A/N: This story is dedicated to jessabellew, who made a lovely, generous donation to Fandom Gives Back – Eclipse and waited ever so patiently with me to complete it. Additional thanks go to Chele681, my magic beta and dear friend, without whom I'd inevitably post complete shit.

All the Twilight characters belong to SM. I took some liberties with her vampire rules & such. The concept behind the school is an idea I borrowed from another vampire series, Evernight by Claudia Gray. No copyright infringement intended.


Peter knew there was something different about the kids at this school. It wasn't just that the students of Redstone Academy were all obviously privileged; there was something more to them that he hadn't been able to pinpoint. Not when his interactions with them had been so limited. After all, while they came and went around campus between classes and recreational activities, he and his construction crew were busy on the roofs of all the old stone buildings that served as student dormitories. The repairs were supposed to have been done before classes resumed, but an excess of summer rain had delayed their work.

He also knew there was something different about Bella – something alluring, captivating, and intriguing – which was how he'd found himself alone with her in the little cottage he was renting. Despite only being a senior at the academy, laughing light-heartedly when he'd asked how old she was and simply stating, "Don't worry, I'm definitely legal," she was somehow more than he could explain. In many ways, she seemed so mature, yet it was as though her youthfulness was timeless; Bella was certainly unlike any other teenage girl he had ever known. She was smart and mysterious and had this air about her that made her seem so worldly. Hell, she was far more interesting than the women he knew in their mid-twenties like him. He hadn't been able to resist the girl. From the moment she sat beside him beneath a shady tree while he had his afternoon lunch break, something unnamable, intangible, had pulled him closer and closer.

Peter was powerless when their conversation lulled and Bella's golden-brown gaze penetrated him. He couldn't tear his eyes away as she turned herself on his worn old sofa, worming one leg behind his back and draping the other over his lap. He was transfixed as she unbuttoned that damn uniform shirt and lay back, bidding him to come, take what she was offering.

Though his mind protested to being there with that beyond-her-years young girl, his body moved willingly. He found his place over her, his lips pressed against her pretty, pink mouth, and his hand moved of its own accord to her lovely, tempting breasts. Their kiss was like a sigh – relief to a tension finally released. They seemed to mold together, Peter thought, to fit like puzzle pieces. Amongst a thousand scattered fragments, they interlocked perfectly, and there was a powerful sort of gratification that came along with that kind of connection.

As Bella kissed down Peter's neck, flicking her tongue with a skill a girl her age shouldn't have had yet, Peter found the front clasp of her bra and let her beautiful body free to his touch. She groaned in approval of his grasp, and it was she who shifted them to their sides where she guided Peter's hand beneath her skirt. No sooner than he had slid his teasing fingertips up her thigh and into her lacy underwear, she had flicked his pants open with graceful ease, relieving the near-painful pressure of his need by taking his swollen cock into her hand. The way she touched him, even before moving, felt so good that Peter slid a finger into her quickly, relishing the sounds she made just for him. As she stroked him skillfully, his body reacted in kind, pushing into her fist harder and faster.

She may have been just a girl to his eyes, but her body's response to him was pure woman. The way she touched him – affected him – was not something any mere girl could do.

Bella was special, Bella was different, even if Peter couldn't quite explain how or why.

As he kissed her frantically and groped at her breasts roughly, Peter used two fingers until her breath quickened, quickened, quickened, and her grip on him tightened. He kept on until she tensed and pushed on his hand, falling to pieces in her bliss. Peter collapsed against the back of the couch then, allowing her to work him closer to his own release. She seemed to move like lightning because one moment his eyes were closed and the next her mouth was on his cock, seconds before he came. As she swallowed, she made that "Mmm . . ." sound someone does when they eat something delectable. That sound and the look of satisfaction in Bella's eyes made him feel like he might burst all over again.

She rolled over him then, his relieved cock rubbing against her bare thigh, and she kissed him softly, smiling.

.

Things went on and on that way every day. Bella would come to sit with Peter under his lunch tree each afternoon, looking very much like a girl in her uniform, yet speaking of literature, history, and the world like a college professor. Having studied ancient civilizations in college, Peter enjoyed those conversations with Bella. There wasn't much one could do with that kind of degree, though, so without the money to go on to graduate school, he had taken a job with his uncle's construction company. It had been a successful venture, and he did enjoy it. He seemed to have a way with the other workers, which was how he'd become a foreman with this crew so quickly. Bella had been more than a refreshing break from the constant male companionship of his counterparts; she had revived his intellectual side, not forgotten, but dormant for several years.

After the work day ended, Peter would always find Bella sitting quietly on the front porch of the little cottage tucked away in the trees. She said it was peaceful there, and that she enjoyed working on her class assignments while she waited for him.

Bella always claimed to have a unique meal schedule, so she never took Peter up on his offers to share dinner, but she didn't seem to mind watching him cook or eat. He enjoyed her company enough not to protest, and it wasn't as though Bella was lying to him. She looked healthy and didn't have the sickly, too-skinny look of girls who starved themselves. No, she was beautiful. Perfect, actually.

Truthfully, Peter had no idea what he was getting himself into, but it was as though he literally couldn't resist. He felt drawn to Bella in every way imaginable. Sometimes, he would be up on a roof working and he would hear his name, not as though he'd been called, but like the voice was speaking from within his own mind. When he would look around, he'd inevitably see Bella down below, smiling up at him in the breathtaking way she always did. He didn't know if he was even able to control himself any longer. Everything seemed so . . . unreal . . . because if he were realistic, Peter would acknowledge their age difference, the fact that the construction crew would be finished and leaving town in a few weeks, and the simple truth that their lives were too different outside their happy little bubble at Redstone Academy.

It was a Friday afternoon when Bella didn't meet Peter under their tree. At first, he was disappointed, but when he arrived home and she never came over, Peter worried. His sleep was lacking and restless that night. Had something changed? Was something wrong? And why did he feel so shaken over it all?

.

"You're treading on dangerous ground here, Bella."

She looked across the desk at the Headmaster and frowned. "I know."

"What are your intentions? Have you thought this through? Because right now, to that young man, you're creating a world of moral dilemma, and you must make up your mind before things go too far."

"Don't you think I know that?" Bella snapped back. "Carlisle, it's been nearly two centuries since I lost Edward. Do you have any idea what two hundred years of loneliness, of heartache, feels like?"

A pained expression overtook the older man's face. Of course it had been difficult for Bella; losing one's mate was a tragedy like no other, comparable only to the loss of your progeny, and that was a way Carlisle could relate. For all intents and purposes, Edward had been Carlisle's firstborn child, and like so many other good vampires, he had been a martyr to the cause. In the end, all the sacrifices had been for the greater good. The Volturi and their guard had abused their power for too long and had to be stopped, and it was Carlisle and his family who had led the crusade to overthrow the lords of their underworld. Since then, Carlisle and several others had rebuilt the structure of vampire life. Despite Carlisle's dietary choices, he allowed their kind to decide for themselves. However, he had developed places like Redstone Academy where vampires could come to be educated about alternate lifestyles, as well as having a safe place to learn about modern culture and technology, should any of them decide to integrate with human society. It was an attempt to both protect and humanize their kind, and thus far, it had been effective. Redstone was a place for vampires, like Bella, who had been turned as teenagers and very young adults. In Northern Europe there was a more resort-like location for "adult" vampires.

"I'm sorry, my dear," Carlisle replied. "I didn't mean to be insensitive. I cannot fathom what life would be like without Esme. I spent several hundred years alone before Edward, and then she, became a part of my world, but the circumstances were quite different back then."

Bella nodded solemnly, feeling a bit guilty about her outburst. Of course it hurt Carlisle when they lost Edward, but he would never fully understand the anguish as Bella had.

"I'm sorry too," she sighed. "I never thought I'd be able to feel anything ever again, let alone have the potential for happiness, but I feel like it may be possible.

"From the moment I first smelled his blood, my world has been turned upside down. You know how I tried to stay away, but once I gave in and spoke to Peter, even just that once, it was like I was drowning in him. And not just because he tempts me from our lifestyle. He's special, Carlisle."

"I know he is, child, but you must decide soon. I'd say I regret hiring humans to work on the school, but not if it means something good for you."

"Thank you," she said with a small smile. "I know you mean that, and I promise that I'm trying here. If there is potential for Peter, I need to be sure. I don't want to make some rash decision because he's the first man I've been with in so long, not if it's not right. I need to know first."

Carlisle nodded. "Of course. And you are the only one who will be able to determine that. Just . . . be careful. There is a fine line between sexual lust and blood lust, and . . ."

"I know," Bella cut him off.

Carlisle didn't want her to get in too deep and accidentally kill Peter. She obviously didn't want that either, but she knew she wasn't ready to make the kind of decision Carlisle was suggesting.

.

The warmth of the lovely autumn afternoon finally did its trick, and Peter fell asleep in the old hammock slung between two trees behind his cottage. He had risen early in the morning and run a few errands, and upon returning, had collapsed in the hammock with a book. That was where Bella found him, resting peacefully, and she couldn't stay away a moment longer. All she had done since her talk with Carlisle on Friday morning was think. She'd had to restrain herself from going to him, and by Saturday afternoon she'd finally snapped.

She knelt beside the hammock and reached out, tracing her fingers over Peter's puckered lips, across his brow, and down the slope of his nose. He was a gorgeous man with his thick black hair and rugged yet smooth features. She tried to imagine his sky blue eyes tinted with amber, but that thought brought a wave of guilt over her. Could she really take the life out of this human, even if it meant a second chance at love and eternity? It felt too selfish to consider, not to mention incredibly frightening to put her damaged heart on the line again, but at the same time, she wasn't certain she could give Peter up now that she knew him. Regardless, the way she had been going along with things hadn't been fair to him. She was deceiving him and putting his life in danger every time they were together.

"Bella?" Peter murmured, slowly opening his eyes.

"Hi," she said shyly, unsure how he was going to react to her.

"Where have you been? Is everything all right? Are you okay?" He took her hands in his, seeking security in her touch.

"I'm fine," she assured him. "I just had some things to take care of."

"You should have told me. I was worried."

"I'm sorry." Leaning forward, she touched her lips to his in a small kiss.

He moved against her slowly, cautiously. He didn't know if her absence had something to do with what had been happening between them, and he craved the reassurance of her affection. He gently pulled Bella closer, dragging her onto the hammock with him. She giggled at his insistence but gave in. They both wiggled, trying to find a comfortable position to hold one another on the swaying hammock when, suddenly, a telltale snapping interrupted their moment. Before either of them could move or prevent it, the old ropes securing the hammock to the trees frayed and tore, sending them to the ground, groaning and laughing simultaneously.

Bella worried she was crushing Peter, but he just reached up and pushed her long brown hair out of her face. They stared at one another, unspeaking, for a solid minute before Peter broke their silence.

"God, where did you come from, you gorgeous creature? I just want to eat you up."

Bella froze, then shifted off Peter uncomfortably so she could stand and turn away.

"Bella?" he asked, completely unsure what he'd said to upset her. He came behind her slowly, taking caution not to startle her, though of course, that could never happen.

His arms snaked around her waist, pulling her back against his chest. It was a comforting embrace, just what Bella need to ground her. It amazed her how much this human man, only a fraction of her true age, could make her feel with a mere touch.

She twisted in his arms and looked up at him nervously. "Can we talk?"

"Sure," he replied, unsure what their conversation might concern. "Is something the matter?"

"I . . . don't know," she answered, unfolding herself from him and taking his hand to guide him back into the cottage.

Bella led Peter to his bedroom. Ironically, the couch didn't feel like neutral ground for a conversation. All their physical encounters had been on that couch. Well, except for the one time Peter had perched her on the kitchen counter and put his hands between her legs. At least on Peter's bed they could sit face to face and talk.

"What's going on?"

"I've been thinking about us," Bella explained. "About what we're doing and where it's going."

To most men, this would have been the part where they bristled, realizing the younger chick they'd been hanging out with was about to become a stage five clinger. But that wasn't how he felt, so he was honest.

"I like you, Bella. So much. Not just because you're a pretty girl, but because I don't really feel like you're a teenage girl at all. You seem like you have this world of experiences and stories locked up in you, and sometimes I wish I could crawl inside your head and figure you out. But then again, I like the mystery. I like watching what I know about you unravel and unfurl. You make me forget everything else in the world sometimes, which is a little bit scary and a little empowering at the same time."

Bella was silent. She hadn't expected such a declaration.

With no reply, Peter scooted himself closer and took Bella's hands in his. "Is this because I'm going to be done soon?"

It was as close to the truth as Bella could admit, so she just nodded. He nodded back in understanding.

"Peter?"

"Yes?"

"If circumstances were different, where would we go from here? What would be the next step in our relationship?"

He thought for only a moment. "Well, I guess we'd just keep going. Let everything progress, and if it stayed good and we still felt all these things, then we'd, you know, stay together. For good."

Bella inched closer until their knees touched. "If I wasn't a student, would you feel different right now?" she asked, looking into his eyes. "Could you see a real future with me?"

She was obviously seeking reassurance and promise from him, which he knew should have made him uneasy, but that was the opposite of how he felt with Bella. This wasn't just some perverted preference for younger ladies or Peter could have gone after any of the girls at the academy. This was about the two of them and the otherworldly connection he felt to her. No woman had ever made him want the things he did with Bella, and that was why he was so sure, age difference be damned. In ten years, no one would even bat an eyelash at the few years between them.

"Yeah," Peter replied softly. "I could. I do. I mean, you make my head crazy, to the point that I have thought about that stuff already. That I don't want to leave here, to leave you."

To Peter, Bella looked as though she was on the verge of tears. Little did he know she couldn't cry, but he was somewhat correct in his assumption. Bella moved to her knees then, crawling into Peter's lap and kissing him forcefully.

"I want to be with you, Peter," she told him lowly, pushing him back onto the bed. He went willingly, pulling her down with him.

They kissed and clutched at one another, a new, desperate tone overtaking the moment. Bella pushed herself up after a few minutes, pulling her shirt over her head and unhooking her bra. Peter's hands moved automatically to touch her, to skim over her sides and soak up all her beauty. He didn't understand the draw he felt toward her or the need to be with her, but it didn't matter. Everything he'd told her was the truth, and he couldn't unsay it anyway. Maybe he was crazy, but he wanted her in every way.

He leaned up so he could kiss down her chest, licking at the space between her breasts, then moving over to suck a nipple into his mouth. He relished the sweetness of her skin as he swirled his tongue, then gently pinched it between his teeth. Bella squeezed him tightly, silently begging for more as she tugged on his shirt. Giving in to her desires, he rolled her over, removing everything but his boxers. Bella lay back, arms over her head as Peter unbuttoned her pants. He looked at her, waiting for permission to take off the rest of her clothing. With her nod, he tucked his fingers into her panties and pulled them off as well. After a few moments to appreciate the full expanse of her smooth, lithe body, Peter moved over her, resting on his elbows and allowing their bodies to align.

They kissed again, and Bella's hands ran down Peter's back, pulling him even closer. The friction made them both moan with need, and he lifted himself enough to trail his fingertips down Bella's stomach until he was touching her, teasing her.

"Please," she whimpered, and he gave in, pushing two fingers inside at the same time. She was so responsive, so needful as she pulled at his lips with her own, that Peter knew he needed more. He worked his mouth down her torso, still touching her, until his tongue met his fingers, and he made Bella sing for him.

He moved back up, kicking off his boxers, and hovered over Bella again. "Have you ever . . . ?"

Bella smirked and tried to think of how and what to tell him. "Yes. It feels like forever ago . . . now that I have you," she covered.

Peter nodded and stood from the bed. He came back from the bathroom tearing open a box of condoms. Not that he would need them, but Bella wasn't prepared to explain that just yet. She watched him tug at the little plastic seal, and he eventually gave in, just ripping the box open.

"Ow! Shit!" Peter exclaimed, looking at the paper cut he'd given himself from the thin cardboard.

Bella froze, feeling panicked even before the scent of Peter's blood hit her nose. There was no way to stop it, though, and it smelled so delicious that venom coated her teeth.

"Peter," she ground out, sounding more wanton than tortured.

"It's just a little cut," he insisted. "Hang on."

"No, come here," Bella commanded, not meaning to have said those words. He complied, moving toward the edge of the bed and holding out his hand. The spot of warm, red blood glistened on his finger, and Bella licked her lips. "Let me kiss it and make it better."

Peter watched as Bella brought his finger to her mouth, wrapping her lips around it and sucking gently. She hummed happily for a second, swirling her tongue around and around. It was strange, but it tingled, almost stung him. Bella's eyes were closed as she released his finger, and it wasn't until he spoke her name that she came back to reality. He didn't really know what to think of all that, but it had been oddly sensual, and there was not doubt it had made his cock ache for her even more. He quickly pulled a condom out of the package and got it on so he could get back on the bed with her.

Bella pulled him roughly against her, opening her legs invitingly. "I need you so much, Peter."

He was slightly shaken by her forceful movements, but he wrote it off as eagerness for what they both wanted. He adjusted his body over hers and stroked a clump of hair out of her face.

"I need you, too," he admitted, holding himself in place just before he thrust into her, making them both call out loudly.

It was loud and slippery as they moved frantically together, clinging tightly all the while. Peter felt lost in Bella. No other woman had ever made him feel anything close to what she did. He'd had serious relationships and even his fair share of great sex, but it had never been anything close to what he was experiencing with Bella. It was as though she had somehow fused their bodies and their hearts together, and now they were encapsulated in their own little world where only they existed.

Bella begged him to go harder, and he did, thrusting forcefully until Bella had to press her hands against the headboard to keep from being jolted any farther up the mattress. All those feeling just built and built and built until he felt like he would die if he didn't come, but also that he would probably die once he did because his entire body was liable to explode. As Bella panted and begged in his ear, Peter hitched one of her legs around his waist tightly, lifting her hips slightly. He struck once, twice, three times, and Bella was done. She was a beautiful, blissful mess, and he wanted to see her that way always. She submitted her body to his, allowing him to lift her hips higher until they were flush against one another, completely and utterly exhausted.

"Don't go," he muttered into her neck, rolling to the side to discard the condom.

"I'm here," she promised, stroking his sweat-soaked hair. They curled into one another, and Peter fell into a deep sleep. When he woke hours later, night had fallen, and he made love to Bella slowly, savoring every inch of her body.

.

"I'm going to stay," Peter said into Bella's hair. They were seated under their tree, Bella between Peter's legs with her back pressed against him and their arms tangled.

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"I don't want to leave you, and I haven't taken a vacation since I started working for my uncle. He doesn't expect any big jobs until after the New Year anyway, so he's letting me take a leave of absence. Paid," he added with a grin.

"Oh," Bella said in surprise. "Really? Are you sure?" She couldn't hide her elation, despite certain reservations.

"Yeah, of course. I wouldn't do it if I wasn't."

"I don't want you to put your life on hold for me."

"Bella." He brushed her hair to one side and nuzzled her ear. "I'm not putting anything on hold. I want to be with you, and I want to give us time to figure everything out."

"Okay," she agreed quietly, inwardly joyous.

There was still so much to figure out, and time was the only thing Bella could think of that would help. It wasn't as though she could just come right out and tell Peter what she really was. If she did, she may never know his true feelings. She knew he cared for her and that he was drawn to her in a way very similar to how she felt for him, but it wasn't enough yet. If they were meant to give forever a chance, she needed something more.

Two week later, Peter bid goodbye to his crew and settled in for the rest of the fall semester at Redstone Academy. Things were going well with Bella; their physical relationship continued to be absolutely mind blowing, but it wasn't the only thing they had. She constantly surprised him in their discussions, and he knew there was no way to stop the onslaught of emotions he was developing for her. He felt crazy at times, but he reminded himself of that inherent feeling that she was different somehow – that the underlying notion that she was far more than what her age belied was real, even if he couldn't quite put his finger on it.

He hadn't forgotten his odd suspicions about the students at the academy, but those thoughts had moved to the figurative back burner in Bella's wake. He no longer cared about their oddness or the strange mannerisms so many of them possessed because she had become the center of his world. It wasn't until mid-November that Peter learned an unexpected truth.

Everyone knew that one of the humans had stayed around campus, and most understood why, but there were a few who failed to be mindful of his whereabouts when they should have been.

Peter came to campus to meet Bella, and when he looked up at the building where her class was held, he noticed a hammer that had been left on the roof by one of his crew members. He still had time before Bella would be done, so he used the emergency fire escape ladder on the back of the building to go up and retrieve it from the slanted section of roofing. That was where Peter stopped to admire the landscape and forests surrounding the campus. He had always liked the view from up there, but he'd never had the opportunity to really enjoy it while he was working. Breathing in the crisp New England air, he looked out beyond the campus. There was a movement across a treeless patch of land, and seconds later, a large deer ran into the clearing from the opposite direction. The blur returned, and the deer collapsed. No, it had been tackled. The blur was gone, and Peter could see a girl with short blond hair on top of the deer. He recognized her, even at the distance. Her name was Irina. He'd seen her and her sisters flirting with his crew a few times. And she was . . . no . . .

She was eating the deer.

Startled, or better yet, completely dumbfucked, Peter panicked. As he scrambled to get back to the ladder and away from this campus – he had known there was something strange about these students – he lost his footing. Peter tumbled off his feet, then rolled. It was too late. He had nothing to hold onto. He fell from the roof, landing two stories below in a twisted pile.

People had seen his fall from their classrooms, and more had heard the sound as he crashed down to the ground. Even more yet smelled his blood and were drawn, uncontrollably, toward the tempting scent.

Luckily, Carlisle got to him first.

"Peter! Peter!" Bella screamed as she ran toward the crowd, pushing her way through. They gawked at the scene, watching their headmaster examine the broken human. Bella collapsed beside them, holding her breath to avoid temptation. If she could have cried, she would have been blinded by tears.

"Carlisle?" she cried, begging for answers.

"It was a bad fall. You need to make a decision. Now."

"Oh god," she sobbed, stroking Peter's forehead. "What happened? How much time do we have?"

"I suspect his spine is broken in several places, his left leg in two places, his arm, not to mention internal injuries. His heartbeat is fading fast. It may only be minutes."

"Okay," she nodded, trying desperately to pull herself together. Images of battles fought many years ago flashed through her mind; she could never forget them. Friends lost. Her own mate's death, right before her eyes. She hadn't protected him – she had failed him – and now she had failed Peter.

"Oh, Peter . . ."

"Bella," he whispered, almost inaudibly.

"I'm here," she told him.

"I'm sorry," he rasped, giving her hand a weak squeeze. "I . . . love . . . y-you."

If her frozen heart could have beaten, it would have stopped then. She couldn't believe he was apologizing, but more than that, he said he loved her. Suddenly, everything made sense.

All that time, Bella had felt like there was some missing piece holding her back from a decision about Peter. All the signs were there, but it wasn't until she'd heard it aloud that it all clicked.

"I love you, too," she told him, pressing her lips to his.

"I wanted . . . for good. Forever," he said, struggling with each word. His eyes were barely open.

"Bella," Carlisle interrupted instantly. "Listen to him. It's time to let yourself be happy again."

She was shaking as she nodded and leaned over Peter's dying body. She didn't know how to do this, but she had to.

"Stop me if I can't . . ." she started at Carlisle, but he understood.

"I'll be right here."

She looked into Peter's blue eyes one last time. "I love you, Peter, and we can have forever. This will hurt, but when it's over, I'll be here waiting for you."

His eyes faded, and she took that as her cue. She tucked her mouth into his neck, into the place she had kissed so many times, and sank her teeth into his skin. He tasted like Heaven and love and sex and everything perfect in the world. Venom poured from her mouth as she drank, replacing what she took from him. Carlisle only had to say her name once before she stopped and sat up.

"It's going to be all right now," Carlisle promised, pulling Bella into his arms. "He'll be fine. You did the right thing."

When Bella looked around, she noticed Esme and a few of the other instructors shooing people away. Once the area was clear, they carefully transported Peter to his cottage. While Carlisle tended to him in the bedroom, Esme sat with Bella in the little living room.

"Everything will be fine," Esme said reassuringly, "you'll see."

"I hope so."

"What do you mean, dear?" Esme asked.

"Just . . . what if he didn't mean it? What if he resents me?"

To Bella's surprise, Esme smiled at her.

"You know, I recall a young man who once said the same thing about you. Even after everything that has happened, did you resent him? Do you regret this life?"

"No!" Bella replied. "I could never regret the time we had together."

"And now you have another chance at love. As I seem to remember, you were quite insistent about that just a couple months ago."

Bella sighed. "I know, but now that we're here, I just hope it's what Peter really wanted."

"It is, dear," Esme assured her, holding Bella in that motherly way that only Esme could.

"I hope you're right."

.

Peter's cries of pain had been nearly unbearable, but Bella managed to hold herself together with Carlisle and Esme's help. They had been her family for far longer than any human family she'd had, and she was grateful to them and for them.

She watch the change heal Peter's broken body and turn it into something better and stronger than it had been before. He really did look more rugged and handsome, even though she had loved him just as he was before. Peter had never realized all the ways she'd had to restrain herself with him, but that wouldn't matter any longer. They would be together as equals, hopefully until the day time stopped. She had learned the hard way – the hardest way – that there were no guarantees, even in this life, but with that lesson, she knew she would treasure the man she loved all the more.

She'd taken to the bed with Peter in his final hours, hoping to bring some comfort from the change. He awoke calmer than most newborns, and much to Bella's relief, he remembered her. He'd kissed her hard and needfully, and after settling him, she, Carlisle, and Esme explained what he had become.

"It doesn't matter what I am – what we are – as long as I get to be with you," had been his reply to Bella. No animosity, no guilt, no resentment. Only love.

After teaching Peter to hunt animals, he and Bella spent days and weeks alternating between loving each other, lessons in controlling his new strength, and the history of their kind. Bella told him about her life so long ago, about the Cullens and Edward and how different everything in the vampire world was from the time she had been a newborn. Peter was incredibly sympathetic and promised to never try and compete with her memories of her first love. She was unexpectedly grateful for that.

"You know, for a while there, I felt guilty for being involved with a high school student," Peter teased one day as they lay in bed together.

"I know," Bella laughed. "And I almost feel guilty about that."

"You could have told me, you know." He was quiet then, thoughtful.

Bella reached up, rubbing her fingertips over his sideburns. "I know." She kissed his nose.

"But?"

"But I was scared of losing you. But I didn't know how to fall in love again. But I thought you'd think I was certifiably insane."

"But it all worked out anyway," he added.

"It did, though I'm sorry for the circumstances."

Peter sat up, pulling Bella into his lap and tangling their bodies together. "I'm not. It got us here."

Bella smiled. "I just can't believe those were your last words."

"It was true, though," he said, kissing her once. "I knew I was going to die. I just . . . knew. All I could think was that I couldn't bear it if you never understood how I really felt."

"I love you," Bella sighed, aligning their bodies and sinking down onto him. "So much."

He captured her mouth in a kiss that went on for hours and told her over and over again with his body how true that was.

Realistically, they knew they might not actually have forever, but they would take as long as fate allowed and live it to the fullest, filling that with as much love, happiness, and experience as they could.