Your Hands Can Bruise
Paul slammed the door to his truck shut before making his way up to the house. He knocked and stepped back, waiting on Briony to answer. When she did, a grin filled her face as she stepped back and let him in, already launching into a detailed explanation of her day.
The house was still a bit of a wreck, though he had to admit that the kitchen was starting to come together. It was looking less like a construction zone, though Briony still couldn't fully use it. But at least the new appliances had been delivered that day, it seemed.
Clearing his throat, Paul focused on following Briony to the deck - the one part of the house that seemed completely finished - his thoughts once again returning to that night he had inadvertently run here. Seeing that Briony wasn't in any condition for company or to discuss what he had wanted, he had left, but told himself the next time he saw her, he would bring up the book and that fateful day on the beach when they were 15.
But he hadn't.
It had been several days, and each time Paul opened his mouth to speak about it, he chickened out. Or he saw Rachel in his mind and the guilt would overtake him. Part of him felt like he needed to talk about it with Briony, if anything to get out of his head and stop obsessing over all of it. Christ, it was 12 years ago. And he had imprinted on someone else.
Why was that one moment in their shared past now stuck in his head?
"It's starting to look good," Paul said, looking back into the house.
"Yea, the upstairs furniture should be in tomorrow," Briony said with a sigh. Paul looked over at her as she poured a glass of lemonade and handed it over to him.
She seemed calmer. More rested. The bright glint that had always been in her eyes before was starting to come back. Perhaps she was finally getting better. Paul felt a warmth spread in his chest. Briony was going to be okay, he could feel it.
That was good… wasn't it?
"Just wish I had my kitchen," Briony said, sitting down and shooting him a wry smile. "You have no idea what it's like being unable to cook."
"Sure it won't be much longer until Embry is done with it," Paul said, glancing back into the house to escape her piercing gaze.
For a moment, it felt like the old days when Briony knew in a glance that something was wrong. Sometimes he swore she could read his mind. Would that have come back this quickly?
"How was the clinic today?" Briony asked. Paul looked over at her, eyebrows raised.
"Normal," he said, reaching for his glass and taking a sip. "Helped with a few procedures, but not much going on… you know how small towns are…"
"Yea," Briony said, tilting her head to the side as she studied him.
Shit. She knew. She always fucking knew. Granted, Paul wasn't exactly sure just what it was she knew since he couldn't seem to figure it out himself.
He knew that he had thought about that kiss far too many times the last several days. About Briony in general. He knew he felt a certain way when he thought about her, even if he couldn't quite put his finger on what it was. But then just as quickly, the pain would overwhelm him and all he could see was Rachel's face.
However… there was a part of Paul that was curious. If Briony had stayed in town - if she had never left - would everything have been the same? Would he have still imprinted on Rachel? There still wasn't a lot that he understood about imprinting - namely exactly how it knew who to choose. Sure, everyone had their theories, but no one really knew for sure. For all he knew, it could have ended up in the same situation as Sam, Emily and Leah. And while he was most definitely sure that he couldn't imprint a second time - it had never happened as far as he was aware - he couldn't help but wonder what, if anything, would have been different if she had never left.
But there it was again. Just as he started going down that trail, his chest ached, and his mind filled with Rachel. Her smile. Her hair blowing in the breeze. And then the guilt. How could he ever think there was a chance there could have ever been anyone else for him?
"What's going through that head of yours, Paul?" Briony asked gently as she sat up in her chair, a soft smile on her face.
Paul's eyes widened as he realized he had been staring off into space. Shit. What did he say to her?
"I… nearly finished the books," he said.
No. That's not what he should talk about. That would lead to the scene where they kissed. And while he wanted to talk about it, he also didn't.
Briony's eyes widened in surprise.
"That's fast," she said with a chuckle. Paul shrugged, looking down at his glass.
"They're easy reads," he commented. "I mean… yea… they go by fast… like I said, you've always been a good writer."
He glanced up at her, seeing a light blush come over her cheeks as she looked away from him.
"I really like them," he continued.
"It means a lot… to hear that you like them," Briony said with a sigh of relief. "Honestly, I was worried you might be angry."
Paul frowned. Why would she think that? There was nothing in there that made him look bad or that the others didn't already know, thanks to pack telepathy.
"I'd never be upset about the books," he said seriously. "I mean… brought up a lot of memories, but… I'm not angry about you using them in the books."
Suddenly, his mouth went a bit dry.
This was why he wanted to talk to her, wasn't it? Did he want to talk about this? Paul took a deep breath, preparing himself. He wasn't exactly sure where to start. But just as he opened his mouth, Briony's phone went off. Both of them jumped slightly as she looked over and picked it up.
"Sorry… I should take this," she said, offering him an apologetic smile as she stood and quickly walked into the house.
Paul took another deep breath and stood, walking over to the railing and looking out over the ocean as he went over just what it was he wanted to talk about.
"Hey, Viv," he heard Briony say. He glanced over his shoulder, realizing that she didn't know that he could hear her. Of course, she couldn't.
She didn't know the full truth about him.
Paul cleared his throat and thought about stepping farther away to give her more privacy. She obviously didn't want him to overhear whatever it was.
"Okay. All the arrangements are made then?" Briony asked. "Okay… yea… I just got the ticket. I'll be back in LA next week…"
Paul froze, latching onto those words. She was going back to LA. The pain in Paul's chest seemed to intensify as he felt his chest tighten. He wasn't sure why, but it felt like the world was spinning around him. Paul reached down and gripped the railing tightly.
It shouldn't be such a surprise that she would want to go back. She was doing better, after all. He had seen it with his own eyes. But still, she was leaving. She was leaving him. Everyone left him. Why should Briony be any different?
"Paul, you okay?"
He spun around, his eyes wide as he fought to keep control. He could feel his emotions starting to whirl inside him and his wolf was pushing to the surface. Paul knew that he couldn't risk phasing. Not here and not in front of Briony. He needed to get it under control and leave.
"Yea, fine," he said, taking deep soothing breaths.
Briony frowned as she stepped closer to him.
"Are you sure? You don't look so hot," Briony said cautiously.
"Really, I'm fine… you should… stay over there," he said, closing his eyes.
But then he felt soft hands gripping the sides of his face. Paul breathed through his nose, which was probably not such a good idea. He was suddenly overwhelmed by her scent. It felt like home. There was something familiar in her touch, but different at the same time.
It was what Rachel did to calm him. And somehow it was starting to work even though it wasn't Rachel doing it. How could this be happening? Just as he thought that, the calm started to recede.
"Paul… what's going on? You can tell me," he heard her say softly. He started shaking from trying to keep in control. "Look at me…"
Paul took another deep breath and slowly opened his eyes, seeing Briony's face right in front of his own, her green eyes full of worry. For some reason, he latched onto them, finding his heart had begun pounding, though he found it slightly easier to keep his control.
Fuck, this constant up and down was going to kill him.
"What are you not telling me?" Briony murmured. "You know I'm here for you…"
"I know," he breathed, continuing to stare into her eyes. Briony swallowed and began rubbing his cheeks with her thumbs.
Paul stared down at her, everything running through his head. All the worry he felt for her. Seeing her break down at her house the other night. But then her smile. Laughter from the movie. Briony helping him with his homework. Listening to her tell him stories.
The kiss on the beach.
For some reason, that was the memory that his mind decided to latch onto while all the others slipped through like water. His eyes drifted down for a moment, looking at her lips. But then he brought them back up to her eyes, not wanting to believe that the thought was even crossing his mind.
Everything was far too overwhelming. He needed to get away. Right now. But he couldn't move. His feet wouldn't let him. Not to mention, Briony was still holding his face.
"Paul…" she whispered.
He licked his lips and then suddenly, it was as if something took over him. He bent down. Part of him expected her to pull away. But she didn't. Instead, she went up on her toes. It was happening all too slow and all too fast at the same time.
He pressed his lips against hers and froze for a moment. Until Briony began to move her own. Paul's hands came to rest on her hips as he pulled her close, feeling her body mold against his. It was far better than their few shared kisses when they were 15. Briony's hands moved from his face to his neck.
The kiss picked up in intensity rather quickly, his hands were roaming everywhere, pulling her closer. His fingers became tangled in her hair. For a few blessed moments, everything left. The pain. The bad memories. All of it.
But just as quickly, it all came crashing back.
Paul stepped back quickly, causing Briony to stumble slightly. She stared at him, her eyes wide as the realization of what just happened settled in. They didn't say anything for a while, just stared at each other.
"I need to go," Paul said.
Before she could say anything, Paul turned and tore through the house and out of the front door. He then got into his truck and took off down the lane, his hands starting to shake under the effort of keeping in control. Hot tears filled his eyes.
"What have I done?" he murmured as his mind filled with Rachel.
Paul paced around the small apartment, running his fingers through his hair. He then stopped and looked down, seeing his bloody knuckles. Shit. He shouldn't have gone to that party. Though he didn't struggle with keeping his anger in control nearly as much as he had when he was younger, it still sometimes only took one look or one comment. And this time it had been in a cramped house. He could have seriously hurt someone. Hurt Rachel.
"Paul, look at me."
He looked over, seeing her standing with a worried look nearby. She walked over to him, but he backed up.
"You should stay away," he said, putting his hands up. Rachel sighed, her look turning slightly stormy.
"Paul Lahote, how long have we been together?" she asked sternly. He didn't reply, just looked to the ground. "I told you… I'm not afraid of you. You won't hurt me."
"But I could," he said, just as sternly, looking up to meet her eyes. "You… you shouldn't be around me-"
"Shut the fuck up and listen to me," she said, cutting him off. "I love you, Paul. And not just because of the imprint. I could have chosen to walk away, but I didn't. Because I want to be with you."
"You got it under control! And Mason was being a dick. Honestly, it was only a matter of time before he got himself punched," she shouted.
She closed the distance between them as Paul looked away again, shame coursing through him. He then felt her hands on his cheeks, guiding him to look at her. All he could see was worry in her eyes. And love. For him.
"It's okay," she said softly. "You need to talk to me…"
Paul shook his head, not wanting to burden her with all the thoughts running around in his head.
"You can always talk to me, Paul. You don't have to hold it in anymore," she said gently. He swallowed, staring into her eyes. "I'm here, okay? I'm not going anywhere. I love you."
Paul took a deep breath and then reached out, pulling her close as he wrapped his arms around her. He breathed in her scent, feeling calm start to course through him. He knew that he didn't deserve her, but here she was all the same.
"Sometimes… it's just hard to stop," he said softly.
"I know… but you are doing better," she replied. Paul tightened his grip on her. "You can do this."
Rachel stepped back and looked up at him, smiling slightly.
"You just gotta believe in yourself a bit more."
Paul chuckled and shook his head.
"What would I do without you?" he asked before kissing her forehead.
"Pretty sure you'd be okay," Rachel said wryly. Paul snorted. "Maybe get yourself locked up a time or two, but you're a fast learner."
"Seriously, Rach," he said, rolling his eyes. Rachel pulled him back close to her and kissed him soundly.
"I love you," she said softly afterwards.
"I love you too…"
"What's this? Why are you all broody?"
Paul looked over, watching as Rachel walked into the living room and sat next to him on the couch. He sighed and looked around the room. It wasn't bad as far as houses went, but he knew Rachel didn't want to stay in La Push. And here they were. It was only supposed to be for a little bit. Until he could get his father's things in order. And then three years had passed. Paul couldn't help but feel as though he was falling short.
"Just… rough day," he said. Rachel chuckled as she ran her fingers through his hair. Instantly, he felt calmed by her touch.
"I may not have pack telepathy, but you know I can tell when you're lying," she replied. Paul sighed and looked over at her.
"Are you happy here?" he asked. Rachel smiled softly.
"Ah, and the roles have reversed," she mused. She pulled her legs up into his lap and wrapped her arms around him, Paul immediately doing the same and pulling her close. "I'm always happy with you, Paul. You know this."
"Yea, but… I know moving back here for so long… wasn't really in the books," Paul said, still frowning.
"So? Lot's of things are never in the books. We can't plan everything, Paul," she said. "And I told you a long time ago… as long as I'm with you, I'm happy."
"But wouldn't you be happier somewhere else?" he asked. Rachel shrugged.
"Maybe? I don't know. Won't know unless we go somewhere else," she said. "And we can do that if we want. Or we can stay here a bit longer."
"I just want you to be happy," Paul said.
Rachel laughed and sat up, pulling him to look at her.
"And I am happy. With you," she said firmly. "I love you, Paul. Never doubt that."
He stared at her a few moments, not quite believing how lucky he was. That of everyone, he imprinted on this amazing woman. She was infinitely patient with him. Even when Paul felt he didn't deserve it. And he got to spend the rest of his life with her.
Rachel leaned forward and kissed him.
"All I need is you," she said softly, a smile filling her face.
"I would do anything for you," he said.
"I know," she replied, smirking. "But we can worry about moving or whatever later. It's not something we have to decide right this minute. We've done it before. Pretty sure it's not that hard."
Paul couldn't help but smile and chuckle.
"Ah, there's a smile. Finally," Rachel said.
Paul stared at her a few moments and then started to grin. In one smooth movement, he was up on his feet, lifting Rachel into his arms as she gave a whoop.
Briony sat on the deck, staring out at the ocean. For once, she was glad that Embry wasn't set to come over. She needed time to think and process. Her fingers came up and gently brushed her lips. Of all the things that could have happened, that kiss was the absolute last thing she expected. Even a few days later, she still couldn't believe it had happened.
But it had been nice. At first, at least. But then when he had pushed away from her, the look on his face.
Briony shook her head and then massaged her temples. Something before that had upset him, this she knew. When she had come back from taking Vivian's call to tell him she had to go back to LA for a few days to take care of some things before they started showing the house, he looked as though he was about to lose it. The pain was so stark in his eyes. But what could have set it off? What's more, how did he go from that to kissing her?
There was a lot Paul wasn't telling her.
Sighing, Briony reached for her mug of coffee, glancing at her phone. She knew that he needed space - likely to process everything as well. That was the only reason why she hadn't contacted him yet. But she hoped maybe he would contact her. Briony snorted. If there was anything she learned since coming back, it was that this new version of Paul didn't reach out. But maybe there was a small part of the old Paul in there and he would.
Anger and guilt rolled through her. This was her fault. She should have stopped him. She should have never kissed him back. She should have talked him down. Made him talk about whatever it was that was bothering him.
"What the fuck did I do…" she murmured.
Briony smiled as she leaned against the patio doorframe, watching Brandon as he sat in the back garden, his head back and eyes closed, a smile on his face. The weather was amazing, as it usually was in LA. And he was having a rare good day. She wasn't sure how many of these days they would get before the end.
Her smile faded as tears pricked her eyes. She tried not to think about it too much, but it was never far from her mind. She wouldn't have much longer with him.
"Stop it, Bri."
She started just a bit, though Brandon's eyes were still closed.
"Get over here and sit with me. Stop staring at me like I'm sick or something," he continued, the smile clear in his voice.
Sighing, she walked over and sat down in the chair next to him just as he opened his eyes.
Turning his head, he smiled and reached out for her hand. Briony gripped it as tightly as she dared, worried she would hurt him. He was already dealing with a fair amount of pain as it was, though he tried his best not to show it.
"I'm not dead yet, Bri," he said softly.
"I know," she whispered.
Brandon stared at her a few moments and then squeezed her hand again.
"I need you to do something for me," he said. "When I'm gone."
Briony's throat closed slightly, leaving her unable to speak, so she just nodded in return and tried her damndest not to start sobbing.
"Keep living, will you? There's going to be so much life left for you. I don't want you to stop just because I'm not here," he said softly. "I know it's not going to be easy for a bit. But the last thing I want is for you to just shut down and shut everyone out because of this."
Briony looked down at their hands, the tears already starting to fall down her cheeks.
"You know you're the only one for me," she said softly. Brandon chuckled.
"You're 27, Bri. And successful. Talented. Beautiful. I highly doubt that," he replied. Briony looked up at him. "I just… I want you to know that it's okay, you know. If you want to move on some day."
His bright smile had returned, filling his whole face. Though he looked tired and all of his hair had long since fallen out, Briony thought he was still every bit as handsome as the first day that they met.
"Whatever you do, don't give up," Brandon said. "On yourself. On being happy again. On life… on… just everything, okay? I can't go on into the hereafter without hearing you say that you'll take care of yourself."
"I will," Briony vowed. "I promise, I won't give up…"
Briony's eyes widened as she stared out at the sea, the memory so vivid in her mind. It was one of the last coherent conversations they had together. The tumors hit his motor functions first, but in the end, it hadn't taken long for them to overtake every part of his brain, leaving him in a mostly vegetative state.
But it was that conversation that had somehow gotten her to pull out of the darkness of those first few months without Brandon. He had wanted her not to give up. Yes, he was talking about her and all, but Briony felt like it was a fitting message for Paul right now.
Despite whatever was going on - whatever happened the other day - she wasn't going to give up on him. Not when he had been making progress.
She needed to talk to him.