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Succubus Shadows Chapter 15

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It was 1942, and I was in France.

I didn’t want to be in France. I hadn’t wanted to be there for the last fifty years, yet somehow, Bastien kept talking me into staying.

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There was also the small fact that our supervising archdemon didn’t want us to go. He liked the way we worked together. Incubus-succubus teams were hit or miss sometimes, but we were exceptional, and our superiors had taken note. It was good for our hellish careers but not for my morale.

Bastien didn’t see what my problem was. “Hell doesn’t even need us here,” he told me one day, after I’d complained for like the thousandth time. “Think of it as a vacation. Hordes of souls are being damned here every day.”

I walked over to the window of our shop and peered out onto the busy road, pressing my hands against the glass. Bicyclists and pedestrians moved past, everyone needing to get somewhere and get there fast. It could have been any ordinary weekday in Paris, but this was no ordinary day. Nothing had been ordinary since the Germans had occupied France, and the scattered soldiers in the street stood out to me like candles in the night.

Bad simile, I thought. Candles implied some kind of hope or light. And while Paris had fared better than most people realized under Nazi rule, something in the city had changed. The energy, the spirit…whatever you wanted to call it, it had a taint to me. Bastien said I was crazy. Most people were still living their daily lives. The food shortages weren’t as bad here as in other places. And after shape-shifting into Aryan nation poster children with blond hair and blue eyes, we were more or less left alone.

Bastien was still going on about my glum mood while he moved about and straightened hat displays in my periphery. He’d chosen millinery as his profession for this identity, one that worked well for meeting well-to-do Parisian women. I played the role of his sister – as I so often did in other scenarios – helping with the store and keeping house for him. It was better than dance halls or brothels, which had been our previous occupations in France.

“What about your friend?” Bastien asked me slyly. “Young Monsieur Luc?”

At the mention of Luc, I paused in my dejected assessment of the world outside the hat shop. If I was going to talk about candles in the night, then Luc was mine. A real one. He was a human I’d met recently, working with his father – a violin maker. Their trade had suffered even more than ours, as the market for luxury items shriveled in these lean times.

But Luc never seemed to let their financial woes affect him. Whenever I saw him, he was always cheerful, always full of hope. The weight of so many centuries of sin and darkness were starting to take their toll on me, and being in Paris only made it worse. Yet, Luc was a wonder to me. Being able to look at the world with such optimism, with such conviction that good would prevail…well, it was a foreign concept. One I was intrigued by. I couldn’t stay away from it.

“Luc’s different,” I admitted, finally turning from the window. “He’s not part of this.”

Bastien snorted and leaned against the wall. “They’re all part of this, Fleur.” Fleur was his long-time nickname for me over the years, no matter what identity I assumed. “I don’t suppose you’ve slept with him yet?”

My answer was to turn away again and remain silent. No, I hadn’t slept with Luc. I wanted to, though. I wanted to with the instincts of a woman who had fallen for a man, as well as the craving of a succubus to consume the energy and taste the soul of someone so good. I had never hesitated before. This was the kind of thing I’d always sought out. It was even my job. But something inside of me was changing. Maybe it was these bleak times, but whenever I looked at Luc and saw that purity radiating from him – and his growing love and trust in me – I just couldn’t do it.

“He’s coming by tonight,” I said at last, dodging the question. “We’re going for a walk.”

“Oh,” said Bastien. “I see. A walk. That’s certain to impress Theodosia.” Theodosia was our archdemoness.

I turned back around sharply, glaring at Bastien. “It’s none of your business what I do!” I exclaimed. “Besides, if this is the ‘vacation’ you claim it is, I shouldn’t need to secure a good soul.”

“Souls are falling left and right around here,” he agreed. “But you’ve still got to turn one in every once in a while. You can’t spend the rest of your existence only going after bad ones.”

I didn’t speak to him for the rest of the day, and fortunately, business picked up quite a bit in the afternoon. It kept us both busy, though I counted down the minutes until Luc showed up that evening. He gave polite greetings to my “brother,” and then I hustled us out of there so that I wouldn’t have to see the knowing look in Bastien’s eyes.

Luc could have passed for my brother too with his sunny golden hair. He always smiled when he looked at me, making small crinkle lines around the blue eyes I fancifully likened to sapphires. He held my arm as we passed through the evening crowd, filled with those going home after work or possibly seeking nighttime entertainment. He told me I looked beautiful, and we talked of other inconsequential things: the weather, neighborhood gossip, day-to-day affairs…

We ended up at a small city park that was a popular spot for others seeking evening strolls before curfew. We found a relatively secluded area among some trees and settled onto the grass. Luc had been carrying a small basket the entire time and revealed its contents: pastries and a bottle of wine. He didn’t have extra money to throw around for that kind of thing, but I knew better than to protest. It was already done. Whatever else he’d had to sacrifice in return would be well worth it, as far as he was concerned.

He had another surprise for me as well: a book. He and I were always trading novels back and forth, and as I lay down against the grass, skimming through the pages, a strange yet warm peace blossomed within me.

“Next time you should bring your violin,” I said, setting the book down. “I want to hear you play again.”

He stretched out beside me, his hand finding mine. We laced our fingers together and watched the sky grow purple. “Not out here,” he said. “I don’t want a public concert.”

“You’d charm them all,” I said. “The whole city would line up and dance at your command, just like the pied piper.”

He laughed, the sound as golden as his hair or even the sun itself. “And then what would I do with them?”

“Line them up and send them all away so that we can be alone.”

“We are alone,” he said, laughing again. “Sort of.”

I rolled to my side and leaned over him. Shadows from the surrounding trees enclosed us. “Alone enough.”

I brought my lips down and kissed him, surprising both of us. I hadn’t meant to do it. We’d never kissed before. I’d held myself back from him, earning all that chastising from Bastien. I could never bring myself to take Luc’s energy and shorten his life. Yet, something came over me just then. It might have been my earlier gray mood or the feelings that were eerily like love within me. Whatever it was, being a succubus didn’t matter just then.

Well, it didn’t until his energy started flowing into me. Our kissing grew more intense, our lips full of demand. His soul shone so brightly that even that one kiss was enough to taste his energy. It was glorious. My whole body thrilled to both it and his touch.

He wrapped his arm around my waist, and without conscious thought, I began unbuttoning his shirt. He rolled me over so that I was the one on my back now and moved his mouth down to my neck. The knee-length skirts of this time gave him easy access to run his hand up my leg, and I pressed myself closer to him, pulling at his clothes while his hungry lips moved farther and farther down. All the while, that beautiful life filled me. I was drowning in it.

When his lips reached the spot between my breasts, something seemed to jolt him to reality. He pulled up from me, running his hand over my hair as he looked down into my eyes.

“Oh God,” he said. “We can’t do this. Not now.” The mantra of moral men everywhere.

“We can,” I said, surprised at the pleading in my own voice. It was the affection I felt for him speaking, not any agenda of Hell’s. I wanted – needed – him to be closer to me.

He sighed. “Suzette, Suzette. I want to. But I want us to get married. I can’t do this – can’t do this to you – unless I know you’ll be my wife. It isn’t right otherwise.”

I stared up at him, uncertainty interfering with my desire. “Are you…are you proposing to me?”

Luc thought about it for a moment and then grinned again, giving me another of those radiant smiles that never failed to make my heart race. “Yes. I guess I am. We’d have to wait a little bit – wait until I had more money. But when the war’s over, things will get better.”

This war’s never going to be over, some gloomy part of me thought. But just now, that wasn’t the real issue. His wanting to marry me was. It was impossible, of course. I could theoretically shape-shift so that I aged with him, all the while getting succubus sex on the side. Some succubi did that, having countless husbands over the centuries. Most didn’t even stick around. They just disappeared. Their marital vows meant nothing.

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.

“Suzette, wait!”

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 Niccol?°? 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 cleavage.

“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.

“Fleur, he’s going to stay alive a little while. You know how long stomach wounds take. It’s agony.”

“I know,” I growled, choking off a sob. “You don’t need to tell me.”

Bastien’s voice was grave. “You can stop it. Ease his suffering.”

I stared at Bastien incredulously. “What do you expect me to do? Go get that knife and finish him?”

He shook his head. “He’s only got a little life left, Fleur. Only a little. You won’t need to do much.”

I didn’t get it right away. When I did, I felt my eyes go wide. “No…I can’t…”

“He dies regardless,” said Bastien. “You can make it faster…sweeter…”

I was still shaking my head, but Bastien’s words had penetrated. He was right. He was right, and I hated him because he was right. Turning from Bastien, I looked back at Luc, whose brow I’d been stroking with my hand. His gaze was still turned upward, still at me. A drop of water fell on his cheek, and I realized it was one of my tears.

“Good-bye, Luc,” I said softly. It seemed like I should say a million other things to him, but I couldn’t form the words. So, instead, I leaned down and brought my lips to his. I pressed against them, making full contact, though it had none of the animal passion from before. This was gentler. A whisper of a kiss.

But as Bastien had said, it didn’t take much. The beautiful, silvery sweetness of his life energy flowed into me. It was just as pure and perfect as before – and it was gone quickly. I took it into me and sat up, just as Luc exhaled his last breath. The eyes that had watched me so adoringly saw nothing now. I sat up and leaned against Bastien.

“I killed him,” I said, no longer holding the tears back.

“You brought him peace. You were his angel.” It was an eerie echo of my earlier sentiments.

“No, this…I mean, before. He shouldn’t have been out here. He’s here because…because of me. If I’d slept with him, this wouldn’t have happened. But I couldn’t. I didn’t want to hurt him…didn’t want to taint him…and then this happened….”

Bastien put his arm around me. “If it makes you feel better, his soul won’t be going to our people.”

I buried my face in his shoulder. “This is my fault. My fault…I should have done what I was supposed to do. I was ready to – then he asked me to marry him and – damn it. I should have done it. I should have lied. It would have been better for everyone. I don’t know how this happened….”

“It happened because you get too close to them,” said Bastien. He was stern but trying hard to be gentle. “Men like this…anyone like this…they enchant you, Fleur. You get attached and then you get hurt.”

“Or I hurt them,” I murmured.

“You need to stay indifferent.”

“It’s getting worse,” I said. “Every time, it’s harder on me. I don’t understand. What’s happening to me? What’s wrong with me?”

“Immortality,” he said wisely. “Too many years.”

“What do you know? You’re younger than me.”

Bastien helped me stand, though I was reluctant to let Luc go. “I know that you can’t keep doing this. Listen to what I said: don’t get attached to these good ones. No matter what you do, it won’t end well.”

“I won’t go near the good ones at all,” I said in a small voice. “No more. I’m staying away from them altogether.”

Bastien’s kindly mien dropped. “That’s ridiculous,” he scoffed. “Weren’t you listening to me earlier? You can’t go after immoral men for eternity. You’d get no energy. You’d have to do it every other day.”

I looked down at Luc, Luc who had loved me and gotten killed for me. My fault. All my fault.

“Never again,” I said. “I won’t ever hurt anyone like that again.”

When I returned to the box in the dark, I didn’t need the Oneroi to enlighten me. All of that dream had been true – except for the last part. It had been a lie. I had continued to hurt people, over and over.

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