Killing someone changes you.
You didn’t know this at the time – not fully. Probably it was implicit. Why would people do it if you stayed the same afterwards? If you still woke up in the morning, the same. Stared at the 3am ceiling, kissed your husband on the beard, the same, the same.
Why, then, what would be the point?
Villanelle said, do it. But she didn’t need to tell you.
You picked up the axe.
First it was your body. Everything else came after – mind over matter, as is the way. Like always, you were stubborn. Your thoughts resisted change until long after the physical transformation set in.
At the beginning, it was easy to mistake the signs for something else. A tickle between your toes. A fuzzy feeling up your spine, over your shoulders. A compulsion to stretch out your hands, to twitch and to fidget, to stamp your feet, to yawn your mouth wide open and clamp down on the closest bit of soft flesh.
That last one was difficult to mistake for anything else. Mostly you ignored it. And mostly…you simply itched.
Your back – no, your forearms, or the soles of your feet, the soft skin between your fingers. It was difficult to tell, a phantom pain. You focused on one sensation – a delicate tickling over your palms – and, as if responding to the concretion of your thoughts, it would be gone, shifting to a more insistent itch between your shoulder blades or a rouge-less rash spreading across your scalp.
There was the heat of the day to worry about, and then the empty chill beneath the earth. Old Roman stone leeching all sorts of things from you – warmth, light, comfort. There was the blood beneath your fingernails and in the lines of your palms. Some dried globules sticking your curls together – like honey, each time you dared to have it on your toast. Not that you ever noticed; Niko would, and he would come with gentle hands and a warm washcloth to work away the muck.
Villanelle certainly noticed the dried blood in your hair, but she didn’t look warm or gentle about it. Her gaze caught on the dark stains and you thought she might want to touch – to rub your knots between a finger and thumb, smile at you and then lick her fingers for good measure. To stop right then and there and take you for her own.
You noted the contrast without further analysis.
There was also the sweat to distract you. Real sweat, cold sweat, slicking under your arms and gathering at your collarbones. Your stomach bottomed out each time Villanelle looked back at you, again and again like it was set upon making a new home by your toes. Your vision kept flickering, funny shapes blinking in and out like damaged film. The flutter-beat of your heart – a bothersome reminder that you were alive, and not all were so lucky.
Meaning: there was plenty else to be concerned with. But the thing about an itch is you have to ignore it – leave it alone. Distract yourself, and it’ll go away. It’s about self-control.
You went to France in the summer once, you and Niko – were you two you anymore? A question for another time – anyway, the mosquitoes were hell. They liked you. Not Niko, you. Predators usually do. Something about the way your blood smells.
You remembered little else about the holiday but for the bites, the itching, and Niko’s insistence: just stop picking at them, Eve, you’ll only make them worse.
You remembered not being able to stop. You remembered them getting worse.
You still have a tiny scar on your back, even now, a souvenir. A reminder.
“Do you want to eat?” Villanelle asked suddenly. An echo rounded out the soft edges of her voice so she sounded somehow larger-than-life, even dwarfed so by the cavernous tunnel.
“I guess,” you said, looking not at her but at the damp flowering across the ceiling.
Villanelle paused; you felt it like a quiet before reckoning. “Do you feel it?” she asked.
“I feel something.”
“Yes. It’s the blood rush, the buzzing – in your fingers, you know – and, and…you feel so good.” Villanelle smiled, her eyes wide as saucers. “The best. Don’t you?”
It was more like a seashell, the swish in your ears. And your fingers…they twitched, and itched, and ached like growing pains. You didn’t feel not good. You felt…
“Fine,” you said. “I feel fine.”
She might have bought it.
It didn’t let up in the daylight. Maybe it was even worse – the summer sun blinding, harsh and pointed. You wanted to scratch, but all that blood crusted under your fingernails…you weren’t desperate yet. It was a close thing.
“It’s going to be amazing,” said Villanelle.
You didn’t disagree. You were thinking about dinner.
Villanelle had a gun, and you wanted to go home.
But then, you often felt that way. Especially when you were at home.
You itched. Itched and itched and itched and it was hard to hear what Villanelle was saying, what you were saying. You saw the gun and you wanted to shoot her. Shoot yourself. Shoot that damned itch, eating at skin, maybe that would stop it.
Somewhere in the middle of it, Villanelle grabbed your hand. Cool. Soothing, in the way of gunmetal pressed against your fevered cheek. You took a breath.
Perhaps it didn’t matter. You just, more than anything, more than going home or loving her or hating her guts – you needed to scratch.
“Forget about it,” you told her. “We need a car.”
She grinned. She looked in love.
Villanelle laughed like a hyena, her hair streamed as she eased down on the accelerator. Trust her to wire up a convertible when a sedan would have done – would have been miles less conspicuous. But you had to admit, the wind’s tug was cooling, or at least distracting, and though you shifted in the passenger seat you kept your hands firmly tucked beneath your thighs.
You looked out at the Italian countryside, your eyes pricking against the speed of your flight, and you pondered urges. You thought about needs, wants, desires – there’s little more to life, to be fair – and you thought about their suppression.
To scratch. To tear, and tear apart. To grab Villanelle where she sat – so close, centimetres – to grasp her by her hand upon the gearstick, her thigh, her flowing hair. The wheel, crash the car, never think again. Never want again.
You sat still upon your hands and tried to breathe slowly. Villanelle turned the radio on, scoffed at the first few stations before settling on something classical. This she appeared satisfied with, singing vaguely along with violin melodies, making up the notes. She looked at you like she was happy, and perhaps she was.
But – there it was again. The itch. You rubbed your eyes, prying out little crumbs of sleep, though you weren’t at all tired. You’d never felt so awake.
So awake it was like – more than that, even. More than awake, more than merely alive.
You turned up the radio. Villanelle sang louder, stamped on the accelerator, and you closed your eyes to feel the air push you back in your seat. It couldn’t move you, now. It wouldn’t dare.
Then, you deluded yourself to think that it was all in your head, not your body. Easily done. It niggled, prodded just so, an internal hangnail, and you mistook it for something else at first.
That’s what want felt like, or, at least, it used to. Some things got lost in translation. Feelings got garbled, or they disappeared entirely. Like code. Like living through a Caesar shift.
But then the sun set.
The bed and breakfast was tired, but in that homely, vintage sort of way that reminded you of Villanelle’s Paris apartment. Perhaps Villanelle thought the same; she certainly gave up a wad of cash without any qualms. But then that was her and money. She seemed to think it wouldn’t be hard for the two of you. That this was like a holiday. She tossed herself bodily onto one of the matching Queens and was asleep in moments, fists curled beneath her chin.
You craned your neck out the window to look up at the sickle moon – which should’ve been barely enough to see by, but you found you could easily make out your hands in the dark, and Villanelle curled up on the bed. Were there always this many different shades of black?
You slept, then, or at least you think you did, but you woke periodically, roused by your discomfort. Because your back still itched that excruciating itch and it looked like you’d been scratching in your sleep, there were specks of blood on your clothes and the sheets, too.
You thought little of it. It was something you were accustomed to: itching, scratching. Not so literally, but the motions were the same.
Villanelle woke before the sun, and you felt her watching you as you tried, failed, pretended to sleep. Her eyes two pricks of light in the darkness – glowing like a deer in headlights, a cat on the neighbour’s fence. Something animal. You wondered what on earth you were going to do about her.
It wouldn’t be so awful to find out.
“I want croissants,” said Villanelle, in the light of morning. A damning thing, a showing thing. You almost shied away from it. Instead, you gritted your teeth.
You focused on the itch – it had worsened overnight. That’s what happens when you scratch at an itch, everybody knows this. It only gets worse, itches more, calls for you. And so you itch again, and worse, and more, and who knows when it ends? Probably in tears.
“Okay,” you said. “Croissants. In Italy.”
“Eve, Eve, you know me,” she implored, like you really did, and maybe so? “I do not conform.” She tipped backwards in her perch on the bed, a borrowed white robe falling down her shoulder, the glimpse of skin like a promise, or an invitation. She could be so easy. And yet so incredibly hard.
It’s not like you didn’t think about it.
It’s not like you ever, even for a moment, didn’t think about it.
And all this while, you itched. This was your problem, this is why it took you so long to identify – it was the same feeling. It was the same sort of tug, the same catch at the heart of you. Only now it fled your head, slid under your skin. Prickle, prickle down your spine and tingle up the length of your back. The very tips of your fingers, the crown of your scalp.
And because you are you, you scratched.
You couldn’t stop yourself. You scratched your back raw-red, and the skin there was so dry it bled; from your waist to your shoulders, scaled like fish and cracked like drought. You pulled at your shirt and rubbed at your bra strap and blunted your nails on the itch, because who would you be if you ever stopped yourself from giving in and – starting to scratch?
You worked your way up the coast, the two of you. Utterly perfect beneath golden sun, shooting past the whitest of beaches and cerulean seas. You grew to like the wind in your hair. Sometimes you would stare at Villanelle’s hand resting upon the gearstick, but then you would itch again and so you’d have to scratch – you’d decided not to stop. What’s the point? Tear your skin off. You’d killed a man, you’d killed your life. What could possibly matter anymore.
Villanelle looked at you oddly, sometimes, and not just in the in-love sort of way that made you queasy and elated in the same breath. And not with concern, either, but with – if anything, impatience. Waiting. Staring at a pot and hoping it might boil, even when watched. Especially when watched.
High on the list of things you didn’t realise were true about being on the run until you were, in fact, on the run, was this: you had a lot of free time.
You were often bored.
Road to road, room to room, like so many ashes. And you couldn’t get out much, at least not until you were well out of Italy. The Twelve, the authorities, who knows! Probably everybody was after you. You couldn’t very well blame them.
You reclined in the passenger seat. You sat on well-made beds with hospital corners and you watched cable news, Villanelle pacing, studying the patterns on the carpet. You made Villanelle teach you some of the language just to pass the time, the two of you passing syllables back and forth as each day waned.
“La spalla,” she announced, winding a towel around her hair. You looked at the ceiling while she slipped a robe on.
“La spalla. What does it mean?”
“The shoulder,” she said. “Il cuore.”
“Il cuore,” you managed, awkwardly. You struggled with the r sounds. “The neck?” you asked, rolling over onto your side to watch her flop onto her bed, mirror of your own.
“No.” She flung her arms back to cling the iron bars of the headboard, eyes scrunched shut and lit from above like a saint. “The heart.”
You snorted and rubbed absently against your shoulder blade with a knuckle. The skin was starting to scab. At least you’d have something to pick at when you were bored.
“Il cuore,” you repeated.
You were often bored.
You woke the next morning to slump into the bathroom of your latest bed-and-breakfast and shower with your eyes closed, still half-asleep, pawing blindly at your worried skin. It was only when you started to lather up that you saw it in the mirror –
You froze beneath the spray, twisted to stare behind your shoulder.
It’s fair to say you were petrified with shock. The water ran suddenly cold – probably an indifferent Villanelle hogging the hot water – but you stood still.
Existentialism comes easy when you’re staring at the impossible.
Your back. Your back, your back, your body. The shock was worse than stabbing Villanelle. Worse than killing Raymond, because it was you. And violence, you knew. This, you didn’t. You had no idea.
Two pointed, goosebumped juts of bone. Evenly spaced. They looked almost like the tips of fingers, back then, pressing out either side of your spine – but no. This was –
“What the hell,” you said to your reflection.
You found yourself scared to touch. Even more frightened to put a name, to put words to whatever was happening to you – but similarly, you couldn’t drag your eyes away from the horror of it, these things clawing out your skin, their ugliness. You shrugged on a shirt and met Villanelle in the hall, took her hurriedly by the wrist and led the two of you out to the car.
“In a hurry, are we?”
“I want to drive,” you said, tossing yourself into the front seat and holding out your hand for the keys.
She considered you, then, long and hard. Before: “Be careful not to speed,” she said, dropping the keys into your palm.
“Right.” And when the engine turned it rumbled beneath your feet. Then once you’d pulled onto the open road and flattened the accelerator that rumble grew into a roar, the wind and the speed and the power of it ripping through your lungs. You almost forgot about – it – shifting against the strange rub of your back against the seat, the itch.
Villanelle laughed and screamed and threw up her arms, and her hand fell upon yours on the gearstick and you smiled for it all.
“You told me not to speed.” You looked at her sharply, tugging your mouth to the side just for her.
“And I know you,” she replied, like she did – did she? “You don’t do what you’re told.”
In Venice, Villanelle took you out for lunch. Cocktails by the canal, you scoffed down a burger. Then to a bank, a safe deposit box – she didn’t show you what she took out, just shuffled it inside of her jacket and smiled like she was sharing a secret. You didn’t ask. You were distracted.
You rolled your shoulders and stretched out your back and you itched. For the first time, it struck you – what were growing pains supposed to feel like?
The two of you cut west to Croatia, across two state borders. Villanelle dealt with it. It seemed she’d prepared for eventualities like these – you didn’t ask how you fit into the equation. You weren’t sure you wanted to know how long she’d had this jaunt planned.
By Wednesday you were speeding down the Adriatic highway, flat sea on one side, crumbling cliffs on the other. You kept worrying they might fall, tip onto your head and crush you both. Villanelle drove faster and you stopped worrying.
(She was going to kiss you tonight, you thought. You were surprised it hadn’t happened already. She was – courteous. Courting. But something about the free air now you’d escaped Italy unscathed, something about the calculating flash in her eyes under the sun…You wished she would hurry the hell up.)
Also by Wednesday, they’d grown. These…things. Clawing right out of your back, those bony protrusions, grey-black and knobbly. Skin like an elephant, or a bat. You started wearing baggy jackets.
They were a bit annoying, really. You stopped sleeping on your back.
This was also when you started to worry.
Less for yourself, and what this meant – some strange disease, a collection of too-even, too-perfect tumours? But more for her.
Because what on earth were you going to tell her?
You told her, “Just do it already.”
She started, jittered like a prey animal. Looked at you through half-fogged glass, hands still buried in her dripping hair. Eyes wide enough to scream.
You remembered hearing something about that – the eyes of prey sit separate, they watch to each side. Eternally vigilant. While predators look forward, always forward, trained and straight as an arrow. You’d never been quite sure which one fit her best.
You’re impatient. She knew this. And if, maybe, you were cross-legged on the bed, watching some flashy game show in a language you didn’t understand, clenching your leg muscles tight and loose, tight and loose, just for something to do, picking at the thread of the coverlet and wondering what it would take to make it unravel. And if, maybe, there was that itching in your hands and in your head and between your thighs, and you strained your ears to hear her singing softly through the ensuite door, the patter of the shower-stream. If, then, you made a decision – you would be patient no longer – then that should be entirely predictable.
If she truly knew you, as she so claimed.
But after you flung open the door, cut her soft melody short, and told her this – she looked surprised.
Maybe she was faking it. Maybe this was all a game for her – you wouldn’t even mind that. Just so long as the shock wasn’t real.
You froze for a second, even in your impatience. But happily enough, she transformed. Drummed up a devilish half-smile, hand on hip, the other hanging loosely by her thigh, no modesty to be found. And you weren’t looking, but you weren’t not looking.
You clenched your hands into fists, wrapped in black leather – it was yesterday you started wearing the gloves. You hadn’t taken them off since.
“Do what?” Villanelle asked, like it wasn’t a loaded gun. To be honest, you had forgotten what it even was.
But all the same, you pressed your lips together and answered her with a frown. Stupid question.
The shower door was half open already. Maybe this was a game. You pushed it to the side, she remained still as a statue. She was patient, you were not.
You turned the jet off first. You still had some wits about you, and Villanelle bought you this jacket and told you explicitly not to get it wet.
You didn’t break eye contact. Neither did she. There was danger in this, but there was more danger in looking away.
She made the first move, fingering the lapel of your jacket – and she wouldn’t be Villanelle if she never broke her own rules. Water dripped from the ends of her hair onto your hands, down the front of your shirt.
She smiled down at you. Her patience – an irritant. She knew that, too.
“Fucking – come on,” you growled before grabbing her by the back of her neck and craning up, up, up. Maybe you never truly realised how tall she was. Some part of you expected to duck down, spread over her, but now that felt absurd. It’s you who had to lift your chin, open yourself.
She was soft, slow, not at all how you wanted it. You could have sworn her lips twitched, holding back a smile like it was a joke, like the joke was on you.
You felt – revealed. And you weren’t the one with no clothes on.
You grumbled. Let your hands fall roughly on her hips, leather slipping on wet skin. Get the message.
“This doesn’t feel very even,” Villanelle murmured, right against the corner of your mouth. “Why the gloves? Don’t you want to feel me? Don’t you like it – “ her hands fled up the back of your jacket, soaking demanding handprints through your shirt – “when we’re equal?”
“No,” you said, itching. So close to scratch. You pulled her wrists down before they could press too close to your spine, lest they find something incriminating. “I don’t like it at all.”
Villanelle smiled, then; the start of something. The spark into a flare. You didn’t even brace yourself.
She hip-checked the knob as she lunged forward, crowding you into the corner, and you gasped into the kiss as a stream of cold water emptied itself over your forehead.
“Turn it – off,” you managed in vain as damp fingers encircled your wrists and pressed them against the glass. This was not the way you would ordinarily behave, you’d have to wash your hair now and this room didn’t even have a hairdryer –
Or, you would have thought this, would have complained about this, if there were any room for it; any notion at all. Because Villanelle pressed herself flush against you, head to toe. Because your heart jackhammered and when Villanelle let go your hands only spidered up her sides, unable to decide where to settle, unable to pick between the many places you’d thought about, dwelled upon, mapped out in the safety of imagination.
It was always warm, there, in imaginings. Safe and secure.
Icy water dripped down the front of your shirt. You shivered, she was naked, you were impatient, you were wanting but the getting was another thing altogether. If you had time to think, you might’ve realised that this said a lot about you. That this resonated with every jarring, out-of-step second of your life.
The wanting – simple. Think and masturbate, in that order, it’s that easy. The having –
She tugged your hands up to press against her chest and Jesus Christ, to say the absolute least. You almost gagged at the sight – your own hands wrapped in dark leather, pressing into her, owning her.
“You’re quiet, aren’t you,” she observed, pulled back to cock her head to the side. Taking you in like a dinner-and-dessert.
“Not at all.”
A dubious brow quirked as she dared, “Prove it.”
Perhaps you did. Perhaps, though your clothes clung wetly to your skin, though Villanelle tugged and prodded at you, you kept all your wits and your clothes about you. Covered, safe. And you wanted to feel her, to touch her. To fling off your gloves and every inch of fabric and feel this thing wholly. You didn’t.
You let her hear you, though, and that wasn't nothing.
It was a crisis, of a kind.
An earthquake rocked as you wound your way down the coast, just out of Makarska. You almost missed it what with the rumbling of the engine, the rumbling of your head, the back of Villanelle’s hand against the side of your thigh. But then the car shook a little too wildly, Villanelle snatched back her hand to grip the wheel. A cracking, a dooming crunch – from the corner of your eye, you saw the cliffs moving.
An outcrop of bone-white rock towered ahead of you, prowling over the road. Close as a guillotine. You had to stop. You had to slow down.
Villanelle sped up.
The ground shook, the car wavered side to side, you sped up, faster and faster, Villanelle wasn’t smiling, she wasn’t not smiling –
The outcrop flashed over your head, and you were out the other side. Easing slower, Villanelle finally pulled over to the shoulder.
The shaking had stopped, too. You tipped your head from side to side, testing the stillness of the Earth, but that couldn’t shake the image from your brain – you and her, crushed beneath a mountain’s weight. Fallen through a crack in the world. You and her.
“You okay, Eve?”
Villanelle looked at you with that crease between her eyes. Wrinkled with care.
“Let’s just drive,” you told her, and she did.
And here came the aftershock:
That evening, Villanelle informed you that there was unfinished business.
You, of course, had no idea what she was talking about. You rubbed your back, the loose and crumpled folds of skin. You scratched at your scalp, your gloves coming away with snowy flakes. Oh, and you had already decided to get rather drunk and spend the evening on the tiny balcony burning through a pack of expensive cigarettes. Business could wait.
You knew exactly what she was talking about and by God, every emotion you’ve ever had has shown on your face like a warning to all – tonight was no exception.
You put down your beer.
“Show me your hands,” she said.
They itched, you clenched them tight, but she stepped right into your space and took up your wrists and it would be violence to refuse, now, wouldn’t it? It would be violent. She didn’t deserve that, not a second time.
So you allowed it. You let her lift your hands up to the light and stretch out your fingers, uncurling in points. She pulled at each finger of each glove, one by one, methodical. Each of you might’ve held your breaths as she slid off the first one, let it drop to the floor, but you also might’ve breathed out in unison when she tugged off the second.
You hated looking at your hands, the changes there, most of all. Gnarled, wrinkled, the skin darkening to black at the nails. And the nails themselves, so sharp they glittered.
“You’ve been hiding things,” she said, trailing her thumb over the back of your hand. So tender, gentle, like your claws couldn’t cut her open in seconds.
They could – you’d mapped out the arteries, essential membranes. And the scars on your back and your scalp were testament enough.
You couldn’t help it. “You see it?” you asked.
She dropped your hands. “Of course I see it. And – “ she paused, looking up, not meeting your eyes but instead lingering at some point over your shoulder.
“And?” you asked, not sure you wanted to know the answer. That you’d ever really be ready for it.
You hesitated, stopping her with a warning hand held out between you.
And it was absurd, really. You weren’t even human, did anything still matter? But you wouldn’t be you, if that were true. You wouldn’t be you if you didn’t itch, scratch, worry at every weakness, every open wound. And you had, have, weaknesses. You knew all about open wounds.
“Would you show me?” Villanelle asked, and she was polite about it. All this time and all this shit, the shepherd’s pie and the attempted murder and the lipstick and three hours in a car to the Forest of Dean when you could have sworn she could smell how wet you were and dear God the sound of her gasp when she came – and she was fucking polite. She asked nicely.
Something tugged in your chest, so soft and unbearable that you kissed her just to quiet it.
You kissed her and kissed her, and kissed her, and kissed her, and you let your hands go where they wished – up her forearms, around her waist, tracing the tendons tight up the length of her neck, the soft spot beneath her chin where you could fit a claw if you so wanted and she would look you down the barrel of your gaze while she bled out. And she kissed you back like she knew this, intimately. She took your wrists and led them, pressed the points of your claws in wide arcs over her back and gasped in that – same – way –
She paused, hands frozen in your hair. You froze with her.
“My, my,” she said, pressing her forehead to yours. Her fingers smoothed over your horns, flattening your hair around them and you knew she was testing the pads of her thumbs on the points. They were sharp. You knew she’d like them. “You’re a wicked one.”
You couldn’t help but agree.
“Take this off,” she said, dropping her hands to tug at your shirt. This was the big one, but you pretended otherwise. You made out like it was easy.
She beheld your wings like miracles. Like something from a dream – and perhaps they were. You didn’t see her dreams. She reached out to touch without hesitation. Taking for granted that you were already hers, the audacity. The arrogance.
You couldn’t suppress a shiver beneath her touch. Yeah, now you were even.
Once you noticed it, it seemed they were everywhere. You were everywhere.
On Monday, out the window you caught sight of tall man in a suit jogging to the bus, just barely juxtaposed over a much bulkier silhouette. On Wednesday, an elderly woman at the bakery, ahead of you in the line for a fresh loaf. Her wings were curled and wrinkled, blinking in and out of sight like a strobe. On Thursday, a man hunched behind the wheel of a sportscar, the sun glinting off of his horns.
Nowhere was safe, nowhere on Earth.
You weren’t sure, then, whether it was better to live in ignorance. You’re still deciding.
“There are others like us?” you asked her.
“There’s no one like us.”
“Like me, I mean.”
She glared at you like you’d insulted her mother. “There’s no one,” she insisted. “Nobody like you.”
“Oh,” you said. “Okay.”
And if you wondered why Villanelle’s fingers were manicured and perfect, why they didn’t curl into claws; why her back arched so delicate and smooth beneath your hands; why all that sprouted from her skull was that flowing hair you loved to tangle between your fingers – why, you’d never tell her.
Because there was nothing else like you.
“You are very pale. You need to eat.”
“I’m fine,” you insisted wearily, rubbing down your face with the heel of your hand. The exhaustion and nausea that had been building all day – you ignored it. This was something you weren’t able to simply scratch.
“You’re not.” Villanelle threw herself onto the couch beside you, deposited her legs over your thighs. It was so remarkably casually that she said, then, “We are the same, remember?”
“What does that mean?”
She curled her legs, sandwiching you against her with her knees. “I would like to go shopping once we get to Montenegro. My kind of shopping, you know – expensive shopping. So, I’m going to take a job.”
You grunted softly, closing your eyes so maybe your stomach would stop swimming in circles below your ribs.
Plainly, she asked, “Do you want to come with me?”
You didn’t know what you wanted. Well – you didn’t want what you wanted, or you didn’t know that you knew. Regardless, you went with her. Ostensibly, to watch.
It was an ominous location – a shipping port, like in the crime shows. Villanelle skipped ahead, apparently having caught of some movement between the containers.
But you paused, damned as always, and she didn’t wait for you. When you reached the crossroads where you’d watched her disappear, she was gone without a trace. Lost in her work.
You pulled your hands out of your pockets and then tugged off your gloves. They didn’t do much, anyway. Your claws had grown out of them days ago. You shuddered to look at them, black and shining and razor-sharp, but you felt marginally safer, at least. You could be fierce as anything else in this steel jungle, you pretended. You could be worse.
It was quiet. You wandered aimlessly through the maze, peering around walls of corrugated iron, but didn’t dare call Villanelle’s name.
Until you turned a corner and – your heart didn’t stop. But it certainly did something.
Villanelle looked up at you, which was unnatural in itself. She knelt between the man’s legs. A long knife at her throat. The blade was dirty, stained with someone else’s blood. This was the mark, and when he noticed you he frowned beneath a straggly beard and pulled back on Villanelle’s hair, exposing her naked throat.
You swallowed down – something. Anger, envy, maybe. Whatever it was, you knew the taste.
They each seemed to stare at you in the same way – Villanelle, and the man who had her at his mercy. The same depth behind their eyes.
You blinked and saw wings. Claws. Great horns, curved like a ram’s.
The man – the monster – he was like you.
You thought, fuck.
His eyes widened, followed by his grin. Those sharp, yellowing teeth.
“Are you going to help me, Eve?” Villanelle asked.
You rolled your eyes – she didn’t need your help, and both of you knew it. Both of you knew that you’d do it anyway. Because she asked so nicely.
You twisted your hands behind your back, testing your claws against the meat of your palms. Waiting for the moment.
The man looked between the two of you, and that smile of his was threatening to split his ugly face in two. “This is yours?” he asked you cheekily, tugging again on Villanelle’s hair.
You didn’t answer. It should have been obvious.
“That’s alright. We can do it even-like. What’s it they say – fight someone your own size?”
He gripped Villanelle around the neck – not like you would do it, and that’s what angered you most – and gestured at you with the tip of his knife. He wasn’t looking at his prey anymore. He was looking only at you.
“You and me,” he declared. “Winner gets her.”
He dropped Villanelle, and you moved. You didn’t even hesitate, and neither did she.
It was in the same moment – the same peak of a second – that you got your claws into the soft flesh of his belly, and Villanelle plunged his own dirty knife into his throat, and you each opened him up to the cold air, gore on concrete.
Neither of you stopped until after the blood stopped pumping. Until you each met in the middle.
“What did he mean?” Villanelle wondered later. “You are very short. Hardly the same size.”
You shrugged. “Dunno.” You never told her, you see. You never will.
Both of you like it better that way.
On your wedding day your mother told you, Love changes you.
You scoffed, batted away the hands that prodded at pins in your dress. She divorced your father, after all. What the hell did she know?
And you thought she was wrong, because it didn’t! All those years. White dress and King-sized bed and matrimonial home, and what did it do to you? Absolutely nothing.
You went home – not that home. You cleaned your claws in the ocean and then you walked back to your rental with Villanelle’s hand in your back pocket. You went home and you went to bed, no white dress, no clothes at all, and it was a Queen, actually.
You curled your hands around her wrists, pricked her skin just lightly, and in your palms you felt her heartbeat flutter like a bird in a cage. Much too delicate. Much too easy. She was alive and you could unmake it just like that.
Heat sinking to your toes, you pulled her mouth open for you. She kept her eyes open too through it all, wide and white to take you in. You were alive, apparently, and she made it just like that.
You hesitated, pretended to be taking a breath. Pretended not to be struggling with it. Like there was no itch at all.
She just looked at you. Until –
“What big eyes you have,” said Villanelle.
All the better to see you with, you didn’t say. You wouldn’t reveal that for nothing, that shining secret. You kissed her again instead, full and imploring.
“What sharp teeth you have,” said Villanelle. You bit her lip this time, her open shoulder, her thigh. All the better.
“What great wings you have,” said Villanelle, gritting her teeth around it.
And you raised those wings up, delighting in the flickering shadow they cast on the walls, and Villanelle gasped and tugged lightly on the ends of your hair and she was gone, and you were gone, and now there was nothing left but scraps but oh. It was a feast, too.
You were an awful, terrible thing.
You still are.
But Villanelle says, “I love you,” and no doubt she really is insane.
You flounder, you flail to hear it. Some part of you always tries to fill in the gaps. Surely there are some silent words on the end there – I love you…anyway? In spite? Because of?
Because you love her, too, and you love her anyway, in spite, because of – without condition, no more asterisks between you.
She bares her neck and looks at you through half-eyelids, and you know she’s angling to hear it said back. You beg her, plead with her, please – she must feel it in the skin-deep scratches down her spine, the way you tuck her hair behind her ears with the pads of your thumbs, so gentle it hurts you.
And – “Eve?” she says, seeking your echo, but you kiss her in full and don’t reply.
You aren’t that anymore.