Sighing, I nodded and stared at the door. Suddenly I felt unable to move.
"You can do this," Carter said gently.
Nodding again, I turned the door handle and stepped inside. Seth's condo looked much the same as when I'd last been here, the kitchen still bright and cheery, the living room lined with boxes of unpacked books. Faint music drifted from the bedroom. I thought it was U2, but I didn't recognize the song. Moving toward the sounds, I reached Seth's bedroom, pausing in the doorway, afraid to cross the threshold.
He was in bed, half sitting up, propped up by pillows. In his hands he held The Green Fairy Book, looking to be about a third of the way through it. He looked up at my approach, and I nearly sagged in relief to see how much better he looked. His color was back, his eyes bright and alert. Only that facial hair looked ragged and unkempt, the result of no shaving for a week, I guessed. That answered my question about whether or not Seth had maintained the thin, neat beard on purpose.
He reached for a remote on the bedside table and turned the music off. "Hey."
I took a few more steps into the room, afraid to get any closer. "Do you want to sit?" he asked.
"Sure." Cady and O'Neill's faces scrutinized me from the bulletin board as I brought a chair alongside Seth. I sat down, looked at him, and then looked away, unable to handle the depth of those amber-brown eyes after seeing into his mind.
Our old silence fell between us, the progress we'd made in conversation banished to the winds. Seth would not take the lead this time. As Carter had observed, the writer was waiting for me. I looked back up, forcing myself to meet his eyes. I had to do this. I had to do the explaining here, but I balked at it. It was ironic, I thought. Me, who half the time didn't know when to shut up. Me, famed for always having some catchy quip at the ready.
Knowing it would never get any easier, I took a deep breath and let it all out, conscious of the weight of heaven at my back and the hell I'd just consented to stretching out before me.
"The truth is... the truth is, I don't really work in a bookstore. I mean, I do, but that's not really why I'm here, what my purpose is. The truth is that I'm a succubus, and I know you've probably heard of us before - or think you've heard of us before, but I doubt what you've heard is correct..."
On I went. I told him. I told him everything. The rules of the succubus lifestyle, my dissatisfaction with it, why I wouldn't date people I liked. I told him about other immortals, angels and demons walking among us. I even explained about nephilim, hinting that Roman's presence in my apartment had been part of a lure on my part, but mostly skimming over the embarrassing circumstances Seth had found us in. On and on, I talked, not even knowing what I said half the time. I only knew I had to keep talking, keep trying to explain to Seth that which defied explanation.
I finally reached the end, my stream of discourse exhausted. "So. So, I guess that's it. You can believe it or not, but the forces of good and evil - as humans perceive them, at least - are alive and well in the world, and I'm one of them. This city is filled with supernatural agents and entities; humans just don't realize it. It's probably just as well, really. Otherwise, if they knew too much about us, they might find out how pathetic and f**ked up our lives actually are."
I shut up, thinking if Seth hadn't seen what he had already seen, he probably would have thought I was crazy. Hell, even after it all, he still probably thought I was crazy. He would be justified. Those brown eyes weighed me and my words in silence, and an annoying wetness welled up in my own eyes. I looked away to hide it, blinking rapidly, because while succubi might be accused of doing all sorts of bizarre things around mortal men, I was pretty sure crying wasn't one of them.
"You said... you said you used to be human." He spoke the words awkwardly, no doubt trying to grasp the whole concept of mortal and immortal. "How then... how did you become a succubus?"
I looked back up at him. I could refuse him nothing in that moment, no matter how painful.
"I made a bargain. I told you before that I was married... that I had cheated on my husband. The consequences of that were... not pleasant. I traded away my life - becoming a succubus - in order to repair the damage I had caused."
"You gave away eternity to fix one mistake?" Seth frowned. "That doesn't seem equitable."
I shrugged, highly uncomfortable with the topic. I had never spoken of it to anyone. "I don't know. It's done."
"Okay." He shifted slightly in bed, the soft swishing of fabric the only sound between us. "Well. Thanks for telling me."
I recognized a dismissal when I heard one, and it dug into me like a blade. That was it. Done. Seth was through with me. We were finished. After everything I had told him, there was no way things could return to how they'd been, but really, wasn't that for the best?
I hurriedly stood up, suddenly not wanting to be there any longer. "Yeah. Okay." I moved toward the door, suddenly pausing to look back at him. "Seth?"
"Do you understand? Why I do what I do? Why we can't - why we have to - " I couldn't finish the thought. "It's impossible. I wish it were different..."
"Yeah," he said quietly.
Turning, I fled his condo for my car. When I got into it, I buried my face into the steering wheel, sobbing uncontrollably. After a few minutes, gentle arms wrapped around me, and I turned toward Carter, crying into his chest. I'd heard reports of people who had angelic encounters, witnesses talking about the peace and beauty experienced by such moments. I'd never given any of it much thought, but as minutes passed, the terrible pain in my chest abated, and I grew calmer, finally lifting my head up to look at the angel.
"He hates me," I choked out. "Seth hates me now."
"Why do you say that?"
"After everything I just told him..."
"I suspect he's troubled and confused, yes, but I don't think he hates you. Love like that doesn't turn to hate quite so easily, though I'll admit the two intertwine sometimes."
I sniffled. "Did you feel it? His love?"
"Not like you did. I sensed it, though."
"I've never felt anything like it. I can't match that. I like him... like him so much. Maybe I even love him too, but not in the same way he loves me. I'm not worthy of that love."
Carter made a soft, chastising click. "No one is beyond being loved."
"Not even someone who just agreed to spend the next century hurting humans, corrupting souls, and leading them to temptation and despair? You must hate me for that. Even I hate me for that."
The angel watched me, expression steady and calm. "Why did you agree then?"
I leaned my head back against the seat. "Because I couldn't stand the thought of me... of that love being wiped out of his head... of not being remembered."
I turned toward him, hardly surprised at anything anymore. "How much do you know about me?"
"Enough. I know what you got for becoming a succubus."
"I thought it was the right thing then..." I murmured, my mind's eye turning to a faraway time and place, another man. "He was so sad and so angry at me... he couldn't go on, knowing what I'd done. I just wanted to be blotted from his mind forever. I thought it would be better if he - if everyone - forgot about me. Forgot I'd ever existed."
"And now you don't agree?"
I shook my head. "I saw him... years later, when he was an old man. I shape-shifted to the form he'd known me in - that was the last time I've worn that face, actually - and approached him. He looked right past me, though. Didn't know me at all. The time we'd had together. The love he'd had for me. All gone. Gone forever. It killed me. I felt like one of the walking dead after that.
"I couldn't let that happen. Not again. Not with Seth, after experiencing what he felt for me. Even if that love is ruined... marred by what he thinks of me now. Even if he never speaks to me again. It's still better than that love never having existed at all."
"Love is rarely flawless," Carter pointed out. "Humans delude themselves by thinking it has to be. It is the imperfection that makes love perfect."
"No riddles, please," I told him, suddenly feeling tired. "I just lost the one person I might have loved again after all these years. Really, truly loved too. Not just pure excitement either, like with Roman. Seth... Seth had it all. Passion. Commitment. Friendship.