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The Road Less Traveled

Summary:
Bella's worry over Jacob's disappearance drives Edward away. Years later, when she's had time to come to terms with herself and grow up, she and Jacob meet again. He, too, has matured. Can they build a life together? And what about Edward? TRLT Prequel to The Road Not Taken by Daintress of tm_switzerland .


Notes:


3. Chapter 3

Rating 4.5/5   Word Count 2745   Review this Chapter

Bella and Jake walked into the woods, not far outside Billy’s house, holding hands. Bella was watching him in her peripheral vision, noticing the enigmatic expression on his face. When he stopped walking, and she turned toward him, it vanished in the brightness of the smile she’d always thought of as hers. She reminded herself it had only been two days since her return – since they’d started whatever this was they’d started. They still needed to talk things through. She knew she wasn’t going to be able to walk away from him. His kisses had made that clear enough, though they still had so much to decide...

“Can I trust you to close your eyes, or do I need to run off into the trees?” Jake asked jokingly, derailing all her worries.

Bella, expecting SOME kind of ribbing from him, only smirked again. “I’m not making any promises,” she teased. But she did close her eyes.

Jacob looked at her for a moment and decided against it. He’d already changed into just his sweats, back at the house. He stepped silently around behind her, took them off, strapped them to his ankle and changed. Then, immediately, he growled. Jared was in his head.

He didn’t even give her a chance to peek! he was lamenting. He broadcast his desire for silence and was promptly ignored. Nearly everyone was present and laughing in his head, except the teenagers and Leah. For that, at least, he was thankful. Sam was also conspicuously absent.

Bella had turned at his growl. She didn’t comment on his lack of trust in her, so he assumed she’d been trustworthy and not tried to peek. Jared laughed at him, and he growled again.

“What’s the matter?” Bella asked, her head turned to the side. He instantly regretted making any noise at all. He knew better than to worry that she might be frightened of him. Since the day she’d first recognized him in this form, there had never been any question of fear. He shook his head in exasperation as Paul answered her in his head.

The matter? What could possibly be the matter? He’s about to give you the ride of your –

Can it, Paul! Embry’s thoughts sounded almost as angry as Jake’s and they came through simultaneously. Paul took a second and got his thoughts under control.

Bella, oblivious to all of this, had run a hand into the very shaggy fur at his neck, and looked contrite. “You don’t have to, you know. It was just an idea.” He shook his head again, and stubbornly ignored the voices in his head, lowering himself to the ground with a rumbling sigh and trying to gesture with his head that she should just climb on, already. He was starting to see that short of ordering them all to morph, he was not going to be able to enjoy this properly. He realized that by ‘enjoy properly’ he meant fantasize, and a chorus of snickering kicked up in his head at that thought. He strangled a growl before it could leave him, and stood up carefully.

“I didn’t think about how I was going to hold on without pulling your hair,” Bella commented, as she slid a little and had to grasp the hair at his neck to balance. He turned his head toward her, and rolled his eyes. She laughed. “You’re right. The last time I tried to pull your hair, you didn’t even notice. I guess I won’t worry about it.”

He barked a laugh. No, she didn’t need to worry about hurting him by pulling his hair. It was he who was worried. If she couldn’t stay on, this was going to be a short run, followed by another long trip to the emergency room. He started walking, slowly, getting used to the feel of having a person on his back and trying desperately not to consider what parts of her were currently pressed against his body. Trying not to consider something, however, was thinking about it.

Paul, sufficiently cowed the last time, only snickered. Jared, however, couldn’t seem to control himself. It’s good to know there’s one part of a woman that runs at the same temperature we do.

Jacob sighed. Is this how it’s going to be all evening? he thought at them, annoyed. But Bella’s hands weren’t grasping at his fur anymore. She seemed to have gotten used to the walking, and was now running her fingers through the fur at his neck, and it felt amazing, just like it always had. He heard even Quil and Embry chuckling at him when he started practically purring. God, this is SO embarrassing. Please go away. Not a single wolf disappeared from his mental radar, though.

“Jake?” Bella asked, her voice cutting through the constant chatter in his head. He stopped walking and turned his head around as far as he could, trying to see her with both eyes, and failing. “Even if I fall off, it won’t be the end of the world. I thought you’d want to run.” If he could have raised an eyebrow he would have. Instead, he grinned, letting his tongue loll a bit, and making her laugh. He shrugged, which made her grasp at his fur again. Then he took off at an easy lope, trying not to jostle her too much. She pressed her knees a little more tightly against his sides. He was thankful wolves couldn’t blush, but the hooting laughter in his head was inexcusable. They were all going to pay.

There was, briefly, silence after THAT thought slipped through. He let himself enjoy the moment, picking up speed as he dodged through the trees. He had to reign himself in when he felt her slide a bit. He learned very quickly how fast he could run with a rider, and it wasn’t full speed by any means, but better than just trotting, at least. He accidentally ran under a low hanging branch, and would have panicked, but Bella just leaned forward, her chest pressing against his back, to avoid it. He nearly had a misstep at that point and tumbled them both through the underbrush. It would have been messy, but he caught himself just in time.

Snickers echoed in his thoughts again, and a ghost of a thought, from Embry, the lowest branched trees are the willows down in the valley, he suggested, amused.

Finally, one of you proves helpful, Jake thought, grinning as he ran, knowing Bella couldn’t see it. He turned that direction instinctively before he stopped himself and turned back. Their laughter then was all he could stand. That’s it. All of you morph. Now.

“Are you lost?” Bella called to him in an amused tone of voice, noticing his changes in direction. He didn’t dignify that with an answer. The silence in his head was almost instantaneous, and MOST welcome.

The wind through her hair was very enjoyable, and Bella was reminded at first of her earliest successes with the motorcycle. She let a sad smile cross her face as she was reminded, later, of other runs through the forest on a very different back. It was so similar, and yet nothing the same. This was all warmth and joy and life. That had been a colder kind of joy, but also life. She found that, although it made her sad to remember it, it didn’t take away from her happiness now, with Jacob. She twined her fingers further up into the fur on his neck and felt his strange, contented humming again. Seated as she was, that made her blush, and she was grateful he couldn’t see it.

Jacob made a wide circle and started back toward home. The more used to riding she became, the faster he was able to go. With no one in his head, he was free to imagine whatever he liked each time her knees squeezed against his sides. He wondered if he’d have a permanent blush on his face when he finally morphed back, and then gave a mental shrug. It hardly mattered. His skin was dark enough to hide it. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to look her in the eye, though.

He slowed to a walk as they approached the tree line near his house, and finally stopped, just before the road became visible. He lowered himself back onto the ground, and Bella managed to get a foot on the ground without stepping on his too-long fur. She swung her other leg over and stumbled, catching herself before actually falling. The grin on her face made it worth the pack’s taunting, and she laughed at her own clumsiness before sitting down in a heap and leaning back against his side, breathless. It reminded him a lot of the night before the vampire war, and he sighed, curving himself around her. She laughed at that, too.

“Jake, that was the most fun I’ve had in ages!” Bella turned her eyes to where he’d rested his head on his paws, and the expression in them made him stop breathing. He felt an odd tremor shiver through his body, and a line of the old legend came to him just then. ….the love he felt was too vast for the wolf’s body – too human – and he burst forth into a man…. Not something he wanted to do right then. He was on his feet in a heartbeat, and running for the woods.

Bella looked after him, blinking in surprise. He reappeared from the trees a few moments later, clothed, or as clothed as he ever was, and relieved that he’d made it out of sight in time. She stood as he approached. “What was that about?” she teased him.

“This,” was his only reply, and then his arms were around her, and he was kissing her.

Bella surrendered to his kiss from the beginning, this time, and was lost in the urgency of it. She didn’t understand what could have sparked it, but she felt him moan as her mouth opened under his, and couldn’t contain an answering whimper, which only made him hold her tighter.

When he pulled away, it was too soon for Bella, and she kept her arms around him, staring up at him with very nearly the same expression she’d worn as they sat on the ground, with maybe a bit of wonder thrown in. He only put a hand to her cheek and held her gaze, serious, thoughtful, and silent. They both waited for their hearts to slow.

Bella wondered if now was the time to try and talk about what they were doing. She knew what it felt like they were doing, and it seemed silly not to talk about it after all the time they’d spent apart. But the words wouldn’t come. Or maybe she just felt like all the answers were there, behind his dark eyes. She said nothing. Finally, a slow smile started to spread across his face, as if he’d determined she wasn’t going to ruin the moment. “Still want to visit Sam and Emily?” he asked, loosening his arm from around her waist and taking her hand in his.

She smiled again, suddenly, and nodded. He led her back to the house and she chatted with Billy while he threw on a tee shirt and some jeans. When he came back into the kitchen, she swallowed nervously. She and Emily had become good friends, but seeing Sam and Emily together had always tugged at her heartstrings. Sometimes she could go weeks without any real Edward-related pain only to have them exchange one glance in her presence and bring tears to her eyes. But they were wonderful people, and she wasn’t going to pass up the chance to see them. After all, she hadn’t even stopped by to say hello over spring break.

Her summer vacation took on a familiar, comforting pattern. She was at Jake’s shop most every day. She’d insisted on buying them a cordless phone so that she could sit out where he was, on the floor, with the phone on one side of her and the appointment book on the other. After work, they’d run, or ride their bikes, or visit Emily, or hang out with Charlie or Billy. Charlie had thrown a fit when Bella explained to him that she was keeping the motorcycle, and she was riding the motorcycle, and he was going to have to get over it. Jacob had been really impressed when Charlie had finally backed down. He’d insisted they BOTH take a riding course, and get actual licenses, but that had been the extent of his input from that point on.

Bella was good, too, about wearing the helmet and jacket Edward had given her. He searched her face, sometimes, as she suited up, looking for signs of distress. A momentary sadness was all he ever noticed, and it was usually gone by the time she was sitting on the bike. He wondered often if her thoughts of him had had such harmless outlets and Edward had just been oversensitive, or if it had been more. But he never commented. Edward was no longer a forbidden topic, but SOME things were best left unexplored.

For example, they never really talked about what this was, between them. She had come home for the summer as he’d asked, but the closer it came to September, the more often he caught himself wondering about what would happen next. She had to finish school, but he selfishly wished she could stay.

They were sitting with Charlie in the kitchen one evening early in August. She’d made lasagna again – two pans of it, he noticed, so that he could take some home to Billy - when Charlie asked the question that Jake hadn’t yet mustered the courage to voice.

“So, when do classes start again, Bells?”

“September 6th,” she’d replied without hesitation. “But I was thinking it might be fun to ride the bike to school this year. It’d be really handy having it on campus. It’s a mile and a half walk to my first class every morning from the apartment. If I do that, I’ll need to give myself a week to get there.”

Charlie didn’t even blink, but Jake’s face held a momentary look of horror. She was leaving a week EARLY? She didn’t look up in time to see it. “That’s a long way to ride alone,” Charlie commented evenly. He still didn’t like the idea of her on the bike, but she was an adult now, and he recalled perfectly their last discussion on the topic.

“Well, I was thinking I might see if Jake wanted to go along,” she admitted, turning to look at him innocently.

In the seconds between this statement and the moment when he was expected to reply, two things occurred to Jacob Black. Bella had just played Charlie like a cheap fiddle. And he REALLY wanted to take that trip.

“I suppose Quil could handle the shop for a couple of weeks if he had to...” He forced a worried expression onto his face, playing along. “I’ll have to talk to him and get back to you.”

Charlie looked mollified, at least, that she’d have company for the trip. Jake decided to make his get away before the overbearing father in him thought about sleeping arrangements. “Well, Billy will be wondering why I haven’t turned up with the lasagna you promised,” he said, standing. He had wanted another helping, but he was taking enough with him to get away with eating some of Billy’s. He rinsed his plate.

Charlie stood, too, and his expression was still clear. Bella seemed to be fighting a grin, and Jake shot her a warning look. Her face blanked so quickly, he wondered if he’d imagined the previous expression. At some point in the last three years, she’d gotten WAY too good at this. What had happened to sweet, innocent little Bella Swan, who couldn’t make anyone believe a lie to save her life? But the answer was easy. She was protecting not only the secrets of the local werewolf pack, but also those of the local vampire coven. She’d become a good liar because she HAD to be.

He kissed her goodbye, a little preoccupied, and thanked them both again for dinner. He wanted to stop and talk to Quil. If he had to get Bella to take him lasagna as a bribe every day for the next week, he was going to get Quil to agree to watch the shop.