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The Simple Truth

It was only the beginning of her shift, but Arlington already wanted to go home. She stood on one side of the hospital corridor, flipping through her patient’s charts with feigned concentration, intensely aware that every single other doctor in the area had positioned themselves as far away from her as possible. Even after seven years here, they didn’t trust her. She supposed they never would: it came with the territory of being a black widow.

She bowed her head, lifted her clipboard slightly higher so that no one could see her close her eyes. Just one minute of respite, that’s all she asked for.

“Dr Arlington? Can I consult you on my case?”

Arlington lowered her clipboard, irritated by the interruption. She looked around slowly, watched every nurse and intern in the vicinity scuttle out of the way, all of a sudden far too busy to meet her gaze. Dr Niall alone remained beside her, the little half-smile on his face too familiar, too obvious.

She put on her best scowl, but he didn’t flinch. “I’d rather you didn’t.”

Niall ignored the warning in her voice, even dared to wink conspiratorially. “Please?” he said, oblivious to the other nurses, to the scene he was making. “I’d like your advice.”

“Dr Wolls is your supervisor,” she replied flatly. “I recommend you speak to him instead.”

“But I would like an external opinion,” Niall replied as he took half a step closer, invading her personal space and sending her pulse racing

Arlington forced down the stirrings of hunger, looked away so that Niall wouldn’t see the reddening tint of her irises. The other nurses were beginning to point and stare; soon the hospital gossip mill would be alive with excitement and the staff would place bets on how long the relationship would last.

She straightened, swept a vicious gaze around the corridor that made everyone look away. Then Arlington put away the clipboard and eyed Niall with growing irritation, feeling her animal urges rise to the fore, hungry for his blood. He only smiled, still standing too close for comfort, as if he wasn’t afraid of her. How stupid of him.

“Follow me,” she snapped. Arlington didn’t wait, simply marched off down the corridor, past the long row of hospital beds, the screaming patients and harried doctors, her heels clacking firmly against the tiled floor. A path cleared before her without her even having to say ‘excuse me’ once; being a black widow had its benefits, she supposed.

She cut straight across the lobby, to the main entrance of the hospital: two large automatic doors with blackened-out windows to keep out the sun. The doors slid open and she stepped through into the cool evening air, striding over to the far end of the emergency bay, Niall hurrying after her. The ground here was littered with crushed cigarette butts, the concrete smeared with black ash like smudged kisses on the pavement.

Arlington turned to face the main doors, back stiff, alert for eavesdroppers, but the emergency bay was, for once, empty.

Now that she was out here…. Arlington took a packet of cigarettes out from her lab coat pocket, ignored Niall’s huff of disapproval as she put a cigarette between her lips and lit the end. A long draw, the smoke released slowly through her nose. The rush of nicotine helped dampen her urges.

“Well?” she said, when it became clear Niall would not break the silence. “What case did you want to speak to me about?”

Niall lounged back against the building wall, arms crossed in a vain attempt at manliness. Oh, he thought he was manly, but he was too young to pull it off, too clean-cut with his short, dark curly hair and baby-blue eyes. “You shouldn’t tie your hair back so tightly,” he said. “You look better with it down.”

It figured he’d like the dumb blonde look. Arlington took another drag, exhaled the smoke out of her nose. “You have until I’m finished my cigarette to talk to me about your case. Then I’m going back inside.”

“Not a case. Us. I wanted to talk about us.”

She froze, looked at him. He was earnest, serious.

“There is no us.”

“I know you want to keep it secret, but—”

“There is no us,” she repeated.

He pushed off the wall, angry now. “What was last night then?”

“I thought it was self-evident. Sex.” She threw her cigarette away even though it wasn’t finished, ground the stub under her heel.

But Niall wasn’t done yet. “And the night before? And last week? Are you really going to deny what we have?” His pupils dilated, his eyes darkening, and Arlington felt her own body rush to respond, excited by the hunt, the proximity of her prey. She edged closer, torn between the desire to kiss and to kill.

“I love you,” Niall said, completely shattering the moment.

The words were a punch to her gut. The declaration was so illogical, so impossible, that Arlington could only laugh. Nobody fell in love with a black widow. Nobody. And Niall was about to learn why.

Sometimes when Arlington thought of all the men she’d torn to pieces over the years, the men she’d chewed up and spat out and trampled all over, she felt a dull, hollow ache in the place her heart was supposed to be.

Other times she felt a savage, animalistic triumph. This was one of those times.

She stepped right up to Niall and placed her fingertips against his chest, over his heart, her nails digging into his skin through the thin material of his shirt. Her adrenaline spiked, and it was so very hard not to give in to impulse and tear into his flesh.

“You’re nothing to me,” she said, low and fierce. “You’re just prey.”

But Niall was shaking his head. “You want everyone to think that, but I know better! You’re not a monster, Arly—”

She pushed him, hard, kept pushing until his back was flat against the wall and he was pinned in place by her fingers against his chest. With her high heels on he was a little bit shorter than her, and she looked down at him, letting him take in the burning red of her irises.

“I killed a man once,” she finally said. “I cracked open his ribcage and ripped out his heart. The last thing he saw was my face, coated in his blood.” She let the words sink in, leaning closer as he trembled against the wall. He was scared, now: good. “Want to know what the worst thing was? I didn’t even feel sorry about it. I ate his raw heart and it felt good. It felt right.”

Even now, watching Niall’s terrified expression, a part of Arlington—the part that didn’t care about medicine, or curing people and healing pain—was filled with vicious satisfaction. This was why she had been born, what her genes were programmed to do: lure men in to their death.

“Love cannot exist between predator and prey,” she said, softly now, almost gently, moving closer so that only a breath of air stood between their bodies. “Never has. Never will.”

Niall could not look away, entirely under the sway of her pheromones now. “Y-Y-You’re hurting me,” he stuttered, slightly breathless, but he offered no resistance.

Arlington glanced down, horrified to discover that her nails had broken his skin. The front of his shirt was stained, five red fingerprints against the whiteness. The blood excited her. She had him trapped, and it would be so easy to dig her nails in just that little bit more, to drag him somewhere secluded and finish the job.

But she was a doctor first, and a black widow second, so she jerked her hand away, stepped back, moving downwind of Niall to clear the air of her pheromones. He blinked, blinked again, his hand raising up slowly to touch his chest as his senses returned.

“You….” He studied the blood on his fingertips in disbelief. “You almost—”

“I never want to see you again.” Her voice came out far calmer than Arlington had expected. She’d nearly slipped up, nearly ruined everything. If anyone in the hospital found out how close she’d come to killing him, her career was over.

“But—”

“You disgust me,” she interrupted. “Whatever we had is over. You’re weak and emotional, and have no discretion whatsoever.” And then she said the words she knew from personal experience would completely crush him: “You’ll never make it as a doctor. You should quit while you’re ahead.”

He crumpled, like she’d known he would, his shoulders sagging, every ounce of fight gone. It was almost too easy. He was six years her junior and far, far too naive, still unaware that life was one long struggle. She’d found that innocence charming at first, tempting, but now it only made her feel sick. He should have known better than to get close.

“Leave,” she said flatly. “Just get out of my sight.”

“I… I….” He clenched his jaw, nodded, and walked away, toward the hospital entrance.

Arlington stood still, watched his back until the main door slid shut behind him. Then she reached into her lab coat, fumbling for another cigarette. Her hands were shaking and she wasn’t sure why.

“That wasn’t very nice,” a voice said from behind her.

She turned around slowly to find Dr Rocque walking up the street towards the hospital. Her eyes travelled up his lean, lithe body to rest on his face. He was smiling faintly, but when it came to Rocque that meant nothing.

“Dr Rocque,” she nodded warily. Her eyes were still burning red—she could feel them—but it could’ve been anything: anger, excitement, happiness, or any emotion strong enough to get the adrenaline pumping. How much had he seen? Enough to get her fired?

He smoothed his already-pristine lab coat, rubbed his chin thoughtfully as he looked around the empty emergency bay. “Nice evening tonight, hm?”

“Quite.” Her eyes narrowed. What game was he playing at? The man was an enigma, always playing to his own agenda. She managed to light her cigarette, took a slow drag, trying to act casual.

Rocque walked past her, paused, looked back. “Dr Wolls isn’t going to be happy. You’ve lost him his intern.”

“Give him mine.”

“Excellent suggestion. Although we’re still short-staffed.”

Arlington looked up at Grace General, all harsh concrete edges and narrow windows. “When are we not short-staffed?”

“True. I suppose I’ll have to find another intern,” Rocque said idly. He glanced at her, his eyes crinkling into a smile. “A female one, preferably.”

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