I Always Will @rubberduckiez
Baby Steps

Baby Steps

Paul stepped out of the clinic and took a deep breath, readying himself to make the short walk down the street to the diner to pick up his lunch. He was grateful there had been no interventions the last few days. Perhaps Jared was finally getting it and laying off on things. His mind wandered to the stack of letters he had started that were sitting on his coffee table at home. Frowning to himself, he shook his head and started walking.

He could think about that later.

Forks was the same as it always was. The same people walking around, going about their day. He got a few waves and nods, which he returned with a tight smile. No one stopped him to chat, likely a bit intimidated by his height and build even though he had been working at the clinic for three years now and they were long used to him.

The woman running the register at the diner gave him his usual greeting, already knowing what he wanted and telling him she put it in about 10 minutes ago. Paul paid and then sat down to wait. It didn't take long before she was handing him a bag and he was heading down the street again.

"Hey! Paul!"

He stopped and slowly turned, seeing a flushed Briony running up to him, a smile on her face. There was a lurch in his heart, seeing this smile was a bit brighter than the one he had seen last, though her eyes still held a clinging sadness.

"Hey, Briony," he replied, mustering a small smile of his own in return. "What brings you to town?"

"Just getting some things from the hardware store for Embry," she said.

She looked at her feet a moment as an awkwardness settled on them. Paul quickly tried to think of an excuse to get away.

"You working around here?" she then asked, looking back up at him.

"Yea… vet clinic. I'm a tech," he said. Briony nodded and glanced around again, not quite meeting his eyes.

He took a deep breath, about to tell her that he needed to get back to work when she suddenly looked back at him, meeting his eyes and keeping his gaze this time.

"Hey, if you got a bit of time, I could use some help. Embry sent me with quite the list," she said quickly, almost as though she needed to get it out before she backed out.

Paul's eyes widened slightly, not expecting that. He blinked a few times and then nodded, not quite sure just why he was agreeing. He decided it must be curiosity. Despite their talk on the beach, he didn't really know all that much about her time away from Forks and La Push.

"Great," she said, motioning for him to follow her, her smile a bit more genuine. Paul fell into step next to her, glancing at her every so often. "Honestly, I don't even know what half this stuff is… Definitely need the help."

"Sure it's not that bad," he replied. Briony chuckled and glanced at him.

"You highly overestimate my abilities in home repair," she said.

"We used to help your grandfather around the house. Surely it's not much different than that," he said, surprised at how easily conversation was happening now. Briony shrugged.

"Suppose we'll see," she said as they made it to the store.

"Let's see this list," Paul said, turning to her.

Briony pulled her phone out of her bag, quickly navigating through it and then handing it over. Paul's eyes widened slightly as he wondered exactly what Embry was getting up to and why he couldn't have had some of his guys pick this stuff up. He glanced up at Briony, seeing a slight look of terror in her eyes.

Then it happened.

Paul felt his lips twisting up into a smile - a real one, not the fake ones that he usually plastered on when he needed to. It felt strange and foreign, yet completely natural at the same time.

But he couldn't help it. He had seen that look on Briony's face before - usually when she had to give a presentation in class and was sure she was going to fuck it up. She had always hated speaking in front of people. Never wanted to be the center of attention.

Shaking his head slightly, Paul looked back down at the list and sighed.

"I'm sure we can get this taken care of in no time," he said, starting down an aisle.

"Okay, good," Briony said, following him.

She grabbed a cart and the two of them started down the aisles, Paul going between the list and pulling things off shelves and then handing them to Briony. He had worried about keeping up the conversation, but Briony took care of that, rambling on about everything Embry was working on and then planning to do. For someone who was convinced she didn't know anything about home repair, she surely knew how to talk about it. Granted, she also stumbled through a fair amount of it, unsure about the terms, before giving up and explaining what was going on in her own way.

And Paul managed to follow all of it, finding it was like riding a bike. Even though they hadn't spent much time around each other in 12 years, he still could understand the sometimes roundabout way she described things.

"Dear god, you've got that look," Briony said, coming to a stop. Paul's eyes widened slightly wondering what she was talking about. "I've… god… you must be bored…"

"No, it's fine," Paul said, realizing he had barely said anything to her the entire time. "Just… always liked listening to you…"

Wait? Where the hell had that come from? Paul shook his head slightly, a bit dazed by his own confession. Though it was true. He had always enjoyed listening to Briony, whether she was ranting about something, going on about a new story she was working on, or even just explaining her homework.

Her cheeks flushed a light pink as she took the wood glue from his hand and put it in the cart, then continued down the aisle.

"So… we got anything else?" she asked, glancing back at him.

"That's it," Paul said, after checking the list.

They made their way to the register where the clerk rang everything up and then bagged it after Briony had paid, not even glancing at the final price as she handed over a card. She seemed to be in a rush to get everything to the car and Paul wondered if he had accidentally done something to make her uncomfortable.

It was the comment. Had to be. Or his lack of talking. But what did it matter? He wasn't going to be around that much longer to care.

He then helped carry everything out to her SUV and load it up in the back. At the back of his mind, he thought about having to heat up his lunch once he got back to the clinic. Shopping at the hardware store had taken longer than he expected.

Briony shut the back and turned to him, smiling slightly.

"Thanks for helping me out. Seriously. Lifesaver," she said.

"It wasn't much," Paul said, looking down at his feet.

"I was thinking… if you're free… you want to come over for dinner tonight? It's just me at the cabin and I could use the company. It would be good… to hang out… you know…"

Paul looked up, finding Briony fiddling with her purse, her eyes once again on the move, roving around the ground and such as though she were too nervous to see his response.

"I… got some things tonight," Paul said, the excuse he had been searching for earlier finally coming out of his mouth. Briony looked up at him, the disappointment clear in her eyes, though she already had an apologetic smile on her face. "But… next time…"

Why had he said that? Now she was just going to ask again. And hadn't Paul decided that the last thing he needed was to get close to Briony again?

"Okay," she said with a nod. She then waved awkwardly and started towards the driver's side of the car. "See you… next time."

She got in and Paul backed away, watching as she pulled out and drove away. Sighing heavily, he didn't move until she turned down the street and then he started towards the clinic. Normally he felt relieved when he got out of meeting up with someone. But this time something was different.

A small part of him felt disappointed.

Shaking his head yet again, Paul swallowed the feeling, a frown coming over his face. He needed to stay focused. He wasn't going to let Briony get close to him. He couldn't. Outside of the danger, she wasn't Rachel. Could never be.

~~~

Paul grinned and threw his arm around Rachel's shoulder as they walked down the street the few blocks from the bar to the apartment they shared in Seattle. He was grateful for the break from class that the long weekend afforded him. He planned to spend the entire time at home with Rachel. Well, if she let them. She did have a bit of a more social streak than he did. Hence why they were out tonight.

"So… what do you want to do this weekend?" Rachel asked, smiling as she looked up at him. He shrugged and looked around the mostly deserted street.

"Oh… I dunno…" he said casually. Rachel laughed loudly and slapped him in the chest.

"No. We spent last weekend in," she stated. "My friend Michelle from work is having a party tomorrow night. We're going."

Paul chuckled and shook his head. He didn't even bother arguing with her, knowing he would give in quickly anyway. It didn't take much for Rachel to talk him into something. But he felt that's part of what made them work. She pulled him out of his comfort zone. Got him to try new things. Things that he probably wouldn't have thought about otherwise. Like Thai food.

"Fine," he said. Rachel kissed his cheek.

"God, you're such a softie," she said.

"Only for you," he replied, grinning cheekily.

"Well, well… what do we have here?"

The two stopped and looked ahead, seeing two men who looked like they were up to no good standing a few feet away, leering at them. Immediately, Paul was tense, feeling his wolf just under his skin.

"Paul… Paul," Rachel said, trying to get his attention. But her voice was soft - coming somewhere in the back of his head as he narrowed his eyes at the two men.

He knew that he could take them if it came to a fight. Didn't help that the intense need to protect Rachel had already kicked him. A soft growl left his lips.

"Look at this… Romeo wants to protect his fair Juliet," the one closest to them called out, jeering at them.

"Seriously, Paul. We can just walk away," Rachel said, tightening her grip on his arm.

"Might want to listen to your lady," the first man said, taking a step towards them. "Though leave your wallets behind while you're at it."

Another growl sounded.

"Paul, you don't have to do this," Rachel said, her voice urgent. The two men only laughed louder. "Seriously, guys. Just back off. We'll give you what you want."

Paul already pushed Rachel behind him as he clenched his fists, just aching for a fight. He dared the man closest to them to make a move with his eyes as a smirk filled his face. It had been such a long time since he had a good fight.

"Paul… please…"

The first man started towards him and that's all he needed, launching forward. His fist connected with the man's face, knocking him out cold. He then turned to the other, grinning madly as he started towards him. The man looked stricken as he glanced at his friend and then back up at the hulking Paul. He started backing up before he turned and ran off.

Just as Paul was about to go after him, he felt a small hand grab his arm, pulling him back. He growled and looked over, now seeing Rachel's worried face. Immediately, the fight started to leave him.

"Breathe, baby," she said softly, bringing her hand up to his cheek. "Just calm down…"

Paul closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths, calm starting to radiate through him, starting with where her hand was pressed against his cheek.

"It's okay. I'm safe. We're safe," Rachel said.

Paul opened his eyes and looked down at her, meeting her eyes. She started to smile.

"There we are," she said.

Paul pulled her close to his chest, glancing down at the man lying unconscious on the ground. Christ, he had almost lost it there for a sec, his wolf raring to come out. But like she always had, Rachel had calmed him down. He closed his eyes again and took a few deep breaths.

"God, I'm sorry, Rach," he breathed.

"It's fine. I mean… we didn't get mugged, so that's good," she replied. "But I think we should go."

He opened his eyes and looked down at the man and then at Rachel, nodding.

"Yea… we should...:"

Rachel pressed a quick kiss to his lips.

"We're okay, Paul… it's okay…"

~~~

The next morning after her run, Briony sat on the back deck with a mug of coffee, thinking back over her interaction with Paul the day before. It had taken her this long to process the encounter, she found. And it wouldn't get out of her head.

She swore he almost smiled - a real one, this time. But then he had pulled his guard back up and kept it up the rest of the time, save for that one second when he confessed he liked listening to her talk. It had conjured up more than a few memories from when they were younger. Her grandmother used to say that Briony couldn't shut up to save her life, and it was true to a point. She always tended to ramble when she was nervous. Or when she got excited. Or upset.

Okay, so her grandmother was very right about the fact Briony couldn't shut up.

Though she had gotten better at it over the years. Having to give interviews taught her to stop and think about what she said before she opened her mouth real quick.

"Morning, Briony!"

She looked over, seeing Embry walking through the living room to the open deck door, a bright smile on his face.

"You're here early," Briony replied.

"Just excited to get to work," he confessed.

Briony chuckled at his enthusiasm and then stopped, the idea popping into her head. She had been so nervous that she hadn't let Paul get a word in yesterday. Which kind of defeated the purpose of helping him. But perhaps she could get some information out of Embry. Something that could help.

"Still got a lot of coffee in there if you want a cup before you start," she offered, knowing that Embry would take it.

Even if he was ready to get to work, he had professed his love for her favorite brand of coffee that she brought with her from LA the first time he came over to work.

Sure enough, Embry smiled and lumbered off to the kitchen, then returned with his own mug, sitting down in the other chair across from her.

"I'll be sure to have Tanya send me an extra tin," Briony replied with a small smile as Embry chuckled. She then shifted in her chair, trying to decide on the best way to start this.

To do an interrogation without making it seem like an interrogation. Shit, hadn't Brandon done something like this for a role? She remembered him explaining it to her once. And while she had been paying attention, it seemed as though it slipped her mind just when she needed it. No matter, she could try and put some of the other acting skills he had taught her to good use.

"So… how bad has Paul been?" she asked.

Well, Christ. Way to barrel into it, she mentally chided herself.

Embry's eyebrows shot up, though there was a look in his eyes that told her he had been expecting her to ask about Paul at some point or another. He sighed and looked down at his mug.

"Bad. He refuses to talk to anyone. Actively avoids being around us, if I'm being honest. Which is… weird. He was always in the thick of it," he admitted.

"I remember that all too well," Briony said.

"And well, Jared and Sam sometimes go over to check on him and find more holes in the wall or… another room destroyed. At least he got over the drinking stage after a few months," Embry said. "Fairly sure he nearly bought out the liquor store a few times."

Briony frowned, but wasn't surprised. There was a time when her own recycling bin had been overflowing with wine bottles. Though she had never broken anything.

"I think he just sits at home by himself… in their house… torturing himself," Embry continued.

"Know that too…" she murmured.

"But… what did you do? You seem… more adjusted," Embry said.

She looked up, meeting his dark eyes as a smirk came across her face. He made a face, as though he didn't expect such a look from her.

"Told you… fake it until you make it," she said with a sigh. She then shook her head and looked back down at her coffee mug. This wasn't supposed to be about her.

It was about finding a way to help Paul. She could worry about herself later.

"I'm not sure if there's anything we can do for Paul," Embry said, for a moment sounding lost. Briony looked up at him, seeing a morose look come over his normally cheerful features. "I mean… we've tried just about everything, but he's got it in his head that he's got nothing. And I suppose I see why… his dad died about three years ago… And then Jacob - who was pretty much his brother-in-law, up and moved. Rebecca hasn't been back since, and Billy… well… he spends most of his time in Forks with Charlie Swan…"

"But he's got you guys," Briony interjected. A sad smile came over Embry's face.

"No amount of telling him that seems to get through that thick head of his," he replied. He then glanced into the house.

Briony followed his gaze, finding he was staring at her laptop. From her vantage point, she could see the bookshelf where her grandmother had displayed her books. She had sent her signed first editions each time a new one came out. And her grandparents had read every one.

"Maybe… maybe it wasn't just chance that brought you back," Embry said seriously, turning to look at her.

Briony's eyes widened slightly as a blush painted her cheeks. Yes, she had been wondering the same thing, but it still felt strange to have Embry say it.

"I want to help him, but… I don't know the first place to start," she confessed with a sigh. "I mean… if you guys can't get through to him, what good could I do?"

"You know what he's going through," Embry said. "And well, you two had this connection before… sure it'll come back."

Briony didn't miss the slight grimace that came over his face, which confused her. But before she could ask about it, he smiled at her.

"I mean… it's at least worth a try," he said. "And I'm worried that if he keeps this up…"

Embry's voice trailed off, but Briony knew exactly what he was afraid to voice. And she also knew that she couldn't let that happen.

"We'll get him back," she said, her voice full of more conviction than she thought possible in that moment. "Sometimes… it just takes some time… I'm sure he'll be okay… eventually. I mean… I have to believe that he will be… Or else…"

She stopped speaking, looking out at the ocean before she could add, "there's no hope for me either…"

"Like you said… it'll get better. I'm sure it will," Embry said softly. Briony looked over and gave him a tight smile as she nodded.

"Yea… it will," she said.

"So… when's the next one coming?" Embry then asked, leaning back in his chair. Briony stared at him in confusion for a few moments, not sure what he was talking about.

"Next what?" she asked.

"Book. If I know you, then I know you've got another up your sleeve. Probably 20. Definitely will have a lot of peace and quiet here to write," he said lightly.

"Oh," Briony said, her stomach falling for a moment as her hands got a bit sweaty.

That was hitting way, far too close to home. And she wasn't ready to admit to Embry - renewed friendship and all - that she couldn't write.

"I'm not really working on anything right now," she said quickly. "Just… with everything… thought I would take a break, you know?"

He nodded, maintaining his smile, though he glanced back in the house. Briony took a deep breath, building up the courage to ask the question she found she was suddenly dying to know the answer to.

"Did… did Paul ever read them?" she asked.

Embry looked back at her, studying her a moment before shaking his head.

"I'm, ah, I'm the only one who did," he admitted, a sheepish smile on his face. "You know the others… not big readers…"

"Ah… right," Briony said looking back down at her mug.

"But I'm sure if you told them about them, they would," he then quickly added.

"Wait… you didn't tell them?" Briony asked, looking up at him, her brow furrowed. "How did you even know that I wrote them?"

"Like I said… my wife is a fan of your husband. She saw a photo of you together at some red carpet and knew instantly it was you. Didn't take much to put it all together," he said, smiling at her. "Found the books in Port Angeles - they are pretty happy to claim you, if I'm being honest."

Briony felt the heat in her cheeks.

"And anytime I ran into your grandparents, they were always going on about how proud of you they were… My wife and her friends are big fans of the books too," he continued. "Seriously, Bri. It wasn't that hard. I'm just surprised the others have been this clueless. Especially Paul."

"Like you said… not a big reader," Briony said with a shrug, though she couldn't help as a dozen memories of him sitting and listening to her talk about stories flitted through her mind. Or reading something she wrote.

It was odd, to be sure. Of anyone in La Push, she would have assumed that Paul would have read all her books.

"Well, I've got a lot of work to do. And the others will be here soon. I should get to it," Embry said.

Briony looked over at him, seeing him get up from the chair. He then gave her a nod before walking back into the house. Briony put her coffee mug down and looked down at the beach, suddenly feeling the urge to get away from the house.

Quickly standing, she then made her way down the stairs and started walking, hugging herself as her thoughts whirled around. She couldn't decide what to think about, but tried to force her thoughts to settle on Paul and how she could help him.

But of course they wouldn't listen to her.

"Hey, no need to cry, Bri. You've had writer's block before. You always come out of it…"

Briony came to a stop, closing her eyes as a fresh round of tears filled her eyes. All she saw in her mind was Brandon, reaching out to her, pulling her close. She always felt safe in his arms.

"Seriously… you're too brilliant to get stuck for long…"

Briony gasped loudly as her eyes flew open and the tears streamed down her cheeks. Wrapping her arms around herself, she struggled to get herself under control, worried Embry might hear her from the house. She didn't want anyone to see her like this.

But the longer she stood there, the harder she cried as memory after memory of Brandon began an all too familiar loop in her mind.

After a few minutes, she managed to get her breathing regulated even though the tears were still falling. Looking out over the ocean, she took a deep shuddery breath, closing her eyes for a few moments.

"You can do this, Briony," she told herself.

She then opened her eyes and remained still, staring out at the water. Her mind finally fell silent as she focused on Paul. Whatever had driven them apart didn't matter. Her own issues didn't matter.

She needed to find a way to be there for Paul. Then she could deal with the rest of it.

1. Memories 3854 0 0 2. You Only Know What I Want You To 3634 0 0 3. Unable to Let Go 3535 0 0 4. The Less I Give 3785 0 0 5. Fix You 3153 0 0 6. Baby Steps 4218 0 0 7. Disarm Me With Your Smile 4032 0 0 8. You Need Someone to Love You 3778 0 0 9. Your Hands Can Heal 3776 0 0 10. Come on Back to the Front Porch 3753 0 0 11. Your Hands Can Bruise 3895 0 0 12. We Can Never Go Back 3119 0 0 13. I Still Choose You 3229 0 0 14. I Always Will 2711 0 0 15. I Always Will 3406 0 0 16. No Place Like You 3413 0 0