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She smears blood all the way down the alley. Her hand on the wall an angry little Kandinsky, the red lines left from her fingers and the thick stroke of her palm arcing unpredictably until they fall, tracing her impact with the ground.

Yes, she knows about Kandinsky. She had initially studied art to impress a woman, a dark-eyed Italian with hair like a storm who had made a vague reference to 20th century abstract work during their correspondence. Villanelle had wasted the weekend before their first meeting by wandering the Louvre, frowning up at the bloated old faces in tempera who appeared amused that they were the key to her opening a pair of Florentine legs. She had accidentally started too far back, beginning with impressionism and hating most of it, rolling her eyes at the saccharine messes of disintegrating flowers. It seemed moronic: crowds politely shoving for the attention of something that was never alive or appreciative of their adoration. Villanelle had always liked beautiful things, still does, especially beautiful things that don’t know when to give up, but even now she insists that they have to respond, and intrigue, and bite back. She kept wanting to scream at these gawkers, the ones in queues to the Mona Lisa, the stupid little groups climbing up each other’s asses for a glance. None of this beauty cares about you. None of it so much as winks before the chase. Art, she thought, was overrated, and not an enjoyable tool for seduction. Before the date, which ended up being a complete disappointment - the woman was simultaneously passive and too sure of herself, a lethally uninteresting combination guaranteed to reveal a pillow queen - Villanelle had decided she didn’t like art as an institution.

Then, she had surprised herself and liked some of it very much. The angry satirical pieces. The ones that smacked you in the face and demanded your attention in some violent, cruel way, and caused people to have hysterics and ask that they not be shown in galleries or national museums where, heaven forbid, they might be confused for the very work they were insulting. Art whose existence was such a finger to the establishment that people considered it vulgar. She had become very fond of Dada, for example.

And nudes, obviously. She did love the female nudes.

Her knee smacks unpleasantly into stone when she falls. With her hand still balled into her wound, she doesn’t have time to catch herself, and her elbow follows, then her chin. The trick to handling extreme pain is in your breathing - she’s just had the wind knocked out of her and now it’s all rushing in at once, hot and miserable sensation crowding every inch of her. She lets out a muffled shriek into her elbow.

She knows from her rate of trembling that she isn’t going to have the energy to drag herself much further. She manages to pick her bleeding face up, and considers her options. None of them are preferable. One of them will certainly get her killed. One may lead to other people getting killed. Fuck it, though. Really, truly, just fuck it.

She’s going back to Eve.

Villanelle, an assassin of considerable repute feared the world over, slides on her belly with all the poise of a walrus, turning her body with agonizing, awkward effort back in the direction of the woman in her apartment and the strange unknowable curl of the future that such a decision holds.

But there are feet in her line of sight now, and a jab in her neck, and she’s hoarsely cursing as she goes under.




 

 

A white room. Or, not quite white, but a white window. Or, not quite a white window, but a wooden window with white curtains, parted at the middle like a woman’s hair, and something bright and green and blue beyond.

She turns, wincing at the dull thud of pain in her middle, now aware of the restriction of her body movements from whatever is pinching her skin there. Her mouth is impossibly dry. She sits up with effort, pulls herself out of the bed, takes stock: a window that cannot be opened, a plain room painted white, a bed, a nightstand with emptied drawers, a pair of white slippers tucked under the bed, a robe hanging from the closed door.

On her body: maintained hospital-grade bandaging across her torso, white cotton pajama bottoms, white cotton pajama top. From the familiar pinch and strain when she tries to stretch, likely stitches under the bandaging. Someone has brushed her hair and tied it up. She makes a face at this. She doesn’t care for people touching her hair.

The room is predictably devoid of things with which one can make trouble. Not that this eliminates the opportunity for escape, of course. At the window, she finds herself looking across a high Alpine meadow at a wall of jagged white peaks, like the world here is a grinning jaw broken open and torn from the flesh. There’s a modern a-frame chalet down the path from her window, and the hint of a few other buildings in the valley beyond, but nothing discernable.

The door opens behind her. She spins, but it’s a clumsy gesture because of her current physical state. A woman is standing there, a glass of water in each hand.

“It’s good to see you’re awake, Oksana.”

Villanelle would place the woman in her mid-sixties, age making her already strong cheekbones more severe, sharpening the edges of her features to a striking fineness. Her clothing is plain, comfortable and utilitarian, but there is still an air of something aristocratic about her - Villanelle has spent enough time in the company of well-bred people - fucking them, assassinating them, enduring them - to recognize another one in her midst, or at least someone who has done a decent job of imitating them. Her accent is heavy but strange, one foot out of a Romance language and yet tied to none of them in particular.

“How long have I been asleep?”

“It was in your best interest to remain unconscious during travel. And then, of course, following surgery.” The woman sets one of the glasses on the nightstand. A slice of lemon floats precariously atop the water. “I took your IV out this morning. You’ll want a drink, I’m sure.”

Her hand goes to her arm, but the only bruise there is faint, still violet-ringed. “How long has it been?”

“You don’t need to worry, you’re right on time. You should be awake today.”

“Is there a camera in here?”

“No,” the woman says, and sits on the end of the bed, understanding her implication. “I saw you at the window, so I thought I’d bring you some water. Would you prefer something else to drink?”

Villanelle makes a show of retrieving the glass from the stand and taking an audible gulp, but this provokes nothing in the other woman. She tries a different line of inquiry. “We’re in the Alps.”

The woman nods once, her accent still imperceivable. “Astute.”

“But which Alps, is the question.”

“Do you need to know your exact location?”

“At some point, yes.” She narrows her eyes, preparing to start the game. “Are you my new handler?”

“No.”

“Are you one of the Twelve?”

“No.”

“Competing interest? Adoring fan?” She pauses, pouting her lips in a parody of seduction. “Are you going to make me your sex slave?”

“I am your warden while you recover. You’re no good to your employers with a hole in your middle.”

“I don’t like the sound of it.” She pulls the slice of lemon from her glass, bites down. “Prisons have wardens.”

“This is hardly a prison, Oksana.”

“Villanelle.”

The woman says nothing for a minute, letting them both sit in the strange tense atmosphere of the moment: Villanelle, needing acknowledgement that this will proceed as is most beneficial to her; the woman, apparently not conceding in the slightest. “That’s a poem, isn’t it?”

“It’s what I like to be called.”

“I’ve never cared for nicknames, Oksana.”

“My friends call me Villanelle. “ She cocks her head, squints when she smiles. “I’d like us to be friends.”

A smile from the woman, her tone quite final. “Oh, no thank you.”






 

What begins is a routine: Villanelle is allowed to leave her quarters - a refurbished Alpine cabin, deceptively rustic on the exterior, with a bedroom upstairs and a bathroom beneath, all of it chic and bare in a cement-heavy but undeniably Swiss way - and enter the main chalet with her warden for most of the day, always under supervision.

The first day, Villanelle finishes her water and is shown where she can give herself a sponge bath. When she returns upstairs, there are clothes for her, simple but expensive, always with buttons. This repeats each morning; she bathes downstairs, and finds new clothing upstairs. Her warden waits outside, and walks with her to the chalet, where she is allowed to sit in one of three unlocked rooms

It is unbelievably dull, and it only takes her two days to become resentful of the situation.

They are in the main room of the chalet - a former great room with a fireplace at its center, everything angled and curved in ways that indicate expensive mid century styling, the kind favored by people who came into their money in generations past but don’t want to seem out of fashion. Villanelle knows about furniture like she knows about wealthy people who have always been wealthy: her warden is particularly fond of reading on a leather sofa of considerable worth, while she is confined to one of the smaller chairs, each their own example of prominent Scandinavian design. Likely a secondary home for some wealthy lowlander at one time, there is still an air of holiday to the place, but this is easily the worst holiday Villanelle’s ever experienced.

She is allowed books to read; most have to do with architecture, written in clinically dry prose. Some are pulp novels from the 60s about spies or women who enjoy seducing men or both. She pages through them as she sits cross-legged in her chair, frowning, occasionally letting out exaggerated sighs as she slumps further down in her seat.

“Stop sulking.”

She looks up at her warden, today in an orange jumpsuit, oversized square white frames at the edge of her nose as she reads Knausgård. Villanelle makes a face. “I’m not sulking.”

“You are.”

“I’m not.” She sticks out her tongue.

“They said you would be this way.”

“What way?”

The woman turns a page of her book, still not looking up at her. “Like a petulant child."

“Oh.” Her face pulls into her most saccharine smile, testing the edges. “Are you my new mommy?”

Nothing from the woman. She tries a new strategy.

“I will call you Mother, how about that?”

“I think you should save your Freudian issues for your women.”

“Are we not going to have a passionate affair?”

“I’m afraid I would rather die, Oksana.”

“You can do that, too. They are not mutually exclusive.”

“And who is going to kill me?”

Fine, a challenge. The bitch was foolish enough to leave a pencil on the side table. Dull, but not useless. She sits up straighter, grasps the utensil and--

Thwack.

Mother’s book has just hit her square in the face. She groans, the palm she flattens to her numb nose coming away bright red. She looks up at the older women, whose expression is unchanged, flat and cool and underwhelmed, and she sucks the blood through her front teeth, still in shock and utterly unwilling to reveal that to her new obstacle.

“You hurt me.”

“Hand me my book, Oksana, will you?” Mother is adjusting her glasses, pulling them to the end of her nose. “I seem to have dropped it.”

She aims it back at her, but her head’s reeling and she’s still too weak. Despite Villanelle’s best attempts, the woman catches the book one-handed instead of letting it smack her in her aquiline nose. She is frustratingly, perfectly adept.

“Thank you, Oksana.”

“You’re supposed to be healing me. Now you break my nose.”

“It’s not broken.”

“It is.”

“It isn’t.”

“You’re a terrible mother.”

Mother gives her a long look, and then sighs, returning to her reading.




 

 

Finishing the selection of books takes her only another day, even with a few in Hungarian. She has insisted on icing her nose again - Mother seems set on withholding a medical icepack that might be of actual use and instead provides her with an awkward hand-sealed bag of frozen Wienerschnitzels with last December’s date. With all that done, Villanelle has time for her mind to settle on other things.

Some people meditate. Others fret. Villanelle is partial to pining.

Desire is one of our basest drives, after all. She’s always found it useful, an easy tool to pick up and harness (literally, at times) for motivation, or focus, or necessary distraction.

If she closes her eyes, she can imagine the shape of Eve’s body beneath her clothing. She’s one of those women who got leaner with age, evident in certain features - the ribs pushing gently at her skin, delicate wrists, her cheeks and jaw accentuating their most sensitive places where the bone is closest to the surface. But Villanelle knows there are other places that hide more plush things. She hasn’t seen a hard angle to her hips, not even when she was twisting next to her - there’d be a layer of softness there, something to cup with the hard jut of bone just a hint beneath, shifting when the rest of her rocks back and forth. Her nipples have always been hard around Villanelle - fear will do that, but lust will, too, which is another kind of fear, the fear of being without that which you want until it consumes you. She can imagine their color. She can’t tell yet if Eve is the kind of woman who covers her breasts when they’re first revealed, or if she’s the kind to walk around braless in her own home, the kind who stays naked long after fucking, the kind who eats fruit in her bed with the sheets in her lap, one leg crossed over the other, juice running down her chin and trailing down her chest and only wiped away as an afterthought.

“Oksana.”

There’s a way a woman will look at you when she wants you, particularly the straight ones. It’s a challenge. A fire lit behind the irises, a dare. Their mouth always tilts the same way, one corner lifting, a peek of tongue between teeth. Villanelle knows it well. It comes after curiosity, which comes after the confusion. This is always the logical progression. It was confusion at first, then it was curiosity when she faced her on the bed. So next would be the dare, but for now she can only -

“Oksana.”

She opens her eyes. Mother is holding a tray with her lunch on it, the juice in the glass matching the cranberry of her blouse, tied in a bow under her chin. Villanelle could strangle her with the bow if she got close enough, but she’s also very hungry, and she hasn’t been allowed in the kitchen, which could very well be a front. She raises an eyebrow to feign irritation.

“You interrupted me.”

“It didn’t look very important.”

“I was fantasizing, but it’s none of your business, merci.” She takes a greedy bite of toast first, eyeing the caviar for next. “What color are your nipples, Mother?”

“I don’t think that’s any of your business, Oksana.”

“I’m not trying anything funny.” She pulls on the collar of her own shirt, looking down her bare chest. “Mine are dark pink. Average for my skin tone. Did yours change color when you got older?”

“How old do you think I am?”

She smirks. “Old enough to be my mother, Mother.”

“Spare your Mother such inquiry, then.”

“Children are meant to be curious.”

“Unfortunately, Oksana, you are not a child anymore, despite the fact that you insist on acting like one.”

She dips a finger into the caviar, ignoring the spoon and spreading it along her gums like cocaine, smacking loudly. At her warden’s face, she shrugs. “What am I supposed to do? You haven’t given me a knife.”

“You aren’t allowed one.” Mother goes to the bar on the other side of the room, unlocks it, and removes a decanter of what looks like scotch. “If you behave, you may be allowed one next week.”

“I don’t feel very trusted, Mother.”

The woman pours a drink for herself, smirking as usual. “That’s because you aren’t, Oksana.”




 

 

This morning, instead of passing the hallway and entering the great room where they’ve been spending most of their time, Villanelle tries one of the doors she has yet to see open. Mother waits for her, appearing unmoved by this particular demonstration of rebellion. She jiggles the handle, knocks at its surface to guess at the apparati underneath.

Mother clears her throat. “That door is locked.”

“Yes, Mother, that was obvious when I couldn’t open it.” She points at the knob in her hand. “Unlock it.”

Mother laughs. “You still think you can make demands.”

Please unlock it,” she tries, gritting her teeth.

“Those are my private quarters, Oksana. I’m allowed my privacy.”

“But I’m not?”

“Whatever privacy you believe is being denied to you, it is for your own safety.”

“You watch me piss.”

“I do not, Oksana.”

“So there are no cameras in the bathroom?”

Mother shrugs placidly. “Have you found any?”

“No, but you could be very sneaky. How am I to know?”

“There are none in the bathroom, and none in the bedroom. I accompany you during the day so you do not leave prematurely, which you are in no condition to do at this time. I would not typically provide this level of patient supervision, but you are…” Mother purses her lips. “Unique.”

“They think I’m a flight risk?” She rolls her eyes. “They are so melodramatic.”

“They warned that you would try to kill me.”

“That would be matricide.” She makes a show of crossing her fingers over her heart. “I’m not a monster, Mother.”

“You’ve tried to kill other maternal figures, Oksana.”

“Mommy issues are not the same as maternal issues, Mother. Two very different things.” She leans against the door, attempting to feel for extra reinforcement, but it seems to be a normal door. Mother eyes her, missing nothing, so she smiles. “Do you buy into the Oedipal nonsense? You mentioned him before.”

“You mean Freud?”

“Freud was an overrated misogynistic pervert.”

“I won’t disagree with you, Oksana. He was quite useless.”

“Most psychologists are useless.”

“I assume therapy hasn’t gone well for you.”

“I usually fuck my therapists.” She pauses, gauging the other woman’s reaction, then adds: “The female ones. The men are always repulsive. The women…” She makes a face, shrugs. “Usually harboring all sorts of things. Very kinky.”

“If you say so, Oksana.”

“Don’t mock me, Mother.”

“I wouldn’t dare.” She nods at the door behind Villanelle. “This is the last we’ll discuss matters of restricted access in my house, yes?”

“I doubt it.” She follows her into the great room, slinking like a cat, slumping back down into her usual chair. A new stack of books is sitting on the table beside her. She eyes them, then the other woman, who has already reopened her novel, and does not allow herself to look grateful.




 

 

Mother is changing her bandages, checking the stitches beneath with gloved fingers. Villanelle stares out the window, concentrating on the sun, balanced on the point of one of the many peaks in view across the high valley. From here, through the gauze of the curtains, it only looks like a glowing fruit, something for plucking and biting when ripe.

“You were lucky,” Mother says, apparently pleased with the progress of her handiwork and now taping down a new set of bandages. “The blade managed to miss the more inoperable zones. Very lucky, Oksana.”

Villanelle snorts. “Not really, but you're the doctor.”

“I am. You’re healing as expected, no complications.”

She puts her hands on her hips, waiting for the other woman to finish before re-buttoning her top. “So when’s my release date? When do I get out?”

“Do you consider yourself detained, Oksana?”

“I don’t consider myself free.”

Mother pulls off her gloves, snapping them and balling them in her hand. “Your stitches need to be removed first.”

“You know, Mother, they’ve got these crazy utensils now, they call them scissors, and anyone can buy them. Me included.”

Mother smirks, tilting her head. “Very clever, Oksana.”

“It can’t be too hard to snip a few threads, can it?” She flops onto her bed, belly down, legs up on her pillows. “I’ve scooped a bullet out of my own hip, you know. Dug it out with a spoon and a jackknife. Then I put the knife through the man’s eye socket when I caught up. Very efficient.”

“I did notice the scar.”

“I’m a tough little bitch, that’s all I’m saying. I don’t know why I can’t cut the things out myself. It’s just waiting for the hole to no longer be a hole and then you snip away, isn’t it? Doesn’t seem too complicated to me.”

“We both know I’m operating on someone else’s orders, Oksana.” Mother pulls open the curtains, bathing the room in the bright white of high altitudes in daylight.

“I’m dying for a cigarette,” she says suddenly, itching her wrist. “Could I get one today?”

“They’re not pleased with that habit. I’m meant to be giving you nicotine patches when you request cigarettes.” Mother’s smirk is unreadable as usual. “I don’t believe in that kind of corrective behavior, so I’ve left you to withdrawal for now. You can carry on when you return to your life, if you’d like. But within these walls, no. No cigarettes.”

“Sounds very fucking fascist to me.” She flips over onto her back, hands resting on her chest. “So, doctor. When will I be able to participate in strenuous physical activity again?”

“You’ve a while yet on that. You won’t be capable of killing anyone soon, if that’s what you’re asking.”

"First of all, I would disagree with that assumption, but I’m actually talking about sex.” She smiles at her. “When can I start fucking again, Mother?”

Mother sighs, already at the door, adjusting the lines of her high-waisted palazzo pants, a brilliant mustard silk that Villanelle has been envying since she first saw them. “It would depend on the specific acts. And I really have no interest in discussing them in greater detail, Oksana.”

“Never mind, I’m sure I’m fine.” She makes a face, lifting her arms out in front of her, still facing the ceiling. “My hands are in working order, aren’t they?”

“Unless your interest is in mountain goats, I’m afraid you won’t have any opportunity for practice while you’re staying here.”

“That’s awful, Mother.”




 

 

In the evenings, she does make sure certain things are still capable, though. In the rolodex of her mind, past partners, past acts, things that traditionally have worked in a bind for releasing certain pressures. None of them work anymore, not since the hospital toilets, but they offer other things now.

She met a girl once who liked to have her head pressed into a pillow, breath held, ass in the air, only ever taken from behind. This was in Bratislava, but the girl met her in Paris once, too, while on vacation with her boyfriend, available for a few hours when he took his parents to the Eiffel Tower. Villanelle had admired her lung capacity. It was a decent way to practice her Slovak as well.

When they’d finished, Villanelle had gotten out champagne from the fridge, orange juice from the freezer that she’d thawed unceremoniously in a plastic cup at the edge of her bed. The girl had watched, impassive as always, impenetrable in ways Villanelle admired (penetrable in ways she admired, too).

“Don’t bother,” the girl had said, just as Villanelle had pulled the cork off and let the first stream fall onto the balcony. “I’m not interested in being wooed.”

“I’m not wooing you.” She’d held up the bottle, making a face. “This isn’t very nice. I just don’t want to be sober right now.”

“You’re innately romantic, though.”

“I hate romance.”

“That’s a lie,” the girl had said, gingerly sipping the champagne. She’d refused the half-melted chunk of orange juice Villanelle had offered. “You like fucking, but you fuck like you’d rather be making love.”

This had made her very angry. She’d seethed in silence until the girl was finally out the door, and then taken it out on a mark at the end of the week by battering his face in a little more than was necessary. Once his nasal passages had unquestionably mixed with the rest of his cranium, she’d felt slightly better about it all, but she’d still wanted to reject it. Villanelle associated romance with something she herself was not associated with. Her love of the chase, the intrigue, the life altering sex, the deep connections on near-obsessive levels - none of this she considered romantic. This was a trait of psychopathy, she assumed. A magnetic pull towards the chaos of the unknowable. Typical, she thought, to be drawn in the direction of whatever was most unpredictable and likely dangerous. Playing with the fire that was human emotions spinning in others, that was the most dangerous act of all, wasn’t it?

There was a time she would think on this particular girl and their meetings and it would fuel her for a bit, the memory of the muffled moans she made into the pillow, the particular flush of her cheeks and white ring around her mouth when she finally emerged and looked at Villanelle over her shoulder, eyes wide as an animal’s as she took those huge breaths and came hard on her hand.

Tonight, none of that does anything for her. What she’s thinking about is the conversation, the accusation of Villanelle’s desire for romance, for love-making (what an awful fucking word, though), and she bites her lip in frustration.

Is there romance in wanting to know that Eve has turned away from her husband in their bed, waited patiently for him to fall asleep, counted his breaths and held her own, only to reach down and think of the knife point at her neck? Is there romance in hoping she has turned this confusion over a thousand times in her mind, on her commute to work, in the silence of the break room, wherever it is she pauses during the day when she realizes she’s been picturing Villanelle’s hands curling over a weapon?

When she sees her next, she wants to push her against a wall with her forearm pressed to her throat. She wants to hear the gasp Eve makes when she finds her breath again, and then the gasp she makes when she is entered. What is romantic about that?

When she sees her next, she wants Eve to beg her for this. She wants to be wanted beyond sanity. She wants to know in all this time, while she was imprisoned in some godforsaken Alpine compound, detached from the rest of the world, Eve was waiting, wanting, fucking herself in desperation, miserable at the thought that she might have killed the one thing that could get her off anymore. She wants Eve to ask her to say her name, and kiss her when she’s close, and stay pressed together long after they’re finished.

Hardly romantic.




 

 

After a week, she is no longer locked in at night. Her stitches have started to itch. Her bandage has changed to a lighter one, a white patch over the spot where Eve had dared her way inside -- which, Eve thinks, is rude, considering she had every intention of getting inside the other woman first. She’s already planned out something coy to say when they meet again and Eve has finally gotten a look at her scars. Something about how Villanelle ought to have been the one up to the hilt in the other woman, or how she would have much preferred to enter Eve the normal way, rather than a violent imitation in the opposite direction. Approximately.

She’ll figure out the wording later.

The nights on the mountain are quite cold, arguably freezing, but Villanelle expected this even before she’d let herself out, the permanent white of the peak joined lately by more seasonal dustings, and she didn’t exactly go to sleep in a parka. She breathes hard, willing herself to ignore the drop in temperature, stepping gingerly in her slippers down the frosted path to the chalet, crouched for silence, watching the windows of the bigger house for lights, seeing none.

She has taken a chance on the chalet being unlocked. Outside of where Villanelle is concerned, there is an air of detachment with Mother that is either a rouse or a very strange trait. But the doors to the chalet are locked, which is an interesting discovery. Not the trap or test she had expected.

Of course, a window is unlocked, enough for her to slide open and pull herself through. She is not exactly a super spy, more well-known for her ability to mercilessly beat down a mark rather than silently approach them with superhuman reflexes, but she doesn’t do a terrible job of entering quietly.

Back in the long ago days of training, there was a challenge in which they had to make their way into a locked room to apprehend a target. Most tried the lock. Some tried to threaten their way inside. Villanelle tested the strength of the wall, found it lacking, and shot her way through the plywood until she could kick her way through. She’s not above a honey trap - that may be her go-to these days, their fault for always giving her grown men with small penises to assassinate - but there’s something very satisfying in being able to noisily batter your way in and out of anything.

She pauses when her feet hit the floor, waiting for any movement in the house. None. Fine, Mother is either waiting patiently for her next move, or asleep. Neither changes her plans, so she goes to the room at the end of the hall.

The lock is not terribly difficult to break. Inside, even without the lights on, the room is clearly a study - a neat desk set into a Danish wall unit, a massive red canvas on the opposite wall. An Eames lounge chair, a metallic sculpture in the shape of a slightly misshapen sphere, perhaps a proto-Koons (tacky, she thinks, very tacky). Out the window, the tiny lights of the village in the valley, the stars barely visible through the cloud cover. She moves silently to the desk, pulls open the Macbook and rolls her eyes to see it is not so much as password protected. She falls into the chair.

This fucking-

There are no files. There are no documents. Worse, there is a link to a cloud account, but of course, of course, there is no Internet. She pauses, making sure she hasn’t missed something, but no, it’s all clear. There is no WiFi signal. She searches for a cord, pulls open the two slim drawers to find nothing but a series of pens. Growls under her breath.

The light comes on in the study. Mother is standing there in the doorway, barefoot under a matching set of black linens, a tiny espresso sitting on the saucer in her left hand. How she silently approached isn’t even Villanelle’s first question.

“You’ve found my study, Oksana.”

She gestures at the laptop, not bothering to mask her frustration. “There’s no Internet.”

A small smile flickers on Mother’s lips. She sits down across from her in the Eames, perched on the edge as she crosses her legs. “That took you longer than I thought it would.”

“I need the Internet.”

Mother sips her coffee. “You don’t.”

“I run a very active fan forum -”

“You’re trying to find her.”

She pauses. Runs her tongue over her teeth, assessing the other woman. Mother only swallows her coffee, smiling placidly. Villanelle smiles in an imitation of civility

“It’s not polite to dig into someone’s personal business, Mother.”

“I didn’t dig. It was not necessary. It was spelled out quite plainly in your file when they gave it to me.”

“So they know where she is.”

Mother shrugs. “I’d have to inquire, but I have no interest in the matter.”

“Are they going to kill her?”

“I’d assume so. Well, I’d assume they already did. They don’t usually waste time in that department.”

A knot in her throat, unwelcome, unnatural - for her, of course, but quite natural for anyone else. She opens and closes her mouth, aware she looks like a fish, and resettles herself in the chair. “I wanted to kill her myself.”

“No, you didn’t.”

Mother,” she gapes.

“Petty revenge, perhaps, or a scratch, but you were never going to seriously harm her.”

She studies her. “Was that in my file?”

Mother puts the saucer down on the side table. “No, Oksana.”

“So you did poke around.”

“Again, Oksana, quite unnecessary.”

“What are you implying, Mother?”

Mother only smirks, sitting up straight. “I’m sure you know.” She gets a curious look on her face, and Villanelle squints, never comfortable with the moment when someone becomes truly unreadable. “You’ll have learned a lesson when all this is done."

“From you?”

“From that hole I sewed up in your torso.” She reaches for her espresso again, sipping carefully. “They’ll make her pay dearly for it, you know. You should have known that when you let yourself become infatuated. It’s cruel to leave someone defenseless because you were careless.”

“Defenseless? She stabbed me.

“And now you are here, and she is out there, and you can imagine the price she is expected to pay.” She gestures at their surroundings. “Every minute you’re here is costing them. They’re not pleased with that. Who else will they take it out on?”

“So, they should have let me die. A bargain deal for everyone.”

“That would have ultimately cost them more.”

“How much more?”

Mother shrugs. “I don’t care about their budgets. A person is brought here, and I fix them. I’m never told exact numbers, but we can assume they’re quite high.”

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but maybe if you cut down on all this priceless furniture and --” She leans back in her chair, toeing the spherical sculpture enough to rock it on its base. “Whatever the fuck this is, it wouldn’t cost them as much. The Euro’s looking shaky again, Mother. We could all learn to live a little leaner.”

“I take what I’m given. I don’t question it.” An arched eyebrow. “You’re not shifting the blame very well, Oksana. You’re trying, but it’s not going to work for you. My taste in interior design is not what is endangering Eve.”

“You know her name.”

“Did I not say it was in your file?”

Villanelle lightly jiggles the sculpture with her toe, slightly distracted. “It’s a nice name, isn’t it? I don’t know why it’s so erotic, but it is.” She repeats it a few times. “I think it’s the “v” sound. Or the biblical connotations. Original sin.”

Mother leans forward to stop the sculpture’s rocking, her palm flat over the metallic sphere. She gives Villanelle a look, one that is entirely new. “Consider this advice from woman to woman. If you must indulge in personal business, be prepared to fight for it. Do not enter into anything you wouldn’t tear another person’s throat out for, do you understand? The time might come when you have to do just that, and you may only be able to use your teeth.”

She meets her eye, expecting some sort of challenge, but Mother is only very serious in a way Villanelle still doesn’t recognize. She smirks, winks at her. “I’ll remember that, Mother.”