We walked in mostly silence back toward my apartment- I had given the girl ten dollars as proof that I had money and more would come to her, and she had seemed slightly less wary then, a hunger overtaking her eyes when her hands closed around the money. I tried to talk to the girl for several reasons; to block out all I sensed of her, all that tempted me, all but her voice; to block out Afton's words to me, Afton's image; and to personalize this person to me, to understand for myself more strongly what it was that so differed her from me.

She was reluctant to speak in more than one or two words answers, but I did discover that her name was Misty, and she was, as I had assumed a runaway-turned-teen-prostitute. Any more details than that were nearly impossible to extract from her.

I had forgotten how long my walks would seem to a human, how far my apartment would feel to her, and by the second or third mile the girl- Misty- was stumbling, slow and languid. I wanted to pull her along by the arm, but I dared not risk touching the pulse at her wrist.

I slowed my pace to hers, and in this way it took over an hour to reach my dwelling. By then Misty was barely awake enough to stand, and I showed her to my bedroom, assuring her that in the morning she need only come to me for her payment, and then could leave. Yes, I do have a bed, though more for sure than because I actually use it- the coffin to sleep in is another myth. The truth is, as I have said, that vampires do not need sleep, if they do not wish to sleep.

I knew Misty fell asleep nearly immediately, for I could hear the sound of her deeper breathing reverbating about the house. Her heartbeat slowed along with her respiration, but still I heard it quite clearly, its beat strong and steady.

I was quite proud of myself- my self-control, my determined resistance against Afton's derision and my own horrid instincts. I had done quite well… perhaps this was not quite as awful as I had believed. Perhaps I had merely needed to expose myself more to humans.

I remained silent, self-assured and smug as a vindictive Afton ranted in my head about my keeping Misty- "the mortal", as she called her- "my instrument of self-abuse." She was nearly as angry because I had not harmed the girl as because I had not listened to her advice- if you could call anything as negative as her words to me something as supposedly well-meaning as advice. I let her rant on, confident that she was wrong- had I not just proven how very little Afton and her ways affected me, how strong and resolute I had grown?

But as the hours passed, and Misty slept on, I quickly began to realize how hastily- how foolishly- I had judged myself. For as the girl slept, her body still, all its energy- all its blood- in a constant, contained area, it seemed louder to me, more apparent and encompassing, than it had been when she was awake.

No matter where I went in the house, I could still hear the slow, constant sound of the beating of Misty's heart. I could picture her face in my mind, her delicate throat with its pulse bulging slightly with each heartbeat… I saw the complex veins of her scrawny wrists, and once more, I itched for what I knew was inside them. And the smell, oh the smell of her blood… it seemed stronger as she slept, as I removed myself from her, than it had been when I stood five feet from her.

There was nothing I could do now to distract myself from the fact of Misty's humanity. I could not speak to her, could not even look at her now, for once more I grew uncertain of my control. How could I ever have been foolish enough to believe this was a good idea- how could I ever have been so certain of my invulnerability to a human's life force?

The physical desire was nearly overwhelming. My throat felt raw, painfully sore and scratchy, even as my head began to pound, light and unsteady. My hands shook, and I began to pace, faltering, weak… I prayed for morning to come, for Misty to awaken and leave. As much as I hated to admit my failure to myself, Afton had been right. Vampires and humans simply cannot mix- at least, not vampires like me.

And all the while, there was Afton in my mind, her face no longer pretty with its cruel twisting, her mocking words not bothering, nonetheless, to conceal her satisfaction.

(You fight so hard when you know you cannot win, Dante) she hissed, but there was an almost affectionate tone to her voice. (You only prolong your suffering… if you would only give in, admit your defeat, you would become more victorious than you can imagine. You have nothing to lose, Dante, and so much to gain… what will you miss out on by giving up your current pathetic existence? Will you miss the pain, the solitude, the constant guarding, constant rigid fear? Will you miss any of this, you silly fool? Can anything be worse than your current condition?)

I paced, trying to banish her from my head, trying to exhale the scent of Misty's blood from my nose. One of those alone may have been tolerable- but together, it was nearly unbearable… as Afton well knew.

(You think you are strong, to resist what I have made you? To resist power and ability that others would be grateful to receive? You're not strong, Dante- you are merely very afraid, and this makes you weaker than that mortal child in your bed.)

She chuckled darkly, her eyes glowing with a sudden thought. (You realize, don't you, that even if the human leaves you unharmed, the scent of her will remain in your home, the one place you regard as free from a trial of your control. You will remain tormented whether or not you partake of her.)

No, I had not thought of this- and this information only served to intensify my near suffering. How could I have been so sure of myself, after all these years of struggling against my urges?

(Wishful thinking) Afton intoned smugly. (wishes don't' make reality, my Dante… I would know.)

I breathed in slowly, deliberately trying to smell something- anything- other than Misty. But everything seemed to be soaked in her blood. Her heartbeat was so loud, so…

(Overwhelming) came Afton's voice. (You know what you want, Dante… you know it is your right, your privilege.)

No, I thought savagely, no! No one has this right, no one- no one should be killed because there are monsters in this world- it's not fair, it's not right-

(What of it?) Afton interrupted. (Is it right for you to suffer so another will not? Is it right for us to be deprived of an end to our lives, a conclusion beyond endless existence? Is it right that this human has at her age already destroyed her insignificant little life beyond repair? Why does a mortal of such little worth to anyone mean anything? There is no right, Dante, nor wrong- only one's desires, one's needs.)

Her voice softened, grew silky, nearly seductive. (No one will care about this one mortal. She has no one, no future, nothing to look forward to. You are doing no worse to her than what will be done…)

No, I thought roughly as I ground my teeth together, as my fangs unconsciously slid down my lips. It took me several moments to realize and withdraw them. No… I will never do this. Not for you…

Afton's laughter pierced my head, intensifying its throbbing pain.

(Never say never, my love…)

Slowly, gently I eased the door to my bedroom open, my eyes easily taking in its contents in the darkness of the room. Misty lay asleep, her narrow chest rising and falling as her long hair tangled across her face. She had not bothered to undress or fall under the covers, and in her scanty clothes, nearly see-through, I could almost see her heart beat through her skin.

Skin is so fragile, so delicate… so easily wounded. She was blonde, pale, her veins so easily seen…

Her smell, it was so strong… I held my breath as I watched her, the parchedness of my throat suddenly intensifying. I felt something rattle inside me, and my knees shook.

Afton was silent, but I could see her smile, knew her thoughts. I tried to push them aside, focus only on my own. Could I truly handle this- did I know what I was doing?

I took another step toward Misty, slow, pensive. It was then that she stirred, her eyes opening reluctantly. I held myself very still, watching, waiting… controlling.

A flicker crossed her face, and she shook her head, seeming resigned. "I knew you couldn't be for real," she mumbled foggily. "Ain't no guy alive who wouldn't screw me over given half a chance." She sat up slowly, pushing her hair over her shoulders, adjusting her clothes.

"All right, like I said, I'm willin'- what is it you want me to do?"

I regarded the girl before me with eyes I knew to her, a mortal, would appear in the darkness to be shaded and unreadable.

"It is not what I want, child," I said softly. "It is what I need."

Her eyes narrowed, but as she opened her mouth to speak, I covered it with one hand. As I pulled her against me, the sound of her heart seemed the only music in the world… I could feel her blood straining hard in her veins, so close to me…

As my fangs punctured her throat, as she went limp and pale in my arms, her feeble struggles ceasing, as the sweet relief of her filled me fuller than I had experienced in so long, I could hear Afton faintly in my mind, her voice warm, congratulatory…

(Well done, my love… welcome to your eternity)