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A Restless Night - by Piper

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2007-03-11 06:28:26

Piper rolled over onto her back, staring up at the shadows on the wooden ceiling of her bedroom. Something had been bothering her since earlier that evening, so the luxury of sleep had not yet found her. She sighed, shifting to her right and sitting up in one fluid motion, resting her hands in her lap. She looked down at the green sandals on the floor in front of her and slid them onto each clawed foot in turn. The rat-girl stood with some effort, yawning sleepily before gazing out her window for a moment, watching the reflections of moonlight dance on the water outside. She smiled a bit at the sight, finding comfort in its serene beauty; but her awe soon faded, and the smile along with it, as she remembered why she had gotten up in the first place.

She took a few steps toward the door, then cringed and flattened her ears as the floorboards squeaked beneath her. Not wanting to wake Thom, whose room was on the next floor down, she chose her steps carefully. She opened and closed the door so slowly that it felt like the process took an eternity, but at least it hadn't made any noise. Shuffling toward the garden, she parted the drape of vines hanging from the archway, and immediately a cold nose poked her in the forehead. Piper couldn't help grinning as she raised a hand to cover her face, shielding herself from a barrage of licks from her whining cu sidhe.

"Aodhfin, shh!" she scolded quietly, stifling a laugh. She gently took hold of his muzzle and whispered, "Thom's trying to sleep, you know." Aodhfin's tail-wagging ceased and he grumbled a bit, turning in three circles before finally curling up in the garden's grass. Piper took a seat on the bench next to the disgruntled animal, trying to look very serious as she nodded to him. "Thank you, sir." His tail wagged a few times, though weakly; he must have been tired too, she judged.

Piper shifted in her seat, wrapping her arms around herself as a light snow began to fall. "I'm afraid I can't sleep tonight either, boy," she confessed, extending a hand to scratch her pet's ears. She sighed and stared glassy-eyed as snowflakes lighted on the petals of some poppies before her. "It's just that... well..." She paused to blink. "I'm concerned about something... or rather, someone." The breath from her words turned to mist, rising skyward before fading away into the night.

<hr>

She recalled the events leading to her sleeplessness. Since Galehaven Tavern was still in ruins from the explosion, Bear opened the tavern in the bottom floor of his home so people could still come together over a few drinks. While Piper never drank anything stronger than water, she came with Thom; the ditzy barmaid Daniel'le was there as well, along with Bill and James. She and Thom announced to the room their intent to wed, and congratulations were spoken; though she was saddened to hear Bill wouldn't be attending. There were the typical teasing questions about when children would arrive, and Thom and Piper could only say there would be none. Bill's demeanor changed instantly as he said that was their choice. Piper was fully aware that he had to know just as well as they did that there was no choice in the matter. He seemed uncharacteristically distraught, but didn't want to speak to Piper about it. Still concerned, she reasoned that the tavern probably wasn't the best place for such a conversation anyway. Bill attempted to leave once, and Thom followed him upstairs. Several minutes passed and Piper grew curious as to where Thom had gone. After a brief search, she found him out front with Bill. From their expressions and behavior, it seemed the two had been involved in a serious discussion until she'd come upon them. Piper told Bill that since he left, Daniel'le had thrown a terrible crying fit, thinking she wasn't his favorite barmaid anymore. This convinced him to come back inside for a while longer, but he still wasn't acting like himself.

When Bill announced he would be leaving for the night, Piper accompanied him outside. There was something she'd wanted to tell him, but she was far too shy to mention it in front of everyone else at the noisy tavern. She stood at the bottom of the stone steps and looked down at her feet sheepishly, barely summoning the nerves to speak.

"Well, since I don't have anyone..." She hesitated for a moment. "Since I don't really have anyone, I... I was going to ask you to walk me down the aisle." Her eyes still focused on the ground before her, she continued, "I know you can't be there, but... but I wanted to tell you anyway."

Only a few words were exchanged in the moments that followed, and feeling an air of awkward tension, she judged the time was as right as any. "Now, what were you upset about earlier?"

She finally looked up as a somber Bill began to speak. The creak of the front doors took the two by surprise, and they turned to see Daniel'le approaching them with an ever-bright, childlike smile on her face.

"Ready to sleep with me, Bill?" Daniel'le chirped, naive to the connotation of the phrase.

Piper blinked, obviously taken aback by the question.

Bill faced Daniel'le, who seemed to be waiting with the anticipation of a child whose parents are letting her have a slumber party. "Ye need ter choose yer words better, lass," he advised as he shook his head, unable to keep from smiling at the innocent girl. He had nowhere else to sleep, so Daniel'le offered him a bed in a room at the guild's museum. Since he had to leave with Daniel'le, Bill's previous conversation with Piper came to an early close.

"Ask yer lad. 'E'll tell yer the rest."

Piper nodded, and having nothing more to say, the three bade each other goodnight.

<hr>

Later the same night, Piper and Thom sat on the benches in their garden, where they'd often go to converse in their spare time. After chatting for a while, Piper looked over to Thom and asked, "What was wrong with Bill earlier? He was going to tell me, but Daniel'le came outside while we were talking, so he said to ask you."

"Yes, I was going to mention that," Thom sighed. "He says he knows that even if we wanted to, we'll probably never have children of our own. But we have already discussed that, and it does not matter to me." She nodded as Thom continued, "He says he knows what he did was wrong."

Her ears drooped a bit in defeat. "I told him I don't blame him..."

Thom nodded. "I know. But he says he won't be coming to the wedding because he does not feel like he belongs there."

"Why is that?" Piper frowned, recalling what she had told Bill earlier about her desires for the wedding.

"He says that being there would only remind you of what happened, and that you should be happy..."

<hr>

Piper softly patted Aodhfin's head, looking up at the stars and exhaling deeply. Her ears and tail had grown cold in the snow, but she hardly noticed. "I wish I could convince him not to feel such unnecessary guilt over what happened. I understand why he did it, and I don't blame him at all. When it's a matter of life and death, sometimes people just... they just have to do what they feel is necessary. He's still alive, and I'm still alright, really... just different." She tilted her head down and to the right, her brow furrowing as she shut her eyes to hold back tears. Sniffling a bit, a forced smile crossed her lips as Aodhfin awoke and looked up at her, concern evident in his expressive blue eyes. "I don't know why I'm disclosing my problems to you, anyway. Even if you did understand, I doubt you'd be much help, you lazy dog." Aodhfin sat up on his haunches and huffed, sounding quite insulted as a cold vapor escaped his open maw. "I guess that means I've outworn my welcome, hm?" She stood slowly to pluck an apple from the nearby tree and tossed it to the animal, whose eager teeth easily caught the fruit in midair. He flopped back down to the ground and steadied the apple with his forepaws, happily devouring his favorite treat.

Once Piper returned to her room, she kicked off her sandals and fell back onto the bed, pulling the sheets up over herself as the cold finally set in. She drifted to sleep within the span of a few minutes, but her rest was soon troubled with unpleasant dreams. She twitched in half-consciousness, recalling in an instant the one memory she retained from childhood - the one moment that changed her forever. There she was again, in the dungeon of Exodus, watching and listening helplessly as a mage uttered strange, unfamiliar words of power. The spell was cast and a bright light wove around her, and then there were several seemingly endless moments of excruciating pain as her body transformed. Then all she could remember was the powerful light and the horrified expression on the face of the caster. The man she saw looking on in terror was a more youthful Bill, and before her eyes, he aged considerably to the man she now recognized as her ale-loving friend. The words of power he recited changed to something else - changed to a confession he had once made to her. Guilt was the reason for his drinking - guilt over what was done to Piper and the others back in the depths of that dungeon. He couldn't forget the faces of the dead, and neither could he forgive himself for impacting this little girl's life in such a traumatic way. And Bill's words were true: not only did the the spell change her appearance, but the effects also rendered her sterile...

Piper awoke with a start, a small yelp escaping her. She turned to find Aodhfin sitting up with his forepaws on the bed, nuzzling her clenched hand in an effort to quiet her. She rolled out of bed and knelt beside him, wrapping her arms around his neck in a tight hug. Tears now flowed freely as the dream brought so many unpleasant feelings and memories back to the surface. She clung to her pet for some time, rocking back and forth in silence before the sudden outburst of emotion took its toll and exhaustion found her once more. Unable to keep her eyes open any longer, she pulled herself back into bed and Aodhfin lay beside her on the floor. She let her arm dangle over the edge of the bed to stroke his ears, and - calmed by her pet's presence - steadily drifted into a restless, dreamless sleep.

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