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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?


25. Chapter 25 Before The Fire

Rating 5/5   Word Count 5524   Review this Chapter

Bella

I moaned as I struggled toward consciousness. I heard Edward’s low melodic voice near my ear saying, “It’s okay, Bella. You’re safe.”

With my eyes closed, I turned my head towards his soothing, velvet tones. “I was having the most awful dream…” I said, opening my eyes. Edward’s beautiful face hung just inches from mine, his face deeply shadowed in the dark room. I placed my hand on his cool face, his skin smoother than glass. The dim, flickering light played across his face, creating an orange glow, warming the tones of his skin.

It was the wrong kind of light. There was no warm light in my room. I wasn’t in my room. It all came rushing back: Jake stripping in my living room, calling Edward a vampire then transforming into a giant wolf, the Monsignor confirming the existence of vampires, and then finally Edward breaking into the confessional with crimson eyes. I jumped away from Edward, scrambling away until I was startled by the feel of my back against the wall.

It wasn’t a dream. It had all happened. Frantically, I glanced at the room around me. By the dim light of a dying fire in a hearth on the other side of the room, I could tell I was in a bedroom. Outside the window where lacy curtains hung, I could see it was dark outside. The patter of a light rain hit the window in a gentle cadence. The room was furnished with dark, heavy furniture, and the wallpaper had large cabbage roses on it. Despite the scent of wood smoke, the room smelled musty and unused.

My heart was pounding wildly. It hadn’t been a dream. Jacob had turned into a wolf monster in front of me. Edward had told me he was a vampire. The monsignor had advised me to go away because I was in grave danger, but it was too late now.

From my place in the corner where the bed met the wall, I drew myself up into the tightest ball I could. I could feel Edward’s eyes on me, and I swallowed hard. I had to know what his intentions were. I’d been spirited away somewhere and I didn’t know why. I looked at the man whom I’d felt so close to, realizing he wasn’t a man at all. He was a vampire and I’d made love with him. I’d made love with Jake and he was a monster, too. Jake, my best friend—he was a werewolf? It was surreal, and nightmare-ish. My breath came in short, shallow gasps, and my mind raced chaotically. Had I wandered into Hell? Were my sins so irredeemable that this was how I was punished? “Wh-where am I?” I stuttered, grasping for the cross around my neck and wondering if it held any protection for me.

Edward’s face had filled with pain as he’d watched me scramble away from him. His brows were drawn together, and his mouth was fixed in a tight line. He backed away from the bed and began speaking very slowly and clearly, as if I were a child. “You’re in my house near Vancouver. I brought you here when you fainted.”

“Am I captive?” I asked, almost afraid to hear the answer.

He whirled and strode to the fireplace, looking down at the dying fire. He rested his arm on the mantel and laid his forehead on that. I could barely hear his reply; he sounded tired and discouraged. “No, you’re not captive. I’ll take you back whenever you want.”

I watched as he stood silhouetted against the orange glow of the embers, unable to forget how that long, lean body had felt against mine. Part of me was appalled that I had been intimate with such a creature, yet a part of me remembered the pleasure, the connection and the overwhelming sense of rightness. I longed for it again. I wanted to curl myself in his arms and tell him about the nightmare I was in. But he was a part of that walking, living nightmare. I curled into a tighter ball, trying to fight the feelings that were threatening to tear me apart. “It wasn’t a dream then, was it?” I whispered, feeling tears collect in my throat. The beautiful night we’d spent together now seemed twisted and tawdry.

He turned back to face me, and again I could see my own pain mirrored in his eyes. He shook his head slowly. “I’m sorry. No, it wasn’t.” I closed my eyes, trying to fight back tears.

His voice still seemed to crawl right into the center of me, engulfing me like a fragrance that filled the room. “You are safe here. I will not hurt you. I will take you back whenever you wish.” His voice was resigned, and I heard the notes of sadness in it. “However, I would ask that you stay here long enough for us to be able to ascertain whether it is safe for you back in Forks.”

“Safe for me?” Everyone kept talking about my safety but not explaining the danger. When would I be able to make the decisions that affected my safety?

“I want to be assured of your safety by the Quileutes.”

I knew those people. “They would never hurt me,” I replied assuredly.

“You can’t know that, Bella.” His voice admitted no argument. “They’re werewolves and young ones at that. Believe me, they’re volatile and unpredictable.”

I realized he could be right. What did I know about them? This was the secret that Jake had been hiding. This was the reason he’d abandoned me. I’d almost had his child. I’d almost given birth to a monster; I’d had one of them growing inside me. I clutched at my stomach as a wave of nausea gripped me. “Oh my God,” I gasped, bent over my stomach as it did flips.

“Bella, are you alright?” Edward asked, his voice full of concern. He took a step towards me.

“No!” I yelled, a hysterical note creeping into my voice. “Just…stay where you are,” I choked out, holding my hand up.

I’d given Jake everything. He’d been my best friend, my first lover. I would have raised his children. His little wolfie children. He was a werewolf, and I’d been ready to be a part of his...pack?

The next lover I had taken was Edward, and he was no more human than Jake. What in the name of all that was holy was wrong with me? Was I some kind of magnet for evil?

“I have to pray,” I blurted out. “I have to...” I need to find the nearest convent is what I need to do, I thought hysterically. I would go and enroll and live as a nun for the rest of my life. I’d go and pray for hours every day, giving up men−all males of any kind−entirely.

Was Edward my punishment for sleeping with Jacob? I stared at Edward, wide-eyed. He was frozen in mid-step, just as he was when I had stopped him. Backlit by the fire, his red eyes weren’t visible, and he stood motionless, one hand held out to me, beseeching. He looked just like an earnest, seductively alluring young man. No, my heart whispered, not punishment.

He took a step backwards toward the door and gestured with his hand. “There’s some water at your bedside. There’s a bathroom down the hall, first door on your left. I’ll be downstairs in the parlor, if you wish to talk.” He whirled and left the room.

I stayed there for a while with my arms around my knees, wrapped into a ball, until I was sure that he was indeed leaving me alone. Then I slipped to my knees beside the bed, wishing I had my rosary with me. It was far from the most coherent prayer I’d ever offered, but it probably ranked up there with the most fervent.

I stayed on my knees for a long while, beseeching God. Please, please help me. Show me what I need to do, and give me the strength to do it. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine I was back safe in my church. But the illusion wouldn’t hold, and each time I concentrated, Edward’s eyes−red, brown, gold and black−in all of their color variations−broke into my thoughts. Perhaps my mind was too chaotic to hear God’s voice; for the only course of action I could see was the one that scared me the most. Go talk with him. After an hour or so of trying to debate with myself, I returned to my position on the bed, watching the fire get smaller and trying to actually think, not just react.

My head kept stumbling over the word ‘vampire’. He was the undead. He was a monster. The monsignor said he would kill me. My heart kept arguing though, You can’t believe that. He saved your life. He saved Crystal’s life.

His whole family were vampires, Jacob had said. Looking back at all the strange little things about the Cullens, the things that everyone had gossiped about them behind their back started to fall into place until I was kicking myself at being so blind. The whole town had believed them. They were admittedly weird, but ultimately accepted. Why not? Who would suspect the town’s best, most likeable doctor was a vampire?

The shock of recent events began to wear off, and my mind started to gnaw at the questions like waves to the coastline. But they kept breaking on the rocks of ignorance, and understanding was no closer. How could Edward be so full of love and tenderness yet be the creature he was called? Why had I been so willing to sin with him, and God forgive me, why was part of me longing to do it again?

If vampires and werewolves were real, then what other myths or legends would be true? The Quileutes were werewolves? They were natural enemies of vampires, Jake had said. The whole tribe or just some of them? I tried to think of Sue or Seth Clearwater as a werewolf, and I just couldn’t do it. But then, I hadn’t believed that of Jacob either. The Cullen kids went to school during the day-and they were vampires? Dr. Cullen was a vampire? Did he raid the bloodbank, like some kind of bad Dracula movie?

I had so many, many questions. How had I missed all of the supernatural things going on around me? What else had I missed? And if Edward was a vampire…

That was when I started crying. I’d thought of Edward as my angel−an angel of light, not an angel of death. He’d tried to tell me he wasn’t, but I’d been so dazzled by him, I hadn’t listened. I’d known he was something more than human; I’d felt it every time we were together. But a vampire? Something less than human? He was something so feared and reviled that they made horror movies about what he was. I kept trying to reconcile the images in those movies with what I knew about Edward, and it just wasn’t possible. I’d seen the fanged, bloodsucking monsters, and it wouldn’t mesh with Edward’s tenderness, his caring, or the air of tragic wisdom that surrounded him. I cried, grieving over the shattering of the illusions I’d had. What future could there be with him? Last night had been so transcendent, so beautiful, and now what could possibly become of us? I hugged my knees, mourning the dreams of us together, but like an insistent child, my mind kept nagging me with questions. How could I have been so blind? Did he care for me or was that just an illusion, too?

I needed answers. My mind would just walk itself around in circles, asking the same questions again and again until I could comprehend my situation. My thoughts went to my father, but my cell phone was in my purse, which was probably back in the confessional. There was really only one person who could give me the answers to the burning questions I had, and he said he’d be downstairs.

That’s what I told myself anyway, not yet willing to admit that being with Edward, regardless of what he was, was worth whatever price I would have to pay. That no matter how much I was frightened by what they said he was, the attraction that pulled me to him was greater.

Going down the staircase was probably one of the bravest things I’d ever done, braver even than entering the doors of the Women’s Clinic. Then I thought I knew what I was getting into, even if I’d been proved mistaken. This was just a giant leap into the unknown, into dark and terrifying waters.

In the hallway, there was a candle sconce on the wall that provided a dim light, but the darkness pooled around the edges, all too reminiscent of a horror film. I could hardly hear the occasional creaking of the floorboards above the rapid beating of my heart and the singing of blood through my ears. I stopped halfway down the rather imposing staircase, suddenly remembering how Edward could hear my heart beating, and the thought occurred to me that it might be like waving a red flag in front of a bull. Hadn’t he said he was dangerous? He’d also said I was safe. Which of those statements were true? I almost climbed back up the stairs again to cower in the bedroom, but something kept me going. For all my fear, there was a part of me that remembered the intense feeling of connection I’d felt with him. Had that just been an illusion on my part too? The need to know drove me forward.

I tried for several moments to slow my breathing and pulse rate, trying for a calm Zen-like state, before admitting that it wasn’t going to happen and pressing on anyway. At the bottom of the staircase, there was an orange glow and I could hear the erratic popping and crackling of a fire off to the right.

I fixed the location of the front door directly in front of me in my mind and glanced briefly at the dark dining room to my left. To the right, through an open archway, was a parlor dominated by a huge mantle beneath which a fire burned brightly. It illuminated the room furnished with two large wingback chairs facing the fire and other couches and tables scattered about. It reminded me of one of those preserved rooms that you see in a historical museum. Everything was in its place, the books all squared with the coffee table they sat on, the pillows perfectly placed and plumped, but there was nothing there that said someone lived here.

I snuck around the edges of the room until I could see Edward seated in one of the wing chairs, the flickering of the fire reflected in his ruby-tinted eyes. He sat slumped in the chair, staring at the fire, looking as dark and brooding as Mr. Rochester in a Bronte novel. His hair was messy, and a stray lock hung over his forehead, but what struck me was his absolute stillness. There were none of the miniscule clues of movement, blinking or breathing, that indicated a living being. The only seemingly living thing in the room was the fire that threw wavering light across his immobile face. He hadn’t said anything to me or acknowledged me in any way, but I was sure he was aware of me; he was just letting me see my fill of him.

I stood there, pressed against a wall in a dark corner of the room, trying to order my thoughts, which were rolling chaotically through my mind. I jumped, nearly knocking over a table that held a lamp, when he spoke.

“Hello.” His eyes were still clouded with pain, but he managed a rueful smile as I made a grab for the lamp before it fell over.

I successfully got the lamp upright and silently commanded it to stay. “This is your house in Vancouver? The one you talked about when we…” I didn’t know how to finish that. When we were making love? When we were fucking? What was it we had done? I didn’t know anymore.

“Yes.” He nodded solemnly. “It’s not the circumstances I would have chosen to show you, but yes.”

I wrapped my arms around my waist, hugging myself and feeling small and vulnerable as I looked around the room. It was a nice enough house, if rather old-fashioned, but with just the fireplaces and candles, it seemed creepy. “Can we turn on some lights?”

“I’m sorry,” he said sincerely. “The electricity had been turned off. It’s been a while since I’ve been here.” He shifted slightly in his chair. “I’ll call tomorrow to get it turned on.”

“Is there a phone I can use? I should probably let someone know where I am.” What I wouldn’t have given to have a conversation with someone, well, normal. It would help me feel less like I was some kind of tragic heroine trapped in a fantasy novel.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a cell phone. “Sure, use this.” He flipped it open and pressed a few buttons. Then he shook it and held it to his ear. “I’m sorry. It doesn’t seem to be working. It must’ve been when I got it wet.” He put it back in his pocket. “We can drive into town in the morning and find a phone for you.”

I looked around the room. There was a grandfather clock in the far corner but it was too dark to make out the face. “What time is it?”

“Just after two.”

The sense of surrealism had made me lose all sense of time. Sidling over to the other wing chair, I gingerly perched on the edge of the seat. I glanced over at him; he was watching me with his arms resting on the arms of the chair, and one leg was casually stretched out in front of him.

I hugged myself tighter and blurted out the thought that had been nagging at me. “I feel so stupid. I thought you were an angel.”

He rose out of the chair and stood before the fire. “I should have told you myself. I am heartsick you had to find out this way.” The thrum of restrained power that usually poured off him was missing. Intuitively I realized that somehow he was holding it back to be less threatening.

‘Yes,” I agreed, holding myself and rocking back and forth within the large wing chair. “Yes, you should have.”

He turned to face me. Silhouetted against the fire, his face was in shadow. “I wanted to. I was going to,” he said gently.

“It’s a rather important piece of information, don’t you think?” I said in a surprisingly challenging voice, startling even myself. My reaction took me by surprise. I was actually feeling quite a lot of anger. Anger at myself for being so naïve and slow to catch on, anger at Edward for not being forthcoming, and anger, deep anger, at Jake for the secrets he’d kept for so long. There’d been this whole hidden world going on around me all this time, and I was just now beginning to catch on. It made me feel stupid and ignorant, like the last kid in a neighborhood group to catch on to some secret that had become common knowledge.

He drew himself up straight. “There were reasons−there still are reasons−why this knowledge was not shared with you.” There was just the slightest edge of warning in his voice that made a chilled shiver travel down my back. He’s a vampire. Don’t forget that.

“How much danger am I in?” I had to know.

He smiled crookedly at me. “From me? None. From the Quileutes? I think we need to find out.” He paused. “There are…others though, that will be concerned that humans know of our existence.” He shook his head dismissively. “But they are far away and slow to act. We should have time.”

Time for what? I wondered. “Jacob thought I needed protection from you. You once told me yourself that you were dangerous to me.” I swallowed the lump in my throat. I felt like I was trapped with the caged tiger again. I needed to know the answers to these questions, but would they provoke him?

“I am, Bella,” he said softly. “I still am. But know this. I will protect you at all costs. You have become the hinge to my existence. If I lost you…” Suddenly, his face twisted. For the first time since we had met, I felt his composure falter. He turned rapidly back to the fire, so that I couldn’t see his face. His shoulders heaved as he took a deep breath. “You don’t know what you’ve come to mean to me. I need you.” Inexplicably he whispered, “I need you, I’m sorry.”

I had to close my eyes. The pain in his voice was so raw, it brought tears to my eyes. I fought the urge to throw myself in his arms, vowing how I needed him too. This was all happening so fast. Still, his words echoed in my head alarmingly. “Why are you sorry?”

He moved back into his chair before answering, his movements, as always, controlled and fluid. He leaned his head back aghainst the chair and his eyes searched my face. “Because I have changed your life irrevocably from the time we first met in the church, and no matter what happens,” he said softly, “you are not the innocent you were before.”

That’s for sure, I thought. “So, why did you lie to me? What is it you’re after?”

His eyes were dark shadows as he sighed and looked down at his lap. “I did not lie to you. Please be mindful of that.” He raised his eyes to mine, and the need and the longing in those eyes made me glad I was sitting down. “What is it that any boy wants from a girl?”

“You just wanted to get laid?” I squeaked out. Immediately, I flushed as I realized where my thoughts had traveled. But even as I’d said the words, I knew that wasn’t it, and I was sorry something so crass had left my mouth.

He smiled as I blushed at my own words. “Well, no, there’s more to it than that. A lot more.”

Our eyes caught each other again, and it was if an electric current was tying us together. Even with his red eyes, I could see the pain and longing in them. My heart jumped into my throat, like I was balanced on a high wire, and it was making me dizzy.

I broke our gaze, trying to regain what little composure I had. There were things I had to know. The monsignor’s words came back to haunt me. I stared down at my hands in my lap. “Are you in league with the devil? Did you sell your soul?”

“No, nothing like that. I am no more a fan of the devil than you are.” His voice was gentle.

I risked a glance at him. “No demon worshipping? Satanic rituals?”

He smiled. “No.”

I nodded and sighed. That was a big relief to hear, and my heart told me he was being truthful. “You don’t sleep during the day?”

“No. I don’t sleep at all,” he said lightly. “I’m not technically living in the way you would think.”

I watched the fire snap and pop, trying to figure out what that might mean. I didn’t let too much time elapse though. I could tell he was being honest and open and had dropped the air of mystery; I felt compelled to get as much information as I could before he decided that he’d said enough. I pursed my mouth, trying to remember the other things I’d heard about vampires. “Crosses? Holy water?”

He chuckled. “Bella, I went to church with you. Did I melt? Explode?”

That was right. “You did,” I said wonderingly. “You went to church with me.” He’d been in God’s house, and nothing untoward had happened. “Garlic?” I asked, casting about for anything.

He shook his head and a shadow of a smile crossed his face. “I hear it’s good in Italian food.”

“Coffins?”

“No, don’t have one,” he said smiling, but then his eyebrows rose. “Well, actually, I guess I do. They supposedly buried my ‘remains’ when I died. I wasn’t in there, of course. I went back some years later to check on it.” He shifted in his chair. “It was odd, seeing my own gravestone,” he said softly. “It was right next to my parents’ in the family plot.”

“Your parents died when you were young, didn’t they?” I asked, watching his face change with the fire’s shifting glow.

“Yes, it was the Spanish flu that took them, and it almost took me as well. It’s when Carlisle changed me,” he said, staring into the fire.

“How old are you, for real?”

He smiled disarmingly. “I was born in 1901.” His smile didn’t reach his eyes, however, and I could see his concern as to how I would take the news.

I did the math in my head. “You’re over a hundred years old,” I said wonderingly. Talk about dating an older man. “And you’ve always looked just like you do now?

“Yes,” he said, sighing. He paused for a moment and then continued. “It’s been more of a disadvantage as the years go by.”

“A disadvantage to look so young and…” I struggled to find the word, “beautiful?”

He looked at me and the sadness in his eyes took my breath away. “Bella, I haven’t felt young and beautiful for many decades. It’s been years of fighting to stay numb and impartial, trying to remember what made me human in the first place.” He moved so fast it was if he disappeared from the chair and reappeared before a long dark window, one of three that lined the wall. The dark window panes reflected his shadowed face and the room behind him. “The outside and the inside don’t mesh anymore,” he said wistfully, like he was talking about something completely separate, rather than himself. He turned to face me. “I feel like Dorian Gray. Somewhere in the attic there must be a picture of me growing older and seedier while I sit here untouched by time.”

“But there is beauty inside you,” I said, unable to be silent as he disparaged himself. “I’ve seen it”.

He turned around and smiled at me widely. “The beauty in this room is with you. It shines out of your face like the sun.”

I shrugged my shoulders, unable to accept his compliment. “Nice words.”

“True words,” he protested.

Our eyes caught each other’s. His gaze absolutely seared me, burning away everything else but the fact that we together and there was something indefinable that we shared. There was that click of recognition again of one soul knowing and recognizing the other. Give me a reason, I pleaded silently. Give me one reason to forsake everything I have ever known or loved and I will follow you to Hell itself. But what reason could there be?

I looked down at my hands. “What’s it like?” I asked softly.

“You mean, being a−" he asked.

I nodded and said the word aloud for the first time. “Vampire.” It felt strange in my mouth, like an unusual flavor.

“It’s been a while since I was human, but I remember thinking when I was first turned that it was so much more intense. Your senses are heightened, your perceptions enhanced.” He came back to his chair and sat down. He cocked his head at the fire. “You know in that scene in the Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy first lands in Munchkin land?” He glanced at me to make sure I was following him. “The movie has been black and white up until then, but then she opens the door and suddenly the place is flooded with color?” He sat forward, eager to make his point. “It’s something like that. Suddenly, everything is so beautiful and intense and somehow…more.

I nodded, urging him to keep speaking.

“The speed, the strength is exhilarating. Racing the wind, running faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive…”

He looked at me smiling and together we finished, “able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.” We chuckled quietly.

“See? You are like a superhero,” I suggested.

His face twisted, like I’d found an open wound. He shook his head. “No, not that.”

I’d been so frightened and scared, and he was genuinely trying to put me at ease. Yet I realized that he was vulnerable and frightened as well, and I wasn’t sure why.

We both stared at the fire, as a log collapsed, sending a shower of sparks up the chimney.

“So, what have you been doing for the last hundred years or so?” I asked, wondering what you do when you have forever.

He looked over at me, smiling. “Is this the part where we tell each other our life stories?” he asked, teasing.

“Well, sure. You should go first. Yours is a lot longer than mine is,” I pointed out.

So he did. He told me about how he was changed, his years with Carlisle and how the rest of the family was gathered. He spoke about the years in Britain and Europe during World War II, drifting from company to company, blending in with the chaotic times, and trying to help the war effort. He talked of coming home, trying to live with the rest of his family, but feeling like a fifth wheel and then beginning the traveling that would eventually span the globe.

My fear had mostly faded, and I was beginning to feel comfortable with him, reassured by his promises of my safety. It seemed easy and natural to ask him questions about his travels and his adventures.

“But you haven’t asked me the most important question of all,” he said softly, rising from his chair and slowly approaching my own.

“What’s that?” I asked, my heart suddenly rising in my throat.

“That’s why I asked you to come here with me,” he said, falling to one knee by my chair so our faces were nearly level.

“Why?” I whispered, mesmerized by his dark eyes.

“Because,” he said, taking my hand into his own cool one, “in all of those years, there has never been anyone that I wanted to share them with until now.”

He kissed the back of my palm and looked up at me, hauntingly open and vulnerable. The fire glinted off his eyes, causing the ruby sheen of them to glimmer. It was strange; it was too strange.

I pulled my hand back slowly as his face fell and the impassive mask he usually wore slid back into place. It was all too much. “I think I will go back upstairs now,” I said, timidly.

He stood up. “Of course,” he said brusquely. “This must be a lot to take in so quickly. Perhaps rest is needed.”

I sidled out of the chair. “I will talk to you in the morning then.”

“It’s nearly morning now,” he said. I glanced out the window. There was the faintest glimmer of dawn out there.

“Well, later then,” I replied, sliding back towards the stairs.

“Goodnight, Bella,” he said gently.

I glanced back over my shoulder before turning the corner to the staircase. His tall, lean form was silhouetted by the fire, and his hair glinted redly. He nodded slowly in goodbye, and I ducked my head once in response before beginning the climb up the stairs.

The fire was nearly out in my room, but I stirred the ashes and got it going again with some of the kindling stashed by the hearth. I had it burning brightly when I climbed between the covers, grateful for the crisply starched sheets on the bed.

I watched it for a long time before sleep overtook me.