No Place Like You
Paul took a sip from his beer and casually glanced around the rather large group of people milling around Briony's deck and even out onto the beach. It seemed in just the few months she had been back, she had not only reconnected with everyone from her past, but also managed to make a fair amount of new friends.
All of their friends from La Push were there - wives, husbands, and families in tow. Sam was on the beach with his two kids while Emily was in the kitchen helping Briony and her best friend Tanya - who had flown up from LA for a couple weeks - with the food. Embry stood in another small group, grinning brightly at the large amount of praise he was getting for the now-completed renovation on the cabin.
Even Paul had to admit that it looked amazing. It always looked great to him, but Embry had managed to update not only the look, but the amenities as well. And after a quick trip back to LA, Briony had finally - officially - settled into her new home. The house in LA had sold rather quickly and thankfully hadn't required she be gone long. Which had been a blessing. Even just those few days had Paul feeling unsettled.
But that had passed as soon as she got back.
And tonight was about the housewarming, Paul told himself, focusing his thoughts on the house as he studied it. Paul had been considering hiring Embry to take on his house but hadn't managed to get around to asking yet as he was also considering finally moving out. Perhaps it was time to leave all the memories - good and bad - behind and finally move forward in a big way. But still, he wasn't completely sure.
Part of him wasn't ready to let go of Rachel. Though with each passing day, he found the pain lessened. It got easier to breathe. A lot of the anxiety he had had over the last year disappeared as he started phasing more regularly. He felt himself finally starting to feel more comfortable in his own skin again.
Since that day on the beach, Paul found himself a nearly daily visitor to Briony's, finding the home once again held all the warmth and happiness that it did when he was a kid, even if the furniture and decor were all new.
It started out gradually. As Briony got more and more of her kitchen back, she started inviting him over for dinner a few nights a week. And then gradually Paul found himself spending more time there than he did at home. Another reason he was considering moving. What was the point in keeping a house he was hardly ever in? He had actually been looking at a little place that was on the market not far from Briony's. The idea of starting over somewhere, starting fresh, really appealed to him. The fact that it was near Briony was just icing on the cake.
"Still playing the loner, are we?"
Paul looked over, watching as Jared walked up to him, smirking. Paul rolled his eyes and took a drink of his beer.
"I'm here, aren't I?" he retorted. "And I was at your place last weekend."
"Pretty sure Kim threatened you if you didn't come and we both know that Briony would skin you if you didn't show up for her big housewarming," Jared replied with a chuckle.
Though it had been a month or so, Paul could still see a hint of worry in his best friend's eyes. That even with all the progress he had been making, he might still be considering his plans. That all it would take was one bad day and Paul would revert to how he had been. Truthfully, Paul was a bit worried himself. But thankfully anytime his thoughts started going dark, he could pick up the phone and talk to Briony. Getting back into socializing was taking a bit longer, but he thought he was doing well, all things considering.
"I'm fine," Paul assured him. He glanced around nervously. "Still getting used to it, though."
"You've done a lot, Paul," Jared said, getting a bit serious for a moment. "Like I said… Briony and reconnecting. It's been good for you. And it takes time, we all know that. No one is going to push you into something you're not ready for."
Paul stared at him a moment and then cracked a smile. Even he couldn't deny it at this point. Briony had helped him.
"Is this where you say, 'I told you so'?" Paul asked. Jared chuckled and shook his head.
"You don't need it," Jared replied. "Where is Briony, by the way?"
"In the kitchen," Paul replied. Jared studied him, a sly smile appearing on his face.
Paul rolled his eyes and huffed. He had been expecting this. Though it wasn't as though Jared had been particularly hiding his thoughts on him and Briony. So far it was still the casual comment here and there, but Paul knew Jared was desperate to push him on it.
"We're just friends," Paul insisted. "You can't expect anything to happen there." Jared snorted.
"You already know everyone's just waiting for it," he replied. "Kim asks me about you two nearly every day."
Paul looked down at his beer, thinking it over. They never did talk about the kiss, but they didn't need to. There was a sort of unspoken agreement that they didn't need to because they weren't ready for that. Not yet.
Not to mention, there was the whole fact that he had already imprinted on someone else. True, Rachel was gone and there was no reason Paul couldn't move on to another relationship if he wanted. But part of him still felt as though that was it.
And no one had ever heard of someone imprinting twice. Sure, that didn't mean it wasn't impossible. But it didn't stop the weird feeling in the pit of Paul's stomach when he thought about it too much.
"Being serious for a moment… have you made a decision on that?" Jared asked, dropping his voice a bit so others couldn't hear them. "You and Briony?"
Paul looked up, meeting his eyes. Truth be told, he had been feeling something lately. Like something had changed between them (though thankfully it wasn't a big enough shift that anyone else in the pack had picked up on it when they phased). But he wasn't sure if he was ready to bring it up with her. Her husband had died less than a year ago, after all. And he was still getting over Rachel.
"I mean… maybe? But… I just don't think I'm ready for that. It's… weird. I mean, I went 10 years thinking that Rachel was it. She was my imprint. And now…" Paul stopped speaking and shrugged. He took a drink of his beer before he said more. "I still think that… that Rachel was it. The one. No more. And I don't think Briony's ready for that step yet, either. It hasn't been all that long for her, you know. Maybe she feels something similar about Brandon..."
Jared was silent a few moments, obviously thinking it over. He then met Paul's eyes again.
"Maybe it's time to stop thinking about all this imprinting business… I mean, there is still a lot we don't know about it, but regardless… I think… it's a good thing. I mean, so much of imprinting we have no control over. It just happens… choses for us. And don't get me wrong - I love Kim. I have no doubt in my mind I would have ended up with her, but… this time, you're in control. You get to choose," Jared finally said. "It's a bit harder in some aspects. I mean, we've all seen inside Sam's head - everything with Emily and Leah. If you do decide to eventually date Briony, you'll have to work more. But… I don't think that's a bad thing."
"It'll be different, that's for sure," Paul had to admit, finally giving in and allowing himself to consider the idea of a relationship with Briony.
And it was true. Briony and Rachel were different in a lot of ways. Briony, while she had gained more confidence as an adult, was still a bit more on the timid side. Rachel barged into everything, no fear at all. She was loud where Briony was often quiet.
But there were also some things they had in common. Both had that natural ability to calm him down. A warmth about them, as well as a strong sense of loyalty. Even after all these years apart, Briony still looked at him as one of her closest friends.
"Just think about it… there's a certain amount of freedom that you don't get with imprinting," Jared said. "No longer having to worry about if you're only together because of the imprint and all that."
"I never thought that with Rachel," Paul said immediately, causing Jared to snort.
"You did and you know it. Don't forget. I'm in your head," Jared said. "And that's fine. We all have at some point in time…"
Paul was silent, thinking it over. This was all true. But then again, there was one very big thing standing in his way.
"Okay, but what about what we are? Briony doesn't know… and I'm not sure how to tell her. If I should tell her… If we date… If it gets serious…"
Paul frowned as he looked towards the windows into the house. He could see her laughing at something either Tanya or Emily had said. She seemed so carefree and light. More and more so lately.
What would she do if Paul told her the truth about what he was? What he could do? Almost immediately, he felt as though she would accept it. That's just who Briony was. But another part of him worried that she wouldn't. That she might run. Be afraid of him. The last thing Paul wanted was for Briony to be afraid of him.
Something stirred in his chest. A feeling he thought that he would never feel again. Paul frowned and shook his head. Now was not the time to go down that road. But he couldn't help but think that maybe someday… it wouldn't be so bad.
"All I'm saying is… don't write it off. I know it's different. And scary. But you and Briony… you guys make sense," Jared said. Paul looked over at him. "When you're ready, that is. And we both know that Rachel would want you to be happy. The rest… you'll figure it out along the way. I'm sure Sam will let you tell her if it gets to that point."
"You think?" Paul asked, glancing over at the alpha.
"It's not like we've had anything like this before, but… he likes Briony. Trusts her. Especially after all she's done for you," Jared said. "Think we're all incredibly grateful for that."
Paul met Jared's eyes again.
"Really, Paul. You're doing good. It'll work out, whatever you decide," Jared continued. "Don't be afraid of it. Or feel guilty."
Paul couldn't help as a small smile tugged on his lips. Part of him nearly couldn't believe he was finally at this point. Where he finally felt happy again.
"Yea… I think you're right…"
"Okay, so you didn't tell me how hot Paul is," Tanya said before taking a drink from her wine.
Briony snorted and then laughed, but knew her cheeks were probably turning bright red. She could feel Emily watching her closely, a small smile on her lips.
"It's just… Paul," she said, focusing on finishing up the appetizer she was working on.
"Yes! THE Paul," Tanya gushed. "You fucking made him a character in your very successful book series. I've read them all and I've heard the actual stories from you. Do not try and tell me there is nothing going on there."
"There really isn't. We're just friends," Briony said. Though even as she said it, she couldn't help but wonder if perhaps it was something more.
They had been spending more time together. And lately, she had noticed a bit of a shift in their relationship. But at the same time, she wasn't sure if she was ready for that. She was fairly sure that Paul had noticed as well, but it had become an unspoken rule between them that they didn't mention it.
Not yet, anyway.
"You know… I think you two are cute together," Emily said.
Briony whipped her head around to look at her, eyes wide, as Tanya cackled.
"I… no… what?" Briony said, getting a bit flustered. She then looked back down at the food. "We're just friends. I mean, god, we've been friends for years. We just know each other really well-"
"Stop rambling and just admit it. You're falling for him. And no, you were almost a couple back when you were 15," Tanya pointed out. "You weren't just friends back then."
"Really, I don't know what you're talking about," Briony said quickly. Tanya snorted. "Not about that, but… ugh."
She abandoned the food and fixed her best friend in a stern glare.
"Seriously, Tanya. I'm not ready for that," she said.
Immediately, Tanya's smile faded slightly.
"Shit. Sorry, Bri. I know, but… it's been almost 10 months now," she started. Briony just continued to glare at her. "Fuck… I shouldn't have said anything…"
Briony's glare softened. She knew that Tanya meant well. After how she had been in the months following Brandon's death, Tanya was just happy to see her happy. And no longer wallowing. Plus, it was her nature to get excited about these sorts of things.
"It's okay," Briony said, returning to her task.
"You know… Bran would be okay with it," Tanya said softly.
"I know, it's just… I mean, we're still getting to know each other again. And well… he's going through the same thing… losing Rachel," Briony said, though she glanced out through the windows, seeing Paul talking to Jared. "I'm not sure if he'll ever get to a point when he wants to move on… what they had… it was intense…"
"True. They were… Paul and Rachel were really good together. But, she's gone. And he's finally starting to accept that. In a lot of ways, thanks to you," Emily said gently, resting her hand on Briony's arm. She looked over at the older woman, who wore a warm smile. "We were all worried about him. But you were the one that broke through to him and brought him back. That means something. And not just to us. To him as well."
Briony looked back to the food, her brow furrowed. She wasn't sure how much of this she wanted to get into right now. Not with a house full of people and the person in question standing not so far away.
"To be honest… if this is all we ever are… I'm okay with that," Briony said. "We've helped each other out a lot. But that doesn't necessarily mean that we're… destined or something." She shot Tanya a look that had her best friend snapping her mouth shut before she could make some sort of comment on that. "And it takes time… moving to the next level. We're both still getting comfortable with each other again. I don't want to do or say something to ruin that."
"And it's completely understandable," Tanya said quickly.
"And I think it's a good move," Emily added. "But I also think that if you guys are open to it… someday there could be something else there and it would be good."
Briony looked over at her, smiling.
"So… how's the book?" Tanya asked, never one to be subtle with her subject changes. Briony chuckled.
"Good. Really good. Vivian is dying over it," she said. "And… she's sending over the contract next week on the movie deal."
Tanya's face lit up as she whooped and started dancing around the kitchen.
"Finally! I've been telling you to make the books into movies for years!" she shouted as Briony and Emily laughed.
"Well… figured it was time," Briony said with a shrug. "I think they even want to film it here."
"Really? Here?" Emily asked, her eyes widening. Briony nodded. "Kim is going to lose it. Famous actors in La Push. Mara nearly lost it when Embry told her that he was working on your house. Both of them are going to die."
"I'm not that famous," Briony shot back.
"Bri, we're in La Push. You're famous," Emily replied with a chuckle. "But honestly, none of that matters to me. I'm just happy you decided to stay."
A warmth began to fill Briony. It meant a lot to her that Emily had said that. While she felt comfortable here and knew from the day she arrived that she wanted to stay here permanently, she still occasionally worried about fitting in. She had been gone 12 years. Everyone she had known had moved on and lived entire lives without her. She had lived a life without them. Some days she wondered if things would get back to where they had been. But it seemed like they had. She was once again accepted by her friends - who she was starting to see as family - in La Push.
"Seriously… you're family now," Emily continued - almost as though she had read Briony's mind - as she slid an arm around Briony's waist and gave her a side hug. "Whether or not things go anywhere with Paul."
Briony looked over at Tanya, knowing she was likely feeling a certain way about Briony leaving LA, but her bright grin told her that she was making the right choice. And that Tanya was truly happy for her.
"This is where you need to be, Bri," Tanya said, reaching over and taking her hand, squeezing it. "Yes, I'll miss you. But that's what planes are for."
Briony looked back and forth between the two women a few times, feeling her eyes start to fill with tears. She then straightened up and quickly brushed her hands under them.
"Well… this food isn't going to serve itself. Grab that for me?" she said, nodding towards the other plates.
"Got it, Bri…" Tanya said.
The three women all grabbed plates and started towards the open door that let out to the deck, chatting about this and that.
Briony stepped out and stopped, the breeze gently ruffling her hair. There was something… a faint feeling in the pit of her stomach. Like a tiny fluttering. It was like nothing she had ever felt before. Her head turned as she looked through the people, her eyes finally meeting warm brown ones.
She found Paul staring back at her, his own eyes wide in surprise.
A deep affection coursed through her as she stared at her childhood friend and everything faded away. It was just the two of them, standing there. No one else.
She gasped softly, feeling as though something snapped into place and everything seemed to fall in sync. It was like that day on the beach when he finally told her his feelings for her and kissed her when they were 15, though it was stronger. More resolute.
But at the same time, it was slightly scary.
She tried to brush it off, telling herself that it was just all the talk earlier getting to her, but it was stubborn. For whatever reason, all Briony could think about was Paul. And how she wanted to be closer to him, not standing on the other side of the deck.
What was going on?
Paul closed his eyes as Briony's scent suddenly overwhelmed him. He took a deep breath, feeling a breeze blow over his face. He then looked over as he opened his, meeting her gaze as she stepped out onto the deck, her arms full of food.
A familiar feeling came over him. One that he thought he would never feel again.
His eyes widened in shock as he stared at her. Everything else faded away and it was as though they were the only two people in the universe. It made no sense. He had spent so much time around her. How was this happening? And how was it happening now?
But there wasn't a doubt in Paul's mind. He knew exactly what it was.
He had just imprinted on Briony.
And... that's the end... I've toyed with an epilogue or something where Paul explains imprinting and the wolves to Briony, but... this felt like the best way to end this story... That would ultimately need more chapters or a completely new story.
Really, thank you to everyone for reading and following. This story started out as another way to deal with my grief, but it also was a way to break out of my "can't write" funk. And now I'm starting work on my original fiction again. And I really appreciate all the comments and love it's gotten.