Warning: Several shared memories will contain disciplinary spanking; some harsh, some very mild. If you find this offensive, please don't stress yourself by reading this. There are many other stories on this site to be enjoyed.

Disclaimer: Well, as much as I wish this wasn't the case, all of the wonderful recognizable characters are not mine. They are merely on loan from the very gracious Stephenie Meyer. I promise not to harm them in any way... not in this story at least.

AN: Meet my Nanowrimo achievement. Sorry to have gone MIA for the last month, but I took up the challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days. I'm happy to announce that I've succeeded, so my holiday gift to my wonderful readers is complete. I hope that you all will enjoy this trip down memory lane with our little vampire family. What started as a simply plot bunny born out of "Some Memories Never Fade", has really grown.

Now, I do know that the pain of the transformation is reported to obliterate a vampires human memories, but out Cullens seem to be the exception to that rule anyway given that they appear to have retained quite a bit of information pertaining to their backgrounds. With that in mind, I took the ball and ran with it.

Thank you all for your patience and support. Y'all are the best! Special thanks to my beta Splinter and my friends, proof-readers, muses etc. Jasper1863Hale, Cullen1007, rubyblue100, and edwardian1901. I would not have made it through this without all of you. *hugs*

So without further ado... Please enjoy.

Carlisle sat and watched the fire dancing over the hearth while the snow outside billowed and swirled on the evening breeze.

His family had gathered together as they had for nearly every Christmas eve. Tonight there would be no video games or television distractions. It was just time for the family to share in the joy of the season while they slowed down, reflected on their good fortune, and simply enjoyed each other's company.

Usually they would sing songs, exchange stories and play games much like humans had done back in his day long before the pace of life quickened and commercialism claimed the holiday. The only thing that would be missing from their celebration was the feasts their human companions indulged in during the seasonal festivities.

During the twelve days between Christmas and the Feast of the Epiphany, Carlisle preferred to fast; not wishing to bring harm to any living being during this festival of light, hope and peace. While he never imposed this particular philosophy on his family, as a whole, the Cullens generally followed the example set by the patriarch and refrained from hunting for the duration of Christmas. Their family feast on the sixth of January was inevitably more fun and exciting after proving to each other that they all possessed the willpower to abstain for those twelve days.

The doctor inwardly sighed at a memory from some years ago when Emmett and Jasper had turned the twelve day fast into a real competition. They taunted, tempted and teased each other until Carlisle was finally forced to step in and demand that they both feed just to put an end to their foolishness.

This had happened during the first few years after Jasper and Alice had joined his family, and the soldier's restraint had not been as strong as it was now. Luckily, the children were still out of school for the holidays when the contest hit the point that required his intervention. Carlisle shuddered to think about what could have happened if classes had resumed before the Texan's thirst had been quenched.

Later that evening, the patriarch sat down with his boys to discuss the foolhardiness of their game. When he was done, both promised to never go down that path again, but every Christmas the contest renewed itself just the same. They were a bit more low-keyed now, but his boys could never allow an opportunity to challenge one another pass them by.

"Yo, Jazzman. Hope you tanked up last night because it's gonna be a long two weeks."

"You just worry about yourself, Em. I'm gonna be just fine, but you know I've seen a few bears prowling around just calling your name. Looks like not all of them have denned up for winter. Imagine that. It's like nature herself has taken pity on you and decided to drop a couple of holiday gifts at your door before she hides that tasty treat away until Spring. It is such a shame that you can't enjoy them."

A cocky smirk crossed the southerner's face, and his eyes twinkled at hearing his brother groan.

"Jasper Cullen, you didn't disturb those bears did you?" Esme asked in a sharp tone as she settled down on the sofa next to her mate.

"I would never do such a thing, Momma," Jasper answered while pressing his hand to his chest, totally affronted by the mere suggestion that he would take part in such an underhanded act.

"Jasper," Carlisle raised a brow as he caught his son's eye.

The boy's expression turned a touch sheepish, but he still grinned.

"I might have knocked against a tree or two accidentally while I was out for a run."

"That will be enough of that, young man," his mother scolded. "You'll leave those animals alone. You know that it isn't healthy for them to be disturbed during their winter hibernation."

"I think it's healthy enough as long as Em is laying off the bear juice," the boy replied with a bit of sass and a grin that had melted many a heart.

Esme narrowed her eyes at her southern soldier, letting her expression convey much more than her words ever could.

Catching on quickly to his mother's displeasure, Jasper dipped his head apologetically.

"Yes, Ma'am. Don't disturb the bears for their good and mine," he muttered softly while pulling Alice into his lap before quickly changing the subject. "So what shall we do? I'm kinda in the mood for a story or two."

"That sounds like a wonderful idea," Esme quickly agreed. "Carlisle, why don't you start us off?"

"A story? Hmm. What sort of a story?"

"You know I've always wondered what happened to all that money. How about that?"

All eyes in the room turned to the bruin who hunkered down on the couch opposite of his parents.

"What money, Emmy?" Rose inquired.

"Jesus' savings fund. You know, the coin he got from those wise dudes. He never appeared to have any money with the walking everywhere and eating bread and fish. You would think that he could have done better for himself than that, though the water into wine thing was a pretty rockin' trick. Being able to tie one on must have taken the apostles' minds off of their aching feet," Emmett shared as he nodded. "So what did Joseph do with all that gold? Do you think he squandered it away on booze and broads? That doesn't seem very saintly, but it had to have gone somewhere. It couldn't have just disappeared unless those royal dudes gave 'em fake gold. You know, something like foil wrapped chocolate coins or something. Those would have melted away in that desert heat."

"I never even thought about that, Emmett," Carlisle admitted. "I really have no idea."

"A preacher's son is supposed to know all about those religious things, Pops."

"Sorry to have disappointed you, son, but that wasn't something my father taught."

"Maybe you could call up Aro or Caius. They lived back then. They're sure to have the lowdown."

Carlisle closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead, before finally looking back at this curious boy.

"Em, I don't believe that they moved in the same circles as the holy family. Aro may be the lord of his manor and we all know that Marcus is a saint." Carlisle coughed lightly to cover his blasphemy before clearing his throat to continue. "But, I feel safe in saying that they didn't find themselves in the Holy Land during that period in history."

"Yeah, probably not. I guess they had more important things on their minds than attending the Jesus World Tour," the bruin conceded in a disappointed tone.

"I bet I know what he did with it!" Edward interjected with a grin. "Carpenter's tools don't come cheap, Em. The money probably all went towards start up cost for the family business."

"Nah. Since he was a carpenter, he would have made his own tools instead of going down to the local hardware store to buy them."

"How would he have cut them out and fastened them together without some sort of other tools?" Edward challenged.

"He would have just... Say, Eddie, you could be right, but then we are right back to the question of what happened to the moola?"

"Maybe Joseph made a couple of bad investments and lost it all in the great stock market crash of A.D. Four," Rose suggested as she rubbed her husband's shoulder.

"Oh, man, I didn't know they had a crash back then. Wouldn't you think that God would have given them tips so they could have yanked the cash out in time. Looks like they could have used an Alice to keep the finances straight."

Alice giggled at her silly brother while her mate rolled his eyes before clearing his throat.

"Papa, I have an idea. Some time back you promised me a story about a certain young hell raising Cullen. If it wouldn't make you too uncomfortable, maybe you can share a story from your boyhood? A Christmas story, perhaps? Do you remember celebrating Christmas back in the day?"

Carlisle gave a short snort as he glanced down at his hands for a couple of seconds before looking back up at his family.

"I do indeed, Jasper, but it's funny that you bring that up because one of the incidents that I referred to took place during the holiday season. It was certainly a memorable Christmas, though I would have liked it to have been a little more joyful."

Inhaling deeply, the patriarch chewed on his bottom lip reflectively then nodded.

"I'll share a Christmas tale, but I think that it's only fair that all of you do the same. We could all do with hearing some happy memories after enduring a story about my human life, so that will be the deal. A story for a story. Agreed?"

A round of affirmations came from the gathering while they focused intently on their leader.

The doctor leaned back into the cradling sofa cushion as his mate placed a light hand on his knee to offer her silent support. Giving Esme a gentle smile, Carlisle shifted around and pulled her to lean against him so he could wrap his arms around his treasure.

The thought of sharing a glimpse of this past with anyone was frightening, but this was his family. Over the decades they had shared much of their histories with him, both the good and bad. He had never judged them, and there was no reason to believe that they would treat him any differently, but the lingering fear of being shunned was something he had never managed to completely resolve.

The complete attention currently shown by his children was reason enough to tackle this demon. It was obvious to the very private man that his family wanted to know him better and he would be a hypocrite to deny them. A glimpse through the window of his soul would be the strangest Christmas gift that he had ever passed out, but with the strength of his mate's love to ground him, he would survive.

Closing his eyes for a moment, he began to fall back through the ages to a point in time when a young boy who knew little of the world was still able to get caught up in the joy and excitement of the holidays.

"During my youth, Christmas was actually banned because Cromwell and the Puritan force behind him felt that it threatened true Christian values."

"But it's a celebration of the birth of Jesus," Emmett stated in confusion.

"Among other things," his father agreed.

"How can that threaten Christian values?"

"The majority of our feast days have no biblical justification, but the main threat comes from the way we celebrate. Twelve days of festivities tend to end with a lot of over indulged people. Since fun for fun's sake was outlawed back then, you can easily see why they frowned on Christmas."

Shock took over Em's face as he stared at Carlisle.

"Fun was against the law? Well damn, I would have been in serious trouble."

The patriarch laughed at the boy and nodded.

"Yes, Em, it's not a stretch of the imagination to think that you would have spent a great deal of time in the stockade."

"That's messed up, Pops."

"It was a dark period, but most people still celebrated, they just chose quieter methods.

My father wasn't one for breaking laws, but he could not abide by the cancellation of Christmas mass. Even if it wasn't held in the church, there would still be private masses held at individual houses. He would see to that standard of the holiday.

With that said, he was more than happy to accept the canceling of the secular side of things, so we had a modest meal and there was no exchange of gifts. It was a religious day for reflection and nothing more. In my father's eyes, Easter was the more important holiday. The miracle of the resurrection was much more noteworthy than the simple birth of a human child."

"Wow, Pops. I know your childhood sucked, but no Christmas is just..."

"Beyond the pale?" the elder offered quietly.

"If that means uber suckage, then yeah, we can go with that. Dang, how can you have a Christmas memory if you never even had any Christmases?"

"My father's lack of celebrating didn't mean that I never celebrated," he answered with a grin. "Since I was the Pastor's son, people would often slip me a few sweets or an illegal mince pie. On the rare occasion, I might even be offered a couple of pennies to add to my Christmas coffer with the idea that I would be buying something for my father."

"Would he even accept gifts?" Edward inquired.

"Yes, though whatever I gave him was deemed nothing more than a childish trinket and quickly cast aside; a fact that actually brings us to the beginning of my story."

Carlisle ran a hand through his hair and fortified his determination to see this through. When he made his promise to Jasper, he had only meant to share this retelling with his soldier boy, a much simpler task then what laid before him now.

Clearing his throat, the patriarch started in a near whisper.

"Several months ago, Jasper and I had a little chat during which I disclosed to him that on occasion I gave my father reason enough to discipline me."

This statement was met with scoffs of disbelief, but the doctor raised a hand to quiet his brood.

"I'm not saying that I deserved to be abused and degraded; no one deserves to be treated like that. What I am admitting is that I was not immune to getting into mischief. Most of my transgressions were minor enough. Simple childish errors or momentary lapses in common sense were my normal offenses, but one Christmas I allowed a lapse in common sense to earn me a well deserved thrashing.

I must have been around six or so at the time. I wanted nothing more than my father's praise and acceptance. He wasn't exactly generous in those categories when it came to me, but to be fair, he rarely praised the efforts of anyone. Proper behavior and hard work were expected, and Father felt that they should be their own reward. Sadly, that knowledge never stopped me from seeking his approval. All sons want their father's love and nothing can compare to actually hearing those words spoken aloud."

Carlisle's tone had grown heavy with emotion, so he stopped for a moment to collect his thoughts before forging ahead.

"I watched other families and marveled at the expressions of love between parent and child. I knew that coveting our neighbors was a sin, but I was young and couldn't help the way I felt. I saw how happy parents were with little token gifts from their children and thought that if I could give my father something special I might just be able to buy his love."

"He should have never made you feel like you had to earn his love," Rosalie snarled low. "He was your father, though he never seemed to act like it. The love of a parent is unconditional."

"It should be, Kitty, but there are a few of us who have had to jump through hoops at some point in our lives to maintain that 'unconditional' love. You have found yourself among those effected by an askew notion of the parent-child relationship."

Rose folded her arms and scowled.

"They still loved me."

"As they should, but they also used you to help increase their social standing. A parent should seek to better their child, not look to a child for what he or she can do for them, but I digress.

There I was trying to decide on a gift that my father would deem to be of value. I had little pocket money, just what I managed to earn doing odd jobs around town, but I found myself wandering the docks and searching the merchant's wares for just the right thing.

I looked at trinkets from the metal workers and considered a new hat or gloves and scarf to keep him warm on his nightly hunts, but a panther headed walking stick carved from ebony caught my eye. It was solid black with sparkling green eyes. Thinking back, I'm sure that those were bits of glass, but to my childish mind they were precious emeralds from some far off exotic land.

I inquired about the cane, but naturally it would have never been in my price range so I moved on. I eventually found myself considering a new razor or a fancy gilded paged bible, but that damn cat had set my mind a blaze.

I could picture my father walking down the street with his men ready to do battle with any demon ignorant enough to challenge him, and all the while, his hand rested on the head of that emerald-eyed snarling panther. I reasoned that it would make a suitable weapon against the forces of evil, thereby offering my father extra protection.

My feverish mind searched and searched for a way to secure this gift before Christmas...and then, it was gone."

The elder sighed as the memory played out in his head, forcing him to relive a moment from his past that he would have been only too happy to have forgotten.

"Sir? Excuse me, sir? Where's the stick that's usually here," the fair haired boy called out to the man in the wagon.

"What stick, son?"

"The one sporting the cat head with the green eyes."

"Sold it just before you showed up, didn't I? It went off with a dapper looking gent."

"But that was my father's present. How could you have sold it?"

"I'm sorry, laddie, but a man has to eat. The gentleman offered me cash. I couldn't very well turn him down. Can't feed my family that way." The merchant glanced over Carlisle and, after noting his meager state, shook his head. "It's not like you would have been able to pay for it anyway so it was for the best. Why don't you go run along and find something else that your father would enjoy. I'm sure there's something in your price range some where out here."

"No!" Carlisle stamped his foot against the worn wooden dock in a rare show of temper . "That was my father's walking stick. You know that it was to be mine, and you gave it to the wrong person. Now get it back for me."

"I'll be doing no such thing. Just calm yourself and have a look around. Find something else, and I'll make you the best deal that I can."

"I don't want anything else!"

The carefully laid out merchandise was suddenly tossed carelessly to the ground as Carlisle gave into a fit of fury. The angry words of the merchant fell on deaf ears, while the boy continued to rage, but the vicar's son was not so far gone as to overlook the flash of sunlight reflecting from faceted green eyes.

The man with the cane had been attracted by the ruckus. Returning to offer the seller help with his hooligan problem, the man unknowingly placed his property in danger.

Charging into the thickening crowd, the young boy crashed into the man's legs, taking him by surprise and bowling him over onto his back. The force of impact sent the youth's prize skittering across the planks to become lost among the forest of legs that surrounded them.

With cat like reflexes, Carlisle was back on his feet, avoiding the hands of strangers who attempted to detain him while he quickly scanned the ground. Spotting the cane lying idle against a crate, he darted towards it the moment the merchant made a grab for him. The man's strong fingers caught the collar of the lad's coat, but the vicar's boy wiggled free from the binding fabric, caught the cane, and raced off through the twisting alleys, never slowing his pace until all sounds of pursuit had faded away.

A long, low whistle brought Carlisle back to the present.

"Damn, Pops. Here I thought I was a trouble maker, but I'm going to have to hand my crown over to you. I would have never imagined that you would do something like that. Stealing? Preacher man's son stealing? That's some shit right there."

"I'm certainly not proud of that day, Em, but we all tend to do some silly things growing up. We tell ourselves that we won't get caught, or that we have a very good reason for the stunts we pull, but that is rarely the case."

"I was always told that a minister's kid was the worst of the lot when it came to getting into trouble. Something about them needing to let loose since they are minding their ps and qs at home," Jasper shared before flickering his eyes over Carlisle. "Still, I would never believe that you were capable of stealing. Ya don't strike me as a ruffian, Papa. Carlisle the delinquent. Who would have thunk it?"

"He wasn't being a delinquent," Alice chimed in, coming to Carlisle's defense. "He was just a little boy trying to do something nice for his daddy. It's not like he planned on stealing it. If that had been the case, he would have done it right away when he first saw it."

"And Emmett didn't mean to blow up the greenhouse, but that didn't make it less wrong, now did it?"

Alice stared into her mate's eyes for a few moments before conceding defeat with an unhappy sigh as she glanced away and faintly whispered, "No. I guess not."

Carlisle smiled at his children and cleared his throat.

"It's nice to see that those lessons didn't fall on deaf ears."

"More like they fell on sore butts," Emmett corrected with a slight wince from the memory, causing Carlisle to chuckle before turning his attention to his little girl.

"I appreciate you trying to justify my actions, princess, but Jasper is correct. My behavior was deplorable and it wasn't long before I realized it."

Standing in the muck of the narrow alley, Carlisle leaned back and stared up into the graying sky while he struggled to catch his breath. With his heart rate slowing back to normal, he was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief and steal a glance at his hard won prize.

It was magnificent and it was all his.

Running a finger along the smooth wood, he looked closely at the fierce snarl on the cat's face as it bared its fangs at him. It looked ready to defend its owner and only a fool would dare to challenge its might; a fool, or a foolish boy.

Huffing out a breath, the slender blond allowed a vision of the man he had knocked down to enter his mind. The cat hadn't done much to protect him, but surely it would protect his father. It hadn't come to the man's defense because he wasn't the rightful owner. That was the only logical reason. Carlisle would not have been able to take it if the walking stick had not wanted to come to him. It knew that it was meant for greatness, and that meant that it was destined to be under the employ of Cillian Cullen, the champion of virtue and justice; the banisher of evil.

And what are you? the panther seemed to ask as it stared back at the youth, its green eyes now dulled by the lack of sunlight in the dank hideaway.

"I'm my father's son," the boy whispered out loud. "I will follow in his footsteps to become a great man as well. Evil will tremble at the sound of my name."

Or might it be more likely to embrace you as its brother?

The lad suddenly scoffed at the idea with a firm shake of his head.

"Impossible. I'm a vicar's son. I am immune to evil," Carlisle proclaimed decisively as he tightened his grip on the stick while making his way out of the alley to head towards home.

The idea that evil could find a place in him was preposterous. He was much too strong for that, and should he weaken, his father would surely protect him from its influence. The panther lied. He was a good boy, all the townspeople told him that so it must be true. His father was a good man. He would not rear a sinful child who could be tainted by evil.

As Carlisle walked along the sparsely wooded path that led him home, a soft mist of rain began to fall. The weight of the walking stick seemed to increase with each step he took and the dampness of the air made him shiver.

Without his overcoat, it took no time for the rain to soak his clothing and chill him to the bone. While the longing for his coat set in, so did the realization that he couldn't go home.

Carlisle couldn't return without his coat or his father would be cross with him for having been careless again, and there was no way that he could explain the conditions by which they had parted ways. The youth needed a moment to think if he hoped to find a way out of the mess he had created. Finding a sheltered spot beneath a low tree limb, he hunkered down with the cane at his feet.

"You know this is all your fault? If you hadn't let yourself be bought by the wrong person, I wouldn't have this problem."

The mute predator stared up at him with its own accusation behind those cold, hard, emerald eyes. There was a look to it that seemed almost alive to the youth's wild imagination, so he wasn't surprised when it finally whispered to him in a voice that was all too familiar. It was the panther who spoke in his head, but it had borrowed his father's voice.

You did this to yourself. Don't blame others for your failings, boy. Own your mistakes.

"I only wanted to give you something nice for Christmas. I didn't mean to cause any trouble."

But you did. You disrupted the merchant's business. You knocked a man of means into the dirt and very well may have injured him. And all for what? So you can disgrace yourself and me even further by taking another man's property? Do you think knowledge that I raised a thief is a proper present to celebrate a holy birth?

You are filthy with sin, Carlisle. How could I ever love a boy who allows himself to be so easily swayed from the path of righteousness? You are no son of mine.

"Don't say that. It isn't true."

Dirty. Evil. Vile. Weak.

"I'm not."

A sinful abomination in the eyes of God.

"No. That's not true!" the boy yelled as he stood up and kicked the symbol of his sin away. A feeling of satisfaction came over him at hearing the walking stick collide against a large stone with a dull crack.

Then prove it!

"How? How can I prove it?"

You know how. The voice had changed to a low rumbling growl more suitable for a jungle beast or a demon from the blackest pit of Hell.

Even though Carlisle knew it was folly to converse with a demon, he couldn't help respond.

"I don't know," he admitted in a shaky whisper. "I don't know what to do."

Confess. Admit to your sins. Admit that you are a failure when it comes to being a son. Confess your sin and pray to suffer. That is the only way that your soul may be cleansed.

The lad shook his head while pressing the heels of his hands against his temples.

"I can't," he mewled as his heart was crushed by guilt and fear.

Because you are a pathetic, worthless boy who is undeserving of love.

It was his father's voice that echoed the words that Carlisle feared most.

I never wanted you. You should have never been born. From the moment that you first drew breath I knew you for what you were, a worthless creature who ruins everything he touches. You killed the one good thing in my life, and I hated you then the same as I hate you today.

Salty tears mixed with the rain that dripped from the boy's hair to race in rivulets down his cheeks.

"That's not true. You do love me. I know that sometimes I make that very hard for you to do, but I still know that I am loved. I'll fix this. I'll be the son you deserve. I'll do whatever it takes to make you proud so that you won't be embarrassed to show your love for me."

Carlisle wiped his nose with the back of his hand while he went to retrieve the cane from the deepening muck. Cleaning the mud from the cat's face with his shirt tail, the youth gasped in horror when he discovered one of the eyes was missing. Frantically, he felt around on the ground near the rock where it had landed, but his efforts were in vain. The small shard of green was lost in the mire of mud forever.

Swallowing hard, he stared at the one-eyed panther with its flattened ears and deadly snarl. The boy's heart sank as he rubbed his thumb over the empty socket.

"I can't fix you, but I can still try to give you back to the person you belong to."

With his head bowed low, the miserable little Cullen slowly made his way back to the docks only to find them abandoned. A combination of the rain and the rapidly approaching nightfall had chased all of the decent people away. The few who still skulked in the shadows were not individuals that the lad found welcoming.

Glancing at the empty cart with a sickening feeling, Carlisle briefly considered leaving the damaged cane against it, but knew that wouldn't solve his dilemma. The likelihood of it still being there come morning was slim,and even if it was, the youth knew that penance had to be served along with the making of restitution if he was to be forgiven.

Even though his father had strictly forbidden him from entering the ale houses and coffee rooms, the lad found himself wandering down the back alleys that led to those houses of ill repute. Ducking into one after another, he searched the crowds of patrons for a familiar face while praying for a miracle. At the Lion's Roar, Carlisle's prayer was finally answered.

At a table near the fire sat a distinguished gentlemen sipping ale while engaging in some learned discussion.

With his heart beating like a bird's, Carlisle picked his way across the crowded main room towards the warming fire.

"Excuse me, sir," his voice squeaked so quietly that it was quickly lost in the noise of the room.

Wiping his hands clean on the front of his trousers, he tapped the man on the shoulder.

"Sir? Pardon me, please, but I believe this belongs to you."

Carlisle began to tremble as he held the walking stick out for the man to take.

The gentleman looked surprised to see the ruffian from this afternoon standing at his side, then narrowed his eyes and scowled at the boy.

"What trick is this?"

"No trick, sir. Please take it. It was never mine to own. You bought it. It belongs to you."

Gently, but with a note of disdain for the youngster, the man accepted the item that the boy had relieved him of earlier.

"Am I to believe that you think this voids your responsibility for your actions? You expect me to forgive and forget?"

Carlisle shook his lowered head.

"Speak up, boy," the man growled, causing Carlisle to stiffen as he glanced up at the patron.

"No, sir, I do not expect forgiveness, but I wanted you to know that I really am truly sorry for having offended you."

Continuing to study the grim child before him, the gentleman felt his anger lessen.

"What's your name, boy?"

"Carlisle Cullen, sir."

"Cullen? The vicar's son?" the man inquired with a raised brow.

Swallowing hard, Carlisle nodded. "Yes, sir."

"I should think that he would have taught you better. You realize that you have committed a crime that I could have you imprisoned for?"

"I know that I have committed a sin and God is not pleased with me." The youth's head fell and his shoulders sagged while a heavy sigh forced the air from his lungs.

"That's correct as well." The man cocked his head to the side. "And what do you think we should do with you?"

"I have confessed, so now I must atone before I can be forgiven." Every hair on the boy's body stood erect as he struggled to control his trembling. "You must beat me, sir, so that I may learn not to repeat my sinful acts."

The man was taken back by Carlisle's declaration. Blinking back his shock, he thought for a moment before shaking his head.

"I think a better idea would be to see you home. I wanted to talk to your father about hosting a Christmas mass in my home anyway. You can confess your misdeed to him and he will decide on a fitting punishment."

The child's bright blue eyes opened wide with fear.

"Please, sir, can't you do it yourself? I promise not to run or make too much of a fuss. You can even beat me with your walking stick if you like. I'm sure that is appropriate."

The gentleman looked shocked at the lad's suggestion and shook his head.

"No, boy. There will be none of that. This is a matter best left to your father."

"But, I don't want him to know. I never meant... It was to be his Christmas gift and now I've ruined everything."

With tears flooding his eyes, the youth glanced down at the tavern floor in shame until a light touch beneath his jaw brought his head back up.

"You have made a childish error and nothing more. Moreover, you caught that error yourself and have sought me out to try to rectify the damage. Nothing is ruined, lad, but it is plain to see that your spirit is burdened and there is only one cure for that." Placing some coins on the table, the man wished his companion a good night as he stood and put a hand on the boy's shoulder. "Come now, let's get you home."

Sniffling and swallowing hard at the lump in his throat, Carlisle shook his head again while keeping his eyes downcast.

The man softened his tone as he called the boy's name. "Carlisle, listen to me. Whatever you fear right now, I can promise you that it is worse in the mind than in reality. The sooner we get you home, the sooner your fear can be laid to rest."

"Father will be mad. He won't want me anymore."

"That shall hardly be the case. Any man would be proud to claim you as a son. A single error in judgment does not define a person. Your Father in heaven forgives us all of our sins. Your earthly father will do the same by you, but just as you must ask for forgiveness from God, so must you ask this of your father.

There is a good man slumbering inside the scamp of a boy I see before me, Carlisle Cullen. He just needs time and guidance to come about." Brushing a dirty blond lock out of the youth's face, the gentleman gave him a reassuring smile. "The hour is becoming late and surely your father will have begun to wonder where you are. Let's not keep him worrying any longer."

Applying gentle pressure to the child's shoulder, the man turned him towards the door and guided him out into the street where he slowly but steadily began to lead the way home.