Into The Briars

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Part 8: Guardians and Magical Batteries

“What a lovely young lady. Ye’ll be a wonderful big sister, little princess.”

“Princess?”

“That’s right, darlin’.”

“Why am I a pr... a princess?”

“Cause yer mothers a queen ’round here, luv.”

“Oh. Is Br...Bren...an... a prince?”

“He is, ’cause ah’m a King. He’ll look after ye, when e’s older.”

“Don’t forget who you are, Piper.”

Mom...

Reality slowly invaded Piper’s sleepy mind in the form of faint bird song and voices from somewhere far off, the dream - memories - staying fresh and sharp as she woke up.

Shifting and tucking her legs closer to herself out of habit, Piper noted the unfamiliar fabric of the sheets and the strange pillow she was lying on, automatically taking in a deep breath to catch the scent clinging to it.

Forest and sweat, grass and oil and something strange all added up to a very familiar, very addictive smell that she buried her face further into, sighing in content and not giving two shits about it.

Even when - as she lay there listening, waiting for her mind to wake up more - she caught the faint sound of breathing that was definitely not her, Piper couldn’t bring herself to be worried about how she looked right now.

She knew exactly who it was, and the overwhelming terror she usually felt around him seemed to have dissipated, leaving her with only a sliver of unease and a general acceptance of what was happening.

Piper wasn’t afraid of what she felt anymore, but she also wasn’t ready to put a name to it or admit to it out loud. That could wait. For now, all she wanted was answers.

Answers that could wait just a little longer, she decided sleepily, practically dozing off again with Briar’s familiar scent surrounding her...

“Ye alright, princess?”

Briar’s voice - a deep, husky rumble that went straight to her core - scattered any sleepiness she had felt, the name making her lips twitch.

“I remember why you call me that.” she murmured, not bothering to open her eyes even as she felt Briar shift.

“Oh?”

“Your father called me ‘princess’ because he called my mother ‘queen’. I guess the nickname stuck?”

“Yeah.” he mumbled, “It did.”

Now Piper opened one eye, sleepy hazel peering curiously at her bed mate.

Briar, it seemed, had been the perfect gentleman. It was obvious he was as far from her as possible without chancing falling off the bed, and he had remained on top of the covers while she was tucked beneath the sheets. They were also both fully dressed, and she vaguely remembered Eve helping her get changed in the midst of her drunken-stupor the night before.

Remembering the purple poison and her subsequent actions, Piper grimaced, “Seriously, what is that stuff? It tasted amazing while I was drinking it but fuck, man, was I out of it.”

“Fae wine.” Briar responded easily, propping himself up on one long arm so he was looking down at her, eyes a bright, tender blue, “Ah’d have warned ye away from it, if I’d had the chance. Ah won’t touch it myself.”

“Kristy was more than happy to feed it to me, if I remember correctly.” Piper groused, lifting an eyebrow at him, “Where did your mom get Fae wine?”

“From the Fae.” he answered, as if it were oh so obvious, lips twitching a little, “It was a gift after m’father passed, t’thank ’er fer everything she helped’im with.”

Piper forced herself to focus on the meaning of the words, telling her body that now was not the time to go all mushy over how fabulous Briar’s voice and accent were when he was just waking up.

“You know, for as much of that crap as I drank, I don’t feel drunk. I just had... ”

“Strange dreams?”

“Mostly memory dreams, actually. Like about the nickname.”

“Fae wine has that effect. Some people’ave strange, fantastical dreams. Others relive memories.”

“So.” Piper forced herself from the pillow then, scrambling into a sitting position so she could give him her full attention, “You still willing to tell me what exactly has been going on?”

“Ah’m not about t’go back on my word, princess.” Briar followed suit, though he sat with his back to the headboard and his long legs stretched out, still towering above her, “Just gotta figure out how t’start.”

“Take your time.” Piper mumbled, lifting her eyebrows mischievously, “Though coffee would make this more enjoyable...”

“Soon as yer spotted ye won’t be left alone, Piper. Coffee after.”

The redhead let out a whine and forced a pout, sobering again as Briar settled against the headboard and seemed to think, not wanting to throw him off.

“My family...” he started before pausing, seeming to reconsider his words, “Rather, the men of my family have always acted as Guardians, ‘sentinels’, if ye will, between this realm an’the Fae realm. I duin know fer how long, only that it’s been this way as long as anyone in th’family remembers.”

“Are you Fae?” Piper couldn’t help interrupting, an anxious knot forming in her stomach. If he was...

“No. Er, well...” Briar winced, wobbling his hand in a ‘so-so’ gesture, “One of m’grandfathers married a Fae, centuries ago, which is when the Guardianship began. The Fae’s father said’ed give m’grandfather his daughter on the condition his kin would always guard the passage b’tween th’two realms.”

“So you...”

“Have faint traces of Fae blood, aye. It weakens with every generation, but ah’m also Fae touched, as are all the Guardians. We go through a ritual when we’re 25, awakens our Fae blood, strengthens our abilities. Dun worry about it.”

“In any case, tha’s what I am; a Guardian. M’father was, as was his father, and so on and so forth. We guard the path between the worlds, The Briars, an’watch over the creatures there.”

“Wait... didn’t this all happen in Scotland originally? How the heck did the Briars end up here, in Maynooth?”

“The Fae are fickle; they get bored easily. Whenever they chose t’move The Briars, my family would follow. They’ve only been’ere since my grandfather’s Watch.”

“Seelie or Unseelie?”

“Both, an’neither. Like ah said, Fae get bored easily; the courts have long since gone back t’bein one giant mishmash. Which is part o’why I didnae want ye goin’in The Briars.”

“Sorry.” Piper sighed, flicking her hand at him, “Continue, please.”

Briar only rolled his eyes at her, but did as requested, “There are perks t’bein what we are, o’course. Ah’m not fond o’the term sorcerer, but it’s probably th’best way t’describe us. We can use magic, but not t’the extent of an actual Fae. Or rather, we are limited by our energy source.”

Briar gave her a look, and Piper remembered the energy she’d felt filling her the day before, the way it had transferred to him. The fact that she could see strange things.

And that Adeline had had a similar power.

“And what is your energy source?”

“We refer t’them as magical batteries, for lack of a better term. Always women, born w’the ability to attract and store magical energies but not use them; they’re rare, and range in power.”

“Like those women your mom brought over.” Piper realized, things beginning to fit together, “And Adeline.”

“And Jeanette.” Briar nodded, eyes intense as he watched her, “And you, Piper.”

“That’s what that energy was yesterday, wasn’t it? And why my eyes and hair change intensity? Is that why I can... see things? Like Imp?”

“You got it. It seems’ta pass to one daughter in’every generation of yer family, like the Guardianship with th’men in mine. Yer father and sister’er normal, though; Jeanette told me, b’fore she left.”

“So... what’s the relationship, then? Between the... Guardian and their energy source?” Piper was both excited and terrified to hear the answer, watching him closely.

“Depends on th’pair. Some are romantic partners, some are platonic; some Guardians have had multiple energy sources, if they didnae have a strong enough one around.” Briar’s gaze fell to the bed suddenly, a scowl crossing his face, “Having a romantic partnership can be... perilous, t’both parties.”

“How so?”

“There are other sorcerers out there - men born of Fae, or Fae touched, that’er not part of the Guardian Line - and they need energy sources, too. Sometimes, when an energy source is more powerful, fights’ll break out.”

“It happened t’my grandfather. Not long after m’father was born, a rival sorcerer kidnapped my grandmother and tried t’use love spells and potions to keep her entranced. Bloody fool didnae realize certain things effect magical batteries differently than normal humans. He ended up poisoning her b’fore my grandfather found and destroyed’im.”

“My grandmother was sick an’frail fer the rest of her days, but she never stopped givin’him all the energy she could, lookin’ after m’father as best she could.”

“She died three years b’fore my father and mother met and got married, giving my grandfather every last drop o’magical energy she contained. My grandfather died six years later, when th’last of that energy ran out.”

Piper’s eyes flashed amber in surprise, staring at him open-mouthed. “Wait - he - you mean, if you don’t, you...?”

“I cannae speak fer other sorcerer’s, but if a Guardian runs out’o energy, they die.” Briar grimaced, “M’grandfather refused to even look fer another energy source, he was so loyal t’my grandmother. M’father saw what his father had gone through, and made sure t’have more than one energy source.”

“Jeanette was his main source, since she was so powerful, but he had a couple of local sources as well, since yer mother wasn’t around all th’time. He made sure t’keep them at a professional distance.”

Briar paused then, shooting her a look before dropping his eyes to the bed again, hands clenching into fists, “We come into our powers at 15 - we start trainin’ then, anyways - and at 25 we’re initiated, put through a ritual t’fully awaken our Fae blood, like ah said. Jeanette was giving me small amounts o’energy ta keep me goin’. Then, well...”

“You met Adeline.” Piper supplied softly, Briar nodding with a grimace.

“Through Randy, which makes me realize how stupid ah was. She seemed sincere enough, and gave me energy when ah needed it. She was infatuated with the Fae, obsessed with the idea o’them. I refused t’take her into The Briars, because I knew she would be seduced by any temptations thrown her way, and that was it. She admitted t’cheatin’, Randy showed up, and th’rest is history.”

“Is Randy...?”

“A minor sorcerer, yeah. Ye’ve noticed Uncle Mason has an aura?” at her nod, he continued, “E’s one, to, but e’can’t use any magic. Just really good with plants.”

“Jeanette helped when she could, especially after Dad died five years ago, makin’ the transition into Guardian easier. She gave me a surplus of energy th’last time ah saw’er.”

“Are you okay?” Piper realized how harried she sounded and flushed, looking away, “You know, do you have enough, uh, energy?”

“Ah was running low,” Briar admitted, shifting his legs, “Until yesterday, anyways. Yer twice as powerful as yer mother, Piper; y’gave me a damn shock when ye were suddenly givin’ me energy.”

“Hey, it was all off instinct, alright?” she grumbled, “So... you’re okay now then?”

“Fer a few months at least, yeah. Ye didn’t know what ye were doin - no offense - and ah used most of th’energy up fightin Randy off yesterday, but it’s still pretty good fer yer first time.”

“Do you have an energy source?”

“No. Thats’ why mum was so adamant at introducing those women - part o’the reason, anyways...”

“I could help.” Piper blurted before her nerves could win out, biting her lip when he lifted his head to stare at her, “I mean... it just transfers via touch, right? Through the skin?” At his nod, she pressed on, “You’re my... friend, Brennan, as terrible as I’ve been at showing it. I sure as hell don’t want you to die. So... consider me your energy source. Okay?”

“Ye sure about that, Piper?”

“I am.” then she thought about something, eyes going murky, “Brennan... I keep wondering, thinking about the years I was with Aaron. About how he took over my life so easily, how I let him... d’you think he’s...?”

“Ah’ve been wonderin’ that myself, truth be told. Ah think he’s a sorcerer, to, and not a good one, from th’sounds of it.” Briar growled under his breath, running a hand through his already messy hair in annoyance, “Ah gave yer mum that dream catcher and briar keychain years ago cause she said y’needed the protection. Looks like they didn’t do a damn thing.”

“I... think they did, actually.” seeing his curious look, Piper took a deep breath and continued, “I used to carry that keychain all the time, when I was younger, and the dream catcher had always been up in my room. Then, when I met Aaron... he said he didn’t like them, and for whatever reason, I took them down.”

“I didn’t see them again until I received Mom’s secret will, and I almost immediately snapped from whatever daze I’d been in and returned to myself. So they did help, until I put them away.” sighing, Piper pulled her knees to her chest and scowled, “I’m an idiot.”

“Yer human.” Briar corrected gently, voice a tender mumble, “And ye’ve gone back to yerself now. Ah won’t let’im do anythin’t yah again, Piper. Ah promise.”

“Thank you.” she mumbled, and she really, really meant it.

Briar flashed her a lopsided smile, a slightly awkward silence settling over the two of them. Piper fiddled with the hem of her shirt - this isn’t my shirt, whose shirt is this? - and bit her lip anxiously, not sure what else to ask. Her heart was pounding even though all they’d done was talk, and not even about anything insanely personal.

Like the feelings you’re hiding?

Piper scowled at that, shaking the thought from her head before it could show on her face. Not now, dammit. Too much, too soon. Figure out the details of this crap first.

Then a thought popped into her head, murky brown eyes sliding hesitantly to her companion. “Brennan... Kristy let something slip last night that I’m curious about.”

“Aye...?”

“She said, ‘It’s too bad he can only have one.’ when you were around the kids. Basically insinuated that even if you wanted a big family, you can’t have one. Is that part of the Fae thing?”

“Correct, tho I dunno why it is. Guardians can only ever have one offspring, a male t’carry on the Guardianship.” Briar shrugged, keeping his gaze pinned on the ceiling, “Doesnae matter who th’mother is. Only one male is ever born in my direct line.”

“Would you... want a big family, if you could have one? Kristy seemed to think so...”

“Aye.” Briar’s voice had gone soft, made thicker by his accent, “Ah would. But ah dorn’t mind the limits of m’family.”

That’s not fair, though. Piper couldn’t help thinking, biting her lip and looking down at her lap. Some reward for being a Guardian...

“Ah’ll have t’introduce ye t’the Fae of the Briars, now.” Briar’s voice snapped her back to attention, the man frowning, “They’ll want te know ah’ve got an energy source. Plus it means not havin’te worry as much if ye stumble in there.”

“Did they know my mom?”

“Oh, yeah. Called’er the ‘Fire Woman’, cause of’er hair. Dad was ‘The Protector’, Mum ‘The Sunshine Lady’.”

“What about you?”

“Th’Fae have a sense o’humour.” he smirked, “Ah’m ‘The Briar King’, which is where th’nickname started.”

“Do... I have a nickname?”

“Not yet, ye haven’t been in there long enough for one yet. Don’t worry, they’ll give’ye one soon enough.”

“Wonderful.” Piper rolled her eyes, tugging the tie off the end of her braid and working at freeing her hair from its tight weave, “Whose shirt is this by the way?”

“Eh? It’s not yers?”

“Nope. I only brought a sleep tank.” Piper narrowed her eyes at him, still working at her hair, ”Who helped me get changed, anyways?”

“Oh, please, dorn’t lookit me like that.” Briar snorted, examining the shirt a bit more closely, “Eve helped ye. And’ah figured it was yer shirt, since she didnae say anythin’. Maybe it’s Eves?”

“I donno, seems a bit to baggy to be hers...”

“Hmm.... ah. O’course.” Briar leaned forwards to take a close look and then sighed roughly, sitting back and running a hand wearily through his hair, “They would play that game.”

“Meaning...?”

“It’s mine.” he grumbled, looking away with a mutter, “Admittedly one ah haven’t worn in years, but mine nonetheless.”

“Oh...” Piper felt a flush rising in her cheeks and could do nothing to stop it, “Explains why it’s so huge, I guess.” She realized suddenly just how much the opening gaped at her neckline - just above her bust - and hurried to do another button up as she finished with her hair, flush deepening, “Your family is notorious, y’know that?”

“Oh, ah know...” Briar cut off and just stared at her then, eyebrows lifted and eyes a bright, startled blue, “Geezus.”

“What?”

“Yer hair, Piper.”

Piper frowned, self consciously lifting her hands to touch the frizzy curls she’d released from the braid, “What about my hair?”

“Never seen it down b’fore.” Briar reached out suddenly, and Piper was proud of herself for not flinching away when he brushed a strand from her face, looking utterly entranced, “Looks like a flame.”

“Thanks...” Piper willed herself to stop blushing and cleared her throat as he drew his hand back, anxiety welling at the simple intimacy of the moment, “So, uh... anything else I should know about? I feel like I have other questions, but my minds kind of just screaming ‘coffee’ right now so...”

“Ah think we’ve covered th’basics.” Briar chuckled, pushing from the bed easily and turning to offer her a hand, “Plus coffee sounds amazin. Y’might wan’te change first though.”

“Why? Let’em think what they want to.” Piper snorted, crawling to the edge of the bed and taking the offered hand, standing and grinning up at him, “Plus I kinda like this shirt. Think I’ll keep it.”

It smells like you. That part she kept in her mind, carding her fingers through her unruly hair as Briar opened the door and stepped out, leading her back to the staircase.

Voices floated to them as they headed down the stairs and into the kitchen, meeting Serah as she entered from the dining room with a serving tray in her hands.

“Good morning, you two!” she greeted cheerfully, winking at Piper as she passed, “Let me guess; coffee for my favorite grumps?”

“Please.” Piper grinned, following Briar into the dining room proper.

Martha smiled and nodded to them as they passed, seated at the nearest end of the table and sipping at her mug of coffee, plate empty.

Tanner and Flint took up most of the left side of the table, half-eaten plates of eggs and bacon and toast set in front of them.

Kristy sat at Flint’s left, alert and bouncy as ever despite the copious amounts of alcohol - normal and Fae both - that she had downed the night before. The blonde looked up as they entered and nearly squealed, green eyes sparkling brilliantly.

“My gosh, you two are so cute! He even leant you his shirt, oh, wow!”

“Kristy, it’s not-”

"Please, Kristy,” Piper cut Briar off, leaning against him suddenly and letting her lips pull into a feline smirk, “I took it. Needed something to wear after.”

Kristy’s mouth gaped open like a fish. Flint and Tanner - obviously catching on to her game - were trying their best not to burst out laughing, even Martha hiding behind her coffee mug.

“You mean... you-?”

Piper played into it even further by wrapping her arms around Briars middle, insecurities pushed back by the pure shock on Kristy’s face and the surprised stiffness of the man himself, “Oh, honey, we’re adults, what do you think happened?”

“That’s quite enough teasing, I think.” Serah broke the tension with a knowing smile, placing a mug off coffee down in front of the two vacant spots on the right side of the table and giving them both an eye-roll, “How was my son last night, Piper, dear?”

“Perfect gentleman, Serah.” Piper dropped the act and pulled away from Briar - telling herself that she did not miss the energy that flowed between them so easily, nope - sliding into one of the seats and reaching for the sugar bowl, “Slept on top of the sheets and everything. Good job raising him.”

“That’s what I like to hear.”

“Wait...” Kristy looked incredibly confused, narrowed green eyes darting back and forth between Piper and Briar, trying to figure out what was going on, “So... you didn’t... do anything...?”

“We slept.” Briar grunted, lips twitching despite his unwilling participation in Piper’s little joke, ”Just slept. Like normal friends. Geez, kid.”

“But that’s your shirt...?”

“Eve helped me get changed last night; she chose the shirt, not us. Why?” Piper narrowed her eyes and lifted her eyebrows, grinning, “Did you want something to happen, Kristy?”

The blonde girl was pouting, for Gods sakes, “I donno, I just thought... maybe, since you were so, uh...”

“High off Fae wine?” Piper supplied, grin turning wicked when Kristy and her brothers stared at her in surprise, “Yup, I know what it was. Brennan and I had quite the informative little chat this morning.”

“Ahh, finally!” Martha nodded in approval, “Told you what you are, dear?”

“Yup, and what his family is. So I know all the details now. Basics, anyways, and why I can see what I can. And I am never, ever drinking Fae wine again.”

Briar looked relieved, Martha nodding in understanding.

Kristy just pouted more.

“Well, you came down just in time, dears. Piper, are you hungry?”

“Famished.” she replied, surprised to find she was starving. Was it because of the energy thing?

“I’ve got eggs, bacon, sausage, toast...”

“A little of everything please, Serah.”

“Alright. Brennan?”

“Th’usual, mum.”

“So lots of everything, got it.”

Feeling strangely at peace and comfortable with Briar and his family, Piper munched on her breakfast, listening to them joke and talk and carry on.

I should text Grace.

It was a sudden thought, one she hadn’t had since coming to Maynooth. She’d meant to text her sister once she’d settled in a bit more, and now, it seemed, she had settled.

I’ll text her when I get home. Time to catch her up a bit.

So caught up in her thoughts, Piper didn’t notice Briar watching her from the corner of his eyes, a content expression on his face.

The white anemone flowers were gone, replaced with round, almost fuzzy looking yellow blooms, nestled contently amongst the thriving vines.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Piper hunched, drew in a breath and swung, swiveling around the bag to hit it again from the other side, pivoting to continue her strikes in a circular pattern.

It had been a week since the eventful family reunion at Serah’s house and Piper, revved up for the outing she and Briar had planned for that night, was bursting with energy.

August had rolled in with another heat wave and clear, cloudless skies, bringing with it a boost in tourism and a boom in business at the Primrose.

Every shift at the Inn had been hectic and hustled, everyone nearly running into each other in their attempts to keep up with the demand of the sudden crowds.

Though she and Briar had barely had the chance to say hello all week, let alone talk, Piper felt strangely... content around the man, now.

She knew his secrets; what he was, what he did, what his family was. She knew about Adeline and how he had had his heart broken, about the fact that he’d love a big family but couldn’t have one. That he loved his mother and aunt and uncle and cousins and, no matter how annoying they were, how he would do anything for them.

Piper knew him, knew the things he kept hidden from the world, and that just... made things easier. After Aaron, she was wary, distrustful, but... with Briar being open and telling her everything, she found herself trusting again, slowly.

Her biggest fear, she realized, was having someone lie to her, the way Aaron had.

Somehow, she knew she would never have to worry about that with Briar.

Not to say there had been any change in their relationship otherwise. Nope, hell no, way too soon for that.

They were just... friends. Good friends, kind of.

Because his bright blue eyes and sharp features and ridiculously hot scars didn’t’ make her want to jump him at all, nope.

Anyways, somehow, despite the craziness of the week, they had managed to catch a break together mid way through the week - sitting out on the Inn’s back porch and sipping on coffee - quietly discussing the Briars.

“We should bring the Kirin back into the Briars.” Briar - Brennan, dammit, call him by his actual name! - had said, staring off in the distance, “It’s herd is pro’bly lookin’fer it, since it’s a youngin’.”

“I guess...” Piper tried not to sound as reluctant as she felt, since she’d gotten used to having the not-deer in her house.

Briar must have noticed, because he chuckled, “Dorn’t worry, it’ll come back t’visit. Bringin’ it in’ll also serve as a good introduction fer ye.”

“You make it sound like it’s some sort of formal-thing.”

“Naw, not really. Ye likely won’t even see the Fae, but they’ll see you. It’s mostly jus’so ye’ll be a familiar face, not a stranger.”

“Ah, gotcha.” Piper took a swig of coffee and swirled it in her mouth for a moment, thinking about it. “What about Saturday? Neither of us is scheduled here.”

Briar considered it for a moment, then nodded, “Aye, this Saturday’ll work. Ah’ll come get’cha around 2 o’clock.”

“Shouldn’t we wait till it’s night?”

“Naw, afternoon’s better. B’sides, it’s always night in th’Briars.”

So now, Saturday August 1st, here she was.

Ready to go and anxious as all hell, so she’d given in to her urge and started beating on her punching bag. Kickboxing remained a steady source of stress-relief for her, especially now that she realized what the power she sometimes felt during her sessions was.

Energy. Magic.

No wonder I’m so weird, geez.

Piper could feel it building even now, without much of a thought behind it. The more she punched and kicked and spun, the more the thrum of the energy grew, a comforting buzz beneath her skin.

I wonder how much effort it would take to get my skin to have those golden swirls again...

“Piper?”

Her name being called in that familiar voice froze her mid-step, shivers racing up her spine at the husky-rumble to it.

Control, Piper, geezus.

“Coming!” she called back, grabbing the punching bag to slow it’s swinging before shucking off her gloves and trotting upstairs.

Briar stood just inside the kitchen at the entrance from the back mud room, Imp already perched on one shoulder. Where normally she would have been ticked someone had let themselves into her house, Piper had given him permission.

For that day only.

Or emergencies.

Nothing else.

She stopped in the entryway and just stared for a moment, taking him in.

Briar wasn’t dressed any differently - he wore his typical spiked leather jacket and ripped jeans, grey tank underneath and black shoes peeking out from the jeans - yet his presence seemed somehow larger, more imposing.

Maybe it was the staff that he held - the one she had struggled to keep upright, the first time she had ventured into the Briars - long fingers curled easily around the hilt as if it didn’t weight almost as much as she did. The amber stone set at the head seemed to glow with an inner light, as did the smaller stone on the black cord around his neck.

Maybe it was his tattoos, the ends of the vines near his wrists nearly writhing on his skin, as though wanting to leap from his flesh.

Or, maybe, it was how he was looking at her. Blue eyes bright and clear, watching her with a mix of tenderness and anxiety, mouth set in a firm line and eyebrows drawn low over his eyes.

His whole being exuded power and control, and Piper could see why the Fae had named him The Briar King.

“Hey, uh...” Piper swallowed, finding her throat suddenly dry, “Ready to go?”

“Are ye ready?” Briar responded, lifting one eyebrow, “Ye were goin’at th’bag pretty hard down there.”

He’s been here for a while, the jerk.

“I’m fine, just working some anxiety off. Not every day you’re being introduced to the Fae, y’know.”

Briar rolled his eyes but didn’t question her reasons, “Let yer hair down. Ye’ll make a better impression.”

“Having my hair be a mess of curls will make a better impression?” she snorted, nonetheless pulling the ponytail off and working her hair out of its braid.

“Yer hair looks like a flame, even when yer not channelin’energy. Trust me, it’ll help.”

Dammit, Piper, stop blushing!

“Alright.” Piper winced when her voice came out rather higher then she’d intended, “Uh, yeah. I’m ready.”

Briar only nodded, heading back out through the mud room and leaving her to follow, Imp still perched on his shoulder.

Piper didn’t bother locking the back door, smiling a little when the Kirin came bouncing up to her and cooed, nudging her hand for a pet.

“You ready to see your family?” she murmured to the white not-deer, grinning a bit when it purred and bounced in a circle around her, walking beside her as she continued after Briar.

They moved in silence until they were right next to The Briars, the sky already seeming a little dimmer as Brennan turned to face her, face a mask of concern.

“Ye ready?” he asked softly watching her closely.

Piper lifted her chin resolutely and nodded, “Let’s do this.”

He returned the nod and gestured to the wall of thorns, an opening present that she knew hadn’t been there moments before. The tall man stepped into the pathway easily and disappeared from sight, the Kirin following after with a happy trill.

Piper stepped up to it and took a deep breath, prepping herself. Then she squared her shoulders and stepped into the Briars.

~*~*~*~*~

Brennan stepped from the pathway and into the Fae realm with practiced ease, automatically sweeping a glance over the space for anything out of the ordinary.

Nothing seemed amiss, and he released a breath of relief when Piper stumbled out of the Briars a moment later, looking only slightly startled by her surroundings.

It was night - just like it always was here - the Fae flowers bright and glowing on every space imaginable, greeting them.

Piper gasped - just a quiet, tiny intake of breath - and Briar whirled, on high alert for whatever had surprised her.

Then he relaxed, straightening and letting his staff fall back to his side, lips twitching.

The first time she had been in the Briars, she’d been an unknown, a stranger, crashing through the barrier with no idea where she was going; the Fae animals had hidden, not knowing her to be friend or foe. The Briars were meant to be impenetrable by those not welcome there, but unwanted visitors had gotten through on the occasion.

This time, she was accompanying the Guardian, which clearly marked her as a welcome guest; having Imp jump onto her shoulder for a nuzzle and the Kirin hovering at her side also helped, he imagined.

Now, there were Fae creatures everywhere, watching her curiously from behind trees or rocks, hanging from branches or perched on bushes.

Straight ahead, in the little meadow near the cliff where they’d found the injured Kirin, stood the creatures herd, watching them with keen interest. The two at the head stepped forwards - their little beasts parents, a large male with blue plumes and a smaller female with golden fur - clearly wanting to approach but still hesitating.

The Kirin - they really needed to name the little beastie - nudged Pipers hand and trilled, trotting forwards slightly and then pacing on the spot, wanting her to follow. The redhead glanced back at him, hazel eyes murky and questioning. Briar let his lips twitch and nodded, knowing she was in no danger from the creatures.

Swallowing thickly, Piper turned around and walked slowly towards the herd of Kirin, the baby trilling happily as it bounded ahead of her.

It’s parents greeted it with similar trills and coos, nuzzling it’s cheeks and licking its ears, grooming it lovingly.

Then their attention turned to Piper, who had stopped a couple of feet away, not wanting to interrupt. Seeing their attention was on her, she tried to smile calmly, lifting her hands and holding them out in what she clearly thought was a friendly gesture.

Girls’ got good instincts. Briar noted, pleased, watching as the deer-like creatures strode forwards and sniffed at her hands, nosing her skin. Then the female licked her hand and nudged against her like her child had, asking for pets and purring languidly when Piper complied and scratched behind one ear. The Kirin’s mate followed suit with the redheads other hand, the whole herd coming to surround the woman as soon as their alpha’s had accepted her.

We wondered who had stumbled into our Briar’s th’other day.

Briar felt more then heard the voice, turning with a wry smile and an acknowledging nod. The two Fae that stood a ways off watching them were lovely and ethereal, both wearing knowing smiles. Though they were both androgynous and varied little asides from height, he knew the shorter to be female and the taller to be male.

That was the Imps doing, he thought back at the Fae, shrugging a shoulder, I had no part of that.

Seems it has worked to your benefit, Guardian.

Perhaps. She is here now because she chooses t’be.

Ah, and doesn’t that tell all?

The female’s gaze switched to over his shoulder, towards Piper, and a knowing grin tilted those beautiful, alien lips.

I see. She is of the Fire Woman’s Brood, powerful.

Aye.

The Briar’s welcome her.

The Fae smiled again, giggling behind a pale hand.

As do the creatures, I see.

“Uh, hey, careful - OW, hey!”

Briar spun at Piper’s shout, staff ready, but when her voice turned to laughter he relaxed, watching the scene with an amused grin.

The herd had decided it wanted to cuddle the human woman, surrounding her and nudging against her in requests for pets and snuggles. Piper - short as she was - had clearly been knocked over and now had several enthusiastic Kirin trying to sit on her lap, all fighting playfully for her attention.

Piper managed to get to her knees and continued to laugh, shoulders shaking with her mirth as she hooked her arms around two of the creatures necks - the alpha’s, Briar noticed - and tried to catch her breath, the baby Kirin sitting quite proudly in her lap. Her hair was flame red, eyes brilliant amber, and the same golden swirls that had appeared during the fight with Randy and Adeline had returned to her skin, glowing in the darkness of the Briar’s.

We welcome her, we approve of this one.

The male Fae’s voice rang strong and absolute in his mind, making his patchwork heart thump.

You want her, grandson. My my, I most definitely approve.

Briar’s head whipped around, startled blue eyes locked on the female Fae.

Ah don’t...

Brennan, don’t deny this. It is a good thing.

She’s not interested.

So blind, Guardian. So untrusting. Trust what you feel. This time, it is real.

She was used. She’s not ready fer anything like I... like that.

Give her time. Her last love was not a real love.

The female Fae’s lips drew back in a snarl suddenly, gaze locked on the woman he cared for more then he wanted to admit.

She was used, forced into fake love. Protect her, Brennan. She is not yet safe from that danger.

Briar’s gaze turned grim, grip on his staff tightening, Is he coming here?

Maybe. Yes. I do not know for sure. I just feel danger on the horizon.

Her steely, unflinching gaze was on him again, though worry carried through the psychic bond as well as anger.

Protect her. Do not lose this one; she is special. More special then you know.

Ah won’t let anything happen t’her. Ah promise, Grandmother.

Both Fae smiled proudly, forms shimmering as they took their leave, having seen and said what they wanted to.

Good lad. Take care, Briar King. Look after your Queen.

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