March 21, 2009
10:04 pm
The Cullen family home, eight miles north of Forks, Washington State

Mine, Edward's thoughts raged, as wisps of the fragrant perfume swirled into his nostrils and coated his tongue.

Never, in more than the century of his existence, had Edward experienced the call of a human's blood so strongly, let alone reacted so violently and brutally at the mere essence. For several long moments, his mind rocked in the heightened sensations of his vampiric nature. The rough gurgling of the small stream more than two hundred yards from the house roared in his ears, and the iridescent sparkling and refraction of tiny dust flecks floating in the air blinded his eyes. The smoke from the fire tickled his skin, and the fine strands of hair in his fingers felt like the finest spider web weave.

His thirst was nearly incapacitating; the vicious clawing of his throat choked him as he tried to swallow back the thick pool of venom in his mouth.

Edward, who was at the door? a silent voice called.

Broken from his entrancement by the sound of his name being called, Edward willed himself to move from what had been almost fifteen minutes of motionless activity. The distraction of Carlisle's unspoken call provided Edward the split second that he required to regain some measure of control. He immediately halted his breathing, knowing that as long as he refrained from inhaling the wretched scent, it would be possible to think clearly enough to decide how to rid himself of it. He held the offensive lock at arms' length, and then called back tensely in response, "Just a delivery for me, Carlisle. A book I'd ordered." His voice took on a gravelly, raspy vibration from the strain of his intense physiological battle.

Son, are you okay?

While no longer deliberately breathing in the scent helped, Edward's near-infallible memory tortured him. Forcibly snapping his teeth together and clenching his eyes shut, Edward again combated against the intense, primal urge to run from the house and track the ambrosial scent. Carlisle, he thought repeatedly, fighting to recall the kind, comforting images always present in his father's mind.

With his last portion of air, he replied in his musical, albeit tightly controlled, voice, "Yes, Carlisle, I'm fine."

Edward mutely prayed that Carlisle would not continue his inquiry; if he were to speak again, he would have to take another breath. He feared that if he were to inhale, his mind would be lost once more.

Having regained some sense of self, Edward's eyes angrily darted to the cause of his animalistic behavior—the piece of hair in his hand. With sudden clarity, he tightly held his last bit of breath, and extended his arm over the licking flames of the fire. Before the devilish scent could reclaim his sanity and tempt him with its call, he dropped the lock into the fire. Distancing himself from the hearth, he became mesmerized by the rapid charring and curling of the strands. Within seconds, no evidence of his moment of weakness remained. He followed by placing the mysterious cardboard envelope and plastic in the blaze.

Certain that nothing remained, Edward tentatively sampled the air. He could still smell the faint sweetness of the scent, though now, it was marred by the sharp odor of burned plastic. The furious fire in his throat abated to a rough scratching. In a certain attempt to rid himself of the perfume, Edward quickly dipped his hand into the flame to burn off any residual oils.

Finally free of the hair's all-consuming grip, Edward tensely settled back into the leather chair and considered how this package had come to him. Within seconds his mind reached the only possible and logical conclusion: James.

The only questions that remained now were: who, where, and exactly when. Nauseated from the inevitable outcome, Edward's body shook from the knowledge that this time, there would be no chance, and no question as to who would triumph. His head bowed from the shame of his acknowledgment.

January 3, 1989
9:21 pm
Warehouse District, Brooklyn, New York City

"Please, please, no!" she pleaded between sobs.

James stopped abruptly. He fisted a handful of auburn hair, roughly jerked her head back to meet his gaze, and said flatly, "Nicole, please tell me that you haven't already forgotten our agreement?"

"N-No," she stuttered through chattering teeth. Her eyes were unfocused and wild with terror. Judging by her staggered steps and inability to remain upright without considerable assistance, he assumed that she was near her limit. Shock, he believed humans called it. This is what I get for selecting an adolescent female, he thought with annoyance. He chose her, however, because her scent was distinct. It had a certain flavor, an aroma close to that of sandalwood and vanilla, which would be difficult to resist, even for the most controlled vampire. The fact that she was relatively a child made her that much the better lure.

"Excellent. Please make sure that you don't forget. Really, I would hate to damage you to prove my point before he arrives. You should also be aware that I can never guarantee my own self control if I were to have to do such a thing. After all, you do smell delicious—mouthwatering, even.

"But don't fret, my dearest Nicole, there is a chance, of course, a very slight one, that you may live. So, please do behave yourself," he chuckled darkly.

The girl's eyes rolled back, and she moaned incoherently. How infuriatingly fragile this one is! he fumed. He hoped that her heart would not fail before he had a chance to use her.

In a softer tone, one that he hoped mimicked comforting, he asked, "Can you walk?"

Answering him, her knees buckled, and she passed out.

James hissed in frustration. He callously threw her over his shoulder and walked with unnatural speed and stealth toward the prearranged location in the rear section of the old JVL warehouse.

Seconds later, he carelessly dumped the girl onto the floor in the corner. Her limbs splayed out, and twisted in ways that would cause her pain upon waking. James wondered if he should correct her positioning, but pitilessly decided against it. He did not intend on her living long enough for it to matter. Looking down at her light olive complexion, he could see the large, purplish bruises beginning to form along her temple and on her arms from her resistance. Fragile, indeed, he thought, disgusted. How a vampire could form any sort of bond with these creatures is impossible to comprehend.

Looking out the window, he pondered just how long it would be before the game really started, before his adversary would arrive. The clues had been laid out weeks prior, and the scene was now set. He knew that the bait would be irresistible to his foe; he had but to wait for the fly to catch. And waiting was one of James's unique skills.

Hours later, James still maintained his position by the window, watching and waiting. His ears were unexpectedly assaulted by piercing wails and cries. He exhaled loudly and returned to the girl in the corner. His head tilted, studying her pose, and he asked, "Nicole, please be quiet. Your screeching is quite annoying. What do you need?"

The girl was sitting with her back against the wall, and was curled into a tight fetal position. He ascertained from the way she cradled her left arm that the shoulder was dislocated, probably from being thrown to the floor earlier. Hearing his question, she began to shake violently and hyperventilate. He could see the microscopic ice crystals formed from the water vapor in her short, quick pants.

Well, I can't have her freeze to death now, he mused. He quickly scanned the room, and found an old space heater and a ragged canvas tarp.

"Here, cover yourself," he told her as he connected the heater, and placed it in front of her.

"Do you need water?" he questioned, trying to distract her from passing out again. Though, having her unconscious was a reprieve to his ears. He reflected, No, she needs to be awake; I need her screams.

She briefly looked up, and recognition glimmered. "P-P-Please, please don't kill me," she cried.

Would this girl not learn? he seethed. He calmly walked toward her, bent down in front of her knees, and lightly backhanded her across the face. Light was a very relative term to James. The force of his blow knocked her sideways, and possibly fractured her cheekbone. James surmised that there would be no permanent or fatal damage, and smiled at his self control. He calmly said, "I told you to be quiet, Nicole. Now, do you need water?"

The girl cowered, and whimpered from the throbbing in her face. "Y-Yes, please," she stuttered.

"Very good, Nicole. I'm delighted that you seem to understand our arrangement. I can't have you dying of some natural cause now, can I?" he said, playfully.

The following evening, as darkness began to descend, James again took up his post by the window. He didn't expect his adversary to arrive by a plain sight route, but it pleased him to watch the sunlight die, and to watch shadows creep across the overgrown parking lot. Blue-black images wavered and shifted in the flickering light of the failing security lights. He vaguely recalled his human existence, a time when his senses had been dull and flat. From the moment his crimson eyes had reopened to the world, he relished the power and awareness that his vampire nature had given him. He shook his head, and he again could not fathom those that purposefully curbed their appetites.

A sudden, sharp intake of air alerted him to movement behind him. He whirled around in a blur, and was greeted to the image of a pale man dressed in black, gently lifting the girl from the floor.

Smiling darkly, he called out in a low voice that the human would not be able to detect. "Cullen. I thought you'd never arrive. You've never kept me waiting this long before. I thought that perhaps you'd finally ridden yourself of that oppressive conscience of yours."

Edward's eyes flashed in fury. He growled, "A child, James? Was that necessary? If you wanted me so badly, you should have found me. Leave them out of it."

James threw his head back and laughed. "You just don't get it, do you, Cullen?"

"Yes, I do get it. I understand that you are a sick, sadistic bastard who feeds off of fear and pain. You don't want to kill me. You want to torture me; you want retribution.

"Fine. Let's go," Edward said coldly.

January 12, 1989
1:13 am
The Cullen family home, fifty miles north of Edmonton, Alberta Province

"Carlisle!" a voice screamed. "Carlisle, Oh my God, come quickly!"

Rosalie's shrieking voice brought Edward into dim consciousness. His eyes opened to the darkness of the Canadian winter, strangely lit only by the abstract color swirls of Aurora Borealis. His eyes marveled at the patterns and twists created by the solar wind fluxes, and he hazily realized that in the time that his family had lived in their current home, he had never taken the time to appreciate the beauty of the world here.

If he were human, he would have been blue and frozen from exposure to the minus forty-degree temperature. As it were, he was fortunate that his vampire body was impervious to the raging snow and ice-blinding environment, and had adjusted to match the frigidity.

"Edward! Edward, can you hear me?" a low, calm voice asked. "Can you speak?"

Carlisle, he thought.

He swallowed loudly, and nodded his head infinitesimally. Pain registered immediately, and he gasped as his body began convulsing.

At the onset of the pain, his mind exploded with disjointed memories of his last moments of consciousness.

The girl, the child. Body, broken and twisted. Auburn hair, slick from cold sweat. Dark, russet eyes. Eyes wide in horror searching his as he lifted her slight form.

James's wicked sneers and taunts. Confrontation. Screeching, growling, snarling. James's icy breath and iron grip on his throat. His hands tearing into James's chest.

Broken glass. Broken concrete. The sound of rending steel. The sound of riving flesh. The sound of snapping bodies. Vampire bodies.

The girl, the child. Screaming in agony. Body torn, bloodied, pale, and drained. Life lost. Blackness.

"Agh, no! God, no!" Edward sobbed in dry, tearless heaves. The pain in his body resonated through his limbs with the wracks of his shaking.

"Edward! Edward, where are you hurt? Tell me, son. What happened to you? Where are you injured?" Carlisle asked in a more frantic voice.

He could only shake his head, unwilling to trust his voice.

Carlisle motioned for Emmett and Jasper to come lift Edward's body, and they gently carried him into the house. As they entered the living room, Edward heard Esme and Alice's hysterical cries.

"Oh my God! Carlisle! What happened to him? Who did this to him?" Alice breathed as her hands came up over her mouth in shock.

Esme was at Edward's side immediately, and she cried, "Edward! Oh, Edward! Please, please open your eyes!" Instinctively, she began tracing gentle, circular patterns along his exposed forearm, trying in vain to soothe his spasms. At her touch, blackness reclaimed him.

Hours, or perhaps days, later—Edward didn't know—he regained awareness.

A beam of gray, clouded sunlight streamed through the window. As his eyes turned to face the light, he recognized his surroundings. He was laid out across his never-used bed in his rarely used bedroom. A light, unnecessary blanket was stretched across him, a result of Esme's motherly tendencies, Edward assumed. One of his family members had cleaned him, and had thankfully dressed him.

Daylight brought some sense of calmness and acceptance. I have failed, he thought. And a child had died horribly, because of me, and my war. Edward sighed as guilt filled and spread through his body.

As he turned his head away from the window, he saw that the chair by the bed had a silent, unmoving occupant whose eyes were intently trained to Edward's face.

Their eyes met, and there was a long silence before Edward exhaled dejectedly. "Carlisle."

"Edward. How do you feel?" he asked.

Edward flexed his stiff muscles, and noted that he no longer felt the excruciating pain that he indistinctly recalled waking to in the snow. As he tentatively moved to sit up, Carlisle quickly rose up from the chair to assist him.

"Don't move too quickly, Edward. We're still not exactly sure how badly your body was damaged. I've never seen a vampire so badly injured, and yet, not be killed afterward," he said cautiously.

Edward assumed that Carlisle was referring to the brief period Carlisle spent studying in Italy with the Volturi, the vampire ruling class. During that time, Carlisle had, no doubt, borne witness to the furious brutality of the Volturi's punishments.

"It looked as though someone or something had literally torn you limb from limb, and then, allowed you to re-assimilate. I've not seen cruelty like that. You must have been in unbearable pain.

"I wasn't exactly sure how to help you. I did the only thing I could think of. You were so weak, and obviously, you could not hunt. So, I acquired some human blood from a blood bank source. I'm sorry, Edward. I know that you adhere to a strict, non-human diet, as we all do. But, we had no choice in the matter."

Edward gave a mirthless chuckle. Human blood now coursed through his veins, thus providing him strength to heal, and his injuries were the result of his desperate attempt to save one such human. This irony was not lost on him.

"Are you still in pain?" Carlisle asked softly.

"No. Not in the sense that you mean, Carlisle. Thank you for taking me back in and for caring for me, while I was...out of it," Edward responded heavily. "I don't deserve it."

He could see anger tint his creator's eyes, but Carlisle said nothing. Instead, he asked, "Do you know how you made it back? I don't see how you could have carried yourself."

"No, I don't have any idea. None at all," Edward returned despondently. He had ideas, but none that he was willing to share. In a nervous gesture, he ran his hands roughly though his bronze hair.

Carlisle eyed him warily, and began, "Son, what happened? Where were you? One day, we were helping Esme remove the Christmas decorations. And then the next, you vanished. No notice. Not a single word to anyone. We couldn't even track you. Your scent led us to the river. All we could tell was that you had broken through the ice layer and swam somewhere south.

"We didn't know what to think. We didn't know if you even wanted us to look for you. We thought that your disappearing had all ended. You haven't left us for more than twenty-five years. Is this related to the last time?" Carlisle's last lines held the heat and aggravation of a father questioning a wayward son.

Edward closed his eyes, and took a deep, steadying breath. He could smell his creator's scent, a familiar almond-like fragrance, a scent that usually brought him relaxation. He exhaled slowly, and looked back to Carlisle. He thought, I cannot, I will not bring them into this. This is my battle, my shame. I will not let my loved ones be hurt by my failures.

"I can't, Carlisle. I won't," he said solidly as he shook his head.

He could tell that Carlisle was disappointed by his reticence, but his compassionate nature superseded his discontent. "Edward, I don't know what has happened to you. And I do not know why you won't tell me. But, it is yours to decide; I will not pressure you. I will be here any time you wish to speak of this."

"Thank you, Carlisle. Maybe one day I can explain everything," he murmured. One day, after I kill James, he thought.