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a beautiful monstrosity

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The thing about Niko is, he wants Eve to be safe.

The thing about Oksana is, she wants to not kill Eve.

The thing about Eve is, she cares significantly more about one of those things than the other.

X

She clears off the coffee table and arranges in an orderly row two bottles of red wine, the biggest glass she owns, a brand new spiral notebook, and her favorite ballpoint pen.

Step one: uncork a bottle, pour a glass.

Step two: open notebook, uncap pen.

Step three: divide the page into two columns, label one “NIKO” and one “OKSANA”.

You fucking nerd, she imagines Villanelle teasing.

Secret agent, Eve corrects silently, and takes the biggest sip she can physically fit in her mouth.

X

Everything she knows about Niko, she learned from conversations over dinner and drinking games with college friends and photo albums at his parents’ house.

Everything she knows about Oksana, she learned from surveillance and interrogations and evidence files.

That’s cheating, Villanelle scolds.

You’re not very cooperative, Eve counters.

Imaginary Villanelle is indignant. Twice I have promised not to kill you, and twice I have not killed you. Total cooperation.

“God, you’re so annoying,” Eve mutters out loud.

X

She wonders how Oksana takes her coffee.

Does she drink it black like a horrific cliche? Or worse, does she load it with cream and sugar to disguise the dark bitterness underneath?

Maybe I’m just naturally chipper, Villanelle offers, grinning wickedly. High on life.

Both of those answers are stupid, Eve realizes a beat later, because a veteran assassin would adapt her daily habits to match whatever persona she’s using at the time; all preferences would be fabricated and intentional.

(Niko drinks his coffee with three sugars and no cream. All sweetness, no grace.)

X

She has a “knife” category, apparently.

Niko used one to skin and chop vegetables, to cook beautiful candle-lit meals, to keep their mouths and stomachs full and happy.

Oksana pressed one into Eve’s burning skin, pierced as deeply as she could without drawing blood, filled Eve’s stomach with dread and wonder and weighed down her tongue with the most questions she’s ever had about single human being.

I poked, Villanelle reminds her. You’re the one who got stabby.

Eve wants to give the bitch such a look right now. After you got stabby with my boss and he died .

Villanelle quirks an eyebrow. How do you know I’m not dead? How do you know you didn’t kill me?

There are molar-shaped marks on the end of her pen when she finishes chewing it. You’re too stubborn to die. You’d miss me too much.

What did you feel when you saw all that blood?

Eve glances down at her cuticles.

I can show you some techniques, if you want. To avoid the mess next time.

She lets herself chuckle at that one. You think I’m going to stab you again?

Villanelle’s smile is back. You think I’ll give you the chance?

“I do,” Eve says, and the words feel a lot like a vow.

X

Niko’s bed— their bed—is a pillowtop with a firm foundation. Everything feels great on the surface, but the give has limits.

Oksana’s bed is the endless softness of Egyptian cotton sheets and a mattress that probably cost Eve’s entire salary.

She remembers exactly what those blankets felt like underneath her back, remembers exactly how far she sank as she laid there next to Villanelle, remembers wondering exactly how much further down she was capable of going.

X

Why force yourself to choose? Villanelle asks, stroking her chin as she reads Eve’s notes. I’m a very open-minded person, if that’s what you’re worried about. I would deal with his disgusting mustache.

The corner of her mouth twitches. He would hate you.

But you don’t?

Eve taps her pen against the notebook. And I’m not choosing. I’m evaluating.

Villanelle’s head tilts curiously. Evaluating what, Eve Polastri?

She takes a deep breath, sighs, then downs what’s left in her glass and pours herself another.

Everything.

X

Niko is quick to anger.

It may not manifest immediately, but Eve knows him well enough to recognize the signs long before he intends her to, which makes him even angrier. He’s a perfectly ordinary man with perfectly ordinary misogynistic tendencies, most of which can be corrected via perfectly straightforward feminist reminders to not be such a dick.

(Niko doesn’t like to be psychoanalyzed.

Eve doesn’t like to be expected to switch her brain off when she comes home.)

She thinks of all the time and resources she’s poured into tracking Oksana, of the gun-pointing and breaking-and-entering and fucking up her apartment and literal stabbing, and she ponders each of the individual emotions she’s seen spread across Oksana’s face during their time together.

Incredulousness; disappointment; annoyance. Even pride, maybe, in her own psychotic way.

As far as Eve can detect, however, she somehow hasn’t yet managed to piss off the clinically insane assassin.

X

She stops taking notes in the middle of her third glass, not because she’s becoming disinterested in her research, but because the Merlot swimming through her veins wants to think a lot more than Eve does about—

Finally you get to the good stuff, Villanelle interrupts, playfully exasperated as she scootches closer.

(Eve imagines her sitting cross-legged, hair in French braids, wearing some immaculate silk pajama outfit that looks like it came from an Assassin Barbie catalogue.)

What good stuff?

Villanelle’s grin puts the Cheshire Cat to shame. Me thinking about you when I masturbate.

Eve swishes the wine back and forth across her tongue like mouthwash. What do you think about, specifically? Killing me? Some other violent fantasy?

Villanelle looks at Eve like she’s out of her goddamn mind. Of course not. I think about having sex with you.

She laughs again. You’re so full of shit.

I think about licking every inch of your body, she lists off, I think about sitting on your face, I think a lot about whether or not you like anal...

Eve shrugs. I do.

Fantastic! Villanelle cheers, throwing her hands in the air. See, if you didn’t stab me, maybe we could’ve had some fun.

Yeah, maybe, except I’m married and you’re a psychopathic murderer.

Villanelle makes a show of looking around. And where’s your husband, huh? If he showed up right now, would you do anal?

Eve snorts. Why? D’you want to watch?

You’re the brains here; I’m just a breathtaking figment of your imagination. You tell me what I want to do, Eve Polastri.

She closes her eyes, takes a deep breath. Stop saying my name.

Do you not like that? Should I use a different accent? French is pretty sexy.

No. Just stop talking.

Villanelle nods, mimes zipping her lips shut and throwing away the key.

Eve could fucking kill her.

X

(The things about Eve that scare Niko the most, seem to be the same things that draw Oksana closer.)

X

She turns on their sound system and blasts whatever CD is already in there, something disco-y and loud and all-consuming, because if she can’t hear herself think, then she can’t hear Villanelle argue with her about everything that pops into her head.

Eve is pacing and Villanelle is watching her, shouting, fighting to get above the noise, not at all amused by the situation.

When she glances up again, Niko is watching her, silent, studying from his seat at the other end of the couch, like he’s wrapping his mind around a tricky crossword puzzle clue.

She hates that Oksana knows exactly what she’s doing and Niko is still trying to figure her out.

X

Eve abandons her glass and takes the next swig straight from the bottle as she chucks her entire notebook into the garbage under the kitchen sink.

The earth is dying, and you don’t recycle?

Says the murderer.

She looks offended. Assassins can be environmentally conscious.

Thousands of rebuttals wait on the tip of Eve’s tongue, but she stalls at the sight of imaginary Villanelle leaning against her refrigerator—not just because of the time she had Eve pinned to the same appliance, but because it’s Oksana Astankova she’s pretending is in this kitchen with her, rather than her husband.

Eve sets the wine down, vomits all over her notebook, and picks up the wine again.

X

The thing about Niko is, she drove him away by being reckless and irrational and maybe a little too keen on getting face-to-face with a professional assassin, and he may or may not ever come back.

The thing about Oksana is, Eve got face-to-face with her and made the most reckless choice of her career, and now the woman she could’ve asked any question, could’ve studied in so many impossibly intimate ways, may or may not still be alive.

The thing about Eve is, one of those scenarios would break her heart significantly more than the other.