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i’m scratching at the surface and what i find is mine

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Eve believes Villanelle to be dead for a day. A full twenty-four hours – blissful, restful, solitary. She even takes a bath. Niko avoids her. She can feel a pattern developing already. He has the small back garden, the kitchen, the lounge. She has the bath, the bedroom, her office. Splitting the house right down the middle. If anything, it should make the divorce proceedings run a little more smoothly. A clear, clean cut.

That thought falls through her mind and out of it, slip-stream. Matter-of-fact. Brutal honesty. It’s not like she won’t be torn up when it happens, when he leaves. She expects it’ll be the second-worst thing that’s ever happened to her.

The first-worst thing – don’t ask. She’s still deciding.

As the day ekes on, Eve decides not to decide. She decides to relax. She orders takeout without telling Niko. She breathes in, out. The job’s finished, she’s finished, she’s done. She’s free.

She –

She’s completely fucking over it.

She goes through the motions. Tells herself, self-care, lights a candle, uses fancy soap she finds congealed at the back of the cabinet, spends ten pounds extra on delivery. But she thinks, God, she’s so empty, it has gravity.

 

 

 

 

 

Eve thinks about killing herself. No, not like that.

She thinks about what it would be like to kill her, to take the life of Eve Polastri. It wouldn’t take much, really. She took a self-defence class in college, most of which she’s forgotten. She’s not Villanelle – no one is Villanelle.

Not even Villanelle. Because Villanelle is –

 

 

 

 

 

Eve thinks about killing Niko. Yes, exactly like that.

He just lies there, all night. In her bed. He just fucking lies there. So still, letting out the same soft whistling snores that Eve has heard every night for twenty years, and Eve wants to push him to the floor. She wants to grab him by the ears and shout do something! Do anything but lie there, snoring, sleeping while Eve lies next to him and does everything in her mind.

She can’t bear to look at him so she takes him from behind, in her mind – not like Villanelle, nothing like Villanelle. She wraps an arm beneath his chin and plunges the knife into his back, at the base of his neck, just to the right of his spinal cord. It scrapes bone.

She lets it sit, for just a moment. Because these things deserve a little time, some healthy appreciation.

And – she wrenches left, wrenches right. Severs the cord. It doesn’t snap, there’s no sound.

Because she hasn’t. She’s just trailing the tips of her fingers down the back of his neck while he breathes deep in sleep. Eve rolls over, stares at the blinking alarm clock. It might be time to think about therapy.

 

 

 

 

 

The book comes in the mail the next day. Eve immediately forgets about therapy.

Niko’s hiding from Eve in the back garden. Eve’s hiding from Niko in her office, so she gets the door when it rings. When she sets eyes on the package – small and box-shaped – she can’t explain how she knows, instantly, who sent it. And who it is for.

She can’t explain it. Villanelle is dead, and then she isn’t.

She takes the box with steady hands, realising only later that she forgot to thank the postal worker, or even look him in the eye. Back in her office, her sanctuary, she considers the package. It is ordinary, you see – impossibly so. Slightly soggy cardboard. A sticker on the top marked with her name and address. Perhaps it is just a book she forgot she purchased, or something Niko ordered on her Amazon account. It could be anything, from anywhere. A gift from a dead assassin is pretty far-fetched.

But here, in her office, with Villanelle plastered on all four walls, bound up on the shelves, sprawled messily across the desk – ahem, Villanelle’s work…Eve almost believes it. The alternative is more improbable – that Eve could stop thinking about Villanelle, for even a minute, for even a second.

She fishes a boxcutter from a desk drawer and has already made the first cut before she freezes in place. The triangular blade is short, but it’s also thin and sharp, and she tests the point of it against the cardboard. It’s funny, hilarious, really, the things Eve now knows: how hard to push a knife if you want break skin, how to follow through if you want to cut deep. You learn something new every day.

Eve opens the box. It’s a book. The title reads, tauntingly:

How to Get Over Your Ex in Ten Easy Steps.

Eve’s heart leaps in her throat – cliched, romantic, except she nearly retches it up.

She flips open the cover. Pencilled in the title page:

 

E

It might come in handy.

 

Eve’s hands might shake – but they don’t. Her gaze might harden – but it doesn’t. She folds up the cardboard wrappings and clicks shut the safety on the boxcutter. She goes downstairs when Niko calls her for tea.

The following morning – does it count as morning if you don’t sleep, not a desperate wink? – Eve throws the book away.

 

 

 

 

 

There is something about an eye for an eye.

She is asleep or awake or neither, if it even matters. All she knows is, well, they do say something about that, don’t they? Some amorphous they. A poet or a philosopher or a religion, or an Anonymous down in history. An eye for an eye and…something.

The dream shuffles. Or life narrows down, telescopic. It doesn’t matter, she doesn’t care to dissect the difference. It’s not like she has a job to go to in the morning.

Thump.

Eve jolts awake – so she was asleep, that’s nice, that’s interesting. And now she is awake and staring at the crook of her elbow and there is another thump.

It is a very ominous thump, as thumps go. Eve reacts. Niko snores softly on, barely shifting as she fumbles around for a jacket and her moccasins, and he doesn’t rouse at all when she flicks on the light in the hall. He will leave her tomorrow, she thinks, or she will leave him. An eye for an eye.

Thump.

It’s a soft kind of a thump, like a socked footstep. Or when a bird falls from the sky.

Eve takes the stairs slowly, one at a time, and thinks about the thump. She doesn’t think about what it might be. Good investigators start without a set hypothesis, someone taught her that. She is choosing to put on the blinkers, she is choosing to listen to that lesson for quite probably the very first time.

Oh, that’s the thing – an eye for an eye, it turns you blind. Turns someone blind, anyway, she can’t remember who, can’t quite recall how the saying ends.

She freezes on the stair –

There’s someone at the door.

 

 

 

 

 

The someone is not at the door in the traditional sense, but slumped against it, draped across the front step. Thump, again. Thump. A head, a back, a shoulder against the doorframe. Thump. Followed by a low, ripping groan.

Eve almost tumbles down the stair in her haste, and when she pulls the door open Villanelle falls in with it – which is the first wrong thing. Villanelle didn’t just fall into Eve’s life, not now, not ever. She pierced it, remade it, forced herself to fit inside. No, forced Eve to fit her. Shaped Eve’s life around her shadow. The two of them – Eve and Villanelle, and they are a two, a couple, aren’t they, murder does that – they don’t know serendipity. They only know pushing things until they bend, or break.

Eve’s never simply happened across anything. Nothing that she would ever want to keep.

And Villanelle: her head lolls across Eve’s socked feet. Her smile torn, glittering. Eve’s gaze is pulled towards the dark spot on her abdomen, like a car crash, like something naked in public. It’s the second wrong thing.

Villanelle says, I never said I’d make it easy for you.

 

 

 

 

 

Eve’s first instinct is to kill her again. She almost does it, too. Since when did she learn self-control? In the last twenty-four hours?

Because the strongest will in her wants to slam the door shut in Villanelle’s pale, sweaty face. Maybe crush some fingers in the hinge for good measure. Leave her there to die, as she’d intended – as she thought she’d intended, at least for that one moment. And a moment was all it took.

But this time, it would take much more than a moment. It would take shutting the door, first. It would take walking back up the stairs. Trying to sleep in the bed she shares with her husband, though she’s already googled local divorce lawyers. It would take hours listening to the thumps at the door get quieter and quieter, softer, more hopeless, more alone. More dead.

And she – or Niko – would have to find her in the morning. It all sounds like a lot more hassle than it’s worth.

So Eve stifles that instinct, strong as it is, and acts against it.

Eve only has to hush Villanelle once and then she’s quiet, she hangs from Eve’s arms and totters with her into the house. She muffles her grunts and groans in Eve’s shoulder, leaving a wet ring in the fabric.

Why didn’t you go to a hospital? Eve asks, struggling to keep her voice below a murmur; it wants to shout. It wants to give up the act, to press itself tight against the place where Villanelle is turning inside out, to stop pretending that Eve didn’t put it there.

You could bleed out, Eve says, panic bubbling in her chest. Is it infected?

Villanelle breathes long, shuddering. She collapses onto the couch. Eve stands above her – she should get gauze, painkillers, her car keys, a knife. Something. But no, she just stands there. Staring at it – that dark flower, this fly-trap. She can’t drag herself away.

Have you been following the steps? Villanelle stage-whispers. Have you got through all ten?

What steps? What – Eve blinks, scrunches at her eyes. I’m getting the first aid kit. Stay here. I’m taking you to the hospital.

Which one?

Which what?

Stay here? Or go to the hospital? I don’t think you are so sure about what you want. Villanelle punctuates this with another grin, piercing through her pallid chill. Almost certainly infected.

Hospital, Eve says firmly. Like Villanelle has simply come by her house after an unfortunate accident, and Eve is the good Samaritan. Like Eve had nothing to do with it, nothing at all.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s an odd kind of unreality.

Villanelle in Eve’s house, in her home, is a very different kind of Villanelle to all the others Eve has met. It’s a more courteous Villanelle – the one with a barking laugh and surprising table manners. It’s a more dangerous one, a Villanelle with no qualms about abusing hospitality or pulling a knife at the dinner table. Soft, but sharp, and endlessly beguiling.

But Eve must revise this picture. The Villanelle before her now, tonight, is a different one altogether.

This Villanelle moans, then whines when Eve tells her to stay quiet. This Villanelle is split right open, basically butchered here on the living room couch, flowering red into the fabric of the cushions. Eve wants to move her to the kitchen, the scene of the crime. One of the scenes, anyway, one of the many crimes. She wants her stretched out atop the counter. Somewhere easier to clean, and with better light to see beneath the bandage.

In the end, she leaves Villanelle on the couch. She’ll pour a bottle of pinot over the blood-patch later and complain to Niko later about being too careless with red wine.

Hold still, she orders.

Villanelle sucks in a great breath when Eve presses a wad of gauze against the wound, under her shirt but over the old, sodden bandage. Eve’s not cleaning it up. She’s not. She’s just going to stop her bleeding out on Niko’s precious hardwood floors and then it’s off to the nearest hospital and out of Eve’s hair.

She schools her fingers in line so they touch only gauze, never a glimpse of bare skin, but this does nothing to stop the way Villanelle shivers.

Villanelle is just – staring at her.

Okay. She has to touch skin for this next bit. Quickly, clumsily, she stretches medical tape around the gauze to hold it in place. It will do.

Okay, she breathes, then more strongly to Villanelle: okay. Up.

But, Eve. You must realise, I am very stabbed.

Do you want to be less stabbed? Hospital.

Villanelle groans, and this time it’s only half in pain, the other half a well of frustration. Eve swallows hard to distract from the sudden tickle between her legs.

Yeah, that’s still a problem.

 

 

 

 

 

Eve thinks Villanelle passes out for most of the car ride, but she can’t stop casting stray glances at her anyway. She flicks between radio channels, desperate for something to filter out her thoughts. The BBC newsreader talks about health policy, and guide dogs, and Turkey. Bob Dylan whines about something or other. Niko likes him.

It’s not long, though, before Eve pulls up in a patch of deeper shadow across the road from the hospital. Villanelle’s awake suddenly, or perhaps she was pretending, and Eve follows her gaze out the window. She looks almost forlorn. Maybe actually forlorn. Villanelle sighs – definitely forlorn, and laying it on quite thick, too.

Will you visit me? Villanelle asks. In there?

No.

Won’t you miss me?

Eve shakes her head, doesn’t trust herself. Villanelle reaches across the handbrake – Eve jolts backward, but Villanelle doesn’t have any kind of weapon, she’s half-dead, there’s nothing to be afraid of. Villanelle finds the collar of Eve’s jacket and pulls herself to lean over Eve’s side of the car.

I wanted you, Villanelle says messily, whispering into Eve’s shoulder, and Eve thinks what the fuck what the fuck what the fuck. I thought you were beautiful. Stupid, beautiful. I wanted you very badly, you know? I would have done anything.

Eve won’t ask any questions. Would have done what? She works her lips tightly shut.

Can I visit you, then? Villanelle asks. Later? When I’m better?

No. This is Eve’s chance – she has to take it. Or else…something. That unimaginable, frightening something, if she holds on and promises to see Villanelle again and feeds her own feeble hope and then Villanelle – and then something happens.

No, this is it. Eve’s done her good deed.

No, Eve says again, and then, more urgently, get out. Get out! I took you here. I did it. We’re done. You’ve done enough.

Villanelle grasps more tightly, pulling herself against Eve’s side like some clinging animal. Don’t you want to see me again?

You visit me to kill me, she says, or you don’t come at all.

Villanelle’s weight – and warmth, and wetness – disappears suddenly. The car door slams – oomph. Eve wonders where Villanelle got the energy for it. If she’ll collapse on her way to the emergency room, fade out in a hospital parking lot.

In a few hours, she’ll be drugged down to hell. Or dead, or something. Either way, Eve is kind of jealous.

She drives home in silence. Tomorrow she’ll tell Niko that Bob Dylan is overrated, call a divorce lawyer, and start sleeping on the couch. An eye for an eye, however the saying ends, is a very pointed kind of irony.

 

 

 

 

 

Three days later, in the night, Eve gets a phone call. Guess who, the caller says.

Eve guesses. Correctly.

She sounds – she sounds okay. Alive, at the least. Eve chokes down a traitorous sense of relief.

You stabbed me, Villanelle accuses.

Yeah? Eve returns, keeping an eye on the stairs. Niko keeps coming down to check on her in the night, to her irritation. Always with the excuse of a drink of water or a midnight snack. He stares at her while she pretends to sleep and kisses her hair before he leaves. He’s so – loving, forgiving, even now. Eve wants to move out.

You killed my friend, Eve accuses back. My – pretty much my only friend. I don’t have a job anymore, I barely have a husband.

I will be your friend.

She’s so fucking brazen. Eve snaps, Shut up. Shut up. I could kill you for saying that.

Villanelle laughs, but it ends up as a groan.

Eve takes it personally. Don’t you think I could?

No, Villanelle chuckles again. You know, I can help with your job, too. So don’t worry about it.

Oh, great. You want to be my miracle worker? I dread to think how you might fix the husband problem.

Predictably, Villanelle says, I have a few ideas. Eve hangs up.

 

 

 

 

 

There is a night on the couch – one of a few. Niko’s just come down to stare into the depths of the fridge and pretend he isn’t checking if Eve’s awake. It was very ill-timed, Eve might add, that she had to go slack and act out unconsciousness right before reaching a peak.

She can’t sleep, and she feels like shit. Thus.

She sucks in a breath before resuming, rubbing against pruney fingertips. It’s not long before she’s bucking against her own hand, rhythm fully recaptured, though she’s not horny at all. Not turned on even a lick, she swears. A cramp bites at her thigh and she concentrates on the pain, makes that the focus, but it seems to have the opposite effect as she tips closer.

Her phone is on the coffee table. There is a number in the call list. She could call that number – and – and – I have a few ideas. Shut up. Shut up.

It’s short, when it ends, but she has to stuff her fist in her own mouth to muffle a cry.

Villanelle’s dead, Eve reminds herself, or going to die. She runs a finger over the teeth marks in the meat of her hand and waits for her breathing to slow. Her heart is still pounding when the light on the stairs flicks on and Niko pads down a second time. He doesn’t sleep. Neither does Eve, but they can pretend.

 

 

 

 

 

She gets the call on Sunday.

It’s not Villanelle. Eve has to stress that. Because every part of her expects it to be Villanelle, wants it, needs it, though it’s Carolyn who greets her.

Perhaps greets is an overstatement. Carolyn begins with, Would you consider becoming re-employed?

No, Eve says, still floating on the idea that it might have been Villanelle on the other end of the line. No, I would not consider it.

Ah. All for the best, then, because I’m not sure I can squirrel away the finances to pay your salary any longer. I just thought you’d like to know – she’s killed again.

Eve stutters. I – and?

I just thought you’d like to know, Carolyn repeats. Infuriating.

I don’t. Like to know.

Well and good. Take care, Eve.

The dial tone sounds. Maybe Eve is crazy, or she’s been hanging around too many spies, but that take care rings on loop in her ears. It feels like a threat.

 

 

 

 

 

Eve’s always been a running kind of person, but now she might just be a person kind of running. From everything. It’s entirely her own fault, she reminds herself often.

It used to bother Niko, occasionally, when she woke him up before seven on the weekends, hopping around the bedroom to pull on her trainers. Well, Niko is no longer here to be bothered. So she’s running again.

At least she gets the house for now, with Niko moved out. She’ll mourn her marriage later. She’s marked out a time for it – morning is groceries, laundry. The afternoon is for guilt, shame, grief. And right now, before the dawn fully breaks, is for running until her stomach hurts.

Her feet pound the pavement at a steady pace, the sound of rubber on concrete muffled by early morning quiet. Running is good – she forgot that, for a while. It proves a point.

She stops in a park to slurp at a tap. The pavement looks hard enough to cave in a skull, if the skull were gripped in a strong hand, if the hand had knowledge and purpose, if the purpose was murder. She wipes her wet mouth against the back of her hand and rolls on her heels, tucks back escaping hair. She runs.

 

 

 

 

 

Maybe, in another life, Eve would have gone to therapy.

Maybe if Villanelle had really died (she still might). If Eve was really a murderer (she still could be). She could have been diagnosed with this or that mood disorder or obsessive-something or whatever other label the DSM might hang on her particular brand of fucked-up.

In this life, though, Eve runs. The habit keeps things, just barely, together. Days pass, and she runs in the mornings, wallows after that, and in the evening she burns through her savings with takeaway and trips to the liquor store. Maybe next week she’ll remember she’s no longer got a source of income.

But these days have plenty of cracks in them. Wide, gaping chasms of time that threaten to shake Eve up with their emptiness, their silence that demands to be filled. Eve spends most of this time in her office, craned over the computer screen. It’s as good a filler as any, and it has the advantage of both being familiar and a way of scratching that insatiable itch.

Pretty soon, she finds it. What Carolyn alluded to: a young nurse found dead in the ward of the local hospital. Regarded as suspicious. Please call the investigative team if you have any information.

There’s little else in the news reports, so Eve tries her MI6 access. It works, which Eve is sure breaks all kinds of security protocols. She wonders what Carolyn’s game is, but then again. Gift horse.

The draft coroner’s report is much more forthcoming. Male. Twenty-nine. One hundred and eighty-one centimetres. Seventy kilos. Bruises around the neck – finger-marks. Strangled. Bare hands.

In the police reports: Accounts about a missing patient. One who’d checked in suspiciously with a stab wound, and who gave no name.

Worst of all – blood found at the scene. A lot of blood; puddles and trails of it. It didn’t belong to the nurse.  

Eve shuts off the computer and goes to bed. She’s still sleeping on the couch. If you call this sleeping: hooking her legs over the armrest and staring, motionless, at the ceiling. Two, three, four A.M. ticks by without a wink.

Eve wonders what it would be like to kill herself. Not like that, but like – like killing this Eve. She wonders what, or who, might come after.

She’s not good with guilt. Can’t bear it – she’d sooner shirk whatever commitment or moral principle she broke than she would submit to feeling guilt for breaking it. So she doesn’t feel it often, or easily, but, fuck. And this isn’t just guilt. It’s – God, Jesus, whoever, whatever, save her. It’s guilt. It’s beat your chest, beat your firsts, beat yourself, self-loathing, fucked-up, no take-backs guilt.

She stares at the ceiling, sleep well out of reach. Truly, it’s the kind of thing that makes you bash your own brain in. Tear out your hair. It’s never leave your bed again, never leave your head again. She’ll scratch the flesh from her cheeks, yank her knuckles from their sockets, or at least that’s what she thinks about, that’s the kind of thing your mind fixates on before it’ll give in to guilt.

She must sleep a little, though, because in her dreams Villanelle calls her again. Then she shows up on her doorstep, covered in blood or wrapped in sheets. Then they touch. They even talk, but the conversation goes along the same lines as that phone call – neither of them willing to break script, even in dreaming.

Villanelle’s probably dead now. That was a lot of blood.

Eve watches the sun rise through the gaps in the curtain. She would rather die than feel like this another second, she’d rather kill herself today. Yes, like that.

 

 

 

 

 

In the morning, Eve forgets all about it. You see, her phone rings. And it rings again. And it rings again.

Finally, Eve snatches it up, and snarls, I thought I told you not to call me, for fuck’s sake, all communication is supposed to be through the –

Eve?

The rest of the call follows the script almost to the letter. Eve doesn’t mind.

 

 

 

 

 

Eve’s never really been one for creating, and that’s the thing that strikes her. Villanelle is.

You have to be pretty well interested in yourself to create something, Eve thinks, and she just…lacks that interest. She’s always pointed outward; she wants to reflect, to deflect, to collate and analyse. In the insecurity of her college years, she often worried she was too derivative – her interests just a cobbled-together collection of other people and their own twisted creations. Now, she is content with it. Safe on the other side of the mirror, looking on.

So, the news is: Villanelle has killed again.

Eve gets an anonymous email with a blank subject, blank message box. A dozen high-definition images attached. Eve has suspicions about the sender, but all that aside…

She’s almost breathless as she scrolls through the pictures, appraising each one slowly before moving to the next. The photographer themselves had no sense of artistry, but the subject speaks for itself.

It’s not something cliché, like the body is a canvas, painting walls and floors with shit and blood, nothing like that. That’s much too serial killer. Villanelle has standards – not moral ones, but she does have rules. She marks out her life between two straight lines and simply goes.

And – it is art, really, this new kill. Look at that – that perfect slice through the Achilles tendon, so her victim was down before he even knew it. And this, here, the vein-map of a bruise stretching over his ribs, courtesy of a hard punch with knuckledusters. The finale: a narrow wound piercing the left side of the heart.

After that, and after the phone call, Eve sinks into relief – into an aching, twisted sort of joy. Villanelle is alive, and well; Villanelle survived. Eve is not a murderer, and that’s most of the reason why she’s so happy. The rest is just appreciating art.

 

 

 

 

 

Carolyn keeps sending things. It’s unabashed, all the anonymous emails and unmarked envelopes. As if Eve would ever wonder who might have sent them. One after another; bright, shiny lures bobbing over a sharp hook. Sometimes Eve responds with information that she’s sourced herself, or observations about the latest kill. It’s guilt that drives it. She’s still sick with it, and if it keeps Villanelle in her life – if only in these measured, metered doses – she’ll let that guilt do what it wants.

 

 

 

 

 

That is until she starts seeing Villanelle no longer in dreams, in pixels – but in the flesh.

First time, it’s on a run. It’s still dark, and Eve hasn’t stopped or slowed for the last couple of miles. It’s an unfamiliar part of town, though, and a curious shadow beneath a streetlamp gives her pause. She squints past the sweat that beads her eyelashes, but the silhouette is just as soon gone.  

It happens again. On another run, a week or so later. In the middle of city crowds, on the train. The back of Villanelle’s head at the supermarket. Eve’s not hallucinating, or harbouring deluded hopes. She’s pretty sure it’s her.

Eve decides to wait, lest any sudden moves scare Villanelle off. Not that Villanelle is any kind of startled prey, doe-eyes aside. And discounting the way she looked on Eve’s doorstep, with all her blood on the outside – or the way Eve sometimes imagines her hung up at the head of her bed, all glazed over.

 

 

 

 

 

Click.

Eve remembers, thump.

It comes again. Click. Like a very slow clock.

Thump, Eve thinks, and then suddenly she is awake. She is very, very awake.

Another click is followed by a rattle and a whine that strikes at Eve’s chest, arousing some primal fear of things that go bump and thump and click in the night. She feels frantically beneath the couch cushion until her hand closes around the cool plastic of the boxcutter she’s stashed there since she vacated the bedroom.

She listens above the sound of her own hard breathing. The door whines again before clicking shut.

Here is something Eve knows: Villanelle makes her own rules. Eve also knows that sometimes, like tonight, like right now, Villanelle also breaks them.

She’s there like a thunderbolt. She’s not, and then she is, sudden and real. Eve rubs one eye in a show of weariness and props herself against the back of the couch, still clutching the boxcutter beneath the blankets.

In another show, Eve tries on indifference. She recalls the way of Villanelle’s signature drawl, and says, Look what the cat dr –

Eve doesn’t finish the sentence, and she thinks for a second that it’s because she’s dead.

Villanelle has seized her, that’s Villanelle’s breath against her cheek, Villanelle’s knees against her sides, that’s a lot of body and a lot of Villanelle and, more relevantly, that’s plenty enough time for Villanelle to deal the killing blow.

Well, Villanelle does. Just not quite how Eve imagined.

 

 

 

 

 

Eve somehow clings onto the boxcutter. She deserves some credit for that, even after losing most of her faculties. Shit, fuck, her brain says. Eve agrees. Villanelle kisses like they’ve already fucked. It’s all very difficult.

Eve is acutely aware that she’s slept in this shirt half a dozen times already. Also, she hasn’t waxed in a month. She’s suffering. Villanelle lets out a little whimper when Eve tugs on her hair, and it’s truly horrible, Eve insists, she hates absolutely everything that is happening. She’s adamant.

It’s not long before Villanelle tugs her own shirt off and, wanting, needing something, grasps at Eve’s hand. The boxcutter, still clutched in Eve’s fist, comes with it.

I didn’t know – you were that kind of woman, Villanelle pants.

Eve smiles, and for once it’s not in spite of herself. Are you?

I’m whatever. Literally – whatever you want. Eve.

Eve’s gaze drops to Villanelle’s abdomen. She tucks the boxcutter back beneath the couch.

You’re lying, she says.

Villanelle straightens up, brow furrowing. What?

You absolutely knew.

 

 

 

 

 

It happens like that. It goes like that. One time they have sex in a car. Seriously – Eve cramps to hell and Villanelle laughs and dear God it isn’t bad. It isn’t bad at all.

Eve impresses herself with her ability to forget about Niko – she’s given up on feeling guilt. She’s given up on feeling much of anything. She takes Carolyn’s standing job offer and decides not to question it, ignores the knowing looks she gives Eve every so often. She takes the house and pays Niko an exorbitant settlement and she doesn’t even care.

Villanelle shows up when she wants to, which is often. She brings gifts and Eve takes them too, Eve takes her, and she doesn’t even think about it.

It’s so easy. Stupidly, horridly easy.

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes, though, Villanelle brings her coffee in the mornings. Eve worries.

Don’t read into that. She decided against therapy.

But she does wonder. What do you do once you get what you want, what happens, then? What happens you catch it, when you wake up and it’s still there, and it comes back each time it goes, and the way it looks at you, sometimes, and touches you, sometimes, not always, but more and more as time goes on, what happens then? And what happens when you can’t help but worry, but nibble at it, but pick at the wound and, sometimes, you teeter on the edge of panic, and sometimes you want it gone, and sometimes, not always, but more and more as time goes on, you feel like killing it, just for something to do, just because, well, what happens then?

 

 

 

 

 

This happens.

It’s 3 A.M. Villanelle killed someone today – yesterday, technically, whatever. She didn’t tell Eve this, but Eve can smell it on her. Villanelle is asleep. Eve is not.

This is the truth of having her: Eve doesn’t. Not really.

It’s a festering sort of night. Eve is thinking about guilt, and giving into it. She turns over, flips her pillow, and turns over again. In sleep, Villanelle’s hand works its way across Eve’s stomach. Eve hates herself. This isn’t new. But it’s been a while.

She feels – dirty. Infected. She wants to throw off Villanelle’s arm. It’s relentless. She swears she can hear a clock ticking, nicking her on the hour, every hour, but the alarm on her bedside is digital.

Maybe, if not this, there is not a thing that will be enough. Insatiable. Bottomless. Eve scrunches her face and clenches her fists in the darkness. She wants to move, to do something, but she doesn’t. She doesn’t sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

Villanelle takes them dancing.

The whole notion rubs Eve a little the wrong way, grates against something she struggles to name. But Villanelle looks – like that – and she smiles – like that – and Eve agrees. Villanelle picks a dress. Eve wears a suit, though – ‘though’ because it feels like a confession of something, or a concession. It’s charcoal. She puts it on and it’s comfortable, secure.

The trouble is, Eve doesn’t want to dance. It’s at one of those fancy dine-in places, and Eve eats slowly, counting the songs as they wane in and out. Villanelle is enjoying herself, poking fun at the dancers on the floor, a hand sneaking up Eve’s thigh. But she soon grows restless.

Let’s dance, Villanelle pronounces.

I’m still eating.

I don’t care. I want to dance.

Eve takes another slow bite, looking Villanelle deliberately in the eye.

Pffft, Villanelle scoffs, turning away. I’ll find somebody else to dance with. Did you see that girl in that dress, with the hair?

Panic, again. Why does everything feel like falling down a hole? God, fine, Eve says. Fine, let’s dance.

The soiree is at its height, now. Dancers lead their partners by hand to the floor, the band swings, the room itself seems to sway around them. Eve remembers she doesn’t know how to dance, and she tells Villanelle this, hoping she’ll notice the edge in Eve’s voice.

Don’t worry, Villanelle says as they reach the floor. I asked Konstantin how.

Villanelle positions them, carefully placing Eve’s hand on her shoulder. She starts to move just as the song ends, out-of-time, but she’s leading, so Eve follows. She swears there are a thousand eyes on them, burning her, judging. Her stomach sinks to her toes but she smiles through it, goes with it.

Did you know, Villanelle says after they’ve done a round of the room, that Konstantin is a very good ballroom dancer?

I didn’t.

He goes with his wife, quite often. He is a good dancer. He is not a very good teacher, but I am naturally talented.

Panic starts to pick at Eve’s edges. This is tedious. She can’t dance, and neither can Villanelle. She’s sweating. She hums under her breath, looking over her shoulder at the rest of the room. In her distraction, Villanelle steps soundly on Eve’s foot.

God, Eve snorts, and it comes out fonder than she’d like. But what can she help it – here is Villanelle, an assassin by occupation, and she cannot dance for shit. What the hell are you?

What Villanelle does next is a shock. It messes up all Eve’s calculations, it breaks every theory she’s ever had. Villanelle says, I know what I am. Do you?

But that’s not it, that’s not the shock, not yet. What?

Do you know what I am? Villanelle pulls them apart just slightly, and that’s the shock. There it is. Yours. Eve, I’m yours.

What did you say?

Eve holds a hand up against Villanelle’s chest, keeping her back, because – because she doesn’t know what to do with it. To do now, next. After. A sinking feeling that she hadn’t thought at all past this moment. After the coming together – she can’t see it. She can’t see.

Panic, guilt, panic guilt – Eve tosses these around; how quickly it crowds in, how quickly it is that she’s wading through this, blood-thick, she can’t see the end. She is, for a moment, more terrified than she can ever remember being. More than she was on the wrong side of Villanelle’s gun, or beneath Villanelle’s knife.

Oh. Villanelle stops dancing. You didn’t read my book.

What? Eve says, dropping Villanelle’s hand to rub her sweaty palm against her slacks.

Or maybe you did, Villanelle muses. But it didn’t work.

What do you mean?

Villanelle pulls them close again and spins. Eve stumbles, dizzy, but Villanelle catches her. It would make someone else swoon. Not Eve, though, because the truth is she’s still waiting for the other shoe to drop. For Villanelle to return the favour. An eye for an eye, something, something. Eve knows all about revenge. But she still wants, despite everything – and maybe she does swoon, a little.

Villanelle chooses her moments well, so that’s when she delivers the killing blow. With a whisper that tickles Eve’s neck, she says, You’re not over me.