A Love Worth Defending

You've Been Served

Edward stared at Bella, shaking as his head as if clearing his ears. "What did you say?"

"You heard me." She lifted her chin. "I am taking you to court."

His lips moved, but the words were slow in coming. "I don't... I don't understand."

Suppressing an eye-roll, Bella sighed. "You and the family are leaving because your world is no good for me, right?"

"Yes."

"Additionally, you are leaving because I am no good for you, correct?"

His nostrils flared, but he nodded.

"And you do not want me to come with you because you do not want me?" He looked away, and she frowned. "Yes or no, Edward?"

"Is that not what I said?"

"It is." She took her time walking toward him. "But I want you to say it again, to speak it from your heart until I believe it in mine."

His hands fisted at his side, but he did not look up. "No."

"No, you don't want me?"

"No, I am not doing this." It was all she could do not to turn to shrink from his blazing gaze. "I made my decision, and you do not get to..."

"No, you do not get to make decisions for me! Nothing we shared gives you that right."

Her chest heaved with anger, and she clamped her lips shut, breathing through her nose to calm down.

"Edward," she said after a moment. "I don't know what you're trying to pull, but this is not happening. Not like this. If you're going to change my life and the lives of our family"—he winced at her pronoun choice—"you'll have to earn that right. In court."

"Court?" Derision hardened his laughter. "What are you going to do? March into Judge Drayton’s chambers and announce that your vampire boyfriend is threatening to leave you?"

"You being a vampire has little to do with this."

"It has everything to do with this!" His roar chased a flock of birds from their nearby nest. "God, Bella. Do you have no sense of self-preservation?"

"I don't know what you mean."

"You almost died!” He cupped her cheeks, startling her with the chill of his touch. "Do you not get that? You. Almost. Died!"

"Why would that matter if you don't love me?"

He retreated as if stung, torment clouding his eyes. She knew she twisted his words, that he never said he didn't love her. But she wanted his reaction, needed his flinch to disprove his lies.

But the hollow satisfaction couldn't ease the ache in her chest.

This was so not the way Bella’s week should have gone. She was supposed to open presents, eat cake, and use her advancing age to convince Edward to change her sooner than later. It wouldn't have been easy, but with time and love on their side, she figured she could do it.

Instead she cut her finger, fell into the cake, and was now expected to stand idly by while her bullheaded boyfriend walked away from her forever.

He must have lost his freakin’ mind.

“I asked you a question.” His silence unnerved her, and she refused to relent. “Why would my death matter if you don’t…”

"No matter what I said here.” His low timbre rumbled through her heart. “I would never wish you dead."

"I still don't see what difference it would make, me dead or alive. Not when you don’t…"

"Dammit, Bella!" He grabbed her hands, jerking her toward him. "What do you want from me? What in the world do you want from me?"

“I want the truth! The truth, Edward. Not this cockamamie crap you’re spewing.”

“You want the truth?” He pulled her closer, scorching her eyes with his rage. "The truth is we would never work! I am a predator; you are my prey. It is unnatural to think we could exist otherwise."

"By all accounts, you are unnatural," she countered softly. "Unnatural, inhuman, and impossible to exist at all. But loving you is as natural as breathing."

His face crumbled, softening his gaze. "And I would spend my life ensuring you never stopped breathing. Another impasse proving my point."

"One easily solved if you weren't so foolish."

"Foolish?"

"Carlisle changed Esme and changed Emmett for Rosalie."

"They were dying," he spat. "You are not."

"I die a little every day." She laid a gentle hand on his chest. "Every second brings me closer to a death of life's choosing, a final fate from which there is no escape. But if you changed me…"

"That is not up for discussion." He released her with a low oath. "Whether you are with me or not, you are staying human."

"You are not God, Edward! You may be beautiful, immortal, and nearly omniscient, but you do not run the world, and you cannot run my life. Besides, I could get Carlisle to change me. Or Alice; she has the restraint." She waited for him to meet her eyes, smirking when he did. "Would you be so eager to leave me then? When you could take me as your mate and claim me as you've only dreamed about?"

A shiver rippled through his body, but he kept it out of his voice. “Neither my father nor my sister would ever defy me, so the point is moot.”

‘Now you control the entire family? All the more reason to take this to trial."

He folded his hands in front of his mouth. "Bella, going to the courthouse to air your grievance would create more problems than it solves. Surely you see that."

"I'm not going to the courthouse. Our unique situation requires a different sort of authority."

As she arched a defiant brow, he blanched at her boldness. "The Volturi? Bella, they would kill you instantly!"

“As I've pointed out, my death should not matter to you if…"

"You are not going to Volterra!" His eyes blackened with fury. "I would sooner bite you myself than subject you to their depravity."

She folded her arms. "So you would change me to save me from the Volturi but not because you love me?"

He closed his eyes, and she’d never seen him so aggravated. "You do not know the things of which they are capable," he murmured. "The perverse pleasure they would take in your destruction, the unspeakable pain you would endure. I could not… I could not live with myself knowing you’d suffered so grotesque a fate."

"Yet you can leave me."

"I have no choice!" His arms locked around her, somehow tender in their strength. "We are not safe for you, Bella. I am not safe for you no matter how much I…” He expelled a harsh breath. “I am unsafe, Bella. And I promised that if leaving you was right, then I would do it to keep you safe."

"You do not get to make that choice without me, Edward," she said gently. "No matter how noble your motives. And if I must take you to court to prove it, so be it.”

His shook his head as his tortured eyes fluttered shut. "The Volturi are not an option."

"Why would I need the Volturi?" She stiffened in his arms, and he released her. "I have a better court at my disposal, one more suitable for my purposes. And it is there I will see you this Saturday morning at ten o’clock.” She checked her watch. "Tomorrow is Friday, so I think it best if we do not speak again before the trial unless mandated by our scholastic obligations. Then we will be able to…"

"Bella, what the hell are you talking about?"

"Did you miss it the first five times? I am putting our love on trial." He shook his head, and she reentered his personal space. "You don't want me, correct?"

"I refuse to answer that again."

"But you stipulate that you should leave me because you are an unsafe choice of mate?"

"Does that need to be stipulated?" He pinched the bridge of his nose, and she waited for a proper answer. "Yes."

"Well, I do not agree. And as we cannot settle this dispute on our own, I must bring it to the court to decide."

"What court?!"

"You will find out soon enough. We are going to trial, and as such, you have the right to defend your position. So assemble witnesses and prove your case. If the court agrees that you are unsafe for me, I will let you leave as planned without protest or prejudice."

He dragged a hand down his face, masking his reaction. "And if not?"

She hoped her expression was as neutral as her voice. "That's for me to decide. Now I need to prepare, and I suggest you do the same. Do you agree to the terms set forth?"

His mask slipped back in place, and he regarded her with unreadable eyes. "I do."

"Then I will see you in court."

She turned on heel and walked toward her father’s house with purpose. "Game on, Cullen."

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