AN: Sorry for the delay. Finals were a real bitch. I'm writing as much as I can while I'm on Christmas break so maybe it won't be as long until you get the next chapter.

Thank you to Fran and Colleen for their beta and pre-reading services, to my co-conspirator, Nancy, for letting me talk non-stop about these characters, and to all of you for taking the time to read and review.

Any mistakes are my own.


Paying For Your Sins

Chapter Eighteen

BPOV:

2 weeks later

I'm still holding on to the things I'm trying to run away from.

I'm holding on to him and I can't let go.

I'm far from Forks, but I still look around, searching for his face when I'm out in public.

I listen for his voice among the murmur of the crowds.

I see his face in my sleep.

Nightmare after nightmare keeps me awake in the early morning hours. I have bags under my eyes, and my hands still split my skin; some wounds are healing, and some fresh. My bones protrude, stretching my skin taut.

But I'm determined to make myself better.

Loneliness is a part of life.

People die.

People leave.

People are beaten and raped.

Every day.

It's so much easier to let all these things… this darkness, swallow me whole, but I'm tired of feeling like I can't control what happens to me, when in reality, I'm the only one who can.

I sit on the floor in this strange place and let myself remember him for the last time.

Letting go of it all, letting go of him, is the only way to survive.

The feelings have to go; tuck them away to where they only surface when I can't hold them in any more.

Garrett once said to me that we're put on this earth for a reason; no one is here by accident.

I'm not sure what that means just yet, but I believe I was put here for more than what has happened thus far.

So, I'll get on my feet and start living for myself, in hopes that something better, somewhere, is coming.

Five Years Later

Rock bottom was something I thought I had hit before I left Forks, and again when I left. However, neither of those were rock bottom.

The bottom of my rock looked a whole lot worse than beatings and boys who couldn't keep their hands to themselves. It was worse than finding my father soaking in his own blood.

Rock bottom was more suicide attempts than I could keep track of. It was hundreds of stitches and scars to match. It was drinking myself into a stupor every day for three months. It was a motel clerk who would knock on my door every other day to see if I was still alive.

Rock bottom was cocaine; it was heroin, anything to keep me numb. My revelation about making myself better was bullshit. One day I was up, and the next I was down again. I couldn't control it, so I stopped trying and gave in completely.

My last suicide attempt led to an unknown number of blood transfusions and a one month stay in the psych ward.

That's where Garrett found me.

He showed up and said something about therapy being bullshit, and we left the Oregon State Hospital the next day.

I was so fucking relieved.

Don't get me wrong, I was glad to be receiving help, especially with the drug abuse, but I was seven minutes away from becoming roommates with the girl in room three ten.

I don't fear many things, but room three ten was on the short list of things that I do.

Garrett and I left Salem and went up to Portland, where we moved into an apartment together.

I'm alive because of him. He's brought me further out of the darkness than I'd ever hoped.

The month I spent in the hospital didn't do much for me, so he taught me to fight— mixed martial arts to be exact, as a way to release what I was previously carving out. He spent six months just getting me better. He controlled what I ate, made me exercise, and didn't leave me alone for more than half a second for three of those months.

The first thing he said to me when he came to the hospital was, "I'm sorry for not staying."

Of course, I told him he was full of shit because it was no one's fault but my own where I ended up. What I went through, that was all me. Despite my telling him that, he still made it his mission to save me.

And he did.

It has been about three years since I last put metal to skin. I've kept a steady, healthy weight; no more protruding bones.

I'm good.

I still struggle sometimes. I still get the familiar urges to reach for my blade when my skin starts to crawl, begging for its kiss.

I'll be doing something as normal as putting on my shoes, or folding laundry when thoughts of suicide run through my head.

I'm not suicidal.

I don't want to kill myself anymore. I actually value my life for a nice change.

That doesn't stop the occasional thought, though I've come to accept that they'll probably lurk around in the part of my brain where my past has been stuffed.

I'm okay with that.

I smile to myself as I put the rest of Garrett's breakfast on his plate, and sit it on the bar.

"Why are you smiling like that so early? It has got to be painful."

I laugh, watching him as he walks into the kitchen and kisses me on the head before taking a seat in one of the three chairs along the island.

He looks at me waiting for an answer to his question.

I shrug. "Just thinking about how good you are to me."

"Says the one who cooked me this delicious meal," he says as he stuffs his mouth full of french toast.

"It's the least I can do."

"What do you have planned for today?"

"Work, and then I'm volunteering at the children's center again this evening."

He nods. "I've got to go out of town and won't be back until really late. Did you eat?"

"Yeah, I was too hungry to wait on you to get out of bed. Where are you going?"

He gives me the look he always does when I ask him that question.

He has told me the basics of his job, which is much more than I'm supposed to know. He is a professional killer, not for whatever it was James had going back in Forks, but for the United States government.

Technically, he did work for James's father, who turns out to be an important part of the Russian crime syndicate, but he was placed there by the United States government. That's about as far as that talk went. He doesn't tell me where he's going, despite my asking every single time.

As long as he comes back safely, it doesn't bother me much. Apparently, he's good at his job, and this condo confirms my suspicion about just how well, licensed killers are paid.

We live on the riverfront, in Pearl District. It's a two bedroom/two bathroom condo with floor-to-ceiling windows that look out over the Willamette River.

I fell in love with it on the spot. It's airy and simple and suits us both perfectly.

I return my attention to Garrett. "You know I had to ask."

He shakes his head with a small smile on his face. "It wouldn't be the same if you didn't."

He finishes his breakfast and drains his coffee cup, and sits his dirty dishes in the sink. He turns back to me. "My plane leaves in an hour, I've got to get going. I'll call you," he states, and leans down to plant another kiss on my forehead before leaving the kitchen.

He does that a lot. I'm not complaining; I've found that I'm quite fond of them.

"Be careful, please," I call after him.

From halfway down the hall that leads to our bedrooms, he stops, his shoes no longer tapping against the hardwood floor, and scoffs.

"Bella, please, you underestimate my skills."

"Pffft. How hard could it be?"

His laughter echoes off the walls; "Do you want me to show you just how hard it can be?"

"Will I be the victim in this presentation?"

"Yep."

"Then no, I'll pass, but the offer is appreciated."

"That's what I thought."

I laugh and listen as his feet tap tap tap against the floor, carrying him back up the hall and toward the front door. He waves as he passes and the door opens, then clicks shut again, leaving me with a silence that makes my ears ring.

I need a pet; maybe a cat. I idly wonder about the possibility as I wash the dishes from our breakfast.

When the kitchen is clean, I get ready and leave for work.

Work is at a tattoo shop on Eleventh Avenue, not far from my apartment. I took a job there as a receptionist, which surprisingly, I really love. I get to meet a lot of people from many different places. Just last week I met a couple from Memphis, Tennessee who were here in Portland for their honeymoon. He was a musician and she was in school as a science major. There is something weirdly satisfying about knowing simple information about people in the world that I'll probably never see again.

I use my key to open the shop door and lock it back behind me. The good thing about tattoo artists is that they keep late hours, and don't open shop until noon or so. However, I'm not a tattoo artist, and if I want to get all of my work done, I come in early, so that I can attend classes at a local, community college as well.

I busy myself with paperwork and appointment books, order supplies, and make sure everything is clean before setting the timer on the coffee machine and heading out.

I started taking classes at Portland Community College as a computer science major. I decided to take classes to keep myself busy. I've come to terms with my life now, and I'm happy, but I can't undo my past or the things I've felt, physically and emotionally.

Keeping busy works for me.

Classes keep me occupied from nine a.m. to two p.m.; from there I go straight back to work.

The alarm system chimes when I walk through the door and all four of the tattoo artists look up from their work, relief clear on each of their faces.

"Thank fuck you're here," Peter yells over the heavy metal blasting out of the overhead speakers.

"It's been two hours," I joke. "How bad can it be?"

"You know I'm a shitty receptionist," Benji says, pulling his feet off my desk.

I laugh and shake my head because he's being completely honest. He's terrible with people. I'm baffled at his long list of clientele. He's awkward, and doesn't know how to talk to people unless it's about comics or spiral patterns in pinecones. He's a big nerd, basically, but I absolutely adore him.

Behind my desk, which sits in the middle of our small shop, I put my bags down and lean down to where Benji is sitting in my chair.

"If you weren't my favorite, I'd have you murdered for putting your feet on my desk."

"That's a little extreme. There are worse things that have happened on this desk." He gets up and points in Micah's direction. "Let me tell you about the time he—," he starts but is silenced by a book hitting him square in the chest.

I chuckle and watch as Benji brings an inked covered arm up and rubs his chest.

"That hurt you stupid fucker."

Micah only shrugs, turning his attention back to his sketching. He's the quiet, mysterious one of the bunch. He has short, dark hair and the beginning of a beard. He's freakishly tall, but with a strong build. At twenty-four he's the youngest of the four guys, and the only one of them that isn't covered in tattoos. He has a few, but all of them, besides one on his right arm, are hidden underneath his white t-shirt.

Alec is the complete opposite in regards to personality. He's the outgoing, funny one that can't go anywhere without making friends with at least two people. Despite his arms, chest, and neck being covered in ink, people are immediately comfortable in his presence. He tends to get the majority of the first-time-being-tattooed clients. Of course, his baby blues and killer looks don't exactly put people off, either.

Benji is quiet if you're not listening closely. However, if you are, and I tend to, then he's constantly muttering something about patterns and Fibonacci numbers. I find his nerdiness to be charming, but the other guys don't quite see it that way. He gets picked on a lot, out of complete love of course, and the glasses he wears don't do him any favors. But like I said, fucking adorable.

Peter is the oldest of the bunch; he owns the place. He is quiet too, with an air of authority that surrounds him. If he speaks, you listen, especially if you don't know him well. I remember coming in for an interview for this job and being immensely intimidated by his strong presence. His burly physique and full beard may have had something to do with that as well, but once I spent some time around him, I found him to be warm and comforting.

These guys, and Garrett are the closest thing that I have to a family and I couldn't have ask for a better group of people.

Afternoon quickly turns into evening, and things don't slow down until six or so.

"Hey, Mic," I call as I'm putting my coat on.

He glances up at me with a questioning look.

I smile at him softly, because honestly, it's hard not to. "I've got to go to the center for an hour or so, would you mind manning the phone until I get back?" I double-check the book to make sure he doesn't have any appointments until I get back. His schedule is clear for a while.

"I should be back by eight thirty."

"Sure, but you have to bring back food."

"Deal." I spout off his favorite meal from a local diner, and wait for his approval before asking the others if they want something. I jot down their order, and head out.

I volunteer three times a week at a place for troubled kids. I mostly sit in with a group of girls that have suffered abuse from parents or boyfriends or whoever. It's like a support group for kids to come and go when they need it; a place to escape.

We talk and I help them with homework or studying, sometimes we play games, but tonight I've agreed to teach them a little self-defense.

I feel as though it's important that every woman knows how to protect herself. We get a lot of bullied kids in here, and although I'm strongly against violence, sometimes all it takes is one good right hook and they'll leave you alone. Of course, we teach that getting help is the first step and all that, but there are occasions where things don't work out the way we think they should, or expect them to.

I spot a few familiar faces when I walk through the door. Those who I see often, hug me, and the newbies look at me warily, as though I can't be trusted, but that doesn't bother me.

It seems Bree and Maggie are here all the time. They were here before I started volunteering, so I've known them the longest and I've become a bit attached to them.

Bree is the product off an absentee father and a busy, single mother with three kids to provide for. She's a bit of a wild child, trying to get attention wherever she can, which, unfortunately, means random guys, drug dealers, and thugs, all of whom she has no business messing with in the first place.

Maggie isn't as complicated. She came in trying to get rid of an abusive boyfriend, and when she did, she decided to stay.

I search for them both, but only see Maggie as she approaches me from the kitchen area.

"Where's Bree? I didn't think you girls could actually detach yourselves from each other."

Maggie shakes her head. "She's not here. I haven't seen her since yesterday morning."

It strikes me as strange since she and Maggie are always together, but I don't think too much into it.

"She didn't say anything?"

"No, she left my house saying that she was going home. I'm sure it's nothing, I mean, I haven't even tried to call her house, but she's not here."

I watch Maggie as she takes her red, curly hair and starts pulling on it; it's a nervous habit of hers.

I reach over and pry her fingers from the strand she's about to pull out. "Calm down, Mags. I'm sure she's fine."

I pull her over to a chair and make her sit. Squatting down in front of her I say, "Look, if you don't hear from her by the time I come back on Thursday, let me know and we'll look into it. You have my number if you need me before then, okay?"

She nods, still visibly anxious about the situation. I stand up and pat her knee before turning around and addressing the rest of the small group.

"Tonight we're going to go through a few self-defense techniques, so I need you all to take a chair and move them against the back wall."

The demonstration goes rather smoothly, each of them catching on more quickly than I thought they would. I call the diner, putting in the boys' order and say goodbye to the girls, and to Maggie, reminding her to call if she needs me, and lastly to Kate, the program director, before heading back out into the cold, November air.

As I try to catch a cab in busy, downtown Portland, I try not to worry about Garrett. He didn't exactly say when he would call, but I figured twelve hours is probably enough to get the job done, but what do I know?

Dinner is picked up and distributed among the guys, before I finally get to sit down and rest a minute. Thoughts of Garrett and Bree fill my mind, and I immediately get up and busy myself with anything that will help me ignore my worry.

"Did you get yourself something, Bells," Alec asks as he tosses his trash in the can beside his station.

"I ate at the center," I lie, shaking my head. I'm tired, inside and out; food is the last thing on my mind.

When the last customer leaves, my watch tells me that it's fifteen minutes after midnight. I take a deep breath, and let it out, giving myself an internal pep talk so that I can get things done here and go home.

I sweep, mop, wipe down all the chairs, clean the door and windows, and am just finishing up with the trash when Micah, the only one who hasn't left already, calls my name from the office in the back.

"Are you almost finished?"

"I'm done. I was just about to head out."

From behind the small desk, he nods. "I'll walk you out."

I'm just about to tell him that it's not necessary when he gives me a look that lets me know it's not up for debate.

With a resigned, "okay," I retreat to the front to grab my coat and bags. Arms wrap around my waist and his lips meet my temple as he pulls me into his body. I close my eyes, a small smile gracing my lips.

"When are you going to let me tattoo you?" His fingers trace a pattern from below my ear to collarbone. "I think here," he says, lightly pressing into the skin above my bone, "would be just the place for a small one."

I turn in Micah's arms until I'm facing him, our faces mere inches apart. "You know I don't take permanence lightly."

I've been here for a little over three years and none of the guys have seen, or know about, my scars. I'm not ashamed of them, but telling someone never gets an easier. Trying to explain what it feels like to have to take a blade to your skin, to someone who doesn't know, is difficult beyond any explanation I have.

I'm closer to Micah than I am the other three, and I should have told him, but it terrifies me. I'm content with my life here and I don't want to give the world a chance to destroy that.

My relationship with Micah is complicated to others, but simple to us. He initiated it, and I was wary at first, but the more we've gotten to know each other, the more he explained what exactly it was that he wanted.

And it wasn't a relationship.

He wanted a best friend that he could kiss when he wanted. That was the majority of his exact statement. He doesn't have much of a way with words, but I understood, and we took it from there.

I like him, but first and foremost, I protect myself, and sometimes that means not letting myself love anyone. Most of the time, the people I love don't love me in return, or end up killing themselves on my bedroom floor.

Yeah, not so interested in that, again.

"I know."

He lets go of me and grabs my bag, throwing it over his shoulder. I lead the way to the front door, flipping the lights off as we exit.

He takes me home and offers to stay when I tell him that Garrett isn't home. They don't get along very well. Garrett says, 'he doesn't know how to treat a girl,' and I tell him that I'm not looking for a prince. Nevertheless, he still thinks it's "bullshit."

I decline his offer because of that invisible line that no one is allowed to cross. He laughs and shakes his head, but I can tell he really doesn't mind. There will be another girl waiting in his bed when he gets home.

My limbs ache as I shower and crawl into bed, and although I find myself completely exhausted, sleep doesn't come. As thoughts and memories run through my head, I can only stare at the ceiling and wait for the inevitable restlessness to curl up in my bones and expand, until it feels like these brittle bones might explode.

The familiar urge crawls up my spine, making my fingertips twitch, seeking metal. It's always the same, and three a.m. is always the darkest when I'm alone.

War rages inside me as I struggle to push away the unwanted feeling. I'm okay, I tell myself. My life is good. I'm safe and I'm taken care of. No one hurts me and I'm not alone, but there's this feeling that lurks in the dark places of my mind that won't let me rest.

As much as I want to, I can't seem to shake it.

They say home is where the heart is, but what if the pieces of my heart are in too many different places?

Never allowing me my peace.

Never allowing me to be whole.