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A Litany at Dusk

Summary:
Thanks to hellacullen for the awesome banner! Edward’s rebellious period wasn't just a few years; it lasted seventy. Having spent his years hunting on the edges of society, he rejoins his family in Forks ready to abstain when he runs acorss a young woman praying. Can a choice be made between one's desires, one's heart and one's soul? Will Edward be willing to fight for her instead of fighting against her? A/U a bit OOC, rated for lemons and adult content, some violence


Notes:
Thanks to PTB for their assistance and to hellacullen, who is the wind beneath my wings! Her consistent and intelligent commentary, suggestions and cheerleading were incredible and I wish everyone a beta like hellacullen. I own nothing of Twilight. Let's see who could be the owner? Possibly SM?


17. Chapter 17 Burning

Rating 5/5   Word Count 4421   Review this Chapter

Bella

I was sitting in the living room with my father when through the window I saw the headlights of a car as it pulled into the driveway. It had seemed like a hundred other nights before it; Charlie sat in his recliner and me on the sofa, the floor lamp between us casting a yellow glow around the room while the announcers on TV discussed the various strengths and faults of the ballplayers. The pita pat of rain on the window was as familiar as the sound of Charlie sipping at his beer. It was like a hundred other nights, except this time I waited for a Camaro driven by the mystery of a lifetime.

“That’s my ride,” I said, getting up from my seat.

Charlie frowned as he peered through the open blinds. “Isn’t he going to come in and introduce himself?”

“Dad, I just met him,” I protested. “It’s not that kind of thing.” Not yet, anyway.

“Well, I don’t feel right just letting you go back to the city with any old stranger,” he said crossly, starting to rise from his seat.

“He’s not a stranger,” I reminded him. I’d already told him this once. “He’s one of Dr. Cullen’s kids.”

“Foster kid, huh?” he grumbled. “Do I know him?”

“Probably not. He’s been traveling.”

“How old is he?” Charlie asked as I picked up the bag of books I was bringing back to my apartment.

I turned to look solemnly at my father. “Aren’t I getting a little too old for the third degree?”

“You’re never too old for your father to stop worrying about,” he said, smiling.

“I don’t know how old he is,” I said as I peered into the bag, hoping I’d remembered everything I wanted to bring. “He looks to be my age.” That was the truth, right?

I heard the knock on the front door, and Charlie followed me to it. I turned around and gave him a chastening look before turning the knob. “Behave,” I warned him.

He shrugged like he couldn’t possibly know what I was talking about. I opened the door and Edward stood on the porch, hopelessly handsome in a light-colored jacket with the collar artfully turned up. He had his hands in his pockets, and his mouth curled in the ghost of a smile as his eyes took me in first before flicking to my father. In the yellow glow of the porch light, raindrops glinted in his hair like crystals. The rain dripped from the porch roof in flashing streams behind him.

How could people possibly not recognize the otherworldliness in him? It was as if a blazing archangel descended from heaven with outstretched wings and nobody took notice. He passed through the world like an unseen breeze, while around him the blind masses stared right through him. I wanted to shout, Don’t you see?

I stepped out the screen door. “I’ll call you tomorrow, Dad.”

Charlie followed me and the door. “Geez, it’s pouring out there. Wait a minute.” He stepped behind the door and came out with a rain jacket of his. “Put this on,” he said, holding it out to me. “You can bring it back later.”

I sighed in frustration as Edward stepped forward, pulling the bag of books out of my arms, murmuring, “Let me take those.”

Charlie held the jacket as I shrugged it on. Both Dad and Edward were looking expectantly at me, so I gave in to the inevitable. “Edward, this is my father. Dad, Edward Cullen.”

Edward shifted the bag to his left hand and held out his right. “Nice to meet you.”

“Edward,” Dad said in acknowledgement, shaking his hand. “Thanks for bringing my daughter to visit.”

“It’s been my pleasure,” Edward said, looking down at me and smiling.

“So you’re one of Dr. Cullen’s kids?” Charlie asked.

That’s enough of that. “Goodnight, Dad. I’ll call you.”

“Goodnight, Bella.”

“Goodnight, sir,” Edward said, but my dad was already closing the door.

“Excuse my father. He’s a bit nosy,” I apologized as we walked out to the car.

“Well, he should be. He doesn’t know who I am. If I were him, I wouldn’t have let you go.” He opened the passenger door for me. That was something Jake had never done. I didn't know whether to be flattered because, truth be told, it made me feel rather feminine, yet some part of me scoffed that I could open my own darn door. These were just internal musings, though. I just got in the car and he closed the door gently after me, then came around the other side, putting the bag in the back and getting behind the wheel.

“Did you have a good visit?” he asked as he backed out of the driveway.

“Yes. I like to come by and cook for him once a week. I make extras so he has leftovers. Otherwise, he’d eat out every night.”

“That’s thoughtful of you.”

“It’s just me and him now. He’s got two maiden aunts in Portland, but we never hear from them except for a Christmas card.”

“And your mother’s family?”

“My grandfather lives in Scottsdale with his wife, but I never see them. Same with my uncle in New Mexico. What about you?”

His eyebrows rose in surprise. “Me? The Cullens are my family now,” he said with finality.

We were headed down Route 101 when he turned on the music. I checked the music controls; it was a CD playing.

From the speakers came the opening power chords of The Clash’s Should I Stay Or Should I Go. I stared incredulously at him. “I thought you didn’t like this music.”

He started grinning, pleased with his surprise. “Well, if you like it, I thought I should give it another try.”

“Well, darn straight. This is great stuff.” I wasn’t much for singing, but this song especially didn’t require much melodic ability. “Darling, you got to let me know. Should I stay or should I go?”

The windshield wipers moved in rhythm with the song. The night was dark and the road shone, a black satin ribbon in the rain, as we sped along in the car. Edward looked over at me, smiling as the song moved into the chorus. I felt lighter than I had in a long time, almost as if, had I not been wearing a seat belt, I would have floated upwards to rest against the car ceiling like a helium balloon. Edward was relaxed and easy, and the ride back to the city passed quickly.

The rain had let up, and we were almost at the corner of my street when we saw the flashing red lights of emergency vehicles bouncing off the houses. At the entrance to my street, there was a fireman in a black and yellow jacket, waving cars away. Edward pulled the car up and rolled my window down as the fireman approached our car.

“What’s going on?” Edward bent so he could see through my window.

“House fire,” the fireman answered, approaching the car on the passenger side. “You can’t go down here.”

I grabbed the edge of the window. “This is my road. I live here.”

“I’m sorry, miss. You’ll have to park and walk home for now. I suggest the next street over.”

“What house is it?” I asked, trying to crane my head down the street where I saw flashing lights and several large fire trucks parked at angles in the middle of the street.

“Three forty-two,” he answered. He glanced at the car behind us, and stepping back, waved us forward.

I turned to Edward as I felt my hollow stomach drop to my feet. “That’s the Davidsons’ house.”

He pulled the car back into the street and glanced at me without comprehension on his face.

“Crystal and Trevor. The kids we passed on the way to church this afternoon.” I had to stop and take a breath; I felt like I’d been kicked and was having trouble getting my lungs full. “They live there with their mother and baby sister.”

Edward’s eyebrows furrowed as he recognized how upset I was becoming. “We’ll park and then go.” He reached over for my hand. “It’ll be okay, Isabella.”

“Oh, I hope so.” I had baby-sat one afternoon for those kids. Crystal was five and excited about starting kindergarten this year. Trevor was eight and big on Game Boy. The baby, Tamara, was just starting to walk. Unconsciously, my hand clutched at the cross pendant I wore on the chain around my neck.

I jumped out of the car as soon as Edward pulled to the curb and started running back to my street. Edward was beside me almost instantly, matching me stride for stride. We turned the corner onto my street, and I saw clusters of people standing in the street and on the nearby lawns, watching as the firemen turned a hose on the house, roiling heavy smoke and flames starting to lick out of a second story window.

I’d never seen a house fire except on TV and it was so much more intense and somehow scarier than I’d anticipated. These were real people I knew, not just some image on a screen. The swirling red and blue lights of the emergency vehicles reflected off the houses like a demonic disco ball amid the darkness of the night. There was the occasional siren wail and the shouted orders and staccato walkie-talkie bursts of the firemen at work as a thick acrid smell started to fill the night. Edward and I moved to the side as an ambulance pulled in behind us, startling me with a siren blast as we trotted down the street. Two large fire trucks were parked in the middle of the street in front of the Davidson house, and as we got closer, I could see Terry Davidson, the mom, dressed in a men’s jacket that someone had thrown over her nightgown, holding her baby in her arms. I recognized several of the neighborhood ladies standing with her, arms around her, as Terry was crying.

Edging my way through the crowd, I got close enough to hear Terry, who was almost incoherent with fear and grief. Trevor was at her side, his arms wrapped around her like he was never going to let go, but my heart rose in my throat as I realized I didn’t see Crystal.

One of the firemen, seemingly huge in his thick jacket and helmet, approached Terry’s group. “Ma’am, I have to ask you again, which bedroom was your daughter in?”

Terry’s voice was extremely shaky, but she swallowed, trying to make herself understood. “At the top of the stairs on the right.”

“Did she have any special hiding places she might have gone? Children will often hide when there is a fire.”

Terry’s eyes were huge as she looked up at the fireman. “No,” she choked out before she bent her head, sobbing over the baby in her arms, who started to cry too. One of the ladies proceeded to take Tamara out of her arms, and Terry hid her face behind her forearm, crying hysterically.

I realized that Edward was behind me on the far side the fire truck, staying in the shadow created by the flames that were starting to reach higher into the sky. I stepped the few feet over to him. “They can’t find Crystal.”

He looked at the fire, his eyes reflecting the flames, and then back at me.

Perhaps it was foolish of me to ask, but I had to try. “Is there anything you can do?” I asked softly.

He glanced back at the fire and then met my eyes, searching my face. I could see some inner struggle in him, but then he grabbed my shoulders. “You’ve never seen me, you don’t know who I am,” he said, speaking low and urgently.

I nodded and just that quickly he was gone from beside me.

There was a sudden whoop of siren as a police car pulled in behind me, and a fireman came tromping around the corner of the truck. I moved away from it, to get a clearer view of the house. I barely had time to stand with the other onlookers when I saw Edward appear trotting from around the dark side of the house, a small limp figure in his arms. “I need help here!” he called to the nearest firemen.

Several people started running toward him, and he placed the child in the outstretched arms of the fireman, who immediately turned and rushed the child over the ambulance waiting by the curb. Medics began working over Crystal, her stick-like arms and legs looking impossibly thin and fragile. Her mother came running over to the ambulance, crying her name, as an oxygen mask was strapped over the child’s face. “She’s alive! Oh thank God, she’s alive,” Terry cried, being gently pulled away by a police woman so the medics could work uninterrupted.

I turned back to thank Edward, but he was gone. I couldn’t believe how quickly he had found the child and gotten in and out of a burning building. Whatever I thought his powers and abilities were before, I had underestimated him. No wonder I could feel a gathering power when around him; he had it and more.

I searched among the clusters of onlookers, weaving among the shadows cast by the fire, but it seemed he had vanished. Several groups of firemen were now struggling with hoses, but the arcs of water seemed to have little effect on the billowing smoke and flames that had taken hold on the second floor and were licking their way towards the roof. I watched as the fire continued its climb up to the roof, as the acrid smell of burning intensified.

I stood watching as the fire ate away at Crystal and Trevor’s home, the flames gnawing hungrily at the walls and windows. I used to enjoy the warm golden light of a campfire or a fireplace, but now, seeing the how fire consumed indiscriminately the home and security of a family, I didn’t know if I could ever enjoy them the same way. The ambulance pulled out of its position; by the glow of the interior light, I could see Terry’s face inside it.

I was standing off to one side, not far from a group of firemen standing by one of the emergency vehicles, obviously taking a break. The orange glow from the fire lit up their faces; they were sooty and sweaty within their heavy suits and were sucking down the bottles of water in their hands. I sidled closer to listen to their conversation.

“Don’t ask me where he found the kid.”

“Where did he get in the house?”

“Listen, I was in the back. There weren’t nobody going in and out that way.”

“Maybe the kid had gotten outside.”

“Nah, she had smoke inhalation. She’d been inside.”

“So where the hell did he come from?”

“Think he was already inside? Maybe started it?”

I didn’t wait to hear more. I edged away from them, sliding into the shadows. Of course, he hadn’t started it, but I could see why he hadn’t wanted the attention; it was a double-edged sword. Still, he’d done something so outrageously courageous and then fled from the deserved thanks or recognition.

Mrs. Weissmueller and Mr. Sanders, more neighbors, were standing on the far side of the street, and I stopped to commiserate with them. We'd have to organize some kind of relief for Terry and the kids; it didn't look like much was going to be salvaged from the fire.

I started walking back to my house, hoping that Edward would meet me there. The fire was far enough away that the lights were darkened and sounds were muted. I was almost at my front door when he materialized out of the shadows between houses.

“There you are,” I said in relief.

“Here I am,” he said smiling, leading me to believe that while I may not have known where he was, he’d been sure of my whereabouts. It was dark over here, and I could barely make out his features. The only light was from inside the house in the foyer; I must have forgotten to turn the porch light on.

“That was so brave of you. I can’t thank you enough.” I said. "I hope Crystal will be okay."

"Her heartbeat was good and strong. She'd fallen to the floor, so I think the smoke wasn't quite as bad down there."

"She's such a sweet kid." Dark feelings rose in me at the thought of a young innocent like Crystal being killed. I clutched at my necklace again and climbed the steps of my stoop. “That was so dangerous, I can’t believe how quickly you rescued her.

He leaned his foot on the bottom step and shook his head, downplaying the rescue. “It was more dangerous than you realize, Isabella, but not in the way you imagine.” He raised his eyes to mine; standing at the top of the steps, I was a few feet taller than he was. “If my nature becomes known, it puts my whole family in danger.”

I looked at him, astonished. “I would never want you to do that.”

He looked solemnly at me. “If I’ve been reticent with you about myself, it’s because I am looking to your safety.”

“My safety?”

“The secret of our existence is more closely guarded than any other. People die because of it.”

I was almost speechless. “Edward, I’m sorry. I would never have asked you to do something that…” I didn’t know how to finish that. I was going to say dangerous, but asking him to run into a burning building was dangerous. I’d never thought there might be other considerations.

He turned so his face was in deep shadow, making it unreadable. His voice, soft and mellifluous as ever, seemed to float out into the darkness. “I live a shadow existence. Not human, just pretending to be. We can’t ever really join in because of our differences. It’s been like living behind a glass wall, seeing the fullness of human life, but never able to cross over. It’s why my family has banded together, to make their own community since the one they came from is no longer an option for them. I move from place to place, never letting anybody in. I’ve circled the globe and crisscrossed this country so many times, I've lost count. I’ve even been a stranger to my own family because I was a danger to them as well.”

I swallowed, listening to the years of aching loneliness in his voice. How could someone so powerful, so beautiful, be so lost in this world? “Edward, putting you or your family in danger is the last thing I’d want to do. I’ll keep your secret, whatever it is.”

He took a step up the stairs, coming out of the shadows. His eyes were burning. “Can you do that, Isabella? If any of what I am were to be revealed, I’d be hunted.”

“Yes, oh yes, I swear. Please don’t leave me.” I didn’t care right then if I never asked him another question again. I would live with the mystery if it kept him near.

“Leave you? That’s the last thing I can do. I’ve tried and failed.” He took another step up. For all that he felt cool to the touch, a cold heat seemed to pour out of him, and I could feel it on my skin, intensifying with each step closer that he took. It was so different from the harsh hot heat of Jacob; it was an elegant and aromatic coolness, like stepping into an underground spring in the middle of desert heat. It was raising goose bumps on my skin and making my heart race. “Could I leave my own heart behind?” he murmured as he came up a step. “You have no idea how much I need from you.”

My breath was catching in my throat. “What is it you need?” I whispered.

He took the last step so he was right in front of me. “Everything.”

I had backed against the door to my apartment; I could feel the cold metal beneath my back. I was starting to tremble with anticipation or fear, I couldn’t tell. I studied the logo and pocket on his shirt, which was at my eye level, some small part of my mind registering the muscular chest beneath it. There it was, his scent of baking bread, laundry dried outdoors and a thousand other favorite things that invited me to get closer and closer.

His closeness, his incredible scent, his sheer physical presence was making every nerve in my body sing. I’d been awakened to a state of hypersensitivity. I could feel the pinching of my shoes, how my jeans hugged my thighs tightly, the smooth cotton knit of my shirt on my belly and shoulders, the tight band of my bra binding me, the cooler night air as it grazed my arms and face, the door against my back, but most of all the energy pouring from him, saturating me, and the way his cool breath grazed against my face and hair.

He was just inches from me, and still I stared at his shirt and collar, almost afraid to raise my eyes to see the naked vulnerability on his face.

He leaned toward me until his mouth was just inches from mine, whispering softly. “I’m going to kiss you now.”

My knees almost gave out, and finally my eyes rose to his perfect, unearthly face. His eyes poured into me.

“Now,” he whispered again, even softer this time, coming closer.

I closed my eyes as his cool lips gently touched mine. It was as if all the nerves in my body had suddenly transported themselves to my lips. The only thing that mattered was the way we were connected at my lips. His were cool and firm, yet pliable as they gently moved on mine in the most amazing way, sending thrills of sensation that all seemed to gather together in the lower part of me, making my whole pelvis tingle. On and on it seemed to go, as around us, the night and the neighborhood and the world faded away until there was nothing left but the way he was kissing me and the sensations it was causing.

I couldn’t help myself; my left arm crept around his neck to feel his collar and the edge of hair that was there while my right arm slid around his waist, feeling the hard muscular contours beneath it.

My lips began to move with his, and I felt myself press against him, molding myself to his body, letting myself be bowed back by the way force of his kiss and my surrender to it. His arm slipped behind my back, almost holding me up as I lost the connection to my feet, consumed by the cold fire of his lips. He stepped closer until I was sandwiched between him and the door behind my back, allowing me to feel the length of his solid torso and hips against mine. It was all hard muscle, and I felt a familiar feeling of emptiness, starting at my breastbone and ending between my legs, an emptiness that cried for him to complete it and fill me.

If it was possible to get lost inside a kiss, then that’s what happened. I stopped thinking; my whole brain just shut down until I was nothing but perception—perception of this kiss that was like no other in the world. I melted further into him, his hands stronger on my hip and back as he pulled me further into him.

Our lips finally parted and still just an inch away from me, he paused. Under my hand, I felt a shiver of his muscles run down his back. My breath was shallow and ragged; whatever he had done had gone right to the core of me and had washed me in a flood of sexual tension and desire. I could barely breathe with the wanting to pull him closer, to wrap my legs around his waist, to pull him deeper into me, to merge with him. Never had I wanted a man so much, and I was shocked at the sudden strength of my need and powerless to make it stop.

We were still a moment, while he was completely motionless, and I panted in short shallow gasps. I felt that shiver down his back again.

Our faces were so close; I looked into one oddly-colored eye.

“You’re panting,” he whispered.

“You’re shivering.” I whispered back.

He pulled another fraction away. “This is harder than I thought.”

Harder to kiss me? “Harder?” I asked in such a small voice it was almost a squeak.

“Harder to stop from doing what I want to, to continue this.”

I made a small noise, a gasp, which was all I was capable of.

He took a step back, letting the night air rush between us, and the nerves in my body cried, No! Bring that back. Bring the long, lean hardness of him back, closer to explore.

He smiled, the most enchanting crooked smile, and I was glad for the door behind my back, holding me up. “Good night, Bella.”

“Um hmmm,” was all I managed to squeak out.

He turned at the bottom of the stairs and said, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

My brain finally kicked back into gear. “I… I have to work.”

“What time do you get out?”

“Probably around three a.m.”

“I’ll be there,” he promised and then turned. I watched his back as he strode down the walkway to the sidewalk, his long narrow figure taking long strides. He turned at the sidewalk and raised his hand in farewell.

I motioned back and then he started jogging away and was gone before my eyes had their fill of his tall figure.

I fumbled at the door into my apartment and finally got myself inside. My lips were still tingling, and the ache in me was still consuming me. I made it to the sofa and collapsed. Darcy jumped up and pushed her face against mine. I pulled her close. “Oh, kitty, I’ve been kissed by a miracle,” I whispered into her soft ears.