Important Notice: If you are submitting links or linking to this story for the purpose of fanfic contests, recs, or other referencing purposes, I'm very flattered! But PLEASE don't link to the version here on fanfiction-net. I ask that all links go to my website version, to be found at themedicinewheel(dot)net ... Simply click on the Twilight bar, and it will take you to my main menu page, where you can find Beauty, Shining in Company. The reason for this request is that the versions on my website are the most editorially clean, are better-formatted, include full warnings and other notes ... and they include historical illustrating images. Thank you very much! :-)

Warning: This is an historical, so I've done my best to let attitudes reflect the era, including anti-Semitism, not just hostility towards gays. I do not, of course, approve of either. Likewise, smoking figures prominently, but I'm not advocating it as a good habit to acquire.

Notes: This might offer some small explanation as to why Edward is so certain he could love and elderly Bella. Despite the topic, the story is not AU. Also, although I've disregarded info given in some of Meyer's interviews, nothing in here contradicts directly anything we're told in the books. Further historical notes at the end. MANY thanks to Britchick and Silly bella for looking through this for historical accuracy, canon consistency and even typos. Any and all errors remaining are mine; don't blame them.

"What d'you get?" Edward asked, peering over Theodore's shoulder as he opened the pack and slid out the card so both boys could see.

"A fish?" Teddy snorted. "A damn fish?"

"'Do you know why the salmon leaps?'" Edward read aloud. "Actually, I don't. What does it say?"

Teddy rolled his eyes and passed the card over to Edward as he tapped out a cigarette and stuck it between full lips, lighting up and inhaling deeply. "You're an odd duck, you know. Who cares why a salmon leaps as long as our cook broils it well?" The cigarette bobbed as he spoke. "I didn't want another of those 'Did you know?' cards. I wanted Thomas Meighan -- "

"Nah -- Mary Pickford," Edward replied instantly. He was more than a little besotted with her, America's Sweetheart with her soft curls and big, sad eyes and rosebud mouth. The queen of the silver screen.

Teddy ignored that. " -- or one of our White Sox." They'd won the World Series just the year before.

"The Cubs are better this year," Edward replied, and ducked the half-hearted box to the ear he knew was coming. "We have a newer park too."

"It can't beat Comiskey; Comiskey's fireproof."

"So? The Cubs'll take the pennant -- you wait and see. And the Series too."

"I'll believe it when I see it. They'll choke in the postseason. They always do. And you're a traitor to the South Side."

Edward just shook his head, a smile tugging at his lips as his eyes slid over the explanation on the card back as to why salmon leapt. In fact, he preferred these informational cards to the collections of beauties or aeroplanes or army medals, but Teddy had a full set of the latter. "I've got to know what I'm shooting for here, don't you think?"

Newly commissioned Second Lieutenant Theodore Wells would be joining the National Army in two weeks, shipping out in the middle of summer. Edward was horribly jealous -- of his friend's fancy uniform and fine hat and new responsibilities. More secretly, he was distraught at the thought of being left behind. Just seventeen, he was too young to enlist although he supposed he could lie and sign up, but his parents wouldn't let him get away with it. His mother didn't want him to go to war. Teddy, of course, had been at the enlistment office door at eight in the morning on his eighteenth birthday. He was proud of saying, "I was the first one in that morning."

Truth was, he might have been the only one in all day. Mayor William Hale Thompson had said, "Chicago is the sixth-largest German city in the world." There were a lot of Russians in town too, and none of them were keen on the war either. Teddy, however, was English and Edward was Irish and both were champing at the bit to go overseas. Being a year older, Teddy had been able to enlist that May while Edward would have to wait until next June.

Now they slouched on the steps of the Masen's front porch, smoking and watching well-dressed, Jackson Park Highlands foot traffic and horse-drawn carts clop slowly down Constance Avenue. These new-style houses had wide front lawns, no alleys, and stood back from the street, giving at least the illusion of privacy that the larger mansions along Prairie could command. One could even spot the occasional Ford Model T or Chevy Series H or -- once -- a rare Silver Ghost by Rolls Royce. Teddy saw it first and elbowed Edward excitedly. Edward let out a low whistle. "Wonder who owns that?"

"A Wheeler, a Sears, a Field . . . shall I go on?"

Edward popped him playfully, then took a drag from the smoke he'd bummed. Personally, he preferred Lucky Strikes but Teddy had a fondness for the strong Camels. Edward liked the way they smelled more than the way they tasted, although sometimes he wondered if that might be because he associated the sharp, sweet bite of unfiltered Turkish-American leaf with Teddy. Theodore Wells was everything Edward Masen wasn't, but wanted to be: suave, confident, funny, brave and forthright. Loyal, too -- always loyal. They'd been friends as long as Edward could recall. "We shared the same crib and bottle," Teddy joked sometimes. Certainly they'd grown up together in the shadow of their mother's skirts and embroidery hoops, sharing toy trains and wagons and bicycles. And baseball. But Teddy cheered for the White Sox and Edward for the Cubs, and they'd never resolved that difference.

Bored finally with their people watching, they rose from the steps to amble off up the sidewalk, straw boater hats pulled low, hands shoved into pockets so they could slouch as they strolled, rakish and daring in suspenders and no suit jackets, the heat of June as their excuse. "We could hop a streetcar down to 59th and the Lakefront . . . " Edward offered conversationally. "There might be girls in the park."

"Can't you think of anything but girls and their gams?"

"What's wrong with girls?"

"Nothing! Just . . . " he trailed off, frowning. "I leave in two weeks. I don't have time to mess with girls."

Puzzled, Edward considered that. "Charles spent his last weeks flirting with anything wearing a skirt." Charles was his older cousin, whom Teddy knew.

"Charles flirted with anything wearing a skirt even before his draft letter," Teddy pointed out.

"True." Edward let it drop.

After a few minutes of silent walking under a sun hot enough to boil an egg on the sidewalk, Teddy said quietly, "I'd rather spend my time left with a friend."

"Okay," Edward replied, feeling strangely warmed inside. Aware that reply probably didn't convey what Teddy's comment had meant to him, he shot Teddy a grin and shouldered up against him playfully. Teddy shouldered back and they fell to a brief shoving match, laughing uproariously and winning disapproving looks from the more staid passersby.

"Stop acting like rowdy Jew-boys," said a man in a working-class news cap.

Teddy made a mocking face behind the man's back, then muttered, "And you stop minding your betters' business." Edward was faintly bothered, but couldn't say if it were at being called a Jew or at the fact it was an insult. He was neither a progressive muckracker nor a supporter of eugenics, but his mother had been born and raised Irish Catholic until she'd converted to marry his father. She'd told him not to mention that; being Catholic could be held against them. Teddy knew, of course, but he never brought it up; Edward had been christened and raised Episcopalian and could play several of Isaac Watt's and James Montgomery's hymns on the piano from memory. He was protestant through-and-through.

They wound up in Jackson park, which still boasted a few of Olmsted and Burnham's structures from the 1893 World's Fair, including the Fine Arts Palace and a smaller replica of the original Golden Lady that had been formally dedicated just last month. Most of the White City had been removed in favor of a golf course and parkland, however. "We shoulda brought our clubs," Teddy said.

"Too hot," Edward replied.

So they moseyed around until ending on a wooden bridge overlooking a stream. There was nobody else in sight, and their arms rested side-by-side on the wooden rail, Teddy's bulky and muscle-roped, Edward's thinner with fine wrists and long pianists fingers. The stream gurgled clean beneath them, but Edward wasn't sure it actually felt any cooler near the water. Sweat dripped down his face and the back of his hair was soaked. He removed his hat to run fingers through it, fearing he smelled like a horse run full-out and put away wet. He loosened his tie and undid the topmost button of his shirt but it didn't help much, and undoing more would be crass.

Leaning his right side into the rail, Teddy had turned to watch him. He was shorter if broader with strong shoulders hidden by his white cotton shirt. Sweat had made it darker where the suspenders pressed it close. His tie was loose and top button undone as well, and Edward could see the curl of light brown hair at the base of his throat. Unlike Edward who still hung suspended between teen years and manhood, Teddy looked older than eighteen and smelled like a man -- all musk and tobacco and sun. His gray eyes watched Edward from within the straw-brim shadow of his hat -- an intense look, as if he were trying to memorize every line of Edward's face. It felt oddly compelling in the torpid summer heat and Edward bent forward just slightly, reeled in. Their faces were barely a foot apart. Something stirred beneath Edward's breastbone that he couldn't name. Neither said anything, afraid to mark the moment with words.

Abruptly, Teddy looked away again, turning his body out to face the river. He frowned and started to speak, but his voice failed. Clearing his throat, he tried again. "It's not going to be the same over there without you."

"Or here without you," Edward replied quickly. In fact, when he tried to think of life in Chicago without Teddy, his mind went white and blank. It simply wasn't possible for him to imagine.

More silence passed, but it wasn't easy. It hung thick with a pregnant tension that Edward neither understood nor could explain, but there was something here, something . . . he could feel it in that odd way he had, and it left him edgy and taut.

"You know," Teddy said finally, not looking at him, his voice conversational. "You know I might not come back."

"Don't -- "

"Be quiet, Edward. This has to be said. It's something I think on so let me say it once." Edward didn't protest again, and Teddy continued, "If anything does happen to me, I've left you a letter. Remember the book of Plato we read last summer? It's in there. Please don't read it, unless . . . But I know you won't. It just says some things about me. You get the Plato, of course." Both boys had attended the same private school designed on a British model, so Latin and Greek had been a natural part of the curriculum. Edward had finally finished enough grammar that he could tackle Plato in the original with Teddy's help, and Xenophon too. Teddy could read Aristotle, and Edward was duly impressed. But Teddy had a knack for languages, and Edward suspected he looked forward to going overseas just to practice his French.

Now, however, Edward was thinking about a long, black casket draped in an American Flag. "You'll come home again," he said fervently, less because he believed it than because he needed it to be true.

"Well, I definitely plan on it," Teddy said with his characteristic droll humor. "But in case I don't . . . there's a letter."

"Okay," Edward said, and that seemed to settle it. He doubted they'd speak of it again.

They didn't. But Edward thought about it. He thought about it a lot until the notion of that letter haunted him like the apple offered to Adam, and he grew mildly resentful. Why had Teddy told him about it, then said he knew Edward wouldn't read it, which of course just put it into Edward's head that he should read it? If he'd simply said it was a letter for Edward if he died, it wouldn't have insinuated itself into his mind the same way, wouldn't have made him wonder what it was that Teddy didn't want Edward to know until he was dead.

Edward didn't tell Teddy these things. Nor did he admit he'd decided, at some vague point, that he would read the letter after Teddy left. He had to. He rationalized it to himself by the twisted logic that Teddy must have meant for him to read it by telling him not to, as he knew Edward's native curiosity all too well.

The Wells threw a going-away party for Teddy the night before his last night at home. They'd known better than to expect him to go to bed sober with all his old school buddies (those not yet enlisted or drafted) come to see him off. Edward had the place of honor at his right hand. There was roast duck, summer squash, and a number of toasts. Teddy's younger sister Emily kept breaking down at the dinner table until she finally had to flee during the desert. Edward sat dry-eyed, grateful for the amount of wine he'd consumed; it fuzzed his mind and softened the sharpness of grief as their inevitable separation bore down on them. Teddy's departure still didn't feel quite real, despite the fact Teddy wore his uniform and the sisters of their friends couldn't take their eyes off him, whispering and giggling behind hands. He did cut a handsome figure in army khakis, black boots and slicked-back hair.

After the meal, the women retired to the drawing room while Teddy's father, Charles Wells, a respected banker in town, broke out Cuban cigars and fine, single-malt Scotch, and Edward was old enough now to sit with the men. They smoked and drank and argued politics until nearly midnight when Edward Masen Senior rose to depart. Edward Junior, however, nearly tripped over his own chair legs, earning good-natured chuckles. "A little too much giggle water, Eddie?" Charles Wells asked, grinning and clapping his shoulder. "Maybe you should stay here tonight." He glanced at Edward's father. "We'll send him along home in the morning."

Edward Senior waved assent, and Edward feared he wouldn't soon live this down -- unable to hold his liquor so that he couldn't exit the room without support from Teddy, who didn't seem half as phased. "Upstairs you go," his friend said, slinging Edward's arm over his shoulder and helping him to mount the white staircase.

Edward didn't remember much about getting into bed except that he'd probably have crashed on the sheets fully dressed if not for Teddy, who wrestled him out of his suit and into borrowed pajamas, then made him drink two full glasses of water. "Or you'll have the mother of all headaches in the morning."

Lying down with eyes closed only resulted in vague nausea, however. "Read to me," Edward pleaded. It would give him something on which to concentrate.

"What do you want to hear? Poe? Dickenson? 'I can wade Grief-- / Whole Pools of it-- / I'm used to that-- / But the least push of Joy / Breaks up my feet / And I tip-- drunken . . . '"

"Nothing so grim!" Edward protested.

"Joy is grim?"

"She makes it sound so!"

Teddy laughed. "Very well then -- Plato. It must be Plato, here at the end."

Eyes still shut, Edward sighed. "Plato is good. The higher mind."

He listened while Teddy rummaged around, then felt the bed shift as his friend sat down with the book, followed by a rustling of pages as he looked for a passage -- the passage. Edward knew which it would be even before Teddy began to speak --

"'But of beauty, I repeat again that we saw her there shining in company with the celestial forms; and coming to earth we find her here too, shining in clearness through the clearest aperture of sense. For sight is the keenest of our body senses; though not by that is wisdom seen, for her loveliness would have been transporting if there had been a visible image of her, and this is true of the loveliness of the other ideas as well. But beauty only has this portion, that she is at once the loveliest and also the most apparent.

"'Now he who has not been lately initiated or who has become corrupted, is not easily carried out of this world to the sight of absolute beauty in the other; he looks only at that which has the name of beauty in this world, and instead of being awed at the sight of her, like a brutish beast he rushes on to enjoy and beget; he takes wantonness to his bosom, and is not afraid or ashamed of pursuing pleasure in violation of nature.

"'But he whose initiation is recent, and who has been the spectator of many glories in the other world, is amazed when he sees anyone having a godlike face or form, which is the expression or imitation of divine beauty; and at first a shudder runs through him, and some 'misgiving' of a former world steals over him; then looking upon the face of his beloved as of a god, he reverences him, and if he were not afraid of being thought a downright madman, he would sacrifice to his beloved as to the image of a god. Then as he gazes on him there is a sort of reaction, and the shudder naturally passes into an unusual heat and perspiration; for as he receives the effluence of beauty through the eyes, the wing moistens and he warms. And as he warms, the parts out of which the wing grew, and which had hitherto been closed and rigid, and had prevented the wing from shooting forth are melted, and as nourishment streams upon him, the lower end of the wing begins to swell and grow from the root upward, extending under the whole soul -- for once the whole was winged.'"

Edward listened to Teddy's voice as he read, and although his mind was sluggish with alcohol, he knew this passage well. He didn't have to be sober to follow it, to be transported yet again by the vision of souls regaining their immortal wings, freed by love to rise up like angels.

Teddy's voice had grown husky as if holding in some strong feeling. "'Now during this process the whole soul is in a state of effervescence and irritation, like the state of irritation and pain in the gums at the time of cutting teeth; in like manner the soul when begging to grow wings has inflamation and pains and tickling, and when looking at the beauty of youth receives the sensible warm traction of particles which flow towards her, therefore called attraction, and is refreshed and warmed by them, and then she ceases from her pain with joy. But when she is separated and her moisture fails, the orifices of the passages out of which the wings shoot dry up and close, and intercept the germ of the wing; which, being shut up within in company with desire, throbbing as with the pulsations of an artery, pricks the aperture which is nearest, until at length the entire soul is pierced and maddened and pained, and at the recollection of beauty is again delighted. And from both of them together the soul is oppressed at the strangeness of her condition, and is in great strait and excitement, and in her madness can neither sleep by night nor abide in her place by day.'"

Teddy paused, and Edward could hear him swallow. After a moment, he continued, "'And wherever she thinks that she will behold the beautiful one, thither in her desire she runs. And when the soul has seen him, and drunk rivers of desire, her constraint is loosened, and she is refreshed, and has no more pains and pangs; and this is the sweetest of all pleasures at the time, and is the reason why the soul of the lover never forsakes his beautiful one, whom he esteems above all . . . '"

He trailed off yet again and Edward waited, but he didn't continue. After a moment, Edward cracked an eye and found his friend gazing off across the room, frowning, his full mouth drawn tight with pain. Compelled by Teddy's sad expression, Edward laid a hand on his where it held open the book pages. "What is it?"

"I . . . " But that was all Teddy got out before he closed the book and rose. "I need to use the water closet. I'll be back."

Too drunk to protest, Edward let him go and closed his eyes again, drifting off despite the nausea. Teddy's return some unknown time later only half woke him. He was aware of the older boy moving around the room, snuffing the lamps and then climbing into the other side of the bed. He smelled of Camels, so he must have gone out for a smoke, too, but he held himself stiff in the bed as if still tense. Without thinking about it and freed by whisky, Edward rolled over beneath the light summer sheet to sling his arm over Teddy's shoulders. "My teddy bear," he muttered, half snorting in intoxicated amusement.

Teddy moved his arm. "You're drunk."

"Well, yes, that's why I'm sleeping here."

"Then go to sleep, would you?"

He did as told, waking again much later when the moon was high, silver light spilling in the window. He desperately needed to piss, but the body spooned against his back, arm curled over his waist, held him immobile with surprise. It was . . . pleasant, however -- which left him more confused yet, and the pressing biological call was momentarily forgotten as he considered the situation. Teddy must be more afraid of the war than he'd let on to seek out physical comfort like this, but Edward wasn't certain that should surprise him. War might be necessary, honorable, even exciting -- but it was also damn scary. Edward was glad now that he'd stayed over even if the cause might be embarrassing. Tonight, Teddy had needed a warm body to sleep beside, a reminder that he mattered and would be missed, and that whatever the future held, somebody would be here awaiting his return -- would even join him in danger as soon as it was permitted. Edward's own fears about the war were largely that he and Teddy would wind up in different companies, as separated overseas as they were with Edward left behind. But they should stand together against the enemy like Achilles and Patroclus at Troy, brave and strong and unafraid.

He wasn't sure what alerted him, a sigh, perhaps, or a too-careful shift of weight, but he realized abruptly that Teddy wasn't sleeping. Turning in his friend's arms, his eyes met Teddy's -- wide open and staring and silver in the near-dark. Edward blinked. It was one thing for a nervous Teddy to clutch him close in sleep. But Teddy holding him this way while awake . . . just what did that mean?

Yet he didn't move away, and neither did Teddy. Instead, Teddy whispered, "You are my beautiful one, did you know? You're the one who makes my wings grow, who makes me long for the higher beauty of our immortal souls -- eros kai anteros. Love and love returned."

"It is returned," Edward blurted, startled into drunk confession and realizing the truth of his own words only as he voiced them. "Love for love."

"'He wants to see him, touch him, kiss, embrace him . . . '" Teddy turned his head to bury his face in his pillow, perhaps from shame at that admission, or perhaps in distress. "How am I going to bear it, being away from you?"

Edward knew he should be shocked by what Teddy was saying -- by the full implications of it -- but he wasn't. The hour and his mental state precluded it, and the darkness veiled such tender admissions in a cloak of privacy. "I'll be with you," Edward whispered, placing a hand on Teddy's chest. "I'll be with you here."

Teddy turned his face back to see Edward and his hand came up to cup Edward's cheek. "My beautiful friend, my other self . . . I do love you, you know."

"I know." And he did.

Leaning forward, not really thinking, he pressed his lips to Teddy's. He'd never kissed anybody before -- not a girl, and definitely not a boy. Neither had Teddy, or Edward would certainly have heard about it. Unsure quite what to do but driven by the vulnerability of their admissions, they experimented, moving lips against one another until, shyly, they tried parting them. Teddy tasted of tobacco and Edward suspected he tasted of sour whiskey. Rough tongue slid against rough tongue and Edward's reaction was instantaneous. The erection a full bladder had given him earlier stiffened even more and throbbed, hot and moist with leakage. Was this the warm rush that Plato had spoken of? Was he growing wings? He felt himself flow into Teddy's arms, flat chest to flat, narrow pelvis to narrow, insistent erection to . . .

Abruptly, gasping, he broke away and rolled onto his back. Teddy didn't try to hold him. Neither said anything for a long moment; they just breathed. Then Edward sat up. "I need to pee. That's why I woke -- too much to drink." Rising, he hurried downstairs in the dark to the basement water closet where he spent a long time even after he was finished, staring at himself in the mirror above the sink.

He'd just kissed a boy. And he might have done more, too, if sense hadn't come back to him. What would Teddy think of him now?

He shook his head. They'd just got carried away. He loved Teddy like a brother, of course he did, that was all it was. Fear for his friend and sorrow at their parting was all this was. Teddy wasn't that sort, and Edward certainly wasn't. It was women's fine ankles and shining curls and sweet curves he dreamed about when his hands did things to himself beneath the covers that he didn't discuss in the light of day. He wasn't dreaming of Teddy.

Composed again finally, he returned to Teddy's bedroom. His friend had rolled onto his belly and was fast asleep -- or pretending to be. Edward had no inclination to check if he were faking and slid under the sheet as gently as he could so as not to disturb him. Edward was asleep again shortly too, and when morning dawned the whole incident seemed unreal -- a night fantasia. Teddy was just Teddy, and kidded Edward no end about getting so drunk. They said nothing of the quiet words exchanged in the dead hours of early morning, and when Edward saw Teddy to the train the next morning along with Teddy's family, their hug was brief and appropriately back-thumping, nothing untoward at all.

Even with Teddy gone, Edward and his family weren't strangers to the Wells residence. Edward knew that both sets of parents were hoping he'd settle on Emily once they were older and Edward was out of college with prospects. Nor did Edward mind the match, at least in theory. It would make him Teddy's brother-in-law, and Emily, while shy and somewhat excitable, was a kind girl with a lovely singing voice. Edward worried sometimes that he ought to feel more for her than he did if they were truly to be wed someday, but he had more pressing things on his mind at the moment, including his final year at school and the war.

While in boot camp, Teddy wrote postcards faithfully as promised, telling Edward about his experience: "From 7:30 to 10:45 we have infantry drill, bayonet drill and physical exercise. That doesn't mean 5 minutes drill and rest either, we get only a total of 20 minutes rest in that time. We generally have to solve combat problems between 1:00 and 4:00, rain, mud or dust, 28 inch steps at 140 steps per minute on a hike of miles . . . " But when he shipped out to France, he warned, "There won't be letters for a while."

The absence of letters put Edward in mind of the one Teddy had left behind -- in case. The summer of 1918 was drawing to a close along with the shortened baseball season, although at least the Cubs looked set to win the pennant as he'd predicted. One evening when Edward was over at the Wells' house for dinner along with his mother -- Edward's father the lawyer working late on a case -- Edward went upstair to wash, then paused as he passed by Teddy's room. The siren call of the waiting letter sang to him and, furtively, he pushed open the door to sneak inside. The bed was made, the setting sun firing the rich blue-and-gold velvet spread. Twilight was approaching. Swiftly, Edward turned to the bookshelf and located Teddy's copy of Plato. Sure enough, there was the promised letter slipped between the pages. Their favorite section, of course, and sharp and unbidden, the memory of that unexpected, illicit kiss returned to stiffen his spine and dick both. Removing the letter, he slammed the book shut and shoved the envelope inside his breast pocket, returning the book and heading out.

As he passed Teddy's desk, however, a white square caught his attention where it had fallen to the floor behind the waste basket. Edward bent to retrieve it -- an unopened package of Camels. Teddy must have knocked it back there in the midst of packing, then missed it. Edward slipped it into his breast pocket too and left the room. The superstition of youth made him think that if he kept this pack of Teddy's favorite brand, Teddy would have to come home to get them.

All through dinner, the letter burned a guilty hole in Edward's jacket, and when he returned home later that evening, he went through the tedious process of steaming it open in the kitchen after his parents and the help had retired for the night. After all, if Teddy did return, Edward didn't want him to know the letter had been read. Glue unsealing finally, Edward slipped the paper free and unfolded it, reading swiftly:

Dearest Edward,

As you are no doubt aware by now, I've left various instructions for the proper distribution of my personal effects, and the Plato, of course, is yours -- among other things. But this letter will have to represent my final words, and being my final words, I'm free to say the things I've wanted to say for ages but didn't dare. Death unbinds the tongue.

It is appropriate that this comes to you in the pages of The Phaedrus, since it was Plato who first revealed me to myself, in whose words I first recognized what I was -- perverse, inverted, musical . . . if no musician like you. Yet it was also Plato -- and you -- who showed me how to master it, make it into a virtue, not a vice. Your beauty and gentleness called me above my baser desires so that I longed for philosophy and a pure heart. You have been my inspiration and salvation, and I have loved you for years. If I pass St. Peter's Gates despite my twisted nature, it will be entirely due to you, sweet friend. My death now is, perhaps, the best thing for me -- that I could die in the service of my country, and before my corrupt nature drove me to amputate my soul's wings. In youth, I am closer to that initiation of which Plato spoke, and my soul recalls the glories it knew before birth. The dark horse, the soma, the body, hasn't had sufficient time to distract my reason.

So don't mourn me, beloved. I have achieved both a beautiful death and purity of passion -- I am a soul with wings intact. Greater men than me could wish for such fortune.

With all my truest affection and respect,
Theodore Mitchell Wells

Shell-shocked yet deeply moved, Edward wept as bitterly as if he'd read the letter for its intended reasons. Then he refolded it, put it back and resealed the original envelope. At his next visit, he returned it to the pages from which he'd taken it, running fingertips over the embossed title along the book's spine.

The horrible thing was that he didn't know if he wanted Teddy to come home now, or if he hoped his friend got the beautiful death he wished for. In some ways, it would be easier if they never met again face-to-face.