Looking at him now, at that burning love in his eyes, I felt my heart torn in two. If I said yes, he would wrap me up again and make love to me. If I said no, he wouldn't - not out of spite, but because of what was honorable. This could be so easy. Say yes. Promise I'd marry him and take him now. I could fulfill my heart's longing, my body's longing, and keep my good standing with Hell. I could leave after we were married. Or, easier still, break off the engagement.
All I had to do was give him a dishonest "yes." Sex to him wasn't right without that. Really, it was a wonder he didn't insist on waiting until marriage. The commitment was apparently enough. He believed in me. He believed I was a good, honest person. If I said I loved him and would be true to him forever, then he would accept that. Just say yes.
But the words stuck in my throat. I couldn't lie to him. I couldn't let him find out how base I really was. And as his lingering life energy burned inside me, I realized I couldn't steal more from him. The guilt of what I'd done already was hitting me hard. It had only been the barest taste, but it had clipped time off of his life. And if I did back out of marriage after we'd had sex, he'd think what we'd done had been wrong. A sin. A black mark on his soul.
I slid out from under him and sat up. "No," I said. "I can't marry you."
His happy face remained unchanged. "It doesn't have to be now. And it doesn't even have to be...about this." He gestured to where I'd just been lying in the grass. "Like I said, we couldn't get married for a while anyway."
"No," I repeated, my heart sinking. "I can't...I can't marry you. Ever." I can't hurt you. I care about you too much. I can't take your light from the world.
He must have seen something in my face, something that drove home the truth of my words. That smile faded. The sun disappeared behind clouds. My heart broke. I hastily stood up, suddenly unable to look at him. What was wrong with me? I didn't know. All I knew was that I couldn't stay there. I couldn't stay there and see him hurting. If I did, I would start sobbing. As it was, I could feel tears starting to sting my eyes.
I hurried away but soon heard him coming behind me. Even after my rejection, he didn't sound angry. He was concerned, worried about me. I hated that even more. I wish I'd driven him into a rage. But, no, even something like this...it would hurt him, yet he would respect both me and my choice.
Which was why I had to stay away from him. Not just now, but always. I knew now that I couldn't be around someone I cared about. I couldn't stand the thought of causing pain to a loved one. I couldn't stand the thought of damning a good soul. Somewhere, somehow, after centuries of blithely harming others, I had gone horribly awry as a succubus. How? When? With Niccolò? Was it just the gradual sum of all the lives and souls I'd harmed finally taking a toll on me?
I was headed back for the hat shop. Bastien and I lived above it. I could still hear Luc following me, calling out to me that everything was okay. I knew if I made it inside, he wouldn't come barging in after me. He'd probably knock politely at the door but would go away if Bastien told him to.
I took a shortcut, cutting behind some buildings off the main road. I knew the way well, but it was dark now, limiting my vision enough that I didn't see the soldier until I ran straight into him. He was standing so still and so solidly that it was like I'd accidentally run into one of the building's walls. I bounced back, and he caught me by the shoulder.
"Easy there," he said. His French had a heavy German accent but was articulated well. "You'll hurt yourself."
He was a giant of a man, young and not unattractive. I couldn't quite tell in the fading light, but his uniform made me think he was an officer of some sort. He was smiling down at me and hadn't let go of my shoulder.
"Thank you," I said demurely. I tried to step back gracefully, but his grip was strong.
"You shouldn't be out here at all," he added. "It's dangerous. Especially with curfew coming." Curfew was nowhere near coming, despite the darkening sky. He looked me over as he spoke. My skirt had fallen back into place while running, but several buttons on my blouse had come undone with Luc and hadn't been fixed. It provided a pretty good vantage on my bra and cle**age.
"My house is just over there," I said. "I'll just - I'll just go now."
The hand on my shoulder stayed locked where it was, but his other hand had slipped through the opening in my blouse and was tracing the shape of my breast. Great. After all the deep and traumatic revelations I'd had tonight about the cursed life of a succubus, the last thing I needed was a Nazi feeling me up.
Scratch that. There was something worse.
"Let her go."
Luc's voice rang out behind me, and I winced. I'd hoped I'd lost him in the chase, but if he had seen me coming in this direction, he could have made a pretty good guess about which path I was taking home.
"Walk away," said the officer. "This has nothing to do with you."
Luc's fists were balled up. "Let her go," he repeated. "I won't tell you again."
The officer laughed, but it was a harsh, terrible sound. "You won't tell me anything."
I tried my best to peer at Luc while still in that hard grip. "Go," I told him. "It'll be all right. I'll be okay."
"Smart girl," said the German.
Luc lunged at him, and I was shoved out of the way as the two men grappled with each other. I stared in horror. Everything happened so quickly that my brain barely had time to even register what I was seeing. Luc was strong and fast, but the other guy was huge - and had a knife. I saw it flash briefly in what light was left, and then Luc's body went rigid. The officer stepped back, jerking the blade out of Luc's stomach as he did.
I shrieked and tried to run toward him, but the Nazi's arm stopped me, grabbing hold of me once more. Luc's hands clutched at his stomach as blood flowed from it. He looked down at it in disbelief, like he was waiting for a punch line to reveal itself, and then he collapsed to the ground. I tried again to break free of my captor but couldn't. Luc's eyes gazed up at me, though his lips couldn't form any words as he lay there in that terrible agony, the life pouring out of his body.
"There," said the German officer, pulling me so that I was pressed against his chest. His knife had disappeared to wherever it had come from, and the hand that had held it - the hand that had stabbed Luc - was reaching under my shirt again. "Now there are no more distractions."
I heard Luc make a strangled sound as the officer ripped open the last of my buttons. Enough of my numbed shock wore off that I remembered I could fight back here. I could shape-shift to twice this guy's size and -
Thunk. The Nazi's head lurched forward as something struck him from behind. His hold on me released, and he fell to the ground unconscious. Bastien stood behind him holding a hat block: a heavy, rounded wooden object used for constructing hats.
"I'd know your scream anywhere," he said.
I had no time for his joking or to offer thanks. I dropped to my knees beside Luc and pulled off my blazer, frantically trying to use it to stop the bleeding. He was still conscious, and his eyes were on my face, still full of that hope and love that was so characteristic of him. Bastien knelt beside me, face solemn.
"No human medicine can fix this, Fleur," he said quietly.
"I know." I'd known as soon as I'd seen Luc fall. It was why I hadn't sent Bastien to get help. "Oh God. This can't be happening."
"It's...all right." Luc's words were barely audible, and I had a feeling he was choking on blood. "You're safe...all that matters..." He coughed again, and this time I did see blood near his lips.
"No, no," I said. "It wasn't worth it. It wasn't worth it. None of this should have happened!"
It was my fault. All my fault. Luc had come to save me from the German. I'd run into the German because I'd fled from Luc. And I'd fled from Luc because I'd suddenly latched on to a moral high ground and refused to have sex with him. If I'd just given in...if I'd just said I'd marry him and taken him like a succubus should have, this never would have happened. We would have been lying in the grass right now, naked in each other's arms. Instead, he'd died in this alley because of me, because of my weakness. I was a succubus who'd tried to act human - and I'd done a shitty job at both.
Luc was beyond speech now. Everything was said with his eyes as he gazed at me, like I was some angel sent to carry him home. Bastien nudged me.