait for Villanelle. Eve knows exactly where she is and how long she tends to take. Eve has the layout of the site, the schedule of the tour group, the background of the tour guide, the entire plan committed to memory. She was the one who organized this mission in the first place.

They meet at a crumbling pillar. Villanelle has a smile on her face, the kind that reaches her eyes, the kind that Eve hasn't seen all day. She practically jogs the last few meters between them as she rounds the back of the temple and kisses Eve. It's heated, passionate.

Eve is learning about what Villanelle likes. She's learning that Villanelle is always in her best mood after a kill. She’s learning that Villanelle always likes to celebrate a successful mission by making love. She's learning that Villanelle always likes that thing Eve does with her tongue...

Villanelle saves a kiss for Michael and is eager to lift him out of Eve's arms and above her head where she can spin him around like an airplane in celebration. He loves it. He loves her. She's a good mom.

When she hugs him, her touch leaves a copper palm print against the blue of his jacket. Her knuckles are red. Fingernails coated in rust.

“Do you want to see?” Villanelle asks as she always does.

And Eve says, “Yes,” as she always does and lets herself be led to the scene of the crime.

The tour guide’s body lies in the ring of the fountain. There isn’t quite enough of his blood to fill the marble, but that’s because most of it is painted across the breastplate of the soldier. The spear in his belly is rubbled and broken, but with Villanelle’s artistic license the wound remains fresh.

Michael is perched over Villanelle’s shoulder, faced away from the carnage, oblivious. He’s too busy staging his own war, his spearman victorious over the swordsmen who dropped his weapon in the grass somewhere back at the gift shop.

“How does it look?” Villanelle asks. One hand cradles Michael, the other reaches around the small of Eve’s back and pulls all three of them close together.

Eve can’t help but stare in awe. She glances down at the replica in her bag and offers it as a memento to Villanelle.

“It looks real.”