What's that, Lassie?

 Working part time meant unpredictable hours. Some days he sat in an office for the morning and had the rest of his afternoon to himself lunch on. Some days he didn’t clock in at all. Some days he was out from dawn until dusk. Today was like one of those last days: he’d been out before the sun came up, and at this rate he’d still be out here by sundown.
 After marking another tree with a bit of spray chalk, Max took a pause to gather his bearings and address his situation. At this rate, he had another two hours worth of work, which meant an hour of that would be spent working in darkness, with another hour at least hiking out to the truck. Alternatively he could go home now, and return in the morning to finish.
 He pulled the wide brimmed hat from his head to wipe his brow. "Might’s well get it done now, Shepherd," he mumbled to himself. Coming back tomorrow meant getting dressed up as he was now, in his olive green ranch jacket with a shiny badge pinned to his chest, designating him as a member of law enforcement. Sort of. That was the impression it gave at least, which was always a little unnerving to the leggy brunette.
 "Let’s go!" He tapped his head and replaced his hat, and continued down the unmarked trail.

 Maybe being stuck a bird wasn’t all that bad. He had no real life responsibilities: no work, no school, no bills to pay. Within the realm of his little avian world, he could do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted to do it. Plus, as he was currently being reminded, flying was pretty fucking cool.

 Soaring over the Tillamook Creamery, out and around the Munson Creek Falls, Brook all but surrendered himself to the cold, cutting wind that whistled past his small frame. It was refreshing, in a slightly disconcerting way, how easily he could fold himself into animalistic instinct while in the sky. Typically, he clung onto every last little thing that made him feel human, but here? Amongst the clouds? Not a chance—

 Down below, stashed in tightly amongst the trees, something reflective caught ahold of the rare sunlight. Not unlike the crows at home, Brook found himself enamored. Maybe, he reasoned, he’d take a look. A quick one. It’d be nice to bring back a little treasure for Echo and Arch to stash in their roost — after all, he’d been shorter than usual with them as of late. A peace offering would do their strained relationship good.

 Turning tail, Brook cut down through the trees. But the something-shiny hadn’t been a loose coin or a forgotten house key, as he’d expected. It was a pin, attached securely on the chest of a lanky park official.

 Losing air, he landed on the ground before the ranger with a soft coo.

 A flutter from above jolted him out of his reverie and thrust him violently into the present. His boots planted firmly in the ground, and his hand reached back and to his belt. With eyes wide and pupils dilated he froze in space, nostrils flaring to take in the rich scents of the icy forest.
 When his green eyes locked on to the intrusion, his body reacted faster than his mind: a smile cracked over his face. A bird. He laughed in scorn of himself and forced his posture to relax. "Just a bird."
  He breathed. He slowed his heart.
  Kinda weird though, isn’t it? It was cold, especially at this waning hour. This must have been a very early pigeon to return so far North. There was a good chance it wouldn’t survive—especially considering how bold it was.
 It’s just standing there? "Huh." He scoffed, loud enough to intend to shoo the bird away by startling it as it had him.

 Just a man, Brook assured himself. Just a man, such as he — aside from all the feathers, of course… But while he’d grown perfectly comfortable in Aurelia’s presence, he could never fully shake off memories from previous cities, where every daring step was an attempt to skitter away from someone’s boot. This wasn’t the city, though. This was the forest. And surely a park ranger respected the forest as equally as the creatures within.

 Still, in a rather fruitless attempt to make himself seem bigger than his reality, Brook rustled up his feathers. His iridescent breast, gleaming purple and green, swelled. The man tried to frightened him off (the sharp huh certainly would’ve done it for Arch or Echo or Viv), but he remained steadfast.

 This time, he wouldn’t be the one to scamper off.

  "Huh." This time his mouth stayed open, revealing how his tongue probed the inside of his cheeks in search of answers. What the hell now, Shepherd? It was definitely not nesting season, and while behaving oddly he could not see sign of disease or injury that would make a pigeon behave so aggressively.
  Maybe it was the devil dog in him, but he had a fondness for such resilience. "Okay, you’re tougher ‘n me." Max held up his hands in a clear sign of surrender. The gesture was brief, ending when he dipped his fingers into his breast pocket for a half-eaten Nature’s Valley bar, the kind with oats and honey that was thinly veiled to appear healthy—meaning it actually tasted good.
 As if it were some grand gesture, like a shepherd’s choicest cut of beef, he flicked a corner from the bar onto the ground between them in a peace offering.

 Ah, there went the white flag. Wasn’t so hard, was it? Humming excitedly, Brook marched from side to side, his head bobbing with every proud, somewhat hobbled step. Satisfied, he was just about to take off again when the ranger reached into his pocket. Their shared pocket of air quickly sweetened with a granola bar’s aromatic fragrance: rich, savory oats…spiced brown sugar…thick, golden ribbons of honey…

 Instantly, he hopped gracelessly forward, over to where his gifted corner had fallen and all but shoved his head into the treat: dry leaves, dirt, and all. Sure, it would never not be demoralizing, eating scraps off the ground. But broken bits of a granola bar somehow seemed much better than cold, half-eaten pizza crusts — and he’d be lying if he denied ever having stooped that low.

 Hunger as well as sickness made animals do strange things. To his shame, he had no idea how to gauge the nutritional health of this bird, though his bias had him leaning to considering it dirty and haggard.
 Max knelt down in the leaves to watch the little scavenger attack the piece he’d dropped. "Well of course you’re starving," he conversed patiently. He was, in fact, bored and lonesome enough to talk to a pigeon. As he did, he broke up more and more of the hard bar in his hands to prepare. "It’s not the season for you yet." He opened his palm, waiting for the bird to finish before spilling more on the ground, curious how close he could get the winged creature to him.

 Choking down a particularly large, dry oat clump, Brook shook out his wings in muted disaffirmation. No, he wasn’t starving. Did he look starving? Surely pecking about the leaves wasn’t helping his case, but Aurelia took good care of the flock. Crows aside, who’d never ceased in their insatiable hunt for all things jingling and reflective, there was no reason for any of them to ever want beyond what they had.

 Well. Book would leave that alone. There were plenty of things he wanted: to stander taller than thirty centimeters, first off… or thumbs. Thumbs would be great, but alas—

 Hopping forward, Brook followed the enticing sight of a handful of snacks. Feeling brazen, perhaps in part to his successful stand-off, he fluttered causally into the ranger’s palm and began to feast.

 A flutter of wings in his direction caught his breath. Surprise rooted him like an oak, and the bird perched on his limb casually. If he wanted to he could crush it with a squeeze of his palm.
 "Woah." A smile cracked over his face. "This is some for real Disney princess shit. Or you’re the ballsiest bird I’ve ever seen." Geese didn’t have anything on this pigeon. "You wouldn’t happen to know where there’s a wounded cougar hanging around, would you?" Making conversation helped to distract him from the unpleasant task of tracking a secretive animal.

 Not unlike a well-trained Labrador retriever hamming it up for praise, Brook basked in the ranger's excitement. Oh, he had no idea into what sort of Disney-esque world he'd traipsed. Sure, Brook wasn't some handsome prince once cursed for turning away an old crone. But he had been cast into something akin to a beast all the same. Just a little less…


 So ballsiest bird? He'd take it.

 Pausing mid-clack of the beak, Brook offered a gentle tilt of his head. Wounded cougar? He hummed with consideration. He hadn't seen anything in particular, but he knew of densely thicketed, rocky area not too far away. It would be the perfect den for a big cat.

 With a forceful coo, Brook took to the air. Pausing only to nip lightly at the ranger's wide-brimmed hat, almost as if to say 'this way,' he flew off through the trees.

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