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A Ray of Hope by KarasAunty

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Table of Contents
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Story Notes:

Disclaimer: The Twilight series belongs to Stephenie Meyer, etc, etc. I am making no profit from this rather pathetic attempt to dabble in her world.

Author's Chapter Notes:

On Christmas Day, Carlisle makes his traditional vigil in search of redemption - with surprising results.


A Ray of Hope

Christmas Day afternoon, several years past.

"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, amen. The Mass has ended. Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord."

The angelic-faced visitor at the entrance to the church automatically blessed himself before moving aside to allow the throng of worshippers to exit through the marbled archway. Many paused to admire his perfect face; several young women gazed at him longingly. One even offered him a smile so provocative that he thought it might be a good idea if she just turned around, marched back up the aisle, and ensconced herself in the confessional booth immediately for having had such lascivious thoughts in a church, of all places.

Resisting the urge to suggest this course of action, he offered the woman nothing more suggestive than a blank stare and, disappointed, she moved on.

When the hall was empty and the altar cleared, the visitor moved inside. He paused halfway down the broad aisle to genuflect before the crucifix, then slipped onto one of the empty benches. With a heartfelt sigh, he steepled his fingers and bowed his head in silent prayer.

The pious ritual was not one he partook of as often as he ought; yet, given what he was, it was astonishing that he partook of it at all. But partake of it he did - it was a ritual he performed every Christmas. As the son of a pastor, how could he not? Circumstance may have robbed him of his humanity, but nothing could rob him of his faith.

The pale, beautiful figure lost himself in prayer for over an hour, pleading for God's mercy for his family, yearning for a forgiveness that may or may not be shown to him and them on the terrible day of Judgement.

"Are we doomed, Lord?" he whispered softly, feeling the irrational need to give voice to his thoughts. "Can there ever be mercy for such as we? Will all our efforts to do Thy will be for naught? Damned as I am, I still wish to serve Thee, to honour Thee. To be more than fate has made me."

He heard the footsteps before he saw him. Smelled the blood racing through the man's veins before he spoke. But centuries of abstinence and years of working in hospitals across the country had stilled his appetite for human blood. Yet he was still reluctant to face such a clear symbol of his own damnation - and on this of all days.

Rising swiftly, the angelic-face made to leave the pew. Unfortunately, he could not use his unnatural ability to carry himself out of the church with such a witness present, and so it was that the priest was upon him before he stepped away from the wooden bench.

"Happy Christmas, my child," came the lilting Irish tones of the priest from a few feet away. He sighed, knowing that he would be forced to acknowledge the priest's presence.

"And to you, Father," he replied, surprised to see how near to him the holy man had drawn. He must have been deeper in prayer than usual for his keen senses to have missed that.

The priest stopped a few feet away, a smile lighting his wizened face. His blue eyes twinkled merrily and a few remnant curls framed his otherwise bald head. In his hands was a small pile of prayer books that he was distributing between the benches, ready for the next sermon, no doubt. "I haven't seen you in my parish before. Are you new to the area?"

If his ethereal mien affected the old man, the visitor had to give him credit: he did not let it show.

"Something like that. My family and I moved here from Boston a few weeks ago."

"Is that so? Well, in that case, allow me to welcome you to St Margaret's Parish. I'm Father Michael O'Connor. And you are?"

"Just a visitor," he replied, wanting nothing more than to leave before the affable man struck up a conversation.

Much to his chagrin, the priest dropped his prayer books on the pew in front of him and took a seat. "A visitor? You don't say. Still, even visitors have names. Do you think Jesus Christ came down from Heaven and introduced himself as a 'visitor' to people for over thirty years?"

Father O'Connor chuckled at his own light wit.

The pale stranger saw no humor in the remark. Jesus Christ was the Savior; he, on the other hand, was anything but. Nevertheless, he offered his name out of politeness, if nothing else. What harm could it do?

"It's Carlisle. Just Carlisle."

Delighted by his success, Father O'Connor flashed a toothy grin. "Well, 'just' Carlisle, it's a wonderful thing to see a God-fearing man lost in prayer on this holiest of days. Tell me, will I have the pleasure of meeting your family as well?"

Carlisle shook his head. "I doubt it. We're Anglican."

The statement did not deter his new companion.

"Anglican, you say? And yet you still found you're way into a Catholic church. You wouldn't be considering converting now, would you?" said Father O'Connor with a twinkle.

Despite himself, Carlisle's perfect lips curved into a smile. "I'm afraid not. I only came in because I just finished work. I wanted to attend church before returning home. Unfortunately, I don't know where the nearest Anglican one is yet."

He knew he should feel bad about lying - he had no intention of seeking out the nearest Anglican church - even if he did know where it was. In fact, had it not been Christmas Day, he wouldn't even have attended this one. But it was easier than telling a truth that the old man would abhor. If Father O'Connor had any inkling of what he was - if he knew he was conversing with one damned to burn in hell for all eternity …

"Oh, that would be St James' Church on Martin Luther Avenue. It's the other side of town, by the freeway. Pastor Ruiz is the man you want to see there. Nice fellow. Loves his cigars," said the old priest conversationally. He covered his mouth and lowered his voice to a theatrical whisper. "I got him a Cuban one for Christmas, but don't ask me where I got it and, for the love of the wee man, don't tell the authorities. I don't much fancy the thought of prison turkey for Christmas this year, God forgive me!"

Carlisle laughed softly as Father O'Connor crossed himself piously, then winked.

"They won't hear it from me, Father," he promised solemnly, ready to rise and leave the congenial priest to the rest of his duties. But Father O'Connor spoke before he could move.

"Well, that's very decent of you, young Carlisle. Very decent of you to do this old sinner such a favor."

The comment surprised him. "Sinner? You're a man of God, not a sinner."

"Ah, we're all sinners, my child. Even the best of us. Not that I'd necessarily class myself among the best of us. Not at all. I reserve that for the likes of his Holiness, the Pope, or Mother Teresa, God rest her soul. And perhaps David Beckham. Spectacular right foot he's got himself there. Gift from God, if you ask me. Are you much of a footba … I mean soccer fan?"

It was a rather bemused Carlisle who retook his seat.

"I'm afraid not."

"Oh, well, if you get the chance, you should watch him in action. You'll see exactly what I mean. He plays for Real Madrid, although, a little birdie tells me, he may soon be coming to this side of the pond. Imagine that! David Beckham in America!"

The priest beamed in anticipation of this miraculous event, before lowering his voice to whisper again. "But don't you be running around telling everyone I'm his biggest fan, mind. I've a reputation as a man of God to be thinking about."

Again, Carlisle laughed. The mortal had successfully banished his gloominess with only a few words and he found that he enjoyed the man's company. But the priest's next comment took the rug out from under his feet.

"Now that I've told you all my guilty secrets," said Father O'Connor, "perhaps you'd feel a bit better about telling me what it is that's troubling you?"

The smile dropped from Carlisle's lips; he was dismayed by his companion's astuteness.

"Oh, uh, no. There's nothing troubling me," he replied in surprise.

"Is that a fact? It didn't look like it when I saw you at first. In fact, it looked as if you were praying like your very soul depended on it."

Carlisle swallowed an ironic chuckle. His soul? That was the problem. Did he even have one?

Amber eyes flickered past Father O'Connor and settled pensively on the crucifix ahead. He heard the priest's light intake of breath.

"I don't wish to intrude on your troubles, my child; but if you need to lighten your burden, that's what I'm here for."

It was a kind offer, but a useless one. The holy man could not help one such as he, Carlisle knew that. In fact, for both their sakes, the offer should have seen him politely excuse himself and leave St Margaret's as inhumanly fast as his legs would carry him ...

But for some reason, it didn't. Perhaps it was the combination of Christmas and the heavy scent of frankincense pervading the church, or maybe it was the old priest's open manner, or the lingering hope of salvation from the now-absent congregation; but before Carlisle could stop himself, he heard himself say: "You can't lighten my burden. Nobody can."

Father O'Connor's quirked his head to stare at him with gentle admonishment. "This is the house of God, young Carlisle. If ever there was a time or place to share the load, this is it."

Carlisle's gaze remained fixed on the crucifix ahead.

"There are some loads that even He would shun."

"You don't really believe that now, do you?"

Good question. Did he? If he did, then what was he doing here? If he did, then all hope for his family - for himself - was lost, and there was no need to come to a place like this.

But was all hope lost? Did he truly believe that redemption was beyond his kind - or rather, among those of his kind who followed as righteous a path as they could despite their affliction?

"Father, do you believe in salvation for all?" he enquired suddenly.

Whether the priest nodded or not, he couldn't tell, for he was still gazing at the marble depiction of the Savior on the cross. But the old man saved him the trouble of wondering as to his response by verbalising his thoughts.

"I believe salvation is possible for all mankind, if they truly repent of their sins."

"And what about those who don't fall into that category?"

"You mean if they don't repent? Well, then …" began the priest, but Carlisle cut him off.

"No, I mean if they don't fall into the category of mankind."

"Oh. Well, God's a great animal-lover, you know," said the priest with a smile. "I'm sure the birds, beasts and, indeed, all our four-legged friends will go straight to heaven. Sort of makes you wish you'd bypassed the moral struggles of humanity and been born as a basset hound, doesn't it? Or an Irish setter. It's a dog's life, you know."

Father O'Connor had completely misinterpreted him, though it was of little wonder. The mortal couldn't possibly know he was referring to vampires, and Carlisle was hardly going to elaborate. But the tiny frown on his perfect face was not missed by his companion; it prompted the deceptively shrewd priest into further investigation.

"You're not talking about animals either, are you child?" he asked gently.

Carlisle gave himself a mental kick, but it was too late for regret - the man of God had already read the answer in his eyes.

For a moment, there was a puzzled silence. He could feel Father O'Connor's gaze moving over his perfect face, so angelic in its countenance, and knew he was trying to decipher the real meaning behind his words.

"You wouldn't be talking about aliens, now, would you?" he enquired lightly. "'Cos if you are, then I'm sure salvation is open to them, too. After all, even Darth Vader repented, in the end."

It was Carlisle's turn to be puzzled. Who on earth was Darth Vader?

"Course, there's not many people as believes in aliens. But if they're out there, then they're as much God's creations as you or I and, therefore, will enjoy the same fringe benefits as mankind, I'm sure."

He stared incredulously at the smiling face of Father O'Connor, looking for a twitch of the lips or a telltale swallow, but no. The priest wasn't kidding; he actually believed what he'd just said. Did the aged human have a touch of senility? Perhaps he should offer to revise the priest's medication?

Or maybe the man was just a little bit eccentric?


Once more, Carlisle had to work to suppress a chuckle. But a single thought sobered him. Who was he to judge what others believed? He was a vampire, wasn't he? Living proof that the extraordinary existed.

"Aliens. Of course," he began, willing to keep an open mind. If nothing else, Father O'Connor's little eccentricity would help him to explain himself without actually exposing himself. "What if one of these 'aliens' was born to destroy mankind? Would he still deserve salvation?"

Father O'Connor's face puckered into a frown, but he seemed as ready to accept the scenario as Carlisle was to use it.

"That would depend. Did this alien - let's give him a name, shall we? How about Ming the Merciless? I was a big fan of Flash Gordon in my youth - did Ming actually kill anyone?"

"No, he didn't. No, wait; yes, he did. But only to save them."

"Ah, now you've confused me, young Carlisle. How could he do that?"

"Let's just say that they were already dying and it was his only option to save them. To give them life, of sorts, after death."

"None can give life after death but God, my child. Still, we're talking extra-terrestrials here, and who knows what medical advancements they've made that we don't know about? So I'll go along with it. What sort of life would Ming be giving them?"

"One that would see them live forever."

"Ah, a sort of elvish existence. Do you read Tolkien?"

"Yes," said Carlisle dubiously, now certain that he'd stumbled onto the world's most eccentric priest.

"Grand. He's my favourite author. Next to that lass who wrote about the boy wizard. So, Ming the Merciless gives them a sort of elvish existence, is that right?"

He shook his head. "Not entirely. This existence he gives them is not as innocent as that of your elves. It's an unnatural one - traditionally feared in the eyes of men. And not without good reason. It's an existence that he knows will also be abhorred by God."

"Ah, so Ming is a man of faith. Glad to hear it. Always helps, you know."

"But their existence is unnatural, Father," Carlisle reminded him. "Ming's existence is unnatural."

"That may well be, but you made a point of stating that it was traditionally feared. That leads me to believe that Ming - unnatural though you claim him to be - is trying to break with that tradition, is he not?"

"Well, yes …"

"Now, I'm not condoning this Ming fellow's taking of a life but, you claim that he only killed to save, is that right?"


"So there was no true evil intent behind these acts?"

"No! Never that. He could never do that. It's the reason he broke with tradition. You see, Father, Ming was transformed into one of these, um, 'alien elves' against his own will. And being one of them, it should have been his own nature to kill. But …"

He broke off and ran a hand over his forehead.

"But he couldn't?" supplied Father O'Connor helpfully.

Carlisle nodded. "He couldn't. His life before death was devoted to the very same God that would damn him now. He lived to serve the Creator, preached His word regularly, loved Him, worshipped Him. How could he ignore his faith simply because fate had played such a cruel trick on him? Turned him into someone … something … whose very existence was an insult to his God?"

"I would imagine he couldn't. True faith is a gift that's not easily destroyed."

A wry grin made its way across the vampire's face. "A gift, indeed. But also a curse."

Father O'Connor frowned. "Is that so? And are those your thoughts, or Ming's?"

"Ming's, of course."

"Ah, well. And why would the poor fellow think that?"

"Because he has no soul."

"Holy Mother of God! He's got himself into a right sorry state, hasn't he?" said the priest conversationally, placing an elbow on the wooden pew and resting his chin in his hand.

Carlisle wasn't sure how seriously the old man was taking their conversation, but he continued all the same, eager to hear his thoughts - however bizarre they were turning out to be. "Yes. But don't forget, it wasn't his fault."

"Oh, I know that. It was the evil alien elf's fault - the one who made him what he was. I have to tell you though, if Ming is trying to be a better elf, and his faith in God is helping him to this end, who are you or I to say he doesn't have a soul?"

A good question. But the vampire refused to allow it to give him false hope.

"It is God Himself who says that."

"Is that right? Sure, this Ming fellow's quite the character, isn't he? Did God himself come all the way down from Heaven just to tell him that in person?"

It was an absurd question.

"Of course not. But God's law would not allow his existence. Therefore, when he departed his true life to become …"

"A not-so-evil alien elf?" interrupted the priest.

"Er, yes … an alien elf, he broke God's law."

"I have to tell you, child, that in all the versions of the Bible, the Koran or any other holy work I've ever read, not once did I stumble across a law that said 'evil alien elves have no soul'. And I strongly suspect that no such law was ever in written in any holy scripture, either."

The elegant vampire clenched his poisonous teeth in frustration. "Perhaps mankind didn't know about evil aliens when the Bible was written. Regardless of that fact, Ming has no soul. Not anymore. It doesn't matter that he lives by God's creed, or obeys his holy commandments; that he strives to do only good because he wishes to help others; to rally against the curse of his fate. He is an abhorrence. He knows this. And he knows what awaits him after his unnatural life ends."

"And what's that?"

The answer was so soft, that the priest had to strain to hear it.

"Eternal damnation."

The words hung in the air like a bad smell. The realization of his fate stabbed Carlisle as no mortal blade could, twisting in his gut like a living thing. He ran a gloved hand across his forehead, pretending to swipe away his bangs; in reality the gesture was little more than an attempt to discreetly mask the flicker of pain that danced across his face.

To his surprise, he felt Father O'Connor's warm hand settle on his other arm. He raised his amber orbs and found the priest's blue ones staring at him intently.

"Son, there is not a man - or an elf - on this earth that knows his final fate. Only the Creator himself knows that. If this Ming did not ask to be what he was, and if he truly wishes only to serve the Heavenly Father, then neither you nor I can say for certain that it is his fate to be damned, despite his … alien elvishness. We all have our crosses to bear, child; some are heavier than others. It doesn't matter who or what we are. It only matters that we each bear our cross with humility, as Christ bore His for all mankind. And as He bore it for Ming the Merciless, too."

There was such faith and compassion in the old priest's eyes that Carlisle couldn't help but respond with a smile.

"Thank you, Father. I'm sure Ming would be relieved to hear that," he said, feeling the first burst of hope he'd had in years.

"Of course," continued Father O'Connor with a stern look, "Ming still shouldn't be running around turning other folks into elves. He might have had no say in his own condition, but that very fact should make him hesitate before inflicting it on others. Not everyone may be as strong in faith as he is. What if he created a killer - the very thing he's trying to avoid becoming himself?"

"… He might have had no say in his own condition, but that very fact should make him hesitate before inflicting it on others …"

Father O'Connor's words rang in his ears like a gentle, but persistent accusation, and it gave him pause as he mulled over them.

Carlisle had known the spiritual ramifications of his existence long before he met Edward, yet it hadn't stopped him from turning the boy into one of the damned. True, he had only wished to save Edward - he had been so moved to pity by the dying Elizabeth Masen that he had acquiesced to her final wish and spared her child from sharing her fate in the only way he knew how. But had he really had Edward's best interests at heart? Had he considered that vampirism would put Edward's soul at risk? Or had the decision been based more on Carlisle's own desperate desire for companionship?

It was a troubling question, and one that required careful consideration before he could answer it honestly.

He turned his mind to Father O'Connor's comment about creating a killer. In all the centuries of his afterlife, he had actually only turned a handful of people - most of those in his family - and even then only after carefully weighing the decision against whether he could control them until they could master control of themselves. Fortunately, they had achieved this. Edward had been a worry a few decades ago, but he had eventually returned to the fold repentant, ready to commit himself anew to a life of abstinence. Jasper … well, Jasper's past was out of Carlisle's control, and his newest son did find vegetarianism a little challenging; but it helped that Jasper wanted to change, to be more than a mindless killer. And with the Cullens' guidance and Alice's love, he could not fail to attain that goal.

Be that as it may, Carlisle knew he had taken a risk with each transformation that he had initiated. But what if he hadn't been so lucky in his choices? What if he had kneeled by Esme's bed and created a monster instead of the gentle wife he loved? What if Edward had continued feeding on rapists and murderers? Criminals or not, Carlisle was surely as equally culpable in their deaths, he having transformed Edward. And what if his son had not been able to draw the line at society's darker class - what if he had begun to feed on innocents too?

"You're right. Of course you are," he admitted in a slight daze. "Ming never meant to damn anyone, or to create killers. He only wished for a family to call his own. Perhaps that was naïve - selfish even. But he was so lonely, Father. So very lonely. And this family he created? If it can atone for what he did in any way, they do all cherish the values he lives by."

At least, they do now.

"Yet you have made very valid points, Father," continued the gentle vampire. "It may well be that Ming's family is finally big enough. Perhaps it's time for him to concentrate on saving people the old-fashioned way, and accept the inevitable when he can't. There are worse things in life than death, after all."

He should know.

"That there are, son. That there are. But I'm glad to know that Ming will be mending his ways. Salvation will come to any and all who truly repent. And if Ming can do that, he has as good a shot at Heaven as you or I. Well, maybe a better shot at it than me: I don't expect he deals in illegal contraband."

At Carlisle's bemused frown, Father O'Connor elaborated with a theatrical hiss.

"Cuban cigars."

They shared a laugh and when Carlisle rose to leave, this time his companion did not try to stop him. Instead, the old man rose in kind, collected his pile of prayer books with one hand and grasped his gloved hand with the other, shaking it warmly.

"It was a right pleasure meeting you, young Carlisle. I can't remember the last time I had such an interesting theological discussion."

Carlisle smiled at the priest's continued reference to him as 'young'. If the kindly human only knew he was at least twice as old as the building they stood in …

"The pleasure was all mine," he replied graciously, meaning every word. It had been many years since he had felt as unburdened as he did now. Perhaps Father O'Connor hadn't been able to give him any guarantees of salvation, but he had given him something just as precious: hope.

And that was a start.

"Merry Christmas, Father O'Connor. May God bless this and all your days with His holy presence."

The priest flashed his dentures in response. "The same to you, child. Don't forget, if you ever feel like converting, you know where to find me. Pastor Ruiz won't mind. Not really."

With a laugh Carlisle bid him farewell and turned, making the rest of his way out the church as silently as he'd made his way in; but this time with a considerably lighter heart. Just as he reached the marbled archway which marked the exit, his keen ears picked up a final, soft farewell from his kindly new friend.

"Cheerio Ming. See you in Heaven."

Smiling softly, Carlisle left St. Margaret's with renewed hope.




Chapter End Notes:


Author's Note: Credit: Ming the Merciless is a character created and owned by Alex Raymond, also (possibly) King Features (if they still exist), multiple TV and movie studios, and every one else but me. I only used his name a few times in my story because, well, Father O'Connor is a bit of a strange old bloke and he insisted on it.

Again, I'm a Scot, not an American, so I'd ask any cousins from across the Pond to forgive my lack of knowledge on the local lingo, or any errors in spelling American English.

On a further note, perhaps it's a bit unrealistic to expect that Carlisle would unburden himself to a stranger, or that said stranger (especially a priest) would take the tale in his stride and act so benevolently, but, hey! Stranger things have happened. If only I could remember one to quote ...

Kara's Aunty :)


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