A Love Worth Defending

Tribal Truths

Bella sat behind the plaintiff’s desk, her mind in disarray. She heard Rosalie’s question, had decided to forgive Billy’s outburst and allow him to continue speaking on her opponent’s behalf, but she was unsettled.

Something was off.

Beyond the normal realm of off-ness in her girl-who-runs-with-vampires life.

Though she hadn’t missed a word of Billy’s testimony, Bella was missing something, something critical. She knew Edward would pull out all the stops to prove his point, and bringing Billy here was troubling, outrageous, and wrong.

But there was something else.

And she needed to know what.

“Ms. Swan?” Rosalie repeated.

“Just a moment, Your Honor.” Bella leafed through her notebook to buy some time. “May I approach the defendant?”

Edward was on his feet. “Objection.”

“On what grounds?” Bella asked.

“Talking to each other solves nothing. Is that not why we’re here?”

Bella swallowed her first retort. “Her Honor asked if I accept Billy’s apology, and I cannot answer her question until you answer mine.”

Edward folded his arms. “And that would be?”

“Why is Billy here?” Bella walked toward Edward, her eyes seeking. “You don’t trust him, and he loathes our family. So why is he here?”

Edward held her gaze for as long as he dared then turned to Rosalie. “Is she allowed to ask me that? Wouldn’t her question be answered as the case proceeded?”

“How can I know if I want Billy to stay,” Bella countered, “if I don’t know his aim?”

Edward’s reply was smooth, but Bella noted the irritation in it. “The judge did not ask ‘Do you want Billy to stay?’ but ‘Do you accept his apology?’ One has nothing to do with the other.”

Rosalie drummed her fingers on her desk, watching their sparring with silent interest. Edward caught her smirk and sighed. “Your Honor, a ruling?”

“Right.” Rosalie folded her hands beneath her chin. “Though I understand your logic, Ms. Swan, the defendant is correct. It is his prerogative to call whomever he wishes, and yours, in this instance alone, to decide if you can pardon this witness and allow his testimony to continue. Everything else is irrelevant.”

Bella turned disbelieving eyes to Edward. “I don’t understand you anymore.”

“I could say the same.”

“What?”

“You know what I am,” he replied with quiet intensity. “I don’t know why any of this surprises you.”

With widened eyes, Bella marched into his personal space. “You don’t know why I’m surprised at your determination to abandon me? To tarnish and spit on everything we have?”

“If you knew me.” His eyes darkened at her nearness. “If you really knew me, Bella, you would let this go.”

Her brows knit in fury. “And if you knew me, Mr. Masen, you would know I will never let this go.”

Bella turned on heel to resume her seat. “I forgive the witness, Your Honor. Let him stay and say whatever he wants.”

“Very well.” Rosalie swiveled in her chair to face the defendant. “Mr. Masen, your earlier treatment of your witness was an embarrassment and disgrace. Though lax before, I will not permit such behavior again. If you even point at anyone else, I will throw out your case and rule in Ms. Swan’s favor so quickly, you’ll think this was all a dream. Do I make myself clear?”

Edward raised his chin. “Am I not allowed to defend my mate?”

Bella jumped to her feet. “Are you freakin’ kidding me right now?”

Edward continued as if he she hadn’t spoken. “This trial is about the need to protect my mate from the very hint of danger. Elder Black’s tone and demeanor signified a threat, thus I was compelled to act.” He looked at Emmett. “Would you not do the same for Rosalie?”

Emmett cracked his knuckles, his muscles rippling beneath his shirt. “That and more.”

“Jasper?”

His sudden spike of rage engulfed the room, and Alice patted his hand to calm him.

“I take that as a ‘yes.’ Carlisle?”

His fond glance at Esme belied the heat in his voice. “Without delay.”

Edward looked back at Rosalie, heedless of Bella’s incredulity. “I apologize for my lapse in decorum. But I could not and will not stand idly by while someone—anyone—threatens my mate.”

“Do you hear yourself?” Bella shrieked. “This entire trial is about you leaving me defenseless!”

“I’m trying to protect—”

“No!” Bella trembled with the effort to keep from hurling a chair at Edward’s head. “You are trying to have your cake and eat it too!”

“Actually the original phrase is ‘eat your cake and have it too.’ The current idiom makes no sense and is…”

“You make no sense! You unbelievable, narcissistic, bipolar pain in my fuc—”

“Order!” Rosalie tapped her gavel on the block, no longer amused. “Ms. Swan, resume your seat.”

Bella glared at Edward for a long moment before obeying the judge’s command. Smoothing her hair and adjusting her collar on her blouse, she nodded primly. “I apologize, Your Honor. And to bipolar people everywhere.”

“Accepted, Ms. Swan.” Rosalie released a long, heavy breath. “Mr. Masen, I heard your argument and though I share Ms. Swan’s confusion, I accept your exception to protect your mate, provided you temper your reactions and behave circumspectly in all other instances.”

“I will, Your Honor.” Edward bowed to the bench. “Thank you.”

Bella clicked her tongue, shaking her head and mumbling, “This is ridiculous.”

“As for you, Elder Black.” Rosalie’s frosty eyes made him shiver. “You are on the thinnest of ice. Consider yourself warned.”

“Yes,” Billy said. “Your Honor.”

Rosalie waved her hand. “Proceed, Mr. Masen.”

“Thank you.” Edward checked his notepad before walking toward the witness stand, ignoring Bella’s glare. “Elder Black, I earlier mentioned an outside threat to Ms. Swan’s life. Do you recall that?”

“I do.”

“You are here as a haven for Ms. Swan, someone who could keep her safe. Is that still true?”

“Yes.”

“Elder Black, how could you protect Ms. Swan from this outside supernatural threat?”

“With our gift.”

“What gift is that?”

“The supernatural gift in our blood which allows us to protect our tribe and other humans from your kind.”

Edward glanced at Bella, but she was inspecting her nails. “Could you be more specific?”

“Your Honor?” Billy asked. “These proceedings are governed by the treaty, correct?”

“Yes. Everyone present is bound by the secrecy clause of that document. So please answer the question as the defendant requests.”

“Could he repeat the question?” Billy asked.

Rosalie nodded. “Mr. Masen?”

“Yes. Elder Black, explain with specificity how your supernatural gift would allow you to protect Ms. Swan.”

“Our tribe has within its blood the power of the wolf.” His voice deepened with ancient wisdom. “And when quickened by the threat of cold ones, vampires, we are able to transform into wolves to destroy that threat.”

“Do all of you have this gift?” Edward asked. “Do you?”

“I do not.” Billy looked away. “But Sam and Jared manifest it, and Jacob is…”

A loud peal of laughter erupted from Bella’s side of the room, and she covered her mouth with folded hands as the startled room looked her way.

“Is there a problem, Ms. Swan?” Rosalie asked as Edward sighed.

“I’m sorry, Your Honor, but I couldn’t hold it in any longer.” She swept the collecting moisture from her eyes. “I mean, I knew Billy was desperate to keep me from all of you, but I never thought he’d invent such an outlandish story.”

“Ms. Swan, the witness was sworn in,” Rosalie said. “He is obligated to tell the truth.”

“Is that why you believe this crap about wolves and cold ones or whatever it is?”

Rosalie folded her arms. “Do you have an objection?”

“Don’t you?” Bella cried. “I mean, with all due respect, are you buying this nonsense?”

“It is not nonsense, Ms. Swan.” Billy’s tone was a shade off hostile. “And you would do well to respect our tribal truths.”

“Your Honor, I…” Bella looked at Edward. “I know she told you not to… do what you do, but surely she’ll make an exception for this because I just…”

Rosalie tapped her gavel on the wooden block with gentle authority. “Ms. Swan, you are out of order.”

“But I…”

“I know this is surprising.” Carlisle’s kind voice turned Bella toward the gallery. “Especially because you didn’t believe Jacob’s story. But I assure you, Bella, Billy is in earnest.”

Bella blinked, barely registering Esme’s nodding. “Jacob?”

“On the beach,” Carlisle repeated. “At La Push.”

Bella stared at nothing, her thoughts racing. Then bits and pieces from her long ago chat with Jacob came back to her mind, and she gasped aloud. “That stuff is true?”

“Yes,” Carlisle said.

She looked at Billy then at Carlisle. “So he’s really a…?”

“I’m sure Edward will encourage clarification,” Carlisle said, “but they are…”

“That’s why you were so angry when Billy came to my house.” Bella walked to Edward, his eyes tight with anxiety. “You thought he would tell me?”

“Bella, this is not…”

“Don’t give me that!” Bella’s voice betrayed her anxiety. “This is too big, Edward, please… don’t be like that now.”

He tried to maintain his indifference, but her pleading eyes pulled the truth from his heart. “I didn’t want him tainting things, infecting you with his bias. You didn’t believe the boy, but I didn’t want to risk it again.”

“But I chose you.” She reached for the hand covering his face. “Nothing he said would have mattered or...”

“And it doesn’t matter now.” Edward spun out of her reach. “Things have changed.”

Bella dropped her hand to her side. “Yes, they certainly have.” She stepped toward the judge’s bench with a short bow. “Thank you for your patience, Your Honor. I have no formal objection, so pardon my interruption.”

“Apology accepted, Ms. Swan. Please return to your seat. Mr. Masen, you may continue with your witness.”

“Thank you, Your Honor.” Edward glanced at Bella, but she didn’t notice.

She barely paid attention to the rest of Billy’s testimony.

She heard his explanation of their tribe’s gift, its discovery several generations ago. She heard his insistence that protecting humans from vampires was the Quileutes’ duty and right, one they honored to the death. And she heard Billy promise her safety on the reservation against vampire attack.

“There would be no need to worry,” Billy said. “Bella would be safe with our tribe. Nothing or no one could ever hurt her there.”

“Thank you.” Edward about-faced to his chair. “Your witness, counselor.”

Bella sat with her hands steepled atop her desk, her mind adrift. So much of this trial had surprised her, Edward’s stubbornness chief on that list. Billy’s appearance was a strong second, until he confessed his little secret.

His tribe was descended from wolves.

Vampire-killing, shape-shifting wolves to be exact.

“Ms. Swan?” Rosalie’s voice broke through her distracted trance. “Are you ready to question your witness?”

“Yes, Your Honor.” Bella made her way to the witness stand with no idea what to say. “Elder Black…”

“Please call me Billy.” He was still apologetic. “If it would please the court.”

Rosalie shrugged. “If you like it, I love it.”

“Billy, are you saying you and the tribe would protect me from Victoria, no questions asked?”

“It is what we were born to do.”

“Is that a yes?”

He started at her tone. “Yes.”

“Can you speak for the lovely young men who graced us with their presence earlier?”

Billy stiffened. “They will do what is in the best interest of the tribe.”

“And is it in the best interest of the tribe to have a vampire-loving human amongst their ranks?”

“That human,” Billy said tightly, “will eventually see reason and accept the truth about the so-called love of her life.”

“And what truth is that?”

“That he is no good for you.” Billy’s voice hardened. “That your very proximity to him could result in your death, and no teenage crush is worth that.”

“Do you remember when I went to the hospital this year?” Bella asked. “When Charlie left work early because I was in a car accident?”

“Yes.” Billy shook his head. “We were so worried.”

“What did Charlie tell you?”

“That you were nearly crushed to death by a van.”

“Well.” Bella folded her arms. “Edward saved me.”

Billy snorted. “Yeah, right.”

“He raced across the parking lot in front of the entire student body to save me when the…”

“Objection,” Edward called from behind her. “It was not the entire student body. At least 50 students were inside the building, and another twenty had yet to arrive.”

“Seriously?” Alice sighed, earning a look from Rosalie. “Sorry.”

Rosalie rolled her eyes, though Bella suspected Edward was her target. “Sustained,” the judge said dryly. “Rephrase, Ms. Swan.”

“Edward raced across the parking lot in front of everyone who saw him and saved me from Tyler’s van. Did you know that?”

“No, because it’s a lie,” Billy huffed. “Exposing his secret to the human population is a violation of vampire law. He would never do that for any reason.”

“I was the reason.” Bella’s voice warmed with pride. “He did that, risked everything, to save me. Does that change your opinion of him?”

“No.”

“What about the time he saved me from four would-be rapists in Port Angeles?”

“Charlie didn’t tell me that!”

“Charlie didn’t know.” Bella shrugged. “And because Edward was there to save me, again, there was nothing to tell.”

“You are proving my point,” Billy insisted. “Your proximity to him puts you in constant danger.”

“Edward and I weren’t friends when Tyler’s van careened out of control, and I was shopping with my human classmates when those humanmen corralled me. How is that Edward’s fault?”

“You should stay away from him regardless,” Billy said. “You are safer without him.”

“So you would rather me be crushed to death by a van or gang-raped by a drunken quartet than be with Edward?”

Rosalie shifted in her chair, her eyes harsh as she looked at Billy.

“Of course not!” he cried. “What kind of monster would that make me?”

Bella looked him in the eye. “The kind of monster you believe Edward to be.”

Billy did not reply, and Bella let the silence drag on until it became uncomfortable.

“You say your tribe can protect me from Victoria,” Bella continued. “Where were you the first time?”

“What?”

“The first time Victoria and her friends crossed my path in the spring. If the tribe is called is to protect humans from vampires, why didn’t you protect me then?”

“We, uh…” Billy cleared his throat. “We didn’t know she was here.”

“How far does your jurisdiction extend?” Bella asked. “Can you protect me in school?”

“That could be arranged.”

“At work?”

“Sure.”

“And what if I visit my mom in Florida?”

Billy rubbed the back of his neck. “Uh, well…”

“What about college? I might go to Dartmouth, the University of Alaska, or backpack across Europe for six months. Could your tribe protect me there?”

Billy rolled his eyes. “We can’t follow you all over creation, Bella.”

“He could.” Bella pointed at Edward. “He could and he would.”

“If that were true,” Billy sneered, “we wouldn’t be here, would we?”

Esme gasped, and Emmett shook his head. “Damn.”

Bella closed her eyes, resetting her feelings. “Tell me more about shape shifting.”

Billy leaned back smugly in his chair. “What about it?”

“How does it happen?”

“If a vampire crosses our path between adolescence and the end of our teenage years, then the magic is quickened and…”

“No, no.” Bella waved her hand. “I apologize for interrupting, but that’s not what I meant. I mean, once a tribesman realizes he has the power to change, how does it occur? I know it isn’t automatic around vampires because it didn’t happen earlier.”

“Correct.”

“So how does it happen?”

“Under the threat of immediate danger, the change happens in seconds.”

“Is that the only time?”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Is that the only time the change can happen?”

Billy looked away. “I don’t understand the question.”

Bella narrowed her eyes. “Elder Black, you are under oath and not a simpleton. I am asking if the metamorphosis from man to wolf only happens when a tribesman feels threatened by a vampire.”

Billy muttered something under his breath, and Bella sighed. “Your Honor?”

“Elder Black,” Rosalie said, “You are instructed to answer aloud where everyone can hear you.”

“No.”

Rosalie cocked an eyebrow. “Excuse me?”

“No, that is not the only time the change can occur.”

Rosalie gradually retracted her glare, nodding for Bella to continue.

“Elder Black,” Bella said. “Under what additional circumstances can the transformation occur?”

“That depends.”

When he did not elaborate, Bella fought the urge to slap him. “On?”

“On the person.”

Bella threw up her hands. “Your Honor, I cannot continue under these…”

“Stop toying with her,” Edward murmured from his seat. “Remember why you came.”

Billy glared at Edward but huffed in resignation. “Anger.”

“What?” Bella asked.

“When a tribesman becomes angry, the change can happen as a consequence.”

“Even if there’s no vampiric threat?”

Billy nodded curtly.

“Please answer aloud, Elder Black.”

“Yes.”

Bella noticed his eyes darting behind him, his fingers restless on the arms of his wheelchair. “And what happens when that happens?”

“It, uh…” He cleared his throat. “It takes a bit longer for the wolf to calm down long enough to change back into a human, but otherwise there’s no lingering effect.”

“Has anyone ever been hurt?”

“What?”

“As the result of a spontaneous change,” Bella said slowly. "Has anyone ever been hurt?”

Billy looked beyond Bella, his eyes widening.

“I asked you a question,” Bella said.

There was a long beat of silence then three things happened at once.

Edward’s hands slammed on his desk. “What?”

Billy winced. “It was an accident.”

“His own mate?” Edward roared.

At his second outburst, Bella whirled around to Edward’s chair, but he was no longer there. A fragrant gust of wind passed on her right side, and she followed it to the witness stand where Emmett tackled it to the ground.

The beautiful blur Bella loved.

Rosalie banged the gavel on the wooden block, its cadence barely audible over Edward’s growling. “Get him out of here!”

“I don’t want to hurt you, Emmett.” The malice in Edward’s voice raked across Bella’s skin, peppering it with goosebumps. “Let. Me. Go.”

Emmett cinched Edward’s arms behind his back as Carlisle arrived to help. “Can’t do that, bro.”

Edward’s breathing became shallow, his body trembling with fury. “I’m warning you.”

“Think of Bella, son.” Carlisle’s calm voice belied his efforts to grab Edward’s flailing legs. “She does not need to see this.”

“Maybe she does!” Billy snarled from his chair. “Maybe if she sees the truth, she will come to her senses and stop living in some fantasy!”

Edward thrashed against his brother and father. “Don’t talk about her!”

“Billy, shut up!” Bella cried. “Edward, please. Calm down and tell me what’s…”

“Now, Emmett!” Rosalie said again. “Esme, restrain the plaintiff.”

Bella belatedly caught her meaning. “Wait, what?”

By the time of her next blink, Bella was enveloped in the cage-like embrace of the Cullen matriarch, her soothing voice having little effect on Bella’s nerves. She watched with her heart in her throat as Emmett and Carlisle dragged a livid Edward from the courtroom by its rear doors. Though the ruckus continued outside, the silence in the room was deafening as the trio departed, leaving nothing but questions in their wake.

When Bella looked toward the bench, Rosalie wiped her brow with a loud sigh. “I think we need a recess.”

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