"Long is the way, and hard, that out of hell leads up to light."

– Milton, Paradise Lost

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15.

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When I got back to the house – the strangely foreign Cullen house, nothing felt nothing like home to me anymore – Peter and Jasper were both gone. I figured they'd probably left to hunt and would be back eventually… at least I hoped they'd be back. I couldn't help but feel faint whispers of my old insecurities and fears of ending up completely alone, considering how worn out I felt after only a few hours in Forks.

I don't know what I had expected, coming back here. Things had gone terribly after I'd left – I'd known that was likely, sure, but to see the wreckage was startling. My father's voice was clear in my mind, filling in the holes that had grown in my memories over the years I spent in New Mexico. I tried like hell not to think about what Seth and Leah had gone through, losing both their parents.

Trying to make myself stop thinking such unpleasant thoughts, I forced myself into action. Alone in the Cullen house, I felt like an intruder, I could smell Peter and Jasper's scents faintly throughout the rooms. Following traces of Peter's deep scent, I dragged my backpack upstairs to a guest room and into the bathroom with my nerves jangling.

I dropped my bag on the marble countertop in the bathroom and began to empty it out, but I froze as I caught my reflection in the huge mirror.

I was beautiful. For the first time ever, it seemed, I could aesthetically appreciate myself. I stared in awe, leaning forward to examine my appearance. Since I'd been changed, I'd hardly spared a thought to how I looked. I mean, yeah, I kind of looked like a wild mountain woman now, what with my long hair all crazy and tangled, but it looked… right. My eyes looked huge, lined with long, sweeping eyelashes, and my mouth was as bright red as my eyes. I puckered my lips, attempting a mock-seductive pose.

Hmm. Sure, I'd always known I was attractive. Even back in high school I'd fended off idiot after idiot trying to ask me out, but I'd never before felt actually beautiful. Satisfaction and excitement bubbled up within me.

Looking down, I saw the contents of my backpack scattered across the countertops out of my upended bag, a jumble of worn clothes and tangled accessories and mementos.

Taking inventory and looking around the clean, if a little dusty, room, I frowned slightly bitterly when I saw that the guest bathroom was fully stocked with bath products and towels. Esme, the perfect housewife, had always welcomed and provided well for her guests, though she'd had no problem abandoning me without a second thought when Edward and had told her to.

The shower was steamy and cleansing and felt absolutely amazing. The bath scents, expensive salon brands, filled the room with notes of vanilla, brown sugar, and coconut. All the luxuries made me feel more human, somehow, yet it felt like years since I'd been able to just enjoy a shower without some crazy stressful chaos going on.

Back in New Mexico, my showers occasionally ended with me collapsing onto the ground to catch my breath, depending on how hung over I was. Standing long enough to shower after days-long drinking and drug binges left me exhausted and breathless.

Now, though, I needed no rest, no oxygen, and I never lacked energy. I could feel every single grain of dirt, forest debris, even dust being washed off my skin.

I'd hoped Peter would be back by the time I'd finished my shower, but the house was as quiet as ever. I pulled on the jeans and shirt I'd grabbed from Charlie's house and wandered downstairs, then out the front door. Feeling at loose ends, I scribbled out a note on a pad of paper laid neatly in a corner on the kitchen counter.

Peter,

Meet me in the forest. Please.

Bella

I dashed a quick heart next to my name, hoping to subconsciously push him toward following me. After running upstairs to throw some things into my bag: cigarettes, lighter, an old journal, I set off into the forest behind the house, heading toward an old scenic overlook Edward had once brought me to.

I had no doubt Peter would be able to find me by following my scent. Failing that…I remembered how easily I'd found him underground in those tunnels when he'd been taken. That strange instinctual pull led me right him. I had no doubt he could find me the same way, if he needed to.

I never had asked how exactly he'd found me when Maria had kidnapped and tortured me… by scent or that same indefinable pull. Either way, he'd been there when I needed him most, when I should have been nothing more than prey to him.

He'd become a constant in my life in the short term that I'd known him. Mere weeks. So much had changed, so much upheaval to bring me here, but he'd been with me.

I felt like he was almost too good to be true… like this couldn't really happen, what Peter and I had. It didn't make any sense.

Peter was the only man to ever really treat me with respect, not like an inferior (like Edward), and not just a piece of ass (everyone else, ever). He respected me, protected me, and never once pressured me for sex – we both knew there was no hurry. I knew we'd get there. I'd never wanted anything more.

Images, moments, and breaths of memories flashed constantly through my subconscious. All Peter.

Looking scruffy after walking with me through the desert. His dark hair blowing slightly in the wind as we sat next to that pond behind his house, his smile wide and his eyes twinkling. The folk music playing on the car stereo as the sun set off the sparkle of his skin, his red eyes bright as he laughed.

I strode through the forest and let myself daydream, since I figured it might be my last chance to do so with any real hope after how I'd treated him. I let myself consider what it would be like to really be with him, to let myself love him.

He wasn't perfect, sure; he was violent and untamed, but I could love him. I knew I was half-in love with him already.

And the most exciting, butterfly-inducing prospect? To finally sleep with him. To be his.

I eventually came upon the spot I'd been looking for, a rocky outcropping next to a deep ravine, with the ocean in the hazy distance. I sat at the edge, next to a huge tree, looking out over the beautiful greens and browns of the forest.

Any sense of time passing eluded me for a while, as I gave myself over to the serenity of the forest view. Wind swept around me, throwing my hair into disarray. To my ears, a cacophony of frogs, katydids and crickets arose from the forest.

Eventually, I heard footsteps crunching in the distance, coming slowly closer. My old anxiety and excitement rushed back, but I held tightly to my previous calm. That pull in my chest grew more forceful as I felt Peter come closer.

He sat down next to me on the rocky outcropping, stretching out his long legs casually and dangling them over the edge. I shifted my body to face him, crossing one leg underneath me and trying not to appear shy as I looked up at him.

Peter merely smiled down at me freely. I opened my mouth to apologize, but he cut me off.

"Look, there are some things you need to understand about me." His tone was forceful, but a hint of a twinkle brightened his eyes.

"I ain't a cheater. I won't lie to you or go behind your back on purpose. I will defend you, and I ain't gonna apologize for that. I know you're feeling crazy right now – everything's new and intense and terrifying. But your attitude's not gonna throw me. You actin' crazy won't put me off… just maybe turn me on." He grinned cheekily.

I let out a laugh and sagged against his side, relieved he was generally letting my craziness roll of his shoulders. He lifted his arm and pulled me closer. As he grinned down at me, I happily apologized. "I'm sorry. I really am… I was a huge bitch for no reason. And thanks for defending my honor. Much appreciated."

I hoped he would forgive me, but in lieu of answering me verbally, Peter lifted a hand to cup my jaw and kissed me firmly.

Whereas before Peter and I had always been rough and intense with each other, now his kisses were slow and deliberate, like he was teaching me a lesson. Teaching me that I could trust him.

His hands on me were purposeful, pulling me closer and finding those places that made me pulse with desire. He tugged me over to straddle his lap, and as he deepened the kiss, his tongue hot against mine, I instinctively ground down against him with a rough roll of my hips.

Peter groaned into the kiss, threaded his hand into my hair and tightened it into a loose fist at the back of my neck. "You know, you're the reason I've been getting so crazy lately," I teased.

"Oh, yeah? How so?" His voice came out hoarse.

I grinned down at him wickedly, shifting in his lap and pressing myself against him. "Having you there and not being able to have you? Way too much stress for me."

He only growled softly in response, and then pulled me back into a hot, open-mouthed kiss. Our touches became rougher, our motions more insistent, until Peter ended up on his back on the ground with his hands clutching at my ass. I went to undo the button on my pants, but at that moment, Peter stopped my hands.

"Wait. Not like this." He flipped us both, lifting me slightly to move us away from the edge of the cliff. I lay back on the blanket I'd spread out earlier and watched as Peter, looming above me, pulled his shirt up over his head in one graceful move. The sight of his flat stomach, broad chest and lean muscles working his shoulders shot a wave of heat between my legs.

Peter lowered himself over me and kissed me softly, tenderly, with a hand to my cheek. He trailed that hand down over my chest and across my stomach, where his name was scraped into my skin under the cotton of my shirt.

He hitched a hand under my shirt and tugged it upward. I leaned up and he whisked it over my head, throwing my hair everywhere, and it felt cool against my skin where it fell. He spread warm, wet kisses down my neck and lower, and flicked the button on my pants. A shiver of excitement shot through me as I helped kick off my jeans.

The night air felt cool on my bare legs, but I let Peter settle himself against me, his solid weight feeling so right, fitted against me.

Peter quickly overwhelmed all my senses as he kissed me, again and again, until I lost myself to his touch. His hands taught me love, grasping and skimming and stroking. I could only gasp out his name, and pull him closer to me. When I looked into his serious eyes, I saw in them reflected the unexplainable force I'd felt since knowing him.

The rush of sensations: Peter's lips on my neck, teeth scraping and biting my skin, the sharp rocks underneath my shoulder blades, and finally, finally, that exquisite fullness.

Afterward, I marveled at the quiet. In my mind only a few stray, blissful thoughts floated through – all the built-up emotional chaos from the past few weeks had disappeared.

As I lay across Peter's chest and he played idly with my hair, the calm atmosphere let my mind wander.

Reflecting on Peter and I, I knew that we could be good together; I could only imagine fun we could have, the love we could make. He'd call me on my crazy spells and snap me back to reality when I needed it.

In time, I'd learn how to live with my memories of the ruined life that had led me here: my parents' divorce, meeting Edward and being left by him, Victoria's attacks and the Quileute wolf pack's help, and then to the nightmare of Maria, and shortly afterward, my violent death.

If Peter could deal with my past and all that brought with it, I knew I could give him what he needed – someone to support him and help him learn to enjoy life finally away from Maria's harassment.

I didn't know how long this tenuous peace could last, but these short moments would be enough for now, enough for me to momentarily forget all the thirst and accompanying guilt, the terror and arousal of the hunt.

(A/N: Something short for everyone. Not much more to go…)