Part 9: The In-Between
To say August was boring would have been unfair.
It was simply... uneventful, was likely the best word to use. At least compared to the rest of the time she had spent in Maynooth.
Piper’s time was divided between working at the Primrose, making trips into The Briars, and texting her sister.
August proved to be just as busy a month for tourism as July had been, and the hustle and bustle kept Martha’s brood busy and focused. Piper helped where she could, and Brennan was also there more than he had been before, though she wondered if that was more to avoid Serah’s continued matchmaking schemes.
“I’d thought aunt Serah would lay off a bit, honestly,” Kristy had confided in her one busy afternoon during their brief lunch-break, her lower lip stuck out thoughtfully, “I mean, it was so obvious she was all for you two getting together, yet she’s still trying to force him on dates!”
“Hard habit to break?” Piper muttered, trying to not sound annoyed at the prospect of other women being interested in the grumpy male. She didn’t even bother to comment on the second part of Kristy’s words, knowing nothing she said would make a difference.
Kristy was determined that something would happen between she and Brennan, and nothing would change the blonde woman’s mind.
Getting jealous isn’t helping your case, Piper.
Especially since she was pretty sure the whole reason Serah was continuing with the matchmaking was to make her jealous, the sneaky woman.
So what if she was attracted to Brennan, physically and mentally? Didn’t mean anything had to happen.
You are so in denial it’s not even funny.
“I can’t believe summer’s almost over...” Kristy whined, looking at the calendar on her phone with a frown, “School starts in two weeks! To soon!”
“Poor baby.” Piper just snickered, sipping at her lukewarm coffee, “What day are you guys going back to campus again?”
“September 6th. You’re still good to drive us in, right? Right?”
“Yeah, yeah, don’t worry, I’m not backing out. Gotta meet up with Grace anyways.”
“Oh yeah! It’ll be nice to have her somewhat nearby, right?”
That was one thing that had changed over the course of the month; Piper had been texting Grace constantly, exchanging details and making plans.
They had to keep their messages fairly vague, and Piper knew she was listed as a different name in her sisters phone to keep anyone who might snoop from knowing it was her.
We’ll talk at school, her sister had texted last, acting as if Piper was a classmate, Can’t wait to catch up!
Which Piper knew was code for it’s not safe to go into details, I’ll explain when I see you.
Aaron is still hovering close, then. He probably still has Dad blindsided. Piper’s gut twisted at that, Is he under some kind of spell? Is that why he’s always been on Aaron’s side?
“...I still have so much stuff I need to buy for my dorm! Like, ugh, I don’t even want to go shopping! I just want to be done with school!”
Piper blinked and came back into the conversation midway, glad Kristy hadn’t noticed her space out, “You’ve only got a year left, you’ll be fine.”
“I know...” Kristy sighed and shrugged with a wry smile, pushing herself up from the porch, “Come on, breaks probably over and I bet they’re missing us.”
“Yeah, probably.” Piper pushed to her feet as well and brushed herself off before following after the younger woman, both passing into the kitchen fairly unnoticed.
“Y’might not want to go out there right now.” Flint advised as they passed him, jerking his head towards the dining room, “Aunt Serah just showed up with another woman in tow, and Brennan looks like he’s going to blow a gasket pretty soon.”
“Then maybe I’d better go save him.” Piper sighed, squaring her shoulders and ignoring the look the siblings shared as she pushed through the swinging doors to the dining room.
It was easy to spot them; Serah and the unknown woman sitting at a table near the window with Brennan standing over them with his arms crossed and his shoulders stiff as he stared down at them, lips twisted in a scowl as he pointedly kept his eyes on his mother.
Piper didn’t bother trying to insert herself into whatever the conversation was about; she simply slunk up from behind and slipped her hand through the crack in Brennan’s elbow, loosening his stance just a little so she could slip her arm through fully, fingers resting on one full vine.
The position had two purposes; one, to put her almost flush against his side and give the message that no, he’s not interested, thank you, and two, to fully showcase the transfer of energy between them, golden swirls seeping into the vine beneath her fingers and making it writhe greedily.
Brennan had practically sagged against her at the feel of the energy, Pipers lips quirking at the weight on her shoulder even as her heart flipped in anxiety, too much, too quick, just play it off-
“Hello, Serah,” she greeted, forcing her voice to sound calm, easy, not like her stomach was tied up in knots and butterflies and fuzzy feelings, “I haven’t seen you since the reunion, how’ve you been?”
“Oh, wonderful, darling! Just wanted to drop in and see how my dear boy is doing, of course.” Serah’s eyes seemed to glitter then, “Though I must admit, I have another reason for coming in today, and this lovely lady was just keeping me company while I waited for the others to arrive.”
Piper frowned, surprised, “Others...?”
“Oh, the children of some dear friends. You’ll know them when they get here-”
The chime of the front door opening caught their attention, Piper going stiff at the strange aura’s that swept over her suddenly.
Amber eyes snapping up, she couldn’t help but stare, curiosity and fear and anxiety all flaring within her at the strange sensations coming from the new guests.
It was a couple that had entered, seeming at ease both with each other and their surroundings, as though they had been there before.
The man was tall - though not quite as crazy tall as Brennan - with shaggy black hair and amber eyes, distinctly canine in the way he moved and smiled.
The woman was a bit taller than herself, with short-cropped hair that seemed either red brown or just deep red depending on how the light hit it, eyes bright green. Her belly was round beneath her t-shirt, drawing Piper’s gaze for a moment while she tried to figure out what the woman’s aura reminded her of, coming up blank.
What are they?
“Ah, here they are, at last!” Serah rose from her chair and approached the new couple, smiling brightly, “Welcome, dears, it’s been so long!”
Piper let her arm drop from Brennan’s and glanced at him from the corner of her eye, confused to see he looked surprised but not terribly off-put.
“Briar,” she mumbled, trying not to draw anyone else’s attention, “Who are they? What are they?”
Briar winced, scars pulling tight as his lips screwed up, “They’re-”
“Brennan, come say hello! Oh, Piper, I need to introduce you! Come here, honey!” Serah was motioning them over now, and Piper could only follow after as Briar obeyed without a word.
“Long time no see.” Brennan grumbled, inclining his head and shoving his hands in his pockets, clearly wishing he was wearing his jacket.
“Never change, eh Briar?” the man grinned widely, revealing sharp canines, “Nice to see you, too.”
“Piper, this is Ace James and his wife, Catarina. Ace’s mother stayed with us way back, and we’ve kept in touch ever since.”
“Please call me Cat.” the woman greeted with a grin, extending a hand to shake, “Only my Uncle calls me Catarina.”
“Hi.” Piper took the hand, jolting slightly at the buzz she felt from the woman, trying not to show it, “I’m Piper. Piper Connors. My mom was, uh, a friend of Briar’s.”
“It is wonderful to see you two! I’m glad you told me you were passing through!” Serah paused, eyeing Cat’s belly knowingly, “Expecting again, Cat dear?”
“Yup yup.” Cat’s grin turned wry, hands moving to rest on her belly, “Five months.”
“Triplets weren’t enough for you two?”
The woman jerked her head at her husband, rolling her eyes, ”Someone wants a big family.”
The words made Piper’s heart freeze momentarily, gaze automatically sliding towards Briar. Their eyes met - longing blue and hesitant hazel - before they both turned immediately away, Piper’s face blushing bright pink.
“You have a room prepared for us, Serah?” Ace questioned, wrapping an arm around Cat’s shoulders protectively, “Need to rest for a while before we head for Algonquin in the morning.”
“Of course, dears. Let me get Martha and we’ll get you settled. Come along!”
“Nice to meet you, Piper,” Cat called over her shoulder, giving her a knowing smile, “See you later, Briar.”
Neither said anything for a moment, trying to get themselves under control. Piper only turned to look at her companion once she was sure the blush was gone, surprised to find Briar’s cheeks were a slight red as he stared after the group.
Oh, Gods, she really was in trouble if the sight of him blushing made her heart jump.
“What are they?” she repeated her question instead, trying to get back on track by asking something at least somewhat serious.
It seemed to work, because Briar looked at her with a wicked smirk, eyebrows lifted, “Y’won’t believe me.”
“Cat’s a vampire.” he grinned, baring his teeth in a feral smile, “And Ace is a Lycan.”
"Vampire? You’re kidding, right? But she’s out in the sun! And she’s... pregnant? And... wait, what the hell is a Lycan?”
“Vampire’s ain’t what ye think they are, princess. Quite the opposite, really. An’Lycans are wut humans mistake fer werewolves. An’ah am not gettin inta th’details. Y’wanna know? Ye ask them.”
“And they have triplets.” Piper muttered, shaking her head in disbelief, “And she’s pregnant again.”
“Yeah.” the longing in Briar’s voice was so strong Piper winced, “Lucky.”
You deserve a big family, too. Piper wanted to tell him, knowing it was safer to keep her mouth shut, You deserve love, happiness, kids.
And fuck her, she wanted those things, too. Maybe not kids, so much. But happiness, love...
You want him.
“We still on for tonight?” she said instead, hurrying to banish that thought to the recesses of her mind.
“O’course. Ah’ll meetcha at th’entrance at seven o’clock, aye?”
“Right. See you then.”
Piper fled as soon as he’d acknowledged her with a nod, unable to look at him lest her heart leap all over again.
Because she was in so, so much trouble.
Visits to the Briars had become a constant routine, several nights a week. It was mostly to show Piper which areas were safe, which were less so, and to make sure the creatures there knew who she was.
Plus she enjoyed her time there, spending it with the Kirin Herd or exploring the new areas, wanting to map it out in her mind.
There was only one section she wasn’t allowed in, right behind Briar’s house.
“It’s m’personal Grove.” Briar had explained when she asked, guiding her away from the enclosed section, “Ah’m th’only one meant t’go in there.”
“So it’s private?”
“Any certain reason? Or just because-”
"Piper.” he’d cut her questions off with her name, spoken in a severely tender and pleading tone that was reflected in his eyes, “Please. Jus’dorn’t go in there.”
“A-alright.” she’d promised, knees weak from his voice and his eyes and just him, desperately hiding the reaction as she followed him back into the main forest, glancing curiously back at the Grove.
That had been a week ago; tonight he was showing her the deeper parts of the Forest, where other creatures dwelled.
“They’re not all so friendly.” Briar explained in a warning tone, staff striking the ground with a hard thump that matched his steps, “Not t’say they’re necessarily hostile, but some o’them wud rather we stay away. Ye need t’know which is which.”
Piper only nodded, following silently as they traversed the deeper parts of the forest, weaving through bushes and hanging vines, around small streams and bigger ponds.
She caught eyes watching them from the shadows, but no creatures revealed themselves, remaining instead hidden by the plants and darkness.
Piper paused for a moment to take in the ethereal beauty of one specific cluster of flowers when quiet, animal steps made her pause, almost holding her breath as she turned her head, looking towards the sound.
What stared back at her seemed to be a mix between a fox and a wolf with Fae features thrown in, blank white eyes watching her challengingly. It’s muzzle was long and shaped like a foxes, with long, high pointed ears and a white nose. It’s body was more like a lean wolves, chest broad and paws large and tipped with sharp claws.
Most of its fur was pitch black, blending in perfectly with the night around it. It had a mane almost like a lions, made up of a mix of feathers and fur, white and pink and blue and Gods knew how many other colours mixed in. This continued down it’s chest in a similar pattern, and around it’s back haunches.
The Fae wolf had what almost looked like wings coming from its ‘shoulders’, long, pointed feathers of pale blue and deep purple flowing out and over its back, the longest two passing its hindquarters as though acting as its tail.
Not overly hostile, as Briar had said, but clearly not the friendliest of creatures either, judging by the challenging way it stared at her.
Still, something about the wolf kept her there rather then following after Briar, wanting to know more, feeling a sort of connection to the creature as she had with Imp and Snow (the terrible name they had given the Kirin).
“Piper, wut’re ye-” Briar froze several feet away, lifting his staff to clutch it with both hands, ”Piper, back away slowly-"
“It’s fine, Brennan, don’t panic-”
“Ye dorn’t know what tha’is-”
"Hush!” she hissed at him, shooting him a warning look before turning her attention back to the canine, resuming the stare.
Keeping her shoulders square and her chin held high, Piper went to one knee while still keeping her gaze locked with the creatures, following some instinct she hadn’t known she’d had.
She lifted one hand, as she had with the Kirin Herd, but held it with her palm up instead of down, an authoritative motion rather than a placid one.
The Fae wolf took one step towards her, it’s feather-tail swaying behind it as it regarded her, nose twitching. It bared it’s teeth at her, a challenge she knew she had to overpower.
Concentrating, Piper reached for the supply of energy she housed within her and pulled it to the surface, letting it flood her hair and eyes and skin, a trick she’d been perfecting since learning what she was.
Her hair flared fire red and her eyes glowed like the amber stone in Briar’s staff, her skin a canvas of swirling gold.
The Fae Wolf immediately closed its mouth, taking another step towards her with its tails lifted, ears twitching.
Then two more.
Then it was right in front of her, still maintaining the stare, it’s tails lifted higher and it’s ears cocked towards her, as though listening to her breaths, listening for a weakness.
Piper in turn bared her teeth, eyes narrowing and hair flaring brighter, a flame in the darkness of the realm.
The Fae Wolf dropped its stare and its tails, stepping forwards once more to set it’s chin in her palm and rumble in surrender, warmth flooding through her at the touch.
“Bloody hell.” Briar muttered from behind her, “Ye tamed th’damn thing. Didnae think it was possible.”
“Why not?” Piper lifted her other hand to stroke through the Fae creatures mane then, earning a rumbling purr as it circled closer and curled against her side, tails swaying languidly, “Just needed to show him who was boss.”
“Piper, that’s a Fae Hound. Ye dorn’t tame a Fae hound, ye avoid’em. Even th’Fae can’t really control’em. They’re th’least friendly o’the creatures in’ere.”
“Then clearly they didn’t know what they were doing.” Piper simpered, continuing to stroke the wolf-fox-hound-things mane, “Seemed easy enough to me.”
“That may be, but-”
Danger, Grandson. Beware.
The flowing, feminine voice cut off whatever her companion had been about to say, breezing through Piper’s mind and making her shiver.
The Fae Hound tensed and began to growl; moving to position itself like a shield around her, feathers raised and swaying as it snarled off into the distance.
Briar spun and held his staff at the ready, scowling off in the same direction as the hound.
“Where?” he growled, eyes blue ice as he searched for the danger.
Seeking, searching. Not here, not yet. Soon. Beware.
The Fae Hounds growls died down, but the creature stayed curled protectively in front of her, nose twitching madly.
Briar lowered his staff and looked back at her, a grimace on his face that was clearly meant to hide the worry in his eyes.
He knew she’d heard the voice. They both had.
Piper gripped the hounds mane a bit tighter, eyes fading to muddy brown as she bit her lip, the words still echoing in her mind.
Not here, not yet. Soon. Beware...
Why. she wondered helplessly, feeling a chill begin to sink into her skin, Why, when I’m finally finding myself again? When I’m finally happy?
When I’ve just found him?