Into The Briars

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Part 3: Fitting In Again

When she’d been younger, Piper remembered always having a big vegetable garden.

“Home grown is best,” she recalled her mother saying, wearing a big floppy hat and muddy gardening gloves and looking beautiful and happy, “No pesticides or germs from other people handling your food. Besides, it means less trips to the grocery store, and gardening is relaxing!”

She hadn’t remembered anything about the garden until three days after arriving in Maynooth, standing with the fridge door open and scowling at the dwindling stock of fresh veggies in her crisper.

Piper really, really hated the thought of having to drive into Bancroft every three days or so to replenish her stock - fresh veggies only kept for so long, after all, and she ate vegetables every day - and had been trying to figure out an easier way when the memories had surfaced, surprising her.

What happened? she wondered constantly, frowning whenever she remembered something and knew she never should have forgotten it, Why is my memory so messed up. It all started when I met Aaron. I let him take over my life, but why? What the hell did he do to me?

She was becoming more and more convinced that he had done something to her, influenced her in some strange way that made her more docile, made her obey his every word.

Piper had mulled over it while eating breakfast that morning, movements mechanical as she shoved the cereal and almond milk into her mouth, chewing automatically as her thoughts wandered. Imp sat on the edge of the counter munching on the apple she’d given it, watching her curiously.

Her memory blanks had started just after she had started dating Aaron, most of them having to do with time spent with her mother. Her normal fiery spirit had been all but doused with water, leaving her timid and pliable. She’d let go of her tight control on her eating habits - eating out all the time because Aaron wanted to, going to parties and big social events, only entering cooking contests when he okayed it.

At first Piper had dismissed the suspicion that he had done something... for lack of a better word, magically, to her, because she could usually sense strange things and hadn’t sensed anything from him.

Then she realized that during the time they were together, that sense had been repressed as well and shit, it would make a lot of sense.

It would also explain why her mother had hated Aaron so much, remembering the arguments they’d gotten in over the man. Jeanette was where she had inherited her sixth sense from; of course she would have noticed if something were amiss with the golden boy.

I’m sorry, Mom. Piper had thought miserably, rubbing a hand over her face, I should have listened to you, fuck.

You learned, dear.

Eyes snapping open, Piper had frozen, every muscle in her body tense. Seconds ticked by on the wall clock that had always been there, the only noise in the calm silence of the morning.

Now I’m hearing things. Fuck me.

Biting into another spoonful of cereal, Piper had come to a realization that left her chilled.

Had she not caught Aaron cheating that night, not walked in on him fucking some busty blonde on his couch, she never would have shaken off his influence. Would very likely still be that docile, unhealthy creature she had been. And with a baby.

That thought alone made her feel sick, knowing how close she had been to forfeiting her entire life to that bastard.

When she had found out about the miscarriage - after she had started to bleed dangerously from down there, hours after she had caught Aaron and the blonde - she hadn’t even been upset. A bit hysterical sounding to the doctors, honestly, because she’d suddenly felt free, and said as much.

Then the call had come in from the police, and Piper learned that her mother had been killed.

At almost the exact same time as she had started to bleed.

Coincidence? Piper doubted it, but kept her mouth shut. Having people think she was crazy on top of breaking off her engagement and losing her mother wasn’t something she could handle.

That had been the beginning of her return to herself; she’d sworn off all junk food and once more eliminated dairy from her diet, starting a kick boxing class to get back into shape. She’d thrown herself into her work at one of her father’s restaurants - Patrick Connor’s owned a successful restaurant chain and was proud his eldest daughter had taken to the culinary arts - until Aaron had come creeping along and trying to win her back.

Her father had always liked Aaron - he came from an old family and was a sous-chef at another branch of the restaurant, which was how Piper had met him - and didn’t understand why Piper wouldn’t give him another chance.

She had almost been at her breaking point when a package arrived six months later - her mother’s secret will, the Briar dream catcher and keychain with the house’s keys attached, a debit card and stack of checks in Piper’s name, along with the will and a long, detailed letter.

The letter hadn’t been as detailed as Piper would have preferred - Jeanette only ever mentioned Briar as ‘the neighbour looking after the house’, for instance - but now she wondered if her mother had done that on purpose, in case someone else got a hold of the package before her.

Slowly, as her memories returned in spurts, Piper had made her plans.

Her father and Grace never would have let her hear the end of it if she’d missed Christmas and New Years, and she wasn’t confident enough in herself to disappear in the winter anyways.

Once her plans had been finalized, she’d disappeared. Grace knew vaguely where she’d went, of course, and would be depositing her sisters incoming checks into a second bank account Piper had set up that she would only ever access when she was back in the Peterborough area in order to keep people off her trail.

She’d gotten a new phone with a new number, a new vehicle, and stayed completely off of social media. Even Grace didn’t have her new number yet, since Piper wanted to wait a few months to make sure she’d at least somewhat thrown people off her trail.

Right now, the memory that stood out the most was the picture of her mother in the garden, smiling and happy and alive.

Along with it came the memory of a similar garden there, at the summer house, tucked between the back porch and along the back wall of the house. She had gone to inspect it and, as it had been with the rest of the house, the fencing was perfectly intact and the soil looked function able.

Dammit, Briar, why did you do such a good job? I was really hoping to be able to dislike you for something.

It wasn’t a fair thought and she knew it, but it was all Piper had to protect herself at the moment.

Now here she was, standing in the beginnings of the garden centre in Walmart and staring wide eyed at the seed packets lining the stand in front of her, biting her lip anxiously.

She’d figured Walmart would be a good place to start, since they would likely only stock the vegetables that could be grown in the area, and shouldn’t be as intimidating as a more specialised store. She also needed to do some grocery shopping, so she was trying to kill two birds with one stone, really.

That and if this was stumping her, she could only imagine how bad it would be in a store like Canadian Tire. Dear God.

Forcing herself to take a deep breath, Piper closed her eyes for a moment and willed herself to calm down, opening them again to take another look.

Okay, just look for vegetables you eat fairly often and go from there, Piper. It’s a big garden, but you don’t have to fill it with a ton of different kinds. Just get what you want.

Thinking logically made it slightly easier in the face of the dozens of seed packages. Carrots, yellow beans and zucchini were three must haves, followed by eggplants, lettuce and aw hell, why not pumpkins. She would have to get tomatoes later in the year, same with sweet potatoes.

Plus, she would have her work cut out for her as it was.

Okay, Piper glanced at her shopping basket, mentally checking things off on her list, Need to grab a watering can and some gardening gloves, for sure. And almond milk, since I’m running low-

“Well hello, dear. How are you doing?”

Amber eyes snapped up in surprise at the voice, fading back to chocolate when Piper recognized the woman, giving a reluctant half smile, “Hi, Martha. I’m alright; how are you?”

The motherly woman smiled as she approached, shopping basket tucked under her arm and eyes crinkled in sincere delight, “Doing well, dear. You seem a bit intimidated by the seed selection.”

“I haven’t gardened in years.” Piper mumbled, shifting her own basket to her left hand, “I just know I don’t want to be coming into Bancroft every three days for veggies and thought I should try growing my own.”

“It’s a good idea, dear. We grow all our own vegetables at the inn. If you’d like, I could give you a few pointers?”

“You wouldn’t mind?” Piper had intended to avoid people, sure, but she’d caught nothing but good vibes from his matronly woman, and any advice would be incredibly helpful.

“Not at all. I was actually hoping to run into you again, myself.”

That made Piper hesitate, eyes going murky as she lifted an eyebrow, “Oh..?”

Martha nodded calmly, “After your visit, I was thinking about adding some dairy-free options to our menu. Nothing to drastic, just a few small things for our guests that, like you, can’t have it without feeling sick. I’d hoped you might be able to give me a few ideas.”

Piper relaxed, lips quirking, “Sure, I could do that.”

“Excellent. I’m done my shopping, but don’t rush on my account; just drop by the Inn whenever you have the chance tonight. You can store anything refrigerated at the Inn till you leave.”

“I’m almost done. I’ll see you in a while.”

“Sounds good, dear. Drive safe!”

~*~*~*~*~*~

Briar’s phone went off just as he was shrugging on his leather jacket, the drumming notes of Darth Vader’s theme making him groan and ignore it. The ringing stopped, and he dared to hope the caller would just leave a voice mail... before the theme started again, phone buzzing wickedly.

Just his bloody luck.

Scooping the ringing thing up and flipping it open - he still had a flip phone because who cares about all those new iphones and androids and crap, all he needed it for was making calls - he drawled, in his most annoyed voice, ”Yes, mother?”

“Good morning, sweetheart!” his mother’s voice cooed through the phone, bright and cheerful, “I hope I didn’t wake you up!”

Nice try, mother. She knew he woke up early to tend to the Briars, and wouldn’t have called at this time otherwise.

“Ah was awake and ye knew it, mother.” Briar grumbled and ran a hand through his hair before snatching his keys and stalking out the door, not bothering to fully close or lock it behind him, “What’s goin’on?”

“Oh, nothing, dear. Just calling to check up on you! It’s been months, after all!”

It had been a few months since he’d seen his mother, but he knew better then to accept that reasoning.

“I highly doubt that, mother.” Briar crossed to his truck - a red, ’86 chevy that he kept in top condition - and swung into it, sticking the phone in the cup-holder and setting it to speaker, “I’m on m’way t’the inn right now, maybe ah should call ye back-”

“Oh! I was just talking to Martha, actually, she says the Inn is doing fabulous...”

Briar’s stomach sunk in dread even as he started up the truck and backed out of the drive way, navigating the road with practiced ease, ”Mom...”

“... and she’s looking to expand the menu to include some dairy-free dishes! Isn’t that incredible? I’d have never thought to! But anyways, we were talking about how the summer’s getting closer-”

Ah, so that was it. Shoulda known.

Briar turned off the Trail and took off down the main back road, going far too fast and not caring in the least. Cops never came down here, and he knew this road like the back of his hand.

“And you know I’ll be coming down mid-July this year, since there’s so much going on up here and Martha’s got control of the Inn. But we wanted to get a head start on planning the family reunion-"

Here it comes. ”Mother..."

“And I met these three wonderful young women this past week-”

"Mom, no.” he groaned, glad when the familiar turnoff onto the highway appeared up ahead.

“But Brennan, sweetheart, you’d love these girls! And they all have feint magical signatures! They might be able to help-”

“You know I have no interest in women.” he all but growled, twitching slightly when she said his name. He didn’t hear it very often these days; only his family really called him by it, everyone else using ‘Briar’. Piper didn’t even remember his first name...

An image of the redhead, unbidden, suddenly flashed in his mind, making him curse roughly and jerk the truck onto the highway as he shook it from his mind, thankfully clear of any other vehicles.

“I am not letting you die sad and alone, Brennan King!” his mother grumped, “You need an energy source! I know Jeanette left you with a surplus on purpose, but it won’t last forever...”

“Ahm fine, mother.” pulling the Chevy into the Primrose’s parking lot beside a familiar looking Trax, Briar threw it into park and turned it off, snatching the phone as he opened the door, “Ah don’t need any flirty women who only want a’taste o’danger and may carry a trace of magic.” He’d learned the hard way that such arrangements never worked out.

“But they’re quite pretty!”

Serah King, his mother, was the most notorious matchmaker on the freaking planet. Now if only there was a polite way to tell her to screw off...

“Mother, seriously, no matchmaking at the reunion." Briar all but growled into the phone, pulling open the Inn’s door and wincing automatically at the little ‘ding’ the bell gave off, letting it swing shut behind him, “Ahm not interested in any-"

He froze when, glancing up, his gaze landed on the little spitfire that had been creeping into his thoughts, blue pinpricking in surprise.

“...women.” Briar finished lamely, wondering which of the Fae Gods he had pissed off this time.

Piper sat in his favorite arm chair near the fireplace, legs tucked under her as she scribbled in a notebook, talking quietly but animatedly.

Martha sat in the chair across from her, listening intently and nodding, occasionally offering a suggestion.

Seriously, what the hell.

“Mom, ah’m at the Inn now. I’ll call ye back later.”

“Alright, honey! Say hi to Martha for me! I’ll tell you more about those nice girls later!”

Briar snapped his phone shut without responding, shoving it in his pocket and moving to interrupt the conversation. Then he thought better of it, creeping along the wall to the redheads back, slowly coming up behind her.

“...I normally use almond milk at home, but then you run the risk of someone who has a nut allergy having a reaction.” she was saying, motioning to something in the note book, “Soy milk should be fine, you’ll just have to test how much to use versus how sweet you want the recipe to be...”

“Oi.” Briar grunted, now right behind her, “Yer in mah chair.”

Piper’s shoulders tensed before her head fell back, eyes flaring amber when she realized who it was.

“I was unaware that an Inn’s chair could belong to anyone but the Inn.” she sniped back, eyebrows lifted and looking comical upside down.

“Dorn’t make me move yeh, princess.”

Now Piper was smirking, “Bring it, pops.”

“Now now, children.” Martha interrupted, watching Briar with a knowing look, “No need to fight. Piper, dear, it’s getting late; thank you so much for taking the time to go over these recipes with me.”

“No problem, Martha. Like I said, if you ever need a hand trying them out, I wouldn’t mind.”

“I’ll very likely take you up on that offer, dear. Let me get your bags from the back; just a moment.”

The older woman stood and excused herself, heading for the kitchen. Piper stood as well, crossing her arms and avoiding his eyes, lip caught between her teeth again.

Standing so close to her, front to front, Briar could tell just how tiny she really was compared to him. That stature just hid how strong she was, making her appear much more innocent then the real Piper he had seen come out in just a few days.

“Ye helpin’ with some new recipes?” he questioned finally, annoyed by the awkward silence. Fuck, she’d been all barbs and sarcasm three days ago, now she wouldn’t even look at him.

“Yeah. Just a few dairy-free options.” Piper shrugged, still keeping her eyes pinned on the ground, “Ran into Martha while shopping for seeds, she asked for my help.”

“Seeds?”

“I’m going to start a garden, so I don’t have to run into town every time I run out of vegetables.”

Briar couldn’t help but stare, surprised more and more by this woman. “Ye really are like Jeanette.” he mumbled quietly, glad when the words had the desired effect of making her look at him.

Amber met sky blue for a moment, locked, before the sound of footsteps snapped them out of it and Martha appeared, smiling and offering several plastic bags to Piper.

“Here, dear; best get home before the refrigerated things have been out for too long. Don’t be a stranger, y’hear?”

“Yes, ma’am.” Piper grinned a little, nodding her head. “Have a good day, Martha.” her eyes flicked to him even as she hiked the bags higher, “Uh, see you later, Briar.”

“Later.” was all he could think to say, stepping aside to let her pass, watching silently until she had left the Inn with a second ding of the bell.

It took a few seconds for him to notice Martha standing beside him, grinning and watching him with knowing green eyes.

"Wut?” he growled, barring his canines in annoyance.

Martha only tittered, “Hello to you to, Brennan.”

Briar grumbled, shoving his hands in his jacket pockets, “Hullo, Aunt Martha.”

“Just in to check the wards and funds as usual? No, ah...” Martha glanced towards the door, hand covering her mouth to hide a wide smile, ”Juicy gossip?”

“Ye’ve been talkin’ta mother, haven’t ye?”

“Oh come on¸ Brennan. You can’t expect me to not comment when you just had an almost full conversation with a woman! A woman who, I must say, gives off quite the magical energy wave.”

“Dorn’t tell mother.” he pleaded, knowing where this was going.

“She’s Jeanette’s daughter, isn’t she?”

“Aunt Martha-” seeing her look, Briar growled, “Yeah, she’s Jeanette’s.”

“I thought she was engaged?”

“Broke it off. Idiot cheated on’er.” Briar realized he’d let too much slip the second his aunt’s eyes took on an excited glint, “Oh, fer the luv a... dorn’t tell mother, I swear...”

“Fine, fine, I won’t say a thing, dear. But... really, Briar... how can you not be drawn to her? I thought Jeanette gave off seductive amounts of energy, but Piper...”

He’d noticed. Gods, he’d noticed, and he was doing his damned best to ignore it.

“Ah’m goin’ta check the wards.” Briar groused, stomping away towards the back, in a decidedly black mood.

“Alright, dear! I’ll get some food started for you!”

Won’t be as good as Piper’s lasagna, his traitorous mind whined, a string of curses leaving his mouth.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Noon the next day found Piper digging through the garage for the shovel she knew was there somewhere, brushing through dust and cobwebs in her hunt for the gardening tool.

It had been far too late to go at the garden when she’d finally gotten home the night before - she’d thrown together a quick salad to satisfy her growling stomach and tossed half a cucumber at Imp, since the picky creature preferred vegetables over any pet food she’d given it (the Bancroft Humane Society loved her for her donations already) - staring out at the darkening night as she ate.

Then she’d thrown herself into a brutal workout, needing to relieve the pressure that seemed to have settled in her body since leaving the Inn.

Okay, rephrase.

Since Briar had shown up at the Inn.

Her mind was sound - she had no interest in anyone or any sort of relationship, no thank you - but her body was another matter.

Thankfully, exercising nearly to the point of collapse helped straighten things out for a while, taking the quickest shower of her life before falling into bed and passing out.

Now, she was determined to at least turn the soil in the garden, to get it slightly prepared for when she would be able to start planting the seeds she’d bought.

She was in a pair of Walmart jeans and a t-shirt reading I can’t keep calm I’m a redhead, mud-boots and gardening gloves and even a damn floppy hat like the one her mom had had.

Now she just needed the shovel.

I really didn’t have to worry about stepping on anything in here. Piper mused as she searched, thoughts flashing back to the night Briar had shown up, He kept it clean as a whistle, same as the rest of the house.

Fuck, even with his attitude, it was impossible to hate the guy. Dammit.

Finally, she spotted the shovel at the back corner of the garage and made a triumphant noise, extracting it from its resting place and heading back towards the door.

Imp had perched itself on one of the chairs surrounding the brick fire pit maybe 10 feet from the back porch and the garden, tail swaying in the air as it watched her with a toothy grin.

“You could help, y’know.” Piper shot at it playfully, stepping over the garden fence and bringing the shovel with her, “Just sayin’.”

Imp let out an amused prrrrrrr, ears flicking at her.

“Yeah, I thought as much.” sighing, Piper set herself to the task at hand, gripping the shovel as she remembered her mother doing and shoving the point into the dirt nearest the inner-corner, resting a foot on the end of the spade to give the push more strength.

Either she was weaker then she’d thought or the ground was harder, because she’d barely done a quarter of the garden before she was panting and sweating, whipping her arm across her forehead. For the end of May, it was really warm, and she could only imagine how much worse the summer would be, angling the shovel for another dig-

“Oi, need any help?”

Piper faltered in her push and almost went tumbling into the dirt, cursing in surprise as she caught her breath.

Then she shot a glare at Briar, eyes bleeding amber, “Could you not pop up out of nowhere and scare the hell out of me, please?”

Briar was grinning in obvious amusement, hands shoved casually in his pockets, “But it’s so fun t’scare ye, princess.”

“Can it, pops, I’m busy.”

“Th’grounds still slightly frozen, yeah?”

Piper blinked at him, not sure when he meant. “Uhhh...?”

Briar sighed, broad shoulders slumping noticeably, “Ye’re usin’ yer body weight t’get the shovel down inta the ground, yeah? It’s not slidin’in easily?”

“Yeaaaaaah?”

“Means the soil’s still partially frozen. Typical, this time o’year.” Briar noticed her expression falling and chuckled, the sound deep and harsh and fuck woman get a hold of yourself, “Ye can still turn the soil, like yer doin’. Just takes more effort.”

“I noticed.” she grumbled, moving to plant the shovel in the soil again, “So. Did you just come over to harass me? ’Cause as much as I enjoy our little spats, I’m kinda busy.”

“Ah came t’help, ye frustrating woman.”

That made Piper freeze, eyes dulling to murky brown as she eyed him suspiciously, eyebrows lowered, “Why...?”

Briar shrugged, looking suddenly uncomfortable, “Ah wasn’t kiddin’ when I said I was around if ye needed any help.” he paused, then muttered, “Plus mah Aunt made me promise t’at least ask if yeh needed help.”

“Your Aunt...?” Piper’s mind cleared, remembering how he had interacted with Martha at the Inn, “Martha’s your aunt?”

“On m’mothers side.”

“So... you own the Primrose?”

“Mom does. Ah just look after it, since she’s not around much anymore. Lives out in Lindsay.”

“Gotcha.”

“So...” Briar pulled a hand from his pocket and reached up to rub the back of his head, obviously feeling awkward and uncomfortable and somehow, that made his intrusion much more welcome, ”Do ye need any help?”

“Tell you what.” Piper drawled, giving in to the ache in her muscles, “I’ll make dinner if you finish turning the soil for me.”

“Deal.”

Piper set the shovel against the house and stepped back over the fencing, pausing when she looked up.

Briar had already pulled off his leather jacket - even he wasn’t crazy enough to wear leather while gardening, apparently - and was looking around for a place to put it.

It was his tattoo’s that caught her attention, though; full sleeves of thorns and vines and, of course, Briar’s - where his nick name had come from, like he said - running right from his wrists to his shoulders and even creeping along and under his collarbones. On his shoulders, she was surprised to see small flowers woven into the vines, snickering slightly when she realized what kind of flower they were.

“Wut?” Briar growled, noticing her looks and her giggles.

“Wouldn’t have picture you as the type to have primroses in your tattoos.” she smiled, blinking innocently, ”So tough, Briar.”

“Ah was foolish once to, princess.” he grumbled, sounding so serious she immediately let the subject drop and instead held her hands out, gaining a confused look, “Wut?”

“I’ll bring your jacket in with me so it doesn’t get dirty out here.” then she rolled her eyes, lips twitching, “Unless you want it getting dirty...?”

Briar snorted, passing it to her and heading towards the garden, “Just keep yer pet away from it.”

Only then did Piper notice Imp sneaking around her feet, eyeing the jacket and making curious little sounds. Shaking her head, she pivoted and walked towards the back porch, watching Briar from the corner of her eye as he grabbed the shovel and went to work.

Without the jacket, she could see the muscles he kept so well concealed, rolling under the skin of his arms as he dug into the ground, soil parting much easier under his strength-

Holy shit, woman, stop that!

Piper jerked her gaze away and hastily retreated to the kitchen, closing the back screen door a bit more forcefully then was really needed.

She moved to hang the jacket in the front closet - the best place, if he wanted Imp kept away from it - and happened to catch a whiff of its scent, hesitating only a second before pressing her nose against the leather and inhaling deeply, curious.

It smelled like leather and dirt and evergreens, of fresh air and forests and something a little strange.

What terrified her was that she liked it.

Almost throwing the jacket into the closet and shutting the door, Piper headed back for the kitchen and told herself that it was nothing, so he had an interesting scent, so what, it was probably just whatever soap he used, fuck now she was thinking about him in the shower...

“FOCUS, Piper!” she growled at herself, smacking her cheeks and ignoring the knowing look Imp was giving her, pulling open the fridge to try and decide what to make.

She hadn’t had a plan on what to feed herself, never mind what to feed Briar. He’d loved her lasagna, but she didn’t exactly want to make the exact same thing again.

Eyeing the fresh zucchini she’d grabbed at Walmart, Piper smirked, reaching for it as a recipe opened in her mind.

Wonder if he’ll be able to tell...

~*~*~*~*~

It took Briar about two hours to finish turning the soil, mostly because he wanted to make sure he’d gotten through to the deepest points and didn’t want to make a mess.

He was sweaty and sore and needed a shower, but the distinct smell of coffee that hit him when he entered the back porch had him perking instantly, stomach giving a hungry rumble at the delicious smell of something cooking that accompanied it.

Piper had heard him coming and stood behind the island counter, facing towards him with a mug of steaming coffee in one hand and a bottle of water in the other.

Briar reached for the coffee and almost snarled when she jerked it out of his reach, shoving the water bottle into his grip instead.

“Down that first.” she quipped, eyebrows drawn down and lips wide in a smirk, ”Then you can have your fix.”

Briar glared but did as told, cracking open the bottle and downing it in one long, chugging gulp, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand.

“Happy?” he grumbled, Piper giving a satisfied nod and handing him the mug.

“Dinner’s ready, have a seat.”

“Still donno how ye can whip this stuff up so fast.” Briar pulled out the bar seat and slid on, feet still firmly against the ground thanks to his height, “Y’must be an amazing chef.”

“You bet I am. I’ve had lots of practice.” Piper turned, setting a bowl full of steaming spaghetti and meatballs and sauce down in front of him, “Bon appetite.”

Suddenly ravenous, Briar didn’t even respond before digging in, amazed by the flavours of the food. And tonight, there would hopefully be no alarming revelations to distract him from the taste.

“Complement’s t’the chef.” he mumbled around a mouth full, “Haven’t had spaghetti in years.”

“It’s not spaghetti.”

Now Briar froze, eyes narrowing as he stared at the grinning woman across from him, wondering just what she had done to the food he’d been so happily devouring.

“Oh don’t look at me like that, it’s nothing bad. I substituted zucchini for spaghetti noodles - tastes just as good, but it’s much healthier. You can’t even tell, right?”

“Ye can’t.” shaking his head, he allowed a chuckle of his own, “It’s amazin’ what ye can do with food, Piper. Truly.”

At the unexpected compliment the woman flushed, pink rising in her cheeks as she hid behind her coffee mug, mumbling “Thanks” into the liquid.

Terrifyingly, Briar found he liked the look.

“Soils all turned.” he managed, coughing and trying to get things back on track, “Yer all set.”

“Awesome, thanks. I do appreciate it. When should I be okay to start planting?”

“Give it a couple o’weeks, mid June should be okay. Weather’s been pretty warm this year.”

“Mhm. I’m dreading the summer, since there’s no AC here, though I don’t remember it ever getting that bad-”

Piper trailed off mid sentence, gaze locked on him suddenly. Locked on his shoulder, rather, and Briar felt the strangest need to cover up and hide from that gaze.

“Briar, did your tattoo change?"

Mentally cursing, he chanced a glance at his shoulder and yup, sure enough, the flowers had decided that right then was the best time to switch, the Prim Roses gone and replaced by purple Aster’s.

“Trick o’the light.” he replied simply, hoping she wouldn’t comment further. That he was not explaining to her.

Piper didn’t seem to buy it, but she let it go, glancing at him from time to time as if to see if they had changed again.

It was slightly dark out by the time they had finished eating and Piper had packed him up some left over’s - “Please, I’ll never eat all this, and you seemed to enjoy it more than I did, take it.” - heading home with a brief spat and a sarcastic “Good night, princess.” that had a rock chucked at his head as he dodged down the drive way.

It was only after he had the left over’s put safely away and had headed into the Briar’s to check on things - amber staff clutched at his side, eyes glowing ice blue in the darkness of the realm - that he realized his energy was dwindling, little by little.

He was alright for now - Jeanette had left him with excess, as his Aunt had said - but he would need to find another source, sooner rather than later.

Glancing towards the summer house and the seductive pull of magic from within, Briar scowled.

Never. I will never do that t’her.

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