A/N This was written for the FGB auction winner, Twiolic. It covers the time period from when Edward left the Cullens to his first human kill.

I owe thanks to Laura and Michele for whipping this into shape.


It was what finally drove me out of the house. Not the fact that Carlisle and Esme were having relations with each other, but that they shared an intimacy in a way I struggled to understand. There were the shared secret smiles, the glancing touches that ignited desire in both of them, but what was exclusionary most of all was their concern about sharing what they had in front of me. It made me feel like a constant damper on the passion they were igniting in each other. Trying to hide it from me only made it harder; by then I was so attuned to their thoughts, I could read them from nearly a mile away.

Perhaps if they'd been more like Rosalie and Emmett, it would have been easier to bear. Those two were so ridiculously in love and lust with each other, it was almost comical. The merest glimpse of the skin of Rosalie's neck would startle Emmett into full rut. He'd run a hand across her back and she'd lean back into it and smile and they'd be off, doing it again. Before Emmett's arrival into our family, Rose was just starting to embrace her hobby of fixing cars. The first one took her six months; by the time Emmett came, it was taking an average of a month for her to completely refurbish a car and that was only because of the delay in getting parts. When Emmett arrived, she'd been working on a 1927 Ford Coupe. She didn't finish it for two years

Carlisle, Esme and I were in the parlor. Carlisle had brought home a new game called Scrabble, and we were reading the directions and trying to figure how to set it up when Rosalie and Emmett came streaking by us.

"Rose. Emmett," Esme called. "Come play with us."

Rosalie paused at the bottom of the stairs, with Emmett right behind her. "Um, maybe later," she said before dissolving into giggles as Emmett whispered in her ear. The two of them fled up the stairs.

Five minutes later, Esme was placing her tiles on the board. "L-I-C-K-I-N-G," she spelled out, obviously pleased to be using so many letters. Just then, a long, drawn-out, feminine groan emitted from the upstairs bedroom to which Rosalie and Emmett had retired.

Carlisle bit his bottom lip, trying very hard not to smile. Esme's gaze flicked to his face, and she began to frown as well, trying to avoid spilling the laughter that was bubbling up behind her eyes. Carlisle frowned in concentration, and then started moving tiles. "I don't have much," he said as he placed H-A-N-D on the board.

Vampire hearing is incredibly acute. I don't remember that much of my life as a human, but I do remember one of my first thoughts when I woke up after the change was the intensity of the noises around me. Things like birdsong, the rustling of mice in the walls, the whispers of people a hundred yards away, all were suddenly sharp and distinct.

"Oh, baby." Emmett's words, though spoken softly, rang out as if he was standing in the room next to us. I rubbed my hand across my eyes. Esme discretely brushed the pencil she was using to keep score off the table, giving her an excuse to bend below the table surface to fetch it. It also gave her a chance to struggle for control. Carlisle wouldn't look at her, afraid that the laughter in her eyes would make him lose the control he was barely hanging on to.

I already had my word and the spot to place it. I'd been concentrating hard on my tiles and the game, trying to avoid overhearing the thoughts, at least, of the couple upstairs. "L-O-U-D-E-R," I spelled. "With the bonus, that's twelve points." The three of us ignored the gradual increasing rhythmic thumping that came from above.

"Good one," Esme said encouragingly. "And that gives me the 'L' I need." She placed her tiles on the board. As luck would have it, her last letter ended on the triple word score bonus square. C-L-I-M-A-X. As if on cue, from upstairs came a high-pitched yelp accompanied by a long, masculine sigh that devolved into a growl. "That's fifty-four points," Esme said, her voice shaking with repressed laughter.

"That's a big one," Carlisle barely managed to choke out before dissolving in laughter. Of course, that set Esme off, and that was it for the two of them. They started shaking with laughter and hiding their faces in their hands.

I smiled ruefully, chuckling, and stood up. "Perhaps we could finish this later. I think I need a walk."

"Oh, please, Edward," Esme said, reaching for my hand as I passed her. "Just give us a moment."

I let her catch my hand, and I slightly squeezed her own. "It's okay. I just need some air."

"Well, if you're sure," Esme said before laughter took her over again.

I walked out the back door to stifled laughter. I knew they weren't laughing at me. They were laughing at the absurdity of the situation, but it was becoming increasingly clear how paired up the couples had become.

It's not that I didn't want a woman in my life. I did, desperately so. But it's not like I had a multitude of choices. I'd met the women of the other clan of vegetarians that resided in North America, but they were all so much older than I, if not in appearance, then by experience. They were daunting, to put it mildly. There were various nomads we ran across, but the women that adapted to that lifestyle were crude and crass, violent and hard as nails. I was beginning to think I was destined to be solitary.

I had grown up in a house full of culture; there was always classical music on the gramophone, and books on art and literature filled the shelves of my father's study. My mother was a well-known hostess in Chicago. She invited the best and brightest of the stars of the arts and sciences to our dinner table. These people gladly flocked to our home, drawn by the entertaining and vivacious discussions. And in the middle of it, like the center stone on a tiara, was my mother, gracious, elegant and serene. I would catch my father standing in a corner, listening to the conversation, unable to take his eyes off the woman he loved.

The love my father and mother shared was extraordinary. As an only child, I knew they doted on me, and probably spoiled me. But the love they had for each other was truly passionate and all-encompassing. It embarrassed my grandmother to no end; she thought it unseemly that a man and his wife should hold such affection for each other. But what they had, it seemed to me even as a child, was something rare and magical. I had always waited for the day when I, too, would meet the woman that would be my soul mate.

But life had intervened, as it so often does. I had been a vampire for over twenty years, and the chances of finding the woman who would inspire that kind of passion in me were becoming more and more remote. In the meantime, I'd been on this earth for almost forty years and had yet to know the physical love between a man and a woman.

It came time for me to strike out on my own, to leave the comfort of my family. I had to go, if only to satisfy my own curiosity as to whether there was someone out there for me in the manner of which I dreamed. But there were darker desires, too, that drove me on, desires to see the side of life that Carlisle tried to protect us from.

I traveled across the United States several times. I had an older Ford sedan at the time, and I often gave extended rides to the drifters I found. There were many young men at odds as I was; the US was still trying to pull itself out of a depression and jobs were not plentiful. Although so many of the men were the same in their dress and their appearance, the variety I found among their minds was more of an education than I had ever received in a traditional setting.

I was traveling through Decatur and had stopped to pick up more reliable camping gear, when I ran across Tanya in the hardware store. She was an old friend of Carlisle's, blonde, beautiful and elegant. They had met during Carlisle's time in Italy, and she was the leader of the only other coven in North America that practiced a 'vegetarian' lifestyle.

"Edward!" she exclaimed. "What a surprise! How are you?"

"I'm doing well, and yourself?"

"Wonderful." She surprised me by giving me a peck on the cheek. "How is your family?" Tanya's family and ours had crossed paths on a number of occasions; most recently it had been to come to Rose and Emmett's wedding.

"Last I heard, they were well."

"Last you heard?"'

I shuffled my feet, feeling slightly like a schoolboy who'd been caught neglecting his schoolwork. "I left them about eighteen months ago. I've been traveling."

She picked her purchases up off the counter. "Where are you staying?"

I shrugged. "Nowhere, really. I was just buying a new tent and some other things."

"Well, you must come home with me. I know that Kate and Carmen and Eleazar would love to see you."

I glanced around. "Perhaps I could stop by after I've done some hunting."

"Nonsense." She threaded her arm through my own. "We'll all go. I'd be happy to show you the best spots."

I followed her back to their house, set some miles away from town. That evening we walked the woods, having found an easy meal of mule deer. It was early December and a light snow had just started to fall. Tanya had on a beige wool jacket that had a fur collar, and her light blonde hair was parted in soft waves that framed her face. It was the color of corn silk, and I couldn't stop myself from reaching out a hand to feel its silkiness.

She waited patiently, unmoving. "It's so soft," I whispered.

"Why did you leave Carlisle?" she asked softly. "Were you unhappy?"

I turned away, sighing. "No, Carlisle is… well frankly, amazing." I tried to put into words the general miasma of discontent I'd been feeling when I left. "It's very serene and educated and cultured around Carlisle."

I turned back to her and took a step forward. "But I know that's only one side of life. There's more, so much more. I am sure of it. I want to know about real life, even if it has grittiness and pain." I took another step closer. "There is so much more out there to be experienced. If I am going to live forever, I want to know what my choices are."

She was just inches away from me. I could feel her gaze searching my face. I knew her body was responding to me, and for once, I was willing to let this lead where it would. "And what kind of experiences are you looking for?" she murmured.

I gazed into her eyes, screwing up my courage. A small smile played around the corners of her wide mouth, daring me. She was a beautiful woman, and her thoughts told me that she wanted what I wanted as well. If I couldn't have the swept-away passion of my parents, I was ready to settle. I grabbed her shoulders and kissed her hard and long on the mouth.

It was different than I expected. Her lips were soft and warm, and as she got over her initial surprise that I had moved so quickly, she started to kiss me back. She laid a gloved hand on my back and melted further into me. It felt good to be kissing her, to feel the smoothness of her lips and the pressure of her body against mine. She smelled like vanilla and dogwood flowers, and it started to make my head spin in a subtly delightful way. If I didn't hear the angels sing and bells chorus like my in naïve, romantic dreams, it was alright. I knew I wasn't in love with her, but I thought perhaps I could come to love her. I heard her thoughts that she liked our kiss and that she was ready to take a new lover. The thought of schooling me excited her, and I felt ready-no−I was ready-to learn what she had to show me.

"Let's go back to the house," she whispered and led me by the hand back the way we had come. We entered the front door, stopping at the bottom of the staircase when we saw Kate and Eleazar staring at the radio, shocked into stillness.

"What is it?" Tanya asked, perplexed and taking a step into the parlor.

Kate's eyes were huge as she turned to her. "The Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor."

Tanya raised a hand to her mouth. "The Japanese? Pearl Harbor? Where is that?"

"Hawaii. There's a naval base there. Hundreds, maybe thousands, are dead."

I took a step forward. "We'll go to war for sure, now." Up until that point, the US had been sitting on the sidelines as the Germans marched through Europe. A lot of people felt that it was Europe's problem and that it was wrong to involve the US in a European skirmish. However, the problem wasn't just theirs anymore. This was opening involvement in a whole new arena.

The radio announcer came back on with news that Manila was being attacked. We stood stock still, listening as the realization hit us that this would change everything. As the initial shock wore off, I began to get angry that the Japanese would dare attack, and my head began to fill with dreams of proving my valor, of being part of something larger than myself. The promises of what Tanya held for me started to recede in importance.

Perhaps if I hadn't missed the first world war, I might have felt differently. But I had burned to serve in the Great War as a young man and had had plans for enlistment when my life as a human came to an end in the flu epidemic. It was a young man's dream of glory and valor, and I still carried the naiveté of my youth. So the chance to fight for my country and to come to its defense was a siren call I couldn't resist. This was an experience I had wanted since I had played with toy soldiers in the gardens outside of my childhood home.

Eleazar was shaking his head. "What are the Japanese thinking? They are rousing the sleeping dragon."

Foolishly, I was excited about the prospect of going to war. "That's some kind of moxie to attack us on our own soil. We'll be over there before you know it."

"The lives of so many," Kate said softly.

"I have to go. I have to speak to Carlisle," I said, excited with the prospect of helping out with the war effort. Already, I was planning how I would slip into a battalion and be a part of the war effort. Wars were so chaotic, all I needed would be a uniform to pass into the ranks of the soldiers.

I could see the disappointment and disapproval in Kate's and Eleazar's expressions. They knew what I did not at the time, that nothing of war is glorious.

Tanya's face showed her resignation. I walked to her and clasped her hand to my chest. "You'll be here for me when I return?" I asked, feeling full of the romanticism of going off to war.

"You really want this experience, Edward?" she said, concern in her face. With her free hand, she pushed a lock of hair off my forehead. "It's not what you think it is."

"I don't know what it is. But I need to find out," I said, burning with nationalism. I stepped closer to her. "Promise you'll be here when I return."

"Where would I go?" she asked simply. I kissed her forehead then, excited to be off. I gave my goodbyes to Kate, Carmen and Eleazar and jumped in my car to head to Ithaca where the family was, and then to where the 'action' was.

I made it across the ocean on a tramp steamer and was in France by that spring. They were right. There was nothing good in the midst of war. Valor and glory were empty concepts in the face of such horrors. I spent the next four years in Europe, occasionally jumping from company to company. I spent a lot of time traveling alone under the cover of darkness, disrupting supply lines and bridges. I'd learned to shoot well, and often took the position of sniper; it kept me from hand to hand combat, which I feared because of the bloodlust. I was best serving from a distance, and if the men in the company started to notice my differences, it was a simple thing to slip away and find another company.

So much death. So much brutal, horrible death. It saturated the air. The thoughts of the soldiers I served with were often more than I could bear: the grief, their longing for home, the horror at what they had seen and done. And those we fought against were filled with exactly those same thoughts. Soldiers were still all essentially human and the same, no matter what madman had commanded their movements.

Poland was the worst. The disrespect and scorn for humanity I had seen in nomadic vampires was nothing against the full blown killing machine and institutionalized murder the Germans had created. I would never be quite the same after walking among the mass graves where bodies were piled like cordwood. It made me realize what a thin veneer of civilization we relied on and that savagery was only a step away from the best of us.

I came home on a merchant ship as well. I hitched rides and was in Decatur by August. I walked up the dusty road to Tanya's house by moonlight, a much different being than when I had left. I felt old−ancient, really−and disabused of my notions of romanticism and the ideals I had held. After so much death and horror, my spirit felt as black as pitch, and more than anything, I wanted a corner where I could forget what I had seen and what I had done and what I had seen others do. I didn't know if I was going to find the absolution or forgetfulness I craved in Tanya's arms, but I had no other ideas, and it seemed as good a place as any to start looking.

She was sewing; I could hear her thoughts as I trudged up the front steps to the house. She stopped when she heard my footsteps, and I knocked gently on the door. She was at the door instantly, and I heard her inward gasp when she saw me.

"Edward… " she whispered.

I said nothing. Maybe it had been a mistake to come. I started to say a half a dozen things and discarded them all, unable to verbalize even why I was there. I ran my hand through my hair and started to turn to head back down the steps to somewhere, anywhere but here.

She stopped me and pulled me into her arms. Her arms went around my waist, and I stood there feeling her strength, her femininity. Something inside me started to melt a bit, the ice that had covered my heart started to crack and fissure. She held me close, her body soft and warm against mine, and slowly I put my arms around her. Breathing in her scent, I laid my head next to hers and tried to stop listening, to stop thinking.

She pulled back and her eyes searched my face. "Come," she whispered and, taking my hand, led me inside and up the stairs. Her bedroom was small and simply furnished. She sat me down on the brass bed and, touching her fingers to my lips, told me to wait. She slipped out of the door.

I set my rucksack on the floor and undid my boots, placing them against the wall and returning to my spot on the bed. A sudden pang of nervousness ran through me. This would be my first time with a woman. This was where I'd been headed almost five years ago, when I'd decided that the war needed my talents, and while I didn't regret the fighting, I was far from the bright-eyed boy I had been then.

The doorknob turned and Tanya slid into the room. She was wearing a silk kimono robe that was covered in small flowers and tied at the waist, and she turned around to close the door gently behind her. She'd untied her hair, and it fell down her back like a white waterfall, smooth and shiny. She turned to me, and capturing me with her eyes, slowly undid the sash of her robe. She shrugged it off her shoulders and stood there, letting me see her beauty.

She was incredibly beautiful−the feminine ideal, all rounded curves and mysterious shadows. She wore only a strapless bra and corset-like garment with garters. I had no idea where she had gotten the stockings, but they stopped at mid-thigh, leaving patches of creamy white skin bare on either side of her garters. The corset just covered her sex, leaving a shadow that seemed filled with promise and mystery. She leaned back against the door, still in her shoes.

I could feel desire rising in me as heaviness rushed to my groin. The way her bare shoulders, rounded and simple, lead to the swell of her breasts, held tight by the cotton bra, was a site stunning enough for me to get lost in for days. Underneath the cotton band I could see the shadow of her nipples. I swallowed hard; this was it, the moment that had held me through so many nights in towers in France and Germany, waiting for the enemy to come traipsing by.

"You're… you're beautiful," I whispered, my first words to her in five years.

"Tonight, this is all for you," she said, sashaying toward me. She extended a finger and, pushing slightly in the center of my chest, let me fall to my back on the bed. She climbed onto the bed and straddled me, knees bent, our groins pressed together. I had to gasp when she settled her weight on top of me. Already my erection was straining my pants, and I could feel the hollow of her sex and they way we were meant to fit together. I let my hands settle on her knees and run up her thighs, to the garters that held the nylons and back down again.

I'd had moments of sexual desire before, but nothing like this, nothing like this imperative that demanded skin, that demanded her nakedness. I wanted to crawl inside her and around her and spend the rest of my life running my hands over her skin, around her smooth shoulders, up her thighs and around to her derriere.

Sitting above me, she stared into my eyes, a smile playing around her lips as she slowly reached behind her with one hand and undid the fasteners of her bra. With her other hand, she held the cloth as it started to fall away from her. Holding the loose band, she dropped her eyes in false modesty before glancing at me again as she pulled the material away.

Perfect breasts. Tipped with tight pink nipples jutting away from beautifully rounded breasts that looked as if they had been shaped by a champagne glass. Almost worshipfully, I raised a hand and, with a finger, traced a line from her collarbone to slide down to her nipple. As I did so, she blinked slowly and threw her head back with a sigh. Emboldened by her reaction, I took both breasts in my hands, feeling their soft fleshy weight. She liked that, her thoughts said, and she gasped slightly, and I felt a thrill of pleasure as I dragged my thumbs across her nipples. Grabbing her hands in my own, she leaned over me until her hair fell like curtains on either side of our faces. Her golden eyes crinkled at the corners as she smiled. "Welcome home, soldier," she whispered. She brushed her lips across mine, all breathy and teasing.

It was more than I could handle; I needed her now, immediately in some way I couldn't even describe. I flipped us over on the bed so I was on top of her, kissing her, running my hands on top of her shoulders, down her sides. I wanted to touch all of her at once. I wanted−I wanted; the immensity of my want left me speechless. I kissed her hungrily, thrusting my tongue into her mouth, sucking on her lips. Letting my hands travel down her sides, squeezing and kneading, I ground my hips into hers, moaning into her mouth at the delightful friction it caused.

She started clawing at my shirt. "We need to take off some of these clothes," she breathed. I agreed and sat back so I was on my knees, reared above her. I grabbed my shirt and the buttons went flying; I was too impatient to actually unbutton them. I ripped the shirt off my chest and shook it down my arms, and it went flying across the room. She untangled her legs from me and turned over to her stomach. The long muscles of her naked back rose to the slender mound of her rump, covered by the corset. She looked at me over her shoulder, and I'd never seen a woman more seductive, more erotic. "Unlace me," she said.

I deciphered the lacings on the girdle she wore and untied them, pulling at her garment until it was loosened. She rolled off the bed into a standing position and slid the garment down her legs, careful of the nylons that dropped with it. She kicked off her shoes and paused.

Slender, strong shoulders, sliding to those incredible breasts, the way her rib cage nipped in to a slender waist before flaring out to feminine hips. The long expanse of tender skin from her navel down to her sex and the way there was a space at the apex of her long slender thighs before their fleshiness came together as she posed there for me. Part of me wanted to just look at her for the next century, but another part, more demanding and hotter, wanted to pull to her toward me, to take her, to claim her. There was heat there, tremendous heat, and I wanted to dive into it.

I groaned again, feeling an imminent explosion building in my groin. She smiled, and her thoughts told me she wouldn't expect me to last long. She wondered how long it had been since I had a woman.

"Tanya," I said softly. "I've never…"

Her eyes widened slightly. "Never?"

I shook my head, fervently hoping it wouldn't make a difference.

A lazy smile crossed her face. "This will be fun," she said.

"Oh, I hope so," I prayed. "I hope so."

"Lay back," she ordered, and I was helpless to do otherwise. My breaths were coming short and ragged, and with each inward gasp, I could smell her rising excitement. It only spurred me further into my own state of need and eroticism. It left me strangely passive, already overwhelmed as I was with my own perceptions and sensations. She straddled my knees this time and started working on my belt. Mesmerized and nearly shaking with need, I watched her hands as she undid the belt and zipper of my pants, while my hands clenched at my sides, aching to touch her nakedness, but when I raised a hand, she stopped and said, "No, be still."

"Please," I pleaded. "Please."

"Lay still," she said, and continued with her work. She yanked the loosened pants down my legs and my erection sprang free. I raised my hips involuntarily, seeking heat and friction and she took advantage of my position to pull my pants down to my knees.

I groaned loudly, unable to stop myself, and my hips bucked upwards when she took me in her hand. My eyes rolled backwards in my head, and a tremor ran from my head to my toes.

"So eager," she whispered, and she ran her hand up my shaft, spreading the moisture there on the top of the head and sliding her hand back down again.

It was like being squeezed by fire, the heat and the pressure of her hand. I could feel the inescapable explosion building in my groin, teetering on the edge. "Tanya, I'm going to-I can't…" My protestations devolved into another groan as she stroked me again.

"I know," she whispered, chuckling softly. I held my breath as she released me and started to move up my body until the fierce white hot heat of her sex was pressed against mine. She raised herself on her knees and with her hand, pulled me so the tip of my throbbing erection just rested against her outer lips. Bracing her hands on my chest, she moved her hips in a circle, teasing me, letting the warm slickness of her sex cover the head with her juices. "Want that, do ya?"she teased softly.

I nodded, unable to do more than groan, incoherent with the lust throbbing like a heart beat through my veins. I pushed my shoulders and heels into the bed trying to raise my hips higher toward the promise of release. I was burning with need, and I wanted nothing more than to bury myself in her fire.

And then she slid herself downward, enveloping me in her heat and tightness. "Oh God," I cried out, unable to believe anything could feel this good, this right. She inhaled, hissing though her teeth, as she ground herself into me.

I lost my struggle to keep my eyes open. It was as hot as the surface of the sun, as tight as a glove, and she had only to raise and descend herself on my hardness once more before I was sucked into surrendering to a spinning orgasm. I could feel myself arc into her, lost in the long shuddering jets of pleasure.

I cried out her name as the pleasure washed over me. I rode the spasms of ecstasy that gripped me, unwilling and unable to shake myself free. Panting, trying to recover myself, I waited as the final waves receded. I'd never felt so lost in the moment, so relaxed and so euphoric.

I understood now. I understood so much more now. This was why men battled for the love of a woman. This is why wars had been started. I was inordinately grateful to her, that she had shown me this.

I opened my eyes as she clambered off of me, shocked by the sudden absence of her heat. She sat on the edge of the bed and with her back to me, swiped at herself with a cloth.

She turned back to me, and again, I had to gasp at her pale beauty. I put my arm around her shoulder as she came to lie beside me. "So, gentle Edward, what do you think?" She traced a finger down my nose and across my lips that I pursed as she continued down my chin and to my chest.

I looked at her out of the corner of my eye. "Now I know what the big fuss is about."

She laughed delightfully. "Oh, we've just started," she promised. She traced her finger across my chest, playing among the sparse hair there. Her expression turned serious. "Did you find what you were looking for when you went off to war?"

I sat up suddenly and swung my legs over the side of the bed. "No. No, I didn't." I looked out the small window in the wall across from her bed. In a few hours it would be dawn. "It was never there for me to find," I added softly.

She clambered up behind me as I sat on the edge of the bed, and threw her arms around my neck. I could feel the softness of her breasts, tipped by the delightful firmness of her nipples on my back, and it was enough to start fanning the newly found fires of my desire.

She rested her chin on my shoulder, and I closed my eyes against the lovely feeling of her lips and breath against my face. She whispered into my ear. "Some lessons must be experienced, not learned."

I grabbed her hand and twisted to turn to her. "So it seems," I said, letting my eyes run over her nakedness. I would never get enough of looking at her. She was perfection, done in the colors of cream and rose.

She moved backward across the bed and lied back down. "Come experience some more," she whispered, holding her arms out for me. As I turned and crawled across the bed to her, her gaze flicked downwards to where I was already hardening in anticipation. "God, I love young men," she murmured before I covered her lips with my own.

I was an eager student, and Tanya was delighted to find how my mindreading abilities could be used to anticipate just what would pleasure her. It became a game between us for me to try to bring her to climax while she tried to misdirect me and hold herself off. But I could always win, or perhaps she always let me win; she was a sensual creature and tied to her body and sexuality in a way few women are. As hedonistic as a cat, she had no qualms, no misgivings, no doubts about going after what brought her pleasure.

Months went by and slid into years while we tangled ourselves around each other again and again until it became hard to tell where she stopped and I began. There were times when we fought; she could be inordinately stubborn, and there were times when she cut me to the quick with her thoughtlessness. Some part of me recognized the impermanence of the relationship, yet the upbringing of my youth demanded that I treat her with a certain respect. I assumed, falsely, that she was looking for the same thing I was.

It was December, and we were in the living room, playing Yahtzee on the floor in front of the fireplace. We expected Carmen and Eleazar to return from South America any day now. They'd fled there when Eleazar's presence raised too many questions for them to stay in the States where it was expected that every able bodied man be enlisted. But with the war over, they were on their way home.

She shook the cup vigorously, then rolled the die. I was enjoying the way her dressing gown was blousing open when she cleared her throat. "Do you have any plans for Christmas?" she asked.

"No, not really," I said, moving my eyes to the game and trying to figure out what the best scoring strategy would be.

The fire crackled and popped. "Have you been to see Carlisle and your family since you got back from overseas?"

"No. I called them from New York when I got in."

"You should go, you know. I got a letter from Carlisle last week. They miss you terribly."

I paused in mid-throw. "You've gotten a letter from Carlisle? Why didn't you tell me?"

"Well, it was addressed to me," she said, somewhat affronted. "You were in town."

I was astonished that she'd kept it from me. I was even more astonished that she'd been able to keep it from me, that I hadn't heard it in her thoughts at all. I looked at her, wondering what else I hadn't heard. "How are they doing?"

"Well, they're in Vancouver. " She picked up the dice and scooped them into the cup. "They were hoping you'd visit."

"I should," I said, suddenly realizing I missed them, too. I missed the clarity and compassion of Carlisle's mind, Esme's heart, Emmett's comedy and even Rosalie's honesty. "I will," I decided. "I'll leave tomorrow."

"Good," she said, nodding. She threw the dice and smiled. "Yahtzee."

A week later, Carlisle and I were walking in the woods, having just fed. It was snowing lightly, and the northern woods were lovely in their freshness. "So, do you have any plans?" he asked, stepping over a log as we headed back toward the house.

"I don't know," I answered. "I guess I should speak with Tanya." I glanced at him; his face was serene and his mind was calm and focused. "I've been thinking of marrying her," I said.

His alertness peaked. "What does she say about that?"

"I haven't discussed it with her," I admitted. "But we get along so well, and we seem so well-matched."

"Do you love her?"

"I think so." I realized how tentative that sounded. "Yes," I said more forcefully. "I love her."

Carlisle's mood changed abruptly. Concern and foreboding filled his mind. He spoke slowly, picking his words carefully. "Tanya is very good at starting relationships. She's not so good at keeping them."

"What do you mean?"

He stopped, forcing me to turn around to face him. "Tanya is one of the eldest of our kind. Very few of us are able to stay alive and sane through a millennia. She is an amazing woman, but she lives by no rules but her own. She is stronger than most men I know. "

He started walking again and I fell into step beside him. "There were times when she was revered as a goddess. Certainly she fits the bill, beautiful, willful, a force of nature in her own right."

"Why do you think I love her?" I asked, smiling and thinking she fit all those adjectives.

"But she is also capricious and self-centered, also. I worry for you, Edward, that you try to build a life around her."

"It's my life to do what I will," I said stiffly.

"That it is." He clapped me on the shoulder. "That it is. So, tell me, are you thinking about school at all?"

Perhaps if I had listened harder, I might have avoided some of the heartache that laid in wait for me. When I returned to the house in Decatur, Tanya was not home. Kate would not look me in the eye and fled from the house on some errand. An hour later, Tanya was dropped off at the front door by a car.

She walked up to the house, her thoughts full of the human male she had just left, holding her hat on her head against the wind that had kicked up. I stood on the front porch, my arms crossed against my chest.

She finally raised her head as she climbed the stairs. "Edward," she said delightedly and full of innocence. "You're back. How wonderful."

My face remained hard. "Where have you been?"

She looked at me, finally taking in my stern face and my stiff position. "Out." Her mind closed like a steel door. Over the last few months, she'd gotten adept at hiding her thoughts when she wanted from me. For all her pleasure-seeking ways, she could force a fierce discipline on herself if it was to further her own causes.

"With who?"

"Friends." She made the conscious decision to try to cajole me. "Please, Edward, don't be like that."

"A human, Tanya? Really?"

"And what's wrong with that?"

"Tanya, I was gone two weeks! Did I mean that little? Was I that easy to forget?"

"Forget you?" she asked, her voice rising. "Never. I love your company. But we've made no promises to each other."

She was right, there. I took a step forward, coming close enough that I could smell the perfume of her hair. "Would you if I asked?"

She threw her head back and laughed. "Always so eager, Edward. Always rushing into things." She put a hand to my face and pressed herself against me. "I love that about you," she whispered.

I could feel her body against mine and she moved her hip so that it rubbed against my groin. She let her hands rest on my chest. "Come upstairs and let me show you how much I missed you."

I let her lead me upstairs, while I tried to quiet my misgivings. I would pin her down, and I would claim her. If I just tried harder, I convinced myself, I would make her see that there was no one else for her but me.

A week later, I had decided I had to speak. She was naked on the bed, spread out like a buffet of milk and roses. I'd teased her into a climax and she was panting with pleasure as she rode out its waves. I held her foot in my hand as I knelt at the end of the bed. "Tell me again," I said, kissing her instep, "that someone else can give you more than I can, that they know you better." I let my fingers trail up her leg and her hips rose to meet my hand.

"Umm," she moaned in the back of her throat, as content as a cat sitting in a sunny window. "You do know me well," she said.

I lay down beside her and ran a finger down the middle of her chest. "It would mean a lot to me if we could formalize things between us. I love you. "

"Formalize things?" She looked over at me, near to laughing. "Formalize things. Oh, Edward, sometimes you are just too funny." She chuckled and then glanced at me. Her face grew serious as she realized that I was as well. She raised a hand to my face. "I love you, too. You know that."

"Then let's get married. We can invite all the Cullens and-"

She put a finger to my lips. "I've told you. I like the way things are. We're free to live the lives we want without tying ourselves down. How do you know you'll feel the same in a decade? A century?"

I took her hand in my own and kissed it. "I know how I feel."

She pulled her hand away from mine and sat up. "So do I." She looked at me over her shoulder. "I spent too many years in my youth being tied to men and their wishes and desires. Never again." She rose out of bed and started to slip on her robe.

"But, this is different. We are different," I protested.

Her face had grown hard as she yanked the sash of her robe tight. "Drop it, Edward." She slipped out the bedroom door.

I watched the door shut behind her, vowing I would leave her. But I was trapped by then, even if I didn't admit it to myself. I'd become addicted to her body, to the pleasure we shared. Having gone from a virginal state, I'd now become a full-blown sensualist. Tanya had taught me so much about a woman's body, about my own responses; I dreaded returning to my solitary and celibate ways. Looking back, it was easy to see the love I thought I felt for her was just the love of our physical relationship and my first foray into intimacy, but it didn't feel like that then.

It was only a few months later, when I returned to the house after a mere two days' absence to go hunting, that I started to realize how deep my problems ran.

She arrived back at the house late that night, driven home by a carload of drunken and rowdy humans. I watched through the curtained window as several men in uniform kissed her goodbye, groping her like she was a prostitute. I could feel the rage building with each step she took as she climbed the stairs.

I turned from the window and glowered at her as she entered the bedroom. I could smell the humans all over her; the stink of their hands and semen drowning her own floral scent. "I can't believe you would cheapen yourself like that," I hissed.

She saw the rage in my cold eyes, and her eyes flashed as she raised her chin. "Cheapen myself? What, are you going to judge me now? How dare you, child!"

"Don't call me a child!" I roared. "I am older by half than any of those men out there."

"Then stop acting like one! I'm not your toy to play with and then put away on a shelf when you're gone." Her rage grew icy and she spoke the next words in a cold, even voice. "Don't mistake my affection for commitment, Edward. I will not be tied by any man."

A pang of insecurity ran through me. As angry as I was, something inside me told me that there was a limit to what I could push her for, what I could ask. "Does what we have mean nothing to you?"

She softened and came over to stand at the window by me. "Of course it means something to me." She placed her hand on my arm. "I love you, Edward. The humans-they mean nothing. They can't change the way I feel about you."

Miserable, I looked at her. "They change the way I feel about you," I said softly.

Sighing, she turned and threw her hat on the bed. "When you are as old as I am, you learn after a while, that there is nothing new under the sun. Nothing at all. Just new people." She raised a stockinged foot on a chair and started to undo her nylons.

"That's so cynical and sad," I said, shaking my head.

"What is it you want from me?" She turned to face me. "What is it you want for yourself? A house with a picket fence and rose bushes?" She returned to her stockings. "You want a woman you can pin down and keep in a cage. You know me better than that. I won't be that for you."

"If it's a cage, then it's a cage we could enter together, of our own choice, made to hold our love close."

"No!" she cried, whirling around. "No cages, no strings, no promises to bind us. You want to use love like a chain," she spat, her eyes flashing. "I will not be bound!"

I swore, stomping out of the room. Of course, I was back a day later, unable to stay away from her.

I finally realized that she would not, could not, be what I wanted. I'd gone to Helena to visit my family. Carlisle had written that Alice and Jasper had joined the family, and asked me to come meet them. As I watched the newest couple, and also Esme and Carlisle and even Rose and Emmett together, it made me aware that for all the intimacy I had with Tanya, the relationship we had was at best shallow and transitory.

I was no longer willing to settle. I returned to Tanya's house, determined to deliver an ultimatum that she marry me or I would leave. I never had a chance to do so. As I strode up the walkway to her house, my heart lifted as I heard her laughter. It was immediately followed by a human male's murmuring and more laughter coming from her bedroom.

My hand stopped just short of the doorknob as the sounds of lovemaking drifted down the stairs. Standing frozen at the door, I realized every time I went away, this is what I would be faced with. I turned around and left, without a sound, feeling the weight of my aloneness settle back on my shoulders like a heavy cloak.

I clambered back into the Hudson sedan, not sure where I was headed. I passed a dealership in Decatur, and in the front of the lot they'd parked a brand-new 1951 Harley Davidson motorcycle, its chrome gleaming in the overhead lights. I had purchased the Hudson at Tanya's request; she liked a car with a lot of room, but I'd always favored the sleek and small roadsters. But something about the motorcycle grabbed me. It was a vehicle for traveling alone and I was feeling destined to be solitary. I made an even trade of the Hudson for the Harley, leaving the dealer dreaming of profits and having moved just the bare essentials into the saddle bags.

I'd been on the road for just a few hours when the sun started to climb. I found a dirt road that branched off the highway and located a shaded grove where I could spend the daylight hours. I spent the day among the trees, thinking incessantly about what had happened. I probed my heart, feeling the sharp edges of hurt, disappointment and even humiliation, but a part of me recognized that I'd been at least partly to blame. I'd mistaken sex for intimacy. I'd refused to see Tanya for what she was. She'd always made it clear that our relationship was of the moment; I'd kept trying to change that. I could go back and settle for the piece of Tanya that she was willing to give me, knowing I would always have to share her. Or I could leave, with my dignity tattered but still intact. I'd been right to leave, I decided. I was too proud to do otherwise.

It was nearing sunset, and I was beginning to think it might be safe to venture out to the highway when the sound of a car being driven along the dirt road stopped me. It stopped maybe a hundred yards away, and I heard the sound of car doors being opened and shut. This road was the only way back to the highway I was aware of, so it made sense for me to see what was happening. I almost wished I hadn't.

They were soldiers, three of them. At least they were dressed that way. It had increasingly become a con man ruse to wear a uniform; the nationalism of the war had settled into gratitude and love of all things soldierly, making the general populace easy prey for anyone in military dress. From the back of the car came the aroma of humans in extreme fear.

From the trunk of the car, the soldiers pulled two beaten and abused girls who stumbled and fell to the ground, their hands bound by strips of cloth. I estimated the older of the two to be eighteen or so, the younger maybe fourteen years of age, judging by the slender boy-like lines of her figure. They'd been beaten and had bruises and dried cuts everywhere their skin showed behind the torn, flowered dresses they wore. The soldiers watched heartlessly as the older one clambered to her feet, trying to keep the younger one behind her.

"Please," she pleaded. "Let her go. She's just a kid. I'm the one you want." She took a step closer to the men, holding her bound hands in front of her. "Please. I'll do whatever you want. "

"Damn straight you will, girlie," one of them leered, causing the others to laugh as they passed a liquor bottle among themselves.

The beefiest one sauntered over to the standing girl, and grabbing the binding of her hands, pulled her over to him. "Well, you certainly are a ripe one," he said, grabbing at her breasts roughly.

She whimpered and turned her face away as he pulled her to him. The tall one came up behind her and, lifting her dress to her waist, started to rub his hands along her chaste cotton panties and thrust his hips against her, murmuring obscenities. The two soldiers occupied with her were soon tearing her dress from her as she was moaning and crying.

I'd thought I'd left all of this behind me on the battlefields of Europe: the degeneracy, the unrelenting cruelty, the murder and killing. Nothing in my earliest life or life with Carlisle had prepared me for the viciousness that humanity perpetrated against itself. Isn't this what we had gone to war for? To stop the march of force majeure? I'd worn that uniform with pride, and I could taste ashes in my mouth as I watched these three violate every moral they'd promised to uphold when they'd put theirs on.

I had to ask myself, though, was stopping them worth exposing myself? For surely, if I saved the women, I'd have to expose at least some of my non-human abilities. It was the actions of the third soldier that decided me. He went over to the younger woman, who sat slumped on the ground, unwilling to watch the crimes against her sister. He yanked her up by the hair and threw her against the car where she landed with a dull crash. As he tore her dress from her, exposing her small, child-like breasts, rage exploded in me. I was not going to be able to walk away from this. Speeding from my vantage point in the bushes, I ran and grabbed the one attacking the younger girl, pulling him with me as I ran past the clearing to the other side. I had him by the collar, and with his pants down around his ankles, he was effectively hobbled. I spun him so his back was against my chest, and twisted his head around in an impossible arc. He fell to the ground, lifeless.

The girl had fallen to the ground in shock and no one else had noticed a member of their group was missing. By then, her sister's attackers had the older girl pinned on the ground. One was on top of her, and she began to scream in pain and panic as he tore off her underpants and fell on her while the other held the girl's arms above her head. I ran to them and pulled the prone man off her, picking him up to face me.

They'd apparently slapped the girl around; from her position on the ground, I could see they'd given her a bloody nose, and it'd smeared across her face. In fact, it was all over the face of the man I held in front of me. It's what slowed me down. I looked at the red crimson streaked across his face and slowly inhaled. I began to tremble.

I don't know what led to that initial moment of weakness. I'd expected cruelty on the battlefield; I'd never thought to see it in my own backyard. I'd braced myself against the bloodlust there in Europe, picking my fights carefully, as tightly bound as a mummy. But now I was watching these three thugs, who were supposed to be protectors of those who couldn't fight for themselves, sully every honorable action, every selfless act of the hundreds of thousands of their brethren in uniform. All of those I'd seen cry out in pain and despair, dying in the mud and rain, thinking only of the paradise they remembered as home. These three were destroying that ideal and the uniforms they wore.

Surely, the despair and abandonment I felt from my rift with Tanya played a part. Perhaps it was the anger I felt at humanity in general. Whatever it was, it was going to my head like a drug. Everything became crystalline clear and time seemed to slow to a crawl. The burn that resided in my throat as a constant reminder of my nature exploded outwards until I felt like I'd been dipped in molten lava, every cell crying out for coolness and relief.

The smears of blood on his face glistened in the setting sun so attractively, even while his face was twisting in horror. He was struggling in my arms, but it was useless to fight against me. The smell was hypnotic. I knew I should put him down, should find some other way to deal with him, but I couldn't let him go.

Suddenly his expression grew incredibly surprised. The smell of blood filled the air. Just beyond the shoulder of the man I held, I saw his cohort, crouched by the girl who'd drawn herself up in a fetal position. He was holding a pistol, and a wisp of smoke drifted out of the barrel. He'd tried to shoot me, but had succeeded only in killing the man I held in my hands. I looked down at where our chests touched. A large red stain was spreading across his chest, soaking my shirt as well.

Instant delirium. They say that the first snort of cocaine is like that. Like the whole world expands, as if the universe was taking a huge inward gasp before snapping back into place, only brighter and shinier than before. I knew what I was going to do then. It was the most natural thing in the world. I dropped the body in my hands and walked toward the man with the pistol. He fired a few more shots at me while trying to scramble away, but I smiled as I neared him. He started screaming when I picked him up. I'd never drunk from a human before, but I naturally knew the position to place his head and neck in to facilitate the best blood flow.

The skin on his neck was a bit loose and rubbery, and it tore away like tissue paper exposing his tendons and veins. I watched as the blood raced through his carotid artery, in time with the man's fiercely beating heart. One more nudge and it opened under my teeth, spilling across my tongue.

The first taste of human blood−it was as if gravity shifted. The chaos of the world, the existential questions I'd always wrestled with, all the unknowable mysteries unfolded before me like a lotus blossom. Avenues of understanding became crystal clear. This−this blood−this was the answer. The pieces of my life pulled together into a coherent whole and who I was, what I was made sudden sense.

I fell to my knees, my lips locked to the man's neck. It was if I'd discovered oxygen just now; for decades I had been suffocating, never knowing the answer that was here, in the veins of the people that surrounded me. It was−it would be−all I ever needed.

The blood slowed and finally stopped. I dropped the body and slowly rose to my feet, feeling as immense as a god. The blood ran through me like bolts of lightning; I expected to see arcs of electricity crackling from my fingertips. The feeling was instantly addictive. I shouted in triumph at the sky.

The two girls had found each other and were huddled together, watching me with eyes as round as saucers. I wiped my hand against my mouth. It came away streaked with blood. I turned and waved toward the car. "Get in the car and go," I told them hoarsely.

They didn't need to be told twice. They made a huge arc around me to get to the car. I heard the doors slam, and the car peel off down the road.

I stood there for minutes, my eyes closed, focusing on the way the blood danced through my body. It was incredibly heady, but gradually the realization of what I'd just done crept into my euphoria. I opened my eyes and saw the carnage in front of me. I looked at my hands and the blood they wore.

I carried the corpses about a mile away. I dug a hole with my hands. I'd placed them in it and was preparing to push the dirt back over them when I stopped. The three lifeless bodies were heaped together in the bottom of the hole. I would bury them here and they would never be heard of or seen again. Their families would never know. There were mothers and fathers out there who'd seen their sons go off to war. Did they deserve to lose them forever to an unknown fate?

I jumped in the hole and fished the dog tags off of each of them, not sure what I'd do with them, knowing only that I needed to know who these victims had been.

Benjamin Jolly

Chester Smith

Clay Jensen

I jogged back to my motorcycle and, returning down the dirt road, turned onto the highway. I gunned the engine, heading towards the setting sun, the names of those I'd just killed running around in my head.

The next criminal I would drink from would be easier and harder. Easier to rationalize and harder to bear. He would be another link in the chain I was forging for myself that would tie me to the road for years and keep me from my family. Another name for a prayer that would stretch on endlessly until I found the grace that would deliver me.

My thanks again to everyone who received A Litany At Dusk so warmly and were so generous with their reviews. Please check out the new stories I have going on my profile, "Eric Yorkie, The Van Helsing of Forks" a supernatural comedy and "Requiem For A Sheriff" A Charlie-centric fic because the Chief does not get enough love.