A machine was breathing for Niko. The tube disappeared into the heavy wrappings of gauze that consumed his neck.
Even with the action out of his control, no breath sounded easy.
Now it was all about waiting for him to wake up.
Eve hated waiting.
She’d been captivating in her role as the doting wife. The polish nurses had patted her cheeks and wished them all the best. It wasn’t that she was pretending to be worried, she was, but her true emotions were unbalanced. There was more guilt than sadness. More determination than worry.
It sounded cold.
Eve was still processing. That was all. Her husband had nearly died before her eyes. There was no right way to feel, Eve assured herself.
She fiddled with her phone. She should probably tell Carolyn or someone from Bitter Pill that she was in Poland and that they had another thread to unravel.
Her finger hovered over her messages; she didn’t have the nerve to call.
Still she hesitated.
She knew what they were going to say, where the finger was pointing.
Eve had read the note as it drank in Niko’s blood, turning the colour of the ribbon binding it to the pitchfork.
They’d say it was Villanelle.
Eve could hear them saying, I’m surprised he made it this long without being attacked.
But they didn’t get it, didn’t know Villanelle like Eve did.
She hadn’t thought for a second it was Villanelle. Even as Eve watched, her own body paralysed, as Niko’s legs twitched like a poisoned spider, a stomped cockroach. Even as Eve waited for an ambulance, her hands a feeble dam to stifling the blood flowing from him.
She hadn’t considered it. In fact, she’d dismissed it.
It seemed twisted, even to Eve.
And it wasn’t because Eve had found a better candidate. It just didn’t make sense. Villanelle had spared Niko before, she understood that this was a step too far. A step beyond shooting Eve. A step beyond Bill. Hurting Niko strayed into the land of the unforgivable.
Eve couldn’t rationalise why Villanelle would do this now.
Now that Niko was finally slipping out of the picture. And after the bus…
Villanelle surely wouldn’t jeopardise Eve opening up to her again.
It didn’t matter if it was over the phone or in a text message, that justification was going to sound batshit to anyone else.
And it was.
Eve tapped the app.
It opened automatically to her conversation with Niko. To his selfie. He had his thumb up, a grin peeked out from under his moustache.
The message sent with it read:
The only thing missing is you.
His smile had given her so much hope when she thought it was for her. Now it evoked a sense of loss that was hard to swallow.
He hadn’t sent any of it. He hadn’t wanted her to come to Poland.
It was Niko who had ignored her messages, who ghosted her on her birthday. From a man as mild mannered as him that was essentially an act of hatred.
Eve leaned back, sighing, then she winced as the bruise from the bunk bed’s at Jamie’s hit a cross beam in the glass wall behind her.
As birthdays went that had been a new low, trading confessions with her boss.
Jamie’s words rang back at her.
Choices. It’s all about choices.
Wasn’t that what had carried her here? The choice to go back, to the sinless, suppressed Eve that couldn’t get trouble to pay attention to her.
As she stared at her unanswered pleas, she got the sick joke. The choice had been Niko’s and he hadn’t chosen her.
The screen smeared. She let up the fearsome grip she had on her phone to drag the tears from her eyes.
Niko didn’t want to know her anymore. He didn’t want to be a part of her. He didn’t want to be her home. His opinion of her had distorted so completely from the glimpses he’d gotten of her darkness. He’d rejected her without knowing the depth of her corruption, or how she had cooperated in her own downfall.
What Niko had seen, she realised, were all the choices she’d made that took her away from him.
They hadn’t drifted apart. Eve had stepped back and into Villanelle’s orbit.
Eve’s conversation with Jamie had unsettled her, turned over the soil in the pit where she had buried all her secrets, all her shame. There was so much Niko didn’t know. There was so much no one knew.
Then Eve wasn’t just thinking it, she was saying it. Her voice filled the cramped space. “You hate me for the things I’ve done, the monster you think I am, but you don’t even know all of it.”
There was a palpable beat. It was counted out by various monitors.
Three heart beats.
Eve laughed to herself, it sounded unhinged even to her ears. She repeated herself, the words traveled differently over the lump forming in her throat, coming out softer, “And you don’t even know all of it.”
In her mind, she was scanning the scroll of her sins. She selected one to dip her toe in with. “I told you I sold our chicken when I moved.” Her throat got thick with fear, her eyes prickled, she forced the truth out anyway. “I actually just forgot to feed her.”
She dragged in a blubbering breath and let her first confession sit there. The built-up tears took the chance to spill.
Niko didn’t move. He didn’t react.
Without a retort to make her feel ashamed Eve’s tears lost their source. Their tracks were already drying on her cheeks in an invisible warpaint. She drank in the molecule of relief offered by her honesty and went again, but bigger.
“I cheated on you. Technically twice.” She bit her bottom lip to keep it from wobbling. But it didn’t wobble, it escaped the trap of her teeth to fire again, “I was glad when Gemma died.”
Eve waited, for a retaliation. For a mirror to crack. For some external reaction to her dark confession, for something to put her back in line, some karmic justice. When the room stayed quiet, she waited for an internal reaction, a sense of shame, a sense of remorse. She found nothing, only more relief.
Eve sat a little taller in the plastic chair.
“I kissed her.”
Eve didn’t need to say who. There was only one person who didn’t need to be named. The person to whom she was always alluding.
It was the first time Eve had acknowledged the kiss since their lips had parted, and their heads had crashed together.
The public space and many, many witnesses did little to make the kiss feel real for Eve. It felt displaced. Suspended outside of time. Occupying the thin space between dreams and reality. Saying it out loud made Eve compare notes with the universe and own that choice too.
“I wanted to. Even after everything…”
Her desire wasn’t whispering from the darker reaches of herself. The admission came from all of her. She wanted Villanelle, actively, with an endless hungry longing.
Saying the words was like planting her feet after a mad sprint. The sizzling moment of stillness as she went from running from something to facing it. It was thrilling. The force of her heartbeat flushed her cheeks.
Eve was done running from how she felt, from parts of herself.
The adrenaline gave her the strength to haul the biggest secret from her pit. This one was buried deep, drowning in the bog of her subconscious.
It was heavy but she laid it out all the same.
“I killed someone.”
Her silent audience offered no judgment. She always imagined that confession would be accompanied by disapproval and handcuffs.
Her voice hadn’t wavered, but she caught herself drawing in a breath, jumping to explain herself.
Then she stopped.
What was she going to say? She did it to save a psychopath? That she was manipulated into believing said psychopath was in danger? That she did it to save the woman she loved?
At the end of this trail of excuses was the same bottom line, Eve had killed someone. Her hands were equally as bloody.
In the dim light, finally feeling free of everyone else’s eyes and expectations Eve found her own conscience. It was quiet. Small. It didn’t want forgiveness.
It was other people’s judgement, their rejection that terrified her and made her bury all of it. The betrayal that would have sunken Kenny’s face if he knew how she felt about Villanelle. The anger that would have ignited in Niko if he knew the truth.
But Kenny was gone, and Niko’s rejection was thorough. Eve was truly alone.
Who did she have left? Carolyn? Even Eve wasn’t that desperate.
Eve sat unanchored, sprinkled with the ashes of her burnt homes.
Killing Raymond had been monumental. It had taken a piece of her.
Yet she’d lost more sleep in the last sixth months worrying about Villanelle rather than being a murderer. Eve spent whole nights pondering the meaning of the scar Villanelle had given her, worrying that she was chasing someone else, worrying that she was dead.
Eve wasn’t surprised that her thoughts had returned to Villanelle. They always did. As sure as the moon cycling back into her sky.
There was an honesty to Eve’s thoughts now, a clarity. Her mind was returning to the one-person Eve had shared in those secrets with. The one she was bound to by sin. The one who had never shied away from her darkness. The one who had encouraged it.
Eve felt seen when Villanelle’s eyes held her. Her gaze made Eve inhabit juxtapositions. She made Eve feel dangerous and safe all at once, wild and understood, wide awake and like she was dreaming.
Villanelle allowed Eve to contain multitudes and revered every expression of her.
What Eve never found in Villanelle’s eyes was a love that was conditional on her hiding parts of herself. In them she found a home, a place to stop pretending.
The phone vibrated. It made Eve jump; the sound ripped her back to the hospital room.
It was Carolyn.
Eve swiped it open without thinking, always choosing the chase. In the hall she put it to her ear. Carolyn wasn’t impressed.
Eve’s voice grew distant, muffled. Finally, alone, Niko braved opening his eyes. He could see Eve pacing the length of his room through the blinds.
He snuck a glance at the stranger who had taken the place of his wife. Then he considered, maybe he’d made a stranger his wife.
He sealed his eyes shut again when her pacing brought him back into her line of sight.