Running Home

By Sept13

As a wolf, Jacob is far from Forks, avoiding the pain of losing the girl he loved. On the morning of Edward and Bella's wedding, he is prompted to return home, choosing to face the event that drove him away in the first place.

"But it wasn't until this morning that I really started running. I didn't know if I could make it."

Honorable Mention in the Twilight Novel Novice "One Fine Summer Day" contest.

In canon and character, with three guest OCs. Jacob POV. Characters: Jacob, Quil, Embry, Sam, Leah, Seth

Thank you to Beta Readers SCprincessSC and .x at Project Team Beta and to my friends Ana and Evan!

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended. Stephenie Meyer owns all things Twilight.

I padded down the trail in the darkness, following the curves of a large lake. It was easier to take the human trails when they were available, even though I was more likely to run into hikers. There were gray wolves that denned in this area, but no one would be expecting to see me: a red-brown werewolf the size of a horse.

Along the rocky areas of the shore, there was enough fetch to create small waves, lapping at the edge. Bats darted back and forth across the inlets, skimming the surface of the water; their high-pitched chatter directing them towards the last of the night's feeding. Aside from the sounds of the forest, it was quiet tonight; just Quil and Embry on patrol. They were trying not to think too much and just let me be.

I'd been lazily working my way south for a few days now for no particular reason. It was peaceful living mostly through instinct, the pain just a dull ache, as if it took up less space in my larger wolf heart.

The innocuous brown sign brought me to a sudden halt: "Welcome to Glacier National Park, U.S. Park Service." I had been crossing provincial boundary lines for weeks, not paying much attention, but there was no ignoring this one. I took a deep breath and crossed the invisible boundary back into the States for the first time since we received that damn invitation.

This is the closest he's been. Quil didn't respond to Embry but hope flashed through his head.

I wanted to shout back Shut up, Embry but I was trying my best not to think human. It would just stir up the pity in their eyes again and lead to a bunch of conversations I didn't ever want to have.

I picked up the pace a bit, rounding the base of a craggy peak. At the trail junction, I headed west. The backcountry campsites were empty, even though it was peak summer season. After crossing the Divide, the trail descended across piles of boulders. I jumped easily from rock to rock, leaving the trail where it continued beside a creek, preferring to go south along a shelf partway up the mountain. It had been a couple of days since I hunted and I wanted to get a good view of the area.

Directly below the moraine was a long, narrow lake that reflected the moon, partially obscured by wispy clouds. It would be full in a few days. Ridges rose steeply from either side of the lake. The one to the east was packed with cedars and Douglas fir. Over the ridge to the west was a large burn area.

A chilling sound broke through the damp night air: the plaintive, seeking cry of a lone wolf. The howl echoed across the valley, the sound seeking its destination somewhere on the opposing ridge. Two wolves, miles to the east, answered in chorus. After a while, the lone wolf started the next round of Marco Polo, having moved closer to the rest of the pack. I felt a pang in my chest as I listened to a series of these exchanges. Much as I had tried to ignore my brothers the past several weeks, I couldn't help missing them. Even that harpy, Leah. A little bit.

We miss you, too.

I didn't answer Quil. I just took a deep breath and sighed. The intake of air brought with it smells of the campground at the far end of the lake. Remnants of last night's cookouts: hamburgers and stew and S'mores and something slightly bitter - beer? I barked a laugh as I thought of Billy, Charlie and their "Vitamin R."

Billy misses you, too. Charlie's worried. He's plastered the entire Olympic Peninsula with those runaway boy posters.

I'm not coming back, I thought deliberately. There was nothing for me in La Push but waiting for the heart of the girl I loved to stop beating.

The smells of the campground dinners set my stomach growling. I could just trot down the lakeside trail and rip apart some cars and coolers. It would get blamed on the bears but considering how deserted the backcountry sites were, they must be in enough trouble already. To the east of the campground, there was also a lot of human activity for what must be two in the morning by now. There was shouting and flashlights weaving through the forest.

The burn area would be a good place to hunt. There would be fresh grasses and tender Larch leaves that would attract deer and elk. I could get a drink from the lake on the way.

At the edge of the lake, I took a quick dip, washing my paws and muzzle. It was cold, all snowmelt, but it felt good after jogging most of the day. As I shook myself dry, I noticed a canoe abandoned on the shore. Two shiny wooden paddles and three bright yellow life vests, one so small it looked like it could fit on a doll. All brand new. Strange that someone would have paddled for hours down the lake and then just left it here.

As I passed the canoe and headed up the ridge, I picked up an assortment of scents: 40 or 50 humans and a few dogs. The smell of horse manure stung my sensitive nose. The scents were still strong so they must have come through here in the last day. The flashlights in the forest on the other side of the lake suddenly made sense. Search and Rescue hadn't found whoever they were looking for yet.

A growl escaped the back of my throat as I remembered the image I'd seen in Sam's head of Bella, curled up in heartbreak on the ground. She had risked her life going to the lair of those Italian vultures to save the cause of that. At least I'd shared that memory with the bloodsucker. The look of pain on the leech's face had been priceless. Being in the pack, it was easy to know how to torture somebody with just your thoughts.

The thought of her marrying him after how he had hurt her made me want to rip and tear. I inhaled deeply, trying to locate the smell of my prey. There were some deer to the north, but a scent much closer caught my attention: just a trace of human blood. I dismissed it as someone having earlier scraped against a tree but the next breath brought a stronger, human scent. It was the scent of someone who was still here.

It was easy to follow the smell, but I didn't see the little girl until I almost stepped on her. She was almost completely tucked under a charred, fallen snag. Her pink T-shirt blended in with the tall fireweed. No wonder the search teams hadn't found her.

The blood was coming from tiny welts all over her arm, her neck and her face where she had scratched mosquito bites. Her heartbeat seemed awfully slow for such a small girl.

A shiver convulsed through the girl's tiny frame. Was that the first one I'd seen? God, she was in bad shape if she couldn't shiver anymore. She was just wearing jeans and the pink T-shirt. The cotton was wet, holding the cold, night air to her body. She must have gotten caught in the afternoon thunderstorm.

She's barely older than Claire. I could hear the panic beginning to rise in Quil's thoughts. I had to do something and quickly. She needed gradual re-warming and medical help. Which meant I had to do two things that I really did not want to do: phase to human and get the girl out of her wet clothes. Survival 101.

I thought back to that night in the tent with Bella and the bloodsucker when I had suggested she'd warm up faster if she took her clothes off.

Jake, man! This is not like that. She's a little girl. It's totally innocent, like giving Claire a bath. Quil thought of the toddler splashing in the bubbles, surrounded by rubber ducks and squishy frogs.

The girl shuddered again. Quil's right, Jacob. You have to help her and soon.

Fine! I snapped. It had been so long since I had phased, I wasn't completely sure I still knew how. I closed my eyes in concentration until I could feel the trembling throughout my spine, changing into a shimmer as I felt a return to hands and feet and arms and legs. My fingers dug into the dirt as the phase finished. Panting at the exertion, I slowly stood up. I stretched my arms and then each leg. They felt wobbly, like I was made of Jell-o. It had been so long since I had used my human muscles.

I crouched down and gently pulled the girl free of the snag. Her head lolled over the crook of my arm. Her long brown hair was wet and tangled; her lips had turned blue. Soot was smeared across her colorless cheeks. Her T-shirt had a silhouette of a wolf howling at the moon and "Glacier National Park" written underneath. I pulled the shirt over her head and eased her jeans off over her dog cartoon sneakers. At least she liked canines.

I picked up the little girl and cradled her to my chest, wrapping her legs around my waist and enveloping as much of her as I could with my long arms. Despite Quil's assertion that this wasn't weird, I knew that if someone saw a naked teenage boy running through the woods with a little girl in just her underwear and shoes, I would probably be shot on sight.

I laughed out loud at my little joke, not realizing that feeling just that one pleasant human emotion would bring a bunch of others smashing down on me. It was as if one of the boulders had rolled off the moraine and landed onto my chest. I nearly dropped the little girl as my knees buckled under.

I sat down on the spot, trying to deal with the return of the feeling that my heart had been ripped out and stomped on. I thought about how I had done everything I could; that she loved me and that it still wasn't enough. I moaned at the weight of it all. There were no instincts to guard me from the human emotions now. I was so vulnerable in this form.

I don't know how long I sat there, holding the little girl with the long brown hair. But she had started to shiver again, her teeth chattering. She whimpered and clutched her cold fingers on my chest. I rested my cheek on the top of her head. "Shhh, it's going to be O.K.," I whispered. Suddenly, the anger, the pain and the hate was chased away in a rush of warmth. Someone loved her, was looking for her, and would die inside if anything happened to her.

I was on my feet in an instant. I jumped over the charred and fallen trees, making my way southeast towards the lake. Once I picked up the trail, I ran down the contours of the shore. I had seen a cabin off to the side of the campground. I prayed that somebody would be there. As I got closer, I could make out a symbol on the side of the cabin's front door: "Bowman Lake Resident Ranger." Good. A ranger would know how to care for hypothermia and know who was looking for her. They would know how to get her back to her family, back to her home.

There was an old quilt draped over an Adirondack chair on the porch. I wrapped her in the quilt, placed her in the chair and knocked loudly on the door. As soon as I heard movement inside, I ran back into the trees and waited. The story of her rescue didn't matter. Who would believe it? Besides, I wasn't dressed appropriately for introductions.

A woman with bobbed hair opened the door. Seeing no one, she opened the screen door and stepped outside to look around and gasped as she turned towards the chair. She rushed forward and scooped the girl up into her arms.

"Eddie! Eddie!" she screeched.

A pair of heavy hiking boots pounded across the wooden floor. "What is it Marie?" said a man, voice gruff with age.

"It's her! It's the lost girl from Colorado – Izzy Moreno! Call Incident Command and tell 'em we've got her!"

"How is she? Does she need to be med evac'd?" Eddie pulled back the quilt to get a better look at Izzy.

"No. She's … warm?"

As if she'd had her own personal space heater, I couldn't help snickering to myself. An odd thought crossed my mind. If I didn't resent … Edward … so much, it would almost be an inside joke between us.

"Just a bus, I think. No chopper." Then Marie muttered, "That's all we need after the grizzly attack and this – a disastrous night landing."

Izzy's eyes fluttered open. She started mumbling. With just two years of high school Spanish, all I could make out was: "Lobo ... angel …" The words were slurred, but her voice was as sweet as bells.

"She's coming around. Go get on the horn, already, Eddie!"

"Yes, dear," he said in that resigned voice men develop after many long years of marriage.

Marie wrapped the quilt back around Izzy and laid a thin, crooked hand along the girl's flushed cheek. Marie's forehead crinkled as she scanned the forest. But with the glare of the porch light in her eyes and the darkness of the trees, I was well hidden.

"Strange … You may be right, sweetheart." She lifted her head to look up at the sky. "Your guardian angel was looking after you today." With that, Marie turned around and took Izzy into the warmth of the cabin.

While I was human, I figured I'd take the time to be alone in my head. I'd been operating on instincts, trying not to think, but now that I had phased back, my brain was swarming with thoughts, or rather, images. Some were my own and some were from my brothers: My father's face, resigned and sad, etched as if deeper wrinkles had formed in my absence. The waves of the gray ocean ferrying driftwood onto the beach. That stupid flowery invitation Seth kept picturing in his head whenever he thought he had my attention: "Isabella Marie Swan and Edward Anthony Masen Cullen" with today's date.

And above all else, brown chocolate eyes, flushed cheeks and skin the color of cream. The softness of her lips when she had kissed me. The ready flow of tears that I would always do anything to stop. Would she cry if her best man didn't show? How much longer until all those parts of her were gone? All of a sudden, I couldn't bear the thought of not seeing her like that again, before she iced over into stone.

One last image invaded my brain. The handwriting, like some girl's calligraphy: "If things had gone the other way, I would have wanted the choice."

Before I consciously thought of it, my legs were choosing for me. I phased on the fly and then I was running, pushing past the ridge, the burn area, the lakes, the plains and the peaks, back to the familiar dense mossy forests of the Olympic Peninsula.

As the sky turned grey, then pink and then gold behind me, nine familiar voices joined the pack to greet me.

Sam was the first. Welcome home, Jake. Your dad will be so happy to see you.

We'll get you to the wedding. Quil always liked Bella and knew it would make her happy if I went the wedding - and behaved.

We'll make sure you do, bro. A firm promise from Emery. We got your back.

You're actually going to try to make it to that bloodsucker-fest? Leah sniped.

Give it a rest. Seth whined. I'm going and so's mom and Billy.

I tuned out the chatter and loosely acknowledged welcome back greetings from the rest of the pack. I was concentrating now on getting bone and muscle, heart and lungs working as efficiently together as possible. I had hundreds of miles to go, not completely sure that I would make it in time.

My legs pushed faster as I was running: running towards my brothers, towards my family, towards Bella – towards home.