Into The Briars

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Part 11: Acceptance

“So, uh... think it’s safe to go in?”

“Why not?”

“Oh, gee, I donno. Oh yeah, maybe because my ex was trying to scry for me last night? And control my mind?”

“So... why wouldn’t yer house b’safe?”

“I don’t know! I’m still kinda freaked out, okay?”

“Ye know... ye coulda jus’asked m’to go in first.”

“Oh, shut up and check, Brennan. Please.”

“Aye, aye, princess. Wait’ere.”

Piper bit her lip and did her damn best not to fidget as Brennan stepped into the mudroom and paused, glancing around momentarily before moving on into the kitchen. She hadn’t bothered to lock the door in her haste to flee the night before, and the tiny worry that there might be something or someone non-magical in the house was real.

Mostly, she was afraid that whatever spells Aaron had cast the night before might be lingering, and she sure as hell didn’t want to chance stumbling into that.

Brennan would be protected, she told herself; he had his staff with him and wore the amber pendent he always wore - a protective amulet, he’d explained, linked to the giant chunk of amber in his staff.

Still, it was nerve wracking, standing outside and waiting for the all clear, anxiety building with every second that passed.

Finally, just as she was about to say fuck it and go storming inside out of sheer frustration, Brennan appeared at the door.

He lifted an eyebrow at her, the expression so typical of him that it soothed her frazzled nerves somewhat. Then he smirked and she puffed up like a pissed off cat, because clearly she looked as frazzled as she felt and he was laughing at her.

“Th’spell did’nae stick, luckily.” Brennan informed her, leaning his staff against the wall of the house and shrugging his jacket off, “Prob’ly cause’e knew ye’d left. Even though his attempt at scryin fer yeh failed, he’d still know if yeh moved.”

As much as it freaked her out that Aaron had almost located her and could tell she’d left the house, Piper was glad to hear the spell hadn’t stuck around. She’d have been even more pissed off then she was if she hadn’t been able to return to her house.

“That’s good. I’m still pissed off he almost found me, but, well.” Piper shrugged, feeling more helpless then she liked to admit, “So. What are we doing?”

“Jus’addin a few extra layers o’protection. A few charms, wards against scryin’. Gonna block’im out.” he explained, crossing and crouching next to the basket of supplies he’d brought with them.

Piper lifted an eyebrow, unable to resist, “You’re more powerful than him, are you?”

Briar snorted, shooting her an arrogant smirk, ”Please. Yer Ex is a child compared t’me.”

Ignoring the delicious little tingle that ran up her spine at his confident tone, Piper rolled her eyes, “Alright, how can I help?”

“We need’ta personalize th’charms, so they won’t reject yer magic. Y’may not use magic, so ta speak, but ye do exude it sometimes.”

“And how do we personalize them?”

Brennan reached into the basket and pulled one of the objects out, “With blood.”

Piper’s gaze was immediately on the knife, eyes flaring startled amber.

The blade was clean, polished silver, the hilt a mix of wood and amber stones. Simple, yet intricate, and obviously well maintained.

“That, uh... that’s a fancy looking knife...”

“It’suh ceremonial knife, Fae crafted.” Brennan held his empty hand out to her, gaze softening slightly, “C’mere, Piper. Trust me.”

“I do trust you.” she mumbled, knowing it was a big admission but not caring as she stepped hesitantly closer, eyes still on the shining blade as she placed her palm in his, “I’m just a bit, uh... iffy about ceremonies that involve blood."

“It’s a Fae thing. Get used t’it.” he chuckled a little, trying to calm her even as he flipped her hand so her palm faced the sky, gently bringing the sharp blade of the knife to rest on the skin.

Then he stopped, scars drawn tight as he scowled, eyes suddenly a deep, conflicted navy.

Piper blinked, eyes dimming to confused hazel as she stared at him, gaze flicking between his face and the dagger on her palm, “Uh... y’gonna do it or what?”

“Ah cannae cut ye,” Briar rumbled, voice husky with emotion, “When ah promised t’protect ye, Piper. Ah can’t.”

Oh for the love of-!

“Then I will.” Piper closed her other hand over his and quickly pressed down, wincing as the sharp blade bit into her palm and bright red welled beneath it.

“Dammit, woman!” Briar cursed, though he was sure not to waste it, guiding her hand over the basket of objects and gently tilting it to the side, letting the red droplets fall onto the contents, “Ye could s’rsly injure yerself like that!”

“I knew what I was doing.” she bit out, flinching as he lifted the blade from her skin and the cut began to sting, though the flesh seemed to be healing a lot quicker than it should have been. “Are you, uh, healing me or something?”

“Ye’re doin’ tha’all on yer own.” he mumbled, gently holding her hand upright so she could see the tissue knitting back together, a few smears of blood soon the only evidence that she had been cut, “Part’o knowin what ye’are, and how te control th’energy ye carry. Helps that ye bonded a Fae Hound, as well.”

“Wait.” Piper caught him as he moved to put the knife away, “So the house will reject all magic’s other than mine now?”

“Tha’s th’idea.”

“Then shouldn’t you be putting your blood in it to?”

Brennan just stared at her, eyebrows lifted high and mouth slightly slack.

Piper flushed but held his gaze stubbornly, “Hey, you’re... at the house sometimes, to, y’know? I don’t want the house thinking you’re an outsider or some stupid shit. So... I donno. Make it recognize you, too.”

Brennan continued to stare for a moment before his eyes brightened significantly, gaze still locked with hers as he lifted the knife and pressed it gently to his palm.

“Aye, lass. As ye wish.”

He slid the blade along his palm and then held his hand out over the basket, clenching with a brief flinch and letting the blood drip down onto the charms and wards.

Piper swallowed thickly, feeling suddenly dazed and decidedly warm, watching as he lifted his perfectly healed hand from the basket and stepping back when he rose to his full height once more.

“Well...” she managed, head tilted back to watch his face, “Let’s get to work, shall we?”

“Aye, princess.”

~*~*~*~*~*~

Piper estimated it took roughly two hours to get all the charms and wards in place. Once, she might have called Brennan paranoid; now she was thankful for his diligence.

“We need t’get ye an amulet ye can wear.” Brennan muttered as they finished the last of the wards, eyeing her with a measuring scowl, “Th’keychains only good when ye’ve got it on ye, and the wards’ll only protect ye while ye’re in th’house.”

“What about the dream catcher?” Piper jerked her head towards the object hanging from her SUV’s rear-view mirror, brushing her hands off once she’d secured the little bramble to a plant by her front door, “It helps to, right?”

“Aye, but only when ye’re in th’car or in close proximity. Ye need a pendent or somethin’.”

Piper reached out and tapped the amber stone hanging from black cords around his neck, curious about the tingle of energy it gave off, “Like yours?”

“Aye, like mine. Ah’ll figure it out.” Brennan put a hand to his neck and twisted his head, the audible crack making her lips twitch, “Need t’teach ye how t’fight, as well.”

Eyes going dull brown, Piper scowled, “I know self defense.”

“Ah mean real fightin’, Piper.”

“What the hell do you call kick boxing?”

“An’if someone comes at ye with a ranged weapon, ye’re screwed.” Brennan snorted, holding a hand out to pacify her, “Just as a precaution, nothin’more. Humor me, Piper. Ah jus’want ye t’be safe.”

The girls shoulders slumped at that because, really, how could she be mad at him for that. “Alright, fine. If you think I need to.”

“Ah do.” Brennan had relaxed at her reluctant acceptance, standing and stretching his arms out with a groan and several cracks, “Ah think we’re done with th’house, fer now, at least.”

“Alrighty...” Piper rocked back on her heels, biting her lip, “Sooo... what now?”

“Hrm.” Brennan tilted his head back and stared at the sky for a moment, “Ah donno. Kinda hungry.”

“How about breakfast in return for all this hard work?”

Blue eyes rolled in her direction, bright with amusement, “What’re we talkin’ about?”

“How’s French Toast sound?”

His nose wrinkled slightly, “Only if it ain’t to sweet.”

Piper snorted, rolling her eyes and shrugging as she headed for the front door, “Alright, I’ll tone down my love of sugar just for you, almighty Briar King.”

“Thank ye kindly, princess.” she heard him snark back as he followed, her grin widening.

A little flirting can’t hurt, right? Right?

~*~*~*~*~*~

“Piper, dear, what are you doing for Thanksgiving?”

Piper looked up from her cell phone with a startled blink, fingers pausing mid-text to Grace, “Sorry, what?”

Serah smiled knowingly, taking the arm chair opposite her and crossing her legs elegantly, “I said, what are you doing for Thanksgiving? I can’t imagine you’re going back to your fathers, with the way things still are.”

Mentally checking the date and realizing that, oh, crap, yeah it was almost October, Piper shrugged, “I hadn’t thought about it, honestly. I’ll probably just have Grace over to my place, or something.”

It had been about two weeks since Aaron had tried to scry for her; since she’d gone running to the safety of The Briars and Brennan, since they’d put protective magic all over her house. With Fall in full swing and business down at the Primrose, Piper spent more time hanging out with the Smith Brood then she did actually working.

To say Thanksgiving hadn’t even crossed her mind was an understatement; she’d completely forgotten the holiday was upcoming. Had her life not been a total whirlwind lately, she’d have been surprised and upset with herself for forgetting; she usually loved Thanksgiving, since it meant she got to cook lots of food for her family.

Now that she remembered, that same desire to cook a huge feast returned, though somewhat dimmed. She would be cooking for only Grace and herself, and that hardly constituted the type of meal she was used to preparing for it.

You could ask Brennan, but he’s probably spending it with his family.

She refused to pout at the thought, as much as she wanted to.

“What Serah means...” Martha drawled, appearing at Pipers other side and snagging the last arm chair - the third one she’d ended up purchasing when she realized the fire place was more popular than ever - “Is that we’d like you to join us for Thanksgiving this year, Piper.”

Piper stared at her for a moment, gaze flicking back and forth between the two sisters, “You sure you wouldn’t mind?”

“Not at all, dear. We’d love to have you.”

“What about Grace?”

“More than welcome, as well.”

“Let me ask her quick...” Piper returned her gaze to her phone, shooting off a quick Hey, up to spending Thanksgiving with Briar’s family? and then waiting.

Her sisters response came a moment later, and it left her blinking in surprise and slight confusion. Flint already asked, I figured we were! ;)

“So...” Piper drawled, shaking her head a little, “I think I may have accidentally played match-maker with your son and my sister, Martha. Oops?”

"Please, dear, I don’t mind. Flint’s the happiest he’s been in a while.” Martha waved off her apology, smiling and sipping at her coffee.

“So... is that a yes?” Serah prompted, smiling in that knowing way she had.

“Welp, I’d say my sisters game, so sure. On one condition.”

The sisters looked at her, curious, “Oh?”

“I get to help make dinner.” Piper grinned a little sheepishly, “I’m used to being the chef in my family, so I’d always do Thanksgiving dinner. Made a big feast every year. I’d appreciate being able to help.

“And we’d appreciate having your help! Of course you can help with dinner, Piper. Goodness, with how many people we’ll be feeding, we won’t mind at all!”

“Though this is the only event you can help with this month.” Serah decreed seriously, nodding to herself.

Piper lifted an eyebrow, “There’s another event this month?”

“Of course! The Autumn Equinox is coming soon, and with it the Fall Festival! It’s a ton of fun, Piper, you’ll love it!”

“Love wut?”

Piper tilted her head back at the voice right behind her, smirking and lifting an eyebrow, “Hey, y’done chopping all those logs?”

Brennan only snorted, resting his hands on the back of her arm-chair, “Uncle Mason’s finishin’ up th’last few. Now, what’re ye gonna love?”

“The Fall Festival.” Serah supplied, smiling brightly, “Piper’s never been. It’ll make it all the more special for you, darling!”

Seeing Piper’s confused look, Brennan smirked a little, “M’birthdays on All Hallows Eve, so mother always throws a big party that night. We turn it inta a festival, so th’kids can enjoy stuff durin’ the day and adults can party all night.”

"Plus the border between our world and the Fae realm is weaker on All Hallows Eve, so Brennan has to spend the day tending to The Briars.” Serah supplied, innocently sipping her coffee, “He deserves to relax a little during the night, don’t you think, Piper? Oh, and Piper and Grace are spending Thanksgiving with us, Brennan, she even offered to help cook! Isn’t she just a dear?”

“Yer gonna regret offerin’, princess,” Brennan chuckled, voice pure amusement, “Ah s’pose we’ll hafta pick up the brats from school?”

“I guess. Ye’up for a road trip again soon, pops?”

“Only if we can throw’em out th’window if they start arguin′ again, princess.”

That, they very much agreed on, and Piper was to amused to even notice Serah and Martha’s smug looks.

“You’re on.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The Friday of the long weekend found Piper and Brennan driving back out to Trent to pick up the ‘brats’, as they had been dubbed.

They spent most of the drive in comfortable silence, occasionally making small talk when a thought would strike them. More than once Piper caught him watching her from the corner of his eyes but, surprisingly, it didn’t terrify her anymore.

It left a rather pleasant tingle, actually.

Navigating the Trent campus was easy now that she’d done it once before, a familiar trio waiting out front of the dorms when they pulled up.

“Everybody in!” Piper chirped out the window once she had parked, grinning as they piled into the back seat, “How’s school, kids?”

Grace snorted, “You are such a dork, Piper.”

“Takes one to know one!”

“Thanks for picking us up, Piper, Brennan.” Kristy grinned, waggling her eyebrows at her cousin, “Though I’m sure Piper could’ve handle picking us up by herself, cuz.”

Brennan gave his younger cousin a light glower, “Jus’a precaution.”

“For what? It’s not like anything’s happened.”

Piper flinched and looked determinedly ahead, throwing the car in drive and silently navigating out of the parking lot. Brennan sunk lower in his seat and grumbled under his breath, the visible vines on his wrists twitching irritably.

Kristy blanched, “Oh, my god, something did happen, didn’t it? Brennan?”

“Dun’worry ’bout it.” the lanky man muttered.

“Shit, I’m sorry. Piper?”

“Later, Kristy.” the redhead pleaded softly, “Just... later, okay?”

She saw the blonde girl nod solemnly through the rear-view mirror and slump back in her seat, chagrined. Flint shot Grace a look, her sister responding by shaking her head and making a ‘zipped lips’ motion that made her proud.

Then she noticed they were holding hands and smirked a little, knowing she’d been right about the two.

A touch on her right hand made her flinch in surprise, gaze darting to Brennan. He just patted her hand again, giving her a half-grin, before lowering his own and looking back out the window.

His way of saying Don’t worry, you’re fine. Her grip on the steering wheel loosened just a little, tension lessening.

Because, really, Piper had asked Brennan to come with her. Not just for company on the way into Peterborough, but also, as he’d said, just to be safe.

The drive back was quiet - Kristy still silent, Grace and Flint talking quietly, Brennan staring out the window and Piper determinedly keeping her eyes on the road ahead.

It was a relief when they finally reached the Primrose, the students all climbing out once she’d shifted into park.

“Ye alright?” Brennan questioned quietly, hand on the door-handle and blue eyes tender and questioning. He’d driven to the Primrose himself, since he needed to help his Uncle with some things, and wouldn’t be accompanying them past this point.

“Totally fine.” Piper promised, quirking her lips a little, “See you Sunday, yeah?”

“Yeah.” he returned her look with a crooked smirk and pushed the door open, climbing out and leaving it agape for Grace.

Who completely ignored the silent request to leave because she was too busy hugging Flint and promising to text him soon, even Kristy rolling her eyes and making a gagging motion before heading for the building.

Eh, they’re fine. So long as they don’t-

Pipers brain flipped into protective-older-sister-mode when the couple suddenly stood straight and leaned towards each other, reacting on instinct-

And slamming her hand down on the SUV’s horn.

The resulting BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP had the desired effect of making them jump apart, both shooting her startled looks.

Even as she felt bad for ruining their moment, Piper’s gaze flicked to Briar behind them and she smirked when she realized he was giving her a big thumbs-up, returning to cool-older-sister as she leaned out her window and lifted her eyebrows, “Let’s go, Grace, y’said goodbye! Hustle kid!”

Grace stuck her tongue out at her before turning to peck Flint on the cheek, saying something quietly before returning to the SUV and sliding into the passenger seat.

Piper graced Brennan with one last hell yeah I’m awesome grin before switching to drive and taking off, heading away from the Primrose.

“That was mean, Piper.” Grace pouted, looking as innocent as her name suggested.

“I do not want to see my baby-sister lip-locking with a boy she only met, like, a month ago! Or anyone, for that matter!”

“Oh, please, I sat and watched you making bedroom eyes at Briar the entire ride back and didn’t say a dang thing!”

Piper slammed on the breaks in surprise, glad they were on a back road with no other vehicles as she whipped around to stare at the brunette, ”What?!”

“What? You so were, Piper, don’t even deny it! I don’t get why you haven’t jumped him yet! It’s so obvious you two want each other!”

“I am not hearing this.” Piper muttered, staring straight ahead as she hit the gas and they started moving again, albeit very slowly, “I am not listening to my baby-sister talking about adult-things she should know nothing about-"

“I’m twenty, Piper, I’m not a baby anymore. Geebus.”

“You are a tiny little baby and we are not talking about this!”

“Why?! Because you’re too afraid to admit it’s true?!”

Piper went rod-stiff at that, lips pressing into a thin white line.

Grace realized what she’d done and her eyes went wide, “No, Piper, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean-”

“Hush.” the redhead managed, her sister shutting up immediately at the broken tone to the word.

The rest of the drive back to the summer house was silent, Piper feeling horrible as they pulled into the driveway.

Grace was right and she knew it; she hadn’t meant to snap, but something about having someone else point out her obvious hesitance and fear had hit her hard.

Because she did want Brennan, and yes, she was terrified. She’d been slowly, slowly getting more comfortable with the idea that she liked him in a more then friendly way, but to be called out on it like that...

Grace didn’t deserve to be snapped at though.

Piper turned the car off and sighed as she undid her seatbelt, turning to her sister, “Grace, look, I’m sorry-”

"Don’t.” the younger brunette was hugging her suddenly, as best she could in the small space of the car, “Don’t apologize. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to... well. I just... I mean, I see how you two are together and it’s, like, wow, I want someone to look at me how Briar looks at you, as if you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to him.”

“And it makes me so sad and angry that Aaron ruined that for you, that you’re terrified to even think about letting Briar in, letting him know you. And I swear I am punching Aaron if I ever see him again! He is dead!”

“Remember that I have first dibs.” Piper reminded her gently, a genuine smile tugging at her lips, “C’mon, sis. We can chat in the house.”

Piper made dinner, and they did exactly that; talked, about everything and nothing, important things and trivial things.

And Piper got to grill her about Flint, honestly happy they were together because she knew Brennan’s cousin would make her happy.

Just like they had for years when they were upset or had had a long day, Piper and Grace split her bed for the night, Piper changing in the bathroom before heading for the bed.

Grace - already tucked in and wearing a typical pink-nighty - blinked up at her sister, “Where’d that shirt come from?”

Piper frowned and looked down at the shirt she’d thrown on - 3/4 sleeved and hitting mid-thigh, gaping somewhat widely at the neckline.

Briar’s shirt.

“I, uh... kinda swiped it. From Brennan.” Piper flushed pink, scowling at Grace’s giggles as she crawled in beside her sister, “It’s comfy, and he even said he hadn’t worn it in years, so...”

“You are such dorks.” Grace snorted, on the verge of passing out, “Adorable dorks, but still dorks.”

“Well, thanks, sis, I love you, too.”

“Mhmmm. G’night, Piper.”

Piper shook her head and sighed, reaching for the light and casting them into darkness. “Goodnight, Grace.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“I am going to kill you for this.”

“Oh, please, dramatic much?”

“Seriously, Grace. My face feels stiff and my eyes are burning.”

“That’s cause you never wear makeup, sis.”

“Because I don’t like wearing makeup!”

“Well, too bad, you look hot. And don’t you dare scratch your eye!”

Piper flinched and dropped her hand guiltily, resisting the urge to bite her lip and ruin the lipstick her sister had painstakingly applied. She scowled instead.

“I don’t know how I let you talk me into this. I look ridiculous.”

“You look awesome, Piper. I’m a fashion major, remember? I’ve studied makeup, too.”

“I’ve never looked good in makeup, Grace. I always just look... weird.”

"Humour me, please? Just for today? I promise you look great; no bright colours, just like you asked! I do wish you’d left your hair down though...”

“Grace. I am helping cook Thanksgiving dinner. I will let my hair down after the chance of me getting it in the food is gone.”

“Okay, point taken. Now let’s go! Serah’s gonna come get us pretty soon if we sit out here any longer!”

Knowing her sister was right, Piper grumbled and shut down the Trax, slipping from the vehicle in a much less enthusiastic fashion then her bouncing sister.

Grace had cornered her as soon as they were both up and somewhat functioning, declaring that she would be doing Piper’s makeup and choosing her clothes for the day’s events.

“I haven’t gotten to dress you up in ages!” Grace had pouted, blue eyes bright and pleading, “Please, Piper? Kristy and I went shopping specifically for this weekend! Let me have some fun, okay?”

Knowing it was better to simply allow her sister to do as she pleased, Piper had grudgingly changed into the specified outfit - a white layering-tank under a taupe, oversized knit sweater, dark burnt-orange skinny jeans and brown suede hiking boots - silently admitting that her sister did know what looked good on her, as well as her exact measurements. Hell, if Grace had had time, she would have made the clothes herself and Piper knew it.

The outfit looked strangely... unfinished, though, as though she was missing an accessory or something. Grace hadn’t bothered to bring any jewelry for her.

The makeup was the worst part.

Though she’d dabbled during her time with Aaron - mostly due to his insistence that ladies should wear makeup, really, Piper, it’s what’s done - before that and definitely after, Piper had avoided it like the plague.

Moisturizer and lip balm and, okay, some mascara on occasion, was as far as she went into the ‘makeup territory’.

Grace knew what looked good, though, and so Piper had smoky eyes to match her outfit, skin primed and powdered, lips coated in burgundy glaze.

Her hair was back in its usual braid for the time being as - just like she’d told Grace - she really didn’t want to chance it getting into any of the food. Especially the gravy. That had happened once, and it was not something she wanted to repeat.

Grace was dressed to impress, as per usual, though Piper noticed she had toned things down compared to her normal gathering-outfits.

Her sister was in a long-sleeved white peasant blouse and fashion-jeans, knee-high brown boots and a chunky red and brown scarf around her neck. Even her makeup was quite a bit more subtle than usual, currently hidden behind a stylish pair of aviators.

Grace hadn’t really met or spent time with Brennan’s family yet, Piper realized; she was probably trying to make a good impression.

Serah met them at the door with a wide smile, pulling them both into quick, welcoming hugs before inviting them into the house.

The house seemed strangely cozier this time around, though Piper wondered if that was because there were familiar voices coming from the living room and the smell of things cooking wafted through the air.

Piper waved to the family from the doorway of the living room, lips twitching a little at the sight of the kids playing around on the floor. She still couldn’t recall the names of the kids, or which belonged to Eve or Hailey, but it didn’t surprise her they were there. Martha’s brood was as close to siblings as Briar had, and they were all obviously close.

Flint stood from where he’d been playing with the oldest of the kids and grinned as he approached, taking Grace’s hand with an affectionate wink.

“Shall we get to work?” Serah smiled, leading Piper away towards the kitchen and leaving the couple to fend for themselves.

“Brennan isn’t here yet?” Piper questioned curiously, since he’d been absent from the living room and neither his truck or motorcycle were in the driveway.

“Not yet, no. He said he had something to finish up in The Briars, and then he would be over.”

Piper wondered what it could be, since he hadn’t said anything to her about it. The thought bothered her more than it should; he was free to do what he liked, it had nothing to do with her.

Didn’t matter that they were the only two who went into the Briars, or that she was his energy source. Or that there was something between them...

“Piper?”

Blinking, Piper realized she’d been staring off into space and huffed at herself, shooting Serah an apologetic look, “Sorry, just thinking. You started without me, I see?”

“Hey, we’ve got a lot of people to feed! Nothing major though, just the gravies and some of the veggies.” Serah’s eyes twinkled knowingly, “I saved the turkey for you, dear.”

Piper grinned widely, eyes lighting up. “Awesome, I love stuffing turkeys. Do you have stuffing started?”

“No, dear, we usually just used the boxed stuff.”

“Good thing I brought ingredients, then.” Piper lifted the bag she’d been carrying and popped it onto an empty space on the counter, “I make it from scratch.”

“My kitchen is yours, darling. Feel free.”

“First things first.” reaching for her hem, Piper pulled the oversized sweater up and over her head - careful of her face and the painstakingly applied makeup lest Grace kill her - hanging it over the back of one bar-stool and straightening the tank under it, “It is way too hot to wear that while cooking, and if I’m getting my hands dirty the tank is definitely a better idea.”

Serah only nodded in agreement, the two women going to work, moving easily around each other as they cooked.

“So...” Piper drawled after a while of mostly-comfortable silence, working at pinning her braid at the back of her head, “Brennan mentioned you’ve tried to set him up a couple more times.”

He hadn’t, but Piper had seen the two attempts, since Serah had brought the women to the Primrose while she was working both times.

“Unsuccessfully, of course.” Serah chuckled good-naturedly, continuing to chop sweet potatoes, “The boy is stubborn, like his father.”

“Why do you keep trying?” Piper asked aloud, when really what she wanted to say was Why do you keep trying when you were all for me and him?

“Because I am worried, dear.”

“Worried?”

Serah set her knife down and looked up, green eyes locking with dark brown, “Worried that you’ll leave, dear.”

Piper froze, wrist-deep in the stuffing she was hand-mixing, “Leave?”

Serah nodded, returning to her task, “I watch how you act around him, you know. How you both act, around each other. The attraction is obvious, the longing is clear, and yet every time I think you’ve made progress, you pull away. Brennan - bless his soul, I raised him properly - will never force you into anything, Piper, and I know he’s held himself back on more than one occasion, don’t deny it.”

The morning after Aaron’s attempt at scrying returned vividly to Piper’s mind, face flushing pink at the effect her curious touching had had on him, remembering how ashamed she had felt at doing that to him.

“You aren’t ready for a relationship, Piper.” Serah continued, frowning at a particularly thick piece of sweet potato, “Or, that’s what you tell yourself, what you think to yourself. You’re scared, scarred from your memories. I see the way you look at my boy, though; whatever worries are keeping you back mentally, your heart knows what it wants, and I see that.”

“But Brennan is attached to you, more then you’d like to admit. You are his energy source, his friend and companion. But you’re much, much more than that to him, and you know it, whether you want to acknowledge it or not.”

“I do not want to see what happens to him if you leave, Piper.”

Silence reigned as Piper tried to process what the older woman had said, mind spinning frantically.

Serah returned to chopping sweet potatoes while Piper remained still, heart pounding as she realized she was stuck. Game over, now or never, no more denying.

Not to Serah, at least.

“I’m not going anywhere.”

Serah turned to look at her and Piper met her gaze straight on, hoping she looked as sincere as she felt, “You’re right, Serah. I’ve been holding back, because I’m frankly terrified by what I’m feeling. The last time I felt like this, it was fake, forced, created by a sorcerer who clearly only cared for my abilities, not for me.”

“And you’re right in saying that there have been many times when Brennan has held himself back for my sake; I feel terrible every time.”

“But Brennan isn’t the only one who’s attached. I think, at this point, it’s safe to admit - at least, to myself, to you - that what I feel for Brennan is real, and strong, and I am not willing to let that feeling go.”

“So I’m not leaving, Serah. You have my word. I’m not a complete idiot.”

“You are many things, dear,” Serah murmured gently, smiling now, “But an idiot is not one of them.”

“So... no more suitors in an attempt to make me jealous?” Piper drawled, returning to mixing the stuffing.

Serah smirked, “Did it work?”

"Unfortunately.” Piper grumbled, shaking the excess stuffing from her hands and grasping the bowl between her elbows and forearms, carrying it to where the turkey sat waiting, “Even though I knew that’s what you were doing.”

The older woman only shrugged innocently, moving on to another dish as Piper scooped up a handful of stuffing, grasped the turkey, and shoved her hand and half her arm inside.

Yeah, stuffing turkeys had always been a good stress reliever.

The silence was comfortable again, the sound of the kids and adults in the living room filtering through to them and filling the air.

“So...” Serah quipped, “When are you going to tell Brennan?”

“Tell me wut?”

Piper didn’t even flinch, simply shoving another handful of stuffing up the turkeys ass, “You have the worst timing, you know that?”

Brennan only scowled at her from the doorway, hands shoved in his pockets. He’d come in through the back door - the entrance leading into the sunroom - which explained why he hadn’t been noticed by the children of the family yet. He was dressed nicer than usual, as well, forgoing his leather jacket for a red and black checkered shirt paired with black jeans and boots, amber pendent glinting through the open collar. Piper may have let her gaze linger a little longer then she’d meant to, there...

“Tell m’wut?” he repeated, stiff shoulders and thickening accent telling her he thought it was something bad.

“That you’re late, gramps. Where the heck’ve you been?”

Brennan’s shoulders relaxed at that, though he continued to scowl at her, “Ah had somethin’ t’finish, thas’all.” he squinted at her then, looking surprised, “Are ye wearin’ makeup?”

Piper couldn’t help the flush that hit her, “Blame Grace, I know it looks weird-”

“Ye look fine.” he cut her off, “Jus’different.”

“Alright, enough flirting, you two!” Serah shooed her son away, pushing him through the room and out into the hallway, “Go take your shoes off and leave my co-chef alone, we’re busy! Go spend some time with the kids!”

Brennan grumbled and shot Piper a quick eye-roll before obeying his mother and stalking off down the hall to deposit his shoes.

The obvious noises of delight in children’s voices indicated he’d been spotted, laughter from the adults joining in.

Serah and Piper shared a look before returning to their work, Piper finishing with the turkey and popping it into the oven as Serah finished the other vegetables.

They had everything else finished and ready to go by the time 12:00 o’clock rolled around, Serah nodding in approval, “That’ll do it. The turkey should be done by about four thirty, so we’ve got time to relax. I appreciate the help, dear.”

“No problem, Serah.” Piper grabbed her abandoned sweater from the chair and headed for the bathroom, “I better pop this back on or Grace will have my head, I’ll be out in a minute.”

She ducked into the bathroom without waiting for an answer, since she’d needed to pee for ages as well. She washed her hands thoroughly afterwards, then yanking the sweater on over her head and straightening it out, turning to look in the mirror.

Sighing, Piper tugged the elastic from her hair and worked at freeing it from the braid, running her fingers through the red mess to calm it slightly. The woman staring back in the mirror looked quite a bit different than usual, and Piper had to resist biting her lip again, feeling like this was way too much.

You’re stuck with it for now, Piper, just ignore it.

Straightening her shoulders and lifting her chin determinedly, Piper left the sanctuary of the bathroom and headed for the living room, following the voices.

She paused at the door way, just taking in the scene for a moment with a half-smile, eye’s half-lidded.

Flint, Grace and Kristy were on the floor with Hailey’s oldest boy and two others she didn’t quite recognize. Hailey and her husband shared the arm-chair in the corner, Martha and Serah splitting one couch with Tanner and Erik - who Piper was glad to see, since last she’d seen him had been before he and Tanner’s fight at the Reunion.

Eve sat on the end of the other couch, fairly young baby cradled in her arms, Brennan sprawled at the other end.

He met her eyes and grinned, lifting a hand to beckon her over.

Heart thumping, Piper picked her way carefully around the adults and kids on the floor and approached the couch, sitting in the middle and pursing her lips a little.

“We’re missing people, aren’t we?”

“Uncle Mason’ll be’ere fer dinner.” Brennan grunted, though she noted the sound was much softer than usual.

“No Carver?”

Kristy shook her head, still dangling a noise-maker in front of the child she was entertaining, “Naw, he has his own families dinner. Can’t blame him, really.”

“Gotcha.” Piper looked sideways to Eve then, curious, “Where’s your...?”

“Hubby’s away for work right now.” Eve shrugged, bouncing her baby when it made a disgruntled noise, “He’s supposed to call tonight, but he won’t be making it for dinner.”

A loud chiming started from Eve’s pocket then, and she smiled brightly. “Ah, there he is. Here, Piper, hold her for me for a couple of minutes, okay?”

“Wait, what? No, Eve, I can’t-”

“You’ll be fine.” Eve gently shoved the cooing bundle into Piper’s arms before she could refuse, striding away and answering her phone at the same time, “Hey, babe, how’s the flight-”

Piper had frozen, staring in terror down at the wiggling bundle in her arms, completely clueless as to what she should be doing.

“Oi, y’alright?”

“Brennan.” she whimpered, terrified, ”Help.”

Brennan turned to give her his full attention, blue eyes both amused and concerned, “Piper. It’s a baby. She ain’t gonna hurt’ye.”

“I’m going to drop her.”

“Yer sittin’down.”

“Doesn’t matter, I will drop her, somehow. I’ve never held a baby-"

"Relax.” Brennan commanded softly, suddenly right beside her, gently manoeuvring her arms and hands, “’Ere, like this, see? Support’er head, like that - cradle her legs, yup - see? Yer fine.”

“She’s so fragile.” Piper whispered, scared to startle the tiny thing in her arms, eyes bright, startled amber and hair swirling fire. The baby blinked big, round green eyes up at her, swaying her heart.

Brennan had put an arm on the back of the couch and, with how they were sitting, they were practically curled against each other, the baby in a protective circle.

Piper had thought she had no interest in having kids, especially after her miscarriage. Staring down at this little miracle, however, stirred a longing in her gut she wasn’t prepared for.

Maybe I do want kids. her eyes slid to Brennan, who was still watching the baby with a soft, heart-wrenching smile, With the right guy.

He was so close she could feel his heat, smell him - the intoxicating mix of forest and night-time and leather that clung to him - and, suddenly, she wanted to kiss him.

And, Piper realized, the only thing holding her back was the fact that they were surrounded by his family. The fear was gone, replaced by a calm acceptance, and her heart leaped, knowing that if his family wasn’t there...

“Okay, this isn’t fair. How is it my daughter is calmer for you two then she is for me? Seriously, I call BS.”

Piper jumped then, startling herself and the baby - who gave a tiny wail of distress that she shushed with quick rocking motions - as her gaze snapped to Eve, standing in the doorway with a knowing smirk and her hands on her hips.

Brennan snorted, shrugging his massive shoulders, “Ah dunnae know, Eve. Guess she’as good taste.”

“Har, har.” Eve smiled and crossed to them, gently extracting the now squirming bundle from Piper’s arms, “C’mere, darling, time for dinner. Thanks for holding her, Piper.”

“Yeah... no problem.” Piper tried to smile, not liking how empty she felt without the baby in her arms.

“Dinners ready, everyone!” Serah announced from the doorway to the dining room, “Piper, dear, would you help me dish everything out?”

Piper blinked in surprise, eyes going to the wall clock and crap, how had time passed so quickly? She didn’t think she’d been struggling with holding the baby for that long!

“Coming!” she answered, pushing herself from the couch and trying to ignore Brennan’s knowing grin as she headed for the kitchen, rolling her sleeves up, “Alright, let’s do this.”

There was a lot of food, but thankfully Serah had a giant dining table - that even had two leafs to expand it, geez - and everyone was seated by the time they were finished arranging things on the table, the kids in their proper high-chairs and booster seats.

Piper caught a thread of conversation as she took the place next to Brennan, obviously left for her on purpose.

“So it’s like a big Halloween party?” Grace was asking, blue eyes glittering as she spoke to Kristy, “Costumes and everything?”

“Duh! The costumes are the best part! And the festival runs all day, too.”

“Piper, I am so making our costumes!” Grace was almost squealing, “And I already know what we’re doing! We need to make a run into town for fabric soon, okay?”

“Yes, Grace.” Piper sighed, rolling her eyes in Brennan’s direction and earning a snicker in response. She’d learned long ago to give Grace what she wanted when it came to clothes; she’d suffer endless pouting otherwise.

“Now, then.” Serah took her place at the head of the table and lifted her glass - filled with that obnoxious, swirling purple liquid that Piper would never again touch and that she had made Grace swear to not have any of - smiling at everyone gathered around the table, “Happy Thanksgiving!”

“Happy Thanksgiving!” everyone echoed, Piper lifting her own glass of normal white wine and taking a sip, eyeing Brennan as he chugged half of a beer, his throat working steadily.

Dammit, must everything about him be so damn appealing to me?

“Alright, then.” Mason piped up from the other end of the table, reaching for the turkey, “I’m starving, let’s eat!”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“G’night, sis!” Grace hugged Piper and grinned, waggling her eyebrows, “You behave tonight, y’hear?”

“Same goes to you, kid.” Piper snorted, rolling her eyes and shooing the brunette away. Grace only shrugged and followed Kristy up the stairs, the two girls chatting as they disappeared.

Several hours, dinner, dessert, and digestion later, most of the family was heading to bed. Martha and Serah were working on the dishes, refusing any offered help from anyone else.

Serah had three guest rooms; one was being taken by Martha and Mason, the second by Hailey, her husband and kids, and the third by Eve, her kids, Kristy and Grace.

Tanner, Eric and Flint would be sleeping on couches downstairs.

Piper, without even asking, knew where she’d end up sleeping. Her overnight bag had disappeared and, as she’d thought, she found it sitting on Brennan’s bed when she pushed the door open.

Not that she minded.

Stepping in and pushing her hair from her face, she opened the bag and bent to dig through it, looking for the makeup removal items Grace had thrown in for her and for clothes to sleep in.

“Piper.” Brennan’s voice came from the doorway behind her, sounding dryly amused.

“Yeah, I’m your bed buddy again tonight, sorry. Promise I won’t sprawl too much, just gotta get this makeup off first...”

“It’s fine, but c’mere fer a sec. I got somethin’ fer ye.”

“Oh?” instantly curious and a bit weary, Piper stood straight and turned around, not really surprised that he was right behind her, “What is it?”

“Somethin’ah mentioned gettin’fer ye before.” Brennan lifted his hands and leaned forwards suddenly, Piper’s breath catching as his chin brushed her hair, fiddling with something behind her head. She heard a tiny click and felt something thump gently against her chest, glancing down as Brennan straightened up and stepped back.

It was a pendent, amber like his, smoothed and polished but still oblong in shape. It hung from a delicate looking silver chain, one that Piper somehow knew was stronger then it seemed.

“Is this...?” she mumbled, gently touching the pendent and noting the tingle of energy that sparked from it.

“Protective amulet, aye. Like mine.” Brennan reached out, brushing her hair back from her face in a tender motion, “Ah want t’make sure yer safe, Piper.”

“Brennan...” slightly overwhelmed, Piper could only smile at him, trying to make sure her sincerity reached her expression, ”Thank you."

“Yer th’only one who can remove it, too.” he was blushing, scratching his head awkwardly, and he was the most adorable thing she’d ever seen. “Jus’an extra precaution.”

Don’t cry, don’t you dare cry. Piper schooled herself mentally, trying to keep the embarrassing waterworks at bay, “Seriously, Brennan, thank you. I’m just going to get changed and scrub this crap off my face; I’ll be right back, okay?”

Brennan nodded silently, and Piper retrieved the removal products and sleep clothes from her bag before heading for the bathroom, pausing to glance in the mirror.

Now, strangely, the outfit looked complete, with the amber pendent hanging between her breasts and glinting in the bathroom lights.

Shaking her head, Piper scrubbed the makeup off and washed her face, leaving her hair down and changing quickly from the fancy clothes into the pj’s she’d brought with her.

Gathering everything back into her arms, she padded back through the hallway and into Brennan’s room, carefully kicking the door closed behind her. She dumped the stuff into her bag before looking to the man, breath catching again.

Brennan had sprawled on his side on the bed, head propped in his hand and blue eyes tender as he watched her. He wore only a black pair of sleep pants, tattoos glinting softly in the faint light. He stared at her for a moment before recognition lit in his eyes, eyebrows lifting, and she knew she’d chosen right.

“Is that...?” he let the question hang, motioning to her PJ top. 3/4 Sleeved, reaching mid thigh, gaping slightly at the collar.

The PJ shirt she’d swiped from Brennan the last time she’d spent the night.

Playing it off, Piper shrugged, dumping her bag on the floor and circling around the bed to climb on the other side, “What can I say? It’s comfy.”

“Looks better on’ye then it ever did on me.” he rumbled, the sound doing strange, delicious things to her body, thick with hidden implications.

“Well thank you, sir.” Piper crawled under the covers and turned off the lamp on her side of the bed, burying her face in the heavenly scented pillow, “G’night, Brennan...”

“Good night, Piper.” Brennan mumbled, switching off the other light and shrouding them in darkness, leaving her to drift off feeling safe and comfortable, the heat of her pendent a steady pulse against her chest.

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