A Love Worth Defending

Confronting Mr. Masen

As Billy’s shocking testimony filled the courtroom, Bella realized two things.

Edward made a serious error thinking the tribe could protect her.

And he was somewhere in this building berating himself for it.

When Rosalie dismissed the Quileute elder, he tried to apologize, but Bella waved him off. There was nothing he could say she wanted to hear.

She only wanted to see Edward.

Coming to her feet to request a recess, Bella turned at the sound of the rear doors opening again. Emmett entered first, half-smiling at Rosalie who relaxed at the sight of him. Bella scanned her biggest brother for clues to her beloved’s mindset, but he refused to look her way.

Jasper, though the emotional expert, was less circumspect. So when Bella fed him all the anxiety she could muster, the sadness in his eyes told her what she needed to know.

And what she needed to do.

She stepped from behind her desk and exited the courtroom. The sound of raised voices made her move quickly, not wanting to be intercepted and asked to go away. By rights, she should have been—and in some ways was—ready to throttle Edward for his determination to leave her. But love seldom gave the luxury of logic, and despite her frustration, Bella could never ignore his pain.

As she proceeded to the lower level, their heated exchange hastened her steps. Carlisle meant well and always had, but this was not his fight.

It was hers, and she was ready.

But Edward, from the look of it, was not. And even after Carlisle’s footsteps faded into silence, he kept his eyes on the door, the ceiling, the wall. Everywhere but on Bella. He’d done this only one other time, two days ago, and she was not letting him get away with it again.

“Avoiding my eyes won’t make me disappear,” she said.

At the sound of her voice, he glanced at her so quickly, the average human would have missed it.

But Bella was no average human.

“Why are you doing this to yourself?” she asked.

“Doing what?” he murmured, the sound of his voice turning her inside out.

She pointed to the wall behind him. “I didn’t think structural damage was your style.”

“That was Emmett. He dropped me.”

Bella wondered how Emmett could drop Edward sideways but did not ask. “How are you?”

Edward barked a laugh. “You came all the way down here to ask me that?”

“Is that your answer?”

Her easy tone forced his eyes to hers again, and he shook his head. “I don’t know why I bother,” he said sadly.

“And I don’t know what that means.”

“It doesn’t matter.” He straightened up, expelling a harsh breath through his nose. “We need to return to the courtroom.”

“Not until we have a conversation.”

Edward looked toward the ceiling then regarded her with even eyes. “There is nothing to say.”

Bella folded her arms. “Your voice travels, you know.”

“What?”

“In these old hallways, your voice travels. So you can look at me now with indifference. You can snort and sigh and dazzle me with your best lies.” She stepped toward him, watching his eyes darken. “But I heard you with Carlisle, the passion you couldn’t hide, your agony and longing. So this, whatever it is, I’m not buying.” They were almost nose-to-nose. “So let’s stop with the games and get real.”

He stiffened, closing his mouth, and she realized he was not breathing. “You’re standing too close.”

“I belong to you,” she said calmly. “There is no such place.”

“Bella, please.”

She leaned closer. “Please what?”

His eyes dropped to her mouth, his tongue darting out to lick his own lips. “Don’t.”

“Don’t what?”

“Don’t do something now you’ll feel foolish for later.”

She reared back, cocking an eyebrow. “Like calling on my enemy to do what I should be doing myself?”

His eyes widened, and he turned away. “You’re wasting the court’s time. I have more witnesses to call.”

“For what purpose?” She followed him as he paced. “Are you going to ask Jasper to debase himself by discussing the other night? Or was the plan to ask him how I felt while the six of you drooled venom at the sight of my bleeding arm?”

“Stop,” Edward ground out.

“And on cross-examination, would you have objected when he confirmed my love is every bit as strong as yours? That he feels no difference between our bond and that between the other three Cullen pairs? That ours is stronger?”

“That’s impossible,” he snorted. “You’re human.”

“Yes.” Bella stepped in front of him. “I’m human and clumsy and stubborn and a host of other things. But guess what? You’re immortal and moody and patronizing and hard-headed beyond your physicality. We’re both a mess, all of us flawed in unique ways. But love is…”

“Don’t talk to me about love!” His outburst startled her, but she hid it well. “Love is a poor excuse for making selfish choices. Love leads to death which leads to suffering and loss, and…”

Our love would lead to life if you would let it! A blissful, beautiful life with eternity as our playground. We would never be separated, never endure goodbye, never have to…”

“What about Charlie?”

“Charlie lived without me most of my life. He would survive my loss again.”

“And Renee?”

“She has Phil.”

“Your friends?”

“Angela and I would lose touch a few years after high school anyway.” She shrugged. “And every other mortal I could live without. Next?”

He turned away, and this time she did not follow. She studied his posture—his rounded shoulders, his hunched back and limp limbs—and sighed.

“This is killing you,” she whispered. “Killing both of us, and it does not have to be this way.”

“But it is this way,” he replied as softly. “It is and shall remain this way.”

“It does not have to be this way,” she repeated. “If I were like you, then…”

“That will never happen!” He was in her face before she could blink. “Why do you not accept this?”

“Why do you not accept my choice? Why do you insist on pushing me away and denying us both the happiness we so desire?”

Edward turned away with a roar so loud Bella’s heart skipped a beat. He pounded his fists into the far wall, muttering and moaning with an agony that pierced her soul. Every instinct in her body warned her to flee, but she remained, bearing intimate witness to his self-inflicted pain.

“Edward, please.” Her voice was a breath, but she knew he heard her. “Put an end to this and let me in. We can disappear tonight, go to Alaska or Norway or New Zealand, and begin our new lives together. Carlisle can do it if you’re not strong enough, then there will be no…”

“No.”

“No? Would you like to do it yourself?”

“No, that’s…” He shook his head, his voice dead and flat. “The answer is no and will always be no. You are not changing. I am not staying. There is nothing more to be said.”

Bella stood silent and watched him, her heart steeling itself as it absorbed his words. As she watched and waited, waited and watched, she flipped through her counterarguments, searching for the right one.

And when it finally, surprisingly dawned on her, she blew out a resolved breath and made her way upstairs. She entered the courtroom with slow and steady steps, passing her desk and stopping in front of the judge’s bench.

“Your Honor, I have something to say.” She clasped her hands in front of her. “If it please the court.”

Rosalie looked toward the defendant’s empty desk. “Ms. Swan, I’m afraid you must wait until Mr. Masen returns.”

“I’m afraid that might not be possible, Your Honor,” Bella said. “So if I might be granted the…”

“I am here.” Edward said softly. “My apologies for the unforeseeable delay.”

The rush of air at her back suggested Edward sped to his seat, and Bella willed herself not to react. “May I proceed?”

Rosalie nodded. “The floor is yours, Ms. Swan.”

“Thank you.” Bella squared her shoulders and met the judge’s eyes. “I withdraw my petition.”

Esme and Emmett gasped, and Rosalie with them. “What do you mean, Ms. Swan?”

“I no longer wish to pursue this matter.” Her voice was strong and even. “I thank the court and all witnesses for their time, but I am dropping the case against Mr. Masen.”

Rosalie glanced between Bella and Edward, incredulity painted across her face. “Any objection, Mr. Masen?” she asked after a moment.

Bella barely heard his reply, but she knew what it was. Rosalie regarded her with sad eyes and steepled her hands. “Very well, Ms. Swan. The case against Mr. Masen is officially…”

“And eternally,” Bella added.

Rosalie paused then nodded. “Officially and eternally dismissed, and this court is therefore adjourned.” With another long look at Bella, Rosalie tapped the gavel on the wooden block one last time.

The fatal sound echoed through the silent chamber until Emmett spoke. “All rise.”

Rosalie exited through the judge’s door, and Bella felt six of the remaining pairs of eyes on her. She gathered her things and proceeded out of the courtroom without a word or glance to anyone.

Slinging her bag onto the passenger seat, Bella pulled out her phone. She scrolled through her contacts and sent a four-word text message to the only person who needed one.

“Don’t say a word.”

She waited a beat for the reply. "I promise.”

Bella tossed the phone back into her bag, stuck the key in the ignition, and peeled out of the parking lot, hoping she wasn’t too late.

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