I Always Will
Paul watched as Briony quickly made up two mugs of tea from where he sat on the couch, wringing his hands slightly. He knew it was his idea to come here. To talk. But now that the moment was upon him, he wasn't sure where to start and if he could even do this.
It had been so easy with Briony in the past. And then with Rachel. But this was so much more than talking about his anger issues. This was talking about his pain, revealing the deepest, darkest parts of his soul. Paul still wasn't sure he wanted to burden Briony, of all people, with this. But there was something about the way she had yelled at him on the beach and then broke down, begging him not to go through with his plans, that finally broke through the walls he had built around him.
It was just a tiny crack, but Paul felt like Briony was about to take a flipping sledgehammer to it.
Now dressed in dry clothing, though her hair was still wet, Briony walked over and held one of the mugs to him. Silently, he took it as she sat on the sofa. She didn't talk, waiting for him to speak first. The only sound was the rain pouring down on the roof.
Paul looked down at the mug and took a deep breath.
"I'm not sure where to start," he admitted.
"Usually the beginning helps… tell me how you and Rachel got together," Briony replied softly. He glanced up at her and nodded before looking back down at his mug.
"We always knew each other - but you knew that. La Push is small, and everyone knows everyone… But Rachel had gone off and made it pretty clear she didn't intend to come back," he said. A soft smile came over his face. "So, I was shocked when she came back for a visit and… started showing an interest in me… I mean, I was 17 at the time… pretty much ever teen boy's dream, I think…"
"I always remembered that she was so cool and pretty," Briony added when he stopped to take a drink.
Paul looked up at her, noticing she had a warm smile on her face. He nodded, stalling a bit as he thought about exactly how to explain his relationship with Rachel without mentioning the pack or imprinting.
"It all happened so fast, to be honest. And it was… intense. From the get-go we were… from zero to 100, it feels… She ended up moving back to La Push to be with me until I graduated. And then we moved to Seattle so I could do undergrad and vet school," he said. "I wanted to make her happy… protect her… and it was the least I could do for everything she did for me…"
Paul stared at his mug, not wanting to meet Briony's eyes for this.
"I was a bit… volatile when I was a teen. Got into far too many fights. Dad wasn't sure what to do with me. But then Rachel happened and… she just knew exactly what to do or say to calm me down. Got me to… talk about things. And she just did it naturally," he said, feeling his heart clench in pain. "When she… well… without her… I wasn't sure if I could continue with it…"
Paul closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
"She had gone to Port Angeles… to get me a birthday present," he said. "It was raining, but the weather wasn't that bad… it got worse, though and… knowing Rachel, she probably thought she could make it back. And she should have, when I think about it… but the rain got worse and worse… then she…"
He stopped speaking a moment, going back to that day. Getting the phone call from Chief Swan.
"I'm so sorry, Paul… she must have taken the curve too fast and…"
Then he was in the coroner's office, pulling the sheet down. He hadn't wanted to believe it was true, but there was no denying it then.
His Rachel. His everything. She was gone. And she wouldn't be coming back. And he had lost his center of gravity. His world had been spinning off center and wildly around him ever since.
"They said that… she died on impact," Paul continued, opening his eyes, though he didn't look at Briony. It was easier to talk without looking at her. "So there's that, but… I just… it was like this pain unlike anything I ever felt before… it just filled my chest and it wouldn't go away…"
He felt a pressure on his arm and looked over, seeing that Briony had reached out to him. He found that slight touch, it helped. That even though it hurt, and he was sure he was fumbling his words, it was okay. He could talk about this with Briony. He was safe with her. He looked up, meeting her eyes. There was no pity there. Just understanding. She still didn't say anything.
"I… it's hard to explain, but… from the moment Rachel and I got together… she became my world. Everything was about her," he said. "And when she was gone… I was lost. Still feel lost. I don't know what to do and… the pain… it won't go away."
Briony frowned as she squeezed his arm. Paul looked away, staring at his mug again.
"I feel like… I don't have anything without her…"
"That's not true," Briony said softly. Paul looked up at her.
He wanted to believe her. Staring into her eyes right now, he felt like he was standing on the edge of belief and all he needed was a slight push in the right direction. But it couldn't be true. There was no way. What did he have? Okay, so he had a job. A roof over his head. But that didn't seem to matter as much with Rachel gone.
"You have the others - Jared, Embry. I know you see them as family. They are your family and they care about you," Briony said, her voice full of conviction. "And you have me, Paul. Always will…"
It had been far too long since he had heard that phrase. But even after all the years, it still had the power to transport him back. To 12 years ago… the last time he and Briony had sat down and had a serious conversation...
Paul stared out at the waves, anger coursing through him. It wasn't fair. Briony couldn't go. Why the hell would this guy - whoever he was - suddenly decide that now he wanted to be a father? That's not what real fathers did. They were there through thick and thin.
Now he was going to lose her. There was nothing they could do about it. No matter how much Briony had yelled and cried and protested, or how much her grandparents had tried to fight it, the court had ruled with her father. She was flying out to LA tomorrow to live with him. And Paul didn't know when or if he would see her again.
"We can stay in touch, you know," Briony said softly.
He looked over, seeing her staring out at the ocean, her green eyes swimming in tears.
"Phone calls. Letters," she continued.
"It won't be the same," Paul said.
She looked over at him, offering a watery smile. He reached over and took her hand, squeezing it as another spike of anger went through him, though this time directed at himself for waiting so long to come clean to Briony about his feelings for her. He had spent all summer working up the courage to tell Briony that he liked her. To kiss her. And then just after he finally did - but before they could fully define whatever this was - they found out that she was to go to LA.
Briony sighed and leaned her head on his shoulder.
"I'll be back," she vowed. "It's just until I graduate high school and then I'll move back."
But that felt like it was forever away. They were only 15. They still had to go through four years of high school. But Paul knew he could do it. He could wait for her. Briony was certainly worth waiting for in his mind.
"What am I going to do without you?" he moaned dramatically, hoping to ease a bit of the sadness hanging in the air. Briony chuckled as she looked up at him.
"You'll survive, Lahote," she replied.
"But… you've always been here," he continued. Briony sighed, blinking rapidly against the tears.
God, he didn't want her to go. Who would look out for her? Help her with her math and science homework? Listen to her story ideas and tell her which ones were the best?
"And I'll always be here for you… just long distance... But I'll come visit. I promise," she said. "Grams and Papa still live here… so it's not like I'll never be back…" She then sat up and looked at him. "You'll look out for them for me, won't you?"
"Course, Bri," he said immediately. She nodded and looked back out at the ocean, a pink tint starting to color her pale cheeks.
"So… I…" she stopped speaking, her brow furrowing.
Paul gulped, having a pretty good feeling what she was trying to say. His heart started racing slightly as his mouth went dry. He gripped her hand tighter. Briony looked over at him and started laughing.
"Sheesh, you look terrified," she said.
"I'm not," Paul replied, frowning. Briony rolled her eyes.
"I wasn't about to say 'I love you,' if that's what's got you worried," she quipped.
Paul felt his heart drop slightly. While it had been scary and that was completely what he had been expecting her to say, he couldn't help but feel disappointed.
"Oh," he said simply.
Briony chuckled as she shoved his shoulder slightly with her own.
"God, we're only 15. We don't say things like 'I love you'. And I don't, by the way… love you, that is… I mean like that," she said, rambling a bit. She stopped for a moment before continuing. "But… I always will…"
Paul met her eyes, a smile stretching across his face.
"Yea… same… I don't love you… like that... but I always will…"
Paul blinked a few times, looking back up at Briony and meeting her eyes. She smiled softly as she moved her hand down to his, squeezing it.
"I meant it… I always will," she said softly.
Paul couldn't speak as he stared at her, finding that finally, the pain in his chest started to recede. It wasn't a lot, but enough that he noticed. A strange feeling started to come over him. It had been such a long time since he felt it that he nearly didn't recognize it.
It was something like hope.
Briony took a deep breath and slowly let it out. After listening to Paul, she felt that it was only fair that she open up in return. She knew how hard it was for Paul to talk to her and she didn't want this to be a one-way street.
"When we found out about Brandon being sick… it was… devastating. He had had some headaches," she started, looking down at her mug. Paul squeezed her hand, encouraging her to keep going with his touch much like she had with him. "I never thought it would be cancer. But Bran… he was determined. He was going to be one of the ones that made it… beat the odds. And for a time, I thought he was going to…"
She stopped speaking a few moments, going back to that time. The endless hospital visits. The treatments that would work for a time. They would get their hopes up. And then they would stop working and the tumors would grow back.
"But throughout it all, he was so… optimistic… and when we knew that… that there was nothing else they could do… I mean, he had moments here and there, for sure, but… he still… he was still hopeful. For me," she said.
She looked over at the bookshelf, seeing her books that Paul had sent over the other day now back in their spot.
"I promised that I would stay by his side through it all. That he wasn't alone in this..."
Her voice cracked as she stopped speaking and tears filled her eyes. She took a deep breath and closed them, the tears falling down her cheeks.
"And then I couldn't even keep that promise… In the end… I had sat up with him all night. The nurse told me to get some rest. I left for… five minutes to take a nap… and he was gone," she whispered.
Her eyes opened as she took a shuddery breath.
"I promised him that he wouldn't die alone. That I would stay by his side… and then… I stepped away and he was gone. When he needed me, I wasn't there," she said.
"That's not your fault," Paul said immediately. She looked over at him. "How could you know? And you can't be there every second, Bri. No one would hold that over you."
"But I promised… and I keep thinking… and worrying… Was he scared? Because I wasn't there..."
Briony felt the familiar guilt and worry fill her. It was the main thing that haunted her dreams. That Brandon had been lying there, in pain and scared, as he died. No one to hold his hand or comfort him. Specifically, her. She was his wife.
"You know… I've heard that… sometimes when people know they are dying… you know, their time has come," Paul said in a gentle tone that Briony hadn't heard in years. "They don't want to put their family through the trauma of watching them die… they wait until they leave the room and then… that's when they choose to go… Maybe that was Bran… he didn't want to put you through that..."
Briony stared at him, the tears still streaming down her cheeks. She had heard that before, but for some reason, this was the first time she had considered it. It did sound like Brandon. A small smile tugged at her lips as she wiped her cheeks.
"God… look at us. We make a messed-up pair," she said, sniffling.
"Yea," Paul agreed, an odd look on his face as he looked down at his mug again. He then turned his body towards Briony, his knee brushing against her leg. "You need to keep going, Bri. You said that Brandon wanted you to keep going, living. So, you should."
Briony's eyebrows raised in surprise. It was much like the day he insisted that she make her books into movies. Seemed Paul still had no regard for himself.
"Could say the same for you," she replied evenly.
He winced slightly but nodded.
"Suppose you have a point there. Just… it's hard when your biggest motivator is gone," he said, not meeting her eyes. Briony looked over at the bookshelf.
"I can't write," she admitted. She could feel Paul looking at her. "I try, but since Brandon died… I can't do it… and I'm afraid that I'll never write again…"
"You will," Paul said, his tone clear that he thought it ridiculous that she'd never write again. "It's just… it's what you do."
"Yea, and now, I can't," Briony almost snapped at him. She then took a deep breath, calming herself. It wasn't Paul's fault. "Writing was… you know how important it is to me… I mean, I thought I had a chance to move on from Bran… until I discovered I couldn't write…"
She went silent, feeling Paul watch her. Finally, she heard him take a deep breath.
"You're right… we are a pair," he admitted. Briony looked back over at him. "But… I have to believe that it'll come back to you. I know it will…"
Briony snorted slightly - how the tables had turned.
"And how do you know that?" she asked, a bit incredulous.
"Because… There are a lot of things I stopped doing or couldn't do after Rachel… and suddenly… I find myself starting to do them again," he said, his voice holding more resolution than she had heard there in a while.
Briony had to admit she was surprised, yet still happy, with the sudden change. But at the same time, she found herself a bit confused, wondering why he wouldn't just come out and say what it was. But then again, she still appreciated the sentiment.
"And… I think all of this… talking… and… it is because of you," he said, not meeting her eyes. He was silent a few moments before looking back at her. "I think… us getting back in contact… it was all… meant to happen."
Briony sniffled as she started grinning while the tears filled her eyes yet again. There it was. A small bit of hope in his eyes. She couldn't help as it started spreading to her.
"Bri… I… I don't want to die," Paul admitted, blinking as tears filled his eyes. "I don't know how I'm going to get through this… but… I don't want to give up…"
"Paul," she gasped softly. She quickly put her tea mug down and reached out to him, pulling him close as she felt his shoulders start to shake. "I'm here… like I said… always."
"It still hurts," he replied.
"I know… I know how that feels. I feel it too," she whispered. "But you have to keep talking… when you feel like this… please… call me…"
She felt him nod. Briony pulled back slightly, needing to see his face. Staring into his dark brown eyes, Briony realized in that moment that she hadn't been fixing him - not really. This whole time, Paul had been fixing her.
"I don't love you… but I always will," she whispered, the memory of that day when they were 15 filling her mind.
Paul chuckled and pulled her back to him, his warmth quickly filling her. Briony found that she didn't want to let go.
The house was quiet as Briony made her way to the sink with the mugs. She and Paul had spent the day talking about everything. It was as though the floodgates had opened and neither could stop.
There had been laughter. And quite a few tears. A bit of anger. But she felt as though they had both made a giant step forward. More than that, she felt as though she had her old friend back. He was now settled in the guest room, exhausted from the overemotional day. They had called Jared and he promised that he and Embry would bring her car by tomorrow. He was relieved that Paul was with her and seemed to have turned a corner.
Briony stretched as she walked into the living room to turn off the lights before she headed to bed herself. She then stopped, her eyes falling on her closed laptop.
It started as just a small niggle in the back of her mind. A fleeting thought. But it was there. Without thinking, Briony found herself sitting on the couch and opening her laptop. She stared at the screen a few moments and then suddenly her fingers were on the keys.
She started out slowly, but then her fingers picked up the pace as she kept writing. She wasn't sure how much time had passed, but she stopped and stared down at the screen, in awe of how much she had gotten down.
Tears slowly filled her eyes as she went back to the top and softly read the first line out loud.
"The day we met was like any other day. But at the same time, it wasn't. I was 15 years old and it was the first day of school. I was alone and scared. But then he walked up…"
She sat back on the couch and looked up at the bookshelf, her eyes falling yet again on the books, reading over the titles.
It was time. Time to write this story.
And finally, we get the story of the title. Again, I got the idea from the song "Poison & Wine" by The Civil Wars. For some reason, I felt like it fit...