AN: This is a companion piece to the Bpov fic I wrote last year- Merry Christmas, My Love- which is not necessary to read before reading this one.
The red jingle bells over the door rang with a sentiment I didn't feel at this 'most wonderful time of the year.' The barista at the cyber café called out a farewell I didn't return.
It was early evening on Christmas Eve and I'd spent the better part of the last hour emailing home. Carlisle and Alice had been calling, asking me to come home for the holidays, but instead of refusing them outright, I kept leading them on by telling them I'd think about it. I had absolutely no intention of going to Ithaca, and now I just felt awful. I couldn't bear the eventual disappointment in their voices when I told them I wasn't ready to be around them yet, to partake in holiday festivities, to be the odd man out another Christmas. So, like the coward I am, I sent them an email. I lied, telling them I was doing as well as possible, that my tracking was going well, and I didn't want to lose the trail.
It couldn't be further from the truth. While my drive was no less intense, my focus was suffering. I had left Forks and began tracking Victoria south. I had actually been doing well for a time, but with each passing day I was less sure I was on the right track. I wanted to catch her, I wanted to prevent her vengeance, I wanted to protect my—
But she wasn't my Bella anymore.
I had been consumed with thoughts of protecting her, but now I was completely consumed by any and every thought of her. I ached with the missing of her. Finding focus and purpose grew more difficult as the physical distance between us grew. Instead of keeping her safety at the forefront of my mind, I finally allowed myself to consider the possibility of going home to her.
If she would even take me back after the pain I caused.
After chasing Victoria south for weeks on end, I found myself outside the Costa Rican capital in Grecia, a small town like Forks. The scent I'd been tracking was strong here; she'd been here a day or two already.
So close to the equator, the sun dipped below the mountainous horizon early in the evening. The early nightfall was the only thing permitting me to travel about in the typically sunny, humid country. It was nice to be in town, to see something other than the dense cloud forests.
The pueblo was decorated for Christmas with fragrant cypress and coffee branches, colored lights, and a large nativity scene in the park across from the church. Our family had visited a lot of places during the holidays, but we'd never been anywhere this unique. It was interesting to not see Santas, reindeer, and fluffy white snow.
People were finishing their last minute shopping and errands and going to and from traveling dinners called Posadas, everyone greeting each other with embraces and wishes for a Feliz Navidad. The entire town was bustling, cheery, and moved by the spirit of Christmas—and then there was me.
When I arrived yesterday, I realized I stuck out like a sore thumb, and it wasn't just because I was unnaturally pale-skinned. Running through the forests left me looking a little worse for wear, so I picked up some new jeans, hiking boots, and a T-shirt with a black eagle surrounded in gold. It seemed to be a local logo, for what, I wasn't sure. I looked a little more the part of a local, but it was more than my appearance that made me stand out.
Their joy was inspiring, beautiful, and visible, while my pain was bordering on obsessive, pathetic, and just as obvious. It was difficult to find any joy in a holiday I'd been taught to revere with the utmost respect when, with each passing day, I was more and more consumed by guilt, frustration, and loneliness.
Despite the locals' friendliness, they gave me a wide berth as I walked across the plaza with my head cast down. Their minds were buzzing with activity. Some were remembering to put a last minute item in their childrens' Christmas stockings, some were remembering the secret ingredient in their grandmother's tamales, while others wondered what was wrong with the poor young man near the church. I couldn't bear the pity—I didn't deserve it, and I desperately wanted solace from the sympathy. I'd spent weeks alone in forests and deserts, sometimes running by night, going days without seeing another soul. The confines of the city were overwhelming—the noise of a busy town, the siren call of human blood, the cascade of human thoughts—after weeks in the silence of my own mind.
I stopped in front of the curious red church, Iglesia de la Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, and looked through the open doors into the sanctuary. The church was empty, awaiting the faithful for midnight mass several hours from now, but was decorated with vibrant red poinsettias and glowing luminaries.
I slowly ascended the stairs, drawn in to the comfort and quiet it provided. I took a deep breath as I crossed the threshold and stepped through the arched door into the wide refuge. I paused, almost waiting for something to happen—to be struck down right here for violating holy space.
The strike never came.
Tradition took over and I recalled the familiarity of a life long forgotten. I blessed myself with holy water and crept silently to the last pew in the nave, genuflecting toward the altar before I sat down on the creaky, wooden bench.
I sat for a moment, taking in the beauty of the gothic architecture. Crystal chandeliers hung from the high, arced ceiling. Though it was already dark, through the candlelight and the light from the bustling city outside, I could see the stained glass windows flickering with still-life images of the saints. A nativity portal was set up under a smaller arch to the right of the altar; the manger was absent of a baby Jesus; a likeness would be placed in the crèche at midnight mass. The entire scene was familiar to me somehow. A former life.
I folded my hands and let my gaze fall to the floor as I debated whether or not I should just leave. My eyes fell upon the kneeler, and I slowly leaned down to lower it to the floor. I slid off the pew onto my knees in supplication.
I closed my eyes, rested my elbows on the back of the pew ahead of me, and dropped my head to rest on my folded hands. Images of her swam behind my eyelids, every moment with her recalled in perfect detail. For months I'd tried to focus my thoughts on keeping her safe, but now my strength was fracturing. I could feel the tightness in my chest and the tears pricking at my eyes with the buildup of emotion.
Though I knew I would never heal, I hoped her heartache had lessened and her human memories had already begun to fade. But another part of me—the part that had seen the tears in her eyes and heard the way she called after me that day in the forest—thought her grief might be more serious than I'd hoped.
It was so selfish of me to hurt her, but I wanted her safe and alive more than I wanted her happy. She could learn to be happy again, but I could not bear the idea of taking her soul—or watching it be forcibly taken. And since I'd already found myself in a rut of selfishness, I dared to pray that God would watch over her and keep her safe—to give her a new guardian angel that was worthy of the job. It was a job I never should have had in the first place.
The faint scent of poinsettias and the burning candle wicks did not let me forget it was Christmas Eve, and I wondered how she would spend the holiday. Did she have any family traditions that had to be maintained? Did her family celebrate Christmas Day or Eve? Did her family cut down a tree and decorate it? Did they hang stockings from the mantle?
My chest constricted again. What would our first Christmas have been like?
I could almost envision what the glittering snow would look like in her mahogany hair just before it melted. I could imagine her forbidding any gift I couldn't buy at the Thriftway. And dear God, I could feel the sensation of kissing her under the mistletoe and having to remind her to breathe when it was more likely that I would need to remind myself to be careful with someone so fragile.
Startled, my eyes snapped open, and I spun toward the source of the voice, surprised to see a young priest sitting at the far end of the pew. He appeared cautious, keeping quite a distance from me and on the edge of his seat, but he was angled toward me and his face bore a gentle, friendly countenance. His dark hair touched his collared shirt, and his dark eyes showed a kindness I had not seen in many months. Fear clouded his thoughts, but he was genuinely concerned and wanted to help, if possible. He didn't believe local native legends about pale-skinned strangers, but now he was starting to wonder.
"¿Hola?" he repeated again. It was a question, not just a greeting. He wasn't sure if I wanted the interruption or if I spoke Spanish. "Hello?" he asked. "Habla Español? Ingles?"
I cleared my throat. "I'm sorry, Father, you surprised me." That was an understatement; it wasn't easy to sneak up on a vampire.
"I'm sorry," he apologized in a thick accent as he brought his hand up to his heart in an act of contrition. "You are new here, yes?" Who is this boy, and why does he appear to have the weight of the world on his shoulders?
He had no idea what stress I had in my life. "I'm just passing through." I knew I shouldn't have darkened the doorstep here. I hoped I wasn't putting him inadvertently in danger.
The priest swallowed, his pulse was racing. "I'm Father Juan Carlos, you look troubled, son. Can I help you?"
The fact that this man was reaching out to me despite his fear was touching. My emotions were so close to the surface, and I sensed his genuine willingness and desire to help. Maybe it was human sympathy, maybe it was my familiarity with the sacrament of confession, but before I knew it, I was unburdening myself.
"I think I've made a mistake, Father." I dropped my head in my hands and sighed. In truth I'd made a lot of mistakes, but breaking Bella's heart was the one I could never forgive myself for.
He relaxed ever so slightly, wondering what sin I had committed. "What kind of mistake, son? Mistakes can be forgiven." Sympathy rang in every word, and he genuinely believed forgiveness was possible for contrite souls. Little did he know he was among the soulless.
I shook my head. "No, I don't think this is the kind of mistake you can just apologize for. I made the worst kind of mistake."
He paused, not knowing if I'd continue without prodding or not. "A-and what kind is that?" he asked hesitantly, voice quivering. Dios mio, what sins did this boy commit?
I didn't know what to say. I didn't know if I could say the words aloud. I'd kept my thoughts and feelings locked away to myself for so long now. "I hurt someone. Intentionally. I don't know if I broke her heart, but it broke mine. And I left my family."
His guarded stance and expression visibly relaxed. "If the love is true, she'll forgive you. And familial love is much the same—remember the Prodigal son?"
I shook my head. I couldn't be truly honest, therefore this poor man of God couldn't truly understand my predicaments. "I don't think so, Father. I was so selfish. I was a better person with her."
Both of us were silent for several minutes. I stared straight ahead, watching the flame of a candle flickering and dance in the darkness, desperately longing for escape. I feared there would be no reprieve unless I could escape this world.
"It's never too late to go home," Father Juan Carlos offered, staring ahead as well. "It's never too late to ask for forgiveness. Don't live your whole life wondering. Ask."
He was right, and I knew he was right, but I couldn't return and bring a very real and deadly threat back with me. Victoria had to be a priority. And then there was the threat I brought. The threat every member of my family possessed.
I began to fidget. I needed out. I needed to run. To think as the damp, earthy breeze wove through my hair. I needed to be away from this place of sentimentality and unfaltering forgiveness. The soulless had no place here.
The priest rested his hands on his knees and leaned forward. "Just think about it, yes? What better time of year to seek reconciliation. Feliz Navidad."
I nodded. "Gracias, Padre. Feliz Navidad."
He rose quietly, genuflected toward the altar, and left as silently as he had arrived.
I sat alone for another few minutes before departing.
Outside, a choir had congregated in front of the red, metal church; singers in their Sunday best, clutching choral books in their hands. Father Juan Carlos stood before them and raised his hands--a solemn melody filled the air.
I slipped into the crowd assembled to carol and walked away from the center of town. I found myself wondering--if I left right now, how soon could I be home? Could I get there by morning? I allowed myself a moment to imagine her awaking on Christmas morning to find me there, begging for forgiveness. But I could not bear to allow myself to think of her reply. God willing, she was in Jacksonville for Christmas. Or in Forks, making her father's holiday joyous.
In the distance, I could hear the bells at the church marking the hour, and I wondered again what it would be like to spend the holidays with her. I sighed, feeling my shoulders slump, it was an unrealistic dream to have. But the priest's words resounded in my head—could I spend a whole lifetime not knowing? Could I last an entire lifetime without her? I knew the answer was no. I'd been without her less than four months and I was already wavering in my resolve. Was the priest right? Would she, could she forgive me?
And what if she had already moved on? I couldn't bear to return to see her with someone else.
I caught a familiar scent and began tracking it back toward the cloud forest. Keeping Bella safe was my priority.
Tonight I would hope and pray that she was happy and take solace in that. That was enough. It was the best gift I could give her.
A/N 2: Thanks to jadeddiva and vnfan for the beta.
This fic was largely inspired by Joni Mitchell's "River."
The church mentioned throughout is real and beautiful. It is red and constructed from metal. As the story goes, it was shipped from Belgium to Costa Rica. If you're so inclined, there's a link to photos in my profile.
Thank you for reading and Happy Holidays to all of you.