After that night, his confidence grew. We began to spend almost as much time outside as we did inside. Some nights we'd roam almost until daybreak, the two of us risking the daylight we both feared, wanting to remain together as long as possible. Our partings grew more and more difficult. I didn't say anything to him, but the heaviness in my chest was ever present now. It pained me most of all when we parted, and the pain stayed with me until we met again. And even when we were together at times a stroke of agony would course through me. I wondered if perhaps I wasn't dying in some way. And so I hid it from him, and from myself.
As my pain grew, his lessened. The terror he'd had of the world outside was dimming. He no longer jumped at the sound of voices, no longer wanted to run when he saw others approaching. He'd grown so strong that the night finally came when he was able to visit the nearby convenience store and buy 'soda', that carbonated sugar drink he so enjoyed. I didn't really approve, but I thought his courage was deserving of a treat so I made no protest. I remained hidden in the shadows while he interacted with the bored human behind the counter. Triumphant, he carried his prize home, the can cradled in his hands like a child. The joy on his face at such a simple thing fed my own happiness and I grew dizzy with it.
We were halfway back when he stopped. He glanced down a side street and turned to me.
"Let's go this way," he said. "Just for a change."
He took me by the hand and led me down the side street until we came to a playground, the sort of place where human children play. I'd often watched them in the early darkness of winter evenings and wondered at how humans can take such joy in simple things.
"Want to sit on the swings?" he asked.
He took me to one corner of the playground. There was a triangular metal frame there with a number of flat boards hanging down from chains. So these were the 'swings'. They had the appearance of some strange torture device like a rack. He went and sat on one, motioning for me to join him on the other.
We sat together in silence for a long while.
Finally he said, "I used to come here a lot." He pointed to a dark building adjacent to the playground. "That's my school. Or, well, at least it was once. I graduated from it years ago, now. Thank god."
I gazed at the building. It didn't seem a happy, inviting place. It was utilitarian and austere, not unlike our own buildings down here in Hell, and high fencing surrounded it - to keep others out, or the inhabitants in I wondered?
"Yeah," he said. "I never really got on with anyone else at school. Even speaking to others made my heart beat like it was going to burst out of my chest."
I frowned. "Your heart?"
He nodded. He placed a hand upon his chest. "You know, I'm amazed it's beating so slowly and regularly right now. The last time I was anywhere near the school I thought I'd have a heart attack."
"Something happened to you there, didn't it?"
He stared into the darkness for a long time. "Lots of stuff, I guess. It's... I try not to remember."
"I'm sorry," I said.
"No, it's okay," he said, smiling at me. "You're interested. It makes me really happy, you know. That you want to know stuff about me." He sighed. "Yeah, lots of stuff happened to me. Lots of bullying. These days you can't escape it, even outside of school. It follows you home. Sometimes nowhere is safe except deep in yourself. I guess that's why I fled there." He closed his eyes. "I always liked drawing. That's why I kept going to school even with all the stuff that was happening to me. I loved art class. But then one day I found someone had broken into my locker and all my sketch books were gone. Later I found out they'd been torn up and scattered across the baseball field. I went there after school and tried to collect as much as I could, but there was just so much of it and it was windy and the paper just..." He laughed, but it was cold. "I chased after that paper like a fat man trying to catch a hat. But after a while I just looked down at the dirty, tattered pieces in my hands and I think something broke. I went home that day and never went back."
I didn't know what to say to his pain. This wasn't something a succubus is trained to deal with, after all. And so I said nothing. I got off the swing and hugged him around the shoulders from behind.
"Hyacinth," he murmured, resting a cheek against my chest. "Hyacinth."
"Did I ever tell you your name is beautiful?"
"Yes," I said. "Many times." I smiled. I'd never tire of him telling me so.
"Hyacinth, after they destroyed my sketch books I stopped drawing. I couldn't even pick up a pencil anymore. My most precious thing and they took it from me."
"But you're always drawing!" I protested.
"It's because of you, you know," he said. "When you started visiting me all I wanted to see was your face again. The only way to do that was to draw it, so I had to draw. You inspired me. You gave me back my most precious thing."
Tears wet my skin. I didn't feel sadness welling from him, but rather that golden aura that attends happiness. He was happy and yet crying. How strange humans are!
"And that's not all," he said. "Tonight, when I talked to the guy at the 7-11. I never could have done that before I met you. I would've had a nervous breakdown. I'm usually frightened of everyone and everything."
"You've never been frightened of me."
"Yes," he said, turning around and smiling at me. "Why is that, do you think?"
Then he darted forward and kissed me on my cheek, his lips pressing hot against my skin. I swallowed back a cry of alarm and permitted him. I knew he wasn't trying to harm me. I'd wanted that almost-kiss for so long, now, that almost-kiss that was as close as the two of us could ever come to a real one.
"Sorry," he said as he pulled away. "I guess I should've warned you." He slipped off the swing and reached out for me.
I took him in my arms. I was not afraid of him. Oh no. I raised my fingers to where his lips had touched my skin.
"Hyacinth," he whispered against my chest. "I... I care for you very much. You know that, right?"
He cared for me? Of course he did, just as I cared for him. We would do anything for each other.
Then I felt the strongest sensation yet, a piercing pain deep in my chest. I broke our embrace and pushed a hand between my breasts.
"Hyacinth?" He took hold of my shoulders as I stood there, grimacing in pain. "Hyacinth? What's wrong?"
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