So many thanks are due to to my betas, the people who've recced me, and pimped for me and encouraged and motivated me, most of all to the readers who let me take them on a journey into my alternate universe. Thank you all.
I knocked on the open door. "May I come in?"
Carlisle was in his study, packing a carton of books. "Please do."
I entered the room and wandered by the floor to ceiling bookshelves. Carlisle's study was a favorite place of mine in this house; it was calm and serene like Carlisle himself. Now there were boxes scattered about, belying the usual order of the room. "We'll be leaving soon," I told him.
Already, the house was mostly empty. Emmett and Rosalie had left a week earlier and would be meeting up with Esme and Carlisle in Dartmouth after honeymooning again in the Poconos. Alice and Jasper had left yesterday, stopping only to pick up Bella's cat, Darcy, and deliver her for safekeeping to Arlene, Bella's friend from the diner. Bella and I would be heading to the solitude of my house in Horseshoe Bay for a while before joining the others. Her control was improving fast, but she still needed some time to learn the discipline. We'd head north to Alaska once the cold weather set in, and there were less recreational campers to stumble over.
"When do you expect we'll see you in Dartmouth?" Carlisle asked.
"I'd look for us in the spring, but we'll keep in touch if our plans change."
"I'm looking forward to having Bella as a part of our family."
"Thank you, Carlisle," I said. I paused for a moment, running my hand over the book spines on the shelf. "I think I owe you an apology."
He stopped with a book in his hand. "For what?"
"My actions contributed to the treaty failure. It certainly wasn't my intention-"
He waved away my apology."It's best that we move out of the area. We were creating problems for the Quileutes before you came." He placed another handful of books into the box and closed it up. "They very generously gave us as much time as we needed, but these are their homelands."
"You saved their lives," I said, thinking of the confrontation with the Volturi.
"Yes, but it was from danger we'd brought down around them." He grabbed another empty box and placed it on the table.
"What's that there?" I asked, noticing a package loosely wrapped in brown paper I had not seen before. It carried international stamps.
Carlisle frowned. "It's from Aro."
I stepped over to the table that held it and pulled open the brown wrapping paper. It held a grey cloak, folded over, with a letter on top.
It was a pleasure seeing you again. I hope when you come to visit soon that we have more time together. I look forward to getting to know all of the Cullens better.
In the crux of the moment, Isabella forgot to take her gift of a cloak from the field. Please return this to her and send her my best regards.
I looked up at Carlisle. "He wants more than a visit, you know."
Carlisle sighed. "Oh, believe me, I know." He put another handful of books in the box. "Alice is of particular interest to him. He's very protective of his power. To foresee possible threats to it, well, that would be valuable to him."
"He found Bella fascinating as well."
"With Bella, I can see him waiting to see whether she merits his attentions. He knows how valuable Alice would be, and by extension Jasper."
I shook my head. "I can't ever see Alice joining the Volturi, voluntarily at least."
"No, I agree with you there. Jasper, however, is a bit more complicated." I frowned at the floor, trying to imagine Jasper as a Volturi guard. It wasn't that far a stretch to see him with red eyes and a cloak. "He's comfortable with militia-style organizations," Carlisle said. "He struggles with the restrictions of our lifestyle. He holds back on his gift, not wishing to unduly influence others, but there may come a time when he'll want to see exactly what he can accomplish." He finished packing the box and turned to the last empty one sitting on the floor. "Certainly, he can be charismatic when he wants to be. And for what it's worth, wherever Jasper goes, Alice will follow."
"What will you do?" I asked.
"Jasper will have his own choice to make. And Alice as well."
"Well, they'd be fools to walk away."
Carlisle stopped and looked at me. His mind flooded with the memories of those years when it had just been him and me. I had brought something into his life that he had despaired of ever finding, and he felt a debt towards me that I had never earned.
"No, Carlisle, the debt is mine," I whispered. He took a step toward me. He put his hand on my face in an affectionate gesture. "Mea filius," he murmured.
"Mea pater," I whispered back. We stared into each other's eyes, and I was overcome by the strength of my connection to this man. I'd seen so many men, depraved and corrupted by their lives and their desires. If it hadn't been for Carlisle, I'd have lost faith in humanity many years ago. He reminded me of what men could be−what they should be at their finest, and I knew as I looked at him that if I could someday show half the generosity of spirit, the compassion and the simple kindness that he did, then indeed could I be called his son.
He smiled and went back to his packing. From a desk drawer, he pulled out an elaborately carved wooden box. It wasn't the first time I had seen it; inside the archival box was an illuminated manuscript. "That's your father's Bible, isn't it?"
"Yes," he said, running a hand lovingly over the box's surface. "It's over four hundred years old now."
I walked to the window and clasped my hands behind my back. "I had some rather…unusual experiences in Bella's church while this whole thing was going on."
"Oh?" he asked as he packed the wooden box.
"Do you believe in miracles?" I asked, not turning from the window.
He sighed. "When I was young and human, everyone did. God was on everyone's lips and His hand was seen everywhere. But science developed and it's given us other explanations. The miracles seem further apart and God seems to have gotten more and more removed from man."
"I thought He had abandoned us, but now…"
"I think abandon is the wrong word. The job of a parent is not to shield the child from the world, but to teach the child how to live within it. At some point, if the child is going to learn to walk, the parent has to let go of their hand. Perhaps God is letting go. Perhaps the responsibility for each other lies in our hands, not God's."
I turned to him. "And for us, as immortals, specifically?"
"I know for many years you felt we were, by our nature, automatically damned. That we'd somehow lost our souls as we changed."
"We are so unnatural. Name another thing that is outside of time as we are."
"But we're not outside of time. It acts as surely on us as anything." He picked up a small geode that he used as a paperweight on his desk. The outside was grey and rough, but the inside glittered with purple and white quartz crystals. "A hundred thousand years ago, this was just a hole in the ground. Time and nature worked their magic until it became the beauty we see now, and for the span of my life so far, it remains unchanged. But in another hundred thousand years, who knows what form it may have? Perhaps our lifespan has lengthened, but never doubt we are changed. I've seen a tremendous change in you in just a few weeks."
I shrugged. "It's Bella."
Carlisle shook his head, smiling. "It's love. You don't know what good it does my heart to see it." He closed the box and sighed. "Aro believes that we are a part of God's plan as the personification of evil, that our role is to be that evil. But I believe we each must find our own way to God," he said, smiling, "just some of us have more obstacles than others. For some, that path leads through a church, or a mosque, or a synagogue. For others it, takes a more torturous route and for some, it is a path they walk alone."
"And the miracles?" I asked.
"That's a question you must answer for yourself."
(*) (*) (*)
The meadow was bathed in golden light. It was what photographers call 'the magic hour.' Not really an hour per se, just a few mystical minutes when the air seemed radiant in and of itself, as the sun was disappearing beneath the horizon and night pulled a dark blanket over the sky.
I looked over my handiwork of the last several hours. There was now a boulder in the north side of this meadow where none had been at the start of the day. I'd brought it from cliffs near the Elh-Wall. It was large, taller than I was, and almost block-ish in shape. Carved into the visible sides, it held one thousand seven hundred forty-three names in flowing script.
Michael Valentine Smith
…and all the others, the names I had recited every dusk for years and years. The names flowed around the edges of the rocks like stripes. I lowered my head and closed my eyes. Into God's hands, I commend thee.
I heard the merest rustle of the grass as I stared down at my pale, hard hands. They were undamaged by the carving; I'd used my index finger to scribe the names into the rock.
Bella came up from behind me and slipped an arm around my waist. "It looks good."
I put an arm around her shoulders and kissed the top of her head. "It'll feel strange not to say their names at sunset."
"It was time," she said. "Sometimes the best memorial is changing how you live your life." She stepped forward and underneath the last name, in her own flowing script, carved Baby Swan. Then, putting her hands behind her neck, she swung her hair over her shoulder. The crucifix of her necklace flashed once in the last rays of light as she removed the chain and gently laid it on top of the boulder.
"Bella," I said worriedly. "I don't want you to leave behind your faith. I've never wanted to take that from you."
She shook her head, smiling. "Oh, you're not." Her finger slowly traced the letters she had just carved into the rock. "I'm just sure, in a way, I never was before, that I don't have to be in a church to find God." She stepped back to me.
"Is this hard for you?" I asked. "Leaving your human life behind?"
"There are things, people I'll miss. Charlie, most of all, I suppose. The hardest thing is getting used to not sleeping."
"If I slept, I would have dreamed of you."
She rose on her tiptoes to kiss me. "My dreams have come true."
Too soon, she broke away from me, sighing. "I suppose we should get going. The Quileutes are headed this way."
I sniffed at the air and smelled nothing but the deep, wet forests surrounding us. At the very edges of my perception, I heard the tickling of something that could be the pack mind, but it was too far away to be certain.
"How do you know that?" I wondered.
She cocked her head as if listening, then blinked her crimson eyes a few times and shrugged. "I don't know how. I just do."
"Do you hear them?" I asked.
"No. No, it's not like that," she said. "It's just a feeling, like knowing where your hand is."
Was this an effect of the wolf bite? It'd been the only sign of anything unusual from her. If that's where it stopped, I'd be okay with that.
I stepped over to where the bike was parked and swung a leg over it. It started right up, and I was reassured by its familiar growl.
Bella stood waiting to mount behind me. She was dressed in jeans and a black leather jacket, as was I. "I must say," I said over the roar of the bike, "you do look the part."
"Better than yellow polyester?" she asked, holding out her arms to be admired.
I turned my head to the side, assessing her. "Hard to say. I've become kind of partial to it."
She snorted. "Right." She climbed on the back of the bike and put her hands at my waist.
With the inexpressibly rightness of the feeling of her pressed against my back, I guided the bike slowly through the forest, finally coming to the black top. We climbed onto the pavement, and I gunned the bike so that we sped along the highway, heading away from the setting sun. Bella tucked her head against my back and wrapped her arms around my waist. I took one hand off the handlebars to press her hands against me, while my silent heart nearly burst with joy, with contentment and gratitude.
The sky above me was a gradient of colors, and I imagined I could hear a low bass note that rang through the heavens and the earth, uniting them in a vibrant song that resonated down to every living thing from the greatest to the least.
For so long, I had thought of dusk as the end of the day, a time for mourning that the daylight was leaving. But I knew now it was more than an ending; it was the start of the dark, beautiful night.
Would you like to see an outtake of A Litany At Dusk? Perhaps a continuation? Please drop by the Fandom Gives Back auction and bid on me, creating a one shot of your choice! It's for an excellent cause and you get to decide!