FORTY NINE

I fly to Seattle.

Eat their prepackaged airline meal and throw it up in the tiny airplane bathroom, practically standing up. Stumble into the Hilton and throw myself against the counter. My nose won't stop dripping blood and I can barely see out of my left eye, but the guy in company polyester doesn't even blink.

"Good evening, Sir," he says blandly. "What can I do for you?"

"I'm looking for a club," I cough and scatter flecks of blood across the counter.

"There are several down on Bedford. Clean girls, but I didn't tell you that." The guy licks his mouth, probably tasting hooker on his tongue. I shake my head, the bones in my neck grinding.

"Not that kind of club. I'm looking for the kind you're not supposed to talk about."

His eyebrows rise clear into his hair. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"I think you do," I growl, trying to sound like Masen and it must work because he gulps.

"You might find what you're looking for at the Diamond. It's a bar on the North Side. Thursday nights, Sir." He looks nervous and tugs at his tie.

That's more like it. "Last week, there was a guy here. Probably looking for the same thing I am. Name of Masen. Mid twenties, needs a haircut, green eyes."

I barely resist saying fangs.

The guys' eyebrows tuck together momentarily before he smears a bland look across his face and shakes his head deliberately. Fucking space monkey.

"You haven't seen him?" I hiss.

"No," he says. And then he winks at me. "Sir."


FIFTY

The Diamond turns out to be a fucking disaster.

I arrive when the club is in full swing and some guy is beating the fuck out of a scrawny kid with a mullet. The kid is making strangled noises and trying to fight back, but he's failing. I storm into the middle of the crowd and yank them apart. Pull strength from nowhere and toss the one with the fists aside. The mullet is moaning into the pavement and when I roll him over, he has red eyes.

A vampire.

They're all vampires and they're all looking at me like I'm insane. "Who's the head around here?" I ask and all of them shuffle, silent fucking space monkeys with burned off fingerprints and tongue-stained scars on the backs of their hands.

No one comes forward.

They all just stare at me.


FIFTY ONE

The first thing I do when I get back to Chicago is call the house from a pay phone outside of the airport.

Emmett picks up the fourth ring.

"Emmett, I need you to go check on Bella."

"She's fine, Sir."

"Don't fucking call me that!" I yell and some old lady glares at me from the curb. I tuck my hand around the phone and hiss into the receiver, my head throbbing like an overheated engine. "Where is Masen, have you seen him?"

"Masen is . . . unavailable." He finishes slowly, as if it's a question.

"Put him on the phone."

"I can't do that, Sir."

"Will you quit fucking calling me that! My name is Edward, ok? Ed. Ward."

"Whatever you say. Edward," Emmett answers.


FIFTY TWO

The second thing I do when I get back to Chicago is call Bella to ask her if we've ever had sex. I might have made that whole tit encounter up. I might have made everything up, really, and I have to ask.

"What the fuck?" She sounds looped out on liquor and Masen's venom. Mouthy and pissed off and probably just fucking gorgeous, as usual. In some tattered dress-up fantasy, chasing liquor with dick and nicotine.

"Have we?" I ask.

"You are such a little shit!" More screeching. "You love me, then the you hate me, it's infuriating. If I told you I swallowed a bottle of pills, you wouldn't even care."

"Did you?"

She exhales heavily into the phone, her breath shuddering. She's probably choking herself with the curly cord of her phone.

"I'm coming over," I say before I slam the phone into the machine hard enough to crack the plastic in my hands.


FIFTY THREE

I don't give either of us time to think.

I walk into Bella's apartment and beat the shit out of myself in front of her.

Storm in the door and hit myself as hard as I can. Blood arcs through the air as my nose breaks, splattering across the wall. I crash through the coffee table and grind my hands into the glass-covered carpet to stand again. Fling myself into the bookshelves and take down most of them, something in my wrist snapping.

If Masen had just fucking bitten me by now, none of this would matter.

It would heal and I'd be like the statue of fucking David.

"If you're doing this to prove something, it's not working." Bella stares down at me and that's when I finally look at her, blinking away the blood that's pouring down over my forehead.

So fucking beautiful, the way a car accident is beautiful. The way the steaming, slippery insides of a freshly gutted animal are beautiful. The way the colorful explosion of your house blowing up is beautiful. Her neck is still patterned with his bite marks, but now they're silver scars.

Chocolate brown irises swim in the red-rose pools of her eyes.

"He changed you," I gasp through blood.

"Who fucking changed me? If you want to talk about last week, you don't have to talk in third fucking-"

"He doesn't love you," I tell her, pulling myself from remnants of her bookshelves. My wrist is definitely broken, a jagged end of bone pushing uncomfortably against the underside of my skin.

"Is that what you're calling it? You have problems." She's so right and so beautiful and so fucking infuriating. I want to plow her into the wall and get my mouth onto every inch of her body but all I can think about is burying my fist in her face. Or mine. Ending this torture.

"I know I've been a little up and down lately." I finally stagger to an upright position, leaving a constellation of bright red stars on her carpet.

"Up and DOWN?" Bella screeches. "Jesus christ, Masen! You're Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Asshole."

"What did you just call me?

She rolls her eyes. "I can't believe I'm having this conversation with you right now."

I grab her, shake her, bloody handprints to her arms, the glass in my palms grinding against her stoney skin. Her cigarette waggles in her mouth and I wonder why she's even smoking. Maybe out of habit.

"What did you just call me? Say my name. Say it!"

I shake her again and she screams in my face.

"Masen! MaSEN! MASEN!"


FIFTY FOUR

The house is fucking crawling with vampires.

I have to press myself against the walls.

All of them look the same. No fingerprints, no fucking expressions. Just lifeless and frozen and in the way. There are twelve reborns and four humans in the living room, huddled around the shitty tv set. Watching the five o'clock news through a snowstorm of static. A building somewhere, found full of bodies. Battered and broken beyond recognition.

"What did you do?" I ask and they all look at me like I should have seen this coming.

"It's all under control, Sir," one of them says, but I don't know which. It could have been any of them.

"This has gone too far," I fume.

"Whatever you say, Sir."

"It has to stop. Now!" I yell and most of them jump, but not all of them.

"You told us you would say that." Angelface stands up from the crowd. "You told us you would say that and when you did, it was time to kill you."


FIFTY FIVE

I blow up the house. The shed is just a given.

Ten more pounds of kitty litter and the second time's a charm.

At least this time I know why.


FIFTY SIX

Masen finds me on the top floor of the tallest building in town. I knew he would, no matter where I went, so I picked somewhere I had never been before.

At least I thought I'd never been here. Only now, I wasn't so sure about anything.

For the first time he is clean, free of grease and grime, in clothing that doesn't look four months old. He looks nearly decent, fit for public consumption, and it makes him twice as terrifying. As though all this time he's been masquerading for the sick, banal pleasure of it. He strides towards me and I lift the gun to heart level.

"I only have one bullet. It's wooden," I warn him as though he'll care, which he doesn't.

"What the fuck are you doing?" he grumbles. He paces in front of me like he's plotting his next move. "I'm really starting to get tired of your bullshit."

"I am not the problem here." I waggle the gun at him and he growls when he tries to go for it, sudden as a snakebite. I press the gun to my chest, square up against my heart, and scowl at him.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you," he cautions, stopping in his tracks.

"You think I won't?"

Masen exhales as he rolls his eyes to the ceiling. "This has gone way too fucking far Edward. You have got to snap out-"

"You know, you're the only one who calls me that," I interrupt.

Bad decision.

Masen whirls back and lets his fist fly a million miles an hour before it grinds into my face. The gun clatters across the floor and, through the ringing milky way inside my skull, I can hear him laughing. He sinks a solid fist into my stomach and I collapse on the concrete with a wet smack.

"Because you're mine, don't you fucking get that?" Masen snaps at me, teeth flashing. "A little fucking piece of a greater whole. You're just every meaningless part of my humanity, all smashed up together and tossed out into the world." He stalks around me as I groan and try to roll over, my insides gone liquid. "I was sick of feeling that shit, so I let you go."

"You are fucking insane," I wheeze.

He picks me up and shoves me up against a wall hard enough to splinter the edges of my shoulder blades. My toes dangle inches off the ground. Blood drips from the tips of my fingers.

"No, you are insane!" he yells in my face. "You cannot even begin to fathom what the last twelve years have been like, since you've been gone. I've seen everything. Done it all. The sort of depravity that humans can only eroticize. And you?" He glances down at the puddle I'm leaving beneath me, blood and piss. "You've spent that whole time convincing yourself of this pathetic little life you're living."

He drops me in a limp pile at his feet and if he could spit on me, he would.

"What a fucking waste," he huffs.

"So just fucking kill me!" I shout at the concrete and glance around for the gun. It glitters from a dark corner, light years away. Masen rolls his eyes and straightens his jacket.

"It wouldn't do me much good to off myself, now would it?"


FIFTY SEVEN

I drag myself painfully to my knees, slipping in blood. "That make no sense."

"What about any of this makes sense?" Masen screams wildly and then grits his teeth, speaking through them. "Let me just lay this down for you, Einstein. Plain and fucking simple. I am you. You are me. We are one and the same." He spits venom and rage.

Right. My broken human body is barely holding itself together and look at him. As unblemished as ever. There's nothing alike about us right now, and yet he's telling me . . .

"But you're a fucking vampire."

"So. Are. You," he says deliberately, lifting both eyebrows expectantly, waiting for me to catch up.

I hold up my arms, dripping blood as if that proves that I'm alive. Coughing up stomach acid as though it validates my existence. Sitting in a puddle of my own piss and blood, thick and sticky proof that I'm not dead. Yet.

Masen huffs in agitation.

"You bleed because you're just human enough. Because you believe it, enough. This is a delusion, Edward. Your delusion. I let you go off into the world on the condition that you'd keep your shit together and you've been doing just that. Pretending to be human. But then you started fucking up," he spits, irritated with me.

"I've never done anything wrong," I strain through the blood in my mouth. It's true. I've always been the shining, stinking example of all that is bland and boring and perfect.

"That bloodstain on your bedroom floor didn't just magically appear there." Masen walks to the gun and kicks it into another corner. Even farther away.

"You're blaming me for that?"

"Well, not really. It was the girl who stained the floor."

"What girl?" I don't remember any girl.

"That call girl you picked up who looked just like Bella," he snarls her name. "You didn't go to insomnia group for two weeks and you fucking cracked in half. You brought her home and tried to fuck her but you killed her instead. Messy." He licks his teeth, grimacing as though he's disgusted. A rotten taste in his mouth.

"I did what?"

"You were so fucking sloppy, I'm only here because I had to come clean up after you. Why do you think we blew up your house?"

"You did that?"

"We did that," Masen corrects me. "You just got all the glory."


FIFTY EIGHT

"Bullshit," I practically gag on blood. "Next you're gonna tell me that we're both fucking Bella."

"That fucking girl," Masen rolls his eyes. "We're gonna have to do something about her. She's caused too many problems."

"This isn't her fault." I don't know why I'm defending her. Maybe because I know he'll kill her if he thinks she's in the way.

"No, this is because of your complete fucking meltdown over her!" Masen shudders, shaking off the feel of her mouth. "I didn't think it could be possible, but I'm pretty damn convinced you went off and fell in love," he scoffs.

"Yeah, I know she's pretty fucking unlovable, but it's not impossible."

"I'm not talking about her. It's you. We're not exactly the warm and fuzzy type. Falling in love isn't something we just do."

"You don't fall in love?"

"No. Much less with a human." He sounds disgusted again, like I asked him to drink his own piss.

"You're the one fucking her," I accuse, throwing explosives into an already raging inferno. Masen boils over, spewing vexation and venom.

"There is no me and you, Edward!" he howls. "There is only US. When I fuck her, you fuck her. When she fucks me, she's fucking you. I'm ready for you to get this through your stoney fucking skull, I am not your goddamn imaginary friend!"


FIFTY NINE

If he's saying what I think he's saying, everything he's been doing is mine. Every fight in a deserted parking lot, drowning in delusion and trying to beat it out of myself.

Every bite.

Every hard, fast fuck.

Every reborn.

Every club.

I use his moment of self indulgent ranting to re-arm myself. Slide across the floor on bloody shoes and scrabble for the gun. I can barely get a good grip on it and I stick it in my mouth.

"Now, you're just pissing me off." Masen glares, quaking with barely controlled rage. You can't talk around the barrel of a gun. Everything just comes out in vowels so I pull it free, the tip dripping with bloody saliva.

"I'm not a vampire," I argue.

"Keep telling yourself that, princess."

"I don't believe you!" It hurts my insides, but I yell at him.

"This isn't contingent on your fucking acceptance!" Masen bellows. I see his move before he even makes it, the leap he's poising to spring on me. I can all but taste the moment he sinks his teeth into my neck. In desperation I stupidly put up my hand up to stop him. When it doesn't, I put the gun up against the back of my hand and blow a hole right through it.

Metal to bone in the most devastating way and I can see through a tunnel of flesh.

My single, wooden bullet lodging deep in Masen's chest.

A gush of gilded blood as his immortality is pried loose.

Masen staggers and looks up at me, fingering the flood of sunshine that is slowly staining his shirt. Eyes half full of horror and relief.

"Now you've done it."


SIXTY

I come to and the first thing I see is her.

Bella, kneeling beside me in a pool of my blood. A hundred life-time's worth of blood.

Every drop I ever drank. Every cell I ever made. All of it swimming beneath my fingers. Dripping out of my body. Puddling beneath her knees. She's leaning over me with her mouth to my wounds as though she could heal me. Licking every bruise. Lapping at every hole, but her venom doesn't burn.

There's no healing to be done.

Everything Masen said was the truth. She's got it smeared all over her. Across her cheeks and arms. Creeping up the fabric of her skirt. Lips stained with blatant fucking fact.

My blood isn't red.

It's gold.

"I thought you were dead," she whispers against my neck.

"I think I was." I cough and liquid amber gurgles in my throat. "Where's Masen?"

Bella shakes her head at me. "You make no sense half of the time."

I could say the same thing to her. "Why did you call me Masen?"

"It was on your name tag." She rolls her eyes and pets my hand some more. The blown through hole leaking sunshine like a super nova.

"That's not my name."

"What is it, then?"

"Edward."

My stomach heaves and I vomit a wash of fool's gold that seems to never end.

I must be dying, but this can't be what dying feels like.

There is no fire and then never ending ice. No numbing to a dull pulse of light. No fade to black. There is just a gilded mess everywhere I look and it drips down my chin and into my lap. The ichor of my demonic soul spilling out of me in some sort of torturous rebirth. Again.

And it hurts just like the first time.

The hole in my hand is healing. The stigmata suturing closed around the edges until it's sucking inward on itself like a black hole in outer space. My ribs grind back into place, the shattered bones of my face righting themselves only moments before they solidify.

I look up at her, both of us covered in a golden sheen of all my rotten insides. I might have killed Masen off, but I really hope that I retained enough of that humanity he hated so much.

At least the parts that belonged to her.

"You met me at a really weird time in my life."

Bella shakes her head and licks my bottom lip clean before she kisses me.

"It's not love or anything," she says, "but I think I like you too."


The End.

Acknowledgements:

Hadley Hemingway is my beta, but she's also my shining star.

She pushes me to places I didn't think possible and our countless conversations about napalm and bloody violence have surely gotten our phones tapped.

She told me to write something that scared me.

This is it.

When I was 16, this cute, goofy boy gave me a book. We watched the newly released movie on our first date and made out to it like a million times. Seven years later, I married him. Thirteen years in, he still quotes fight Club to me at random, typically inappropriate, times.

He's my Tyler Durden.

Chuck Palahniuk deserves a thank you letter from me and in some strange way, this is it.

xo

HBM

Playlist:

Night on the Sun - Modest Mouse

Nail in my Coffin - The Kills

Biting Down - Lorde

Perhaps Vampires is a bit strong, but- The Arctic Monkeys

Down a Rabbit Hole - Bright Eyes

Taste of Blood - Mazzy Star

Invincible - Ok Go

Ego Tripping at the Gates Of Hell - The Flaming Lips