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    Robert groaned as the sun struck his eyes.

    He rolled over and buried his face in his pillow. He was still in his jeans and t shirt, not even taking the time to kick off his shoes when he’d gotten home last night. His head throbbed with a hangover.

    He needed a cigarette.

    He rolled out of bed and picked his leather jacket off the ground to fish around for his pack and lighter, stumbling to the front door. He’d stopped smoking inside a year ago, when it started getting in the way of sex. Most people didn’t care for the smell.

    He threw the door open, and stopped. He blinked.

    What the fuck?

    Laid on his porch was a bouquet of flowers. The outside two rings were made of yellow flowers, a bunch of violet flowers held tightly in the centre. A ribbon held it all together, a bow tied on the right. There was a card next to it.

    Robert stepped over it and pulled out a cigarette. It was too early. He smoked two before shoving the pack back in his jacket pocket, then knelt down and picked up the card. In Damien’s ridiculous calligraphy, it read:

 

    Yellow acacia symbolizes secret love

    Agrimony symbolizes thankfulness and gratitude

    Betony symbolizes surprise

    A ribbon tied to the right symbolizes the bouquet is about the giver

 

    He stared down at it, his face burning. Fucking dork…

    He picked up the bouquet and stumbled back inside. He didn’t know what else to do, so he filled a tall glass with tap water and plopped the flowers inside.

    He should probably message him now. See if he wanted to hang out.

   

    Nah, fuck that.

    He went back inside and killed time until the sun set. He was set on spending a few hours bar hopping, but when he passed Damien’s house, he stopped and sighed.

    Lucien answered the door. Of course. He scowled up at Robert, acting like Robert couldn’t snap him in half if he wanted to. “What do you want?”

    “Your dad around?”

    “Maybe.”

    This was a mistake.

    “Listen-”

    “Lucien? Who was-?” Damien appeared behind him, and startled. “Oh- Hi, Robert.” He caught onto the way Robert and Lucien were looking at each other- Lucien smug and amused, Robert one hundred percent done -and sighed. “Lucien, would you mind giving us some privacy? And please refrain from scaring away guests any longer.”

    He rolled his eyes, but left, his door shutting a moment later.

    “Robert.” Damien’s cheek turned pink. “Lovely to see you again.”

    His brain moved slow. “Mhm. You busy right now?”

    Damien smiled. “No.”

    “Cool. You’re coming to the bar with me.”

    He didn’t wait for a response, as usual, but as he started back down the drive, Damien grabbed his hand. “Oh. But I, uh, I don’t drink.”

    “Oh.” He wrinkled his nose. “Really?” Shitty choice, Robert.

    Damien pulled his hand back, looking uncomfortable. “Yes. I apologize.”

    Robert shook his head. “It’s fine, I guess.” He paused. “Wanna do something else tonight?”

    Damien looked surprised, but nodded. “I would love to! Let me just get ready. Here, come in.”

    “Oh, I don’t know…” He inched back.

    “Please.” Damien held out his hand. “It’d be rude of me to leave you waiting in the cold.”

    Oh, fuck it.

    Robert let Damien pull him into the house. It was warm; not just the air, but the walls as well. He was damn near forced to feel comfortable.

    Damien left him waiting in the parlour. He sat on the plush maroon couch, feeling like his mere presence was dirtying it.

    Damien came back down in his full Victorian attire, looking beautiful. Looking at him, Robert realized he probably had a vampire kink. “I’ve thought of a couple things we could do tonight, if any of them interest you. We could take a walk in the cemetery-”

    “Yes.” Robert stood, grinning. “Let’s do that.”

    Damien stared at him in surprise, and giggled. “Brilliant.”

    As they walked side by side towards the cemetery, Robert thought back on his previous… Partners. This was unchartered territory. He didn’t know what he had expected, dating a fucking vampire, but he’d never done it this way before. He’d never taken it so slow . They hadn’t even slept together.

    Damien seemed unusually relaxed when they entered the graveyard. Hm… Suspicious…

    They stayed silent for a while, roaming around the pebble pathways. While Robert read every name and date on the headstones, Damien admired the statues and flowers.

    “So, Damien,” Robert stopped, making a show out of taking in their surroundings, “you ever heard of the Pale Crawler?”

    He arched an eyebrow. “No.”

    “It’s a cryptid.” Robert fought a grin. “A cave dweller. They hang around cemeteries.”

    He seemed uneasy, his eyes shifting not too subtly. “There’s multiple?”

    “Maybe. You wanna know why they hang around cemeteries?”

    “I suppose…”

    “For food.”

    Damien sat on a concrete bench, his legs crossed and his back straight. Robert moved to stand behind him, talking in his ear.

    “It waits for a burial, and then digs up the fresh body, drags it to its cave, and devours it .”

    Damien was completely stiff. “So they don’t attack living people, I presume.”

    “No, not usually. But, well, if you’re hungry… You’ll eat what you can get. Maple Bay doesn’t get much excitement. I bet the ones around here are starving.”

    Damien looked at him, his face passive but his eyes wide. “You think there are Pale Crawlers in Maple Bay?”

    “Oh, I know there are.” He finally let his grin break through. “Almost died to one a few years back.”

    “What happened?” Damien whispered.

    Robert unfocused his eyes, so it looked like he was remembering something while letting him concentrate on fabricating the story. “I was taking a walk, trying to get my mind off a few things.” He pointed ahead, at a path some graves separated them from. “I was right over there, and I heard leaves rustling, so I looked up and saw one. A Pale Crawler.

“It was on all fours, its spine arched in a way no human’s could. It looked like a bony, hairless man, with gray skin. And it was looking right at me.”

“What did you do then?”

“Nothing. I’d never seen anything like it, I was terrified. It must have been starving, because it charged right at me. Knocked me down so hard I broke a headstone, and my shoulder, too. The crawler started dragging me to its cave. I was grabbing at anything I could, destroying the whole cemetery.”

Damien was totally enthralled now. His eyes bore into Robert’s, leaning into him. “How’d you escape?”

“I took one of those statues- The small angel ones, and I hit it over the head as hard as I could.”

“How could you come back here?”

Robert gripped onto Damien’s shoulders. “To uphold a deal.”

“What deal?”

“Well, they’re more intelligent than people think. The statue barely phased it, and when I started begging for my life, it told me I could live if I always brought it food.

Damien’s eyes blew wide. He jumped up, wrapping his arms around himself. “You’re messing with me!”

Robert burst into laughter. “It’s Maple Bay, Damien, things never get that interesting!” He glanced up, and his laughter died out.

Damien was trembling, tears welled up in his eyes. He kept looking at the trees behind him.

Goddamnit.

“I was, uh, I was just joking.” He was extremely uncomfortable, but he rounded the bench to get closer. “I didn’t realize it’d actually… Scare you.”

“I’m not scared,” Damien said, his voice thick.

He raised an eyebrow. “Really?”

“Of course not! It was just a story.”

He nodded slowly. “It was. I made the whole thing up. Well, the Pale Crawler is a cryptid, but I’ve never seen it.”

A few tears slipped down Damien’s face. Robert didn’t know what else to do, and he hated how guilty he felt, so he opened up his arms. Damien stared at him in surprise for an uncomfortable moment, before diving into his arms. Robert wrapped his arms around him, holding him closer. Dear God, he was so small.

“The last bit was pretty dumb,” Damien mumbled after a while.

Robert chuckled. “Yeah, that was a bit of a stretch, huh? Come on, I think it’s time I get you home.”

Damien pulled away reluctantly, and relaxed as Robert draped his arm over his shoulders while they walked.

He really was a prick. A guy he actually liked, and he scared him to tears just because he can’t function like a normal human being.

Robert walked him up to the front door. “You gonna be okay alone?”

Damien smiled. “Of course.”

“I won’t do that next time,” he said awkwardly. Probably. Well, maybe. He could try.

“Next time?”

He fought back a blush. “Sure. Hypothetically.”

Damien leaned forward and kissed his cheek, squeezing his hand softly. “See you next time.” He disappeared inside.

Robert was so fucked.