Into The Briars

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Part 4: The Flow Of Time

When Piper’s alarm went off at 8:00AM on June 12th, she rolled over and buried her face in her pillow, grumbling incoherently.

Then she reminded herself that she had wanted to get up early - normally she waited until her birth control reminder went off at 10:00AM and got up then - and forced herself from the comfort of the blankets, muttering the entire time.

Imp opened one eye and blinked wearily at her from its place on her second pillow, tail swaying languidly as it made a questioning ‘mrrrrrr?’ sound.

“Don’t gimme that look.” Piper grumped back, digging through her drawers for underwear and socks, “Gotta start planting today, and I don’t wanna be caught in the sun at the worst peaks.”

Imp merely rumbled in amusement and curled back into a ball.

Rolling her eyes, Piper closed her drawers and headed for the bathroom, ”You can sleep in, pest; come out when you’re awake.”

Despite knowing she would just have to shower when she was done anyways, Piper cranked the hot water and started it up, stepping under the boiling stream for a quick rinse-off. It would help her wake up more quickly, and to tame her hair.

She finished and stepped out, drying herself off and brushing her teeth, not caring that she would be eating breakfast shortly. Wasn’t like she was going anywhere, anyways.

Piper dressed, once more, in old jeans and a random t-shirt, pulling on socks and tying her still-wet hair into a big bun on the back of her head.

Breakfast was a bowl of lactose-free yogurt, granola and strawberries, accompanied by a big mug of coffee.

She had just finished eating and was washing the dishes when her phone started beeping again, reminding her to grab the pill package from its place and downing one of the white ones.

Pulling on her gardening gloves - after tossing Imp, who had wandered out by this time, an apple - and floppy hat, Piper grabbed her seeds and tools from the back covered-porch and stepped outside, grinning at the clear day.

“Time to get to work.”

~*~*~*~*~*~

It was well after 2:00 PM when Piper sat back on her haunches and whipped her arm across her forehead to get off the sweat, grinning proudly at her work.

She’d gotten everything planted that she had intended to, laid out in a pattern that she would be able to remember fairly easily and leaving space for tomatoes and sweet potatoes when she had the chance to buy them.

Finished, Piper stood and stepped over the fencing, moving to grab her watering can to give the seeds their first drink.

She paused when she noticed Imp sitting near the watering can, watching her intently and swaying its tail in a fluid, excited motion.

“What, Imp?” she questioned, noticing the excited look it was giving her.

Imp made a chirping noise before running around her, doing two circles before pausing and repeating the noise, ears pricked.

“Uh... you want me to follow you or something?” Piper’s lips twisted, eyebrows drawing down, “Is that what you’re saying?”

Imp ‘yipped’ and loped away, heading away from the summer house and towards the fire pit, passing it. Then the creature stopped and circled back a bit, chirping at her again as if to say ’Are you coming?′

“Alright, alright, hold up.” Piper sighed and did as Imp wanted, pulling her gloves off and setting them on one of the lawn chairs as she passed them, “Seriously, what has you so riled up?”

Imp didn’t answer - of course - just kept moving, glancing back now and then to make sure she was still following.

It wasn’t long before Piper realized where it was leading her, stopping and staring in surprise.

“Imp.” she called, feeling suddenly fidgety, “I am not going in there, forget it.”

The damned thing had been leading her into the Briars, the blue-green wall of twisting vines and thorns now less than ten feet in front of her.

As she stood there, staring at the vines and keeping an eye out for any movement, Piper realized she wasn’t afraid of the Briars.

Weary, perhaps, because she didn’t know what was beyond them. But afraid? Not in the least.

I had all but forgotten about them. Piper tilted her head, taking a good look at the living wall, Not like I come back this far, usually.

She hadn’t minded the Briar’s since her first night in the house, actually. It wasn’t as though she ever had a reason to go near them, anyways. In the three weeks she’d been there, she’d never come close to them.

They’re kind of... pretty, actually, it was an easy, if slightly strange, admission to make, if only in her mind, Not nearly as terrifying as I’d thought they would be up close.

Still, she had a slight feeling of unease as she stared at them, almost feeling as if they were staring back.

“Okay, Imp.” she muttered to the creature sitting at her side, its tail swaying curiously, “I’ve seen the Briar’s. I’m going to go back to working on my garden now.”

Imp made a noise that almost sounded like grumbling, but Piper ignored it and headed back towards the house and the garden, determined to get back to work.

She would never admit how tempted she had been to step inside the Briars and find out what was beyond them.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Her days not spent working on the garden, reorganizing the house, or kick-boxing until she was an exhausted heap on the ground were spent at the Primrose Inn, helping Martha out with the new recipes as she had promised.

At first, it had been awkward, coming into someone else’s kitchen and kind of just taking over, even though Martha had assured her it was fine and that no one minded.

As time went on, however, she found herself fitting in nicely, which would have terrified her if she hadn’t been able to read the family’s auras so well.

There wasn’t a hint of blackness in any of them, which made her days spent at the Inn even more enjoyable then they would have been otherwise.

Turned out that Martha’s kids were the ones working the Inn, even during the school year; she had a big family.

Wonder just how big Briar’s family is.

It was an innocent enough thought, though it left her flushing and shaking her head rapidly to dislodge the curiosity.

Besides, there was no reason that anyone else in his family would have had multiple kids; it was clear from their lack of accents that the strange man’s Scottish accent came from his father’s side rather than his mother’s.

Briar himself was an only child, she knew from slowly-returning memories and a short conversation with Martha.

“You have how many kids? Piper had demanded, staring at Martha in surprise.

The older woman had only grinned ruefully, amused, “I have six, though only five of them work here; my oldest is a city slicker, lives up in Toronto. I always wanted a big family, and I was lucky to get married young. Had no reason not to have as many kids as I wanted, really.”

“Brave woman.” Piper remembered muttering, shuddering at the thought, “I don’t even want one at this point.”

“Oh? Just not interested in kids?”

“S’long story.” She’d grumbled, Martha catching the tone of her voice and dropping the subject.

“It’s alright, dear, children aren’t for everyone. Briar’s an only child, for instance.”

“Oh? Serah wasn’t as into kids as you are?”

“Well... with his father, she could only have one child.”

Although she wanted to question that, Piper had bit her lip instead, trying to not get further sucked into the families business then she already was.

Her memories had hit slightly then, remembering a conversation with her mother when she was a child about how Briar was likely lonely, stuck alone with no other children in the area to play with. She had ‘played’ with him, she remembered vaguely, though no details had yet come through. As much as a five year old could entertain a fifteen year old, anyways.

“Anyways, you’ll meet them all at some point; a couple of them are finishing up their last packing from school, should be home pretty soon.”

“All in university?”

“In or finished, yes. The youngest is twenty-two, Kristy; she’ll be home in a couple of days.”

Surprisingly enough, Piper found she did like Kristy.

The twenty-two year old student – majoring in dramatic arts with a minor in fashion at Trent, she discovered – was like a younger version of Martha, long blonde hair always tied in a high ponytail and eyes a brilliant summer green that always seemed to sparkle with energy – despite the wide, black rimmed glasses she sometimes donned for ‘aesthetic’.

Piper had walked into the Inn as usual, wincing slightly less then she used to at the happy ding overhead, and stopped in surprise when a much quicker, much younger version of Martha bopped by with a notepad in hand, calling back in response to something one of the customers had said.

Martha had appeared moments later, smiling at the redheads surprised look, “That’s Kristy.” She explained, waving her youngest daughter over once she was free, “Kristy, this is Piper Connors, the one that I mentioned to you.”

“Awesome to meet you!” Kristy had gushed, grip surprisingly strong when she took Piper’s hand, “I’m lactose sensitive myself, but I can’t cook to save my life so I could never help figure out anything. I’ll be happy to taste-test anything you come up with!”

“Sounds like a plan.” Piper had replied easily, smiling as she found the younger woman’s energy contagious.

True to her word, Kristy had been willing to sample each and every dish Piper came up with – though she tried them all herself as well, something she’d been conditioned into by her chef’s training – and together they figured out which dishes the changes suited and which they didn’t, from breakfast items to sweets to main courses.

During her time there, Piper met all of the five kids working at the Inn, as well as Martha’s husband. Mason Smith was a good looking man in his late fifties, sharing the colour scheme of blonde and green eyed that he and Martha had passed on to all of their kids.

Strangely, he had a slight aura that piqued her suspicions at first, but it was so feint and buried that after a few days she realized he wasn’t any threat. None of his children shared the aura, so it was easy to write it off as a fluke and go on with life.

Each and every Smith offspring had a specified job at the Inn, whether it was year round or just during the summer.

Kristy was a full-time student, so she was only around during June, July and August – and during holidays, of course. She played the peppy waitress to a T.

Flint – the second youngest and a much quieter individual then Kristy – was also a full time student, taking software engineering. He was a back-up chef during the summer, and so Piper spent many a day cracking jokes with him in the kitchen, finding he was actually a super sweet guy under the rather punkish exterior.

Hailey, the second oldest of the kids, and Eve, somewhat of the ‘middle’ child, were in charge of advertising and housekeeping, respectively. Though more professional and somewhat more ‘aloof’ then their youngest sister, both were friendly and fairly open with Piper, seeming to like her company if only because she was just as snarky and mature as they were.

Plus, they loved pestering her about Briar, noticing the snark sessions the two got into whenever their cousin happened to enter the Inn when she was there.

One particularly annoying comment had ended with Briar ducking out of the kitchen with several utensils flung after him, making a hasty retreat as his cousins cackled and cheered Piper on.

Tanner, the other ‘middle’ child and head chef of the Primrose, had only made it worse by handing Piper his heaviest rolling pin and telling her to ‘aim for the ankles, that’ll bring him to his knees.’

Richard – or Randy, as Martha has also referred to him – seemed to be a bit of a sore subject for the rest of the family, and Piper hadn’t asked any questions besides wondering how old he was and when he had moved away.

“He’s 32, four years younger than Briar.” Martha had answered easily, though Piper could see from the line of her mouth that she didn’t like talking about him, “Moved to Toronto about ten years ago now, I’d say. There was a bit of a... falling out, between him and Briar, and then he up and left. We don’t have much contact these days; the occasional birthday card, small packages on Christmas. That’s about it.”

Piper didn’t ask any more; definitely didn’t bring it up to Briar, since the deadly snarl he’d let out just hearing his aunt mention his cousins name had sent a startled shiver up her spine.

Despite the appearance that they didn’t get along, however, Piper could see that Briar loved the rest of his cousins, and that they returned the affection.

She caught them sometimes just exchanging small words, or Briar would grab something high up for Kristy without being asked, carrying laundry for Eve or hanging up a poster for Hailey. He stayed out of the kitchen – claiming he couldn’t cook worth a damn when Piper asked him – but wasn’t above grabbing bags of flour or other ingredients from the back storage if it was busy and the boys couldn’t get out of the kitchen to go personally grab them.

It was making hating him even harder than ever, not that she was really trying to anymore. She only saw him at the Inn, since she was so busy with helping Martha and her own garden that she didn’t really do anything else. Briar was busy with whatever it was he did as well, and when he wasn’t at the Inn she was almost positive he wasn’t home, whatever it was he was doing.

Not that he needed to be around in order to get on her nerves. No, she couldn’t get the damn man out of her head, and had collapsed into bed many a night after taking out her nerves on her punching bag. The exercise was good, but constantly having to wear herself out so she wouldn’t think about Briar was just plain unhealthy.

Which was why it would be both a good and bad thing that she would be working at the Primrose part time during the summer months in order to help out during the tourist season. The cooking would keep her busy, but she would also be much more likely to run into Briar then if she just avoided the Primrose.

I thought you were smarter than this, Piper. She scolded herself one night, laying in bed and staring at the ceiling with a scowl, Imp already sleeping peacefully on the pillow beside her, Fuck, what is wrong with you? Didn’t Aaron teach you not to trust men? Why, why am I reacting like this?

Overall, she realized that as long as she kept the thoughts to herself and didn’t do anything, she’d be fine. It wasn’t like he could read minds, thank god.

...or can he?

Briar was strange, and she did get a weird tick from his aura, but it wasn’t a bad tick like the one she’d developed to Aaron after her senses had returned. It was just... there, a part of him that wouldn’t change and was likely something he couldn’t help.

Which made it even more frustrating that she couldn’t hate him.

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

It was June 19th, nearly the Summer Solstice, when her fascination with the Briar Patch got the best of her.

Piper had once more spent the day in her garden, getting the tomatoes and sweet potatoes she had finally managed to obtain planted in their prepared spots. Then she’d done some weeding, only pausing to have lunch and give Imp a carrot – not from her garden yet, unfortunately – before continuing to work, weeding and watering and making sure everything seemed healthy and in one piece.

She hadn’t had many problems with bugs, yet, and hoped it would stay that way; the last thing she needed was that annoyance creeping up on her.

The sun was setting before she’d even realised it, finishing up her work and heading inside to wash her hands and throw together a quick salad.

Liking the temperature and not ready to be inside yet, Piper brought her salad out to the fire pit and lit it up, settling into one of the lawn chairs surrounding it and munching contentedly, chocolate eyes reflecting the glow of the flames.

Imp sat on her lap, stealing pieces of lettuce and cucumber from her bowl and watching the flames as well, tail swaying.

Then it had pricked, standing up on its back paws and staring off in the distance with its ears lifted, nose twitching madly.

“What’s wrong, Imp?” Piper questioned, eyes shifting to a murky hazel as she followed the gaze towards the Briars, grip on the lawn chair tightening. Was something there? A bear or something?

Imp let out a sudden yip!, launching from her lap and taking off into the darkness, disappearing once it was out of range of the flames.

“Hey!” Piper was up in a second, staring after the creature and wondering what the hell had gotten into it, hesitating.

Imp could look after itself, she was sure; it wasn’t like she’d been looking after it before she’d come to the summer house, and really all she did was feed it vegetables and let it sleep on her bed. Imp was a wild creature; it could take care of itself.

Ultimately, curiosity and worry won out, leading her to follow after the white creatures path and into the darkness beyond the fire pits reach, panicking as she was swallowed by the blackness.

It only lasted a moment before her eyes adjusted, turning amber as she trudged stubbornly ahead, gaze locked on the Briars before her.

She hadn’t been this close to them at night before, and they looked like they were glowing, blue and green vivid against the black of the sky. Flowers had bloomed amongst the thorns, tiny blooms of white and pale green and aqua blue, tucked amongst the vines as if they had always been there.

Piper was damn sure they hadn’t been.

Up close, they were strangely inviting, and she had the sudden urge to go inside, to duck through the vines and find out just what was beyond the thorny wall. There didn’t seem to be an opening, nothing obvious at least, but she was small, she could probably find a way through, a few scratches won’t kill me-

“PIPER! DON’T!”

The harsh voice snapped her from her thoughts immediately, stumbling back a step as amber eyes flashed to the figure rapidly approaching through the darkness, cutting an intimidating image in the black night.

Briar looked angry, eyebrows drawn harshly over his eyes and scars accentuated sharply by the tight pull of his mouth. Strangely, he also looked panicked, and that lingering emotion kept her from snapping back as she otherwise might have.

Because how could she snap at him when he looked so obviously worried?

“Briar, I was just-” she swallowed, throat suddenly dry and heart frozen, “Imp went in – I just, I thought I should- ”

Trust me, Piper.” Briar’s accent was thicker than usual, voice a harsh growl that had her heart racing again, “Y’dorn’t wanna go in there. Promise meh y’wont try’ta again.”

“Why? It’s just a Briar patch-”

“Piper.” She froze, mouth snapping shut at the pleading tone of his voice, “Please. Promise me”

“A-alright.” Piper licked her lips, wondering why she suddenly felt like she’d run a marathon, “But what about Imp-”

“Imp’ll be fine.” Briar grumbled, stepping forwards suddenly to grab her arm and lead her gently away from the thorns, back towards her house, “C’mon, let’s get yeh home.”

Piper glanced back at the glowing flowers, trying to ignore the sparks that his touch had set off on her skin, still feeling that strange tug towards them.

“It’s th’Solstice.” She heard him mumble, thoughts not quite coherent enough to question what he meant.

They reached her fire pit – which had burned itself to ashes, how long had she been gone? – and Briar paused to grab her forgotten salad bowl before continuing to the house.

When she stepped inside the mud room and turned to look at him, Piper realized his tattoo’s had changed again – it was not a trick of the light and she knew it, but if he didn’t want to tell her why they changed she wouldn’t pry – this time a sort of purple, hooded looking flower, much more intimidating then the last ones.

She couldn’t remember the name of the flower – she didn’t exactly spend her time memorizing flower names – but she did remember the meaning of them, vaguely.

Danger, or a warning.

“G’night, Piper.” Briar rumbled, pinning her with those sky blue eyes as he handed her the forgotten salad bowl, “Dorn’t leave th’house again t’night, alright?”

Piper only nodded, not feeling up to voicing her thoughts, and frowned when his shoulders visibly slumped in relief.

He was gone before she could say another word, leaving her staring out the back door at the inky blackness, closing and locking it once she was sure he wasn’t coming back.

She fell into bed, exhausted mentally rather than physically, thoughts still centered on the Briar Patch and her strange neighbours warning away from it.

As she drifted off, Piper hoped Imp would be okay, and she dreamt of glowing blue and green flowers and a staff with an amber stone embedded in its head.

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