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A Litany at Dusk

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

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?

26. Chapter 26 A Bite To Eat

Rating 5/5   Word Count 3382   Review this Chapter

"Good morning."

Bella edged her way into the kitchen, where I'd been checking the cupboards for something edible for her to eat. The caretaker sometimes kept a small supply of canned goods in the cupboards, but they all had expired years ago. It was technically still morning, but just barely.

"Good morning," she replied, shifting uneasily next to the counter, looking around the room. She tucked her hair behind an ear, and it melted all the walls of reserve I had tried to erect over the night. The gesture was unconscious, slightly awkward and just utterly disarming.

For the most part, I was feeling good about our conversation last night. She’d been willing and able to overcome her shock, and her natural curiosity had taken hold. After she had gone upstairs, I’d spent the night swinging from abject fear that she would reject me out of hand to unbounded and unfounded optimism. While her heartbeat kept me company, I’d paced the floor throughout the house, tortured by doubt, insecurity and fear. I hated it. I hated feeling so out of control and with so little to do when so much hung in the balance. I needed weeks to explain things and months to court her, but as I’d looked in the mirror, watching my eyes as they slowly faded to a ravenous black, I knew the truth was I had only hours. So although my heart had counseled to bring her along slowly and give her time to digest it, I knew the truth was that I couldn’t give her that time. All I could do was pick my way through the minefield of her preconceptions and trust that the sense of rightness in us being together was mutual.

I stood in the middle of the kitchen, and ran a hand through my hair. "I was just checking to see if I had any food in the house. How did you sleep?" I inquired politely. What was it about her? She came into the kitchen and the whole room seemed to come alive. It went from just another stale sterile room to something warm and vital.

She made a face. "Not very well." She looked tired, but I'd been pretty sure by listening to her heart rate that she had drifted off for a while. The wet thudding beat of her heart had kept me anchored all last night while I waited for her to wake up and come downstairs. It had pounded rhythmically and softly, at times lulling me into a state of calm like a ticking clock will do for a lonely puppy.

I decided to keep the conversation light. "Well, I guess that's to be expected when you find out you're surrounded by myths and legends," I said off-handedly.

She glanced at me quickly to see if I was kidding. "It sure seems that way."

"You know," I said off handedly, "nothing around you has changed. It's just your perception."

She slowly raised her eyes to mine, and tilted her head to the side. She wouldn’t allow me to minimize the trauma to her worldview. "Well, my perceptions have been seriously shaken."

I nodded, point taken. “Of course.” I turned back to the cabinets, to check the last one, but it was empty. "So you must be hungry?" I asked, turning around.

She rolled her eyes and placed a hand on her belly.. "Starving," she confirmed.

I stepped over to the back door. "Come on; let's take a ride into town."

I kept my favorite car in what used to be the carriage house. I slid the door open, and daylight flooded the bay. I couldn't help the smile that crossed my face as the Aston Martin took shape in the light. It was one of the last Vanquishes to be produced, and it was an Ultimate Edition, all black and chrome. It sat low and sleek on the concrete floor, coiled power like a panther's streaming off it. Even motionless in the garage, it looked like it was going two hundred miles an hour. I had a weakness for beautiful machinery, and this symbolized the epitome of a grand touring vehicle.

Bella took a step back from the garage entrance. "Wow."

"This is okay, isn't it?" I asked, teasing. "I mean, we could go back and get your truck."

She shot me a glance and then sighed, exaggerating her capitulation. “I guess it’ll do,” she said, mock serious.

I sped around the car and opened the passenger door. “Your chariot awaits.” I bowed slightly as she brushed past me and lowered herself into the seat. I gently clicked the door shut and got into the driver’s side, unable to stop myself from smiling as I looked at her while she buckled her seat belt.

“What?” she asked, confused by what I was sure was a silly grin on my face.

“You look good in this car,” I explained as I turned the key. She did look good in this car, and it made me inordinately happy to see her sitting next to me.

Anybody would look good in this car,” she griped.

“Well, you look especially good," I said as I pulled the sports car out of its garage and onto the long winding drive. The clouds hung low and grey in the sky, but it would clear up in a few hours as the afternoon sun burned them away. We'd best be back out of town by then, I worried. But the concern seemed rootless and far away as I swung the car through the curves. The trees flashed by us, and I was enjoying the feel of the car's tight steering under my hands when I glanced over to see Bella's white-knuckled grip on the console and door handle.

She felt my eyes on her and glanced over at me, her eyes wide. "I thought you were a slow driver?" she whispered.

She'd gotten that impression on the motorcycle, when I had dawdled just to string out the ride with her pressed against my back. I backed off on the gas pedal. "Sorry," I apologized. "It's easy to get carried away in a car like this."

I rolled the window down on my side just an inch or so. Her aroma in the confines of the car was concentrated, and it was creating unwanted reactions on my part. The vampire and the human sides of me warred as to which wanted her more.

Her hands relaxed a bit as the car slowed, and I cast around for something to say. "Have you ever been to Horseshoe Bay?"

She looked at me, understanding dawning in her eyes. "That's right, we're in Canada now, aren't we?" she asked apprehensively.

"Yes," I confirmed. "Is that a problem?"

"I don't have my passport. How will I get home?"

I struggled to hold back my laughter. Boundaries held no meaning for vampires. We went where we wished. "Please don't worry. It won't be a problem when the time comes."

"When the time comes?" she asked, exasperated. "I have to get back. Darcy, my cat−I just left her..."

"I'll call home. I'm sure Alice will go over and check on her." That reminded me of the mess her place had been left in after the fight with Jacob. Perhaps Emmett would make some repairs. The already concerned look on her face prevented me from sharing the news of her damaged apartment.

She settled back into her seat, slightly mollified. She looked down at her hands, but I heard her heart rate speed up. Curious, I glanced over at her. She met my eyes briefly before she spoke. "Last night you said you were no fan of the devil."

"Yes, that's right."

"Do you believe in God?"

"Well, in fact I do, but I think the question to be asked is, does He believe in me?

"What do you mean?"

I’d spent years thinking about just this question. "We vampires live out of time. We never age, we never change. Our hearts don't beat. For every rule of biology and physics, we are the exception. Why would I believe that we would follow the rules when it comes to the afterlife?"

"So you think there is nothing for you after this life?"

"I...hope there is nothing for me." God had made us predators. The vast majority were as cruel and merciless as housecats. I had taken my nature and tried to ameliorate it, tried to channel it into some kind of service. If I couldn’t be as pure, as selfless as Carlisle, I had taken what was given me and tried to turn it into something I could live with. What was God going to do should I show up at the gates of Heaven? Reward me for the endless parade of murders? I didn’t think so.

"You said you were born a man and then changed," she said. I nodded in confirmation. "How can you believe God has forsaken you? You are His child and nothing can change that. He loved you. He loves you still. He won’t forget you. ”

I looked at her wide, trusting brown eyes. “Bella,” I whispered, “you have no idea of the things I’ve done.”

I saw her swallow and her eyes dropped to her lap. This was wrong. This was so wrong. Why did I ever think she could come to accept me easily? It was just the streak of stubborn in me that refused to give up hope, which would fight until she pushed me away.

But then her head came up. I was stunned when I saw a tear slide down her cheek. “Why are you crying?”

“The shepherd rejoices more over the one sheep returned to the fold than over the ninety-nine who stay within it,” she whispered, her eyes kept to the floor.

A spasm of anger crossed through me. Was she trying to force some reconciliation with God on me? “He was talking about sheep there. There is no parable about letting the wolf into the fold,” I said harshly.

We sped through the gentle curves of Horseshoe Bay Drive silently. Bella looked out the window to her right where the bay flashed between the trees, wide and placid on the still, gray day. It was not much later when we started to enter the town proper.

Her voice was small when she spoke next. “I was wondering about something.”

“What is it?” I asked cordially, eager to make up for my earlier contentiousness.

“Jacob said your family lives on animals. That they’ve been killing all the wild life,” she said.

I held her eyes in mine, trying to let her feel my sincerity. “Yes, they do live on animals but they’re quite aware of the local populations. They often travel for hours to hunt. Jacob may be somewhat biased.” Soon, I promised myself. I would tell her all of it soon. Just give me a little bit longer to reassure her, then I would tell her everything. She still seemed unaware of why my eyes were not the golden ones like my family.

“He said his tribe was a natural enemy of yours,”

“Their shapeshifting abilities are something rare, even in our world. They use it, and rightfully so, to protect their tribe. But Carlisle made a treaty with them long ago, that we would not harm any of them or hunt on their lands. In exchange, we keep each other’s secrets. Jacob was wrong to tell you. It should have been my secret to share when the time was right.”

“Your world…” she whispered under her breath.

“It’s a world much wider than the one you’ve been used to, Bella.” I pointed to the sign that said ‘Nonnie’s Restaurant Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner’. “Look, there’s a place that sells lunch.” I was sure there was no hint of exotic dancers. “It is almost lunch time, correct?” I glanced over at her as I pulled into a parking space, and I could see the relief in her face what we were back to talking about more mundane things.

“Yes, it is. I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.” She looked at me, and I had to laugh as her eyes widened. “Not a horse, really. I mean…”

I started laughing. “I doubt very much horse will be on the menu.”

She started laughing with me as I turned the key. She watched as I pulled a contact lens case from my pocket and put the contacts in place. “The red eyes make people stare,” I explained abashedly.

“Of course.” She shook her head. “I’d wondered why your eyes were so unusual.”

Two teenage boys walked by on the sidewalk, eyeing the car appreciatively. “Let’s go,” I suggested as I pushed the car door open.

We walked the few paces to the restaurant and once inside, found a booth along a wall. It was an old, slightly shabby place, with plastic upholstery and a lunch counter, but the presence of local workmen and native townspeople reassured me. Their minds were clear and simple, full of things to do and local gossip; they were the salt of the earth kind of people with human hopes and concerns.

Bella ordered while I stuck with the obligatory cup of coffee that was my usual cover. The waitress had brought our drinks and set them in front of us, and I stirred my cup, the spoon tickling against the cheap mug. “So, I believe it’s your turn.”

She looked up over the rim of her orange juice. “My turn?”

“Life story, remember?”

“Oh, that’s right,” she said. She took another sip of orange juice. “Well, it’s considerably shorter than yours.”

I looked at her expectantly.

She shrugged. “And it’s really rather unremarkable.”

She let me pull her hand to my lips. “Tell me,” I whispered, before brushing it with my lips...

She was born in Washington State, she said, but moved south as a youngster. We’d gotten up to her high school years and move back up north when the waitress set the plate of pancakes in front of her.

She inhaled deeply as she picked up her silverware. “This smells so incredibly good.”

“Not as good as you,” I said, smiling.

“I haven’t had a shower,” she scoffed as she reached for the syrup. “Sure, I smell great.”

“No, really,” I protested. “You have no idea how incredibly good you smell to me.” I balanced the spoon on the table. “As good as those pancakes smell to you,” I said, gesturing at her plate as she took a bite, “you are a thousand times more to me.”

“I smell like food to you, don’t I?” she asked, chewing.

“You smell like heaven to me,” I said, reaching across the table to let my knuckles trail down her face. She stopped chewing and swallowed hard.

A delicate blush crept up her neck, and venom flooded my mouth. “Is it hard for you?” she asked.

“Yes,” I assented softly. “Your aroma calls to me in ways that I’ve never even imagined. I seem to be resistant to it when I’ve fed, but the longer I do without, the harder for me it is.” I fiddled with my spoon again, finding it hard to look her in the eyes while I shared these thoughts. “There are humans we call singers, because their blood calls to us. You seem to be mine.” I shrugged apologetically. “But it’s more than just the way you smell to me, Bella. It’s more than your quiet mind or your beauty.”

She rolled her eyes at my compliment. I smiled at her self-deprecation; it only endeared her more.

“I feel alive when I am with you,” I said. I raised my eyes to hers, but I felt like my throat was closing. It was harder than I thought it would be to tell her what she meant to me, what she could mean to me. “Everything becomes possible.”

We stared into each other’s eyes for a moment, Bella’s fork frozen in mid-air. She broke our gaze and set the fork down on the plate.

“How could we be together?” she whispered, her eyes on the table.

I reached out and clasped her hand across the table. “There is a way,” I said.

“How is everything?” our waitress inquired, startling Bella. “Can I get you anything else?”

“Bella?” I asked. She shook her head mutely without glancing up. “Just the check, please.”

Bella slipped her hand out from under mine and sat back against her booth. “Can we go now? I should use a phone.”

“Of course,” I said, standing up and throwing some bills on the table. “There is a pay phone in the back. Let me get some change.”

I got some quarters from the cashier and poured them into her cupped hands. “Thank you, really,” she said. “I’ll pay you back for breakfast and everything.”

“You’re my guest,” I admonished her.

I waited outside while she made her calls. She exited from the restaurant, blinking at the change in light.

“Everything okay?” I asked.

She nodded. “I couldn’t get a hold of my neighbor. I wanted her to check on Darcy.”

”I’ll ask Alice to do it,” I said. “Why don’t you wait for me in the car?”

No one answered the house phone when I called, but I left a message on the answering machine, asking if someone would check on her cat and a plea to Emmett to see if he would put her apartment back to right. Later as we headed back to the house in the car, I had the radio playing and Bella tapped her armrest in time with the music.

“You know,” she said, “out of all this crazy stuff that’s gone down, the thing I can’t seem to believe is that I went to high school with vampires. How old is Alice, anyway?”

“She’s just a year younger than I am,” I said, smiling that she’d picked this detail to fixate on. If I was her, I’d have been more concerned about my relationship with the Quileute, but I thought her mind was trying to process the new world view she’d been presented with in small bits. “Jasper is a hundred and sixty-six.” She shook her head in disbelief while I continued. “It’s way to blend in. To become a part of the community.”

“Well, I can see that, but high school? Really?” she asked, perplexed. “High school is like, the worst. Why would anyone go back voluntarily?”

I laughed at her distaste. “It’s something I’ve managed to avoid.”

“You’re different from the rest of your family,” she said speculatively. “You’ve been moving around while they’ve been staying put. Your eyes are different than theirs too. Why is that?”

A spike of dread ran through me. These were the questions that would make or break us. “There is more I have to tell you, Bella,” I said quietly. “A lot more.”

She took a deep breath through her nose and said, “Alright.” I could see how she mentally braced herself, and I had to admire her. This woman had had the foundations to her beliefs and ideals rocked and she kept coming back to face them. She’d overcome fear and horror to try to understand. Bravery wasn’t just jumping out of a foxhole to run at the enemy; it was persevering when everything around you that you’d taken for granted collapsed like a sand castle before a wave.

But the question was how much could she take before she withdrew in revulsion, taking with her everything that I had dreamed of and hoped for? She saw the hesitation on my face. “You need to tell me the truth, Edward. All of it. No matter what it is.”

Sometimes courage was required just to speak the truth. I glanced over at her, and found her eyes on me. Perhaps it was just my delirious hope speaking to me, but I imagined I saw trust and compassion in them. I had to take the leap to trust her as well.

From out of fear to trust. From trust to love. I sent a fervent prayer into the ether and began to answer her questions.