Happy 22nd December everyone. With Christmas now so near, I can tentatively say that you might actually get all 25 stories that I promised you. But for today's offering, I give you yet another Leah story, but a happy one this time.
So once more, massive thanks go to idealskeptic who has faithfully and wonderfully beta'd most of these stories for me. She deserves a huge round of applause for her efforts. Anyway, I hope you like this and as per usual, I don't own Twilight.
Always a Bridesmaid
She swayed from side to side as she moved away from the gathered crowds on the beach. The music playing thrummed through her body and she thought that maybe this day hadn't been so terrible after all.
Of course, the bottle of champagne she had clutched in her hand could've had something to do with that.
Laughter came from the happy couple once more as they danced together and she automatically raised the bottle to her mouth and took a deep swig.
She was trying to be gracious about the whole thing, she really was, and for the most part she was capable of putting the past behind her. Still, every now and then the memories would hit her and a tiny voice in the back of her head would whisper that it was supposed to be her up there, dancing and laughing, not her cousin.
Bitterness rose once more in the back of her throat and she pushed it down, tearing her eyes away from the newlyweds before they caught her staring at them and she was treated to that old, familiar look of pity and guilt again.
Her bottle of champagne finished, she grabbed another off the far table on the beach's edge, ignoring the warning glance her brother gave her. They'd toasted the couple already, so it wasn't like they still needed the champagne really.
Backing away from where everyone was grouped, she vanished into the trees, and finally out of sight, she kicked off the ghastly white heels that she had been forced into wearing all day. She paused for a second, her toes wriggling in the dirt, and breathed a sigh of relief. There was a time when she hated being barefoot all the time and worshipped shoes in their various forms, but now covering her feet just felt unnatural and stifling.
Idly she wondered if she could get away with stripping off the floor-length bridesmaid's dress she'd had to wear too and replacing it with one of the t-shirt dresses that she knew were hidden nearby, but she might have to return to the wedding party at some point and she didn't want to disappoint her mother by appearing to be anything less than pristine...shoes not included.
At least she had been required to grow her hair out for the wedding to achieve her cousin's desired look, so that made her feel a bit more feminine in a way that her outfit didn't.
Winding her way through the woods, almost to the sound of the music echoing through the trees, she emerged near the top of the cliffs that surrounded the beach. The sun was low in the sky and she understood why her cousin and her ex-lover had chosen this time of day to be married. When sunset came, it would be magical.
Taking another drink of champagne, she hooked a hand around a nearby tree and spun herself in a circle, giggling as she did. Dizziness made her head spin and her eyes blur, but she just laughed and spun around again.
As she swung around, a dark blur caught her attention and she jerked towards it, stumbling as she tried to regain her balance.
The blur laughed at her - a deep, manly chuckle - and she squinted, trying to get her eyes to focus faster.
"You a little bit dizzy there, Leah?"
"Paul." She practically spat out his name. "What are you doing here?"
He shrugged and grinned at her. "Well, I was coming to see if you were all right after your little disappearing act from the beach a minute ago, but I was actually quite enjoying watching you twirling around in that dress."
She scowled at him.
"Hey now, don't be like that. You were smiling a minute ago."
"You weren't here a minute ago," she muttered.
He heard her, of course, and grinned again, as if everything she said just amused him.
Leah shifted from foot to foot. She wanted him to go away so she could go back to being dizzy and silly and happy and everything she hadn't managed to be since Sam phased. She couldn't ever let go around the pack; they would never let her live it down.
She avoided Paul's knowing gaze, taking another drink as she stared out over the cliffs towards the horizon.
"Sunset will be soon." She didn't know where the words came from, but they lifted the heavy atmosphere that had fallen over them. She never could stand an awkward silence. She always felt compelled to say something just to break the quiet.
Paul picked up on the topic of conversation. "They'll be lighting the celebratory bonfires soon. That's why I'm here."
He gestured towards the carefully piled stack of wood and kindling that rested on the far edge of the cliff. Distracted as she was, Leah had completely failed to notice its presence.
He smirked at her nonplussed expression.
The sky around them began to turn pink and yellow as the sun began to sink and Leah lifted her face up towards the last remaining rays. Closing her eyes, she soaked up every last inch of light, a faint smile on her face.
Seconds later there was a whooshing noise as the fire was lit and the last remnants of the sun vanished beneath the sea. The familiar crackle of the bonfire and the smell of smoke brought Leah back to the present and she blinked open her eyes.
Paul was still staring at her as he poked at the firewood with a stick, and his attention made her uncomfortable.
"Nothing." He shrugged. "I just realised that you're actually decent looking, Clearwater, when you're not scowling. You should relax more often."
She stuck her tongue out at him, but a part of her was warmed by his backwards compliment. It had been a while since anyone other than her mother had paid her one. Usually, all she heard were complaints about how she was too angry, too stubborn, and too bitter to be vaguely attractive. She refused to think about the time that Quil had idly thought that she had a nice rack.
The trouble with never receiving compliments, though, was that she couldn't really remember how to respond to them. So she stayed silent.
Paul cocked his head, watching her assessingly. "So how come you're up here getting drunk when the party's just getting started down there on the beach?"
She didn't know what to say. She just knew that any excuse she gave would be twisted around so the pack thought that she was pining for Sam still. She wasn't, but it was a little tricky to move on properly when she had nowhere to go to.
"I'm just not a fan of too much togetherness."
To her surprise, he didn't pick up on that or question it at all, but instead just nodded.
"I hear you. There's only so much happy families anyone can take before they snap." He winked at her. "Why do you think I was the one to come and light the bonfire?"
She laughed then, a joyous happy sound with none of the edge in her tone that the other wolves were used to hearing.
Paul just shook his head. "So how much have you had to drink tonight then?"
"I'm not drunk," she argued. "I'm only a little tipsy."
"Are you sure?" he asked. "That joke really wasn't that funny."
She stuck her tongue out again. "I'm having a good time, Paul. Don't ruin it for me."
He stared at her for an intense second and then shrugged and sat down again a tree, leaning his back against the trunk. "Fair enough. I hope you don't mind sharing your space though; I don't feel like going back just yet."
Leah rolled her eyes and decided to just ignore him. She was content for once and she wasn't going to let any of the other wolves ruin that for her. She could still hear the music from the party, even up here, and she almost unconsciously began to move in time to the beat, her hips rotating in tiny movements as her feet shuffled from side to side. She hummed along to the tune she could make out.
The music peaked to a crescendo and to punctuate the moment, she shot her arms out and spun in a circle, moving faster and faster.
She dropped the champagne bottle and concentrated on whirling around and not falling over. Around she went, again and again and again...
...until firm hands gripped the top of her arms.
She halted abruptly and it was only the strength in those hands that kept her upright. She shook her head, trying to rid it of the giddiness that that had been so appealing just a second ago.
"What are you doing?" Her voice came out a lot more breathy and a lot less demanding than she had intended.
Paul's brow creased in confusion. "I'm not entirely sure."
That made her laugh again, and from the slightly hysterical edge to it, she thought that maybe she was a little more drunk than she had realised.
"You were dancing," Paul continued. "And you looked..." His voice trailed off as if he didn't really know what he was thinking or what he was doing.
"I looked...?" she prompted.
His face cleared and he released one of her arms to brush her hair back out of her face and tucked it behind her ear.
"Stunning," he eventually concluded.
Leah sucked in a sharp breath at his words. She couldn't believe that Paul – Paul – had said that to her. To be honest, he looked like he couldn't believe he had said it either.
He took a step backwards from her, and then hesitated, and re-took the step forwards.
His face changed as he appeared to abruptly regain his former confidence.
"You should dance more often, you know." The hand on her arm slid down to cup her waist, while the other loosely grasped her hand. He pulled her closer into his body so they were in a formal dancing pose. "You don't look like such a stuck-up bitch when you lose yourself in the music."
Now that was more like the Paul she had come to expect.
"Yeah, well, no-one said you had to watch."
He gave her a cheeky grin. "Honestly, Leah, how could I not watch with those hips moving in such delicious ways?" He stepped out and then forward, leading her in an awkward mock-waltz. Somehow, he managed to engineer the movement so that his groin brushed against hers.
Leah refused to back away from him, despite knowing that it was what he expected. With a mocking smile at her refusal to back away, he continued with their overly sensual dance, only, the longer it went on, the less of a joke it was, and the more intense the feelings between them became.
Eventually, they came to a natural stop, their bodies barely moving, just continuing to sway gently as they pressed against each other.
Leah didn't know what she was doing. She knew that Paul had only been messing with her, but this wasn't him playing with her anymore. This was something else.
"Leah," he murmured.
"Paul." She said his name equally quietly, as if speaking above a whisper would ruin whatever was happening between them.
Holding her eyes with his, he lowered his head and brushed her mouth with his own. She gasped as they parted, a small breathy sigh, and the corner of his lips quirked up. They didn't stay separated for long. Grabbing the back of Paul's neck, Leah dragged him back down to her and took control of their second kiss. Their lips met frantically this time and Paul slid his hands from Leah's hips to her ass, squeezing it tightly. She was just about to jump up and wrap her legs around his waist when she heard her name being yelled in the distance.
They both froze, and then quickly detangled themselves from each other.
They had just moved a safe distance apart when Seth came barrelling through the trees, calling out his sister's name.
"Leah, there you are. Mom wants you to come back down so we can all see Emily and Sam off."
She swallowed heavily, trying to regain her composure.
"Umm, sure. We better hurry back then."
"Yeah." Her brother gave her a strange look, trying to work out why she was behaving more oddly than usual, but then shrugged to himself. If it was important, he was sure that she would tell him at some point.
Conscious of Paul's presence behind her, Leah wanted to get Seth out of there as quickly as possible before he put two and two together about what she had been doing on the cliff top with the other wolf. She and Paul weren't exactly friendly at the best of times, so she knew Seth wouldn't just accept any explanation of them just hanging out.
Putting her hand on her brother's shoulder, Leah led him back through the trees and down to the beach.
She only looked behind her once as she did, and Paul rewarded her curiosity with a flirty wink.
And for the first time in a very long time, Leah Clearwater blushed.
Yes, this day hadn't been as terrible as she'd expected at all.