A Love Worth Defending

The Masters

Bella sat at the plaintiff’s table but remained on the chair’s edge. She pretended to rifle through her notes and review her plan, but the exercise was a poor distraction.

She was worried about Edward’s cross-examination.

Bella didn’t ask Alice every question she could have, but that decision was strategic. As the first to present evidence, Bella walked a precarious line: She had to make her arguments without tipping her full hand to Edward. With too much time to prepare and counterattack, Edward might come away with a victory.

And Bella could not afford that.

So she played it safe with Alice, sticking to things Edward could not object to. But as Edward took his time closing his notebook, Bella worried if her strategy would work.

Edward rose from the chair and strolled to the front of the room, his intense gaze locked on Alice. Removing his hand from his right pocket, he stopped a foot from the witness stand and folded his arms across his chest. He inhaled, and Bella braced herself for his first question.

But instead of speaking, he exhaled through his nose.

And did nothing else.

He did not blink, crack a knuckle, or shift his weight from one foot to the other.

He stared at Alice.

Who stared back.

Bella watched the clock between the windows and counted 120 ticks of the second hand, and still there was nothing from either one of them. The courtroom was as silent as a winter’s night as the gifted siblings eyed each other, and Bella felt as if she were watching a chess match between two world-class masters.

Alice raised an eyebrow, and Edward’s nostrils flared.

Edward narrowed his eyes, and Alice rolled hers.

Bella knew they could communicate silently, but such behavior today would be grounds for dismissal, and though equally stubborn, neither of them would risk it.

The silence crackled with anticipation, and after another full rotation of the second hand, Bella reached her limit and came to her feet. “For goodness’ sake!”

Rosalie blinked out of her trance. “Do you have an objection, Ms. Swan?”

“Don’t you?” As Rosalie’s expression changed, Bella remembered herself. “I mean, yes. I have an objection, Your Honor.”

“And that would be?”

Bella sighed, failing to keep the exasperation out of her voice. “I was wondering if opposing counsel planned to ask the witness a question or just bask in the rarity of her silence.”

Emmett and Jasper laughed, earning sharp looks from Esme and a quick rap on the wooden block from the judge. “Boys,” she muttered. “Mr. Masen?”

He did not turn his head. “Your Honor?”

“Do get on with your cross, if you don’t mind. Ms. Swan appears to be in a hurry, and I cannot say I blame her.”

He replied in the affirmative but said nothing else.

“Mr. Masen, need I remind you of the court’s ruling on your gift?”

“I am well aware of it, Your Honor.”

“Then why are you not questioning your witness?”

“Because I have yet to decide on a proper first question.”

Rosalie leaned back in her chair. “Ms. Swan, Mr. Masen seems to intend to question Ms. Brandon. Therefore your objection is overruled.”

Bella opened her mouth to object but promptly shut it. There was little sense in arguing with the woman who held their fate in her hands.

Moreover Alice was more than capable of handling Edward, no matter how reckless or relentless he might be. So Bella chose to relax, set her pen on the desk, and watch Alice work.

“Ms. Brandon.” Edward’s voice was low and taut. “You testified about a vision of Ms. Swan and me, correct?”

“Yes.”

“One in which we were both immortal?”

“Mates,” Alice said. “And yes.”

“How did I feel about this vision when you shared it with me?”

Alice squirmed. “How did you feel?”

“Yes. Was I happy? Elated? Overcome with glee?”

“Objection,” Bella said. “Leading.”

“Sustained,” Rosalie said.

“How did I feel, Ms. Brandon?” Edward repeated.

“You were… cautiously optimistic.”

“And you,” he said with a slight edge, “are under oath.”

“I know that,” she replied smoothly. “And I stand by my answer.”

Edward clenched his fists but continued. “Did you have any other visions, Ms. Brandon?”

“Hundreds, Mr. Masen.”

“Good. I’d like to ask you about some of those now.”

Alice batted her lashes. “I am at your disposal.”

“Could you describe the vision you had of Ms. Swan and me in the meadow?”

Alice grinned. “You lay on your backs in the grass, holding hands and looking up at the spring sky. At one point, you were on your sides, your knees touching as you gazed into each other’s eyes . So peaceful, so in love. It was perfect.”

Bella felt herself swooning as Jasper bounced his wife’s emotions all over the room, and Rosalie tapped her gavel on the block with a breathy sigh. “Major, please.”

“Sorry, Your Honor,” he called from the gallery.

Edward straightened his stance and cleared his throat. “Was that your only vision of that day?”

Alice’s smile faded. “I had several visions that day as I do every day.”

“That is not what I asked, and you well know it,” Edward snapped. “Please tell the court of the other vision you had of Ms. Swan and me that day.”

Alice looked away. “I saw Bella on the ground beneath you.”

“What was she doing?”

“Lying there.”

Edward turned to the bench. “Your Honor, please instruct the witness to answer the question.”

“She did, Mr. Masen. Please move on.”

Edward gritted his teeth. “Was she alive?”

“No,” Alice muttered after a moment.

“Did you see how she died?”

“Yes.”

“How did she die?”

“Edward, why do you have to…”

“Your Honor?”

“Ms. Brandon, please answer the question,” Rosalie said sadly.

“You killed her,” Alice whispered.

I did?”

“Yes.”

“Me?”

Alice mumbled something under her breath Bella didn’t catch. “Yes, Mr. Masen. You.”

“But you said Ms. Swan and I were in love.” Edward sped to the table for his notepad and flipped a few pages. “That with her I was ‘a man aglow with the glory of love, alive for the first time in one hundred years.’ Wasn’t that your testimony?”

“Yes,” she hissed.

“Then why would I kill her?”

“Because you couldn’t resist her blood.”

“And why not?”

“Because you’re a vampire!”

“Yes, I am.” He put his arms behind his back, pacing. “A vampire who hasn’t bitten another human in more than seven decades. A vampire who attends school with dozens of humans, none who fill him with an overwhelming need to sample.”

“Objection,” Bella said wearily. “Counsel is testifying.”

“Sustained. Ask your question, Mr. Masen.”

“My apologies, Your Honor.” Edward approached the witness stand. “When is the last time I bit a human, Ms. Brandon?”

“1931.”

“And how many years since then?”

“74.”

“So long? How did this vampire manage not to bite anyone in three-quarters of a century?”

“Because you work really hard to control the urges. We all do.”

“Yes, we do.” Edward indicated the gallery behind them with a sweep of his arm. “Yet you saw me biting Ms. Swan and killing her. Why would I do that if I have such incredible control?”

Alice glanced at Bella with apologetic eyes. “You made a mistake.”

“I made a mistake and killed the woman I love?” He laughed without humor. “That’s quite a mistake, wouldn’t you say?”

“I wouldn’t know.”

“No, you wouldn’t.” His voice hardened. “Your mate is immortal, is he not?”

“Yes,” Alice lifted her chin. “And yours could be too if you weren’t so stubborn!”

Edward slammed his notepad on the witness stand. “That is beside the point, Ms. Brandon, and you have not answered my question.”

“What question?”

“Why did I bite Ms. Swan in your vision?”

“Because she’s human!”

“I ignore hundreds of humans every day. Why would I bite that one?” He pointed at Bella, the angry gesture making her gasp. “Why, Ms. Brandon?”

“Because she’s your singer!” Alice’s words echoed off the courtroom walls . “Her blood calls to you as none other does, and you tried to resist, Edward. I felt your struggle as the alternative future unfolded. But you were so close to her, so unbelievably close, and her scent was all around you, and you didn’t mean to do it, you just…” Alice shut her eyes. “Slipped up.”

“Slipped up?” He faced the gallery, shrugging his shoulders. “I slipped up. I lost control of myself for one moment!” Bella’s heart raced in her chest as he looked at her, his eyes black with emotion. “And Ms. Swan ceased to exist.” He snapped his fingers. “Like that. Let me ask you, Ms. Brandon. Did the fact that I didn’t mean to do it make her any less dead?”

Esme clutched her pearls in the gallery, and Edward winced. “I withdraw the question.”

Rosalie came to her feet on the bench, her eyes drifting toward Bella’s pale face and troubled eyes. “I think we should take a recess to give plaintiff a chance to…”

“I’m fine, Your Honor.” The strength in Bella’s voice belied her thumping heart. “My apologies for interrupting and I appreciate the consideration, but I do not need a recess.”

Rosalie studied Bella, the slight human whose presence turned her world upside-down, and nodded. “Very well.” She glared at Edward. “Mr. Masen, you may proceed with your cross-examination.”

“Thank you, Judge.” He looked back at Alice whose demeanor was decidedly hostile. “Let’s continue, shall we?”

Edward chuckled when Alice didn’t answer, and Bella wondered if he were losing his grip.

“Was that the only vision you had of me killing Ms. Swan?”

Alice’s eyes darkened. “No.”

“How many times did you see me killing Ms. Swan?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?” Edward turned to Rosalie. “Your Honor, as everyone here knows, vampires have perfect recall. So I object to her answer.”

“Sustained,” Rosalie said as if she took no pleasure in it. “Ms. Brandon, please answer counsel’s question more accurately.”

“The question is impossible to answer,” Alice growled. “At the beginning of your relationship, your decisions regarding Ms. Swan constantly evolved. In one day, I could have a dozen visions of you killing her, based on your mood and her reactions.”

“So you had innumerable visions of Ms. Swan dying at my hands? Or my teeth, rather?”

Alice clamped her mouth shut, her foot tapping furiously against the floor.

“Ms. Brandon?”

“I would not say innumerable,” she ground out. “But a precise tally is difficult to obtain.”

“More than 50?”

Bella was on her feet. “Objection, Your Honor. Asked and answered.”

“I have only just asked her to narrow down the number of visions.” He examined his nails. “She has not answered that question yet.”

“The record reflects she had many of these visions,” Bella groaned. “Does the precise number matter?”

He shrugged. “It should to you.”

“You have the audacity to challenge me on what should and shouldn’t matter?” Bella advanced on him. “Where the hell do you get the….”

“Order!” Rosalie banged the gavel on the wooden block and split it in half. “Dammit!”

“On it!” Emmett sped in and out of the room with a new one. He placed it on the judge’s table and returned to his spot in less than ten seconds.

Once the block was placed, Rosalie glared at the litigants. “I warned you several times not to speak to each other during the proceedings, and you ignored me. Therefore each of you loses a cross-examination as a consequence.”

“What?” Bella cried as Edward ran his hands down his face. “But he kept provoking me!”

“I understand that, Ms. Swan, but you were not obligated to reply.” Rosalie folded her hands. "As Mr. Masen has begun his cross-examination of Ms. Brandon, he loses the right to cross your next witness. Likewise, you lose the right to cross-examine his third witness. Is that understood?”

“Yes,” they muttered.

“Good. Do not make me to resort to harsher penalties. You may continue with Ms. Brandon, Mr. Masen.”

Bella returned to her seat with forced composure and grabbed her bottle of water. As she twisted off the cap, she pretended it was Edward’s neck.

For his part, Mr. Masen kept his coolest mask in place as he faced Ms. Brandon. “Where were we?”

“Bella objected when you asked if I had more than 50 visions of you killing her,” she droned.

“Right.” He turned to the judge. “Well?”

“Overruled. Move along.”

“Just one more question, Ms. Brandon.” Edward regarded her seriously. “If you’ve had dozens upon dozens upon dozens of visions of me killing Ms. Swan, why would you think it safe for me to stay with her?”

Alice bared her fangs and leaned forward. “Because leaving her would destroy you both. And because, in case you haven’t noticed, she is alive. Which means no matter how tempted you might be, love is stronger than the shadow of death.”

Edward leaned forward. “And you’re willing to bet her fragile life on that?”

“Her life wouldn’t be so fragile if you’d change her.”

“And what about her soul?” His voice shook as he gripped the edge of the witness stand. “Is it worth risking her soul to keep her with me forever?”

“As you will die without her, yes!” They were nose-to-nose. “And if Bella is willing to risk it, then you should respect her choice.”

Edward stalked away from Alice and into his chair, slamming his notepad on his desk. When he fell silent and still, Rosalie looked to Bella. “Redirect?”

Bella glanced at Edward—noting the tension in his shoulders and jaw—and shook her head.

“Then you may step down, Ms. Brandon,” Rosalie replied.

Alice left the witness stand without enthusiasm and passed Bella’s table with a muted smile. And though Bella felt Alice’s testimony could not have gone better, she also felt the man across the aisle would never listen to reason. And if not, then what was the point of this case?

What was the point of any of it?

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