"In photography, there are no shadows that cannot be illuminated."

August Sander

The ride home from Angela's house nearly kills me. I don't know if it's because it's New Year's Eve or because we both know we're going to be alone for the next twenty-four hours or so, or if it's because we finally said "I love you." There's something hanging in the air. It's like expectation and anticipation, and I don't know if I should be excited or scared shitless. Right now I'm pretty sure I'm leaning toward excited. Maybe just a little scared.

Okay, maybe more than a little.

All I know is that I've been anxious to get her alone since that night on her dad's porch. I've been waiting longer than that, really, but it's like everything since that night is so much more intense. Every time she looks at me, I feel it. I don't know why those words changed everything, but they did.

She's looking at me tonight like this is going to happen. I can't hide from her any more and I don't want to. I've been waiting so fucking long to be close to her like this. I'm tired of being afraid and pushing her away when that's the last thing I want to do. My scars aren't going away anytime soon, and I don't want her to go anywhere, either. I want her in my life, permanently if she'll have me, and I'm going to have to man up and come clean if I want that to happen. It's not just physical – it never was with her. I don't want to lie to her or make excuses anymore.

I want to touch her, everywhere. I want her to touch me. I want to watch her beneath me and not worry about having to slow down or stop. I just want her. I need to stop thinking about how badly or I'm going to embarrass myself before we even make it home.

She must be able to tell that I'm on edge, because she reaches out for my hand. I laugh nervously, letting her touch soothe me like it always does. I don't know what she expects from this… from tonight. I know she's had sex before, and she knows I haven't. I'm tired of being ashamed of that. I just hope I don't mess this up.

"So," she says, startling me out of my thoughts.

"So," I answer, grinning.

"Do you make resolutions?" She seems nervous, too. She keeps biting her lip, and her foot has been tapping practically since we got in the car. She pulls my hand into her lap, wrapping both of hers around it. I love it when she does that.

"Not usually. Are you trying to distract me?"

"Maybe. Is it working?"

"Maybe." Yes. "Do you?"

"Do I what?"

"Make resolutions."

"Not usually. I mean, nothing specific." She pauses, watching the way her fingers move over my hand while she thinks. "If I write them out, it just seems like a laundry list of rules waiting to be broken. I just tell myself I'll be a little better, and maybe a little wiser. Hopefully happier. That's usually enough for me."

"You're easy to please," I tease. I'm lucky she is. Or at least lucky that she's happy with me. God, I hope she's as happy as I am.

"Lucky for you," she says.

I laugh, because this isn't the first time she's said exactly what I've been thinking. It makes me wonder if I'm that easy to read or if she just knows how to read me. My eyes are on the road even though they want to be on her, and I can't wipe the grin off my face.

"And were you happier last year than you were in oh-eight?" I ask. I'm trying to be nonchalant, but she'll see right through me. I want her to say yes. Please say yes.

"You know I was. This year looks pretty promising so far, too," she says. I don't know if I'm more comforted by her words or the way she says them, soft and sweet and just for me. I can hear her smile. I kiss her palm and then the little scar on her finger. "What about you?"

"What kind of question is that?" I ask. She's ridiculous sometimes. I squeeze her hand tighter and try to be serious for a moment. "I hope I don't have to tell you how you've changed my life, Bella. If you don't know that, I'm doing something wrong."

"I think I know. I just like to make you say it."

We're quiet again, and I don't know how to tell her what I'm thinking. Just thinking about my mother makes me tense, and I don't want her to ruin our night. Bella might freak out about it, but I have to get this out there. I'm going to need her support if I want to go through with this. It should probably embarrass me that I need her so much, but it doesn't. I want her with me.

"I think I know how I might be happier," I say. "She's not going to give up. She's sent two letters already, and I don't think it's going to stop. I don't think I can move on until I know what she wants. I think Rosie's leaning the same way, but maybe I should make contact first. I need to make sure it's okay – make sure it's safe for her."

"I think that's probably a good idea, but you need to talk about it with Rosie. You can't leave her out of this decision. It's both of your futures."

"I won't. I just need to protect her as much as I can."

"You can't protect her from everything, Jasper," she whispers. "She's not a little girl anymore."

I know she's right. God, I wish I didn't know just how fast Rosie's had to grow up.

"I know. She really surprises me with how strong she is sometimes."

"She gets it from you," she says. I smile, embarrassed. She gets it from our dad. "So what are you going to do?"

"I guess I'll have to write her a letter. She didn't leave a phone number, just an address. Will you help me write it?"

"Do you really have to ask?"

"I guess not," I say, grinning. That's exactly what I was hoping to hear.

We're quiet the rest of the way home, and I can feel her getting nervous as we walk in from the car. Her hand tightens around mine, her shoulders tense, and her free arm wraps itself around her chest. I don't want this to be awkward. I want to get back the excitement and forget the nerves. I know she wants this as much as I do. We've both been waiting too long.

As soon as we're in the door, I push her up against it and kiss her. If she's surprised, she doesn't show it. She laughs against my lips and brings her hands up to my hair. God, I love it when she does that. She scratches my scalp and then tugs on my hair just a little – just enough to make my stomach jump. I need to get her undressed. I unbutton her coat as fast as I can, trying to hide the way my hands are shaking. At this point I don't know or care if it's nerves or adrenaline or desperation – I just keep going. She seems to be thinking the same, though, and she helps me pull her coat off and then watches while I take off my own.

I smile, taking in the way her eyes follow my movements. She wants me. I know I can be confident in that, even if the rest of this is uncertain. Bella wants me, and I want her.

I take her hand and pull her toward my room. I leave the lights off; the moon is bright enough that I can see her, but it's still dark enough that my scars won't freak her out too much. I hope.

The soft light falls across her face, and I can't believe I could be this lucky. She's beautiful. She's perfect and beautiful, and for some reason I'll never understand, she loves me. She's here.

I unbutton my shirt slowly, and now I feel the nerves kick back in. This is the first time I've ever willingly shown someone the scars on my back. I know I shouldn't doubt her, but – fuck. What if it's too much for her? My fingers start to shake as she moves toward me. She reaches out to untuck my shirt, then watches as she drops it to the ground. I can feel my breaths coming faster and faster. My heart is pounding in my chest.

She reaches out to unbuckle my belt, and I can't breathe. The weight on my chest is crushing me. I try to breathe faster but I can't get enough air. It hurts. And then Bella's gone.

I see my mother, her eyes red and glassy. I hear the ice clinking around in her empty glass. I smell the vodka on her breath. I can practically taste it. I hear Elvis playing in the background. I hear her glass shatter and I feel so alone. I know what comes next. She wrenches my belt off, and I'm not strong enough to stop her. It's happening all over again. I'm on the floor, listening to my mother's angry shouts and Rosie's terrified cries. I hear leather flying through the air and the sickening thud as it makes contact with my skin. The pain is so real, so intense. I smell the blood, rusty and thick in the air. It makes me nauseous. I taste my own salty tears, and I'm angry all over again that they're there. I try to concentrate on anything but the pain. I try to focus on the smells, but they just make me nauseous. I try to listen to the music, but all I can hear is Rosie.

All there is is pain – pain in my chest, in my heart, on my skin, in my head. Pain surrounds me and swallows me whole.

My mother's screams start to grow faint, and the crying gets louder. Much louder. I don't feel the sting of the belt anymore, but soft skin warm against mine. Then suddenly it's not my mother shouting my name… it's Bella sobbing it. And then I realize it's not my tears I taste – it's hers.

Jasper. Jasper? Oh God, please, Jasper.

It's Bella, shaking in my arms.

Don't do this. Come back to me.

It's Bella, on my lap, her hands on my cheeks.

Jasper, please come back.

It's Bella, begging and pleading against a ghost she doesn't even understand yet.

I love you. Please, don't do this.

"Bella," I gasp, pulling her as close as I can. I brush my lips against her neck. I'm desperate to feel her. She cries quietly while I rub her back to soothe her. "Shh, I'm here. Please don't cry, Bella."

I feel her gradually relax, and she leans back until I can see her face. Her eyes are red and wet and swollen, her skin splotchy, and her eyebrows are creased with worry. She looks like she's been crying for a long time; I don't have any idea how long I've been out of it.

It kills me that I do this to her. It's not enough that I'm so fucked up; she has to witness it. She has to be scared and worried while she watches me fall apart. She sees me at my weakest moments, when I'm this pathetic shadow of the man I want to be for her. She sees everything, and it brings her to tears.

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," she whispers. "I was just so scared."

"Hey, don't you dare apologize to me," I say. I wipe the tears away with my thumbs and then kiss her tear-stained skin. I did that to her. I made her cry, and she's apologizing. "You found me, Bella. You always find me."

"I thought I wasn't going to be able to," she says, and it makes me feel sick. "You were so far away. I don't know what I did wrong this time."

"You never do anything wrong, Bella. It's all me. I can't even let my girlfriend take off my fucking belt without remembering my mother," I say angrily. My hands are everywhere – in her hair, around her waist. My thumb brushes against that spot on her neck that makes her squirm. I can't let go. I can't make myself stop touching her. Right now, she's the only thing keeping me from the darkness.

"It's not your fault," she says. "We need to work through this together. Tell me what happened. Where did you go?"

This is what I've been dreading since the moment Bella Swan walked into my life. I knew if I wanted to keep her, we'd eventually get to this point. And now we're here, and I'm so fucking scared I'm going to lose her. I wasn't this scared the night I got these scars, but I'm scared now.

"I – I need to show you," I say. "You need to see my scars to understand. I just – I don't know how. I've never done this before, Bella. I've never been this close to anyone. I've never shown them to anyone. Rosie and my mom saw them when it happened. Garrett found them later, right before Mom lost custody. No one else."

"What are you afraid of?" she whispers. Her eyes are round and deep, innocent, and all I want is to get lost in them right now. It's too late for that, though. It's too late to run away from this, from her, and I don't think I could do it if I tried.

"It makes me sick when I see them," I admit. "I can't imagine what you'll think."

She runs her fingers through my hair, and just from her touch I start to relax. She's watching me, gauging me, for what I'm not sure. She doesn't look at me like she pities me, though, and I'm relieved. She's never looked at me like that. I hope that doesn't change.

"I know that to you, they're more than just marks on your flesh. They go so much deeper. They're reminders of everything that's gone wrong in your life, but you can't let them define you anymore. To me, you're so much more than what you've suffered. You have to see that."

I don't know what to say. I dig my fingers into her hips, needing to feel her. I feel weak and anxious, but somehow holding her brings me back from the edge. I feel more alive, more in control. She always brings me back.

"I don't know how to get past it," I say. "They're always there… haunting me. Every time I look in the mirror – every time I see them – all I can think about is the pain."

I hear the weakness in my own voice and I fucking hate it. I hate that she can hear it. But this is as honest as it gets, right here. This is where I lay it all bare and hope to God she's as strong as I think she is. Because the Bella I know isn't going to run away from this, and it's time I accept that. The Bella I love isn't afraid to be strong. She isn't afraid to love me. She's known since that very first day she kissed me in the darkroom that this wasn't going to be easy. I gave her the chance to walk away, but she didn't. She grabbed on with both hands and she tried to pull me out of the shadows. It's time for me to stop dragging my feet and give myself the chance to be happy. I want to be happy.

I want to make Bella happy.

"Maybe we can do something about that," she says, slowly. "Do you trust me?"

"Of course I do."

"Okay, then take off your shirt and lie on your back. I'm turning on the light."

"Wait – Bella, please. I don't know if I can –"

Before I can finish, she's kissing me. Her hands are warm and soft on my face, but strong, pulling me to her. It's slow and patient, and so like Bella. She knows exactly what I need – exactly how to calm me. She pulls away, her eyes on mine again. She's confident, and even though I'm nervous, I trust her. I know we're ready for this.

"Please, just trust me. If it's too much, I'll stop. I love you… let me show you."

I nod my approval, and when she climbs off of me to turn the lights on, I quickly pull off my undershirt and lie back against the pillows. I'm tense, my hands clenched in fists at my sides, and I try to slow my breathing in order to feel more in control. My heart pounds painfully in my chest.

Then I feel her fingers on my skin. I shudder – a reflex – but I'm calmer than I expected to be. She's never seen the roughness on my chest from my scalding burn, but she doesn't seem put off by it. She strokes the skin there tenderly, her eyes soft and reassuring. I feel my heart relax and my breathing slow. She always brings me back.

"I want to tell you what happened… what she did. It's – it's a lot, Bella. I'm worried it'll be too much."

"I'm right here," she whispers. She kisses the cigarette burns on my neck and then rests her head on my chest. "I'm not going anywhere."

I feel nervous but relaxed… scared but reassured. Everything is a mess, but this is exactly where I want to be.

"I know you aren't."

I wrap my arms around her, pulling her close. Her skin is soft against mine, and being able to touch her like this keeps me calm while I talk.

I tell her everything.

I tell her about Elvis and the alcohol. I tell her about all burns, broken glass, and fists. I tell her about the belt on New Year's Eve. I tell her about the locks on our doors and the way Rosie used to cry out for me. I tell her about first aid kits and bruises and lies. I tell her about Garrett. I tell her about tears and broken promises. I tell her about cruelty and neglect. I tell her about disappointment. I tell her about grief and how it destroys people. I tell her about Rosie and how she kept me alive.

When I get overwhelmed, Bella's right there to comfort me. She sits behind me, her chest against my back, and somehow that's enough to keep me grounded. She touches my scars, kisses them even, and I let her. I've never let anyone touch them before, and definitely not like this. But Bella isn't just anyone. She never has been. I've never needed anyone like I need her. I've never enjoyed anyone's touch before hers. Even while I sit here at my weakest, telling her all the secrets I've been trying so hard to keep, I still want her.

I crave her.

I don't stop talking until there's nothing left to say.

"Rosie stayed with me through all of it. She never left my side," I say. "God, Bella. She was eight years old. She should never have had to do that. I was supposed to take care of her. That was the day she really grew up, and it was way too fucking soon."

If I'd had my way, Rosie would never have known about any of it. I would have been able to fix our mom for her. I would've made sure Rosie didn't have a reason to be scared or sad or lonely. I would've made everything right. But I couldn't.

"She loves you. You didn't let anything touch her for almost ten years, Jasper. How much do you think those ten years mean to Rosalie? That's her childhood. It means everything. You both have scars, and not just the ones you can see. Neither one of you made it out unscathed. The important thing is that you both made it out."

"You make it easy to forget all of it," I admit. "You make me feel like I deserve to be happy… like I deserve a life. I want a life with you, Bella."

"You deserve everything," she whispers. She moves her fingers in circles over my back, pausing to kiss between my shoulder blades. "You're so beautiful."

I can't help myself – I laugh. Not because it's funny, because this is the farthest thing from funny. I laugh because she can't be serious. My mangled, jagged skin is the furthest thing from beautiful. It's tangible pain and ugliness, written all over my body in broad strokes. I feel myself losing control again. My heart pounds against my ribs and my vision is going dark.

But then she's there. She crawls into my lap like it's nothing, pushes me back into the pillows like it's no big deal. I'm too scared to look at her. I don't know what I'll see.

"How can you think these are beautiful?" I ask. "All I see is pain and cruelty and weakness. I should have gotten Rosie away from her sooner. I should have let Garrett help us or tried to find my grandparents. Every one of these reminds me of how I've failed Rosie."

"You don't see yourself clearly. You were just a boy, Jasper. You were scared and you were alone, and you never should have had to make those kinds of decisions. You did the best you could with what you were given. You can't continue to beat yourself up over this. You gave Rosalie a happy, stable, safe home. She's alive, Jasper. But more than that... she's flourishing. She's vibrant and lovely and self-confident, and just as strong and loyal as her brother. Can't you see what you've done for her? What you've given her?"

"I wanted to give her more. She deserves everything."

"You are everything to her, Jasper. Everything. You're her brother, her best friend, her provider, and her rock. You've done so much more for her than you give yourself credit for. You've given her back her life."

I shake my head, refusing to believe her. She doesn't know what it was like back then – what I was like. She has no idea what it felt like to look at the bruises blooming on Rosie's skin and to know I may as well have put them there myself. She's never had to walk away from someone the way I had to walk away from Rosie every day when she was with the Cullens. She doesn't know any of that, but she wants to. She wants to know me. All of me. I don't understand that, and I might never, but I know I can't walk away from that.

Her fingers move over the scars on my chest, and I reach out until my hand covers hers. I don't understand her. She touches me like it's nothing, like she's not disgusted or horrified or even uncomfortable. She touches me like it's easy as breathing, and that's exactly what I want. It's exactly what I need.

"How can you look at these the way you do? Let alone touch them," I whisper. "They disgust me. I just don't understand how you can look past all of this."

At that she sighs, then lifts my chin until I'm looking her in the eye. I don't know what I was afraid of finding there, but I don't see it. I see her big, brown eyes, and the faint freckles across her nose. I see Bella.

"Can I please explain to you what I see?" She stops, her finger tracing over the cigarette burns on my neck. "When I look at these, I see a man who loves unconditionally. Someone who's devoted and fiercely loyal. Someone who gave up his own childhood to spare his sister's. I see a man who, even as a boy, stood up for what was right, no matter the cost. Every one of these is a part of you, Jasper. They tell your story, but they don't write it. They show me who you are and what you're capable of, but they don't dictate that. You are the most beautiful man I've ever known, not despite these scars but because of them. I love you. Every part of you."

Her words light me up; I can't contain it. I smile, reaching out to touch her. Sometimes I wonder how she can be real. I wonder how someone like me could be so lucky to have this girl right in front of me. But she is – I can feel her. Her skin is warm and smooth when I touch it. Her hair is so soft when I wrap my fingers in it. I lean in, and her lips are even softer when I kiss her. Our kiss pushes away everything but what's right here in front of me. It's only Bella. Bella, who loves me. Bella, who doesn't turn away from who I am and who I used to be. Bella, who wants a future with me. There's nothing else.

I pull away, laughing at the way her eyebrows furrow when I do. She wants more and so do I, but I intend to enjoy every second of this.

"You've seen all my battle scars now," I explain. I bring her hand to my lips so I can kiss the scar on her fingertip. "I think it's your turn to show me yours."

"I think you already know most of mine," she says, laughing.

"I'd still like to see them all again."

She shivers, and I can tell by the fire in her eyes that she's excited. She gets it now.

"Where would you like to start?" she teases. Her voice is low and soft, like she's sharing this secret just with me.

"Remind me about this one. The swing?" I slide my hands along her jaw, pulling her toward me until I can kiss the tiny scar above her eyebrow.

"Yes. I tried to fly, but I fell," she says. I think of her, happy and carefree as she swings through the air, and I laugh. "There's one here, too."

She holds out her forearm, and I see a tiny white circle just beneath the crook of her elbow. It's almost perfectly round, and for a second I think it looks familiar, but I can't think of why. I kiss it, then the inside of her elbow, and I smile to myself at the goose bumps I gave her.

"What happened?" I ask.

"Charlie took me fishing when I was six. I kept pouting because he wouldn't let me cast my rod by myself. I told him I was a big girl and he should let me prove it. He laughed and told me to give it my best shot. I caught my own arm on my first cast."

She looks distant, a small smile on her lips, and I wonder what she sees in that memory with her dad.

"What else are you hiding?" I murmur, and I watch her eyes come back to life. She reaches down to the bottom of her shirt, and my heart starts pounding in my chest when she pulls it over her head, throwing it off somewhere behind me. I reach out, my hands sliding into place at her hips. They fit there perfectly, like I was made to do this – like I was made for her. I start to protest when she lifts up and turns around, but then I remember we're on a mission here.

"My shoulder," she says. "You've seen this one already, too."

I reach out, twisting her hair around my hand and then sliding it over her shoulder. I lean in close, and she's right, I've seen this one. I saw it that day in the darkroom, and it was beautiful. I see it now, pale white against already pale skin. I slide a finger beneath her bra strap and tug it slowly until it's hanging off her shoulder. I don't want anything in my way right now. I move my lips along the length of her scar, and I wonder if I'm making her as crazy as she's making me right now.

"Twenty-eight stitches. Your personal best, right?" he asks.

"Yes. How'd you remember?"

"I remember everything you say, Bella."

She turns back around, sliding her hands slowly up my chest and into my hair. She tugs, pulling me close enough to kiss me. She kisses me like she's hungry for me, and it gives me the courage to take control. I flip her over onto her back, and I'm above her, breathing slowly and trying not to lose my mind here. She's so fucking beautiful right now. Her hair is crazy and dark against my pillows, her eyes are wild, and she's smiling at me like she knows something I don't.

"There's one on my right shin," she whispers.

I smile, lifting her leg so I can take a closer look. A much closer look. It's a small group of white marks, and I have no idea what the hell she did to herself.

"What did you do here?" I ask, laughing. "It looks like shrapnel or something."

"Practically. We set off fireworks at Ben's parents' lake house on the Fourth of July two years ago. It was a little too windy, and a Roman candle blew off course and burned me."

She laughs quietly at the memory, and I lean in to kiss her scars one by one. Most of them are tiny, but there's one particularly large one on her knee that I pay special attention to. I move back up to kiss her again. It's quick and needy, and before I can really get into it she pulls away.

"I have one more," she whispers.

"Where?" I might have been the one to start this game, but I can't take much more of it.

"I had to have my appendix removed when I was fifteen. Charlie panicked – my stomach hurt so bad I thought I was dying. They took me in for emergency surgery, and I got to miss two weeks of school."

She takes my hand, guiding it down her stomach to a spot just below her bellybutton. I can feel the raised skin there, and I follow it back and forth for a moment. Fuck. I lean down and find the same spot with my lips, kissing along the mark as gently as I can. I feel like a man on the edge right now. I'm on the edge of something scary and fucking fantastic, and I want to fall in head first. I'm ready for this.

"I think this one is my favorite," I admit, smiling against her skin.

"Jasper, come here."

Her voice is soft and shaky, and I feel her tremble as I kiss my way back up her body.

"Bella, are you sure this is what you want?" I'm whispering right in her ear, hoping she won't be swayed by the want in my voice and the need in my eyes. I need her to want this as much as I do.

"This is exactly what I want. Please don't stop."

I smile. She wants this – she wants me. God, I hope I don't mess this up for her.

"I haven't – I don't know…" I hedge, "I mean, you know I've never done this before."

"Shh, it's okay," she whispers. "I'll show you."

Her words give me new confidence. I might not have a lot of experience, but I have experience with Bella. I know how to kiss her until her heart is pounding. I know how to touch her to make her breathing ragged. I know she wants me and she trusts me. I know I can trust her.

I kiss her, and I forget everything else but her. Her lips are so, so soft. We strip off our clothes, and then it's just us, and it doesn't matter that this is all new to me or that two hours ago I was scared shitless to even take my shirt off. All that matters is this girl – this woman in front of me, beneath me. She's beautiful and perfect, and she's here. She's mine.

My hands are everywhere, tracing all the best parts of her. I love the way her skin breaks out in goose bumps where I touch her. I love that she lets out a little gasp against when my thumbs brush over her nipples. They get hard as soon as I start paying attention to them, and I smile to myself because I did that to her. I know her. I kiss along her neck and her collarbone, and then down to her breasts. I take one nipple in my mouth, and this time she lets out more than just a little gasp. This time it's this amazing combination of a moan and my name, and I want to hear more of it.

My hand moves down her waist and over her hip. God, I love her hips. They're curvy and perfect, and my hand fits so well there. I pull her closer to me. She hitches her leg around mine, and I groan against her skin. I can feel her laughing breathily beneath me.

I bring my hand down to her knee, and then up the inside of her thigh, slowly, teasing her. I hear my name again, and this time it's desperate. I can't get enough of her. Her reactions are driving me crazy, and I don't know how much longer I'm going to be able to stay in control. There's no way I'm going to last very long once I'm inside her.

I kiss her neck, just under her jaw, in that spot I know drives her wild. She guides my fingers higher, where she wants them. At first I'm careful, but the sounds she's making are so encouraging. She's all whispers and soft moans, and the way she's moving against me is driving me insane. Pretty soon her hand falls away, and I'm on my own. I take over eagerly, stroking her a little faster and a little harder. I go back to kissing along her neck, loving the way her fingers pull roughly at my hair. I know she's close now – I can feel it in the way she pulls me closer, her chest heaving and her breath getting more and more ragged. She whispers my name as her whole body tenses, her fingers pulling my hair so tight it almost hurts. This, right here, is officially the most amazing moment of my life so far.

I'm breathing almost as fast as she is at this point, and I'm pretty sure I'm harder than I've ever been in my life. This is it. I'm hovering over her, ready, but frozen. It suddenly hits me like a ton of bricks that we're about to really do this. I can feel her, hot and wet against me already. All I have to do is push forward. I don't know what I'm waiting for.

Like always, Bella is there to bring me back. She kisses me, hard and desperate, and reaches down to guide me into her. And then my world goes still.

I can't move.

I can't breathe.

Everything is good and warm – so warm. I'm shaking, trying to pull myself together. I vaguely hear Bella whispering in my ear while I try to move. She's urging me on, telling me it's okay and I'm good, so good. I feel sluggish and clumsy, but fuck… I don't even care. She feels amazing. She's warm and soft and… oh my god.

I focus on her, on the way her eyes widen and she bites her lip. I feel her hands on my back, tracing over my scars, and it sends a shiver through my body. I pull her closer, needing to feel her – to feel more. Her breath is hot against my skin, and I can hear her: sometimes my name, sometimes just sounds, all of it amazing.

I can feel myself losing control, but I can't close my eyes. I don't want to miss this.

She kisses me as I come, and all I can think is Bella, Bella, Bella.

She turns off the light and lies down against me. My heart is beating out so hard I'm sure she can hear it. I feel like all my limbs have turned to jello, and it's fucking amazing. I don't ever want to move from this spot. I want to keep my girl in my arms, naked on my chest. I run my fingers slowly over her back, and I realize that this moment, right here – this is what happy feels like. This is everything I want for the rest of my life.

"Jasper?"

"Hmm?" I answer lazily.

"Have you ever seen a therapist about all of this?"

I hesitate for a minute, trying to pull myself out of my Bella coma.

"We both went to one right after we got away, but things were different then. It didn't really help me, and I didn't think I needed it. I mostly agreed to appease Garrett."

"How were things different?"

"It all just seemed so much easier then. I didn't have these… episodes… like I do now. I guess I was high on the thrill of finally being free."

"When did they start?"

"Maybe two years later? The nightmares started right before that. At first, I thought the episodes were from lack of sleep, but they just kept getting worse. I thought they had been getting better since I met you, but then tonight… this one was so much worse again."

She's quiet for a while, and I can tell she's working up to something. I wait patiently, rubbing her back slowly.

"I think – I think it might be a good idea for you to try therapy again," she whispers. I freeze. "You were so far away tonight. I think it's more than just memories… you once said that it's like you're reliving your past. You were totally lost to me. First, your eyes go empty. Then your skin goes cold and clammy, and your heart beats way too fast. Sometimes you gasp for air. It scares me, Jasper. I'm scared that one day you won't come back."

I haven't thought about going back to therapy in a long, long time. It's something I wrote off a long time ago. Maybe it's time to give it another chance.

I hate hearing how much this affects her. I don't want to put her through this anymore. She's right. It's time for me to man up and do something to fix myself. I want to make myself good enough for her. It doesn't matter that I have a past I wish I could forget. It doesn't matter that she's better than me in so many ways, or that there are a million different reasons we shouldn't work out. All that matters is that this is what I want. This is what I need. And I promise myself that I'm going to do whatever it takes to make sure nothing gets in our way anymore. I want to walk that line for her.

I pull her closer, kissing her forehead while her fingers trace soft circles over my chest.

"I think you might be right. It worries me, too. I don't want to be like my mom. If I need help, I'm not afraid to go and get it."

"Thank you," she says, kissing the spot right over my heart. "I love you."

"I love you, too," I say, chuckling.

I'm happier right now than I can ever remember being. I feel Bella relax against me, finally, and before too long her breathing slows and evens out. She's asleep, peaceful, and so beautiful right now. I close my eyes and smile. Tomorrow is going to be a good day.


So… this little outtake was incredibly overdue. Thank you to Katee_babee for bidding on me during Fandom Gives Back. You were super patient, and you picked one of my favorite parts of the story to see from Jasper's point of view. (even if writing the lemony part from boy pov was terrifying lol)

Thank you to justaskalice for betaing and Lucette212 for pre-reading. They're both lovely and amazing.

Thank you to everyone else for reading and reviewing. I miss you guys. :) One more outtake to go!