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AN: The final part of this series for the foreseeable future; set a few weeks after the last chapter, this chapter sees Bella meeting the last member of the Cullen family (Even if he's more of a distant relative with his only direct connection to them being through Alice), and I hope it meets with our approval (Working out how these two would interact was not easy, but I think I came up with something interesting)
Angel of Twilight
With my leg virtually healed from James's attack and the rest of the Cullens out hunting, I was taking advantage of the opportunity to get on with some of my homework; my teachers had made allowances for me being off school due to my damaged leg, but that didn't mean that I didn't feel obligated to keep up.
However, as much as I was resolved to catch up with my work, there were also other matters occupying my mind. As much as Edward and I had promised to let love be enough, I still wasn't sure where we were going to go from here; with Edward's refusal to turn me fully established, I was reluctant to pressure him regarding that issue any more when things were relatively comfortable as they were, and it wasn't like there was any immediate need for me to turn yet...
Besides, after everything Alice had told me about her 'other brother'- I was still unsure whether I should think of Angel as another Cullen considering that his only real tie to them was Alice before she'd met the rest of them-, I was starting to realise that there was a lot more to this world that I was plan to enter than what I'd known about originally.
If I was going to become a vampire, I wanted to try and find out more about the world I'd be joining beyond the immediate world of the vampires I'd be becoming part of; the only question was how to find out more about that underground society without the Cullens knowing and letting it slip to Edward. I could maybe look for information in Carlisle's books- he had to have something about demons in there for the sake of reference even if he'd never use the information-, but given how well they could smell they'd probably detect that I was in there, and Carlisle would certainly notice that something was missing no matter what I tried to do to cover up my presence...
The sound of something knocking on the door distracted me from my thoughts. For a moment, I worried that something was looking for me to finish what James started- aside from myself, nobody visited the Cullens-, but I pushed that thought aside; anything that wanted me dead would have just crashed into the house rather than knocking on the door, which made this turn of events strange but unlikely to be life-threatening.
With that in mind, I got up from the kitchen table and headed off to open the door, where I found myself looking at a tall man, dressed in a long dark leather coat, a dark blue shirt and dark trousers, with pale skin and dark hair, an old-fashioned car in the driveway behind him that seemed somehow out-of-place amid the Cullens' more modern cars. For a moment, looking at him, I was reminded of Edward- their facial structures were remarkably similar-, but I dismissed that thought almost as soon as it had occurred to me; this man couldn't be a relative of Edward's...
"Hello," the tall man said, smiling politely at me. "I'm Angel; you're Bella, right?"
"Yeah..." I said, nodding briefly at him before I processed what he said and his identity came to me immediately, prompting me to smile at him in realisation. "You're Angel? Alice's brother?"
"I like to think of myself as such," Angel replied, nodding politely at me as he shook my hand with a smile of his own. "I've heard a bit about you from Alice; she mentioned that you were going to be here on your own at this kind of time- you know how she is; very accurate in her predictions when she shares them-, and I thought I'd take advantage of the opportunity to come and visit."
"Well... come in," I said, opening the door wider to allow Angel in, heading for the kitchen before I realised that I was dealing with a man who was another kind of vampire rather than just another human. "Uh... do you-?"
"I can eat like humans do; it just doesn't really taste the same to me as it might to you," Angel said, smiling slightly at me. "But I'd be fine with a drink anyway."
Glancing in the fridge, I pulled out a beer- I wondered at the Cullens' decision to purchase that, but I supposed that anyone wondering would just assume that Carlisle appreciated a drink after a particularly hard day at the hospital; I certainly knew that Charlie felt that way if there'd been a particularly hard day at work- and handed it to Angel, who nonchalantly opened it with his bare hands before taking a sip.
"So..." I began, looking uncertainly at him; even after everthing else I'd heard about Angel, I'd assumed that I'd have more warning when the time came for us to meet. "From what Alice told me, you're... a different kind of vampire to the Cullens?"
"Very different," Angel said, looking at me for a moment before he took another sip of his drink. "As Alice told you, I burn in the sunlight, holy artefacts hurt me, and my kind typically don't have a human conscience; the only reason I differ from the others is that I was cursed with my soul over a century ago."
"Yeah, Alice... mentioned that part," I said, nodding slightly at Angel before I took a deep breath and decided to ask the most obvious question prompted by that bit of information. "So... magic's real?"
"It's complicated to explain how it works in terms anyone would understand, and dangerous to use if you try to cast something without the proper experience, but... yeah, it's real," Angel said, nodding at me with a smile. "Just don't ask me to tell you any of the finer details about how it works; my experience with magic typically focused on the basics based on what I might need to deal with on my own- a few exorcisms for possessions or hauntings, that kind of thing-, and I rely on my friends for the more complicated rituals that we might need in a situation."
"Yeah, Alice mentioned that you had a... team... these days?" I said, suddenly uncertain what kind of term was appropriate for a group in Angel's line of work; the Cullens might consider themselves family even without any biological connection, but considering that Angel apparently spent his time fighting demons where the Cullens lived in what I thought of as the 'real' world...
"I like to consider them my family," Angel said, smiling slightly at me as though he'd guessed what I was thinking, leaving me feeling suddenly ashamed at the assumption that Angel couldn't have a family just because his daily activities focused on fighting things. "Alice was my first sister, of course, but then I started working with a group of demon-hunters in this small town called Sunnydale- don't bother looking for it on a map; it was destroyed a few years ago-, and went on to form my own team in Los Angeles when... circumstances meant that I had to move on."
"So... you save lives?" I said, looking at Angel with a slight smile, hoping that my manner would detract from the potential sting of what I was about to say to him; this was going to be an awkward topic, but I really did want to know. "I mean, from what Alice said, you were cursed with your soul for what you did without it, and then you-"
"If you're thinking it was a quick switch from villain to hero, you're wrong," Angel interjected, looking grimly at me. "The thing you need to realise, Bella, is that having a soul gave me the ability to make moral decisions again, but that didn't mean I'd make the right ones automatically; there are still human serial killers in the world, and I think we can all agree that they have souls. I couldn't be the vampire I was after I got my soul back, but that didn't mean that I'd find it easy to reject over a century of hunting instinct just because I didn't really feel like it any more; I spent some time hunting and drinking human criminals just because I wanted to stay with my original vampire 'family' even if they were all killers, but that all fell apart when I had to make a choice and realised that I didn't have it in me to kill humans like I used to."
"Oh," I said, looking uncertainly at him.
The man before me had killed people...
Then I remembered Edward's story about how he had killed humans for a time when he was 'rebelling' against Carlisle's attempt to 'curb his diet', and immediately re-evaluated my original thoughts if I could forgive Edward for killing humans, I had to forgive Angel, or it would just be hypocritical.
Besides, anyone who would help Alice stay off human blood for no other reason than that he wanted to help her couldn't be that bad, right? We all made mistakes and poor decisions, but that didn't mean that I could just condemn him for killing criminals where I'd forgiven Edward for the same crime.
I might loved Edward where Angel was just a new acquaintance or a friend of a friend, but so long as he wasn't killing people now, surely he deserved a chance to be forgiven just as everyone had forgiven Edward?
"So... now you fight demons on a regular basis?" I asked, turning the conversation back to a more positive topic.
"Demons, vampires, monsters, the occasional human with knowledge of the supernatural; as circumstances demand, you know," Angel replied with a smile. "It took a while to work it all out, of course- started out being about redemption, then it was about just beating up the other guy-, but, eventually, you realise what's really important."
"Which is?" I asked.
"Helping people," Angel said firmly. "Carlisle does what he can as a doctor to heal, and I do what I can as a warrior to protect; we may take a different approach, but each of us has essentially the same mission, helping to show the world what it can be, so that other people realise how to get to that point."
I'd never thought of it that way, but now that I heard it, it was suddenly the most profound statement I'd ever heard in my life.
I'd never given that much thought to world affairs- I knew that we had problems as a society, but I'd never felt like global affairs were something I could specifically contribute to, so I hadn't worried about it-, but sitting there, hearing Angel explain his reasons for fighting for a world that would never even know he existed, against monsters that he probably had more in common with than the people he helped...
"Talking of you helping people..." I asked, looking at him with a reassuring smile, to show him that I was comfortable with the topic we were about to discuss, "did you really once fight off an army of demons?"
"I started the fight, yeah, but it's thanks to the Cullens that my friends made it through that particular confrontation," Angel clarified, smiling slightly at me. "My team varied over the years- not counting this period where I was fighting with another group of demon-hunters as one of the gang before I recognised that I had to... make my own way-, but we all brought our own areas of expertise to the effort. At its largest, my team consisted of myself, a woman who had visions of people in trouble, a demonology expert, a man who'd been hunting vampires since he was a child, a physics expert who'd spent five years in another dimension, and a demon who could see peoples' destinies when they sang-"
"You worked with a demon?" I asked, realising even as I said it how stupid that statement was; he was a vampire himself, so it wasn't like it was impossible to assume that not all demons were interested in destroying humanity.
"His name was Lorne, and he was really a fairly peaceful guy," Angel said, looking at me a suddenly more pointed stare. "Just like with your breed of vampire, 'not human' doesn't always mean 'evil', you know."
I decided not to say anything in response to that; my responses were limited to the fact that the Cullens had been human at one point, and otherwise anything I had to say would just sound racist at best.
I wondered if Angel knew that he'd turned some preconceptions I'd been forming on their heads before I'd even realised that I was developing them in the first place; I had been assuming that the Cullens- and now Angel- were only able to be good because they'd been human before they became vampires, until Angel revealed that he'd worked with a demon...
"Actually... as long as we're talking about your team, I had... well, there's something I wanted to ask you," I said, looking curiously at Angel as I cautiously tested the waters; what I was about to discuss wasn't exactly something that Angel might feel entirely comfortable telling to someone he'd only just met, but I was also fairly sure that he'd be anticipating such a question if Alice had told him enough information about me. "Was the... vampire thing... ever an issue with them?"
"Well, I did sometimes resent not being able to help out when a crisis meant that we had to deal with demons in the daytime-" Angel began with a slight smile.
"I meant... when you were... dating?" I said, suddenly feeling incredibly awkward as I finished my sentence even before I took in the pained look on Angel's face, the vampire suddenly lost in obviously painful memories inspired by my question.
"Yes... and no," Angel replied after a few moments of silence, staring intensely back at me as he considered the question I had just asked. "I mean, aside from a few... dalliances... over the years- I was a guy wandering around America for almost a century; I had some periods where I preferred to be on my own, but I had a few one-night stands during that time as well-, I've only really had three genuine relationships since I regained my soul."
"What happened?" I asked.
"Well, my last relationship was with a werewolf- there's no major vampire-werewolf conflict between our species, so we got along fine-, but she was more of a casual relationship than a serious commitment; we liked each other, but we weren't together long enough for it to become serious, and she doesn't really belong in the more... violent... parts of my world," Angel explained. "The relationship before that was more of a potential relationship- other factors kept on preventing us from actually dating, and then she... something attacked her as part of a plan to gain access to our world and she died in a coma-, but we were always close friends, and she fully understood what I was and had been and accepted it."
"And... the first one?" I asked.
"Buffy Summers," Angel said, smiling warmly at the memory. "She was the Slayer."
"The what?" I asked, confused at this new title.
"The vampire slayer," Angel clarified. "A girl, chosen by the higher powers, to be endowed with the strength and speed to battle my breed of vampire; Buffy was the latest Slayer in the modern world, and, about a decade ago, when she was 'activated' as a Slayer, I was recommended to act as an... advisor, for lack of a better term... to her as she learned the ropes. We ended up falling in love- the only other person who really understood what our lives were like, you know-, but..."
He sighed, the pain in his eyes obvious even as his expression as a whole maintained a neutrality that would have amazed and impressed any of the Cullens. "I decided that she deserved more than what I could give her- particularly with this whole... thing about my curse that we won't get into right now-, and... we broke it off."
"Because of a problem with your curse?" I asked, wanting to ensure that I understood what he was saying. "Not because you were a vampire?"
"The vampire thing was a part of it- there were things I'd never be able to give her as a vampire that she could have with a human- but the curse... yeah, that played its part in everything," Angel confirmed, nodding at me. "Would it have made a difference if the curse hadn't been a factor? I don't know, but the facts were what they were; we couldn't change the past so there's no point dwelling on it."
"But... you gave the relationship a chance," I said at last, still confused about where I was going with this conversation even as I was resolved to continue it. "Even with the problems... you tried, right?"
"We did what we could, but, when you get down to it, relationships are... relationships," he said at last, shrugging in a manner that was obvious meant to give the impression that he was more dismissive of that topic than he really was. "There are always going to be some areas that you're going to have to compromise on in even the most normal relationship, and there are always going to be some areas where you and your partner will just have to agree to disagree on the final result; relationships are about finding a balance between your differences and your similarities, as well as finding that connection with another being that nobody else can offer them. I'm not going to deny that I made a few decisions for Buffy that, looking back, I probably shouldn't have, but any decision made was made because I listened to arguments from various relevant parties and made a choice to be honest with her; I never tried to make a decision without completely filling her in on why I was doing it."
I had no real idea what I could say in response to a statement like that- a sentiment that I had feeling far too often in the last few minutes-, so I decided to stay quiet.
I might not agree with Edward's reasons for not turning me, but he'd explained why he didn't want to do that and I had accepted it for the moment; we certainly hadn't reached that kind of point...
"But... you tried to share what you could, right?" I asked him, not entirely sure where I was going with this line of questioning even as I resolved to continue it. "I mean, you told her your reasons, you told her about your past..."
"It took a while to share some details with her- I didn't want to bring up the vampire thing too soon in case she judged me for it without learning about the curse-, but I shared them when she asked, yeah," he said, nodding in acknowledgement of my points. "I even gave her a few lessons in hand-to-hand to help her deal with some of the threats she'd face, and we kept in touch in case something came up that would need both of us working together on the problem- this thing involving a demon army, stuff like that-, she helped inspire me to connect with the rest of the human race after I'd spent so long running away from it..."
He shook his head, lost in the memory, before he looked at me. "The point is, what you're exploring with Edward isn't going to be easy, and it's going to be hard, and at some point one or both of you is going to want out of it... but, at the same time, if you're both committed to it, you've got a chance."
"We do?" I asked; after Edward's own initial doubts, it was nice to hear someone outside the Cullens confirm that what we shared had a shot.
"You do," Angel confirmed. "Edward might be older than you chronologically, but Alice mentioned that you were older than your calendar years and I can definitely see what she meant, to say nothing of you coping with this whole situation without any kind of supernatural background."
"I wouldn't say that..." I said, uncertain how to feel about the sudden compliment.
"You're sitting here talking with a vampire about fighting a demon army while dating another vampire without any prior experience of anything outside the normal world before a few months ago, during which time you were nearly attacked by a sadistic vampire tracker; I'd say you're coping pretty well," Angel said, smiling reassuringly at me.
"Thanks," I said, smiling back at him before another thought came to me. "Talking of coping... if you're a fighter... could you... maybe teach me?"
"How to fight?" Angel said, looking at me for a moment as I nodded in clarification. For a moment, Angel looked thoughtfully at me, his eyes flicking over me in a manner that could best be described as evaluating, until he smiled.
"Why not?" he said with a smile, until his expression became more pointed. "Just to be clear, anything I teach you wouldn't allow you to go up against the Cullens' type of vampire, right?"
"I know," I said, nodding in understanding. "But... if you can spare the time, I'd just... I want to know that I'm not completely dependent on what they can do for me."
A sudden beeping from Angel's pocket interrupted his response, but when he pulled out a cellphone and looked at it, the smile on his face reassured me that it wasn't bad news.
"Alice," he said by explanation as he noticed my curious stare. "Just letting me know that she's got it all under control and nobody will be back for a day or two- she's suggested a few more distant locations with more interesting potential prey-, so we've got enough time to cover some of the basic essentials before anyone else gets here."
"Such as?" I asked, looking at him with a curious smile.
"Well," Angel replied, standing up and tossing his coat over a nearby chair as he looked at me, now dressed in a more casual shirt, "first things first, let's cover your stance..."
This decision had been surprisingly impulsive, but I was already looking forward to what Angel had to teach me; after so long getting only a peripheral look at what the Cullens were capable of as vampires, it was refreshing to have the chance to actually learn from a vampire about some of the details of vampire society- and the rest of the world they lived in and that I was looking to join- that I had yet to learn from Edward or the other Cullens...
AN 2: Well, that's that from this world for the moment; I'll maybe come back to this particular series if anything else occurs to me, but for the moment I'm happy with what I have so far.