Disclaimer: This isn't a happy story. And it's not a romance. It gets to a happy ending, yes, but a vast majority of the first 2/3 of the story is dark, rough and sad. It deals with loss and grief. When I have that in stories, I tend to handle it in a realistic way, which is that it is an ongoing cycle and people take different paths and use different methods to manage it. I allowed this story - these characters - dictate the pace, so it does move a bit slow story-wise, though it's a bit fast when you look at it time-wise (it's set over about a month or so).
So fair warning. If this isn't the kind of story you can handle right now or don't like, proceed with caution or not at all. Won't hurt my feelings. ^^ Just wanted to give a good heads up for those who need it.
Paul wasn't exactly sure why he ended up on the beach, but there he was, breathing heavily as he came to a stop and bent over, trying to catch his breath. It was still the early hours of the morning, the sun just barely peeking over the horizon, so the expanse of sand and surf was empty, the only other sound besides his labored breathing was the waves crashing onto land.
Standing, he turned to face the water and then dropped down to sit, staring out at the Pacific as he dug his shoes into the sand. He found himself here more often than not, especially in the early morning hours when the rest of the pack was still in bed and far away. Unable to sleep in the house he had shared with Rachel, he would take to running through the forest and always ended up here, hoping perhaps he would finally tire himself out enough that he would sleep.
He didn't phase for these runs, wanting to keep his thoughts to himself. Though who was he kidding?, It was a respite for everyone. No one would be subjected to the constant loop of pain and he didn't have to worry about having more voices in his head than he already had.
It had been just over a year since Rachel had died in a car accident. And still, he felt as though he were barely on the cusp of keeping control. Everyone had expected him - Paul Lahote, the violent one - to lash out. To run off in his wolf form for months on end and kill whatever animal came into his path. To constantly start fights. Well, he had at least done that a few times.
What they hadn't expected was for him to completely shut down.
Without Rachel, what point was there to life? To being a shifter? When the Cullens left, taking their drama with them,, La Push and forks had fallen into a long span of relative peace. He hadn't needed to protect the people there from supernatural beings for a long time, so he had devoted his life to making Rachel Black happy. The moment he imprinted on her, everything in his life became centered around her. When she had died, it was as if he had lost all purpose.
"Why did you have to go to Port Angeles," he murmured, his brow furrowed as the guilt wrapped around him like a familiar, old blanket.
It hadn't started out a stormy day and she said she had some things to pick up. He found out later that she had gone to get him a present. But the weather had turned bad and rather than wait it out, Rachel had driven back, only to get into a wreck on the winding highways leading back to La Push.
The memory of finding out, of seeing her, played on a constant loop in his mind - another reason he had taken to not phasing, knowing the others would see it. At least he didn't have to subject Jacob to it - the two being in separate packs for years now. He had taken his sister's death hard as well, permanently moving with the Cullens wherever they were. At least he had Renesmee to get him through his grief. Was actually doing well with the Cold Ones, going to school and such.
There was no one for Paul.
Well, technically he had the pack, but try as they might over the last year, none of them seemed to break through to him. Not even his best friend Jared. And constantly being around them now that everyone had imprinted was even harder. The last thing Paul wanted to be around were happy couples, reminding him of what he had lost.
Maybe he should leave La Push. Go somewhere far away from the rez and the pack and phasing and… everything. Start over. Try to forget the life he had here. He had been thinking it over more and more. It was what Rachel had wanted for years. Leave the pack and go off, the two of them. Live their own life together. They had tried it a bit - moving to Seattle so Paul could go to veterinary school. They had even started planning to stay there or move elsewhere; Rachel could find work just about anywhere with her computer skills. But then the death of Paul's father had brought them back to La Push just a year before he could finish veterinary school and they hadn't bothered leaving after.
It was either move away or his other option.
Staring out at the waves, Paul's thoughts turned to that one - finally putting himself and the rest of the pack out of their misery. He would go off somewhere on his own so no one would have to worry or take care of him afterwards. It could be quiet, or perhaps not. Rachel hadn't had a quiet death, why would he deserve one?
The longer he sat there, the more he fixated on it. He had imprinted and then lost her. There was no one and nothing else left for him. Perhaps it was time to start putting a plan into action.
Sighing heavily, Paul dropped his face into his hands, already feeling the angry tears starting up. Just under his skin, he could feel his wolf growling to be set free. He knew it wasn't good to go so long without phasing, but he just couldn't do it.
Looking back up, Paul began breathing heavily, the anger and guilt flooding through him as the tears started falling down his cheeks. He quickly wiped them away, even though he knew no one would see him cry here.
It was then that he got a whiff of something different in the air. He paused as he closed his eyes, breathing deeply. It was faint, but somehow familiar. The smell of vanilla and lavender. Though he felt he hadn't smelled it in a very long time. Opening his eyes, he scanned the beach, looking for any other sign of life. There was none. Until his eyes caught sight of something far off in the distance.
It looked like a figure running down the beach towards him, just along the water's edge. Which was odd. As far as Paul was aware, not many people took to running along the beach. Especially not from that direction. The reservation ended not far down that way and he couldn't think of many homes or lodging in that area.
He remained seated, his senses on alert as he continued to watch the figure move closer. After a bit more time, he could make out that it was a woman, her hair pulled up in a bun on her head, the color a striking shade of blonde that was nearly white. There was something familiar about her, even from this distance. Paul kept watching, his curiosity getting the better of him.
The closer she got, the more he could make out. She was wearing a sweatshirt that looked too big to be hers - USC was plastered on the front. A pair of headphones were on her head and she seemed to be somewhere else as she ran, a frown on her face.
There was a stirring of… something… in Paul. It wasn't like when he saw Rachel and imprinted. But he felt as though he knew this woman. Something was drawing him towards her. However, he remained seated, confused and upset by whatever it was.
He had imprinted. And then his imprintee died. Whatever was going on with this mysterious woman was nothing. He would never love anyone else again - be attracted to another woman - Paul was sure about that.
Finally, the woman seemed to notice him sitting there on the beach, watching her. She slowed down, a cautious look coming over her face as she glanced around, likely noticing that they were completely alone. Paul could almost see her thoughts, her face was so expressive - she was going through her options. Turn around and run back the way she came. Keep going forward in the hopes she would find some sort of civilization, even though that would take her right by him. Paul didn't blame her. She was probably some tourist staying in one of the many cabins in the area. Likely didn't even bring a phone or anything to protect herself. And he made for an intimidating sight. Large, bulky, sitting on the sand in nothing but a pair of running shorts and beat up running shoes that had seen better days.
But then she came to a stop, a sort of recognition dawning over her face as she slid her headphones off. Instantly, the cautious look was gone and replaced with one of awe. What the hell was going on?
"P-Paul?" she asked.
He blinked a few times, trying to remember how he might know her. While he had been a bit of a player back in high school, it wasn't as though he had had a lot of that - he had imprinted on Rachel when he was 17. But there was something about her voice that was familiar.
"Yea," he said slowly, remaining seated.
A smile appeared on her face, causing a dimple to appear on her right cheek. Wait. Paul knew that dimple. He knew that smile.
"Holy shit. You got big," she stated bluntly. He just continued to stare at her. "It's Briony. Briony... P-McCall."
It was then that everything fell together in Paul's mind. A small twig of a girl with nearly white blonde hair hiding behind her grandmother as she warily looked at the group of children surrounding them. The same girl sometime later, covered in mud as she gleefully threw a chunk at a grinning Paul. Fast forward a few more years, and they were walking along the beach, complaining about school and homework. She then complained about the boys at Forks Middle School.
Another memory - the two of them sharing a slightly awkward first kiss. Then a better, more proper second kiss.
"Briony?" he asked, pushing himself up as he really studied her.
She had the same green eyes, but there was something different. Before they had always twinkled and held a large amount of light and happiness. Now they were almost dull. Her smile was the same, but somehow not. Older, yes, but it didn't seem to fill her face as it used to.
"I know… weird, right? Though I suppose I shouldn't be surprised I'd run into you," she said, stepping closer to him. "How many years has it been?"
"Too many… over 10 at least," he replied, still not quite believing he was standing here on First Beach, talking to his first crush. Probably his first love, if he were being honest with himself.
But he hadn't thought about her once since he imprinted on Rachel. They had kept in touch a bit after Briony had left when they were 15, but once he found Rachel, well… you know how it goes.
"How have you been?" Briony asked. "And seriously… where did… this come from?" She motioned towards his chest, a faint blush coming over her pale cheeks. "Nearly scared the shit out of me until I realized it was you."
Paul glanced down at the sand, shoving his hands in his pockets, thinking over his words before he looked back up at her.
"Just… grew up, I suppose," he replied, offering a half smile and a shrug. It felt strange, but he didn't want to burden her with his darkness.
"Still getting into fights?" Briony asked.
"Not so much anymore," he replied. "What about you? How have you been?"
He really didn't want to talk about himself. That would involve telling her about Rachel and Paul still couldn't bring himself to talk about her with the pack. There was no way in hell he could talk about her with Briony.
"Oh, you know… okay," Briony said airily, though she wrapped her arms around herself and looked out to the ocean in a way that told Paul she was hiding just as much from him as he was hiding from her.
"So… you back?" he then ventured to ask.
Briony looked back at him and nodded, her smile waning slightly.
"Grams died a couple years ago. Left me the house, but… couldn't really get there until now," she said. "Thought I'd come stay a bit… decide what to do with it. Get it cleaned out and all. Just got there a few days ago…"
"Right, I heard. Sorry," Paul said, feeling a bit dumb.
Of course, he knew that her grandmother had died. And that her grandfather had died a few years before that. He had managed to keep in touch with them, at least, though not much. Not after Rachel. Briony had moved in with them when she was five and stayed until she was 15. He suddenly wished he hadn't been so caught up in, well, everything, that he had thought to spend more time with them. He had liked her grandparents. They had a nice little cabin near the beach a few miles down, just on the edge of the reservation land.
"It's fine… she was ready to go… wanted to be with Papa, I think," Briony said, looking back out at the ocean.
"How's LA been?" Paul then asked, suddenly remembering that's where she had gone to live. With some absentee father who had finally decided he wanted to take care of her.
"Oh, you know… it's LA," Briony said with a half-hearted shrug. There was definitely more to that story, Paul decided.
And for the first time in a year, he found himself wanting to know more. Wanting to talk. Not about himself, of course. But at the same time, it felt like it was some sort of betrayal. Without thinking, he took a step back from her.
"Well… it's good to see you again," he said, already deciding he needed to get away.
"Yea, you too," Briony said. She started to say more, but stopped, looking to the ground. She then looked up at him. "Stop by sometime… if you want, that is… I'm always at the cabin…"
Another flush of pink covered her cheeks as she looked away, fiddling with her headphones.
"Sure," Paul said. He gave her an awkward wave and then turned, starting to jog away.
Only when he was near the treeline did he venture a glance over his shoulder, finding Briony staring out at the ocean. He stopped, turning to watch her. She stood there a few moments more before shaking her head. She then put on her headphones and turned, starting to jog back in the direction she came from. Sighing, Paul turned and started into the forest, his thoughts whirling.
For the first time in what felt like forever, he wasn't constantly thinking about Rachel, which was foreign to him. And only made him feel guiltier. He decided then to push all thoughts of Briony aside.
What did it matter anyway?
Briony clamored up the stairs to the large deck that wrapped around three sides of the cabin that sat half on the beach and half ensconced in the forest around it. She then fell into a chair and breathed heavily, her heart still racing.
It was mostly because of the fact she had nearly sprinted the few miles back from La Push, not realizing she had gone that far in the first place. After her awkward reunion with Paul Lahote, she wasn't sure what to think.
She hadn't been back here since she was 15, but she wasn't that surprised to find a lot of things the same. Forks had looked the same. The cabin had been the same - full of happy memories from her time living there with her grandparents. She hadn't ventured to La Push yet, unsure if she wanted to run into anyone there. Even though she had had a relatively happy life after she moved away, she always thought about the friends she had made there. She had spent more time in La Push than she had with anyone she had gone to school with in Forks. Had even attempted to stay in touch with them - mostly Paul.
But life, as it usually did, got in the way.
Once she had moved to LA, everything had changed.
Tears pricked behind her eyes as she blinked furiously and rubbed her eyes with the sleeve of her sweatshirt. She then pushed it up, staring down at the glinting diamond ring. She never took it off.
Sighing heavily, she looked out over the ocean, watching the waves as the tears continued to fall. A maelstrom of memories whirled around in her head. She hadn't realized until that moment that she had missed Paul, even though she thought she had long ago gotten over the guilt of losing touch. But just as quickly as she realized she missed her old friend and first crush, she felt guilt sneak in. Swallowing hard, Briony rubbed her face.
"Get your shit together, Briony," she muttered to herself.
She had come back here to do just that. To try and pull the pieces of her life back together without the glare of paparazzi cameras or the well-meaning, if overbearing, concern of her in-laws. She was grateful that they, at least, had no desire whatsoever to follow her up to Washington, most definitely not the outdoorsy type. They were LA royalty - their idea of "roughing it" was a ski chateau in Europe.
And Briony supposed she had enjoyed that life, though she had always felt as though she didn't belong. Brandon, her husband, had constantly told her that she did belong in their many years together. Bless him, he tried.
"God, what am I going to do without you," she whispered, still staring at the ocean.
Get your shit together, is what…
A small smile graced her face as a short laugh left her lips, clearly recognizing his voice. It was a near-constant fixture in her mind. And that bit was true. In the months since his passing, she had spent most of her time lying in their darkened bedroom, only really leaving to grab something to drink or eat or use the bathroom. The few times she had ventured out with friends or whatever, the next day there would be some sort of picture in the tabloids with some sort of ridiculous rumor. It was enough to send her straight back to bed for another several days.
It was then that her publisher had come over and forced her out of bed and told her that if she didn't do something, she would have her committed or sent to some sort of rehabilitation program even though Briony most definitely wasn't doing drugs or over-drinking. It was then that the idea of coming here - finally cleaning up her grandparents' home - had come to Briony. Well, it wasn't her idea, to be honest. It had originally been Brandon's.
She had felt lost in the months since Brandon's death and thought perhaps coming back home would help her find herself again. Maybe start to move on. At the very least, figure out a direction to move in. It was better than lying in bed day-after-day, staring at the wall as the many memories of Brandon played on a loop through her head. Or going through the photo albums. Or watching the videos.
She had thrown herself into going through her grandparents' things the first few days, not really leaving the cabin - after two years of sitting empty, it definitely needed a lot of work. This morning, after not being able to really sleep - again - she had felt the urge to run on the beach. So Briony had set out, not really thinking about anything but the music pouring through her headphones, though at the back of her mind, she had wondered about her old friends from La Push. About Paul.
And then almost as if she had conjured him, there he was, sitting on the beach. Almost as though he were waiting for her. Though his smile wasn't the same and there was something in his eyes that told her he was carrying some sort of heavy weight. Perhaps the years she had been gone hadn't been kind to him.
Shaking her head, Briony pushed up out of the chair and walked into the house, trying to push her thoughts of Paul away. She could barely take care of herself. The last thing she needed was to start worrying about someone else.
"Right… best get to work," she said to the empty house as she walked to the master bedroom.
She figured a hot shower would get her motivated for the day.
Okay, so I've been taking a break from fanfiction to focus on my original writing, and then found myself in a depressive funk, unable to write anything for months. I was just starting to get back into some of my original stories (Okay, so I was forcing myself to write even though I had no ideas or motivation), when suddenly, this story came into my mind. It's depressing, I know, but I think it's what I needed to get back to being my creative self. To write again. And well, I always thought if I did another Twilight fic, it would be another addition to the "Reporters Series," so color me surprised when this one came into my head.
And just a fun note, I ended up listening to "Poison & Wine" by The Civil Wars while writing this. I'm not sure why - it's about a failed relationship (not death) that you can't get out of your mind - but the mood of the song seemed to fit, as did the chorus - "I don't love you, but I always will" - and hence, the title of this story.
Hope you enjoy - er, well, not sure if that's the right phrase but whatever - and let me know what you think!