I think the sense of a kind of kindred spirit is what first drew me to Paul. Or more him to me as he jumped in to defend me against a pair of bullies at the start of seventh grade. With Sarah moved on to the high school, I'd been the prime target for the bullies she'd once driven off and who I refused to touch. Back then I was still too scared of the need to hunt that would sometimes well up within me, to chase down something smaller and weaker than me...and I knew all too well that I could turn the tables on the bullies who only pretended to be strong.
Paul rose to my defense though. He was thirteen, just barely under the mark that would have put him a grade ahead of me, and he wasn't afraid of the bullies. And where Sarah was my safe place to run to when things got too much, he helped me stand tall and try to face what was coming. Sure, I didn't always succeed (shit, I failed more than I like to recall) but he kept me getting up. He's the one that taught me how to brawl too and got me my first drink two years later (don't tell Sarah about that one, she'd kill us both for being such fools). I owe him...I owe him a lot more than I can ever pay back, though he'd tell you he owes me the same.
Really I'm not sure when Paul found his magic but by the time we met he was descending. He wasn't going down fast (more of a casual saunter downwards) but he was going down. There wasn't anything I could do to stop it either except just sit back, be the best friend I could, and hope (not pray, I'll leave that to Sah) he came back. And he did, holy shit, he clawed his way back out of that darkness like a man who'd been drowning but it took a real kick in the pants.
I mean, he did try to kill me.
Paul, my best friend, tried to kill me at eighteen for spell components. It took me punching him in the face and giving him a black eye I'm still proud of to get his head right but he saw what he'd been doing. And what he'd done inadvertently to his then girlfriend Melinda who'd been through things I didn't even want to imagine and come out scared, angry, and power-hungry. Whatever he'd descended into, he dragged her right down with him and when he came up for air, she stayed at the bottom of the ocean. So he left, just like that, picked up from the condemned building where they and a few others of their group lived and started camping out in our living room on the couch. Maybe it was wrong to run...but I can't say I blame him.
Mom didn't take long to practically adopt him as a second son and I think that helped him. Paul never talks much about what his home life was before he dropped out of school and ran away but I've seen enough to know his parents couldn't touch the boots of the lowest-of-the-low if they were standing on their tip-toes (and that's on a good day). Living with us reintroduced him to Sarah, too, and to finally admit he'd been in love with her since he was fourteen - which was just one of the things he'd been running from at the time. And when Mom and Dad died, he was there to help both of us through it just like we were there for him.
I feel...bad though. The one thing I'm most grateful for about Paul?
He's walked the same dark paths as me.