Killing Eve: Resurrection (1)
The first instalment of a new Killing Eve story, published exclusively on Substack
Oxana stirs. She's lying against Eve, facing the shoulder that Eve has drawn forwards, as if folding a wing around herself. Their bodies are close enough for Oxana's breath to agitate Eve's hair, and for her to smell the warm, biscuity smell of Eve's skin. Eve's an uneasy sleeper, drifting precariously on the tide of night. Sometimes she speaks, voicing half-formed questions that trail into silence. Now though, in the Sunday morning quiet, with the early sunlight showing between the curtains, the rise and fall of her breath is calm.
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Oxana moves forward, so that her nose is pressed to the warm furrow at the base of Eve's skull, and her lips are against the nape of Eve's neck. She touches her tongue to a tendril of fine hair, takes it between her teeth, and tweaks it. 'Mmm,' Eve protests, shifting weakly against the pressure of Oxana's body. Oxana pulls harder, then opens her mouth and bites Eve's neck. Gently at first, but then tightening her grip so that Eve sighs, and her back arches, and she whispers: 'Babe, stop.' But Oxana does not stop.
She trusts me. She knows what I'm capable of, and still she trusts me. Konstantin, my former handler, used to chide me for my recklessness, for the chances I took in the execution of my kills, but I never did anything as wild as offering myself, night after night, to an apex predator. She tells me she loves me, and I murmur yes, my pchelka, I love you too.
Of course, I'm good with language. Brilliant, actually. My love, my detka, my sweet girl, my Eve. I deploy these words easily, and seeing her eyes soften, part of me is convinced that I mean them. She trusts me. She knows what I am, and still she trusts me. She bares her throat to me, allows me to part her feathers. She's my pigeon, my prey.
The apartment is on the fourth floor of an anonymous, apricot-coloured block in St Petersburg's western suburbs. It overlooks a four-lane highway beyond which the expanse of the Gulf of Finland extends to the horizon. At the rear of the building is a small park, once part of the estate of a Grand Duke. There's an ornamental garden, a long-dry fountain, and a ruined greenhouse overrun with bindweed.
Oxana runs here most days, following the paths beneath the spreading chestnuts. It's June now, and the overgrown lawn is dotted with daisies and wild violets. She's tempted to lie down on the grass, to close her eyes and simply breathe the scent of the summer morning. But she has to keep going, to maintain her endless shark-like patrolling. It's when you feel safest, Konstantin used to say, that you're in the greatest danger.
Alongside the highway Oxana pushes herself harder, and as she lengthens her stride, her breathing settles into a four-count rhythm. Warm air streams to right and left of her, supporting her like an oncoming wave. She's a goddess, a huntress, Artemis running with her hounds. She's on the road bridge now, her Nikes pounding the ironwork. Eve was tight-lipped when she saw the cost of the imported shoes, but Oxana didn't care.
I put up with so much that is third-rate. Like the furnishings in the flat. Thin curtains, threadbare carpets, the sofa that emits a gust of ancient fart when you sit on it. And the bed. Like something from a porn set. These things infuriate me. Given half a chance, I would burn the place to the ground. I deserve better. The best, like I had in Paris.
Everything's so much easier for Eve, because she basically has no taste. When we're shopping for clothes, I'm constantly steering her away from disastrous choices. 'But it's such good value,' she protests, clinging to some drab horror, and I tell her that if she goes ahead with the purchase I will move out forever and she will die alone and unloved, and finally, reluctantly, she shoves the hanger back on the rack. Because deep down she's terrified of suffering just such a fate. She's told me so while lying in my arms, and I use the knowledge to torment her. Cruel, I know, but she's my creation. Mine to hurt as I choose.
Oxana comes to a halt by the sea. There are no ships on the horizon, no birds in the air, just a vast, grey-brown emptiness. The only sounds are the whisper of traffic on the highway, and the hissing of shingle as the small waves break and recede. She stands there, a faint breeze cooling her sweat-damp arms and back. The flat sky, the featureless vista, the endless regularity of the waves; all this seems to mirror her life.
For eighteen months now, following the assassination of the Russian and American presidents at the Bolshoi Theatre - a brilliant coup executed by Oxana and engineered by Vadim Tikhomirov, who succeeded the murdered Valery Stechkin as president - she and Eve have been lying low, leading barely visible existences under false identities. In that time, while Eve has been working for an online translation bureau, Oxana has almost completed a linguistics degree at St Petersburg University. Every month a modest sum is paid into their joint bank account, in return for the parts they played in the president's ascent to power. Bound by domestic routine, the couple's lives have been uneventful, and the fearful strain of the previous year's events has begun to fade from Eve's eyes
Oxana has taught herself chess. Hyper-competitive in all things, she's taken to the game with a vengeance. She watches tutorials for hours on end, immerses herself in classic texts by Silman, Kasparov and Alekhine, and plays late into the night, clawing her way up the online rankings as RedQueen666. It's an escape from the tedium of her days. Oxana is bored by undergraduate life, and profoundly unimpressed by her fellow students. Hair-trigger Galya, forever taking offence, Olga with her smug veganism, Andris with his insufferable virtue-signalling. They're spoilt children; not serious people at all.
Oxana has managed to keep her frustration under control, but now that the winds of spring have given way to the warm scent of lilac, a kind of madness has overcome her. She wants a whirlwind to roar through her life, and she wants to be that whirlwind. Lowering herself to the beach, she holds a plank position until her abdominal muscles are screaming, and then plants her fists in the stones and punches out a hundred press-ups. Standing, she picks shards of broken shell from her knuckles, licks the blood off, and jogs back towards the road.
She sees them a second or two before they see her. A man and a woman, sitting on a stone tomb in the park. He's lean and dark and thirty something, she's older, and almost translucently pale. There's an air of expectancy about them, a coiled poise. Neither moves, but their gazes lock on to Oxana, and she's suddenly certain that these are not civilians, not ordinary people at all, but inhabitants of the mir teney, the shadow world of kill and counter-kill. In that moment she feels relief. The time had to come, and now it is here.
The woman holds out an engraved card. APOKALIPSIS. An address on the Griboyedov Canal Embankment.
'A club?' Oxana asks.
'More than a club,' the man says.
The woman smiles. 'It's very exclusive. You'll feel right at home.'
'Exclusive means gangsters and prostitutes,' Oxana says, meeting her gaze. 'Not my scene. Sorry.'
The man inclines his head. 'It's not that kind of place. It's discreet. Invitation only.'
'So why me?'
He shrugs. 'Instinct?'
'Plus,' the woman says. 'You might enjoy yourself.'
'Oh really?' Oxana feels her calf muscles stiffening.
'Just come,' the woman says.
Oxana pockets the card with a shrug, and jogs towards the park's exit without looking back. Her stride is unhurried, but her mind is racing.
There are a thousand reasons I can't tell Eve about this invitation. She'd say don't accept, it's dangerous, an obvious trap. She'd view my wanting to go as a betrayal, even though she must have been expecting something like this, because she's far too smart to think that what we have here - the flat, the domestic routine, the whole happy-ever-after - is anything other than a mirage. The truth is that I have no choice. The game, whatever it is, is already underway. Sorry, baby.