A/N: This story is a continuation of my Carlisle's Angels series that began with Edward. If you haven't read Be Still My Heart yet, you might want to do so first although it's not required.
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Errand of Mercy
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There was no doubt he was in the right place. The curved white ceiling was set high above, the pastel alcoves -- fourteen at his count -- lining the walls beneath. The ornate icons and flickering candles. The crucifix at the front loomed ominously in the dim light; there was nothing quite like a Catholic church at night. It was all just as she'd described, right down to the images wrought in the stained glass windows.
The half of the heavy wooden door he'd slipped through eased shut under his careful hand, and he was sure the gritty sound his boots made on the polished floor reached only his ears. Advancing slowly, he walked just over halfway down the center aisle before sliding onto one of the dark wood pews on the left. She'd said he would be recognized -- that somehow his purpose would be divined -- so it seemed that a measure of distance was wise if he wanted time to plan his actions.
He leaned back and tried to relax, to strike the convincing pose of a soul in conflict. In a way it was the truth, although that did not make it easy. It had been a long time since he'd walked on Texas soil, and memories of his lost human life burned the brighter for it. But he was there, he reminded himself, not to visit the past but to see what he might do for the man he'd come to meet.
Do for him or to him? Fiery venom pooled suddenly and then went down with a hard swallow. On second thought, it was a mistake to think too much at this point; as he would have said in that lost life, it put the spurs to selfish inclinations. Making another effort to loosen up, he chose to concentrate on listening instead.
Filtering out the noise from the street, he found the Church of the Holy Cross strangely quiet. Within the relative silence he could hear the hiss of each wick burning at the shrine toward the far left of the altar. Closing his eyes for a few seconds, he counted them by sound: eighteen souls faithfully remembered by candlelit vigil. A delicate mist of emotion was hovering above the flickering lights, he realized, and he stretched out his senses far enough to read it. It was a mingle of sorrow, regret, love, and hope. The hope of reunion.
A vague smile shaped his mouth. The desire for reunion was something he understood well. It had been less than two days since he'd left her side, and yet it already seemed longer than the eternity that stretched out before him. He was not simply diminished without her, he was vacant. His need for her was stronger than his need for blood, a starvation of the spirit he could not endure for long…
The low rumble of plastic wheels caught his attention. From his many years of experience in schools, he knew it was one of those rolling plastic trash containers janitors used. The trundling sound stopped just behind the sanctuary door on the right. A few seconds later, the knob turned and the door opened. The grey plastic bin rolled into view, followed by a man with a long-handled floor duster. It was him. The man she'd seen.
The night janitor of the Holy Cross was a thirty-something man of either Spanish or Mexican descent. Dark-haired and well-groomed, he was casually dressed in shop denims and what Emmett would call a wifebeater. The undershirt looked almost snowy white against the man's brown skin, and it was offset by a thick gold chain and crucifix that glittered at his pulsing neck.
Do for him or to him? Another hard swallow of venom.
As if he had spoken that thought aloud, the janitor stared at him intently. He stretched out his senses once more to touch the edge of the other man's mind. She'd said he would not be afraid, but he was -- although of what it was not clear.
Abruptly, the man spoke in a quiet but steady voice. "Good evening, señor."
"Evening," was the cautious reply, his roots showing in the hint of a drawl. Mindful to be perceived as a respectable visitor, he shifted his attention to the plaster form of Christ on the huge cross before him. Meanwhile the janitor abandoned his trash bin and began to push the wide duster across the floor.
"You have not worshipped at this parish before, señor," said the janitor, not looking away from his task. "Might I ask your name?"
"Jasper Whitlock." Jasper watched as the broom was pushed along the floor toward the left-hand side of the sanctuary, and although he couldn't see it, he knew by the angle of the handle that its operator had swiveled the head of the duster just before reaching the wall. A moment later it was heading slowly in the opposite direction. "And yours?"
"I am José Ernesto Rodriguez Calderón," he said with a subtle nod. "Mis amigos…my friends call me Pepito."
Jasper extended his senses around the man and filled the space between them with calm. "I'm pleased to meet you, Pepito."
"Then you are my friend, señor?" he asked, still not looking up.
"I am not your enemy," Jasper replied honestly, the slight drawl remaining.
Pepito reached the right-hand wall and turned again, pushing the duster a short distance before coming to a stop. He rested against the handle and regarded his visitor. "Sí, sí," he mumbled thoughtfully, as if he were checking that answer against a list of secrets he kept. After a long pause he said, "I must confess, señor. I feel as if I know you."
"I used to live in Texas," Jasper replied, ignoring what the man seemed to be implying. "Was born here. Maybe we've crossed paths before."
Pepito stared intently and shook his head. "No," he half-whispered, "I have seen you only in mi mente, mis sueños…" A faraway look came and went across his face before he restated, "In my mind." He was staring intently again. "May I ask…what is your age?"
"El chico." Pepito shook his head again, less certainly this time. "I thought you would be…ageless."
Jasper could think of no useful reply apart from the truth. "I appear twenty, but yes, I am ageless…now."
The confirmation of his private imaginings had a visible effect on the man. After a moment's hesitation he began to walk again. Still pushing the duster, he turned up the center aisle and stopped at the row where Jasper was sitting. He leaned the handle of the duster against the end of the pew in front, genuflected and crossed himself, then moved to sit down.
Jasper slid over to give him room. Now that his new friend was so near, the emotional space around them contracted and intensified. Pepito was a deep well of fear, sadness, and loneliness. He was also brave and determined. It was a strange reading, especially under the circumstances, and Jasper wasn't sure what it meant or how to proceed. Playing it safe, he filled the remaining space between them with calm. They sat in silence for a few minutes.
"What burdens you, Pepito?" Jasper asked quietly.
A rush of pain and longing washed over Jasper then. It took less than an instant to understand. The transfer of the man's heartbreak was profound, and it struck such a chord within him that for a moment Jasper felt crushed by its weight.
"Mi esposa…mi querida María Aurora…" Pepito's voice cracked but he struggled to recover. "My wife is with the Lord, señor. She was killed two years ago…murdered by a gunman who broke into our home. I…miss her still."
"I am sorry for you, Pepito." Jasper sent a wave of peace to the space around them. It would help them both continue into painful territory. "I understand the power of such a love."
"She was so beautiful. She believed in me," Pepito breathed raggedly. "With her…I was a good man."
Jasper felt nearly crushed again. They had much in common, and in trying to imagine how he would feel if their situations were reversed -- if he were to lose Alice to final death -- a realization came to him. "You don't want to go on without her…you wish to die?" he prompted gently.
Pepito's tear-filled eyes were fixed on the image hanging from the crucifix. Although he nodded yes, he said, "Es imposible. Suicide…está prohibido…it is forbidden. The Holy Savior would not know me…"
Jasper radiated trust. "But you have been tempted. You've been thinking…praying for a way to join her without violating the letter of your Holy Savior's law?" Jasper asked carefully.
"Sí, señor. That is why I believe I came to see your face in my mind, why you are here. May God forgive me." He crossed himself again and fell silent.
Do for him or to him? Jasper understood now that it was meant to be both. Alice must have seen it in just this way, but left out the details so he could make his own choice to take a human life again. She had foreseen he would be moved by this man's story, and divined the loophole both he and this desperately lonely man needed to find: an intense suffering eased by human blood in exchange for a timely death at the hands of a stranger.
Venom pooled again and Jasper forced it down. "Then I am here because you need me to be. I could explain why that's true but you wouldn't believe me."
Pepito slowly turned to face him. "I should resist these thoughts. Estoy loco. I am weak."
"I am acquainted with the struggle against temptation," Jasper drawled softly. "You are both brave and strong, not weak. It is harder to live without love than to let go." He hesitated for a few seconds, considering how much more he should say, and then added, "Self-control is a virtue I've come to admire and seek in others, but I also know some denials can be like a wolf in sheep's clothing."
Pepito carefully examined Jasper's appearance then -- from the dark blue dress shirt and vest to the navy jeans, to the long locks of hair that tended to drift toward his face -- and Pepito's gaze lingered on the countless grey crescents exposed by the rolled up shirt cuffs. "Is that what you are? El lobo? Or could mi Ángel de la Misericordia have so many scars?"
Jasper chose to say nothing while he loosened his control on the man's emotions. This was a dangerous dance and his throat was burned dry from the effort. He simply had too much respect for Pepito to deny him the right to know his own feelings. His choice of life or death depended on it.
"Are you an ángel of mercy, señor?" the reverent man asked again with greater urgency. "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who would inherit salvation?"
The first part was something Jasper had heard from Carlisle many times before: the idea that his gift, even combined with death, could be a noble means to relieve the pain of the living rather than cause it. The last part left him with the impression it was a verse from the Bible, but it had been many long years since he'd read it. The two together gave him an idea.
Jasper met the man's eyes. "My father would say that I am."
"Tu padre?" Pepito asked, momentarily confused.
"Not my earthly father," Jasper replied carefully, knowing he walked along the thin line of misdirection.
Pepito looked awestruck. "Dios en el cielo," he whispered. It was a statement of belief, not a question, and there was no need for either of them to say more. Pepito had accepted his own supernatural interpretation of why Jasper was there.
They sat in silence again, each grappling with their respective temptations. By sheer force of will Jasper did not interfere with the confusion of emotions rolling off the man beside him, and distracted himself by watching the effect of a particular stained glass window. Such windows generally lost their beauty at night, but this one was backlit by a neighborhood streetlight. Ironically, the glow from outside illuminated the Madonna's halo perfectly. Jasper wondered if a man like Pepito would adopt a supernatural interpretation of that too.
As the minutes dragged on, the vibrating emotions of fear and uncertainty ebbed. Jasper could sense that Pepito had reached a decision. The venom began to crawl in his veins at the possibility of what might come next.
"I cannot," Pepito said simply. A shock wave of sadness hit Jasper squarely. "I want to die…to join mi querida María Aurora, but I must leave the time and place in the Holy Savior's hands."
It was the answer Jasper needed, the only answer that would work for both of them. He knew he was not holy, but he could be this man's immediate savior on this spiritual plane. It would have to happen quickly and without warning.
"I understand your decision, my friend," Jasper said, suddenly offering his hand. "And say goodbye to you."
Pepito blinked uncertainly for a few moments, as if he'd expected an argument or that Jasper would stay and visit longer. Finally he accepted the handshake. He opened his mouth to speak but in a flash of movement too swift for the human eye, Jasper had pulled himself near and sunk his teeth into the pulsing jugular within Pepito's neck.
The first seconds were lost to blind bloodlust. Then, as he drank, Jasper's mind slowly returned, only to be overwhelmed again. It had been long enough that he'd managed to forget just how raw the feelings were, how much he could taste in a victim's blood. But there was no pain or need for emotional distance and tricks; Pepito wasn't afraid and his blood was almost intoxicating. It tasted of bravery, of the purest love for his wife, and of his honor of God. It held the richness of his life and culture. Jasper was utterly filled with it, bound by it.
And in that singular moment when they passed each other on the road between spiritual planes, both saw with perfect clarity. The human understood why the vampire could not be judged by the same rules of life and death, and the vampire had taken a lesson in faithfulness. All seemed as it was meant to be.
Jasper fed until the spark of life had gone. Gently, carefully, he eased the limp body of his friend against the glossy wood of the pew. As he pulled away a single drop of blood rolled off his chin and landed on his wrist. He licked it clean, grateful it hadn't spotted the pristine white undershirt.
"Goodbye, Pepito, rest in peace."
A fraction of a second later Jasper stood before the flickering shrine. He took a match and struck it, saying, "I will remember the love shared by José Ernesto Rodriguez Calderón and his wife, María Aurora." Then he lit a fresh candle and remained long enough to be sure the wick would take hold of the flame. Sparing a final glance for the icon of Christ on the cross, he whispered, "He is yours."
Jasper slipped from the Church of the Holy Cross through the same door he'd entered, and disappeared into the hot Texas night. He was headed home, his feelings a mingle of sorrow, regret, love, and hope. The hope of reunion.
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Many thanks to Amy for her encouragement and knowledge of Twilight canon and the Catholic mysteries, Kim for extra canon help, and Paula for the Spanish tutoring. This was written as a gift for Lindsay on her 27th birthday. :)
Disclaimer: The original characters and plot are the property of the author, Stephenie Meyer. No copyright infringement is intended.