Entry #6

Truly Anonymous Twilight O/S PP Contest

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Title: Spiked Remembrances

Picture Prompt Number: 45

Pairing: Edward/Bella

Rating: M/NC-17

Word Count (minus A/N and Header): 6975

Summary (250 characters or less, including spaces and punctuation): Edward discovers that drinking Bella's blood might not be the lowest point to which he can sink. Canon AU.

Warnings and Disclaimer: Graphic Sex, Language, and Dark Themes. Twilight belongs to Stephenie Meyer.

A/N: With thanks to Jeff Mason and Al Swanson for writing "Requiem for Proclivity," which is the poem from which I drew the title of this o/s.

"I had found my true place in the world, the place I fit, the place I shined." ~ Bella Swan, Breaking Dawn

SPIKED REMEMBRANCES

Part One

oO0Oo

The first time Edward Cullen smelled Isabella Swan's blood, he ran.

It was the right thing to do, and while Edward wasn't really used to having to make a conscious decision about doing the right thing, nearly a hundred years of practice helped him walk out of the classroom without ripping her to shreds.

oO0Oo

The second time Edward Cullen smelled Isabella Swan's blood, he stayed.

It was the wrong thing to do. The window squeaked as he opened it, and he winced, mentally making a note to bring oil next time to grease its path. Instantly, the scent hit him, making his throat a desert bathed only in venom. It took effort, but he withstood temptation. Instead of tearing her apart, he stood and watched the human girl sleep.

All the rain, she whispered, forehead wrinkling in slumberous petulance. Too green.

Edward, she added a moment later. The world changed, then, twisting and falling into a new order like the tumblers of a lock.

Edward watched, and wondered, as his mouth burned and his eyes coveted.

oO0Oo

The third time Edward Cullen smelled Isabella Swan's blood, he talked to her.

It wasn't right, but it wasn't wrong, either. She was curious about him, and since her mind remained impervious to his gifting, it was almost his responsibility to speak with her. The Cullen clan would need to know if she developed suspicions, so that they could move on.

She was suspicious, at first. But as he fumbled along, trying to make polite conversation for the first time since Carlisle turned him into one of the undead, the usual magic began to work its effect upon her. Her eyes softened and sparkled, she played with her hair in a fashion that invited his attention to the wavy brunette locks, and a faint blush washed over her cheeks every time he spoke. It was precisely the way nearly every female of the human species acted around him (and more than a few males, which was something that made an Edwardian teenager extremely nonplussed). However, spared as he was from the inane chatter of her thoughts, Edward was able to convince himself that she was acting that way just for him. All for him.

Only for him.

oO0Oo

The fourth time Edward Cullen smelled Isabella Swan's blood, he carried her.

It was a strange thing to do, probably wrong, but it felt right. She was overset, and a gentleman should help an overset lady to the nearest comfortable place where she could recline.

"I'm fine,"she whispered, but he ignored the obvious untruth and conveyed her to the nurse's station, where she lay looking green instead of pink. He left when she told him she was going back to Biology class. He couldn't be around that much blood. He certainly couldn't be around her blood, freed from the confines of her skin to tempt him to indiscretion.

He couldn't be around her when the needle made its mark.

oO0Oo

The fifth time Edward Cullen smelled Isabella Swan's blood, he drank it.

It was so much the wrong thing to do that it surpassed wrong and went straight to monstrous, but then he'd always known what he was and had spent a few years acknowledging the fact in his youth. Even so, he didn't go with the intent of drinking her blood. (If he had, Alice would have stopped him; she seemed to regard Bella in the light of a pet, only one slightly too big to carry around in a purse.) He only wanted to check on her as she slept, making certain that the upsetting experience in Biology hadn't harmed her in a significant way.

Edward, she sighed, and the heavy stone where his heart used to be heated to magma within him.

She rolled over onto her stomach, her hand falling off the edge of the bed as she did so. The unconscious motion jarred her finger against the frame, and when it did, the band-aid surrounding its tip fell off, taking the newly-formed scab beneath along with it.

Such a silly thing to have happen. Such a tiny incident.

The blood oozed through her pores, and Edward was on his knees, her finger against his lips, before she took another breath.

Too cold, she muttered, as he tasted. Then, it hurts.

He sucked his venom out again before he flitted through the window that had granted his entrance. Bella never woke.

oO0Oo

After that, Edward drank Isabella Swan's blood every night. Alice shook her head at him with grief and disappointment obvious on the slender face. Jasper was envious of his control. Emmett couldn't have cared less one way or the other. Rosalie glared at him darkly and thought about her hair with so much vehemence that she might as well have shouted, I'm raising a shield against you, Edward, a shield, so you can't hear what I'm really thinking.

Esme was happy as long as he was happy.

Carlisle watched him with heavy remorse, obviously wondering where he'd gone wrong, but he did nothing to stop his son. Edward was his own vampire, after all, and if Carlisle spoke up in defense of a human Edward might leave, thus rupturing the family again. Keeping the family together, for all their sakes, was the one goal upon which they all agreed. Nothing must endanger that. When Edward began to fear that Bella would awaken during his depredations, he raided Carlisle's personal medical supplies, held in trust against possible production issues that never arose. Each night, before he imbibed the intoxicating flavor from her veins, he injected her with sedative. Sometimes her eyelids fluttered, and once he could have sworn she looked straight at him, but she only moaned something about a fair and seemed to sleep once more.

At school, he kept talking to her. It would look odd if he stopped, and besides, he was in love with her. She was adorable, intelligent, everything he'd ever vaguely considered attractive in a female on the odd occasions when he stopped to consider the matter. She thought she was in love with him, too. She sought him out every chance she got, and it was a good thing, too, because if she hadn't been walking to talk to him that idiot Tyler Crowley might have run her over with his van one morning. As it was, he dented her truck pretty well.

"What's wrong?" he asked, his throat tight with nervous fear, when she looked at her finger with an irritated expression one morning.

"I don't know. It's this cut on my finger from that stupid blood test in Bio. It won't heal; it's so weird. I'm such a klutz I probably just keep reopening the dumb thing."

From Bella, that was practically an expletive-ridden rant. Edward realized then that he had to start spreading his targets, or eventually her father would take her to the doctor. Unless he could somehow ensure that the doctor was Carlisle, they would run tests . . . and find medical-grade tranquilizers in her system.

That night, he injected her and waited till she went completely limp in his arms before grazing the inside of her wrist with the point of one incisor.

oO0Oo

Edward made an amazing discovery.

At first he couldn't understand why his arms wouldn't move as quickly as usual, why his legs didn't seem to want to cooperate, why his thoughts turned sluggish and circular. Finally, he figured it out: it was the sedative. Bella's blood offered him an opportunity to find the rest he had craved for a century. All he had to do was give her a little more and he reached a state wherein his mind became the totality of his consciousness and the outside world—and its thoughts—faded away.

His conscience smote him when he saw her heavy-lidded in the mornings, with dark circles beneath her eyes. "Are you feeling well?" he asked. Why did he play this game? Why was it such a thrill to pretend he knew nothing of the reasons behind her exhaustion? How could he hurt her and worry so about her health at the same moment?

"I'm so tired, all the time," she replied. "I think I should try going to bed earlier."

"It's probably a good idea," he agreed.

He stood outside her window during the evening to make sure she took her own advice. He came back a few hours later to take from her what he must.

Your eyes, she whispered, gazing at him between her lashes as he lapped at the miniscule scratch on her stomach.

He went home and, once the drowsiness wore off, examined his eyes in the mirror. They remained gold for the most part, but red had begun to shoot its way through the yellow. Fortunately the only people who looked directly at them were his family . . . and Bella.

What is it that you're doing with that girl? Jasper inquired behind him. Edward froze in surprise. He'd been so engrossed by his irises that he had actually failed to hear Jasper's approach.

Exactly what you think, Jazz. He spoke languidly, for one of them, which meant a typical human could easily have discerned the words.

You were surprised to hear me. Jasper appeared at his elbow, hand already grasping Edward's bicep. He examined Edward's face closely, reading a text Edward couldn't begin to comprehend, then dropped his brother's arm. Dear God.

What? Edward asked, but couldn't seem to put any sort of force behind the query.

You're drugged. Jasper swallowed, a remnant reflex completely unrelated to their physiological reactions to emotion. Does it . . . can you stop hearing them all the time?

No no no no no, Alice shrieked from the living room, and then she was at Jasper's side, grabbing his hands and begging, Don't ask, don't ask, Jazz, please, just leave it and let's go—

The sedative wore off at that same moment, suddenly and completely, and Alice's mind pulled Edward into its thrall. He saw Jasper injecting the deer, and telling Alice that he was finally freed of the burden of carrying everyone else's emotions for them . . . freed from the love she bore for him . . . freed from the pain of his victims keeping him to the promises he'd made to himself and his family . . .

Within a year, Jasper would be a monster.

Alice's eyes found Edward's and pleaded silently with him.

No, Edward replied, thinking about Bella and twisting the words so Jasper would feel that they were true. No, I can't stop hearing them all the time.

Jasper's shoulders slumped. Well, that's a very great pity. Looking down at Alice, he continued, And what has you so upset, little lady?

Alice's face glowed with undisguised relief. Nothing. She, too, spoke enough of the truth for her husband not to sense the difference.

oO0Oo

The last time Edward Cullen smelled Isabella Swan's blood, he killed her.

It was the only thing to do. She showed up to school wincing and pressing her arm to her breast. In Biology he inquired after her health. Bella turned her pallid face to him and said under cover of the movie playing, "I have this cut on my chest and it burns. You know, I had the weirdest dream about you last night."

"What happened in your dream?" Edward waited, held immobile by undefined fear, for her response. The bandage had moved when she turned, and the fresh blood leaking from her skin nearly caused him to forget himself.

"I dreamed you were hurting me. With your . . ." She trailed off, blushing, but went on to finish, "With your mouth." Before he could say anything, she added hastily, "I keep having strange dreams, and I'm so tired all the time, and my dad said he's going to take me to the hospital in Port Angeles because he's friends with a doctor there and . . . I'm sorry, this is really stupid. Could I get any more boring? God."

"You're not boring," he comforted, thinking, but you're a danger, and you must die, my love.

After class, he told her, "I have something in my car for you. Do you mind coming along while I fetch it?"

"No, of course not." That adorable half-smile curved across her heart-shaped face as she fell into step with him.

He hung back when they got to the doors, telling her to go ahead and not wait for him. When he glanced outside, he saw her talking to Angela. Good. No one would suspect the pastor's daughter of murdering Bella, but she would be the last person to see her alive.

As soon as Angela walked away, he ran too quickly to be seen by humans and took Bella into the woods. She never even struggled; like some prey did, she simply went catatonic and waited for the end to come. The impossible sweetness of her blood flowed down his throat and soothed the burn so thoroughly that not a remnant of an itch remained by the time he dropped the lifeless husk upon the forest floor.

He returned to school before the tardy bell rang for the next period, keeping his eyes downcast.

When the end of the day arrived, he ran, and, having lost all confidence in himself, stayed with the Denali sisters for the next year. He couldn't bring himself to ask the others what happened when he left.

Part Two

oO0Oo

Edward returned to civilization long after the amber washed the red from his eyes.

Still swamped with shame at his failures, he avoided his family, heading for the Amazon instead. If they wanted to find him, they would have done so, thanks to Alice. It seemed clear that they had decided to leave him in peace. Edward was glad, if for no other reason than that he could keep his secret: he wasn't able to give up the drugs. Each time he hunted, he carried a syringe in his pocket, and used it on the animals he caught before he drained them. He could no more surrender the blissful retreat into the solitude of his own thoughts, safe from the intrusion of other minds, than he could stop drinking blood. It was as close to sleeping as made no difference. At least, he thought it might be. He lost all track of time and floated through the meaningless passing of his days in a haze of detachment.

It was on one of the nights when he lay on his bed in Iquitos, not really listening to the horns and moto-taxis and shouts of pedestrians outside his open window and drifting through the tranquilizer-induced maze of his internal world, that he began to have the nightmares.

so dark

can't wake up

can't move

stings—there—

ice burn ice burn

a demon's countenance in the night

beautiful and fierce

amber eyes

teeth black with blood

He jolted from his haze into statuesque immobility, too shocked to function.

The face that had pulled away from his dream-hand to gaze at him tenderly was his own.

oO0Oo

After that, every time Edward hunted, he had nightmares, and they were all the same. They were all of him. He haunted himself until he wished he could undo the molecules that bound his consciousness into stone. More than once he would be left unable to move for an entire day by the shock and horror that attended the blurry impressions. He started wondering if he could perhaps tear off his own limbs and set fire to the ichor that flowed from them.

Still, something stopped him. Perhaps it was because the experience seemed to be a worthy penance for his sins. Perhaps it was because his intellectual curiosity wanted to be appeased more than he wanted to die. Perhaps it was because he was a coward.

Whatever the reason, Edward was still as close to alive as he could get when he scented another vampire upon the fragrant rainforest breeze. He didn't feel social, so he took off running, but the other vampire began to run after him as if it didn't want to take the hint. What was even odder was that he couldn't tell what it was thinking. After a half-hour of eluding his would-be companion beneath the lush green canopy, Edward considered stopping. Before he made up his mind, though, a body slammed into his, shoving him against a nearby tree trunk with one little hand to his throat.

"As if you could outrun me," she purred, crimson eyes clear to his vision even through her glistening cloud of hair. She shook back the dark mass, and Edward was certain he would never move again.

oO0Oo

As it turned out, Isabella Swan didn't want to kill Edward Cullen.

She told him so, that first night, once she brought him back to his apartment. I'm not here to kill you. I'm here to watch you.

Watch me?

I don't have to kill someone who's so far down his path to self-destruction. I just have to make sure he understands exactly how many reasons he has to continue on his way.

I don't understand. Why did you find me? How did you find me?

I was adopted by one of the finest trackers ever to be turned. James. Do you know him? When he shook his head, she laughed. He's a nomad. He and his mate and a friend of theirs found me in the woods. They were shocked that one of their own had failed so awfully as far as etiquette goes. Creating a child, James says, is one of the greatest responsibilities our kind will ever know. It's not to be undertaken lightly. It's certainly not the thing—his words, not mine—to leave a slip of a newborn out in the forest to be turned alone, so that when her father finds her three days later, she's so maddened by thirst that he becomes her first meal.

Edward choked upon his own horror, and her smile widened. I was very quick. Charlie never knew what hit him. Creeping into bed beside him, she straddled his torso and leaned to whisper into his ear. His death is on your head, you know. Call yourself vegetarian if you want, Edward; every human I've killed since you left me without a heartbeat in Washington is your fault and yours alone. I can't help what I've become.

Her scent as a vampire was nearly as intoxicating as before she'd turned. His breath came in rapid, shallow pants as the softness of her breasts and belly pressed into his torso. She noticed, and new interest crept across the ivory countenance. Oh, do you like that? Experimentally, she leaned to run her tongue around the inner curve of his ear. Feels good, doesn't it?

Self-loathing spewed through his entire being when he couldn't hide his reaction to the perfumed exhale of her words wafting across his skin. Supposedly all their physical functions were under their voluntary control, but it appeared he had supposed incorrectly.

It's lucky for me I got rid of my hymen by accident before you murdered me. I can't imagine being deflowered by a stone cock. Though really, I have a feeling Laurent would've made sure it was all right no matter what. He is French, after all.

Edward groaned as her tongue traced its way down the side of her neck. She ground her pelvis against his; it sounded like a grain mill. Their clothing instantly gave way, pulling apart into shreds, but she kept up the motion. Biting his lip against the noises he wanted to make, Edward threw his head back with such force that he cracked the headboard. He had never imagined this much pleasure resulting from what he'd always considered a rather vulgar activity. No wonder his family members stayed fully engaged all night, every night.

Bella sat up straight long enough to rip the clothes straight from both their bodies, and then took his erection into a not-particularly-cautious grip. Pressing it between her legs, she angled up and down, rubbing the wetness there along the underside of his length. He didn't even know how she could get wet, and then he stopped wondering because his brain shattered into tiny pieces at the sensation.

I . . . didn't . . . oh God that feels good . . . know it could feel this awesome until he showed me, she panted, and he remembered she had been talking about Laurent, whoever that might be. Vampire sex is the best, isn't it?

When he didn't answer, she prompted, Isn't it?

At his continued silence, she stopped what she was doing—he barely restrained a whimper of protest—and sat back, tilting her head in a reptilian question mark. For the hundredth time, he wished he could follow her thoughts. At last, she figured it out and burst into unrestrained laughter. Oh my God! You're a virgin, aren't you?

Caught. He didn't bother to deny it. I was only seventeen when I was turned, and that was nearly a hundred years ago.

And how long have you been seventeen?

A while.

She shook her head at him. Pathetic.

He didn't bother to deny that, either.

In a move so swift he couldn't follow it, she ducked and bit the skin where his cock met his pelvis. Edward howled at the pain, and she burst into crystalline peals of laughter before darting from the window stark naked. Edward inspected the damage. It was going to scar, of course.

Only then did he remember that he had never actually caught his prey. He was still thirsty.

oO0Oo

He knew she was out there, watching. He could practically hear her laughter the next time he caught a monkey and tranquilized it, though he drained the body dry without ever catching a glimpse of her lithe form. He sometimes could hear her footsteps, light as a feather while she trailed him. She rarely let him see her, and that stung for no reason. After all, she'd said she was only around to wait for him to end his existence, so why should he care if she let him see her?

And yet he did care.

Her words from the night she came to him stayed in his memory. Every human I've killed since you left me without a heartbeat in Washington is your fault and yours alone.

Sloppy. He'd been so sloppy. He blamed the drugs, but maybe it was just him, though during his dark period of eliminating rapists and murderers he'd never failed to finish killing them. Bella hadn't been a murderer, though . . . at least not until he turned her into one.

Her own father.

Edward decided that he was the worst sort of villain, because he lacked the wherewithal to even kill himself once and for all. He deserved the death penalty, for what he'd done to Charlie Swan if not to his daughter. Bella didn't seem inclined to do the job for him, so he should just build a bonfire, and walk into it. He didn't.

He still had the nightmares, too. If anything could have stopped him using the drugs that would have been it, the horrible inability to break free from the horror of watching himself cause his body unspeakable pain. Eventually he figured out that "his" body was not his own. The room was in Washington state, and the body was Bella's.

Awful, isn't it, she said one night, perched on his windowsill like a patient vulture. She'd found a red formal gown to wear. It left one shoulder bare, glowing like mother-of-pearl in the moonlight that filtered down. To see what someone's doing yet be unable to stop it?

It took a moment, but Edward finally grasped what she was saying. You . . . you know about the nightmares?

She laughed, soft-voiced, and appeared beside the bed. Edward. I am the nightmare.

Dread bloomed in his chest, a black rose of warning.

I went to the Denalis looking for you, but I found Eleazar. He taught me what I am. And what I am is a shield. Kate taught me to use it. When I lift the shield . . . .

A surfeit of thoughts poured into his mind. Edward went immobile with fresh shock. The memories were hers, human, fuzzy, and dark, and then post-transformation, clear and shockingly organized for one so young.

Then they were gone, cut off as effectively as a door slamming shut on a panic room hid its occupants.

You actually gave me a very great gift, Edward. I have found the place where I shine. She bent and whispered into his ear. He closed his eyes and gritted his teeth, fighting the urge to seize her. I was born to be a vampire.

His eyes flew open again, and he stared in disbelief. Born to be a mutant, a freak, the world's best predator?

She nodded in gleeful confirmation. I love it. Every bit of it. The way my senses work the way they should, the speed, the grace, the way I've learned to control my shield, the way I can do whatever I want without even trying . . . this is what I was meant to be, and you gave it to me.

He wanted to argue, wanted to deny it, but he couldn't.

This is why I don't care enough to tear your head off, Edward. Bella settled into bed next to him, one graceful arm sweeping beneath his head, the other curved across her stomach. The bed groaned under their combined weight, but held steady. I love who I am now. But you? You hate it. I can tell. You hate yourself, not for who you are—which is what you should hate yourself for—but for what we are.

Why should I hate who I am? he inquired, startled by the clarification.

Because of what you do. The Cullens have a reputation in the vampire world—did you know that? Of course you don't. It wouldn't occur to you to care about it enough to find out. Well, you should care. But what they say about you isn't really nice.

What do they say? Curious, but she was right—he'd never thought to wonder what the others think about them as a group. He had merely regarded them from the height of his moral superiority, the virtue granted by his humane-but-not-human diet, and shied away from scraping more than the surface of their minds.

That you deny our true nature, and consider yourselves better for it. That you fool yourselves into believing that if you pretend you are different, that differences exist between you and the rest of us. That you are just as wicked and careless with the humans around you as every other vampire, but you tell yourselves that it's fine to be that way because you don't drink their blood.

Edward felt that all motion had left his body forever at the accusations.

I went back to my house, after. I stood in my bedroom and tried to remember, and it came back to me. You were there. You drugged me and you raped me of my blood, of my humanity, even. Your family must've known. I mean, Alice is a fortune-teller, right? But they didn't try to stop you. I know, because Emmett would've been able to do it. But you came back, night after night. And that means that they're just as bad as you. And that means that all of you are just as bad as me.

She shifted, rolling over onto her stomach and propping her head up on one arm so she could look down at him. I sort of feel sorry for you. All of you are trying to recapture something you can't even remember right. We're not human, you know. We can't understand them. We can only feed on them, or avoid them altogether. Those are our only options.

That's not true, he said, but the words sounded like a plea.

Of course it is. Why do you think you're staying here all alone, no coven, no nothing, just drugs? Our bodies can't be capable of getting addicted to anything. They're stone. So your addiction's all in your mind. You shouldn't be anywhere near humans, Edward, and not because you're a danger to them. It's because they're a danger to you. I think their minds are driving you crazy, literally. But I'm sure you won't listen to me.

She was outside the window, then, balancing effortlessly with a few toes on a jutting brick. I'm sure you won't think it through.

A blanched blur, and she was gone.

Edward put his fingers on his mouth, where the impression of a hurried kiss lingered long after her departure.

oO0Oo

Despite her prediction, he did think it through.

He came to the conclusion that she was right. They weren't better, they were just bizarre, even among their own kind. They still broke into houses because they knew they wouldn't get caught, and used Alice's gift to make money unfairly on the stock market, and went to high school over and over and over again rather than investing those funds into cancer research or getting enough education to contribute toward finding a cure for AIDS. They insisted on Jasper trying to maintain a cover even though he could pass for older and could have been explained as someone who worked from home.

So what were they doing with eternity?

Whatever it was, it wasn't very useful.

The inane chatter of the minds surrounding him wore at the edges of his resolve until despite his promises to himself, he headed back out into the jungle to drink more drugged blood. When he returned, Bella came with him, but this time instead of tormenting him, she tried something different. He saw himself, as she had the first time, across the cafeteria in Forks. He heard his voice—so melodic and amazing to human ears. He saw her thoughts about him—the overwhelming crush that she had thought was love.

Worst of all, he saw the same love reflected back in the depths of his own eyes.

Do you see? She was already behind him in bed when the drugs stopped working. It was always such an abrupt transition: one moment he was high, the next he was perfectly normal. Bella's body curved against his back, spoon-fashion. I know the truth about you, Edward.

What truth is that?

You wanted me. That's probably why you didn't finish the job in the woods. I think, deep down, you hoped I could someday be able to do . . . Her hand slid down his chest and stomach, then below his waistband. Edward shuddered as she wrapped her fingers around his cock, already half-hard. This. You hoped I would do this. Withdrawing her hand, she opened his pants to free him. She gave him a firm stroke; he arched, pushing himself into her grasp. It's not as if a vampire could ever screw a human. You would have killed me. I mean, you did kill me. But now you can have me. If I let you.

She stroked him again. Edward closed his eyes and leaned back into her embrace, feeling the press of her breasts and the tickle of her hair and the warmth of her skin all around him. Everything about her was so perfect and he couldn't hurt her now, not anymore. She bit his shoulder and he moaned.

I killed a woman yesterday, she continued conversationally. Her other hand raked through his hair. I saw her and I was thirsty and she was all alone in the jungle, so I drank her blood.

Edward couldn't respond. What she was doing felt indescribably wonderful, and it robbed him of speech.

I ran and grabbed her . . . . Bella rose, lifting her dress above her head, and pushed him to his back. And took her far away from her home . . . . Bending down, she licked and sucked on his neck while sliding one perfect leg over his stomach. In between kisses, she murmured, And I fastened my teeth to her throat while I sucked every . . . last . . . drop from her body. On "body" she slid down on his erection, encasing him in her heat. Dizzy and overwhelmed, Edward cried out. Nothing, ever, not even Bella's blood, had felt this good. Nothing.

This is what I am, Edward, she said conversationally as she rode him. It still sounded like a grinder, but he didn't care. Instinctively, he lifted his hands to cup her breasts, which were a size larger than they'd been in human form. She smiled approvingly. I see what I want—oh yes, pull them like that some more—and I take it, and no one stops me. No one can.

Oh Christ, he gasped.

I might as well be. She rested her hands on either side of his head and looked deep into his eyes while she rotated against him. Something inside her clenched, and then started to flutter in a rhythm he knew without being told. Oh, oh, ooh . . . . Only then did she give a sign of what she felt, dropping her forehead to rest against his while she exhaled. Oh God, Edward.

Was once enough? He hoped so because he couldn't hold back anymore, frantically bowing his back to shove into her as deeply as possible over and over and over again until he found his release, a throbbing explosion of delight that seemed to go on forever.

Stop lying to yourself. Bella didn't wait for him to recover. She was outside again, dress in hand, almost before he opened his eyes. You're a vampire, Edward. And vampires don't bother to pretend because nobody who matters can be fooled.

He wanted to argue that people mattered, but it seemed hollow and pointless. After all, as she'd said, he didn't act like they did.

oO0Oo

Bella kept visiting him.

Why? he wanted to know.

I don't know was her simple response.

Another time she added, Maybe I feel sorry for you.

You shouldn't. You should hate me.

You do that enough for both of us.

She'd taken to encasing him in her shield when they were together, so that he could hear her but no one else. It turned out the shield went both ways. She didn't bother to speak anymore; she only thought the words. Now she lolled around on the mattress beside him, naked as she so often was. Modesty seemed a quaint concept in her eyes.

I'm really glad I shaved the morning before you changed me, she mused, stretching one long leg overhead. Edward couldn't decide whether he should turn his eyes away or give into the urge to stare. Imagine being hairy for eternity.

When he didn't respond, she rolled onto her stomach to face him. What is it?

You bit me again.

So?

I'm getting scars everywhere.

Good. You deserve them. The fact is, you agree you deserve them. Now you have concrete proof you've been punished for your misdeeds. It's very masochistic of you, but then, I think we can both agree that you enjoy that sort of thing. I like it too.

He looked at his chest, where the venom glistened in crescent-shaped wounds. Tracing one with his fingertips, he thought over her words. Why do you like marking me?

Because, Edward . . . She smiled and slid on top of him once more. Your ass is mine. And so's the rest of you. I don't want you to ever forget it.

I never will, he replied, and it was true. The girl who had ruined everything by forcing him to face his inner monster, and who tore away every illusion now by forcing him to face the fact that the monster exuded from his every pore, could never be imagined to be anything other than his mistress. Bella kissed him then, and he surrendered to the undertow of her physicality, letting himself drown in the ecstasy.

oO0Oo

I'm good for you, she announced one night.

I'm terrible for you was his first response.

No you're not. I like being around you. It's sort of like community service. You've given me a sense of purpose.

He couldn't stop the laughter. What purpose is that? My everlasting torment?

If that's how you'd like to think of it. I think of it as providing you with an outlet for your feelings toward yourself. Every time you let me sleep with you, you think you've lowered yourself. Face it, Edward, you think sex is dirty.

He shrugged, too sedated by the post-orgasmic haze to muster up indignation.

When I hurt you, it's like punishment for enjoying something so wrong. I understand you pretty well. It's a good thing you never acted on your attraction to me when I was human. I worshiped you then. I never could have gotten your bizarre thought processes the way I do now and you would have been stuck with an acolyte. Victoria taught me everything I needed to know about vampires and their minds, though.

He rolled over and pinned her arms over her head. She let him, although he knew she could have thrown him off at any moment. You do understand me. But I understand you, too, Bella. I know your secret.

Her voice was lazy, amused, even when he started nipping his way down the marble column of her throat. What secret is that?

You blame yourself for what I've become.

She froze.

Edward lifted his head and smirked at the shock he saw. He slid between her unresisting legs and moved inside. For the first time since that day in January, all those years ago, he had Isabella Swan precisely where he wanted her.

oO0Oo

She didn't let him enjoy the moment for long, tearing into him with teeth and nails until he almost begged for the wrong kind of mercy. Still, it was a frantic kind of punishment, and when she left, it was with a snarl instead of a laugh.

When she returned a month later, she assumed a nonchalant air, wandering in as if nothing had happened. She picked up a syringe and examined it. I see you've been getting high without me.

Nothing else but you keeps the voices out, he replied.

We've been over this. If you left—

I don't want to be alone.

That silenced her.

The voices are maddening, but they let me know I'm not alone. I can never go back to my family. This is the closest thing to companionship I have.

After an hour of silence, she moved to sit on the bed beside him, looking out the window as she spoke. I've decided to leave here.

He made every effort to speak lightly. Has the show grown too boring? My descent too slow for your tastes?

She shrugged. Not at all. You're coming with me.

A long pause, and then he burst into laughter. She watched him with one eyebrow raised.

At last, he trailed off into a dry chuckle. Why in heaven's name would you want me to come along?

Bella rolled her eyes. Don't play dumb, Edward, it's unbecoming.

A longer pause, this time.

Edward broke the silence again. Where would you go?

I'm going to find these sisters I've heard about; they live not too far from here in the Amazon.

He nodded. Kachiri, Senna, and Zafrina. I know them, thanks to Carlisle.

Really? Hmm. Well, I find them interesting. If they're willing, I'd like to visit.

Edward weighed his response carefully. I could . . . I could provide you with an introduction. As a service to you.

Bella looked at him over one shoulder. Yes. You can and you will. I'm not going to leave you here to waste away in obscurity when I could have the display right in front of my eyes.

Hiding a smile, Edward cautioned, It might take longer than you were expecting. I might not destroy myself so quickly as you hoped.

You are extremely obstreperous, it's true. Bella looked back outside. If that happens, I guess I'll have to decide on my course of action then. In any case, I'm not in the mood to leave my plaything behind. I'll probably get bored with you sooner or later, you know.

Solemnly, Edward agreed, Of course.

But not yet.

She was next to him before his next inhale, hair spilling across his bared chest. Even if you insist on keeping to your stupid diet—which by the way is totally not vegetarian—there should be plenty of game for you there. For both of us, if what I've read about the area is true. Bring your drugs if it helps. I can laugh at you while you put yourself in a coma. Idiot doesn't-want-to-be-vampire.

Something warmed Edward's chest, something he hadn't experienced in so long that he almost didn't recognize it. At last he put a name to the feeling: happiness. I don't need them, if I'm with you. I've told you that before.

Fine. She stood. Let's go.

He didn't move. Just like that?

Yeah, Edward. Just like that. This is all there is. What do any of our kind have to keep us anywhere? When he still didn't stir, she set her jaw in exasperation and held out one alabaster hand in a peremptory fashion. I said, let's go, Edward. Don't make me force you.

Heaven forbid, he said dryly, but he rose from his bed and, once he removed enough money from his wallet to cover the rest of his rent, followed her out into the humid night. Even though she moved too quickly, sometimes, for his eyes to track her, he didn't worry. He knew, now, that he was incapable of losing Isabella Swan's scent.