Blood Stains, Ball Gowns

“We usually get lunch at the food court and eat it in here. And you can come here to listen to music and stuff on your break.” Kenny’s poorly-dyed black hair bobs up and down as he nods. “So… yeah. Do you have any, like, questions, or anything?”

“Uh,” says Eve. She swallows and looks around the tiny staff room at the back at the store. She wants to ask a question, but can’t quite think of one that would sound cool and knowledgeable. “What… kind of music?” she ends up squeaking.

Idiot. You’re supposed to know the answer to that already.

“Uh, whatever you think is cool I guess?” Kenny says. It sounds slightly scornful, as it should. He’s probably thinking that he wouldn’t have hired her if he’d thought that Eve didn’t already know what the right music to listen to in the staff room at Hot Topic was.

She’s not sure if she should be grateful or not that he probably can’t un-hire her now. Her finger twines around a tendril of her own hair, tugging at it and letting it bounce back. “Okay. Cool.”

“You’re going to be working the cash but since it’s a training shift, I’ll be around if you have any questions,” he says, and shuts the door to the break room. “And if any customers ask for help finding stuff, you know where everything is, right?”

Eve is about to say that of course she doesn’t know where everything is, nobody’s showed her around the store, and then remembers at the last moment that she’d said in the interview that she shops here all the time. “Yeah,” she says quickly. “No problem.”

He glances down at her pilled black leggings and the old baggy shirt she’d figured was the most likely, out of everything she owns, to not draw attention. “Also, there’s a twenty-five per cent staff discount,” he says.

Kenny is dressed in pants that are so big on his legs that he has to shuffle along the ground, his feet making swishing noises against the floor with each step as he drags his heels to avoid tripping on the hems. His shirt has the logo of what might be a TV show she’s supposed to know, or might be something entirely made up that is only there to trick people into thinking they’re supposed to know what it is. He’s probably at least eighteen if he’s a manager, so maybe he doesn’t even go to school any more, but Eve tries to picture him walking down the halls of her high school anyway. He’d be cute in jeans and a t-shirt, probably. As he is, he looks faintly comical, like a boy scout stuffed in a clown’s idea of a vampire costume.

At least working the cash register is familiar; she’d done that much last summer at Burger King. Kenny mostly stays in the staff room, and Eve finds she doesn’t have the chance to be asked for any directions by customers.

“I’m Elena,” says a girl who appears to be wearing a corset as a shirt. She leans over the counter, and for a moment Eve isn’t sure if she’s a customer or staff until she says, “I work the floor. I’m really good at getting people to buy things.”

“Oh. Great,” says Eve. She darts her eyes around the girl’s face, trying to avoid seeming like she’s staring down the front of the corset, It’s not exactly easy.

Elena grins. “See?” she says, and wanders off to talk to a group of intimidatingly attractive teenager who’ve just walked in, who she seems to know well. And she does in fact seem to be convincing them to buy things, although they probably walked into the store intending to do that anyway.

“What’re you, then, a temp on loan from Claire’s?” comes a voice, with a handful of pins scattered down on the counter in front of Eve. The guy buying them looks too old to be in this kind of store, but then, he seems to think he belongs here and Eve doesn’t, and so far she’d have to agree with that assessment.

“I’m new,” she mutters, ringing them up. She doesn’t bother looking at the slogans on them. She probably won’t understand any of them anyway.

She wonders if she should have gone back to Burger King instead. This was a stupid idea. She’d thought working here would make her cool, in some way. Like she could spend the summer here and have the coolness just rub off on her, effortlessly, and she’d return back to school in the fall a changed woman. But that’s clearly not going to happen, and at least last summer nobody had ever questioned whether she was good enough to sell them fries.

The time already feels like it’s passing like molasses by the time she gets a break in the middle of her shift, and there’s no way Eve is going to spend the scant fifteen minutes of reprieve in the tiny staff room with Kenny and the smell of ancient food court pad thai.

She walks to the food court slowly, feeling the tension of the past few hours release—temporarily– from her shoulders. She’s never liked shopping that much, or had enough spending money to do it recreationally; but she likes the mall. The throngs of people feel more like being alone than actually being alone does. She buys an enormous cinnamon bun, completely aware that she’s going to regret it in an hour or so when she’s back on her feet at the till and starving again. She sits down at one of the the swivelling stools along the edges of the long table at the perimeter of the food court, and stares ahead.

Across the wide, bustling hallway from the food court is Claire’s; the store that some asshole had asked if she was on loan from. She can see why the crowd at Hot Topic might think of that as an insult; everything inside it is either pink, purple, or covered in glitter. A row of stuffed animals with rainbow bow-ties and enormous, beseeching eyes is set up at the front of the store.

She watches as, underneath a sign in the shape of a flower hanging from the ceiling that announces “EAR PIERCING,” a kid holding a teddy bear slides herself hesitantly into a plastic chair. A girl who looks around Eve’s own age is cursorily wiping down a plastic table with disinfectant. Eve can hear the kid’s mom, with her hand on her daughter’s head, saying, “you’ve done this lots before, right?”

“Oh yes,” says the Claire’s girl. “I am an expert. Don’t worry.”

Eve takes a massive bite of cinnamon bun. The Claire’s girl speaks with a slight accent Eve can’t place, and somehow the way she said the word expert made it sound more like a taunt than a reassurance. She’s wearing tight jeans and a pink top cropped high enough to show off the fact that her belly button is pierced. She’s exactly the kind of cool and self-assured that Eve will never be.

It makes her feel a little better about applying to work at Hot Topic. At least, if she uses her staff discount, Eve figures she can probably eventually pull off looking cool in a depressed and unreachable way. She would never be able to mimic the way the Claire’s girl smiles to herself as she snaps on a pair of nitrile gloves with a flourish, how she leans slightly on one hip while peering at the piercing gun and loading it with a piece of jewellery. Nobody will ever look at Eve with the same combination of terror and awe that the girl in the chair is directing up at the Claire’s girl.

“Okayyyy,” says Claire’s, leaning down towards the kid. “Now don’t scream, okay?”

The kid nods, serious, and her mother bites her lip nervously.

The kid does scream. It’s loud enough to turn heads in the hallway and the food court, but everyone quickly looks away when they see the source. The kid is sobbing, trying to reach her hand up to soothe her ear while her mom pulls it away. She slips forward, feet reaching towards the floor from the chair that’s too tall for her, trying to get away. But she’s got one ear pierced, and Claire’s is still smiling to herself a tiny bit as she loads a second earring into the gun. The mom looks around for a moment, panicked, as if there might be some sort of backup coming to save her, then seems to make a decision and hauls her daughter back up into the chair. “Just one more!” she says, going for reassuring and landing miles off. “One more than then you’re done, and you’re going to look so pretty!”

Clearly, looking pretty is no longer particularly high on the kid’s list of priorities. She thrashes against her mother’s grip. Claire’s brings the gun to the kid’s other ear; looking, if anything, even more perfect and poised than before. Eve can see the movement of her finger at the moment she lets the jewellery pierce the skin, and the kid lets loose with another high-pitched wail.

Eve glances down at her phone. She has five minutes more of her break, and needs to allow time for wandering slowly back to Hot Topic. She stuffs the rest of the cinnamon bun in her mouth, then spends an embarrassing amount of time trying to chew and swallow it all without her cheeks puffing out like a chipmunk with too many nuts.

Most of her brain wants to skirt around the other side of the food court, and avoid walking in front of Claire’s. But it’s the dumb part of her, the part that can’t resist a dare even if its only from herself, that seems to be in control of her legs as she strolls leisurely around and starts walking down the hallway in front of the store, head swivelled to take in the aftermath.

The kid with the freshly pierced ears is huddled on the floor in front of a display of what appear to be unicorn headbands, her head between her knees. Her mother is stroking soothingly down her back, occasionally throwing appalled glances at the girl that Eve now thinks of simply as Claire’s.

Claire’s is pulling off her gloves, radiating the satisfaction of a job well done. They make a snapping noise as she catapults them into the garbage. Her hips sway as she turns to face Eve, who suddenly realizes she’s stopped walking, and is staring at Claire’s with wide eyes and god knows what kind of desperately uncool expression on her face.

“That was fucked up,” says Eve, for lack of anything better.

Claire’s eyes seem to faintly glow out of her face. She doesn’t quite wink, but she doesn’t need to. “I love the squealers,” she says.

Eve blinks once, then her phone chimes with the end of the break time, and she hurries away.
She’s thinking about it the entire rest of her shift; the way Claire’s had grabbed the screaming kid’s ear like it didn’t bother her at all. Or worse yet– or is it better yet?– like she’d actually enjoyed it. I love the squealers. It’s an absolutely insane thing to say, yet she can’t get it out of her head.

Eve rings through pants both way too large and way too tight, shirts with slogans calculated for maximum projection of not-giving-a-shit, and jewellery designed to look like safety pins artlessly shoved through various body parts. The kids buying it no longer seem so intimidating, though; after all, they’re just like Eve. They need to buy things to make it seem like they’re above the rest of the world.

Eve sees Claire’s’ face in her mind’s eye, and wonders what it feels like to actually be that way.

So maybe it’s the realization that everyone in here is a poser, just like her, that has Eve feeling actually cheerful by the end of her shift. She’d thought that being cool came effortlessly to people like Elena, but now she knows better. It’s all just a costume.

When Eve is done, Kenny goes on the till, and Eve spends five minutes wandering around the store, pulling clothes off racks at random. She brings an armful up to him, and Kenny nods approvingly as he rings her through. She hands over her debit card with a wince. It’ll eat up her pay for the next two weeks, even with the discount, but it’ll be worth it.

So it’s probably just his approval of her new clothing choices that makes him say, “Elena’s done too, and Maddie’s here early to help with closing. They’re in the break room. You should go hang out.”

All Eve really wants is to go home and have a proper dinner, but being cool was the whole point of working here, so turning down an invitation would be senseless. “Sounds great,” she mumbles. “I’ll be there in a minute.”

She goes back to the food court first, so that when she finally pushes her way into the staff room, she’s carrying a bag of powdered doughnuts. Even intimidatingly disaffected teenagers probably still respond to gifts of food, she figures.

“Ooooh, I really want to eat that but I can’t,” coos Elena, and Eve barely avoids rolling her eyes. She thinks for a moment she’s going to have a problem and end up eating them all herself, until Elena continues, “Will you share one with me, Maddie?” The pale girl with thick eyeliner that she’s forgotten about and trailed her hand through at some point in the day takes half the doughnut, and then another one, and then another. Eve slumps on the edge of a grey sofa that might not have started its life being grey, and tries to follow their conversation. It’s mostly about people Eve doesn’t know, probably the same regulars that Elena seemed to know as they wandered into the store all day, and partly about bands that Eve tries to make a mental note of to look up later.

She should try to contribute something to the conversation, she knows, but the longer it goes on with her saying nothing, the more impossible it seems. Her stomach roils with nerves. You’re fucking this up already. She tries to focus back in, find an opening.

“…and when he came in last week,” Elena is saying, “he had gotten a tongue piercing.” Her eyes are wide, slightly awed.

“Oh my god,” Maddie practically whispers. “I heard those hurt so much.”

“Can’t hurt that much,” Eve hears her own voice blurting.

Two faces swivel towards her. “And you’d know?” says Elena, and it’s partly scornful, but there’s interest behind it, too. Eve bites her lip.

She should probably back down. Just shrug and let the conversation move on right past her, like water flowing over a rock. She could say she has a friend who has one, and it didn’t hurt them that much.

“I’d do it,” she says instead.

Elena’s eyes are wide in her face. Maddie licks her lips nervously, eating into the dark purple lipstick slathered over them.

“Yeah, I’ll believe it when I see it,” Elena says, and that is that.

Eve can hear the blood rushing in her ears. She feels lit up in the way that she only does when her body seems to be making a monumentally stupid decision on her behalf. Her dad just calls it stubborn. She’d prefer to think of it as determined, but in this case, idiotic seems to fit the bill equally well.

She can still hear the pumping of her blood like the rush of the ocean when she shows up in front of Claire’s at closing time. The girl is vacuuming the back of the shop, and it’s insane how much Eve wants to just stand there and watch her vacuum. As if the blueprint to not giving a shit about the world in exactly the right way is somehow hidden in each of her movements, and could be extracted and extrapolated with careful observation.

“Hey,” says Eve. Claire’s doesn’t hear her over the road of the vacuum cleaner and, Eve now realizes, her own off-key singing.

“Hey,” Eve yells, standing on tiptoe a bit to stare over the display of scrunchies that she’s has disappeared behind. She hears the vacuum click off, and then Claire’s’ head pop up around the display. She’s beaming, pink lips open wide to reveal perfect white teeth.

“It’s you!” Claire’s says. She drops the vacuum, waltzing over like Eve is now the most important person in her personal universe. “You work at Hot Topic, right? Did you enjoy the show?”

She has a nametag on. It says “Villanelle” is a pretty, looping script with a heart replacing the dot of the i.

Eve opens her mouth to say that no, she hadn’t enjoyed the show of watching a kid be publicly traumatized, but then she stops. It’s not that she doesn’t want to offend Villanelle, whose name is so ostentatious that Eve would almost think she’d made it up if it weren’t for the fact that nobody is ballsy enough to just make up a new name when they start a new job. Eve actually kind of wants to offend her, some kind of morbid curiosity at what it would take to make Villanelle to stop having so much damn fun.

But on some level, she had enjoyed the show. She’d been thinking about it all afternoon, and now she’s back here. That’s pretty conclusive evidence.

“Will you pierce my tongue?” she says instead.

Villanelle cocks her head to the side. She seems surprised, which feels like a little bit of a victory.

“I’ll scream really loud,” Eve adds. “If you want.”

“You’d scream anyway,” says Villanelle. Her fingers twine around the ribbon of a magic wand on the display beside her. “It’s going to hurt like a bitch.”

“Is that a yes?”

“Give me your phone.”

Eve hesitates, and Villanelle holds out her hand and flaps it impatiently. “You will scream too loud and mall security will come,” she says. “We will go somewhere secret. Tonight. I’ll text you.”

“Uh– okay.” Eve feels faintly breathless, fumbling in her bag to dig out her cell phone. Villanelle looks at it for a moment, then flips the battered black case off of it and into the garbage. She skips off further into the store, Eve trailing after her hesitantly.

When Villanelle hands the phone back, it’s covered by a pink, sparkly case and the screen shows a new contact: simply the letter V, and a blue heart emoji. “Your phone is super old,” says Villanelle. “You’re lucky we even had any cases in stock for it. You should get a new one.”

My phone works fine and Did you just steal this? battle in Eve’s mind, until finally she just says, “See you tonight, then.”


Eve has never snuck out of the house before, which is maybe why it’s so easy. It’s not like the parents of a straight-A student who spends the summers working to pay for college prep courses are listening particularly hard for illicit noises on the stairs after midnight.

It’s nearly two in the morning by the time Villanelle texts; just a link to a dropped pin on a map, at the corner of a small park a few blocks away from the mall. Eve briefly considers riding her bike there, like she does to work; it’ll be faster than waiting for the night bus. In the end, she decides to wait for the bus anyway. She probably won’t feel like riding a bicycle after– well, whatever’s going to happen to her tonight.

So it takes almost an hour from the time Eve gets the text to when she steps into the darkness of the park, but she sees Villanelle immediately; she’s on a swing in the playground, looking that same odd mixture of childlike and threatening that she had in the store. She’s added some sort of light fur coat over the crop top against the chill of the night, and there’s a plastic bag on the ground beside her.

She jumps down off the swing as soon as she sees Eve. “You came!” she says, picking up the plastic bag. “I thought maybe you would be too scared.”

“It takes time to get places in the middle of the night.”

“You should get a car,” says Villanelle, as if getting a car is just a matter of strolling down to a dealership with your pocket money, like Eve hasn’t spent the past year studying for Driver’s Education and taking one terrifying practical lesson every other week. Eve wonders for a moment if Villanelle is the kind of rich kid whose parents gift them with a car for their sixteenth birthday; but then, that doesn’t exactly track with the fact that she’s selling sparkly trinkets for minimum wage.

“Do you have one?” she asks.

“I drive other peoples’ cars,” Villanelle says, and rolls her eyes exaggeratedly. “Insurance is so expensive these days.” She gestures to the see-saw. “Sit here.”

Anxiety lurches in Eve’s stomach. Somehow, the fact that she was going to see Villanelle again had eclipsed, for a little while, the thought of what was going to happen once she did. “Right now?” she says, and her voice sounds scratchy.

Villanelle raises her eyebrows. “Do you want some more time to get scared?” she says, even as Eve sinks down onto one side of the see-saw and lets it sink all the way towards the ground. “I can help. I’m very good at scaring people.”

Villanelle leans down, her face looming in front of Eve’s. She smells like perfume, not the cheap alcohol-bitter stuff that you can buy at the drugstore but something richer and more expensive. Eve remembers the phone case, and wonders if she’d stolen it. “No,” she manages eventually. “Now is good.”

“Good,” says Villanelle. She rummages in the bag. Eve expects her to pull out the piercing gun she’d used on the kid earlier that day, but instead, she sets down a long needle in resealable plastic bag, a barbell that is clearly destined to go in Eve’s tongue, and some clamps which, inexplicably, are the scariest-looking implement of the lot.

“Where did you get all that?” Eve asks. Villanelle just throws her a glance, holds a finger up to her lips, and Eve figures her suspicions about the phone case not being the first thing that Villanelle has stolen are answered.

She shouldn’t be here. She’s in a park with a girl who’s probably a juvenile delinquent, about to get pierced with a needle that she strongly suspects has been rummaged out of the sharps bin of a tattoo parlor. She should, at the very least, ask if Villanelle cleaned it.

She doesn’t want to. She’d wanted to become cool this summer, and Eve can absolutely recognize on an intellectual level that that’s a ridiculous goal that doesn’t even have any proper goalposts for evaluating whether it’s been accomplished. But just because she wouldn’t have been able to exactly articulate the person she was trying to become when she’d applied to work at Hot Topic doesn’t mean she doesn’t want. She does. She wants to stop being the kind of person that everyone knows everything about at a glance. She wants to have secrets and layers and depth. She wants stories to tell.

She shoves to the back of her mind the knowledge that all this is just dumb teenage hormones. Everyone else is allowed to just let go and be a dumb teenager, and when she thinks about it too hard, it makes her nearly incandescent with rage that somehow, Eve just can’t, like there’s a parking brake in her brain that other people don’t have.

Maybe she can’t take off the parking brake, but she sure as hell can slam her foot on the gas.

“Do you have any… mouthwash, or something?” she asks. “Isn’t the mouth full of bad bacteria and stuff?”

“You should have brought some vodka,” says Villanelle off-handedly, and at least she is wearing gloves, pulling them on dramatically just as she had in the store that afternoon. Again, casually assuming; this time assuming that Eve must have access to vodka, probably drinks it all the time.

If she were in the staff room at work, Eve would fake it; pretend that she gets drunk with some unspecified group of cool kids every weekend. But she’s not at work; she’s here, with Villanelle, about to get a second-hand needle shoved through her tongue, and maybe that means she no longer needs to fake anything. “I don’t think my parents even have any vodka,” she says. “Maybe a couple bottles of wine for nice dinners. That’s pretty much it.”

Villanelle doesn’t say anything for a moment, unceremoniously grabbing hold of Eve’s jaw with one hand. Eve opens her mouth, nearly shocked by the way the touch is both cold from the gloves and warmed by the skin underneath them. Eve thinks for a long moment that Villanelle isn’t going to answer, but then she grabs hold of Eve’s tongue to inspect it, and Eve is completely incapable of saying anything by the time Villanelle mutters, “Well, lucky you.”

Eve keeps quiet this time when Villanelle releases her head. This time it’s just nerves. She’s glad it’s been a while since dinner; her stomach is clenching hard enough that she suspects if she’d recently eaten a meal, she’d be worried about losing it all over Villanelle’s weird furry sweater.

“Okayyyy,” Villanelle says, and when Eve looks up, her eyes have the same strange fascinated light in them that they had watching the kid scream and try to escape from the piercing chair in the shop. She grabs the tongs from the bag and wipes them down with an alcohol wipe, and it should be slightly reassuring that there’s some sort of disinfectant involved, but it no longer helps all that much. Eve has the sudden, sharp burst of intuition that Villanelle might look exactly this way if she were doing something worse to Eve. Something Eve hadn’t asked for.

Which should be terrifying, and she’s too terrified of the clamps coming towards her face to tease out why she isn’t running away at the idea that Villanelle would probably look that exact same way with a gun in her hand.

Villanelle grabs her jaw again, and the clamp goes around her tongue; the ends are circular, such that they hold the tongue in place while creating an obvious area to put the needle through.

She’s distracted by the feeling of panic at having her tongue held painfully in place by the clamps, and barely notices at first that Villanelle is positioning the needle in the middle of the circular area defined by the clamps. Then she starts pushing, and a deep, sharp, wrong-feeling pain shoots through Eve’s head. She hears a strangled sound escape her, and her head tries to jerk away without her having consciously decided to run. But Villanelle just presses the clamps tighter, the pain of the pressure nearly equal to the pain of the wide needle slowly, slowly forcing its way through the thick muscle of her tongue. When it bursts out of the underside, Eve tastes a rush of blood.

The sounds she’s making are more like crying than screaming, and she hates that. Whatever primal part of her brain had been in charge of trying to get away has now given up, and she feels merely nauseous as Villanelle pushes the barbell into the hollow needle, and Eve feels the thing come to rest on her bleeding, tender tongue. Villanelle tilts her head, holds Eve in place a moment longer to admire her work, then steps back.

Eve has to spit out blood before she can say anything. It’s filling the bottom of her mouth, sloshing around revoltingly. She leans over and lets it dribble into the sand underneath the see-saw, thinking suddenly of the old-fashioned butcher shop her mother buys meat from, with the floors covered in sawdust to soak up the gore. She can barely even get it all out; for one thing, the blood is still coming, and for another, she had never noticed before the extent to which the act of spitting required the active involvement of the tongue gathering up moisture in the mouth. She can wriggle the tip of her tongue, if she tries, but that makes it hurt even worse than it already hurts.

“Wow,” says Villanelle, watching her drip onto the sand. “That’s a lot of blood.” She doesn’t sound upset about it.

“Fuck you,” Eve tries to say, and there’s real venom behind it but none of the consonants quite work. Ughooo, she ends up moaning.

Villanelle sits down on the see-saw beside her, making the thing tip a tiny bit. Eve wonders for a moment if she’s going to vomit, and the thought of stomach acid touching her tongue is enough to bring tears to her eyes.

When Eve finally looks up from draining blood into the sand, Villanelle is drinking undainty swigs from a flask. “You said you didn’t have any alcohol,” says Eve accusingly, angry enough that the words come out nearly intelligible.

“I didn’t say that. I said you should have brought some. This is for me.”

Eve just grabs the flask from her hand without any further comment. She has no idea what the stuff inside is, and it burns her tongue badly enough that tears drip down her face and then burns her throat going down.

The park is silent for a few moments; the kind of silence that is all the more encompassing for all of the sounds that contribute to it: the rustle of small animals in the bushes, passing cars a few streets away, the faint buzz of streetlamps lining the edges of the park.

Villanelle leans over, and one thin, manicured finger swipes underneath Eve’s eye, gathering the moisture there. Villanelle looks at it, as if she had to make sure that the tears are real. Eve swallows. What slides down her throat is mostly blood, so she leans over to drip into the sand again. She hands the flask back, and tilts her head to the side slightly to watch Villanelle drink. She looks perfectly at peace with the world, and somehow that both makes Eve want to slap her, and makes her feel oddly, quietly proud.

She lets her tongue loll out of her mouth, feeling the blood gather at the tip and then drip off. When she pulls it back in, it feels bigger than it should. A stab of fear hits her again. Pain she’d expected, and bleeding she should have expected. But she pictures going home, going to bed, and her tongue swelling up in her sleep and choking her. It’s not exactly a glamorous or cool way to die.

“Lend me your… sweater thing,” she enunciates as clearly as she can. “I’m freezing.”

Villanelle regards her for a moment. Then she pulls it off. “Keep it,” she says. “Your clothes are ugly.

The fur sweater is ugly too, but Villanelle had chosen it out, and somehow that makes Eve want to wear it around. Display it, like she could borrow Villanelle’s bizarre, inscrutable mind though her fashion.

Her tongue feels bigger than it had even a few minutes ago. She imagines suddenly what Villanelle would do if Eve started choking in front of her. Watch, probably.

The drip of blood on the sand, the faint buzz of streetlights, Villanelle’s off-key humming. Eve has no idea how long she stays there, hoping it will pass. That the blood will stop, and her arms and legs will feel less like they don’t belong to her body, and her tongue will stop growing slowly but inexorably inside her mouth. It doesn’t stop. It feels like forever, or possibly thirty seconds.

“I need to go to the hospital,” Eve says finally.

Villanelle glances down. She makes an impressed-looking face at the dark patch beneath the seesaw. “Woah. You’re supposed to keep the blood mostly inside your body, Eve.”

Eve wants to snap at her, but talking takes too much effort and pain to talk for it to be worth it. “You said you drove here? Drive me to the hospital,” she says instead.

“No way.”


“I don’t want you bleeding all over the car,” says Villanelle, as if that’s the most reasonable objection in the world. If it were anyone else, Eve would assume that they had been lying about driving a car in the first place. She’s not sure about Villanelle.

When Eve hauls herself up off the see-saw, the world spins and her knees threaten to buckle. Villanelle catches her, one hand holding her arm and the other around her waist. “Looks like someone had a little too much to drink,” she whispers conspiratorially, as if one swig out of her stupid flask is responsible for this.

“You’re an asshole,” Eve mutters. They wait for the bus at the edge of the park, and Eve only realizes that she’s forgotten to wipe the blood off her lips when she sees the driver’s horrified look.

Villanelle pays both fares, at least. “Vampire,” she says to the driver with a wink. “Over-exerted herself trying to feed from me. You should see the mess she made of my breast.” The driver quickly drags his eyes back to the road and pulls away from the kerb.


The bright lights of the emergency room make it feel like an entire different world. Eve wonders if that’s how it might feel to be buried alive in the cold and damp and dark and then end up in some fairy-tale idea of heaven, all bright sunlight and blazing trumpets. Except this version of Heaven sucks ass, because the bright lights hurt her head and instead of trumpets there are too many people talking at once, even at three in the morning, and a crazy guy over in the corner yelling at a nurse. “I need to sit down,” she tries to tell Villanelle the moment they stagger in. Her tongue has swollen even more during the bus ride, though, and it comes out completely unintelligible.

Apparently, though, she looks bad enough to the triage nurse that she doesn’t have to sit down in the waiting room at all. She’s led to a rickety bed propped up at the head end behind a cubicle of curtain, one of a row of curtain cubicles presumably housing late-night unfortunates like Eve. Villanelle trails behind. Eve sees her draw one of the curtains aside briefly, peering curiously inside, and nobody seems to be paying enough attention to tell her not to.

A nurse says “open” without even bothering to ask her what happened, apparently taking the crusts of dried blood at the side of her mouth as enough of a clue to be getting on with. She frowns for a moment, rubbing a gloved finger over Eve’s teeth. Oh. She thinks Eve got punched in the face, or something. Eve sticks out her tongue as far as it will go, which isn’t very far.

“Jesus!” exclaims the nurse, jerking her hand away. Then she peers in again. “Where did you get that done?” She hands Eve a cup as she speaks, and Eve dribbles more blood into it.

“Never mind,” the nurse mutters. “You’ve been bleeding like that for a while?” Eve just nods, and lies back against the elevated head of the bed with relief that she no longer has to do anything as the nurse pushes a needle into her arm and sets up a fluid bag dripping into her.

Villanelle is just standing by the corner of the curtain-room. For the first time all night, she looks slightly uncomfortable; like she was prepared for screams and blood, but the brisk competency of the ER bothers her.

“I did it myself,” says Eve. It comes out slurred, and sends pain shooting through her, but it’s intelligible.

The nurse flicks her eyes over Eve, and then over to Villanelle, who shrugs. “I tried to tell her not to,” she says sweetly.

Why the fuck did I say that, Eve wonders for a moment, but she doesn’t really have to wonder.

She just doesn’t want Villanelle to leave, and maybe that desire should be interrogated a little more closely than she’s willing to at the moment.

“Well, that was mighty stupid,” says the nurse. “Are you aware that there’s an artery in your tongue?”

“She is now,” says Villanelle, and there is a loud scraping sound as she finds a plastic chair somewhere just outside the cubicle to pull in. She sits in the corner, crossing one leg over the other like she’s watching a movie. She seems perfectly at ease again, which shouldn’t matter to Eve. It shouldn’t.

“Well, it’s going to have to come out, obviously,” says the nurse. “You’ll stay here until I’m sure the bleeding’s stopped, and you’ll be on antibiotics for a few weeks.”

“And smoothies,” adds Villanelle.

“And smoothies,” agrees the nurse. Eve closes her eyes, and wishes for a moment she could pass out. The room is very bright, and her head aches, but unconsciousness stubbornly refuses to overtake her. Instead, she opens her mouth and allows the nurse to wrangle the barbell out of her abused tongue. She spits into the cup God knows how many times, and accepts the gauze being shoved ungracefully into her mouth. She imagines that it feels cold when antibiotics are pushed into the IV line, but it’s probably just her imagination. Time stretches and contracts like kneading dough, and Eve is vaguely aware of Villanelle playing a game with loud sound effects on her phone.

Eventually, the sound effects become more irritating than the buzzing on the inside of her head, and she opens her eyes to glare at Villanelle.

Villanelle glances up. “You look like shit,” she says.

“You’re welcome,” says Eve. Her mouth feels dry, which is a significant improvement on how it felt before. “For taking the blame for this. I could have told her you did it. Get me some water.”

Villanelle scoots the chair to the edge of the cubicle. She leans back, balancing precariously on the back legs, until her upper body parts the edges of the curtains. She just yells the word “WATER,” then lets the front legs of the chair fall back to the ground and smiles beatifically at Eve.

“How long have we been here?”

“Couple hours. And it’s your blame; you asked me to. You drool when you sleep.”

Eve wipes the corner of her mouth self-consciously. That’s true, actually, even when she doesn’t have an excuse. “Thanks for staying.”

A different nurse comes in, throwing a nasty look at Villanelle, and hands Eve a paper cup of water. It tastes amazing; she’d never actually noticed before just how great water tastes in comparison to blood. “Any dizziness? More bleeding?” the nurse asks. Eve shakes her head, and the needle in her arm is briskly removed.

She and Villanelle are ejected from the ER with a professional coldness which Eve can’t tell if is due to the moronic nature of her complaint, or Villanelle’s shouting and snooping. Either way, it feels like they’re children being shooed out of the room where grownups are talking. The night air is cool and fresh and somehow feels the way the water had tasted; entirely new despite being exactly the same thing she’d always known. She stops outside the automatic sliding doors of the hospital and a sudden, hysterical giggle escapes her.

For once, she’s ahead of Villanelle, which strikes Eve as even funnier. The other girl glances over, and when Eve collapses into hysterical laughter, Villanelle’s face breaks into a smile too. Eve’s knees feel weak again, from tiredness and the aftermath of the evening’s adrenaline, and she almost wants to collapse right where she is, except a couple of bored-looking paramedics are pushing an empty stretcher with no particular urgency towards the door, so Villanelle pulls her out of the way and right into the line of bushes that line one side of the hospital entrance.

Eve’s back hits the brick wall, and twigs from the bushes tangle in her hastily pulled-up hair. She yanks on the elastic, letting it fall loose around her shoulders, and she’s still gasping with laughter when she feels Villanelle’s fingers in it, cool fingers against her scalp. “Your hair is amazing,” Villanelle giggles, and yanks a handful of it lightly.

“Yeah, but you try blow-drying it,” says Eve, and lets herself slide down against the wall until she’s sitting in the dirt, cocooned by the bushes in front of them and Villanelle’s legs. Villanelle drops to her knees, and Eve is certain she’s somehow going to make dirt stains on her pants look cool.

Another ambulance pulls up, this one with lights but no siren, and a patient is unloaded hastily from the vehicle through the doors. Eve is still giggling as she peers out at the scene. Someone could be dying on that thing, and she’s sitting here in the bushes with a girl she barely knows who’d shoved a dirty needle through her tongue and then taken her to the hospital. “This is insane,” Eve breathes.

Villanelle grabs her shoulders, and leans her head forward, and presses her mouth to Eve’s.

For a moment Eve is too shocked to do anything at all, and then Villanelle’s tongue pushes its way into her mouth, and she yelps and shoves her back.

Ow!” she says, a hysterical half-whisper. “My fucking tongue hurts!”

“I know,” murmurs Villanelle, and leans back in, and this time when her tongue slides in to feel around Eve’s mouth like it’s on some sort of exploratory mission, Eve allows it. It hurts like a motherfucker when the rough top of Villanelle’s tongue rubs against the exit wound on the bottom of Eve’s, but all she can do is make noises that sound mostly like she’s crying and clutch Villanelle’s shoulders, because the only thing worse than the pain in her mouth right now would be if this stopped.

“You taste like blood.” One of Villanelle’s hands is slipping down Eve’s front, underneath the fur sweater and over Eve’s breast and belly to the crease in the front of her hip.

“You’re a fucking psychopath.” Eve is entirely sure that it’s true, and yet she can’t think of anything besides getting more of Villanelle’s hands on her. She thinks she’d probably let Villanelle pierce her again, if that was what it took. Metal and flesh and screams and blood.

“You should never tell a psychopath they’re a psychopath,” Villanelle whispers. “Especially not when they’re about to go down on you.”

Eve’s breath catches, and then Villanelle is tugging insistently on the waistband of Eve’s jeans.

Eve isn’t inexperienced. Not exactly, not more than your average teenager, when it comes right down to it. She’s kissed boys at parties. One took her hand and put it over the crotch of his pants, and she’d kept it there for lack of anything better to do with it. He hadn’t seemed to know exactly what she should do, either, so that was all fine.

Villanelle doesn’t even inhabit the same planet as those boys. There’s no uncertainty, no time for Eve to even consider the fact that she’s going to be bare-assed in the dirt before her body seems to have made a choice for her and she’s lifting her hips up and helping Villanelle yank down her pants and underwear. They tangle around her ankles, and Villanelle just spaces one hand on each of her knees and splays them out as far as they can go.

Villanelle just stares at her for a long moment, like some sort of vital information might have been concealed beneath Eve’s underwear, and Eve stares at Villanelle’s face. She looks pleased, but then, Eve’s never actually seen her look not pleased. The cool air brushes against the inside of her thighs, and she should be embarrassed, half-naked in the bushes with an attractive psychopath staring in between her legs. The girl that Eve was trying to escape being when she walked into Hot Topic with a resume would have been embarrassed.

Eve spreads her legs wider. “Do it, then.”

Villanelle’s eyes flick up to her face. “You’re bossy,” she says. “Are you a psychopath, too?”

Eve doesn’t answer, and Villanelle leans down, her elbow in a small patch of grass, and licks squarely over Eve’s clit.

“Holy shit,” gasps Eve. She can’t help herself; she’s tried imagining this before, what it might feel like to have someone else’s mouth on her, slicking up her fingers with spit under the covers to try to imitate the sensation. This is nothing like her own fingers, though; it’s hotter and almost uncomfortably wet, like she might be dripping with it by the time this is done. Villanelle’s tongue goes first flat and then pointed, flicking and licking at her, and she lets her knees fall wider.

“Shameless,” mutters Villanelle, right against the soft skin of Eve’s labia.

A bubble of laughter that’s half a moan escapes Eve, and she pushes her hips up against Villanelle’s mouth. “I’m shameless,” she says. “Right. Okay.”

Villanelle sucks on two of her own fingers, then angles her hand palm-up and pushes them into Eve’s body like it’s her own, and she has every right to breach it without so much as asking. Eve slides down, her tailbone scratching against dry soil, giving her access. She can feel the fingertips pushing against her insides, like Villanelle is trying to touch her fingers to her own tongue through Eve’s body, and it’s all Eve can do to grab a fistful of Villanelle’s shirt and hold on.

“Fuck,” says Eve, “Fuck–” and then Villanelle somehow knows she’s coming, because she keeps her hand rubbing over Eve’s clit gently as she raises her head and stares right into her eyes like she’s hungry. Like watching Eve come apart in pleasure is second only to listening to her scream in pain.

And then Eve is sitting in the dirt with her pants around her ankles and Villanelle’s fingers in her vagina, and a loudly crying child is being led into the hospital just beyond the confines of the shadowed bushes they’re hiding in.

“Could you,” she whispers, “Please take your fingers out of me.”

Villanelle narrows her eyes. Then she pulls her hand away, and holds it up in front of Eve’s face. “Lick it off.”

What? No.”

“It’s your own body. Don’t be such a prude.” Villanelle raises her eyebrows, waiting. “And besides, you’ll get plenty of me in your mouth anyway in a minute, when you reciprocate.”

Eve grabs Villanelle’s hand and wipes it on her own jeans, instead. She almost wishes she’d chosen to wipe it off on the fur Villanelle had lent her, but she actually wants to wear that again, and isn’t at all sure that it’s machine-washable.

Villanelle is pulling down her fucking pants, and Eve splutters and yanks her own up. “I hope you don’t think I’m putting my tongue on you?” she says.

“Of course you are. I put mine on you.”

“You don’t have a bloody hole in yours.”

Villanelle runs her tongue over her teeth. She looks thoughtful. “If you really loved me, you would do it anyway,” she tries, somehow both wheedling and self-deprecating at the same time.

Even though it’s clearly a joke, the phrase really loved me makes Eve’s stomach jolt all the same. “I’ll… do you with my fingers?” She offers. At least that can’t be too complicated. Just do to Villanelle what she does to herself, and somehow ignore the fact that it’s Villanelle.

“Not good enough.” Villanelle squats in the dirt. She eyes Eve’s mouth.

Eve licks her lips. They still taste faintly of blood but now of Villanelle, too. Her tongue aches, but the pain has been overtaken by euphoria, like this entire night can’t possibly be her actual life.

It should end here. She should go home, and avoid Claire’s just as assiduously as all the other Hot Topic employees do, and never see Villanelle again. That would be safest.

“I’ll do it when it heals, then,” Eve says instead.

Villanelle goes very still. She almost frowns, for a moment, and then the expression is gone, wiped off her face like a, accidental mark on a chalkboard. Like she hadn’t actually considered that they might see each other again after this night.

“You have to come to the food court for your lunch break every day, then,” she says. “So I can make sure you aren’t cheating.”

“Fine,” says Eve. “Then you have to eat with me.”

“Fine,” says Villanelle, “Then you have to kiss me, in front of your store full of ugly, depressing clothes.”

“Deal.” Eve holds out her hand, and Villanelle takes it.


Eve is absolutely certain that the music in the store is at least twice as loud as it was yesterday. She can feel it pounding through her head, and the sore spot in the centre of her tongue seems to actually throb with it.

She doesn’t hate it, actually. It reminds her of how far she is from lunch, and that during her lunch break she’s going to go spend it with her– girlfriend. Or whatever. Whatever you’re supposed to call a psychopath who pokes a hole in you in the park and then eats you out against the wall of a hospital. Maybe there isn’t a word for that, yet.

“You okay?” Elena says, popping up beside where Eve is folding a pile of t-shirts. “You’re kinda quiet today. You look great, though.” Her eyes skim down Eve’s body.

Eve glances down herself, at the lacy black dress she’d bought with her employee discount, with the white fur on top. In the daylight, she’d realized that the fur is somewhat grey and matted; somehow, though, it feels perfect against her skin.

She could tell Elena, at least about the piercing. She’d probably get some sort of cool points for that, maybe even more so because she’d ended up in the hospital.

“Bit my tongue eating breakfast,” she shrugs instead. “Should probably just get a smoothie or something for lunch.”

“Oh. Okay, well, see you in the staff room on lunch break, then,” says Elena.

“I’ve actually got plans for lunch,” says Eve, and Elena’s eyes narrow in surprise, first presumably that someone as uncool as Eve might already have plans, and then to scowl haughtily at a trail of pink tulle flashing by the entrance to the shop. Eve nearly bursts out laughing, imagining the entire store’s reaction when they see an employee kissing someone dressed in that.

She’s going to find out.