Challenge Number/Title: #8 – Talk My Ear Off

Date Posted: March 18, 2013

Fandom: Twilight

Rating: M

Genre: AH, AU

Content Descriptors: Angst, Drama, Mystery, Romance

Character Pairing: Edward/Bella

Prompt: Picture prompt. Write your entry based around a conversation taking place. Your entry should be mostly dialogue. Narrative is allowed but should not be the focus of the entry. There must be at least two people talking in this conversation.

-x-

"I would rather trust a woman's instinct than a man's reason." ― Stanley Baldwin.

-x-

EIGHT.

"What do you mean you think someone is stalking you?" was the first thing out of Bella's mouth when Edward answered his phone.

"I got a letter today with a picture of me and you from senior prom," he replied, forcing himself to push down the uneasy feeling in his stomach. "It's torn down the middle, and when I piece it together, there's a message on the back."

Bella sat up straighter in her bed. "What does it say?"

"If I say 'Everything I tell you is a lie,' am I telling you the truth or a lie?" he read aloud to her. "But that's not what bothers me the most."

She could hear him gulp loudly. "What bothers you the most?" Bella asked.

He sighed. "The envelope was pushed under my hotel door for me to find this morning."

"And you're just telling me this now?" she scoffed incredulously.

"I had conference call meetings all morning with New York. I still have a job, you know. A life that I have to get back…" he stopped.

She cringed and licked her dry lips, forcing herself to show her best poker face. "Yes, I am well aware that you have a life to get back to, Edward. If this is such an inconvenience—"

"I didn't say that," he interrupted.

"You didn't have to." She remained impassive.

"I didn't mean anything by it. I don't even know why I said it."

Inwardly, she rolled her eyes. "Whatever. I don't care either way. Once I find Alice, you can go back on your merry way."

"No. I can't," he replied, aggravated. "I have a daughter here who needs to know who I am."

"And once again," she reminded him, "you have no right to barge into her life. You had your chance. You blew it."

"I didn't know about her, Bella!"

"Bullshit! Do I have to show you the signatures again?"

"I'm working on trying to figure that out. I would never — never — have done that, Bella. You have to believe that, if nothing else," he begged. "Since the day I stepped into your office, my life has turned into a giant mind-fuck. So excuse me if I don't go about doing things the right way. My sister is missing, my mom lied to me, I have no idea what the hell is up with Royce lately, and I just found out that I have a child!"

"Don't yell at me!"

"I want to know my daughter, Bella. Please."

Before responding, she heard the door downstairs open and Rosalie call out to her. "I have to go," she said to Edward quickly in an attempt to end their awkward conversation. "We'll talk about the picture tomorrow. I got something similar, too."

"What?" he shouted. "How could you not—"

"I have a life, too, you know! And priorities that are not all about you!" she snapped heatedly.

"If someone is stalking you, Isabella, I need to know. You should have told me." The remorse in his tone was palpable.

"Why?"

"Because you shouldn't be alone."

"Rosalie is here with her boyfriend, Emmett."

"I'm coming."

"No, you're not."

"I'm leaving now."

"Edward."

"Where is Katie?"

"With my dad."

"Good. I don't want her around while this shit is going on. It's bad enough with her having to deal with your choice of occupation."

"Hey, asshole! That occupation puts a roof over my baby's head and food in her mouth every damned day! So fuck you, Mr. High-and-Mighty! You've known about her for two weeks. I've raised her going on seven years!"

"We'll talk about this when I get there."

"The hell we will! I dare you to knock on my door, Edward! Because I'll have Emmett knock you flat on your ass!"

"We'll see," he growled and ended the call.

"Emmett!" Bella shouted after tossing her phone onto the bed angrily.

-x-

"Thank you for agreeing to see me today, Your Honor." Bella flashed her best smile at the man seated behind a beautifully-crafted mahogany desk. "It's a pleasure to meet you." She stuck her hand out and shook hands with Alice's boss, Judge Aro Volturi.

"You as well, Ms. Swan. I understand you had a family emergency? How is your daughter's arm? Not broken after all, I hope?" he asked as he pulled back and settled into his high-backed executive chair.

Bella paused in confusion for just a second before common sense hit her. That must have been how Rosalie was able to set up a second meeting. "Oh, she's good! Yes, I apologize again for missing our meeting, Judge. As you can understand," she motioned to the picture frame of two little girls smiling, "when one gets a call from their child's school telling you that your child is hurt…" she trailed off, shaking her head and shared a knowing look with the judge.

A look that made the third person in the room burn with envy.

"Well, that's wonderful to hear, Ms. Swan."

"Bella, please." She grinned again and sat in one of the guest chairs.

"And… who may I ask is this gentleman? I'm sorry. I was under the impression that this would be more of a one-on-one, if I'm not mistaken?"

At that, Bella forced herself not to groan out loud in exasperation. "This is my associate, Mr. Cullen. He is actually related to Alice; her brother, to be exact."

"Mr. Cullen." He nodded a greeting and motioned for him to sit. "We're all sorry to hear about Alice and wish for her safe return."

"Thank you, Judge." Edward bowed his head and from his peripheral, caught the sight of Bella rolling her eyes. "I apologize for my unannounced visit, but as you must understand, I wished to be present with Ms. Swan during her questioning. Perhaps I could add a little insight myself?"

Bella felt her fingernails dig into her palms. He did not need to be with her, and the fact that he insisted just burned her hotter. He'd refused to allow her out of his sight and — damn him — Emmett had agreed, much to Bella's disappointment; not that she apparently had a say in her own life these days. Both Emmett and Rosalie had always been protective of Bella, but with the sudden addition of Edward's concern, it was nearly overwhelming.

"Very well, Mr. Cullen." Judge Volturi gave his consent and looked at Bella. "Please proceed, Bella. You have my full attention."

"Why don't we start with the last time you spoke with Alice?" Bella asked, pulling out a notebook, her pen poised in wait.

Edward's eyes flicked toward her long, bared legs as she crossed one over the other and mentally groaned at the way her black pencil skirt rested just above her knee. Hundreds of images flooded his mind right then, intimate and arousing. He pulled at his tie and cleared his throat, tearing his gaze away and up into the watchful eyes of the Judge.

Oops.

"As I said to the police," Judge Volturi began, "Alice and I had gone out for lunch around noon to Japanese Gourmet at Pikes Place about a week before her disappearance."

"Did you often go out to lunch with Alice?"

"Yes, we tried to at least once a month, if that. I'm close friends with Carlisle and Esme. Carlisle and I both graduated from Harvard together. So it was usually the three of us who have lunch. That day, Carlisle was unable to attend at the last minute. She and I had lunch without him."

"And did you find anything odd that day in her behavior? Did she seem out of sorts in any way?"

"No, not particularly. Although, I will admit that she wasn't as animated as usual. I just assumed it was because of her second job. Late hours, that one. I had tried to convince her to quit, but she was determined to stick it through," he chuckled.

Bella and Edward blanched. It was out of character for Alice to apply for an internship at the courthouse to begin with, but this? It put her odd behavior on an entirely different level. Alice had never been known to do anything more than shop, party, or pamper herself.

"Second job?" Bella played it cool, not wanting to sound like it was too much of a surprise lest it set Judge Volturi on the defense.

"Yes, bartending somewhere downtown. Wolfpack or something of that nature. She made me promise not to tell anyone so it wouldn't affect her status in the office. I asked if she needed money, and her bubbly laughter was her reply. I'm sure Carlisle would have had an aneurysm had he known. The only reason I kept my promise to her was because she said she was quitting in…" he paused.

"In?" Bella leaned closer, as did Edward.

"In a week." Judge Volturi blinked.

-x-

"You should have asked more of him."

"You could have asked him questions, too. That's why you were there, right? You're not shadowing me, because you think I'm in danger and incapable of protecting myself. Right?" she hissed at him as they pushed past busy crowds outside the courthouse toward his rental.

His fingers slid around her wrist and jerked her to a stop. "You know, most women would find my protective behavior endearing."

Bella scowled and threw her hands up to shake free of his hold. "Good thing I'm nothing like 'most women' then," she replied with sarcasm before brushing past him and briskly walking toward the car.

Edward's quick feet caught up with her effortlessly. The woman was grating on his very last nerve to the point where he was ready to throw her over his shoulder and toss her inside the trunk. Her mouth was incessantly moving as she pushed and prodded his dwindling self-control.

"Is this how you intend to continue on with my sister's case? If so, then forget it. You're fired." He thrust her away from him angrily. "You flew out of that room just when you were finally getting somewhere, Isabella!"

"How dare you question my ability to handle your sister's case!" She whirled around to shout at him. "You might know your way around a courtroom, but when it comes to my line of work, you don't know dick! If you'd been paying attention, you would have noticed that he locked up after revealing his knowledge about the second job, as it was obviously not something he wanted to tell us. Leaving now on good terms is what we need to do in order to get more information from him in the future."

"How the hell do you figure that? He could be halfway across the country by then!"

"Do you trust me?" she blurted in the middle of his rant.

"I— You— We…"

"It's as simple as that, Edward. Do you trust me to handle your sister's case or not? Because if your answer is no, then we end this right here, right now. I will not have you hovering over my shoulder the entire time and criticizing everything I do. That is specifically the reason I work alone," she huffed, running shaky fingers through her hair.

Edward stood before her, speechless.

Did he trust her? One week ago, his answer would have been a sworn oath of NO.

But as of three days ago? The hard line between yes and no had grown sketchy.

"Answer me, Edward!" Bella snapped him out of his reverie.

He groaned into his hands and rubbed at his tired eyes. "Define the word trust." He looked up at her hesitantly. The way her face blanked out was discouraging, but when her eyes began to water, the answer he shot out of his mouth was, "Yes."

"Okay." She swallowed nervously and started for the car again.

He followed behind closely and fought the urge to touch her, to spin her around and stare deeply into her eyes to try and read any little part of her to figure out what was going through her mind right then. Because for him, he was borderline frantic; his palms were damp, his heart was hammering, his throat was tight, his head was spinning…

It all came to an abrupt halt when she swung around just outside the driver's side door of his rental and held out a hand. He blinked at her in confusion. "What?" he asked.

"Keys."

He scowled. "No way."

"You said you trusted me." Her fingers wiggled.

Slowly, he stepped forward and held the keys out only to snatch them back when she reached for them. "Don't think I forgot about the last time I trusted you behind the wheel," he teased her.

Her cheeks burned. "Shut up and give me the keys."

He did and rounded the front of the car to get to the passenger side. "Where are we going?" he asked as he buckled his seatbelt.

She grinned and gunned the engine. "Wolfpack, of course."

-x-

A/N: Thank you to my bestie—you give me the best feedback! BIG thank you to mariahajile and mauigirl60 for being amazing beta's—they catch all my mistakes. Thank you sweet ladies!

Everyone go read my bestie Londonstew's entry to the PTB challenge, she writes under the name: heatherarielle.