The response to this story is a bit surprising. I'm looking forward to having Edward grow as a person and the relationship with Bella develop. Thanks for everyone who's faved it, reviewed it or read it! Much appreciated.

Things I own: a digital camera, a Queen-sized bed and a Nook

Things I don't own: Twilight and all characters associated with it. They belong to the esteemed Stephenie Meyers

Chapter 4: Five months ago, still

I picked up my leather jacket and headed to Dreamstyle Ink after getting breakfast. I worked through the inventory. I made note of the supplies that needed to be ordered. I was nearly done when I heard the rear door open up. In walked the last person I expected. Bella.

"I thought James was going to open with me," I said, trying to reign in the harsh tone of my voice.

"I switched with him," Bella said, sounding defeated and tired. "We need to talk."

"About?"

"About what happened last night."

Fuck. Me.

"You don't owe me any explanations. However, don't you dare fucking hit me again. I may be your 'Whipping Boy,' but it's only in title. Not in action," I snarled. "I'll do the damn work, following your insipid orders, but you will never hit me again."

"Yeah, yeah," Bella said as she rolled her eyes. "I just want you to know that I really don't like you."

"You've made that abundantly clear," I said. "The snide comments and menial tasks you've given me is proof that you hate my ever-loving guts. I know I pissed you off with that stunt I pulled with Angela, but get the fuck over it."

"Who you fuck is your own damn business," Bella said. "Just don't do it at the shop."

"Fine. Is that all? I have to finish stocking the merchandise in the front," I said.

"No. I wanted to talk to you about your apprenticeship," Bella said as she sit down in Emmett's office. "You've created some decent sketches. Nothing that is off-the-charts great, but some okay stuff. You now need to start practicing on people."

"That would be helpful."

"You're going to tattoo me," she said, crossing her arms over her chest. "That's how Marcus handled my apprenticeship and Emmett's too. I could care less if you fuck up. Especially since where you're going to tattoo, it won't be seen by many people."

"You won't cut off my balls if I fuck up?"

"No. I'd only do that if you fucked up a paying client," Bella said with a shrug. "I want the word 'Freedom' on my ribs. You have some swirly, fancy handwriting and I want you to do use that to create the script."

"Why freedom?" I asked. Bella's gaze hardened and she growled. "Never mind."

"No, you have a right to know. When someone requests a tattoo, it's well within your right to ask why they want it. However, the client may choose not to respond."

"Fine," I said as looked at Bella's cinnamon eyes.

They softened and then deadened. "I need to be free from…Jake."

"You called me that last night. Emmett kind of told me," I said, nibbling my fingernails.

"It's not his place," Bella snapped.

"You clawed at my neck and smacked me across the face. He may not have had the right to tell me, but I needed some background so I could avoid it," I spat back.

"You and Jake are so much alike. Total assholes who use women as whores."

I rolled my eyes and got up from the chair. Bella stood up and pushed me back down into it. "You want the story? Here's the story. It's not pretty. My mom beat the shit out of me. I was taken away from her and placed into foster care. My foster dad, who was a nice guy, but completely clueless and immobile, took me in. My real dad is nowhere to be found. Anyhow, Billy, my foster dad, his son decided that he liked me. Jake, who was 21, liked me so much that he took everything from me. My virtue, my soul, my life. All at the age of fourteen. I was raped on a daily basis by Jake because he liked me. Once I turned eighteen, I packed my belongings and never turned back."

I blinked a few times and stared at the pissed off, broken women in front of me. "That's horrible."

"I don't need your pity."

"I don't pity you. No one should have to go through that," I said.

"I see a lot of Jake's characteristics in you. Taking what you want without asking," Bella said quietly, menacingly.

"I would never take that. No one has that right. You were abused and should have told your social worker or someone," I said.

"I did. They didn't believe me." Bella dropped her steely gaze from mine and sat back down in Emmett's chair. She crumbled and she looked so helpless. I almost felt sorry for her. Almost. "I'm on my own now and I'm free. No Jake. No social workers. Nobody to hold me back. Except you."

"How am I holding you back?"

"You're just being 'you.' Stop being such a fucking manwhore," she seethed.

"Since you've known me, I've been with one person. Angela. How is that a manwhore?"

"Oh."

"Right. Oh. Don't pass judgment until you get all of the facts, Bella," I said, narrowing my eyes. "I may have been 'easy' before I worked here, but I'm actually attempting to change. So, back off."

"I'm…" Bella began. "I'm going to work on a sketch for another client. Come up with something for my tattoo and I want you to put it on me today."

"Fine," I said. Bella got up and went to her station in the main part of the shop. I sat forward and ran my fingers through my hair. And you thought that you had it bad. Obviously, not. I stood up and finished my work that I created for myself. I went into the shop and unlocked the door. Angela had arrived and she was looking a little worse for wear. She had an enormous hickey on her neck and dark circles under her eyes. Bella growled at her, calling her a slut under her breath. Even I saw the sluttiness. I sat down at the front desk and began working on my sketch for Bella's freedom tattoo. "Bella?"

"Yes, Whipping Boy?" she asked in a bored tone.

"I need to get an outline of where you want the tattoo so I can make it fit your body."

"Good job, Whipping Boy. You passed your first test." She held up some tracing paper and removed her hoodie. She lifted up her tank top to reveal a flat, toned stomach. "I want it here," she said, indicating to her right side.

"I'm going to have to touch you in order to trace the shape," I said warily.

"I know. Just don't linger with your fingers," she said, shooting me a warning glare. I nodded and held up the tracing paper. I outlined the shape of her ribs and quickly removed the paper. Bella lowered her shirt and went back to her station. I took my paper and began the basic outline of the tattoo.

"Do you just want the word or anything else?" I asked.

"What do you mean?"

"Any other symbols? Things that represent your freedom?"

"A wolf in a forest," Bella said, her eyes far away. I nodded and began working on the sketch. An hour or so, I was done and called Bella over. She looked at it, critically. "Make the stencil," she said tersely. I created the stencil and then set up for her tattoo. Bella talked me through the set up for the inks and gun. I had saved some money and purchased my own kit. However, Bella told me that she wanted me to use her gun. She lay down, tucking her shirt into her bra. I placed the stencil on her ribs and asked her to check it out. She went to the mirror and nodded curtly. As she lay back on the table, she talked me through what she usually does for tattoos. Not wanting to piss her off, I listened to her advice and began inking her ribs. I was nervous. My hand was shaking. Bella told me to relax. I took a deep breath and pressed the tattoo gun to her porcelain skin. I worked for an hour. I hadn't realized that we had an audience. Angela and Emmett were watching me work.

And that's not helping the nerves.

Another hour later, I was done with Bella's tattoo. My audience had dissipated. They were working with their own clients. "Um, finished?"

"You better not have fucked up, Whipping Boy," Bella said as she sat up. She hopped off the table and stumbled. I caught her with my arms. Her hands gripped around my tattooed forearms. She bristled and stood back up before turning to the mirror. She looked at the tattoo that I drew on her. It was a black and gray representation of a wolf, running a forest. Using the leaves and debris, I created the word 'freedom' in my swirly, elegant script. Bella looked at the tattoo and ran her fingers over the wolf. Her eyes glistened and she whipped around. She pulled her shirt down and ran out of the shop.

"What just happened?" I asked as I watched Bella run away.

"I think you did good," Emmett said. "Best I've ever seen, for an apprentice."

"But, why the hell did she run away?"

"I don't know, Cullen. I really don't know. I've known her for years and I still can't get inside her head. In her panties, yes. Head, no," Emmett chuckled.

"You're an asshole, McCarty," I said.

"That would be you, Cullen. Clean up your mess."

I gave him the middle finger salute and cleaned up the table, gun, and ink. I then disinfected the materials. I grabbed my cigarettes from the front desk and went out back to have a smoke. I needed something to calm my nerves. I squatted behind the shop, lighting my cigarette. I took a deep pull from it and let the nicotine fill my lungs. I never smoked until rehab. However, I needed something to curb my addictive nature. I was almost done with my cigarette when I heard quiet sniffles from behind the dumpster. I furrowed my brows and went to inspect. "Hello?"

"Go away, Whipping Boy," Bella cried. "Can't I fall apart by myself?"

"I'm just smoking a cigarette. I'll let you wallow in a minute," I said shortly. I finished and turned on my heel to return to the shop.

"Whipping Boy?"

"What?" I sighed.

"You did good," Bella said quietly.

"Thanks," I said. "I hope I didn't make you cry."

"No, you didn't," she said sharply. "Now, make sure you clean up the table and disinfect the instruments."

"Already done, Master," I said sarcastically. "Do you need me to wrap you up?"

"I can do it," Bella said curtly. I nodded and opened the door to the shop. I finished out my day by searching for apartments. Bella called to Emmett and said that she was going to head back to her place as she was feeling sick. Being a cut throat bitch can do that to you. When I heard the door slam and Bella's car pull away, my tension went away and I finally released the breath I had been holding. I fell forward on my hands, banging my head on the desk.

"Don't do that, Edward," Angela said sweetly, running her fingers through my hair. "Want something to help you forget your troubles?"

"No, Ang," I mumbled into my hands. "I'm good. I just need the huge pain in my ass to disappear."

"Let me guess, it's Bella shaped," she giggled.

"Bingo."

"Want a blow job?"

"No, thanks," I said dryly.

I sat up and looked at Angela. She smirked and kissed my cheek. "You know where to find me if you do."

I watched Angela saunter away and I shook my head. I turned back to the computer and jotted down some phone numbers. I was determined to get an apartment. I needed to get the hell out of dodge. Also known as Emmett's apartment. I called a few places and arranged to meet with the landlords tomorrow on my day off. Hopefully, I'll find one in my price range. Free sounds good. And be able to move in relatively quickly.

xx EC:AWIP xx

Four Months Ago

"Alice, I don't need three hundred thread count sheets," I whined. "Keep in mind, I'm broke."

"They're on sale, Cullen. You have second hand furniture. You can at least have decent sheets. Think of them as a housewarming present for you," Alice said as she tossed the sheets into the cart. "From me to you."

"Thanks, Midget," I said. We were wandering through Target, getting some necessities for my new place. It was a small studio. One huge room and a rinky dink bathroom. The best part was that it was mine. I was so grateful when I moved out of Emmett's apartment. It sucked initially. I had to sleep on an air mattress. That was a slight step up from my couch. I had to scrounge and pinch major pennies to get furniture. All of it was from the Salvation Army or Goodwill. The only new item in my apartment was a flat screen TV. Emmett and Jasper chipped in and purchased that for me. An early birthday present. My birthday was six months away, you idiots. If only I could afford to get cable, then I'd be set.

We finish our shopping. I begrudgingly hand over the cash I took out for the trip, grimacing at the total. Alice must have noticed as she whipped out her credit card, handing it to the clerk. "Alice," I said. "Don't. I can afford it."

"And what will you eat?" she asked. "Will you be able to afford gas?"

"Um…"

"Then shut up and accept this gift," Alice said. She signed the credit slip and we headed out to my car. Alice's nose wrinkled as she slid into the cracked leather seat. "Dude, you're car has seen better days."

"Yeah, I know. I drove it when it had better days," I sighed. I started the car and eased out of the parking spot, driving back to my apartment.

"How long have you had this?"

"Since I was sixteen," I said. "My parents got it for me for my birthday. When they kicked me out, they gave me my car and the clothes on my back. That's it."

"Have they even attempted to look for you?" Alice asked sadly.

"I don't know. I don't care."

"That's doubtful," Alice said. "Your parents must still care."

"If they did, they wouldn't have kicked out their eighteen year old son because of the choice he made."

"What was that?"

"I was accepted to Dartmouth. Full ride scholarship. I was groomed to be a pre-med major. To follow in the footsteps of my father. When I told them that I wanted to be a musician and an artist, they blew up. When I told them that I'd rather go to Juilliard, which I was accepted, they kicked me out."

"And they never looked for you," Alice whispered.

"Nope. I don't even know where they live. They were in Port Angeles when I was kicked out, ten years ago. Who knows if they're still there," I seethed.

"Have you tried contacting them?"

"Why would I? I'm a failure in their eyes," I said sadly. "I'm an ex-drug user who sold his body in order to get drugs. I don't play music anymore because I have nothing to play. I pawned my guitars for drug money. I never really do much with my art except the tattoo artwork. Even that is mediocre at best."

"That tattoo you put on Bella's ribs was not mediocre," Alice said. "Compared to the rest of her ink, it's the best one on her. However, the other tattoos were done in a drunken haze. Your tattoo was the first one she's done sober. And not high."

"Bella does drugs?"

"Pot, mostly. Perhaps a little E," Alice shrugged. "Never anything hardcore. What was your poison?"

"Cocaine. Sometimes pot," I said.

"No needles?"

"Hell no. I can't stand the thought of putting a needle in my arm," I cringed. "That was part of the reason why I couldn't be a doctor. I hate needles."

"And yet you're a tattoo artist," Alice teased.

"It doesn't go into the skin, only grazes over the top of it," I said, clarifying her point.

"Potato, Potahto," she said, smacking my shoulder. "Speaking of tattoos. I want you to tattoo me."

"I'm still not allowed to tattoo clients," I said.

"I've already cleared it with your tormentor. I just need to sign a waiver," Alice said with a wave of the hand. "I want the sign from New Moon Designs on the back of my neck. But I want you to give it the 'Cullen' flair."

"Okay," I said, nibbling on my thumbnail as I pulled into the parking lot of my apartment. "When do you want to do it?"

"Tomorrow. I'll swing by after one," Alice said as we walked up to my apartment. She helped me put my new purchases away and make my used queen-sized bed. Jasper came over with some Chinese food and we watched a video that he brought over. Some vampire movie. It was lame, but I felt normal. Hanging out with my friends. Jasper eventually dragged Alice away after I took a tracing of her neck. She kissed my cheek and skipped out of my place with her boyfriend.

Sleep evaded me that night. I couldn't get comfortable. The three hundred thread count sheets were quite nice, but my mind wouldn't shut off. I decided to stop fighting it and I hopped into the shower. I scrubbed my body. Happy that since I've started working at Dreamstyle, I've managed to put on some weight and most importantly muscle. I still wasn't like I was before, but I'm not this lanky fucker. I actually look alive. Not a fucking zombie with tats and piercings. I headed into Dreamstyle and unlocked the door. I restocked the bathrooms and did a quick inventory. I was almost done with washing the windows when Emmett walked in. His eyes were blank and he looked tired.

"Emmett? Are you alright?" I asked.

"No. Bella and I had this huge fight. James, the other male tattoo artist, is really bugging her. He's infatuated with her. He won't leave her alone and is being very touchy feely," Emmett said as he wiggled his fingers. "She's told him to stop. Even clocked him in the balls a few times, but he just won't leave her alone."

"What was the fight about?"

"She wants me to fire James. I just can't justify it," Emmett said. "He makes us a lot of money. If I lose him, we lose a huge client base. I'm trying to rework the schedule so they are not on the same day, but it's so fucking difficult. Bella pretty much gave me an 'ultimatum.' Us or James. I hesitated and she took that as me siding with James and she left. I haven't seen her since."

"When was that?"

"Three days ago," Emmett said in a defeated tone. Emmett opened his mouth to say something more, but the shop phone shrilled through the speakers.

I jogged to the front desk, picking up the phone. "Dreamstyle Ink, this is Edward speaking."

"Edward! I need you to come to my apartment!" Alice shrieked. "It's Bella! She's gone on some sort of bender. She's incoherent."

"Why are you calling me? Call a damn ambulance," I snapped.

"Please! Edward!"

"Fine. Where are you at?"

"1885 Seersucker Lane, Apartment B208. Look for my last name on the door," Alice said.

"I'm bringing Emmett," I said.

"No! Don't. Emmett is the reason for this. Come by yourself. Please?"

"I'm on my way," I said. I hung up the phone and picked up my jacket. "Alice found Bella. She's at her apartment. Incoherent and unresponsive."

"WHAT?!" Emmett roared. "I'm coming with you."

"Alice told me that you shouldn't. You're the cause. I don't know why she's asking for me. I'm not a doctor or nothing," I said.

"But you've been through it. Help her, Edward."

I frowned and picked up my car keys. I drove to Alice and Bella's apartment. I was buzzed in and I headed up to their floor. I saw that the apartment door was open and I gently pushed through it. "Hello?"

"Master bedroom," Alice called out frantically. I removed my jacket and walked toward Alice's voice. She was in a large room on a king sized bed. Bella was laying on her stomach, her eyes closed and her mouth parted slightly. Surrounding the bed was several bottles of Grey Goose, Jack Daniels and Jose Cuervo. Jesus. I also noticed a small baggie of white pills on the nightstand. "I can't get her to wake up," Alice cried as she tried moving Bella. I crawled on the bed and helped roll Bella onto her back.

I felt her forehead and she was hot. "Did she take the E?"

"I don't know," Alice wailed.

"She's burning up," I said as I scooped her up from the bed. "Bathroom?" Alice pointed over my shoulder. I carried Bella to the bathroom and turned on the water. I made sure it was tepid but not cold. I got into the shower, holding Bella to my chest. Once the water hit her body, she stirred. "Come on, Bella. Wake up." She groaned and tugged at my now soaking wet shirt. I gently slapped her cheeks. "Wake the fuck up. Don't be so fucking stubborn. Open your fucking eyes."

"Fuck you," she rasped as she pushed against me weakly.

"Sorry, you're not my type. I like my women to actually enjoy my company," I said, trying to get a rise out of her. "But I've been told that I can go for days when it comes to fucking. I bet you want some of that? I'm also hung like a fucking horse."

"I hate you, Whipping Boy," Bella said as she opened her bleary eyes at me. "Why are you in my apartment and in my shower?"

"Alice called. She couldn't move you," I said. "I will get out of your shower. Can I put you down?" I was still holding her, sitting up against the edge of the tub of the shower.

"Yes," she spat. I eased her feet onto the tub and stepped out of the shower. Bella lost her balance and fell into me again. "Fuck, I'm so dizzy."

"Sit on the edge," I said. "I'm going to get Alice."

"No!" Bella shrieked. Her hand reached for mine and she pulled me back. "Not Alice. She's so pissed. I can't take her pissy-ness."

"Okay," I said uncertainly. Bella released my hand her shoulders slump. "Emmett told me what happened."

"I'm so angry. Why would he choose that douche over me?" Bella spat.

"He explained his reasoning. I get where he's coming from, but I understand what you are going through, too," I said, shifting in my wet jeans. God, that's uncomfortable.

"What does James need to do? Rape me on the job? He won't get the clue that I don't want to be touched. By him or anybody else," Bella said.

"Bella, I'm certain that all of us are willing to kick his ass if he tries anything with you," I said. "However, it's not right for you to work in such an environment where you're in fear."

"Sounds like you know," she said.

"Hello, working with you is the epitome of a hostile work environment. You hate my guts."

Bella blanched as she stood on shaky limbs. She reached for the faucet. She stumbled and I caught her before her head hit the tub. "Fuck."

"What?"

"I twisted my goddamned ankle," Bella said as I helped her up. I turned off the water and looked for a towel. I wrapped the towel around Bella's shoulders and picked her up from the tub. She smacked my head, weakly. I gave her a pointed glare. I sat her on the toilet.

"Do you mind if I check if you still have a temperature?" I ask.

"Why?"

"You were burning up when I came in. We weren't sure if you had taken the pills on the nightstand," I said quietly.

"Oh. I took two. With a Jose chaser," she said.

"E?"

"Yeah."

I raised my hands defensively and gently laid it on her forehead. She was substantially cooler. I gave her a small smile, which to my surprise, she returned. Holy crap, she actually can smile. "Can I check your ankle?"

"Did they give you an honorary medical degree?" Bella said, her voice softening.

"No. I keep those in my other pair of wet jeans," I teased. I looked down at her foot and it was swollen. "Ouch."

"I've had worse," Bella said, wiggling her blood red toes. "I'll be fine."

A quiet knock rang through the bathroom. Alice poked her head in. "I brought some clothes for the both of you. Are you okay, Bella?"

"I have a killer hangover," she said, ringing out her wet hair. "But I'll be fine."

"Um, Midget? I don't think I'll fit in your clothes," I said, picking at my sodden shirt and jeans.

"It's Jasper's clothes. Relax, Whip," Alice said, thrusting a pair of workout pants and a t-shirt into my hands. I got up from my crouched position and go to leave the bathroom. I hazarded a look at Bella and she has this look of panic on her face. "Bella?"

"You're not leaving, are you, Whipping Boy?" she asked, sounding afraid.

"Unless you want me stripping down to my birthday suit right here, I'm going to go in the hall bathroom that I saw when I came back here," I said.

"Oh."

I walked to the bathroom and removed my wet clothes. I put on Jasper's pants and shirt. They were a little big for me, but I adjusted the waist and I was good to go. I put my wet clothes into the sink and walked back toward Bella's bedroom. I heard Alice and Bella hissing in the bathroom. I heard my name mentioned a few times, but I didn't think much about it. I knocked on the door. "Are you okay in there?"

Alice opened the door, giving me a wide smile. "Perfect. Can you help gimpy to the bed?"

"I can walk to the bed, Alice," Bella said.

"Right. Uh huh. Sure," Alice said, disbelievingly. Bella stood up and tried to put weight on her foot and she crumbled. "Will you except Whip's help now?"

"Ugh, yeah," Bella said. I walked over to her and hefted her easily in my arms. God, she weighs nothing. I carried her to the bed and placed her on the comforter. Alice scampered off and returned with an ice pack and some Tylenol. "Alice, what did you do with my pills?"

"I flushed them," Alice said in a hard tone. "You shouldn't take that crap. It'll fuck with your body."

"It's not worth it," I said quietly.

"Drugs? Or Alcohol?" Bella said coldly from the bed.

"Both. Drugs especially," I said. "I'm going to go. You two obviously have some things to talk about. Alice, can I have a bag for my wet clothes?"

"Sure, Whip," Alice said as she darted into the kitchen.

"Feel better, Bella," I said.

"I'll try. Convince Emmett to fire James."

"I'll try," I said. "Later."

"Edward?"

"Yeah?"

"Thank you," Bella whispered.

"You're welcome."

Alice handed me a bag with my wet clothes. I gave her a smile and headed out to my car. I tossed my clothes into the backseat. I climbed into the driver's side and sat in my Volvo. What just happened? Bella actually thanked me? Hell must have frozen over. There was one thing that lingered in my mind, I liked the way Bella fit in my arms. Like she was made to be held by me. Don't turn into a fucking pussy, Cullen.

I quickly shook off those thoughts and drove back to my apartment. Emmett had called and left a message saying that I should take the rest of the day off. He'd even pay me for it. In appreciation for taking care of Bella. Whatever. I gladly took the paid day off and spent it sleeping.

My dreams were filled with erotic images of my tormentor. She was quickly morphing into the girl of my dreams. Who could suck like a Hoover and go all night long. God, I'm so confused.

A/N: So, you know more of Bella's story. Edward and Bella are making headway in their relationship. Kind of. And please be kind. I am not a doctor, nor am I recreational drug user. There have been times where I was tempted, but resisted said temptation. I'm not sure if my description of Bella's reaction to Ecstasy is accurate. Also, Alice should have called the ambulance, but that wouldn't be a fun plot twist. And I'm rambling. Leave me love. Pretty please with a Tattward on top? Thanks oodles!