Eve knows as soon as Niko slaps the handful of crisp tickets on the ostentatious dining room table, that her life is effectively over. It comes in waves, her feelings of imprisonment. Her episodes always start the same. First, beginning with the slow, drifting feeling of light-headedness, shifting into the all too familiar churning of nausea in her stomach, bile rising into her throat.
“We’re moving to New York,” her fiancé - Niko - boasts. His chest is puffed and his hands rest on his hips, mustache practically vibrating with his ever-present sense of self-importance. He’s proud of himself, of his wealth, and seems to have no issue with scooping Eve’s life up and away to America, as if she were another one of his pocket watches.
Eve knows that marrying Niko will undoubtedly be the worst decision of her life. That the corsets she wears are merely a substitute for a straight jacket. That the pearls and diamond necklaces are chains wound tight around her neck, and that Niko’s fingers - that are gripping the thin planes of her wrists - are a pair of handcuffs she can’t break. She’s just a doll to him, anyways. An exotic piece to show off to his affluent friends, to portray himself as a savior who had plucked his prized possession from poverty, and shined her up like a new penny.
God, she hates him.
But, Eve also knows that to resist Niko would result in a slap, rough fingers around her neck, and Niko bellowing his furious accusations at her, warm spittle flicking against her cheek. She’s smart. Too smart, perhaps, as she tells Niko that of course, she’ll have her things packed by the end of the week, weakly squeezing Niko’s wrists, and shoves the feeling of impending doom down until it mixes with every other emotion she’s felt in her entire life. Eve would rather feel like she’s dying slowly. It’s more comforting than the truth, which is that Eve - is drowning.
The Sunday that they leave, Southampton is buzzing with all walks of life. Aristocrats like Niko, strutting purposefully towards the pier, their servants dragging several trunks of luggage for their employers, as seagulls fly and swoop above their heads. But, as Eve peers from beneath her frilly hat, (“To protect your sweet nose from the sun, darling,”) she sees people who are so much more interesting . Sailors smoking along the edge of the pier, a mother licking her thumb to scrub dirt off her little boy’s nose, two women sporting tailcoats and top hats (Niko’s mustache bristles at the sight). Despite their differences, all of them are approaching the same destination.
The ship, aptly named Titanic , truly is marvel, Eve concedes. She had never had enough time to study sciences - especially one as mathematically dependent as engineering - but she did treat her brain to skimming the newspaper that morning while Niko wasn’t looking. She had rationalized that she should at least know something about the famous vessel carrying her to a life of captivity.
The steamer is one of the finest vessels ever created, held together by 3 million rivets, boasting a top speed of 23 knots, and is a stunning tribute to 20th century engineering. She is powered by 29 boilers, and a massive 79 foot rudder that requires steering engines just to turn it. The White Star Line deemed her totally unsinkable, the future of naval travel, and would be the first of many luxurious passenger liners that would dominate the next half of the century, complete with eight passenger levels and a pool .
Just some light reading, she reasons.
As she walks up the steps of the towering vessel, her arm uncomfortably wedged in Niko’s, Eve decides to pay the smallest bit of attention to the bad feeling in her gut.
No ship is truly unsinkable, her gut screams.
Like so many times before, Eve ignores it.
Konstantin is going to kill her if she fucks this up.
Then again, she could always just kill him first.
He is sat across from her at the round poker table, the cross look on his face indicating that he would rather be doing anything right now than bartering all of their known possessions (a thin wad of cash, his wristwatch, and her signet ring), for two third-class tickets.
Freedom, Villanelle thinks.
And she is so, so, close to a winning hand she can just taste it, smell it in the cards, that her hand shakes slightly when she draws her final card. It’s a queen, matching perfectly with the other 4 cards in her hand for a royal flush, and if Villanelle was any other person she’d jump up and slap her cards on the table just to rub it in Konstantin’s face.
Her competitors lay their cards on the table. Nothing. A pair. Nothing. Konstantin angrily throws down nothing as well, red beginning to color his large face. She keeps her face impassive, quirking an eyebrow at Konstantin.
“Do not tell me you have just ruined us both, mудак,” he grinds out, his meaty hands gripping onto the table uncomfortably tight.
Villanelle lays down her cards, and gives Konstantin the biggest shit-eating grin of her life.
The three other men groan in frustration, Konstantin jumping from his seat with a relieved gasp, clutching his hand to his heart, as she shouts,
“Aha! I got you! Just a little bit, I got you!”
“You are going to give me a heart attack, гусеница . You are lucky we did not lose the very little we have,” Konstantin chastises, but Villanelle is already scooping up their belongings and shoving one of the tickets and his watch into his hands.
“But I did not. I am very lucky like that. Now hurry before these men kill us.”
They only have five minutes before the Titanic departs, so she wastes no time dragging Konstantin’s large form through the crowds of people waving to the ship’s passengers, shoving their tickets into the officer’s waiting hands without so much as a ‘ thank you’ and sprints up the steps to board the vessel.
She’s free .
After they throw their few belongings into their quarters, shared with four other passengers (“You got us third-class, what did you expect? The Ritz Hotel?”) she wanders onto the deck to explore. Konstantin lies down, determined to rest his heart, he tells her with a pointed look. Villanelle wanders, her hands in her trouser pockets, wisps of hair escaping her bun and floating in the wind. The sunset is beautiful, a mosaic of pinks, blues and oranges, and Villanelle almost wants to be one of the seagulls in Southampton, to fly into the colors and see where one ends and the others begin. It reflects off of the sea, and she closes her eyes, breathing in the cold air, catching the faint taste of salt on her tongue.
She doesn’t really know what waits for her in America. No family, no connections. But it was a fresh start, if there ever was one for someone like her. Villanelle knew that she wasn’t a good person, that she’d done bad things, and wanted nothing more than to just forget and move on. Maybe in America she could be an artist, or - what were they called? - an interior designer!
The thought brought a small smile to her face. America was the land of dreams, after all.
Just as she turns to move back down the lower decks, the chill beginning to settle into her fingers, she’s met with a sight much, much more beautiful than the sunset.
It’s a woman (because of course it is) and she’s the most lovely thing Villanelle has ever set her eyes on. She’s walking the deck - silent and ethereal - arm in arm with a ridiculous looking man who is blabbering away with another stuffy looking gentleman. She has smooth olive skin, dark eyes, and even darker, curly hair that is pinned to her head in what looks to be an extravagant hairstyle. Her dress is a deep red, and Villanelle thinks that red would look good painted across her breasts. Villanelle wants to be the painter, run her hands through those curls, and - oh shit she’s looking at her.
Villanelle looks into the woman’s eyes, and swears that she sees something familiar in them. Like they’ve met before, somehow, in another life, or hundreds of them.
Villanelle looks into the woman’s eyes, and thinks she looks so incredibly sad, clothed in that fancy dress and pearls. She thinks to herself that she wants to save her, although she isn’t sure what from.
Villanelle looks into the woman’s eyes, and feels something.
Villanelle looks into the woman’s eyes, and knows that if this is the only few seconds she’ll be gazing at this goddess of a woman, she is going to make it count for something.
She pushes herself off the railing, straightens the collar of her shirt, promptly trips over her own feet, and falls in front of the asian woman with amazing hair.
The woman’s - husband, perhaps? - instantly begins shouting at her from above.
“Sweet Mary and Joseph, you filthy peasant! Always stumbling everywhere, these third-class ruffians, are they even allowed on this part of the deck?” He continues to rave to his male compatriot, as the woman detaches herself from him and meets her eyes again.
“I’m so sorry about him, are you alright?” she asks her, voice only a whisper - made for Villanelle’s ears only.
Villanelle feels especially starstruck right now, feeling what Konstantin has referred to as a “gay panic,” and nods meekly as she pushes herself to her feet, suddenly remembering the very important message that she just embarrassed herself over. She leans close to the woman’s ear, the two other men paying her no attention, and whispers softly.
“ Wear it down.”
With that, she brushes herself off, and saunters away.