A/N I'm baaaaaack.
She cut his hair first. With shaking hands and the buzz cutters kept for when she fostered wildlife, she shaved away the matted, tangled mess, all while he wore her tiny, terrycloth bathrobe. She expected him to scowl, grumble or pout. Instead, Snow leaned into her touch, eyes closed and face relaxed.
Grooming, she thought wildly, as she brushed away stray hair from his shoulders. In packs, wolves groom each other as signs of affection, and caring. It made her think back on scrubbing him down in the back yard, the way he'd scowled but held still as she worked shampoo into his undercoat.
Trickier was getting him clothes. She couldn't buy him anything, not yet anyway. The only local option was a tiny Good Will, but Bella knew she couldn't be seen purchasing mens clothes without raising some interesting questions.
"I have to go out for a minute," she told him, hands clenching around her second-best parka. "I'll be gone an hour at max." Snow would hear none of it. He growled a little, but his brow furrowed in a way that spoke of worry, not anger. "Well, what do you expect me to do!?"
With a truly bitchy little snarl, he pushed off her bathrobe, and stalked out of the house. Snapping his teeth with an air of petulance, he phased before her eyes.
"Wait!" She cried out, startled. "What if you can't get back?"
He phased again, and scowled at her doubt.
So it was that he followed her in the treelines, all the way to the visitor center. Bella used her key to slip inside, heading straight for the lost-and-found. That thing was always full of unclaimed crap. She scavenged a faded denim button up, and a particularly beat-up leather jacket that had sat at the bottom of the box for a solid year.
Guiltily, she ducked into the male officers tiny locker room. One of the junior rangers was a tall kid, tall but gangly. She filched a pair of jeans, and left two crumpled twenties in their place, as an apology.
Shoes were a bust; he'd have to go without.
Packing for herself was easy. She tossed a weeks worth of bare essentials into a rumpled duffle bag, grabbed her charger off the bedside table, and her laptop from the kitchen. Snow emerged from the bathroom, scowl firmly in place.
To say that the pilfered clothes fit would be a lie. They stretched across his body like they were holding on for dear life. The jeans sat tight on his hips, giving her a clear view of...a lot of things. He hadn't even bothered to do up the top three buttons of the shirt. His perpetual scowl was set in place, and his brows were furrowed in an expression of obvious distaste. He looked. pissy, to say the very least.
"I guess it would probably feel weird," she realized out-loud. "To wear clothes now, after going...fur, for so long."
Snow just rolled his shoulders irritably, hands clenched at his side.
Bella's first thought as her truck rumbles down the familiar stretch between Port Angelas and Forks, is that Alaska was warmer.
Alaska was warmer. Alaska!
Ugly, slushy mud blanketed the ground. It filled the trenches alongside the road, like a long stretch of swamp. It made her miss the beautiful white stretches of backwoods Alaska something terrible.
Speaking of Snow, the man in question was stretched out in the seat beside her, dead to the world and snoring quite loudly for it. In a fit of grunty rage, he'd undone the rest of the buttons on his shirt, and unzipped his pants.
Bella knew it wasn't healthy to fixate (her therapist had been telling her for years), but his belly button...she just couldn't. She couldn't not fixate. Centered low on his stomach, and framed in a set of tight, six-pack abs was an outie.
It was the most ridiculous fucking thing she'd seen in years, and that was honestly saying something.
He must have felt her staring. His head snapped to the left, hazel brown eyes glued to hers with such an intensity, Bella fought not to squirm. His scowling mouth pulled into a frown, thick brow furrowing inquisitively.
"We should be there in about an hour," Bella said quickly. "If the Pack is amenable, I'll book us one of the cottages on the Rez. If not...well. There's a motel in Forks."
There was the house of course. Bella never could bring herself to sell it. But no...no. There were memories there she wasn't ready to touch. Memories she might not ever be ready to touch. She couldn't bare to see the bright little kitchen, or the old plaid couch or Charlie's shoes, still lined neatly by the door.
She'd left everything the way it was, before locking up and heading out. His holder would be hanging on the peg, his badge in the bowl on the living room table. The quilt his mother had made would still be draped over the couch, and his bed would still be an unmade mess because Bella could never go in there, not after...not after.
"We'll figure it out," she said, mostly to herself. Snow was already snoring, lashes fluttering against his cheeks. "It'll all work out."
A short twenty minutes later, she was cursing her propensity for bad luck when it came to Forks. She hated this state, that town, this road. This road, black and shiny now, but she'd seen it coated in blood before and...and all she wanted to do was get Snow to the Pack, get him help, give him hope, but no because she was Bella Swan and nothing, nothing-
Snow made a hurt sound beside her, an animalistic whine deep in his throat. Bella choked on a little hiccup and flashed him a watery smile. "Truck stalled. I can't get her to start back up. It's clicking, but won't turn over." She knew it was something about the starter, or the transmission or the...the alternator. But such knowledge did her little good now.
She didn't bother to scramble for her phone. The battery was dead, long dead, and though she had a car-charger, the lighter in her truck hadn't worked since she bought it. It hadn't seemed like a big deal before, but stranded on the side of the road, as the sun set on an oncoming storm (she could smell it, petrichor, the promise of rain), Bella did her best not to panic.
"It's an easy forty miles to the nearest gas station." She doubted very much it would be a problem for Snow to walk, even without the benefit of shoes. However, her legs ached with hours of driving without cruise control, and she was bone-tired to boot. Five hundred miles they had driven, without so much as a hitch or stutter from her engine, only to have her truck die on the side of the road forty-five minutes from Forks. "We can try to radio one of the local stations. There's a forestry near the Reserve, and a cop shop in Forks."
She popped the hood as a signal of distress on the off chance someone did drive by. It was unlikely, for all that the 101 was all that connected the great stretch of Olympic forest and mountain to the real world. There was simply nothing out this way, save for a few handfuls of tourist traps and tourist season had come and gone already.
Fishing the handpiece from the cradle, she flicked the cb radio on with a push of a button. It was an old thing, abandoned by the Forestry years prior, but Bella had grown use to having one around. Better than a cell phone in some of the deeper parts of Alaska, at any rate.
She let the stations crackle, dialing into what she hoped was the local law channel. "This is Deputy Ranger Swan, with the 459 Forestry out of Perfect, Alaska, looking for Station 334 out of Forks, or the nearest Forestry office?"
A stretch of static later, and a familiar voice of dispatch burst through the tinny speakers. "Copy Deputy Ranger, you've got 334 Local Dispatch. You're a little out of your division, wouldn't you say?"
She recognized the voice. Sheryl Boyd. She'd worked in Dispatch for years, made wonderful sugar cookies, and painted her fingernails black for all that she was in her late sixties. She use to braid Bella's hair when Charlie brought her to the station.
Sheryl recognized her too. Maybe not from Bella's voice, but probably from the background check she was sure to have run on her name and station number. "Wait...Bella Swan? Charlie's kid? Damn honey, it's been years."
"Hey Sheryl," Bella breathed into the mouthpiece. She hadn't been Charlie's kid in a long while. "I'm stranded up on the 101, about forty miles from the Reservation. Think you can call a tow in for me?"
"I reckon I can," Sheryl drawled, and Bella could almost imagine her pale pink lipstick smile stretching wide. "You sit tight, sweetie girl. I'll have someone out there for you in a hot minute."
Slumping against the steering wheel, Bella allowed herself a moment of relief. Snow paced the truck, stalking circles in the cold slushy mud. "Thanks Sher. I'll stop by the station while I'm here. It's been awhile since I've seen the deputies."
She didn't want to, not by any means, but Charlie would have liked that. He'd always liked that, showing Bella off with his proud-dad smile, tacking her school pictures up on his bulletin board, and the postcards she sometimes sent from wherever Renee had them living. So she would do it. For Charlie.
It would take an easy forty-five minutes before they saw anything, so Bella climbed back into the truck. "Keep your clothes on," she called out to Snow, who had lingered past the tree line. "I'm serious. Keep your clothes on. It's strange enough you're not wearing shoes."
He bared his teeth at her and scowled, but did as she asked. Bella wasn't stupid, she knew what Snow was doing. He was checking the perimeter, scoping out the land. No doubt he'd pick up on a few strange scents too, wolf and leech alike.
She knew of course, that the moment she allowed herself to stop, to rest or even pause, she'd fall asleep. So it was no surprise that a rapping on her window startled her awake. She had no idea what time it was, but the sun was gone, lost behind the spiky tree tops, leaving a thunder-cloud sky behind.
The tow guy didn't wait for her to open the door, just knocked and went about his business, fiddling at the back of his truck. Bella stretched wildly, and allowed herself a perfunctory glance in the mirror. Her hair was a mess, but that wasn't unusual. Snow was nowhere to be seen, but she doubted he'd strayed far. She wasn't sure how she'd explain his reemergence when it was time to leave, but she'd handle that when it came time.
Pushing the old creaking door open, she tripped out of the truck and embraced the chilly sprinkle of rain. Face upturned, she closed her eyes, and felt the weight of the raindrops as they caught on her lashes. It felt nice -familiar.
That was familiar, too. Much too familiar, really. His voice had haunted her, echoed all her failures in the back of her mind. Your fault, it cried. It's all your fault.
Her first thought upon looking at the face of Jacob Black was this; at least if I cry, he won't know. Rain washed her cheeks, thought the tears don't fall. Bella's heart slammed in her chest, a mismatched beat that spoke of shock. Her mouth formed no words, wouldn't...couldn't... What could she possibly say to him?
"Bells." It wasn't a question this time. It was plaintive, small, a whisper on the wind.
Bella didn't like it. "Deputy Ranger Swan," she replied, just as softly. She hadn't been Bells in a long time, just as long as she hadn't been Charlie's Kid. Those names belonged together, in a box in the back of someone else's closet, full of other broken shit. They weren't hers anymore.
Jacob...had aged in a way that was nigh noticeable. His hair was cut differently, not shorn clean but layered artfully in a way that suited him. He was bigger than she remembered, and wider in the shoulders. There was stubble on his chin, where baby-fat had been once (so long ago, a world ago, Bella can barely remember it). He was dressed in red plaid, and dark washed jeans, and looked nothing short of an attractive, native-american Paul Bunyon.
She felt suddenly vulnerable in her forest-green button up and khaki pants. She wore her uniform because it was comfortable with familiarity. Her boots were tied tight, high on her ankles but heavy on her feet. To the left of her chest, a shiny strip of metal proclaimed her justly; Deputy Swan. To the right, the glossy, embroidered logo of her Forestry department, #459. She hadn't worn her belt, but she suddenly wished she had. This was her armor, her shield and sword.
Not the hat though. She hated that hat. Made her look like a mounty.
Jacob opened his mouth to speak, and Bella braced herself for it. But the words never came, cut off by a reverberating growl full of vicious promise. Snow darted from the woods in one, graceful swoop, and shoved himself between she and Jacob with a hard snarl.
Jacob barely flinched, but Bella saw the confusion there. The little pinch between his eyes, the pull of his mouth. He reeled back, shoulders rolling, ready to pounce-
"No," She snapped, curling her hand over Snow's trembling shoulder.
"Don't touch him," Jacob growled. "He's-"
"I know what he is," Bella argued, tugging Snow back, away from Jacob, away from the real threat. "It's why I brought him here."
Snow pulled himself up, straightening his shoulders and glowering down at Jacob. He was taller, by several inches. Bella was right, he was easily six foot six, maybe more. And while he was no more bulky than Jacob, he was impossibly more imposing.
She reached up (and up and up), and cupped Snows face, turning him to look at her. "Stop, please. Jacob is the..." She paused, unsure if Jacob had taken the Alpha position. He'd never wanted it, but then he'd never wanted a lot of things. "He's part of the Quileute Pack I spoke of. Remember?"
Unyielding, Snow tapped his finger over her breastbone, three times in quick succession. His eyes darted to Jacob, accusing and hard.
"He didn't scare me," Bella argued, ignoring Jacobs curious gaze. She was lying, and Jacob knew it, could hear the tick in her heart. He did scare her. "Startled. I wasn't...I wasn't expecting to see him. Yet." She hadn't prepared herself for his face, for his eyes, for all the memories he would stir. "It's alright." She flattened his hand over her chest, and willed her heart to quiet. "See? I'm okay now."
Jacob took that moment to cut in. "I've never seen another wolf like us." His voice was different too, she noticed now. Deeper, smoother. It reminded her of Sam, really. "Where did you find him?" Where have you been?
"North." She stared, daring him to press for more and didn't waver when he didn't. Good.
Jacobs eyes strayed once more to Snow, and this part Bella knew. The Manly-Man-Alpha-Staredown. She'd seen enough male posturing to know a pissing contest when she saw one.
"It's late," she cut in, and shivered for good effect. "And the story isn't a short one. I'd like to speak with you or Sam in the morning. The Alpha."
"That would be me." Jacob shrugged, a careless gesture she'd known so well. "I took the place of Alpha in the Pack, and he took the place of Cheif in the tribe. Dad had agreed, before-"
Bella blanched, and Snow snarled, pulling her back flush against him.
"Before," Jacob finished, with the faintest of stutters. "Bella, is he an Alpha?"
"An Alpha-Omega." She curled a hand around herself, and gripped him at the waist in an attempt to calm him down. It didn't work. "He has no pack. Look. Do you remember the story Sam told us, about when he changed? How he spent so much time in wolf form, he-"
"Nearly became the wolf," Jacob finished, confirming what Bella had always kind of known. The weeks after their fathers...after their fathers, he hadn't just been avoiding her. He'd gone rogue. "He's not young though. He's not a new wolf. He looks-"
"A couple years, at my best guess." She paused, looking up at Snow over her shoulder, for something. Permission, his familiar scowl, anything. "He spent them as a wolf Jacob. He's spent years as a wolf. He doesn't remember anything, he doesn't speak. I found him-"
Snow growled again, hands moving to wrap around her waist, and Bella stopped.
"It's a long story, and we've just driven over five hundred miles. I'd like to speak with you, and Sam if he's taken the Chiefs mantel. I have reason to believe that Snow is Quileute, by nature of his shift alone, and-"
"You really think we're the only ones?" Jacob scoffed, snorting dervishly. "Come on Bella, with all the shit you've seen? There has to be others."
"He hunts Vampires." Bella raised a brow. "I've seen him do it. It's instinctive. His shift is the same, his form is the same- He smells the same. The Vampires in question told me so."
Deflating, Jacob closed his eyes and sighed. "It really isn't a short story, is it?"
"It really, really isn't."
"Fine," He barked, and tossed her the keys to his tow truck. Snow caught them."Get in the truck, get warmed up. I'll get your truck hooked up." He pointed at Snow. "He stays outside. I won't have him in my truck"
Bella blinked. "No."
"Bella," Jacob said, through his teeth.
"I'm not leaving him out here Jacob, that isn't' why I brought him. Your boys are running patrol, don't deny it. What would happen if they came by a...a rogue wolf, Jacob? They'd attack. And he'd attack them, I'm not stupid. I have to stay with him, for now." Bella lifted her chin. "If he walks, I walk. I don't care."
Clenching his jaw, Jacob threw up his hands. "He's an Alpha, Bella. He's an Alpha and I'm an Alpha. It's a bad mix. He already tried to attack me."
"He was protecting me. He thought I was in danger." I was in danger. "It won't happen again." It probably will. She took the keys from Snows hand, and tossed them back at Jacob. "We walk."
"He can sit in your truck while I tow it," Jacob conceded, as Bella turned toward the road. "But I don't think you should be alone-"
"I've spent weeks with him," Bella cut him off rudely. "He's never hurt me." Unlike some people. It wasn't a fair thought, of course. Anything Bella got...she deserved. But still...Snow had never hurt her.
"Yeah?" Jacob drawled, eyes drifting down. "What happened to your arm? Your face? You're a mess, Bella."
Her cast scrapped loudly against the material of her shirt as she lifted her arm. "I crashed my truck down a ravine. Snow pulled me out before a tree fell on it. He saved my life, Jacob. He won't hurt me."
"If he's spent that long as a wolf, he's unstable at best-"
"I'm staying with him."
"Fine," Jacob shook his head. "Fine. Whatever. You'll always do what you think is best, right? Because Bella Swan is never wrong."
The scars along her sides burned with his words, burned with shame and regret and guilt. Bella swallowed hard. "That's Deputy Ranger Swan," she said again, as she pulled the passenger side door open. "Come on, Snow. Let's go."
They checked into one of the weathered motels lining the beaches of La Push. She didn't bother to ask for a double, with the way Snow was clinging to her. She doubted he'd sleep anyway, given he'd snapped the entire ride down.
Bella however, was dead the moment her head touched the pillow.
She woke to rays of sunshine, and the sound of gulls over the water. Snow was perched on the edge of the bed, eyeing her wordlessly. "Good morning," she said, sitting up slowly. Her shoes were gone, lined up by the door where she hadn't left them. Her pants were gone too, most disconcertingly, folded neatly over the back of the chair. She tried not to blush at the idea of Snow undressing her, or the fact that she'd slept through it.
His eyes were shameless, dancing over the scars decorating her thigh, hips, and ribs. He traced them them too, with a single fingertip. The callouses on his skin were rough against the silky pink-white skin, and made her shiver.
Laying a hand over his, she stilled his wandering fingers. "They don't really hurt much anymore." It wasn't a total lie. They twinged at times, ached at others, but the pain she felt never had anything to do with scars. She grabbed her bag off the floor. "I'm taking a shower."
He followed her, right to the bathroom. "Snow," she said, pressing a hand against his chest. "You can't...I'll be okay in here, okay? No one on the Rez is going to hurt me."
He scowled at her, eyes tracing the scars once more.
"That doesn't count," she argued, curling in on herself. "Go sit on the bed, okay? We'll get breakfast, and then we can head to the Black house."
She dressed in her more formal uniform; khakis, shirt, and belt. But not the hat. Never the hat. She tucked her taser, and knife into her belt, and mourned the empty notch where her handheld radio would go. Pulling her hair into a wet ponytail, she stood before the mirror and did her best to feel her age, and not like the useless teenager she had been. She wasn't a child anymore. Deputy Ranger Swan, she told herself, over and over again until it felt right again.
Snow was holding something awkwardly, as she stepped out of the bathroom. Shoes, not hers, and not new. He was scowling at the sneakers, like they personally offended him.
"Someone brought you shoes?" She hazard a guess. Probably housekeeping, judging by the neatly made bed, and the fresh towels folded on the chair. "Do they smell like Jacob?"
Snow frowned, and shook his head no. There was a pause in it though, a hesitance.
"But definitely wolf," she figured. "Well, put them on. If I'm hungry, you must be starving."
It was strange, being back on the Rez. No one recognized her, or if they did, they didn't say. She kept her head down, ducked into the fuzzy lining of her uniform bomber jacket. The day was warming quickly, but Bella wasn't willing to part with the added layer of armor.
They ate at the diner, tucked into the back corner where the door was visible, and the wall was at Snows back. It seemed to put him at ease, or at as much ease was as possible. He ate everything on his plate, and half of Bellas, and she ordered him a breakfast sandwich to go with a smile on her face.
Jacobs house wasn't as she remembered. Gone was the rusty red paint, and the barren flower boxes. Even the shed had been torn down, in favor of a tidy wooden barn large enough to house a car and a half. The house was now a mellow blue-gray, and the flower boxes were blossoming with hearty greens, not yet blossoming.
She didn't bother to knock. The pack was present, judging by the row of cars in the driveway, and the patch of muddy footprints painting the paved walk. Taking Snows hand into her own, she stood on the newly made porch of the Black House, and waited.
A/N Hello my lovelies, hello my darlings. Did you like?