What is Love Anyway?
"Look me in the eye and tell me that you're not dying inside."
She stiffened at the sound of his voice. It rushed over her, and she closed her eyes briefly before bending down to fix the bed. Quietly, she took a pillow and fluffed it. Methodically, Piper folded the blanket and straightened the sheets. She felt his eyes boring at her back, but she did not look at him. Instead, she picked up items of clothing on the floor and put them in the laundry basket.
"You can't do it, can you?" he demanded.
She took deep calming breaths. With the basket under one arm, she approached him. Piper waited for him to move aside, allow her space to pass through. "I need to get these washed," she murmured. But he won't move.
He ran his fingers through his hair. "Why can't you be brave enough to accept it!?" Suddenly, he grabbed her upper arms. The basket fell down with her surprised cry. "We've been skirting this for so long. You can't deny it any longer, Piper!"
She refused to meet his gaze. "Let me go," she whispered. As though regaining control, he gently took his hands off her. Piper knelt down and started picking up the
clothes and putting them back in the basket. A few seconds later, he too was on his knees, helping gather the discarded items. He did not pursue the topic. If there was anything he hated doing, it was upsetting her. "It's not always that easy." He looked up and saw that her eyes regarded him sadly. "This is killing me."
"It's not our fault," he told her. "We fought it every step of that way but it's useless to fight any longer. I am irrevocably in love with you." She blinked against the stinging pain in her eyes, and tears rained down the floor. He caught one with his finger and brought it to his lips. "I hate seeing you cry."
She stood up with the basket in her hands. He followed suit and took the container from her. "But the only thing that can make me smile, are tears from the ones I love."
He drew her to him and held on tightly. Had he any comforting words, he would have said it. As it was, all he had to give was himself. "I'll take these down for you."
Piper didn't thank him. Instead, she squeezed by him with an expressionless face. She heard him suck his breath at that exact moment when their bodies mashed
together so completely, so tightly. Her blood pumped in her temples then, and her heightened awareness of her entire body blackened her sight. They were pressed
together only for that millisecond, but it was enough to send her temperature to fever pitch, to suck the strength from her limbs. She stumbled free and picked her head up high. She licked her lips and proceeded downstairs as though nothing had happened, her cheeks burning all the while with the memory of that nonentity.
He followed her. She knew he did. She felt him close by, a constant presence from the bedroom to the laundry. How many times were they to do this? Had they been animals this would have been resolved long ago. And perhaps after that it would have been over. And they would put it far behind them. But denying it, and seeing each other every day, left alone in the house, merely fanned the flamed burning inside them until it reached their hearts.
"Don't deny it. Please. I might deserve it, but you certainly do not. I know how you feel."
"Just stop it," she muttered. "I don't deserve it."
"You're an angel. I would not have remained this strong without you to smile at me every day."
That made her whip around to face him with burning eyes. Piper stepped closer to him, face stretched tight with fury. "You cannot say that!" she cried, jabbing her finger into his chest. "Do not give me credit due to someone else. It's not fair. It's just not!"
He caught her wrist and drew her to him tightly. The basket fell unnoticed onto the floor, once again scattered like so much fallen leaves. "I can say it. Because it's true!"
"She loves you," Piper whispered.
"He loves you," he countered. "But that doesn't keep me from feeling the same about you. And that doesn't keep you from loving me."
"I—" she gasped, "I don't."
"Don't lie," he whispered softly into her ear.
"I don't." Piper started to pull away, but he had both her wrists in his hands. "Let go."
"Don't you think I've tried? I'm not that much of a monster that I would not fight this when I had to." He let go of her wrists and caught her waist, pulling the entire length of her body against his. She twisted against him, but he held on, matching the struggle of her body with his own rhythmic movements. "Stop it. You'll hurt yourself!"
She moaned through her tears. "Let me go. Please."
"I can't." Her movements slowed, but still he held on. When finally her movements ceased, she just leaned limply against him in silence, defeated. "Sorry." She buried her face in his chest and began to sob softly. He started to pull away. His heart bled when she cried. But she held on to him tightly, not wanting to let him go. "Piper," he began.
She pulled him down, and hungrily he took her lips. Tears seeped out of her closed eyelids as she drank in the taste of him. The starvation they felt for each other was unlike anything he had ever felt. Where once he expressed his love in a wild, almost animalistic ravaging, he fed his hunger this time with slow, needy kisses. His tongue meeting hers sent an electric surge through his veins. Instead of the rough plunging he had been used to, theirs melded together in a no less tumultuous way. It was a fierce kiss, but not brutal. They were ardent, yet mature enough to calmly exchange strong feelings in a kiss that was a blend of sweetness, pain, and fulfillment. "Why do I have to love you!?" she demanded when they were staring at each other, gasping in the aftermath.
"I don't know."
"What do we do now? We can't go back to the way it was. Not after this." She met his eyes and waited for his response.
"Leave with me."
"Leave with me, Piper. I can't think of any way I will survive not being with you after this." The weeks of being unable to express their love suddenly escalated to this. "Will you?"
"God, Piper, if there are two people in the world who have to understand what it's like to fight for love, it has to be us. It's hypocritical, I know, but we have no other choice. I wish we did."
Her hand rose to cup his cheek, and he immediately turned his face to kiss her palm. This was insanity. She knew that. But the past months have been too much for her. And she knew that they would be cursed forever for what they were about to do. Love is love, no matter the encumbrances that was strung along. Love is love, no matter how painful. Love is love, no matter how many hearts you had to crush in its pursuit.
They went into the bedroom. He reached for the suitcase at the top of the closet and laid it open on the bed. She threw clothes inside, not even looking at what they were. When it was full, he grabbed it and started out.
"Wait! I need shoes." Piper pushed the boxes away at the bottom. Some thudded on top of the box that held her wedding dress. And then she was able to fish two pairs that they stuffed into the suitcase.
When he turned to go, he caught her standing there at the center of the bedroom, eyes downcast. It occurred to him how much this took from her. He placed the suitcase down by his feet and approached her. He took her hand and brushed a kiss on her knuckles. Her eyes met his uncertainly. And he smiled at her, lending some confidence he hardly knew he had. But she gave him strength, has given him for such a long time. It was time to give her some back.
She held her hand out to his, palm up, and he took it, firmly closing warm hand around it. He picked up the suitcase with his other hand and they climbed down the stairs and exited the house. The jeep was parked out front. They crossed the street and stood beside it. "I need to go get the keys," she said faintly.
"I'll get them."
"No, let me." She squeezed his hand and turned to go. He watched her run up the steps and vanish into the house.
Long moments later, she still had not emerged from the manor. He left the suitcase by the jeep and went in after her. The steps seemed too long, too high, but he made it to the front door. "Piper," he said softly. She was not in the living room. He strode to the stairs and called her name, but there was no answer. He went into the kitchen but did not see her there.
He heard the quiet sobbing and he found her sitting on the floor of the kitchen, the cordless phone lying beside her. Her entire body poised as though it were an asp out to strike her. "Piper," he repeated very quietly.
She looked up at him with liquid eyes and pale, pale lips. "I can't go."
"Why?" he asked softly.
Tears rained down from her eyes. The clock ticked slowly. She wet her lips. He was standing there, his back leaning against the doorframe. And she smiled though the paths of her tears ran by her lips. "You're going to be an uncle, Cole."
His head fell back onto the doorframe. He looked at her unblinking, his breathing steady. "I love you."
She turned her face away.