I’ve been trying to get back in the saddle so to speak of writing every day, or most days, and this is a chunk of a story that’s been spooling out of be in a very non-linear, disorganized fashion. And I’m curious to hear some feedback.

“You wanna know what your big dark secret is?”

“Tell me.” Callum says from his perch in the corner, something dangerous glinting in his eyes even though he looked beat to shit.

“It’s not all the violent shit you’ve done, you wear that darkness like a big fuck off shroud. Darcy Callum, approach at your own risk. But somehow, in spite of all that, in spite of the training and the programming and the desensitization, you’ve still got this big, bleeding heart tucked away deep inside of you.”

“Ava…” he warned, looking like he’d been cornered even though she sat on the bed halfway across the room with her elbows on her knees and showing no signs of moving.

“What? It bothers you that someone can see past all the Aegis smoke and mirrors?” She said with an arched brow, waving vaguely in his direction.

He was shaking his head, looking down at the threadbare carpeting. “You have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“So you like to keep telling me.” The words crackled between them as she watched Callum trying to disappear behind a mask of blank neutrality. The silence dragged out. She’d wait him out all night if she had to.

“You should get some rest,” he said after several long minutes ticked by, not quite meeting her gaze. His voice was quiet, but lacked its usual warmth.

“Not tired,” she fired back stubbornly, quickly dismissing the dodge for what it was.

Callum let out a long suffering sigh, shooting her a hostile glare. For someone who knew every which way to push people’s buttons, he certainly didn’t handle having his own pushed.

“You’re impossible. I need some air.” He stood with the fluid grace Ava had come to admire and took three quick steps to the door.

“I knew exactly what you were the moment I met you,” Ava said over her shoulder, making him stop dead.

Callum turned slowly on his heel. “Why?”

“Why what?”

“All of it.”

Ava twisted around to consider him. The careful mask was slipping as his steely eyes bore into her, demanding answers he might not be ready to handle.

“I…” She cleared her throat and tried again. “There was something in the way you looked at me that – It made me think, ‘here’s someone who’ll finally understand me, the real me.’” She took a wavering breath and smiled weakly up at him.”You’re the first person who’s even made me feel safe. Do you know what that’s like?”

“Don’t. Don’t say that.” Callum’s eyes were screwed shut and his face turned away from her. “You shouldn’t be able to stand being in the same room with me. Do you know how many atrocities I’ve committed against people like you without even blinking, without even stopping to think about it? Hell, without even waiting to be ordered to do it.”

“Probably as many as I have,” Ava said quietly. The air in the room went cold as Callum’s eyes snapped to her face. “You treat me like I’m this delicate spring flower still fresh and new in the world, but you barely know me. You barely see me. My hands aren’t any cleaner than yours.”

The space between them was electrified as she stared him down. Ava pulled a knife out of her pocket and flicked it open. WIthout further warning, she dug the tip of the blade into her opposite wrist.

“What are you –” Callum’s eyes bulged and he jerked like he wanted to grab the knife out of her hand, but stopped himself. She slowly drew the knife down, making an inch long incision. Care not to cut to deep or too quickly, not because the blade wasn’t sharp enough – it cut through her so cleanly that the pain barely registered, but because it was something to focus on instead of the storm of denial and realization flashing across his bruised face.

“I was built in a lab to be a single-minded weapon. The next evolution of warfare – the ultimate deterrent.” She shook her head at that thought as she delicately extracted a data shard from her flesh. “That file you have on me is all bullshit to cover ___________’s tracks. Everything about what I really am is on here.”

She held out the data shard with her injured hand, blood dripping onto that tired, world-weary carpet. Callum flinched, his eyes slowly tracking from her face to the thin storage device. His hand twitched, but otherwise he didn’t move.

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