Into The Briars

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Part 6: The Change

After that night, Piper avoided Briar for three weeks.

He had thrown her emotions into complete chaos in no time at all, and she wanted none of it.

Was Piper in denial? Ohhhh, definitely, and she intended to stay there.

She had thought that, after the shock and hurt of Aaron’s betrayal, her heart would have been content to remain closed off and hard. Then Briar - Brennan - had come scowling back into her life and fuck, she should not be feeling like this!!

And yet, while Piper knew she was being childish about it, she couldn’t bring herself to face him. And Piper was very good at avoiding people when she was determined.

At home was easy; she had learned how to recognize his aura from quite a bit away now, and if she sensed him coming closer while she was outside - working in the garden or helping the Kirin practice walking on it’s almost-healed leg - she would make a mad dash inside, hiding out.

He’d knocked a couple of times, the first week, and Piper had hidden in her bedroom like a coward, knowing Briar would never force her to talk to him and that he would leave when she didn’t answer.

Days not spent in the garden she was usually taking her frustrations out on her punching bag, pummeling the thing even worse than usual. She would also blare music during her workouts, often falling into sync with whatever beat the song had.

After a week and a half of avoiding him, she had resorted to using a radio station on her phone, since her own list of songs was far from infinite.

Piper had been totally focused on beating the shit out of the punching bag when she’d suddenly tuned into the lyrics of whatever song was playing, one with a perfect beat that she had been quite pleased by.

“...now if we’re talking body, you got a perfect one so put it on me, swear it won’t take you long...”

An image of Briar working in the garden popped into her mind suddenly, white tank-top clinging to him and tattoos writhing over broad shoulders and muscled arms, all lean, lengthy strength-

Piper had frozen in surprise, letting out a startled curse when the bag swung back and caught her hard in the chest, sending her reeling backwards and landing on her ass.

Muttering and grumbling and knowing she would have bruises the next day, Piper still hadn’t been able to dispel the image’s effect on her body, face flushed and skin hot, heart racing from something besides her workout.

Avoiding him at the Primrose was the worst.

Since Briar stayed out of the kitchen anyways, Piper did her best to always enter and exit through the back door, though even that route failed her on the occasion when the man was helping his Uncle with something in the back or grabbing something for the boys.

To his credit, Briar didn’t try to force her to talk to him. He didn’t stay out of her sight or try to avoid her, but he didn’t follow her or approach her, either.

Like her, if Briar was at the Primrose, he was there to help in some way, and mostly they were in separate parts of the building. His cousins and Martha had noticed the strange behaviour, but didn’t say anything, which she appreciated.

Piper had caught him watching her through the kitchen window a few times, or when she was ducking out the front door if the back was otherwise occupied.

She also caught the look of reluctant acceptance he always wore when watching her, and it made her feel like the scum of the earth.

Because it wasn’t Briar’s fault. It really, seriously wasn’t.

Didn’t matter that he was ten years her senior - she was hardly a minor, and if anything it gave him an edge over younger guys - even though her mind had tried to offer that as an excuse at one point.

Didn’t matter that he wasn’t what most people would call handsome, with his sharp jaw, wide nose and scars. Piper actually liked that he was the complete opposite of Aaron, who had been the typical golden-Adonis. Briar was real, with messy black hair and tanned skin and fascinating tattoos and the most stunning blue eyes she had ever seen.

The fact that he was so strong - strong enough to heft that staff, which probably weighed almost as much as she did like it was a twig - intrigued her all the more. Especially since she could see him going up against Aaron - who had been perfectly toned, of course - and kicking his ass.

No, it wasn’t Briar’s - Brennan’s, dammit! - fault.

It was all hers. Her hurt at Aaron’s betrayal and terror to ever get that close to anyone again, the fear of being used and discarded.

Never mind that, the more she thought about it, the more she realized she had never actually been close to Aaron, had never known his little nuances like she already knew Briar’s.

The point stood that she was not ready to fall in love with someone - because she realized she had never truly been in love with Aaron.

Her heart apparently thought she was ready, and her traitorous body agreed, but there was one other thing holding her back.

The fact that Briar was hiding something from her, in regards to The Briar’s and the Fae Realm within it.

After Aaron and all of his secrets - secrets, she was beginning to expect, that went a lot deeper than just cheating - having anything kept from her just hurt.

Until Briar was willing to open up about whatever it was he was hiding, she would continue to play the avoid-and-hide game.

Which... didn’t really give him a chance to explain anything, but she brushed that detail aside and continued as she had been.

~*~*~*~*~*~

It was July 11th when Piper stopped avoiding Briar, though it was definitely not by her own choice.

She’d just finished a short morning-shift at the Primrose - surprisingly Briar free - and had paused to say goodbye to Martha, shrugging her backpack on.

“I’m not sure what happened between you two,” Martha commented, laying a hand on her cheek and sighing, “But I wouldn’t go near Brennan’s house today, Piper.”

“Oh?” despite her best attempts not to be, Piper couldn’t help being curious, “Why not?”

“His mother’s in town for the summer now; arrived maybe an hour ago. And Serah was intending to head straight to Brennan’s with her three... lovely guests in tow.”

Eyes turning murky brown, Piper had lifted an eyebrow, “Guests?”

“My sister’s determined to find her son a woman whether he likes it or not.” Martha chuckled, shaking her head, “She is incessant.”

Piper stiffened a little, trying and failing to quench the sudden flame of jealousy that flared in her chest. “Ah. Thanks for the warning, I’ll stay far away.”

She meant it, too. She had no desire to spy on attempted match-making schemes. She might just tear those other women apart.

Dammit.

Piper clutched the steering wheel a little tighter as she made the now familiar right onto the Trail, then left up the long driveway of the summer house.

She parked right at the top and turned the Trax off, swinging the door open and hopping out with the briar-keychain in hand.

Piper moved to the rear and pulled the back hatch up to grab the single bag of groceries she’d stopped to pickup, glancing unconsciously towards the only other home on the street.

She could just vaguely make out the shape of Briar’s house, blending in to its surroundings as usual. Eyeing the long driveway, she squinted, counting one, two - ah, yup. Serah was definitely there.

She could see the red of Briar’s old truck, the small shape of his motorcycle - a Harley she’d only seen him ride once - and there, near the middle, was an SUV of a brand she wasn’t familiar with, dark purple that faded to grey in different patches of light.

Sighing tiredly, Piper jumped when something suddenly darted past, swiping the keys from her hand.

Eyes snapping open, she relaxed at the sight of Imp a few feet away, the briar keychain clutched in its front paws.

“Could you not scare the hell out of me, please?” she muttered, leaving the bag where it was and approaching the creature, crouching in front of it, “Can I have the keys back, Imp?”

Imp merely blinked and grinned that toothy smile at her, holding its paw out towards her. Piper smiled and reached for the keychain, startled when Imp backed swiftly away and bounced further from her, still grasping the keys.

“Seriously, Imp? I am not in the mood.” reluctantly, Piper stood and followed after the creature, scowling when it moved further from the driveway and closer to the other house on the street, “Imp, no-"

Too late; Piper dodged forwards to try and grab the thing but Imp was too fast, evading her grasp and taking off towards Briar’s property.

“Imp!” cursing, Piper chased after the white creature, swearing mentally the entire time; she needed those keys and Imp knew it, she couldn’t get into the house without them. Why, why, why would it be so determined to get her over there?

Don’t think about it. Just don’t. be. seen!

There were hedges surrounding Briar’s house, and Piper paused behind them even as Imp crashed through, wanting to take stock of the environment before charging in headfirst.

And now she understood why his house blended in so well; it was covered in vines!

Typical.

“...and this is Vanessa! She comes from an old family, up in Lindsay...” a voice very similar to Martha’s cut through her thoughts, though there was a much peppier note to it than the one she was familiar with.

“I’m sure.” the words were all but a growl, sending a shiver up Piper’s spine as the unmistakable hint of his accent rolled over them.

Peaking through as far as she could, Piper spotted Briar standing out front of the house, arms crossed and lips pulled in a scowl, eyes dark and clouded. He wore his typical leather jacket and ragged jeans and her heart did a traitorous little flip at how unkempt he looked.

The woman who had spoken before - who also looked like a younger, skinnier version of Martha - beamed, apparently unperturbed by his response, “I told you I would be bringing my lovely acquaintances with me, remember? Your mother’s many things, but a liar isn’t one of them!”

This is Serah King. Piper realized, studying the woman and noticing that she looked, surprisingly, familiar.

Well, your memories have been coming back, after all.

Gaze shifting, Piper scowled. The women with Serah shared several common traits.

They were all stunning, they all looked incredibly vapid and stuck-up, and they all had a weak ‘tick’ to their aura’s.

What about these women is Briar’s type? Fuck, I’m nothing like them.

Both jealousy and depression flared at the thought, Piper wondering if she hadn’t been mistaking Briar’s intentions if this was what he liked, these picture-perfect slender women...

She missed whatever Briar’s response might have been when Imp darted by her, keys and briar keychain waving teasingly from its tail. (Which proved her theory that its tail was prehensile).

Imp was headed towards the back of the house, so Piper snuck along the hedge and in through a pre-cut entrance, hoping and praying they wouldn’t see her.

And they didn’t... until Imp decided to turn around and run towards them, making Piper curse more loudly then she’d intended and pivot around to follow the creature.

“Piper?” Briar’s voice was surprised and pleased and so damn hopeful sounding Piper had to force herself not to react, keeping her eyes on Imp and not daring to look at the group.

“Piper?” Serah’s voice echoed, sounding curious and confused and oh, fuck, she was in trouble.

“Sorry!” Piper called, still trailing Imp and trying unsuccessfully to grab it, “Imp swiped my keys and I kind of need them to get into the house!”

“D’ya need a hand?” Briar sounded amused now, accent thickening his words as he held back a chuckle.

“Nope! I got it!” fed up, Piper bared her teeth, crouched, and then launched herself at Imp, scooping the thing to her chest as she rolled into a somersault and back to her feet, glad the maneuver had worked as she darted back towards the hedge with the grumbling creature still clutched to her chest.

“Sorry, Briar! Carry on!” she called back in parting as she booked it to her house before they could say anything, not slowing down till she’d hit the front porch.

Then she all but collapsed against the wall of the front mudroom, panting and shaking and glaring vehemently at the grinning creature in her arms.

“That was not funny, Imp.” she growled, snatching the keys from his paws and dropping it, Imp gracefully landing on all fours and scampering inside when she pushed the door open.

Then she turned around and stalked back out to the Trax, retrieving the bag of groceries and slamming the hatch rather more loudly then necessary, stomping back inside and slamming that door, too.

When five o’clock rolled around and there had been no one calling or showing up, Piper thought she’d made it through that little disaster unscathed.

Then someone knocked on the door.

As tempting as it was to just play coward and hide again, that knock had definitely not sounded like Briars.

With much reluctance and no shortage of dread, Piper forced herself up and slowly made her way to the front door, pulling it open before her nerves could get the best of her.

For his part, Briar looked as uncomfortable and agitated as she did, hands shoved in his jeans pockets and eyes firmly locked somewhere off in the distance.

Serah, however - standing in front of Briar with a wide smile and holding a steaming casserole dish in her oven-mitted hands - was the vision of ‘excited neighbor bearing gifts’.

Or the ‘match making mother who spotted a target’, maybe, though that thought had Piper wishing she had hidden under her blankets after all.

"Hello, Piper, darling!” Serah’s tone gave away her excitement, though her eyes were both joyful and slightly challenging, “My Gods, do you look like your mother! She’s the spitting image of Jeanette, isn’t she, Brennan?”

Briar made a non-committal noise, keeping his gaze far away from them.

“I’m sorry for the rude intrusion earlier, Serah.” Piper tried to amend, not wanting the tension to get any worse, “I didn’t mean to interrupt...”

“Oh, nonsense, honey! If I’d known you were back, I wouldn’t have brought those girls around anyways! You’ve inherited your mothers talents as well, I see.”

“I don’t know what-” Piper was cut off by Imp suddenly appearing on her shoulder and the Kirin pushing its way beneath her arm with a happy coo, ears pricked curiously at the newcomers.

Briar gave what sounded like a mix between a chuckle and a snort, and Piper was left to eat her words, knowing the truth was out.

Serah only continued to smile, “It’s been so long since I saw you, darling, I figured it was time we caught up. I brought dinner and everything, so you don’t have to worry about cooking tonight!”

“You didn’t have to-”

“Don’bother.” Briar mumbled suddenly, blue eyes catching amber as he finally looked at her, “She won’t take no fer an answer, trust me.”

Caught between a rock and a hard place Piper sighed and backed up, holding the door open as she carefully nudged the Kirin out from under her arm, “Come on in. You remember where the kitchen is, Serah?”

“Of course, dear. My, you have spruced the place up! Good work, honey!”

Piper let the door close once Briar was inside, turning as Serah’s chatter grew further away and Imp jumped from her shoulder.

The man was pulling off his jacket and she reached out to take it automatically, tucking it into the closet even as Briar followed his mother’s path. Her gaze was drawn to his tattoo’s when he rolled his shoulders, the vines seeming to twist briefly before settling around new flowers, yellow and familiar.

Daffodils. Piper frowned, closing the closet and heading for the kitchen, steps quick and measured, I should know what daffodils mean, but I don’t remember.

Serah had already settled herself comfortably at the kitchen table, the casserole dish centered in front of her. Briar leaned against the Island counter, arms crossed and gaze on anything but her, lips pulled in an uncomfortable scowl.

“Coffee?” Piper asked the older woman, heading straight for the steaming pot.

“No thank you, Piper. I don’t know how you two drink that stuff.”

Piper merely shrugged, running on autopilot and sliding Briar’s mug across the counter before realizing what she’d just done, shoulders stiffening.

Briar’s lips quirked into the semblance of a grin, lifting the mug and giving her a brief nod in thanks.

Serah looked positively delighted.

Clearing her throat and busying herself with getting dishes out, Piper tried to steer the conversation away from her failure at remaining aloof, “What did you bring for dinner, Serah?”

“Well, Brennan here mentioned you have a dairy allergy, so I went hunting through recipes. You’re not vegetarian or vegan are you, honey?”

“Definitely not.”

“Good. Then my chicken stew and dumplings will suit you just fine.”

Serah lifted the lid off the casserole dish as Piper approached with the plates, and it took every shred of self-control she had to not start drooling as the smell hit her.

It looked just as good, and her stomach rumbling reminded her that hey, she hadn’t eaten in hours, again. Crap.

Piper took the seat at the opposite end from Serah, Briar sitting between them as she passed out plates and cutlery, getting back up to fetch an apple for Imp and Kirin.

“Thank you for the meal.” Piper mumbled as she scooped some of the delicious smelling stew and dumplings onto her plate, carefully lifting a bite to her mouth and almost moaning at the taste, “Oh, wow, that’s good.”

“You flatter me, darling.” Serah took a bite and sobered slightly, though she remained smiling, “Brennan told me about Jeanette. I’m so sorry, honey. Your mother was a wonderful woman, and she will be dearly missed.”

“Thank you.” Piper muttered lamely, continuing to eat even as she tried not to look at Briar, very much aware that he was sneaking glances at her.

“You know if you ever need anything, just ask. Jeanette was like a sister to me, and I won’t let her daughter go without help.”

“Thank you Serah.” Piper felt like a broken record, but she wasn’t sure what else to say, still keeping her focus on her food.

“That being said, I want you to come to our family BBQ at the end of the month.”

Now Piper choked on the swallow of food she’d just taken, startled amber eyes flying to the older woman.

Serah looked quite calm, watching her with eyes that matched Kristy’s - bright green and brilliant.

“Pardon?” she managed to cough out, gaze flicking to Briar who - judging by his mixed look of amusement and annoyance - had known about this little request of his mothers.

“You’re invited to our family BBQ.” Serah repeated, smile never wavering, “It’s nothing big, really, you’ve already met Martha’s brood. We gather over at my summer house - Brennan can give you directions - and spend the day eating, drinking and goofing off. It’s good fun! And you’re basically family anyways, being who you are, and I know you haven’t gotten out much since you came to town-”

“I-I don’t know, Serah. I’m not big for parties-”

“Piper.” Serah’s voice hadn’t changed, nor had she spoken the word any harsher then her others. But when she said her name like that, Piper froze. “You are invited to our family BBQ on July 25th, and you will be there. I expect it.”

Briar shot her a look that basically said Just say yes and accept it, trust me, and Piper’s stomach clenched in dread.

“Yeah. Sure, okay.”

“Excellent!” Serah’s smile widened and the tension dropped suddenly as she returned to her food, leaving Piper feeling like she had just run a marathon she was so drained. “Brennan, don’t forget to write down the address for her and give her directions - don’t worry about bringing anything dear, I’ve got it all covered. So, how’s Imp doing?”

~*~*~*~*~*~

Serah and Briar left shortly after 7PM, the older woman still gushing and going on about the upcoming BBQ.

“It’s really nothing big, don’t worry! Just family! Oh, and be sure to bring a swimsuit and change of clothes, honey! My summer house is on a beautiful little lake, you can walk right in! And I don’t want you trying to drive home afterwards; I’ve got plenty of space! You can spend the night, same as everyone else.”

When they finally left and Piper was able to collapse into bed, she rolled onto her back and stared vacantly at the ceiling, eyes muddy hazel.

I need to buy a swimsuit... was one of many thoughts running through her mind, since a swim suit hadn’t exactly been a top priority before.

The major thought, however, was the more and more common I am so fucked.

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