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[personal profile] sara_wolf
Title: World Enough, and Time
Rating: PG13
Warnings: violence, language
Summary: Fourth in my AU series. In the future, the fight against Wyatt is going badly. The only hope the Resistance has is for Chris and his cousin, Josh, to travel back in time to when Wyatt was corrupted, in an attempt to save him. But what should have been a simple mission turns out to be more perilous than they could have imagined. And in the present, the Charmed Ones prepare for the arrival of Piper's baby. But, the Underworld wants the Twice-Blessed Child, as well, and neither side is going to give up without a fight.

Chapter One
May, 2026

Chris orbed into Valhalla, and then sighed at the sight that greeted him. A trio of scowling, crossbow-wielding Valkyries were blocking his path, weapons pointed straight at his heart. The leader of the trio stepped forward and gestured at him with her bow, and Chris sighed, putting his hands in the air.

"Do we really have to go through the every time?" he demanded, watching the Valkyries out of the corners of his eyes as they warily circled him. He didn't dare move with them; the one time he'd tried that, one of the younger ones had panicked and shot him in the ass. Josh still wouldn't let him live that one down.

"Search him," the leader commanded, rather than answering, and the other two stepped forward to briskly and efficiently pat him down. They quickly divested him of all the weapons he was carrying, laying them on the ground just out of his reach, and then they stepped back in line with the leader. They were silent the entire time.

Chris wracked his brain to try and remember any of their names. But, the Valkyries were an elusive bunch, even on their own island, and the majority of the demigoddesses preferred to have little to no contact with the Resistance. Leo called it sensible, Cole called it snobbishness. Chris figured it was natural caution, mixed with reservations over Josh and Prue's presence on their island. No matter that his cousins' allegiance had been to the side of good for their entire lives, some of the Valkyries just couldn't get past the fact that they were half demon.

'We've been here for six months,' Chris grumbled, in the privacy of his own mind. 'You'd think they could learn to live and let live.'

But, then, the Valkyries had allowed them to take sanctuary on the island despite Josh and Prue's demonic heritage, so maybe they weren't as upset about it as he'd previously thought. Maybe, despite their reservations, they realized that the two witches were powerful and valuable allies.

'Or,' a voice spoke up cheerfully, in his head, 'the Valkyries are just as affected by this Hell on Earth as we are, and they're realistic enough to realize that they have to do some damn distasteful things to survive. And for them, that means allowing a couple of demons into their sanctuary.'

'Half demons,' Chris corrected, automatically. 'Josh, I thought I told you to stay out of my head.'

'Well, it's kind of hard to mind my own business when you're broadcasting your feelings over the entire island,'
his cousin drawled.

'Or,' Chris countered, 'you're just a nosy telepath with a shiny, new power.'

Then, he realized that the leader of the trio was standing in front of him, glaring impatiently, and he smiled apologetically as he focused his attention back on her.

"Sorry," he tried. "Hey, if I was really a demon imposter, don't you think Josh or one of the other psychics in the Resistance would have sounded me out, by now?"

"Open," the leader ordered, brusquely, and Chris bit back a sigh.

Obediently, he opened his mouth, and the Valkyrie held up a small vial of clear liquid, tipping a couple of drops onto his tongue. A cold sensation swept through his entire body, and he flexed his fingers to try and fight off the numbness that overtook his limbs. He glanced at the Valkyrie, who was still watching him, suspiciously.

"Tell me your name," she snapped.

"Christopher Samuel Halliwell," he answered, promptly. He didn't even bother trying to fight the truth potion; it would just make him look suspicious, and if he just let it work through his system, it would wear off faster.

"What is your mission here?" the Valkyrie pressed, insistently.

"I'm working with the Resistance to try and find a way to stop my brother, Wyatt, from taking over the world," Chris told her. "And that's what I'd like to get back to doing, if you're done with your interrogation."

"You are truthful," the Valkyrie said, flatly. She and her sisters moved aside, to let him move past them on the path. "You may go."

"Thank you," Chris said, keeping the impatience out of his voice as he gathered his weapons up and started to the huts that the Resistance was living in.

He didn't blame the Valkyries for being cautious; in their place, he had the feeling that he would have done the same thing. Had done, actually, when the Resistance had spent time running from safe house to safe house, before they'd settled in Valhalla.

And it was only now, after half a year on the secluded island, that many of their members actually started feeling safe, again. Chris had heard Parker laugh the other day, the first time in nearly a year. It had actually taken him a moment to recognize the sound, it had been so long. And there'd been tears in Josh's eyes, when he'd seen the smile on his baby sister's face.

'We have to fix this,' Chris thought, fiercely. 'We have to fix this, so that Prue and Parker never forget how to laugh.'

'We're going to fix this,' Josh sent into his mind, and Chris groaned at the realization that his cousin was still eavesdropping.

'Didn't I tell you-'

'Yeah, yeah,'
Josh interrupted him. 'I'll stop eavesdropping when you stop projecting.'

'It's easier for one person-'
Chris started, but then he trailed off when he saw Josh standing on the path in front of him. "It's easier for you to maintain shields against us," he said, out loud, "than for all of us to shield against you. Not to mention, you've had more practice."

"I've been trying to keep my shields up," Josh told him, sighing. "It's just this place, there's something that tears apart my control over my powers. Whatever I can manage is spotty at best."

"If your powers are out of whack," Chris asked, as Josh fell into step beside him, "then how come you're always in my head?"

"Because it's so much fun to go to the extra effort to annoy you," Josh teased him, and Chris grinned as he pulled his cousin into a hug. "Man, I missed you," Josh went on. "No one else has your sense of humor."

"What about the girls?" Chris asked,

Josh chuckled. "Prue, much to Dad's consternation, has managed to convince a couple of the Valkyries to teach her how to fight. Parker, naturally, is tagging along. Whenever they're not sleeping or eating, they're training, and none of us have actually seen them for more than a few seconds, lately."

"When Prue said that she wasn't going to be left out of the fight, she wasn't kidding," Chris commented.

"She and Parker are really throwing themselves into this whole thing," Josh replied, sighing.

"Hey," Chris said, clapping Josh on the back, "if we we're good, and we fix this, Prue and Parker won't ever have to fight."

"I hope you're right," Josh said, and then the rest of their conversation was cut off by their arrival at the large meeting hall the Resistance used as headquarters.

They found only a few of their fellow fighters waiting for them. Ava and Christy were playing chess, Ava kicking butt, like usual. Billie was curled up with a book, using her telekinesis to flip slowly through the pages. Sam and Cole were studying a series of large maps that had been spread out over the rough-hewn wooden table. Sam was gesturing to something as they walked in, his attention focused on the tattered paper as he pointed something out to Cole.

Chris was unsurprised to see more gray peppering Cole's black hair. Ever since Phoebe's death, Chris had watched his uncle age a year for every day she was gone. The only things keeping him going, these days, were his kids, which was why Chris was so determined to keep anything from happening to Prue and Parker.

What he hadn't been expecting, though, were the signs of age in Sam. The older Whitelighter looked like he'd been dragged through hell. There were shadows under his eyes, deep furrows in his skin, and a new scar that ran along his forehead, disappearing into his hairline.

"What happened?" Chris hissed, nodding minutely at Sam, as he and Josh paused in the doorway.

"Well," Josh said, drawing the word out, "let's see. We're constantly under attack by Wyatt's forces, the Elders assigned Aunt Paige to charges on the other side of the world and we haven't seen her in over a year, and you took on a week-long mission, after being held captive by Wyatt for the last three months. I can't imagine why Sam would possibly be worried."

"Smart ass," Chris muttered under his breath. "I'm sorry I was out of contact, okay? I was a little busy."

"Yeah, well," Josh retorted, "if you do it again, I'm going to kick your ass. And I have a feeling that Sam will be next in line."

"Followed by Prue, and Parker, and Cole-" Chris finished for him. "I get it. I'm sorry."

Glancing past his cousin, Chris saw that Sam had abandoned his study of the maps and was staring at him with an inscrutable look on his face. Chris smiled at Sam, and Sam moved away from the table to embrace him, wrapping Chris in a tight hug.

"Don't you ever do that again," Sam muttered, as he held him, and Chris relaxed at the affection he heard in his surrogate grandfather's voice.

"I missed you, too, Grandpa," Chris told him, as he pulled away. "I'm sorry about being out of contact. I won't do it, again."

"I think I remember hearing that about the first time you borrowed your mother's car, or when you snuck the Book out of the house, or when-"

"Okay, enough!" Chris laughed. "Am I ever going to live down any of the stupid stuff I did as a kid?"

"Eventually," Sam confided in him. "Right about the time your kids are old enough to start doing the same stupid stuff."

"So it's never ending," Chris groused, good-naturedly, and Sam grinned.

"Pretty much, kid," he told him. "We missed you around here," he added, ruffling Chris's hair. "Everyone missed you."

Chris didn't miss the emphasis in Sam's words, or the pointed look he shot across the hall, where Leo was looking through the makeshift Book of Shadows that they'd put together in the absence of the real one. His father hadn't looked up at him once since his arrival, but Chris didn't think for a second that Leo was unaware of his presence. Leo knew everything that went on around him. He just chose to ignore the parts of it that involved Chris.

"I missed the girls, too," Chris finally said, deliberately misunderstanding Sam's words, and the older man heaved a frustrated sigh.

"You, two," he started, but then he trailed off, shaking his head. "Both of you are as stubborn as a pair of mules," he muttered, under his breath, and Chris cracked a tiny grin.

"I had to inherit something from him," he replied.

He followed Sam over to the table, where Josh had joined his father. Cole was affixing small stickers to the topmost map, red for the places that Wyatt controlled, and blue for the few spots where the Resistance still had a stronghold. There were a depressingly low number of blue stickers on the map.

"That one's red, now," Chris informed Cole, tapping a blue dot near the pier, and his uncle cursed softly under his breath. "X found us."

"And you made it out alive?" Cole remarked, as he placed a red sticker over the blue. "Not that I don't doubt your abilities, kid-"

"Trust me," Chris interrupted him, "I'm surprised we made it out alive. Well, almost all of us."

"Who'd we lose?" Josh asked, scowling darkly.

"Deena and Malcolm," Chris replied, heavily. "Deena killed Malcolm."

His voice cracked on Malcolm's name, and he was swamped with grief over the little boy who'd trusted him, the little boy he'd failed to protect. He ruthlessly pushed the feelings aside; they were useless to him, and would only hamper him in the fight. There would be time to grieve, later, after they'd stopped Wyatt.

"She what?" Ava demanded, incredulously, having overheard him. "She was working for the demons?" When Chris nodded, Ava snarled, softly. "That bitch. I brought her in. I trusted her."

"We all trusted her," Billie said, reassuringly, as she and Christy joined the group. "What happened?" the older woman asked Chris.

"I orbed into the safe house with Malcolm," Chris replied, "and everything seemed fine. Deena and Lew were watching tv, and Cassie was in the kitchen getting something to eat." He shook his head, regretfully, hating how he'd let himself be lulled into a false sense of security. "I wasn't even there ten minutes before X shimmered in."

"She was after Malcolm," Christy guessed, and Chris nodded.

"As far as I could tell," he replied. "That has to be why she came in when she did. She was waiting for us to bring Malcolm out of hiding."

"And to deliver him straight to Wyatt," Ava said, a bitter tone in her voice. "But, wait, you said that Deena killed Malcolm. If she was working for Wyatt-"

"She was aiming for Cassie," Chris replied, "and Malcolm jumped in the way, trying to protect her. He got hit with an energy ball; he was incinerated instantly."

"How did Deena die?" Sam prompted, gently, when Chris fell silent.

"X had me in her sights," Chris told them. "I moved out of the way when I saw her getting ready to attack, I got behind Deena – she was slow," he said, still puzzled. "X is never slow, but, she slipped up, and she killed Deena instead of me. And then she ran."

"Maybe she knew she was outnumbered with you, Lew, and Cassie there," Christy commented. "Decided that discretion was her best bet, and ran away to lick her wounds."

"She didn't have any wounds," Chris shot back. "Honestly, I have no idea why she ran away. She could have easily killed us all."

"Maybe she didn't want to kill you," Leo spoke up, for the first time. He closed his book as he came over to the rest of the group, a pensive look on his face. "Maybe she was never aiming at you. Maybe she was aiming at Deena the whole time."

"Right," Chris scoffed, in disbelief. "Wyatt's second in command, his most trusted lieutenant, just happens to be secretly working for our side. I don't think so."

"You said it, yourself," Leo replied, calmly. "She killed Deena, who betrayed us. Killed her own demon. X doesn't miss."

Chris shook his head, frustrated. "It doesn't make any sense," he told Leo. "X is completely loyal to Wyatt. She would never turn on him."

"Maybe she's not," Leo said, and Chris practically growled at the cryptic tone in his father's voice. "When Malcolm died," Leo went on, "did you actually see a body?"

"What part of completely incinerated was unclear?" Chris snapped, but he found himself talking to thin air when Leo orbed away in the middle of their conversation. "Yeah," he muttered, under his breath. "It was nice talking to you, too, Dad."

Chapter Two

Leo orbed to the top of the Golden Gate Bridge to find someone waiting for him. X was an enigma. To Wyatt, she was a friend and ally. To the Resistance, she was the enemy. But, every time Leo looked at her, all he saw was Paige's lost little girl.

X had her arms crossed over her chest as she stared out at the water, seeming to ignore his presence as he orbed in behind her.

"You know," she remarked, idly, without turning around, "I could turn you into Wyatt right now, and I'd have his trust for life."

"You won't," Leo said, quietly, getting a shrug from the younger woman.

"I might," she commented. "The bounty on your head is surpassed only by your son's. Excuse me," she added, an insincere tone in her voice. "Your other son."

"If you were going to turn me in," Leo pointed out, "we wouldn't still be talking. I would already be in chains."

"Maybe I'm lulling you into a false sense of security," X suggested. She finally turned around to look at him, an amused expression on her face. "What can I help you with, Elder?"

"Malcolm Montana-Calloway," Leo told her. "I want him back."

X affected a surprised look, raising an eyebrow at him. "I would have thought that you would have heard, by now," she said. "Your little projector is dead."

"Now, see, I just don't believe you," Leo replied, undaunted. "Malcolm was ten years old, X. You don't go after kids. You never have."

"I didn't fire the kill shot," X reminded him.

"No," Leo agreed. "But, you remotely orbed him out of the house, didn't you?" X actually blinked at his words, and Leo allowed himself a small smile. "It takes a powerful demon to create an energy ball strong enough to instantly incinerate a human being. Someone like Deena, who's only been evil for, what, a month at most? She's not going to be able to generate that kind of firepower. You, however, could orb Malcolm to safety, and ignite the air in his wake. Simple matter for someone with your skill."

X shrugged, but she didn't immediately refute his words. Leo knew that he was on the right track.

"Where's Malcolm?" he pressed, insistently.

X glared at him, energy crackling at her fingertips as she flexed her hands into fists. It was such a Paige gesture that Leo felt his breath catch in his throat. Her green eyes sparked with anger, but Leo refused to back down. She wasn't going to hurt him; he would already be dead if that was her plan.

"The kid's safe," she finally, grudgingly, told him.

"Where?" Leo repeated.

"Somewhere safe," X told him, with a stubborn tilt of her chin. "Somewhere that your people – or Wyatt – will never find him."

"We want the same thing," Leo tried. "We want to keep Malcolm safe, too."

"No," X spit at him, "you want to turn him into a soldier. You want to take him, and his amazing power, and you want to turn him into a weapon. You want to turn him into a killer."

"We do?" Leo ventured, carefully. "Or Wyatt does?"

"What does it matter?" X asked, a bitter tone in her voice. "In this, you're all the same."

"I'm fighting to save the world from Wyatt," Leo pointed out.

"You turned one son against the other," X accused him, and Leo fought to keep from flinching, at the words that hit far too close to home. "You're destroying one son to try and save the other."

Leo tried to remind himself that X was psychic, that she was deliberately using his doubts and fears against him, but it was hard not to deny the truth in her words. He'd already ruined Chris's life, in ways his son would never even know, and nothing he did could ever make up for it.

'It would serve you right,' a little voice whispered in his mind, 'if he hated you, forever.' Leo gave the telepath an impassive look as he determinedly pushed her out of his mind.

"Struck a nerve, did I?" X smirked at him, but Leo wasn't going to let her get to him.

"Why didn't you kill Chris?" he wanted to know. "Why kill Deena, instead? She was on your side."

"I was aiming at your son," X protested. Leo shook his head.

He already had a pretty good idea why X would never hurt Chris. Her psychic abilities, as well as the Whitelighter half she ruthlessly tried to suppress, identified Chris as family on a subconscious, soul-deep level. She was connected to Chris, even if she didn't understand how, and that connection made her hesitate every time they met. He'd seen it happen before, between the two of them, with X sparing Chris on other occasions, and Chris displaying the same, odd reluctance to strike out at X. They couldn't, wouldn't, hurt each other.

"If you'd really been aiming at Chris," Leo told her, "I'd be burying my baby boy, right now. You don't miss."

"So, I took out a demon," X said, with a shrug. "Are you really complaining?"

"We could have tried to save her," Leo commented.

"No," X refuted. "There was something twisted in that girl, something the demons broke when they kidnapped her as a baby. What you rescued was a shell of who she might have been."

"So, you vanquished her," Leo remarked.

"Part of my job is protecting Wyatt from all threats," X told him. "Including his own bad judgment. He thought the girl could be trusted. She would have turned on us as easily as she turned on you. I took care of her before she could become a threat to either of us. You're welcome," she added, with a small smile. After a moment, she went on, "This is usually the part where you say thank you."

"Thank you," Leo parroted, dryly. "Thank you for saving Malcolm," he added, softer. "Thank you for sparing those kids. Thank you for letting my son come home to me."

X inclined her head in a silent acknowledgement. She went back to staring pensively out at the water, but she didn't immediately shimmer away from him. Leo stood on his side of the tower, watching her.

"You could come home," he finally suggested, his tone gentle.

"I have no home with you," X said, her voice flat and toneless.

"You could," Leo entreated. "It's still not too late. Pax-"

"Don't," the younger woman interrupted him, her voice sharp with anger. "Don't call me that. That person is dead."

"She's still alive," Leo corrected her. "In the one who saved a child, who spared my son's life. She's just buried."

"Dead," X snapped, furiously. "Stay away from me, Elder. Or I will turn you in, next time. Do not test my mercy."

She shimmered away without another word, and Leo sighed, his shoulders slumping. After a moment, he orbed back to Valhalla.

Chris was sitting with Josh, Cole, Sam, and Ava at the table. They were all clustered around the maps, Josh gesturing emphatically as he talked. Chris very pointedly ignored Leo's arrival into the meeting hall, his gaze fixed squarely on the book open in front of him. Leo supposed that he deserved that.

"All the time travel spells we have access to are crap," Cole said, by way of greeting, and Leo groaned.

They'd lost the Book of Shadows to Wyatt, when he'd claimed his magical heritage in the beginning of his reign. Apparently, whatever Warren witch had enchanted the Book to protect itself against evil had never stopped to consider the possibility of a descendant being evil, and now the Book was squarely out of their reach. And all of its spells, with it.

"Well," he replied, "they're kind of all we've got, so we have to make due the best we can."

"Can't you just write a new one?" Ava asked, curiously.

Leo was confused for a moment, and then he was sharply reminded that Romani magic didn't depend on spells the way that Wiccan magic did. Their magic incorporated some spells, but not nearly the scope and breadth that witches used them for. Ava had probably never even written a spell of her own, had never seen any need to.

"It's not quite that easy," he explained. "Writing a spell isn't as simple as stringing together a bunch of rhyming words."

From the way Ava's arms were folded across her chest, and the raised eyebrow she gave him, that had come out a lot more condescending than he'd intended. Leo shot a quick glance over at Cole, but his brother in law just shook his head, raising his hands in silent surrender. You dug this hole, and you can climb out on your own, he seemed to be saying.

Leo supposed that he deserved that, too.

"There's a reason it's called spellcraft," he tried again, but that wasn't going to come out any better than his first attempt.

"Spells are complicated," Chris spoke up, into the silence that followed Leo's aborted attempt at an explanation. "They don't have to rhyme, but the whole rhyming thing started because it's easier to keep the tempo, that way. You've got to make sure to say everything you want to happen, like an instruction manual, and you've got to be completely specific, or someone's going to wind up with an ear growing out of their forehead."

"Again," Josh interrupted him, a teasing note in his voice, and Chris turned just far enough to stick his tongue out at his cousin.

"And the more you complex the task you're trying to accomplish," Chris continued, as if Josh hadn't even spoken, "the more complicated the spell is going to be. If you want to create a burst of wind, or light something on fire, that's easy. You're just accelerating the natural process of something that has the potential to happen. But, things don't usually explode for no reason, or spontaneously change color, and so those kinds of spells are going to be harder. The wording has to be more precise, more deliberate."

"And when you're trying to do something that never occurs naturally," Josh said, "like time travel, then you've got to be meticulous. There's no room for errors, because you could wind up off by five minutes, five months, or five thousand years. Or you could reform inside a wall, or into a place where there is no air. And that's if the spell backfire doesn't just rip you to pieces, first."

Ava looked slightly green when they'd finished. Probably the whole 'rip you to pieces' part; she was a surgeon, and she wouldn't have to work too hard to imagine what that would look like.

"So, no writing your own spell, then," she said, faintly.

"Not without putting a few hundred hours into it, first," Chris confirmed.

Ava shook her head, looking confused. "So, wait a minute. If it's so dangerous to attempt brand-new time travel spells, then how did any of the spells in the Book ever get written?"

"You've heard of the experimental method?" Cole asked, wryly. "They experimented. Hours and hours of testing and refining their spells on things like fruit, and books, and whatever else they could get their hands on. Demons do the same thing when creating their spells," he added, when he got surprised looks from everyone else in the room. "They just prefer experimenting on lesser demons."

"Okay, we won't be doing that," Ava declared, as if anyone had even been thinking of it. "Which begs the question, what spell will you be using? If all the spells we have are crap-"

"So, we won't use a spell," Leo spoke up. When everyone looked over at him, he added, "I'm still an Avatar."

"You're one Avatar, without a Collective," Cole reminded him. "Even if you could muster enough power to send Josh and Chris into the past, you have no way of controlling where they'll end up."

"Well, I'm not willing to risk their safety to an inaccurate spell," Leo shot back, "and if we take the time to create a specialized one, we run the risk of being found and killed."

"Maybe it won't be that risky to use a spell," Chris suggested. "Josh and I were talking about it, and we're not really going that far back. I mean, we just need to go back to when Wyatt turned, right? It's not even ten years."

"Actually," Leo sighed, "I think you're going to have to go back further than that."

"How much further?" Josh asked, skeptically.

"Twenty years or so," Leo replied. "Back to when Wyatt was still a baby." He sighed, heavily, thinking. "Wyatt was a target for evil, even before he was born," he explained. "And after, demons wanted to kill him, turn him, or use him as a source of power. For a while, there, there wasn't a week where we weren't fending off some kind of attack. And that kind of thing, the trauma it causes, it can have a lasting effect."

"You think Wyatt's corruption has been building over the years?" Cole asked, and Leo nodded.

"Everything that's happened to Wyatt," he said, "the Cult of the Destroyer, Paige's death, Piper's death, he's been sliding toward evil this whole time, and I didn't notice until it was too late."

"We're going to fix it," Cole said, clapping Leo on the shoulder. "Are you sure you can harness enough power to send them back?"

"I can draw on my connection to the other Elders," Leo told them. "It's not the same kind of power as the Avatar Collective, but it should be enough."

"What about getting back?" Chris asked, but Josh waved away his concern with a wave of his hand.

"Return spells are the easy part," he replied. "It's getting back that's going to be tough." He cast an expectant look at Leo.

"I've got you covered," Leo reassured him. "Leave the time travel up to me. You guys just focus on saving Wyatt."

Then, before he could lose his nerve, or change his mind, Leo held his hands out in front of him. Soft, golden energy flowed from his hands, knitting a pattern in the air. Sweat beaded on his brow as he concentrated, focusing on making the magic bend to his will.

It was harder than he'd anticipated; he hadn't drawn on his Avatar powers since the day he'd helped destroy Utopia, destroy the rest of the Collective, and it burned to use that magic, like exercising a muscle that had atrophied. But, he forced himself to move past the pain. There was too much at stake for him to slip up for even a second.

Finally, a glowing portal floated in the middle of the meeting hall. Exhausted, he let his hands fall to his sides, careful not to dispel the portal with the movement.

"There you go," he said, slumping against the wall behind him for a moment. "One portal to the past."

"Guess there's nothing left to do but step through," Chris said, eyeing the portal like he thought it was going to bite him.

"The magic works through willpower, so you need to focus on when you want to go back to," Leo told him, getting a nod from Josh. His son wasn't even looking at him, his attention solely on the portal.

"Chris," Leo said, abruptly, stopping his son before he could disappear through the portal, "can we talk for a second?"

"Sure," Chris agreed, after a moment of hesitation, following Leo to a quiet corner of the room. "What's up?" he asked, when they were alone.

"I-" Leo started, but then he hesitated, torn.

There was so much that he wanted to tell his son, so much that he deserved to know. The truth about his mother, about X, about how Leo had been lying to him for almost his entire life. But the words caught in his throat. Telling Chris the truth now, no matter how well deserved, would tear apart everything he thought he knew about his life. And it could distract him, put him in danger in some, critical moment. And Leo couldn't do that to him.

But, if he didn't tell him, Chris would go on living a lie. And if the truth finally came out – when, Leo corrected himself, bitterly, because of course it would come out – Chris would hate him. Paige and Piper would hate him.

And then there was always the chance, remote though it may be, that by going into the past, Chris would alter things enough that he would never be conceived in the first place. And the thought of losing his son made Leo's heart stop in his chest.

"Hey," Chris said, abruptly, breaking into Leo's thoughts. "What's wrong? Josh and I need to get going."

"It's time travel," Josh teased, overhearing Chris's comment. "It's not like we're going to be late."

"Nosy," Chris shot back, and from the way Josh laughed, it was clear that they were continuing an old argument. "So, what did you need?" he prompted, turning his attention back to Leo.

Leo could practically feel his courage deserting him in the face of Chris's impatience. He opened his mouth, but the words died on his tongue. Chris heaved a sigh when Leo stayed silent, flicking his gaze over Leo's shoulder to where Josh was waiting for him. His fingers drummed impatiently on his bicep, his arms crossed over his chest, and there was a barely disguised annoyance on his face. It was an expression that was all-too-common when he looked at his father.

Leo knew that he was to blame for the distance between himself and his youngest son. And he had no idea how to heal the cracks in their relationship.

Chris sighed, again, reminding Leo that he was still waiting. Leo wracked his mind for something, anything, that would be plausible for calling Chris over, and he remembered his conversation with X.

"Malcolm's alive," he blurted out, and surprise flashed across Chris's face before it smoothed away into practiced neutrality.

"I saw-" he argued, and Leo shook his head, cutting him off.

"What you saw was the air igniting in the wake of his teleport," he explained. "Malcolm's not dead. He's safe."

"Where?" Chris asked, shortly, and Chris breathed a quiet sigh of relief that Chris at least trusted him that much, that he believed that Malcolm was alive.

"I'm working on that one," Leo promised him.

"I promised Malcolm that I would keep him safe," Chris said, something like pain flashing briefly across his face, before it was gone as quickly as it had appeared.

"I know," Leo told him. "Chris, I swear, I'm going to find Malcolm and I'm going to bring him back here. I swear."

Chris looked doubtful, but he finally nodded. "Thanks for telling me," he said, gruffly. "I've got to go."

Spinning on his heel, he stalked away from Leo without another word. He joined Josh at the portal, and they went through, shoulder to shoulder, disappearing into the golden energy.

"Stay safe," Leo whispered, watching his son go. "I love you."

Chapter Three

September, 2002

Previously on:

Paige watched Piper and Leo orb out of the attic, still laughing, and then she made a beeline for the Book. The pages were already flipping, and when she reached the lectern, it was already open to the blood to blood summoning spell.

"Thanks, Prue," Paige murmured, as she grabbed the notepad they kept near the Book, scribbling down the words of the spell. "Hang on, Pax. I'm coming, baby. I'm coming."


Paige strapped a dagger into the sheath on her left arm, making sure the straps were secure before she pulled her sleeve down. She was similarly outfitted with half a dozen other weapons that she'd raided from the cache; she didn't want to have to use any of them, praying that Pax's rescue went smoothly, and she was able to get her daughter out of the Underworld without any kind of incident. But, she was also a realist, and she knew that whatever demon had taken her daughter wasn't likely to release his hold on her, lightly.

And she was more than ready to fight for her child's life.

When Leo orbed into the attic, she glanced up briefly from the explosion potion she was bottling. "Hey."

"Hey, yourself," Leo returned. "I was going to ask you if you wanted to come with me when I went to talk to the Elders, but it looks like you're already busy." He eyed the ingredients spread out on the low table, brows knitting together as he ran through possible combinations in his mind. "Um, that's some firepower you've got there. You're not planning on starting a war sometime soon, are you?"

"Not unless they want one," Paige replied, absently.

In return, she got a raised eyebrow from Leo, along with the Look she'd learned to give her own charges, the one that said, "I am your wise and all-knowing Whitelighter, and I Do Not Approve of whatever you're about to do." Unfortunately for Leo, Paige bought it from him about as well as her charges bought it from her. That was his fault, though, for teaching it to her in the first place.

"Who are they?" Leo finally asked, when the Look did nothing to sway her.

Paige glanced up at him and hesitated. Her first instinct, as it had been ever since Pax's disappearance, was to hide her little girl's memory away where she didn't have to think about how much it hurt. But, that was when she thought Pax was gone forever, when she wasn't about to get her back. And this was Leo, the man who'd walked her through her guilt over her parents' death, who'd taught her how to be a Whitelighter. If she couldn't trust him…

"They are the demons that kidnapped my daughter," Paige said, slowly, waiting for Leo's reaction.

And she had to admit that she was a little disappointed. While she hadn't really been expecting him to fall on the floor in a dead faint, a little shock wouldn't have been out of place. Instead, Leo didn't even seem fazed by her announcement.

"Leo?" she prompted, curiously, and Leo shrugged.

"I've been your Whitelighter for years," he reminded her. "I got you assigned as a charge shortly after Pax was kidnapped."

"But, not before?" Paige asked, and Leo shook his head.

"I didn't know about you, or her, until after," he said, quietly. "Believe me, Paige, if you'd been my charge before, I would have protected you both. I swear." Looking down at the table again, he added, "I take it from the arsenal that you've found the demons who took Pax?"

"Even better," Paige replied, savoring the confused look that flashed momentarily across Leo's face. "I found Pax. Well, I don't know exactly where she is," she hastened to add. "But, I'm going to use the same tracking spell that I used to find Josh, and I'm her mother, which makes the connection even stronger-"

"Paige-" She heard Leo's weak protest, but she was so excited, she barely even heard him.

"You could come with me," she said, quickly warming to the idea. "I could use the backup, and I know you're a pacifist, but if things go south, you can orb Pax out of the Underworld while I hold the demons off-"

"Paige!" He was louder, this time, and Paige stopped in the middle of her ramble to look over at Leo. He had a pained look on his face. "Paige, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. Pax is gone."

"No," Paige told him, refusing to let his words deter her. "No, see I thought that, too, but in the alternate universe, Pax was alive. I saw her; I had her in my arms. She's alive here, too, Leo."

"No," Leo said, regretfully, shaking his head. "She's not. Paige, believe me, I wish she was. I would do anything to be able to bring your daughter back to you. But I can't. She's gone."

"You don't know that." The denial sprang automatically to Paige's lips, even as Leo's words sent a spike of pain straight to her heart. "The Underworld is – is huge, and even Cole doesn't know everywhere that's down there, and he's been there for a hundred years-" Tears choked her throat, making it hard to talk.

"Paige," Leo said, his voice unbearably gentle, "some of my charges, the few I could trust, knew that another charge had lost a child to the Underworld. They were on the lookout for anything that might lead me to Pax, and a few years ago, a charge in South Africa found a body in one of the uninhabited sections."

"It might not be her," Paige protested, getting a sympathetic look from Leo.

"I performed the detection spells, myself," he told her, quietly. "I used your blood. Do you remember when your dishwasher was on the fritz, and I fixed it-"

"And I cut my hand on a broken glass," Paige finished for him, heavily. "But, that was when I first moved into my apartment."

"I kept the handkerchief that I'd wrapped your hand up in," Leo replied. "I actually broke that glass, deliberately," he confessed, sounding a little sheepish. "I couldn't exactly come right out and ask you for some blood, you would have called the cops. So, I fudged a little."

"I want to see her," Paige demanded, glaring at Leo when he shook his head, quickly. "Leo-"

"Paige, no," he protested. "You don't want to see this. Trust me. You don't."

"She's my daughter," Paige insisted.

"I know," Leo said. "I know. But, Paige, you shouldn't see her like this. You should remember her as you last saw her."

"The last time I saw Pax," Paige snapped, tears welling in her eyes, "she was dying in my arms in an alternate universe!"

Stumbling blindly away from the table, Paige sank onto the couch and buried her face in her hands. The cushions sank down as Leo sat down next to her, wrapping am arm around her shoulders. Paige leaned against him, pressing her face against his shoulder, but the tears refused to fall.

"Why didn't you ever tell me?" she finally whispered, pulling away from Leo to look plaintively at him. "Or, Prue, Piper, and Phoebe. If you had people looking, why not them? The most powerful witches in the world?"

"I wasn't allowed," Leo said, with a sigh. "I wanted to. But, I wasn't allowed."

"I don't understand," Paige said, confused.

"I was prevented by the Elders," Leo told her, regret heavy in his voice. "Before Penny's death, she'd asked me to look after her family, including you. Per her wishes, I was going to seal the Book away, so that your sisters would never gain their powers. But, I was found out.

"I was approached by two of the senior-most Elders on the council, and they knew what I was planning. They wouldn't let me hide the Book, claiming that it interfered with your sisters' destiny. And the same went for telling them about you, and vice versa. When I challenged them on it, Zola threatened to have my soul recycled. He cited the Greater Good."

"Greater Good?" Paige echoed, something buzzing faintly at the back of her mind. "That – that sounds familiar. Oh, my god," she gasped, a moment later, and Leo looked alarmed.

"What's wrong?" he asked, and Paige bolted upright in her seat.

"Zola," she asked him, urgently. "Big guy, black, white robes?"

"That was Zola," Leo confirmed, slowly, and Paige swore under her breath as the memories trickled back, slowly.

"That son of a bitch took Pax," she told him, watching Leo's eyes widen in surprise. "I – it was a few months after she went missing, and I was in Golden Gate Park, and she was there. My baby girl was there, and then this, this man took her away. And then he – he told me that I would never see her again. That it was for the Greater Good."

"Zola." Now it was Leo's turn to swear, vibrantly and with words in several languages Paige didn't know that he knew. "Damn him. Zola's dead," he added, in response to the question that Paige didn't think she could bring herself to ask. "I confronted him about Pax; he wouldn't admit to having anything to do with her disappearance, but he told me that if I tried to have any contact with you, then I would be recycled. He was dead the next day."

"Why would an Elder take my daughter?" Paige demanded. "I could understand a demon, but an Elder?"

"I don't know," Leo replied, sounding frustrated. "I don't know if he was working alone, or with someone, or why he would possibly want to take your daughter away from you."

Paige stared down at the floor, like she was going to find the answer hidden in the floorboards. Then, something horrible occurred to her, and she desperately prayed that she was wrong.

"What if he was working with demons?" she suggested.

Once again, though, Leo didn't look surprised by her revelation. Instead, he looked resigned.

"I've always suspected," he told her, quietly. "The way Zola acted before he died, why he would even think of endangering a child like that-"

"But, why would an Elder work with a demon?" Paige interrupted him, distress tingeing her tone. "And why Pax? Why my baby?"

"I don't know," Leo replied. "Penny suspected that it was because you're a Halliwell, and half-Whitelighter on top of it. A child with that kind of magical heritage would be-"

He broke off, a blush coloring his cheeks, but Paige could hear the words he hadn't spoken.

"Would be a valuable commodity, right?" she finished, softly. "Pax would have grown to be a powerful witch; they would have wanted to use her power for themselves. But, then why would they kill her? She was alive in the other universe."

"Maybe they didn't intend to kill her," Leo said. "Maybe it was an accident, or-"

"I can't do this," Paige said, abruptly, her words coming out in a rush. "I'm sorry, but I can't-"

"Hey," Leo said, gently, cutting her off as she started to hyperventilate. "Breathe, okay?" He had his hands on her shoulders, and she glanced up to see concern reflected in his eyes. "You're okay."

"I'm not," Paige insisted, automatically, but she didn't pull away from Leo. Instead, she leaned forward as he wrapped his arms around her, letting some of his warmth and strength leech into her chilled skin.

"You should get out of here for a while," Leo suggested, gently, after a few minutes. "Take off, go somewhere to clear your head, think."

Paige nodded, wordlessly. Lifting her head from where it had fallen on Leo's shoulder, she pulled away from his loose embrace.

"Thank you for telling me," she said, only faltering a little bit over the difficult words. She started slowly, methodically stripped off the weapons she'd armed herself with, placing them carefully on the table. "I – I know it had to have been hard."

"Paige-" Leo started, but she shook her head, cutting him off. Tears blinding her, she orbed out of the attic.

She didn't keep track of where she orbed. She moved from place to place, never staying in one spot for very long, not giving anything around her time to sink in. She just kept orbing, over and over for hours, until she was completely exhausted. She could barely keep her eyes open, swayed on her feet as she tried to stay upright.

'Home,' she thought, the word coming sluggishly to her, and she orbed again without consciously thinking about it.

When she reformed, she wasn't in her bedroom in the Manor. Instead, she was standing in the middle of Henry's apartment. She stared down at the couch in front of her, at the thick blanket that Sharon had crocheted for Henry, bright colors swirling into each other in front of her tired eyes. She was so cold.

Paige laid down on the couch before she could think about what she was doing, toeing her shoes off and pulling the blanket over her shoulders, smelling Henry on the warm, soft material. She rested her head on the armrest, letting her eyes fall closed, and she was asleep within seconds.


Henry yawned as he juggled bags of groceries with the keys to his apartment. Unlocking his door, he flicked his wrist and tossed the keys into the air, grinning happily when they landed neatly in one of the bags.


Chuckling, he managed a quick twist of the doorknob that opened the door without spilling any of the bags, and then he nudged it shut behind him when he stepped into the dark apartment. The latch clicked shut, and he managed to use his elbow to nudge the lock into place. But, no amount of contortions would allow him to flick the light on without dropping the groceries, and he eventually just picked his way slowly through the dark apartment to the kitchen.

He put his groceries away, quickly, the light from the fridge dying after he'd shut the door, plunging the room back into darkness. It also muffled the low hum of the fridge motor, and he was acutely aware of how silent his apartment had suddenly become.

As he made his way through the darkness to the living room, still not bothering with the light, Henry wondered if he should get a dog. He'd never had one as a kid, and it would be nice to have someone to come home to at night, someone who lit up when he walked into the room. Even if that someone was covered in fur, and had a cold nose.

But, then, he didn't have the biggest apartment, and even a small dog would start to feel cooped up, especially with his long hours at work. And it wasn't like a dog could learn to use a toilet, so he was either looking at hiring a dog walking service, which would likely be expensive, or crating the poor thing the whole day, and cleaning up a lot of messes.

Okay, so a dog was out. Maybe if he ever got some actual free time on his hands, but not right now. But, he could still get a cat. Cats were independent, they tended to take care of themselves when their people weren't around. And if he got two, they could amuse each other when he was gone, and a litter box would solve the whole cleaning issue-

Henry grinned, energized by the thought. He couldn't wait to drag Paige out to the shelter with him, that weekend, and listen to her try to convince him to take home every kitten in the place. Not that he suspected she'd have to try very hard. He was sure if he looked hard enough, he'd find the perfect cat, and then he'd have someone to come home to, at night, someone who curled up on the couch while waiting for him to come home.

Kind of like the blanket-covered figure currently occupying his couch.

Henry moved cautiously toward the couch, but he wasn't too worried. He didn't think a burglar would be so stupid as to fall asleep in the apartment while trying to rob him, but then, he'd heard some stories from patrol officers that highlighted the sheer stupidity of the criminal element.

'Just my luck,' Henry thought, wryly, 'I'm going to wind up with the only narcoleptic crook in San Francisco.'

Reaching out, he twitched the edge of the blanket away from the figure, and then he stared, dumbfounded, down at Paige's sleeping form, bathed in the moonlight coming from the window. He was taken aback by the very obvious tear tracks on her cheeks, and the red, puffy skin under her eyes. Something was wrong.

He didn't think it was anything with her sisters. If something had happened to Piper or Phoebe, Leo would have called and warned him. But, he knew whatever it was, it was nothing good, not if it drove Paige to his dark apartment in tears.

Crouching down next to the couch, Henry carded his fingers gently through Paige's short hair, feeling her stir under his hand. "Paige? Hey, sweetie, are you awake?"

Paige blinked at him, eyes fluttering open. "Henry?"

"Hey," he repeated, as she focused on him. "Are you okay?"

Paige was silent for several long moments, and then she shook her head, her eyes falling shut. "No," she finally whispered.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Henry ventured, getting another head shake, Paige not even lifting her head from the couch. "Okay," he said, softly, in reply.

He nudged Paige's shoulder, and she sat up, slowly, her movements sluggish as if she was still half asleep. Sitting down beside her, Henry moved his seat into a reclining position, and Paige curled up against him with her head on his chest. He could feel minute tremors wracking her body, turning into full-blown sobs, and he wrapped his arms around her, pulling the blanket around them both.

"Okay," he murmured, again, as she let the tears flow. "Okay."

Chapter Four

It was dark when Paige orbed into the kitchen, and she breathed a quiet sigh of relief when she didn't see anyone. She just didn't feel strong enough to deal with her family, right now, especially Piper. She hadn't meant to avoid Piper for two weeks, but she'd been busy, and with one thing after another, things just happened.

She'd been assigned two new charges, a pair of teenage witches living in middle-of-nowhere Alaska with their aunt, after their parents had been killed years earlier in a demon attack. Paige was actually the third Whitelighter to be assigned to Christy and Billie Jenkins, and the ones who'd come before her had warned her about the girls, telling her that they were impossible to deal with. Paige honestly didn't see the problem; Christy was quiet, and tended to keep more to herself, and Billie was more outgoing. And both girls were eager to learn about magic, soaking in everything she had to teach them. Paige could actually see a lot of herself in the two of them.

Of course, maybe that was the problem.

Along with her official charges, Paige had also been helping Henry with a couple of his parolees, working with Leo to hone her Whitelighter abilities, and spending some much-needed time with Sam whenever she could. And all of that kept her away from the Manor – and away from the sister who was a carbon copy for the monster who'd murdered Pax.

Despite her words to Josh, she really wasn't okay. Every time she looked at Piper, all she could see was the Source of All Evil. It wasn't Piper's fault; she'd had nothing to do with her evil counterpart, and rationally, Paige knew that. But, it was a long way from knowing to accepting, and her heart was far from rational.

Paige shook herself out of her melancholy thoughts as she reached into the cupboard above her to grab a glass. She filled the glass half-full from the tap and had just taken a sip when a light suddenly went on above her head. Paige reacted instinctively, orbing out of the kitchen before she'd even realized what she was doing. She reformed in the dining room, sans glass of water, and she figured the glass was now broken in shards all over the tile floor.

Her fight or flight response was still in overdrive, every nerve screaming at her to "Go, go, go!", although she wasn't entirely sure if the impulse had her heading back into the kitchen, or away from it. But, then common sense overrode the baser panic that had momentarily seized her, and she realized that if she was really being attacked by a demon, it probably wouldn't have bothered with turning on the light, first.

Once her heart had stopped racing, Paige walked back into the kitchen. She found Piper leaning against the counter, a bowl of pistachio ice cream in her hands. She polished off the bit on her spoon before looking up at Paige, a guarded expression on her face.

"Oh, hey," she greeted, and Paige was surprised to hear caution under the warmth in her sister's voice. "You came back."

"Yeah," Paige said, feeling like she was missing something. "You startled me, that's all."

Piper gave her a wan look. "I thought you were still mad at me, or something," she remarked.

"Mad at you?" Paige echoed, confused for a second, and then she got it.

Of course Piper would realize that something was wrong, realize that Paige was avoiding her. She wasn't stupid, after all. And, being Piper, she would have immediately confronted Paige about it – if Paige hadn't been everywhere but home for the last couple of weeks.

"Piper, I'm not mad at you," Paige insisted, getting a skeptical look from her older sister.

"You're not mad at me," she echoed, in a tone that suggested that she wasn't quite sure she believed Paige. "There hasn't been something I've said, something I've done-"

"No," Paige protested, interrupting her, and it was the truth. She wasn't mad at Piper, she was mad at someone who her sister could never, would never, become, and she needed to work harder to remind herself of that. "Piper, I swear, I am not mad at you. I've just been busy."

"You, and Prue, and Phoebe-" There was a small smile on Piper's face, a teasing tone that made Paige relax.

"Oh, please," Paige shot back, playfully. "Don't think I didn't hear you using that same excuse to get out of prenatal yoga with Ava." She swiped Piper's spoon, snuck a bite of the green ice cream, and then wrinkled her nose. "Okay, how can you stand to eat that stuff?"

"No mocking the pregnant woman's cravings," Piper said, primly, stealing her spoon back from Paige. "You and Phoebe agreed."

"Yeah, well, that agreement went out the window the day you decided that you wanted deep fried Oreos, " Paige told her.

"They were good," Piper insisted, and Paige rolled her eyes.

"Hey," she said, a second later, "you want to see something cool?"

"Like what?" Piper asked, her tone guarded, but there was curiosity in her expression, rather than suspicion.

"You'll see," Paige told her, and then she grabbed her sister's arm and orbed them out of the house.

They emerged on a flat, grassy area surrounded by trees on three sides. The sky above them was dark and open, no clouds in sight. They could see for miles.

"Where are we?" Piper asked.

"Not in California," Paige replied, shrugging. Shooting Piper a look, she added, "Does it really matter?"

"I guess not," Piper conceded, after a moment. She eased herself down to the ground with a soft groan, and Paige sat down beside her. "So, what are we doing out here?"

"You'll see," Paige grinned, and then she laughed, ducking when Piper swatted at her.

Paige settled herself into a comfortable pose on the grass, and Piper leaned against her side. They sat in silence for a few minutes, and Paige could tell that Piper was fighting the urge to demand, again, to know what they were doing out there. She stayed silent, though, knowing that the surprise was going to be worth the anticipation.

And she knew that she was right when the first meteor started falling toward Earth, and Piper's eyes widened in surprise. She let out a delighted gasp as the sky was illuminated with a brilliant light.

"This is amazing," Piper told her, happily.

"I love meteor showers," Paige replied, wistfully. "When I was a kid, my dad would get a couple weeks of vacation every year, and my parents could never agree on what we should do. So, for one week, we stayed at a nice hotel, and did something fun and touristy for my dad, and then the next week, we would go camping out in Mount Tamalpais for my mom."

"Sounds like fun," Piper commented, and Paige nodded.

"It was a blast," she said, smiling in fond remembrance. "My mom was an astronomy buff, and we always brought her telescope to stargaze. She used to tell me this story about how falling stars were how angels came down from Heaven. And I-"

'I used to tell Pax the same story,' she thought, but she couldn't say it out loud. She couldn't force the words past the hard lump that had formed in her throat.

"You what?" Piper prompted, curiously. Paige shook her head, a little frantically.

"Nothing," she said, hastily, surreptitiously wiping the tears away from her eyes. "Hey, make a wish," she added, quickly, catching a flash of light out of the corner of her eye.

She looked up as a bright star passed in front of them, and her hands clenched into fists at her sides.

'One more chance,' she thought, staring up at the sky. 'That's all I want; just a chance to fix everything I've screwed up. Just one.'

The meteor disappeared, and Paige let out the breath she'd been holding. Hot tears pricked at her eyes, and she pressed her lips into a tight line to keep them at bay. Disappointment swamped her in a wave, and she had to fight the urge to curl in a tiny, miserable ball.

Then, the world suddenly went white in front of her eyes. Paige instinctively reached out, snagging Piper's hand and holding on tightly. Her heart was pounding wildly in her chest as she reeled, feeling like the world was falling out from underneath her.

Then, she abruptly slammed into the ground, the air driven out of her in a rush. She blinked in the sudden, too-bright sunlight, looking around. To her relief, she was still holding onto Piper's hand, but that was the only thing that made sense.

"What the hell?" she demanded, taking in the familiar scenery of Golden Gate Park. "How'd we end up here?"

She glanced over at Piper, not really expecting her sister to be able to provide an answer. But, Piper was staring around the park with a dismayed look on her face, and Paige started to get a bad feeling in the pit of her stomach. A feeling that intensified when Piper turned the dismayed look on her.

"Oops," she said, sheepishly, and Paige stared at her in disbelief.

"Oops," she echoed, an incredulous tone in her voice. "Piper, what did you wish for?"

Chapter Five

"Piper?" Paige prompted, when her sister was silent for far too long. "Did you make a wish?"

"Yeah," Piper said, in a small voice that sounded eerily like Phoebe's baby-talk. Paige spared a moment to wonder if the trait was genetic – and how she could avoid it if it was.

"And did you then tap into your unborn baby's powers to make your wish come true?" Paige went on.

"Maybe." Piper was actually fidgeting as Paige looked at her. "Hey," she added, defensively, "you told me to make a wish."

"I said make a wish," Paige reiterated, fighting for patience. "I didn't say involve magic!"

"Well, I didn't do it on purpose," Piper grumbled, under her breath.

"Do you know where we are?" Paige asked. "And don't say Golden Gate Park," she added, hastily. "I know we're in Golden Gate Park."

"I don't know," Piper confessed, after a moment. "I mean, I wasn't exactly expecting my wish to come true."

"Which was?" Paige asked, expectantly. "What did you wish for?"

"I-" Piper started, and then she blushed a furious scarlet. "I – mmgghh," she mumbled, incoherently.

"You what?" Paige asked, and Piper sighed.

"I wanted to see if I'm going to be a good mother," she muttered, her words barely more audible than they'd been before, but at least this time Paige could make out her words.

"Piper, of course you're going to be a good mother," Paige protested, automatically. Sighing when Piper didn't look convinced by her words, she glanced around the park. "Well, I guess this means that we're in the future," she remarked.

"Well, we'd have to be, right?" Piper pointed out. "I mean, if I'm supposed to find out what kind of a mother I am – which begs the question, where are we? Our future selves, I mean?"

"No, I know what you mean," Paige told her, looking around. Then, she shrugged and dropped onto a nearby bench, slumping back against the slats.

"What are you doing?" Piper asked, frowning down at her.

"I just spent the day running around after my various charges," Paige informed her. "I'm tired. And I'm going to sit here and wait until our future selves show up."

"What makes you think that they're going to show up, here?" Piper asked.

"We had to have landed in the park for a reason," Paige replied. "This is one of the best people-watching points in this part of the park, it's a beautiful day, sunshine and no clouds, and it's a good day for a picnic."

"You think our future selves are going to come here for a picnic?" Piper asked, skeptically.

"I think that I don't want to have to go traipsing around the city after another set of alternate reality us," Paige stated, flatly. "Been there, done that, brought home the long-lost nephew to prove it. And now I want to sit and wait for the adventure to come to us, for a change."

"Fine," Piper grumbled, as she dropped down onto the bench beside Paige. "But, what if the adventure doesn't come to us?"

"Oh, ye of little faith," Paige retorted. "Tell you what, we give it fifteen minutes, and then I'll orb us to the Manor."

"And we're not orbing now, why?" Piper prompted.

"Because Destiny dumped us here for a reason," Paige informed her.

"And it has nothing to do with the fact that you've spent the last couple of weeks orbing all over the planet?" Piper asked, knowingly.

"It's Destiny," Paige said, insistently, making Piper grin. "Speaking of Destiny," she went on, settling against the back of the bench, "how are things going with Phoebe, Cole, and Josh? I never get to see them, anymore, since they moved out of the Manor and into the penthouse."

"Worst segue ever," Piper laughed at her. "They're fine. Josh started school, and Cole somehow still has his job with Jackman, Carter, and Kline. How is that possible, by the way? Leo never did say what the Elders came up with for a workaround to the whole not-existing problem."

Paige thought about her answer for a moment. "They kind of backdated them into existence," she finally answered. "There are these beings called the Cleaners, and they have the ability to alter reality, and they sort of wrote Cole and Josh into Phoebe's life for the last eight years."

"Eight years," Piper mused, and Paige nodded. "You know what this means?" she added, after a moment.

"What?" Paige asked, curiously.

"If Phoebe and Cole have been together for eight years," Piper said, a small grin creeping over her face, "that means that she dated a demon while Grams was still alive."

Paige snorted out a laugh. "We are in so much trouble the next time we summon her, aren't we?" she asked, and Piper nodded.

"So, these Cleaners-" she prompted a few seconds later.

"They clean up magical messes, prevent exposure issues," Paige told her. "They were created in response to Prue's death," she added, softer, reaching over and squeezing Piper's hand.

"But, if they can change things to write Josh into existence," Piper protested, but Paige shook her head, sadly.

"They can't," she replied. "Believe me, Piper, I've already gone ten rounds with the Elders over this. Leo kind of had to drag me out of the Heavens when the screaming started."

Piper nodded, dejectedly, her shoulders slumping. Paige slung an arm around her shoulders as Piper leaned against her, a tired sigh escaping her lips. About a minute later, she pulled away to look at the empty grass in front of them, her lips pursed in a small frown.

"Are you sure you don't want to go find-" she started, and Paige heaved an exasperated sigh, throwing her hands up in the air.

"Fine," she grumbled. "Let's start walking."

"What happened to orbing to the Manor?" Piper asked.

"I still think we're here in the park for a reason," Paige told her. "Come on. Humor me for a couple of minutes, huh? If we don't find anything, then we'll go to the Manor."

"That's what you said about sitting on the bench," Piper grumbled, but she accepted Paige's hand in getting to her feet, and they started walking slowly through the park.

"Hey," Piper perked up, a couple minutes later, pointing at the parking lot on their left, "there's my Jeep. Well, not my Jeep, since my Jeep is parked in our driveway, but it's-"

"And you complain about my rambling?" Paige broke in, teasingly. Piper stopped talking to glare at her. "But, you're right, though," Paige went on. "That's us sitting over there. And, hey, I guess I don't keep the red hair, after all."

She gestured to her alternate self, who was struggling to lay a thick blanket out on the grass, fighting with the heavy fabric. She turned to say something to Phoebe, who was holding an enormous picnic basket, and Phoebe put the basket down to help her spread the blanket over the ground. Piper was holding the hand of a little girl who was toddling uncertainly on the grass. Paige looked over to see an affectionate smile on her sister's face as she watched her future daughter.

"And Phoebe's blonde, again." Piper frowned, clearly thinking of something, as they watched their alternate selves set up their picnic. "Phoebe swore she was never going blonde, again."

"Piper, you're talking about the same woman who's had at least half a dozen different hairstyles in the time that I've known you," Paige pointed out. "And I'm not counting the time we spent talking her out of cutting all her hair off in that pixie cut."

"The GI Jane phase," Piper said, with a fond grin. "Yeah, you're right. I'm not really surprised that Phoebe would go back to blonde hair. At least it's not platinum," she chuckled. "You should have seen the hairdo Prue was sporting when we went to the future-"

When she trailed off, suddenly, Paige looked over to see an expression of pure shock on her sister's face. Piper wasn't even blinking. Paige waved a hand in front of her face, and Piper instinctively jerked away from her hand, looking over at Paige like she'd forgotten that she was sitting there.

"Do you see that?" Piper asked her, hoarsely.

"See what?" Paige asked, and then she followed Piper's hand as she pointed, her hand shaking in midair. "Oh, my god," she gasped, when she saw what had Piper so stunned.

A very familiar car had pulled into the empty parking spot beside Piper's Jeep. The driver had gotten out, long, black hair flowing loosely around her shoulders. She had a pair of sunglasses perched on the edge of her nose that she distractedly pushed up as she started toward the picnicking group.

"Prue," Paige whispered, just as stunned as Piper. "Do – do you think-"

She couldn't finish the rest of her sentence, but she knew that Piper was thinking the same thing. Did they get Prue back, somehow, in the future? The Elders kept saying that it was impossible, but the Charmed Ones tackled impossible before breakfast, day after day.

"Maybe your yelling at the Elders had more of an impact than you thought," Piper quipped, weakly, and there were tears glistening in her eyes. Paige reached out, blindly, and squeezed her hand, hard.

"Hey, you made it!" Phoebe yelled, waving energetically at Prue from her spot on the grass.

The little girl squealed in delight, pulling her hand out of her mother's and weaving across the grass. Prue scooped her up into her arms, the toddler letting out a happy, burbling laugh. She carried her niece back over to the group, settling down on the grass between Piper and Paige.

"I fast-talked my way out of work, early," Prue said, as she held her niece in her lap, her voice carried across to where they were sitting, although none of them seemed to notice their doppelgangers nearby.

"How'd you manage that?" Piper asked, as she reached out and snagged a chicken leg off a plate. "I thought your boss didn't believe in early days."

"Gil's a softie, if you know how to talk to him the right way," Prue said, with a wave of her hand.

"See," Phoebe said, airily, "that's the one advantage of being unemployed. No boss to sweet-talk when I want to play hooky."

"Phoebe, you can't play hooky if you don't have a job," Paige sighed, and Phoebe pulled a face.

"I resent that," she huffed. "I consider keeping the house from falling apart to be a full-time job, thank you very much. And, neither you nor Piper has to pay for babysitting."

"Looks like you've got a little one in the future, too," Piper said, drowning out the rest of Phoebe's words. "And if my daughter's only a year or so old, that means that you're going to want to get going on your little one, pretty soon. You and Henry, maybe," she added, teasingly.

Paige shook her head, ignoring Piper's jab. "If I have a child," she said, "then, where-"

She trailed off, looking more closely at the area that they'd landed in. It seemed really familiar, the trees, that red bench, the playground just over there – and her own thoughts came back to haunt her. Just one chance. One chance to make things right –

"Oh, God," Paige gasped, a hand flying to her mouth. "No. No, it can't be."

"Paige, what's wrong?" Piper asked, urgently.

"We're not in the future," Paige whispered, staring in horror at where her alternate self was sitting, completely oblivious to what was about to happen. Not paying attention, and making the same mistakes that she'd made. "It's happening all over, again."

"What's happening all over again?" Piper demanded, but Paige ignored her as she turned around and sprinted into the trees surrounding the playground. "Paige!"

'I have to stop it,' Paige thought, frantically, as she ran, pulled along by an uneasy feeling in her gut. 'I have to save her. I have to-'

Then, she slammed to a stop when she reached a clearing, breathing an unconscious sigh of relief when she saw Pax standing there, alone, looking around in confusion.

"Daddy?" the little girl called out, her voice wavering. "Daddy, I'm done hiding, now!"

"Sweetie, over here," Paige called out, barely daring to breathe as her daughter turned around at the sound of her voice. "Come on, baby, come to Mama."

A wide smile spread across Pax's face when she saw her, and she started walking toward Paige. She'd only made it a few steps when a dark shadow appeared abruptly behind her. Paige looked up in alarm, watching in horror as the demon standing behind Pax scooped the little girl up in his arms and started to shimmer away.


Chapter Six

Even as Paige jerked forward, there was a movement beside her. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Piper standing with her hands out, and then the demon holding Pax was frozen in mid-shimmer, his body oddly distorted. Pax was crying, wildly, and she orbed out of the demon's grasp and into Paige's arms, holding on tightly and burying her face in Paige's shoulder.

"Mama," she sobbed, over and over, and Paige ran a shaking hand slowly over her back.

"It's okay, baby," she crooned, only the slightest quaver in her voice. "It's okay. Mama's here now. I'm here. It's okay." Glancing up at the still-frozen demon, her lips pressed into a tight line. "Do me a favor?" she asked Piper, without looking over at her sister. "Blow that bastard straight to Hell."

Piper nodded, wordlessly, a flick of her hands reducing the demon to a pile of dust. And for the first time since they'd returned from the alternate universe, Paige didn't see a member of her family at the end of Piper's explosion; she only saw the demon.

"You okay, baby?" she asked, turning her attention away from the pile of dust and back to her daughter.

"That was scary," Pax sniffled, sobs slowing into hiccups. She pulled away from Paige to wipe at her nose with the edge of her sleeve, and Paige automatically dug into her pocket for a scrap of tissue.

"Blow," she instructed, getting an eye roll from Pax.

"I know how to blow my nose, Mama," she said, as she took the tissue out of Paige's hand.

"Well, obviously not, if you're still using your clothing," Paige teased her. Then, she froze, remembering that she wasn't alone in the clearing. "Um, Piper-"

"You have a daughter?" Piper didn't look angry when Paige turned around to look at her; she looked amazed.

"You're not mad?" Paige asked, quietly. "That I didn't tell you, I mean?"

Piper shook her head, a small smile on her face as she looked at Pax. "Paige, she's beautiful," she said. "Hi, sweetheart," she crooned, reaching out to brush her fingers over Pax's cheek.

"Hi, Aunt Piper," Pax started, but then her attention was caught by something over her shoulder. "Daddy!"

Paige turned around, curious to see who Pax was referring to. She honestly didn't expect to see Nick; she didn't think that she would have a life with her sisters if she was still married to him. But, she hadn't expected to see Henry standing there, a relieved look on his face.

"Daddy!" Pax cried, again, happily, and Paige shot Piper an incredulous look.

"Daddy?" she echoed, stunned, and then she rolled her eyes when Piper smirked at her. "Oh, you're a great help."

Then, she blinked in surprise when Pax orbed out of her arms and into Henry's. Henry sighed as he took Pax's weight in his arms, fixing the child with an exasperated look.

"What did we say about orbing in public?" he asked, trying for a stern tone in his voice.

"But, Daddy, we're not in public," Pax said, the very picture of innocence. "We're in the woods."

Henry groaned. "We are limiting your exposure to your Aunt Phoebe," he told Pax. "She's a bad influence."

"Um, excuse me," Paige spoke up, waving slightly to get Henry's attention. "Did she just call you Daddy?"

"Well, what else is she-" Henry started, and then he trailed off, staring at her midsection in shock. "Honey, you're not pregnant." His eyes flicked over to Piper, and he looked even more stunned. "And you are. Wacky magical hijinks?" he asked, a hopeful note in his voice.

"Oh, yeah," Paige told him. "Just probably not the ones you're expecting."

"For example," a new voice spoke up, "you're married to me, not her."

Paige sighed at the sound of her alternate self's voice, as the last of her hopes were dashed. Once again, the Pax she'd found wasn't her daughter.

'At least I had the chance to save this one,' she consoled herself, trying to ignore the sound of her heart breaking. 'Maybe this is my destiny; to try and save my other selves from the same pain I went through.'

She decided that it kind of sucked. Not that she was being given the chance to save someone else from the grief she'd experienced, but that no one had saved her from the same.

"-could sense you panicking," the other Paige was saying to Henry, as Paige tuned back into the conversation. She'd been expecting it, based on Henry's comment, but it was still a surprise to see that her alternate self was heavily pregnant, hands resting lightly over the baby bump.

"So, you married Henry?" Paige interrupted, getting a surprised look from her alternate self.

"Didn't you?" came the response, and Paige shook her head.

"Nick," she replied, getting a raised eyebrow from both parties.

"Nick?" Henry echoed. "You mean that pompous jackass who-"

"Daddy, you said a bad word," Pax interrupted him, her eyes wide.

"Dollar in the swear jar," the other Paige teased him, getting a groan from her husband.

"Married, huh?" Piper spoke up, getting in on the teasing. With a significant look at Paige, she added, "So, when did that happen?"

"Henry proposed when we found out that we were having a girl," alt-Paige said, smiling fondly.

"Oh, so that was a ring box," Paige remarked, getting an elbow from Piper. "What?"

"What, what?" Piper demanded. "Ring box? Henry proposed to you?"

"He didn't propose," Paige corrected her. "We were waiting to see the doctor, and he dropped this little box, and he wouldn't let me see what it was, and the only reason I remember it was because he was acting so weird."

"It was a ring box," her alternate self confirmed, "with this – well, I won't spoil the surprise. If your Piper has anything to say about it, you'll probably be seeing it sooner or later."

"Sooner," Piper grumbled under her breath.

Alt-Paige smirked, and then she sighed as she looked at Paige and Piper. "Not that it's not interesting meeting myself – what's up with the red, hair, anyway – but, why are the two of you here? I doubt it's just for the scenery."

"We were sent here to change things," Piper said, reaching out and squeezing Paige's hand, gently.

"Change what?" the other Paige asked, her brow furrowed, and then she looked over at her daughter, her expression growing alarmed. "Was something going to happen to-" She broke off, clearly too horrified to even finish the thought.

"Yes," Paige said, softly, trying to be as gentle as possible.

"And you stopped it," Henry said, holding tightly to his little girl. Paige just nodded. "Because you already knew?" Henry prompted. "Because-"

"Yeah," Paige replied, knowing what he was trying to ask. She wiped at the tears pooling in her eyes, her voice shaking as she continued, "I couldn't let it happen, again. Not when I could stop it."

The clearing was silent for a moment, and then her other self lunged across the space separating them, her arms wrapped tightly around Paige. She held on, hard, whispering a litany of thanks, over and over. Paige could feel her shoulder getting damp.

"You saved our daughter," Henry said, his voice hoarse, as alt-Paige pulled away to stand beside him, again. "We can never thank you-"

"Don't," Paige interrupted him, shaking her head. "You know that's not how this works. It's what we do."

"Teach her to kick demon ass," Piper suggested, gently, wrapping an arm around Paige's waist. "And get your Piper to put a dollar in the swear jar for me," she added, with a fond smile at Pax. "I'm sure she's said some things you haven't caught her at."

"It's a deal," alt-Paige agreed. Glancing over at Paige, she went on, softly, "Thank you. Thank you so much-"

"Can I-" Paige broke in, and then she coughed when the words caught in her throat. "Can I say goodbye?"

At her words, Pax orbed into her arms, and Paige blinked back a sudden rush of tears. She reached up, tugging on a lock of Paige's hair, a curious expression on her face.

"Thank you for saving me, other-Mom," she said, wrapping her arms around Paige's neck in a hug.

"I love you," Paige choked out, holding on as tightly as she dared. "I love you, so much."

Then she slowly, reluctantly handed Pax back to her parents. Tears blinded her as she stepped back to Piper's side, reaching blindly for her sister's hand. The world went white in front of her eyes, and when she could see again, they were standing on top of the Golden Gate Bridge. It was the middle of the night.

"We're back home," Piper said, quietly, and Paige nodded, still unable to speak. "What do you think brought us back?"

"I did," a voice said, and Paige looked up to see a woman in white robes standing at the edge of the tower, watching them. "My name is Sandra," the woman told them.

"I know who you are," Paige said, tonelessly, finally finding her voice. She hadn't met the Elder, personally, but she had seen her, most recently when she'd been raising her little scene over Prue and the Cleaners. "Were you the one who sent us there?"

"I did," Sandra replied.

"Why?" Paige asked, her voice hoarse.

"Isn't it obvious?" Sandra asked, sounding confused. "I sent you there so that you could save an Innocent."

"Why didn't you ever send someone to save my daughter?" Paige demanded, an irrational flash of anger coming over her. "If you can change things in another freaking reality-"

"There are things beyond our control," Sandra interrupted her, gently. "We cannot change what has happened. But what will happen is another matter."

"We could save that little girl because it was in that reality's future," Piper said. "It hadn't happened, yet, for them, so it could still be affected. Like one of Phoebe's premonitions."

"Exactly," Sandra confirmed, but Paige wasn't listening to her.

"Prue was still alive," she said, flatly, not meeting the Elder's eyes. "Shax hadn't attacked, yet. They can still save her. You have to save her. You pulled us out before we could warn them-"

"Phoebe will receive a premonition warning her of the attack," Sandra reassured them. "And Paige's presence will be the factor that tips the scales in their favor. Magic will not be exposed. Prue will not die. I promise you. You've done well," she added, softly, and then she orbed away, leaving them alone on the bridge.

Paige's shoulders slumped as she stared out at the dark water. A moment later, Piper hugged her from behind, and Paige leaned gratefully into her sister's arms.

"Honey, are you going to be okay?" Piper asked, gently.

"I keep losing her," Paige whispered, her voice cracking. "First, when she was taken, and then in Prue's universe, and now-"

"Oh, honey, I'm so sorry," Piper said, sympathetically.

"I just – I wanted another chance," Paige went on, staring down at her hands. "After I lost her last time to the Source-"

"The Source?" Piper echoed. "You mean, when we were saving Cole and Josh? Is that why you've been avoiding me? Because I-"

"Not you," Paige interrupted her, fiercely. "Never you." She pulled away and spun around to look Piper squarely in the eye. "That was not you. I just – I've been kind of messed up, since we got back," she admitted. "I thought I could still save her, you know, since she was alive in an alternate reality. But, Leo told me that she was gone, really gone, and I fell apart for a little while. I had to get away, get my head on straight. But it wasn't because of you."

Piper still didn't look convinced, so Paige simply wrapped her arms around her sister and hugged her, squeezing tightly until Piper huffed out a soft laugh and hugged her back, resting her chin on Paige's shoulder.

"Are you sorry that I found out?" was Piper's next question, as she pulled away, and it took Paige by surprise. As did her answer.

"No," she murmured, after a moment. "It's like a weight off my shoulders, you know? It still hurts, but just not as much as before. And there was a part of me that felt like a coward for hiding her away for so long-"

"Stop it," Piper said, thumping Paige on the shoulder and stopping her mid-sentence. "You are not a coward. Don't ever think that. Everything that's happened, and you're still standing; I don't know if I could ever be that strong."

Paige blinked back a sudden rush of tears at Piper's words. She honestly didn't know what to say to that. Luckily, Piper didn't seem to require a response.

"You going to tell Phoebe?" she asked, after they'd stood in silence for a few minutes, looking out at the night.

"In the morning," Paige decided. "You ready to go?"

Piper nodded, wrapping an arm around Paige's waist. "Come on. Let's go home."

Chapter Seven

April, 2003

Chris and Josh stepped out of the portal, and Chris blinked in surprise. "This is not home," he declared, looking around.

"I don't recognize this place," Josh said, looking just as confused as Chris felt.

"I do," Chris told him. "It's the Montana estate. What I don't understand is how we wound up here."

"Leo said that the portal worked through willpower," Josh reminded him. "What were you thinking about when we stepped through?"

"I was thinking about Wyatt," Chris protested. "And possibly Malcolm," he admitted, a second later.

"Chris, you can't blame yourself," Josh said, but Chris shook his head, cutting his cousin off.

"No, Leo told me that Malcolm was alive," he said. "Someone saved him."

"Someone?" Josh asked, with a raised eyebrow.

"Probably X," Chris replied. "And, no, I have no idea why she would do that. She's a demon; saving an Innocent goes against everything she believes in."

"Well, I've never seen her attack a kid," Josh said. "Maybe she's got some standards, after all."

"Okay, well let's figure out motives later," Chris said, looking around the foyer. "First, let's figure out what we're doing here."

"And when," Josh replied. "A time frame would be nice."

"We could always ask someone who lives here," Chris pointed out, but Josh shook his head.

"No way," he said. "You might not remember the feud at its height, but I do. And these people have a tendency to shoot first, and ask questions later. I always thought Aunt Paige was crazy for trying to mediate between them for as long as she did."

"I thought she was given the assignment by the Elders?" Chris asked.

"Yeah, at first," Josh told him, "but she kept trying for years. I think she finally gave up because they were just too stubborn to listen."

"So, how'd the feud finally end?" Chris asked, and Josh shook his head.

"I don't think it ever did," he replied. "I think it just got shoved to the side in favor of more important things."

"Like fighting Wyatt," Chris sighed.

"Pretty hard to focus on a petty feud when a megalomaniac is trying to take over the world," Josh agreed. "Hey, I hear voices." When Chris smirked at him, not even bothering to hide his amusement, Josh rolled his eyes. "I meant voices up ahead," he clarified, exasperated.

"No, I think you had it right the first time," Chris teased him, and then they paused outside a doorway.

Chris eased right up to the edge, peering around the door frame. Two people were in the library, and he recognized Olivia's fiery red hair, immediately. She was shifting nervously from foot to foot, her hands hidden behind her back. She looked scared but determined.

The man facing her had his back to Chris, but when he moved in response to Olivia's constant fidgeting, Chris could see scars marking the side of his face. He had to be Steve Montana, and from what Chris could see, he didn't look happy. From the way he was holding himself, it was clear that he was expecting some kind of attack from Olivia, and Chris readied himself to intervene before things got violent.

He caught a flash of movement out of the corner of his eye, and then Josh shimmered into place on the opposite side of the doorway. He had the same, tense posture that Chris had adopted, and he was staring, unblinking, into the room.

"What do you want, Calloway?" Steve demanded, suddenly, the harsh tone of his voice making them all flinch, especially Olivia.

"I'm here to see Richard," she said, her voice quiet but strong. She had a determined set to her shoulders as she faced down the other witch.

"No," Steve said, flatly, shaking his head. "No way in Hell."

"I'm not here for a fight," Olivia insisted. "I'm here because I want to end the feud."

Steve laughed, the sound ugly and bitter. "You know the last time I heard that?" he asked, and he clearly wasn't expecting an answer, because he didn't give Olivia time to speak. "Your father came here claiming to want an end to the feud, and an hour later, my father was dead. I'm not letting you people destroy my brother the way you've destroyed the rest of my family."

"I'm not my father," Olivia said, quietly. "I really am here for peace." She hesitated, looking torn, and then she took a deep breath, trying to gather up her courage. "Richard asked me to marry him," she said, staring up at Steve.

"You're lying," Steve said, shaking his head in denial as he backed away. "Richard would never-"

"He gave me this," Olivia interrupted him, holding out something in the palm of her hand. "He said that this ring has been in your family for generations."

Steve whipped around, staring in shock at the ring in her hand. He blinked, like he was trying to make sure that he was really seeing it, and his shoulders slumped. Chris let himself relax, minutely, watching as Steve stalked to the far end of the library, leaning his forehead against the cool glass of the window.

"He wants us to run away together," Olivia said, gently pressing on. "To get away from all of this."

"No," Steve gritted out. "Richard wouldn't just leave. He wouldn't abandon his family like that. He wouldn't abandon me."

"We-" Olivia started, but Steve clearly wasn't listening to her.

"You did something to him," he accused, his voice dark and dangerous. "What did you use? A spell? A potion? A curse, like these damn boils?" He glared furiously at her, and then he stalked away to stare out the picture window, his whole body tense with anger.

"I didn't enchant Richard to love me," Olivia said, a hint of anger creeping into her voice as she tried to reason with Steve. "And I do love him. I want to spend the rest of my life with him. And I'm not going to let you stand in our way."

She took a step toward Steve, her hand raised. From Chris's angle, he could see that she was only going to grab him by the shoulder, probably to force him to look at her, but it was clear that Steve didn't see it that way. With the way he was standing, all he probably saw was Olivia coming at him in a threatening manner, and he reacted accordingly.

He whirled around, an energy ball in the palm of his hand, and Chris and Josh took that as their cue. They rushed the room in unison, splitting up their targets. Chris grabbed Olivia around the waist, orbing her out of danger to the opposite side of the room. Keeping her shielded behind his body, he glanced over his shoulder to see that Josh had Steve with his arms behind his back, his arm across the other man's chest to hold him still.

"Who the hell are you people?" Steve demanded, trying futilely to twist around in Josh's unbreakable grip.

"We're the people who are going to stop you from making the biggest mistake of your life," Josh informed him. "Now are you going to stop fighting me, so that I can let you go?"

Steve grunted out a wordless agreement, and Josh let him go, stepping back in case the other man decided to take a swing at him. When Steve just stood there, calmly, Josh relaxed and leaned against a bookcase. Chris stepped away from Olivia, giving her a reassuring smile when she moved slowly back into the center of the room.

"I wasn't going to hurt you," she told Steve, her voice tight and unhappy. "I don't want to hurt any of you."

"How do I know you're not lying?" Steve demanded.

"Because she's not," a new voice spoke up, before either Chris or Josh could leap to the young woman's defense. "Olivia is a good person, Steve. I love her."

Richard stepped into the room, moving slowly so as not to alarm the occupants. He moved the same way that members of the Resistance tended to move around each other in uncertain situations, minimizing the danger they presented. From the way he was holding himself, and his slow, cautious steps, it was clear that Richard was very good at making people see him as non-threatening.

"Olivia and I are in love, Steve," Richard said, his voice quiet as he approached his brother.

"She's tricked you, somehow," Steve protested, angrily. Richard wordlessly shook his head.

"No tricks," he said. "No spells, no potions, just me. It's just me, Steve."

Steve still didn't look like he believed his brother. He ran a hand through his hair, making it stand on end, and fixed Richard with a despairing look.

"This is just you," he echoed, a bitter tone in his voice. "Well, I refuse to believe that, because my brother would never do this. He would never abandon his family."

"I'm not abandoning anyone," Richard protested.

"You're running away with her!" Steve yelled, stabbing a finger in Olivia's direction. His eyes flashed with anger as he glared at his brother. "You're leaving us for one of them!"

"No," Richard countered. "I'm not going to let people who don't even remember why we're fighting keep me away from the people I love. Not Olivia, and not you, either."

"You're leaving," Steve insisted, but when he tried to dodge around his brother, Richard grabbed him and pulled him into a tight hug.

"How could you think I wouldn't come back?" he asked, his voice rough with emotion. "You're my big brother, Steve. You protected me, you put up with me when I was an annoying, little brat, you became my best friend. And no one will ever take your place in my heart. That doesn't mean that there's not room for Olivia, too."

Richard rested his forehead against his brother's for a brief moment before he pulled away. "We're leaving because it's the only way that we can get married without all the mule-headed people in our families interfering. But, don't you think for a second that I'm not coming back home."

Steve sighed, his shoulders slumping. "You're still an annoying, little brat," he muttered, and Richard smiled, hugely. "I guess now you'll just be a married brat."

"With little brats of my own," Richard reassured him. "And crazy Uncle Steve spoiling the crap out of them."

"You better believe it," Steve told him. Then, he turned to Olivia, his expression sobering in a heartbeat. "I'm sorry," he said, quietly, genuine regret in his voice. "I – I thought-"

"You were trying to protect your family," Olivia said. "I can understand that, believe me. You should have seen the fit I pitched when my big brother wanted to get married. He wound up disowning our family, and I haven't spoken to him in years. I didn't want Richard to have to go through the same thing."

"Promise me you'll look out for him?" Steve asked, a plaintive note in his voice. Clearing his throat, gruffly, he added, "I don't know if you've noticed, but my brother has absolutely no common sense."

"Hey!" Richard protested, while Olivia laughed.

"I promise," she told Steve. "And I promise to bring him back home. We don't want to leave forever. Just long enough to show everyone that there can be an end to this feud."

"I think I might have a suggestion for that," Chris spoke up. The trio looked over at him and Josh like they'd forgotten that they were even there, and Josh gave them a small wave and a cocky grin. "You want to get married to prove that the feud can end, right? Well, trust me, just disappearing is not the way to go about it. Nothing good will come of it. What you need is help."

"And you have someone in mind?" Richard asked, cautiously.

"Paige Matthews, of the Charmed Ones," Chris answered, promptly. "When she hears your story, and finds out about this feud, she's going to want to end it just as much as you do."

"She doesn't even know us," Olivia protested, and Josh snorted out a laugh.

"That's not going to matter," he informed them. "If you ask for her help, she won't hesitate. And she's stubborn enough to go toe-to-toe with your families, and win."

"But, why would she help us?" Olivia pressed, confused.

Chris smiled fondly as he thought about the one person who'd been there for him his entire life. The one who'd believed in him throughout everything.

"Because you asked for help," he told Olivia, quietly. "That's all you need to do."

"Thank you," Richard said, after a moment. "For everything."

"Yeah," Steve echoed, ruefully. "You saved me from doing something I'd never be able to take back. Is there any way that we can repay you?"

"Well," Chris said, exchanging a look with Josh, "we are kind of stranded here. And if you don't mind, we could use a bit of a hand."

Chapter Eight

October, 2002

"No, you didn't call too late." Paige flopped over on her stomach, tangling the phone cord around her wrist. "I was just looking through some old photos."

"Oh, yeah?" Henry's voice crackled over the line. "What kind of old photos?"

"Pax's baby album, actually," Paige told him, as she ran her fingers lightly over her baby girl's very first picture. "You know the one Prue made for me?" She sighed as she gently closed the front cover. "I told Piper and Phoebe," she confessed. "Well, Piper pretty much found out by accident, but I told Phoebe. And, Cole, by extension, because Phoebe can't keep her mouth shut."

"How'd it go?" Henry asked.

"Piper's been pretty much normal, Cole gave me a big hug and told me how sorry he was, and Phoebe tries to be normal, but she still acts like I'm made out of glass."

"Did you tell her how you tried to dent my head in when I tried the same thing?" Henry asked, and Paige chuckled.

"I was three months pregnant, my hormones were flaring, and you kept trying to coddle me," she reminded him. "You deserved it."

"I was not trying to coddle you," Henry protested.

"You tossed your coat across a puddle so that I wouldn't ruin my shoes," Paige said, dryly, and then she swore as the phone cradle started to levitate off the nightstand. "Damn it, no!"

"Something wrong?" Henry asked, and Paige rolled her eyes.

"The house is infested with supernatural pests," Paige informed him.

There was silence on the other end of the line, and then Henry asked, "Can't you just get termites like everyone else?"

"Leo says it's a manifestation of all the evil that's been vanquished in the house over the years," Paige told him, and then she froze when she heard Henry's name in the distance. "Hey, do you have company?"

"Oh," Henry said. "No, it's, um, it's Megan. We were out walking, and we got caught in that rainstorm, so she's using my shower."

"Megan," Paige said, slowly. "You mean Megan, your new girlfriend? Henry, are you in the middle of a date?"

"Well, I don't know if I'd call it a date," Henry hedged. "I mean, we just went out for coffee and a walk."

"Moonlit walks are a date, you dork," Paige told him, rolling her eyes. "This is why you get dumped, by the way."

"I am not-" Henry started, and then the rest of his sentence was cut off by the sound of a scream that was cut off far too soon for Paige's liking.

"Henry!" she yelped, jumping to her feet. There was no answer. "Henry!"

When he still stayed silent, Paige dropped the phone and grabbed the dagger she kept under her pillow. Orbing out of her bedroom, she rematerialized in Henry's living room.

She found Henry lying unconscious in the middle of the floor, a trickle of blood running down from a cut on his forehead. A woman with long, blonde hair was bending over him, a large carving knife in her hand.

"Get your hands off him," Paige snarled, white-hot fury descending over her.

The woman whipped her head around at the sound of Paige's voice, and Paige blinked at the glowing red eyes and long fangs. A demon. It wasn't bad enough that demons invaded every other part of her life, but now they were attacking Henry, too. And she wanted to rip this one from limb to limb.

"You're too late, witch," Megan smirked at her. "You've lost this one."

"If you've killed him-" Paige started, threateningly, taking a step toward the demon, and just like she'd hoped, the demon abandoned Henry to come after her.

Paige didn't waste any time. She dodged the talons that Megan swiped at her face, blocking the wicked claws with her arm. With her other hand, she spun the dagger around and plunged the blade straight into Megan's ribcage. The demon stumbled backward, her hands flying up to cover the wound on her stomach. Then, before Paige could finish her off, she shimmered out of the apartment.

Pushing the demon out of her mind, Paige knelt down next to Henry. She cradled his head in her hands, healing energy flowing from her fingers. It took several, heart-stopping seconds for the cut in his forehead to start slowly closing, and Paige only started breathing again when his eyes fluttered open.

Staring up at her in confusion, Henry croaked, "Why are you wearing pajamas?"

"Oh," Paige said, trying for a flippant tone, "I just thought I'd do some late night demon vanquishing."

"Demon," Henry echoed, and then he struggled upright, a panicked look on his face. "Megan!"

"Megan was the demon," Paige said, seeing no other way to break the news to him. "I'm sorry, sweetie."

Henry sighed, accepting the hand she held out to him to help him to his feet. He sank down onto the couch, and Paige joined him, leaning against his side.

"It had to happen sooner or later, right?" Henry asked, morosely. "I mean, it was only a matter of time before I dated a demon."

"Yeah, it's like a Halliwell family initiation, or something," Paige quipped. "Welcome to the nuthouse."

Then, she cocked her head to the side, listening to the sound of distant chanting. She'd gotten used to having her charges' voices in the back of her mind all the times, and had even learned how to block out everything but direct summons, but she hadn't been able to block her sisters out completely.

Leo had spouted off some technical and long-winded explanation about how the Power of Three was augmenting her Whitelighter connection to Piper and Phoebe, and how it was advantageous in the field of battle, but what Paige had taken away from it was that she was stuck with having them in her head. It had proved more useful than not, so far, so she mostly let it lie, and she learned how to push their voices to the back of her mind. Except for moments like now, when Phoebe was practically shouting in her head.

"What's up?" Henry asked, catching the look on her face.

"Something's going on at home," Paige told him. "You're coming with me," she added, reaching out and twining her fingers around his. "I'm not leaving you here, alone, where Megan can come back and find you."

"You mean she's not dead?" Henry asked, and Paige shook her head.

"Wounded and on the run," she replied, frustrated.

"And probably pissed at you," Henry told her, "for finding her out."

"Yeah, well, she tried to kill you, so my pissed trumps hers," Paige shot back. "Hang on."

She orbed them back into the Manor, reforming at the base of the stairs. The first thing she heard was the sound of a cowbell, and she exchanged an incredulous look with Henry as her sisters came into view. Phoebe was first, clanging a noisy cowbell and chanting at the top of her lungs, a smoking stick of incense held in her other hand. Piper and Leo were following her, matching exasperated looks on their faces.

"Speaking of nuthouses," Henry muttered, under his breath. "And isn't Phoebe supposed to be living in the penthouse?"

"They're renovating," Paige told him, still staring at Phoebe in shock. "What the hell?" she demanded to Piper, raising her voice to be heard over the sound of the cowbell.

"Cleansing ritual," Piper told them, a forced smile on her face. "Hi, Henry. Tell me you have earplugs."

"Better," Henry told her, and Paige bit back a smirk as he reached out and snatched the cowbell out of Phoebe's hand, silencing it. Phoebe glared at him as she was interrupted, mid-chant.

"I was-" she started, but Henry didn't let her finish.

"Done," he interrupted, gently. "Phoebe, it's two in the morning. And, either I take the bell, or Piper blows it up."

"I might still blow it up," Piper muttered, waspishly.

"Where are Cole and Josh during all this ruckus?" Paige asked, looking around as she realized that they were missing a couple of people. "Don't tell me they managed to sleep through everything." When Phoebe simply nodded, Paige scowled at her. "And it didn't occur to you that the rest of us were trying to sleep?"

"We can't just let this go on," Phoebe argued, waving a hand around in the air. "These demonic pests are getting ridiculous. Look at my hair; it's in a ponytail. I did not put my hair in a ponytail."

"I keep telling you guys," Leo broke in, in a placating voice, "this is harmless. It's going to go away on its own."

"But it's not going away, honey," Piper pointed out. "It's getting stronger."

As if to prove her point, a vase started floating in mid-air. Paige had no sooner snatched the vase out of the air when the doors to the sun room started opening and closing on their own, and then the chandelier started flickering. An eerie wail filled the air.

"Okay, that's creepy," Henry declared, right before a misty, white something grabbed him by the arms and hefted him into the air. He was slammed into the wall over the stairs, his head impacting the wall with a painful thud. The mist had wound around his arms and torso, holding him trapped.

"Piper, blow it up!" Paige yelped, but Piper's explosions only succeeded in bringing down part of the ceiling on their heads. "Oh, screw this."

Shifting the vase into the crook of her arm, Paige shook her free hand out and formed a fist, flexing her fingers. Then, she threw the strongest ball of electricity that she could summon, hitting the manifestation. The demonic thing let out a pained, high-pitched scream as it dissipated, letting go of Henry so that he hit the landing with a groan. Paige rushed up the stairs to his side.

"Poltergeists don't like electricity," she informed her sisters, as she helped Henry to his feet. "You okay?" she asked him, concerned.

"I think twice in one night is enough demons for me," Henry told her, smoothing down his hair, which was sticking up on end, with a shaky hand. "When'd you get your powers back?"

"I've been working on them for a while," Paige replied, as they walked down the stairs to join her sisters and Leo. Fixing Piper and Phoebe with a look, she added, "We have got to find a way to end this. Now."

"How about in the morning?" Piper yawned, covering her mouth with her hand. "Because I don't know about you, but someone," she shot a pointed look at Phoebe, "was intent on waking up the whole house and I would like to get back to sleep."

Paige looked around at the pieces of ceiling littering the floor and decided that, yeah, she didn't really feel like cleaning at two in the morning. And sleep sounded really good, right about then.

"Morning," she agreed, holding back a yawn of her own. "And, Phoebe? If you start that damn chanting again, I am going to introduce you to my charge in New York who has laryngitis, and I'll have her cough all over you. You won't be able to speak for a month."

Phoebe pulled a face at her and went back upstairs without a word. Leo wrapped an arm around Piper, the two of them orbing upstairs. And Paige turned to look at Henry, who still looked a little shaken.

"You want me to orb you back to your apartment?" she asked. "Or do you want to crash on the couch?"

"Couch," Henry replied, instantly. "Megan knows where I live, remember?"

"Oh, right, Megan," Paige said, the blonde's face flashing through her mind. "No, you're right; you're staying here. Remind me in the morning to hunt her down and kill her."

"Blankets still in the hall closet?" Henry asked, and Paige nodded, feeling her eyelids droop as exhaustion started to finally catch up with her. "Okay, night."

"Night," Paige echoed, and then she trudged up the stairs.

She dropped into bed, pulled the covers up to her shoulders, and let her head hit the pillow. Despite her utter fatigue, she couldn't fall asleep, and she tossed and turned for about half an hour, staring into the darkness. She was just about to give up on sleep, ready to go up to the attic and immerse herself in the Book, when the mattress dipped down beside her. She craned her head around to see Henry flopping down on top of the covers.

"Your couch sucks," he informed her, and Paige smirked, sleepily.

"Does not," she countered. "I've slept on that couch. It's great."

"I want to be closer in case Megan attacks again?" Henry ventured, hopefully.

"Try again," Paige yawned. "You couldn't sleep either, could you?"

"No," Henry grumped. "But, listening to you snore always puts me out like a light."

"I do not snore," Paige protested, laughing despite herself.

"Do too," Henry mumbled, his voice already growing heavy with sleep. He snuggled against her back, draping an arm around her waist. Paige felt herself relax as she slumped against his chest.

"Do not," she felt compelled to tell him.

"Do too."

"Do not-" And with that, they fell asleep in each other's arms.

Chapter Nine

Paige lifted the cup of coffee to her lips, closing her eyes in anticipation of that first, wonderful sip, and then the cup was tugged out of her hands, and she found herself grasping air. Opening her eyes, she saw Phoebe holding her coffee cup, and the pointed look Paige shot her had a guilty flush creeping up her sister's cheeks. But she still didn't relinquish the cup.

"I need this coffee," Phoebe told her, her tone dangerously close to whining. "I have to work with the most obnoxious, arrogant, self-centered jerk on the planet. He's a turkey. Please let me have the coffee."

"You know, I can electrocute you, now," Paige threatened, but she sighed and flapped her hand at Phoebe, wordlessly letting her have the last cup of coffee. "Fine, take it. Who's the turkey?"

"Spencer Ricks," came the grumbled reply. "He's this chauvinistic, egocentric, conceited jerk who thinks he's an advice columnist."

"Gee, Pheebs," Paige said, dryly, "tell me what you really think."

"He challenged me in the paper," Phoebe told her. "Challenged me! And now Elise wants me to take part in some stupid photo shoot to drum up publicity for the paper."

"And of course you said yes," Paige replied.

"Well, I couldn't very well say no," Phoebe protested. "And let him win?"

"Isn't being the middle sister supposed to make you more rational than this?" Paige asked, not really expecting an answer.

"What's on your agenda for the day?" Phoebe asked, avoiding the question just like Paige thought she would.

"Research," Paige told her, succinctly. "I want to find something stronger than minor cleansing rituals to get rid of these demonic pests. And I have a demon to find and kill."

"A demon?" Piper echoed, as she entered the kitchen, followed by Leo. "I thought we were dealing with a poltergeist."

"Separate issue," Paige replied. "Henry's girlfriend tried to kill him last night."

"That makes her evil, not a demon," Piper protested.

"Fangs, talons, glowing eyes," Paige went on, undaunted. "She's a demon. And I'm going to find her, and I'm going to vanquish her. Slowly and painfully."

"Okay, ix-nay the anquish-vay talk around my unborn baby, okay?" Piper suggested. "Paige, don't you think that maybe you're going a little overboard?"

"Yes," Henry spoke up, as he entered the kitchen, and Paige shot him a mild glare.

"No," she countered, pointedly. "That bitch tried to kill you last night, Henry."

"I'm fine," Henry protested, and then he sighed at whatever he saw on Paige's face. "Just – promise me that you're going to be careful, all right? She's dangerous."

"She's not going to know what hit her," Paige muttered, darkly.

"On to less lethal topics," Leo said, delicately. "You guys aren't facing a poltergeist. Vanquishing spells aren't going to work."

"It reacted when Paige zapped it," Phoebe said, confused, but Leo shook his head.

"Anything will react if you hit it with enough electricity," he countered. "Look, poltergeists are spirits. This is a manifestation of all the evil that's been vanquished over the years."

"So you've said," Paige reminded him. "But, that still doesn't tell us how to get rid of it."

"The Elders don't know," Leo admitted, earning him a coordinated eye roll from all three sisters. "I'm sorry I underestimated it. These things don't usually get this big."

"Most witches don't encounter as much evil as we do," Piper pointed out, reasonably. "Are you saying there's nothing that we can do? Because this thing is destroying the house, and I cannot raise a child in this environment."

"And what if it follows us back to the penthouse?" Phoebe added, gesturing to Cole and Josh as the latecomers joined the rest of the family in the kitchen. "Then, we've got the same problem in a whole new place."

"The manifestations can't jump from place to place," Leo protested, and then an uncertain look flickered over his face. "I think."

"Oh, you think?" Phoebe shot back. "Leo, think isn't good enough. We've got Josh to protect, now, and Cole and I were talking about having another-"

She broke off in the middle of her sentence, a horrified look coming over her face. She glanced quickly over at Paige, guilt in her eyes, and Paige sighed.

"Phoebe, you promised," she said, before her sister could say anything. "Normal, remember?"

"Paige," Phoebe started, but Paige wasn't going to let her finish.

"No," she said, firmly. "You know what, it's been two weeks, and you keep tiptoeing around me like I'm fragile or something. Like you think I'm going to break if you look at me the wrong way, or say the wrong thing. And I'm not. Yeah, it hurts like hell, and it always will. But I am not going to break."

Phoebe tried to say something, but Paige silenced her with a look.

"The world doesn't stop just because I hurt," she said, softly. "I can't go backward; I can't change the past. All I can do is move forward. And that means living my life, and being a sister, and a friend, and the best damn aunt ever to my nephew, and my future niece. And that means spoiling the crap out of them, and any other kids you'll have in the future, and watching them grow up, and be happy, and live their lives. That is what I want. All right?"

"All right," Phoebe finally agreed, tears glinting in her eyes. "I just – I didn't want to remind you-"

"She was the best part of my life," Paige told her. "Even the bad memories can't take that away. And I think it's time I started talking more about the good ones. She deserves nothing less."

Silence reigned in the kitchen after her little speech, and then Cole broke it by awkwardly clearing his throat. "Come on, kiddo," he said gruffly to Josh. "Let's get you to school."

He put a hand on his son's shoulder, shimmering the two of them away. Phoebe watched them go, and then turned back to her sisters with a sheepish smile on her face.

"Um, Cole decided to keep his powers, after all," she said brightly, and Piper rolled her eyes.

"We figured that out already, thanks," she replied, reaching over and swatting Phoebe on the arm.

"You did?" Phoebe asked, confused. "But, how-"

"After nearly a month, with no sign of giving up his powers," Piper told her, "we kind of figured they were here for keeps."

"You guys don't mind?" Phoebe asked, nervously.

"Of course not," Paige answered for all of them. "Only Balthazar's powers were transferred through that dagger, not Balthazar, himself. And besides, Josh could use someone around to show him that it's okay to have demonic powers, show him how they can be used for good."

A crashing sound cut off any reply Phoebe was about to make, and Henry, closest to the doorway, went out to see what had happened. When he came back, there was a rueful look on his face.

"You want the good news, first, or the bad?" he asked, and Piper groaned, dropping her head into her hands.

"Bad news," Paige decided, as Henry leaned against the counter beside her.

"Your not-so-friendly ghost just took out part of the living room wall," he informed them, and Piper made a strangled noise that sounded eerily like someone had just stepped on a cat.

"What's the good news?" Phoebe asked, while Paige checked to make sure that Piper wasn't actually choking on anything.

"It wasn't a load-bearing wall," Henry replied, with a shrug. "Once your poltergeist stops trying to destroy the house, Leo and I can have it repaired pretty quickly."

"It's not a poltergeist," Leo muttered, and Piper lifted her head long enough to give her husband an exasperated look.

"Honey," she said, her voice tight, "if you don't have anything useful to add to the conversation-"

"Paige, why don't you go grab the Book," Phoebe said, loudly, interrupting Piper, "and we'll see if we can find a way to get rid of Casper."

Paige orbed up to the attic, scooped the Book up in her arms, and orbed back down to the kitchen, spreading the Book out on the table that Henry had cleared away for her. The Book fell open to the page with the Enchantress on it, and Paige quickly flipped past it. She'd had more than enough of time travel and alternate universes for one lifetime.

"I have no idea what I'm looking for," she muttered, as she flipped through the pages, slowly. "We have cleansing rituals, we have a spell to help a spirit move on to the afterlife-" She paused, glancing up at Leo, who shook his head. "Guess not. What about this one to rid the house of evil? Prue's note says that you guys used it against a bunch of shapeshifters."

"Wouldn't work," Phoebes said, vetoing the idea immediately. "It's designed to eliminate everything in the house that isn't the Power of Three."

"And that's bad?" Henry spoke up. "Leo and I will just clear out, you guys will cast the spell, and presto, no more Casper."

"Except that there's someone in the house who's not a part of the Power of Three, and who can't leave," Piper pointed out. "And while my baby has shown an amazing ability to protect herself, I do not want to put that to the test."

"Agreed," Paige replied. "Okay, that spell is out. Which leaves us with what?" When there was no answer, she glanced around at the clueless expressions on her sisters' faces, and then she looked up at the ceiling. "Um, guys, that's your cue. Come on, Grams, you're always saying that you wrote the best parts of the Book-"

Then, she jumped back as the pages started moving very quickly, almost a blur. When they stopped, she looked down to see the entry on witch doctors.

"Thank you, Grams," she, Piper, and Phoebe chorused. "Okay," Paige went on, "we're going to need some dragon root, some liverwort, and some snake skin."

"Witch doctors?" Leo read over their shoulders, frowning. "I don't know. Their allegiance is murky at best. The Elders don't really approve of working with them."

"Yeah, well, unless the Elders have any better ideas," Piper replied, looking expectantly at him. When there was no answer, she nodded and went back to her perusal of the potions cabinet.

"Besides," Paige added, mixing the ingredients Piper passed her, "I don't remember the Elders making a fuss when I was working with those witch doctors from Borneo, earlier this year." Leo didn't have anything to say to that, either.

Fifteen minutes later, the potion was ready, except for the snake skin, which was the last ingredient. Piper stood near the pot with the carefully-shredded snake skin in her hand, and Paige looked down at the Book.

"All right, drop that in after I read the spell," she told Piper, and then she chanted,

"Free us from the ties that bind,
Of evil magic intertwined.
We call upon the one who cures,
He who's to the dark, inured."

Piper tossed the snake skin into the pot, there was a brilliant flash of light and a cloud of smoke as the potion exploded, and then a man in a dark suit was standing in the middle of the kitchen.

"You called?" he asked, curiously.

"You're the witch doctor?" Piper asked, incredulously, and Paige gently elbowed her.

"Piper, be nice," she scolded. "Thank you for coming," she added, turning to the witch doctor. "So, we have a bit of a problem. Do you think you can help?"

"Have you ever vanquished a demon in this house?" the witch doctor asked, rather than answering, and Phoebe snorted out a laugh.

"Oh, only about a hundred," she said, flippantly.

"Give or take another hundred," Piper added.

"That explains all the dark energy I'm sensing," the witch doctor mused, as he moved slowly out of the kitchen. "Your house is saturated in it."

"Can you do something about it?" Piper asked, sounding exasperated, and the witch doctor gave her a sharp look.

"Leave everything to me," he told her. "The evil doesn't stand a chance."

Chapter Ten

Henry stepped through the front door of the Manor, and then froze when he found a wand crackling with white-hot electricity pointed directly at his face. He held his hands up, showing that he was unarmed, and he fixed the witch doctor with a wry look.

"Do you really think that manifestations of evil are going to use the front door?" he asked, and the man huffed a sigh, dropping the wand.

"Can't you orb like the rest of this bunch?" he asked, grumpily. "At least that gives me warning that you're coming."

"Sorry," Henry said, hiding a grin. "Mortal, here."

The witch doctor fixed him with a sharp-eyed look. "Mortal, huh?" he remarked. "What's a mortal doing around a bunch of witches? With all the evil in this house-"

"I choose to stand beside them and face the danger," Henry interrupted the other man. "After everything I've seen, and everything I've watched them go through, I can't imagine doing anything else."

"But, you're mortal," the witch doctor insisted, unable to get past that sticking point. Henry just shook his head.

"And I've got a nine mil and a mean right hook," he retorted. The witch doctor stared at him for a long moment, and then he walked away, grumbling about crazy mortals under his breath. Henry smirked as he watched him go. "Hey, Piper," he greeted, seeing her and Leo standing in the doorway. "Where is everyone?"

"Phoebe's at work, and Paige is up in the attic," Piper told him. "Where'd you disappear to? I thought you had a day off."

"I do," Henry told her. "One of my coworkers called, needed some help. What's up with him?" he asked, in a low voice, nodding at the witch doctor's retreating back. Leo, scowling, followed him.

"He's hunting Big Momma," Piper replied, and Henry cocked an eyebrow at her.

"Big Momma?" he echoed, struggling not to laugh.

"I don't know." Piper shook her head, letting out an incredulous chuckle. "I'm not sure I want to know."

"You said that Paige is up in the attic?" Henry asked, and Piper nodded.

"Trying to find and vanquish your girlfriend," she said, archly. She gave him an expectant look.

"Ex-girlfriend," Henry corrected her. "Trying to kill me automatically made our burgeoning relationship null and void."

Piper made a sympathetic noise. "Looks like the Halliwell luck is starting to infect your love life, too."

"Well, it's not like I was envisioning forever with Megan, anyway," Henry sighed. "I just-" He trailed off, and Piper nodded in understanding with everything he couldn't put into words.

"Hey," she said, when he went to pass her on the way to the staircase, "we're glad you're in the fight with us, too."

Henry grinned, continuing up the stairs to the attic. He could practically feel the electricity crackling in the air as he got closer, and he paused in the doorway, peering cautiously into the attic to make sure that it was safe to enter.

He saw Paige standing in the middle of the attic, her back to the door. She was bent over the Book, shoulders hunched over the lectern, and Henry couldn't tell what was burning. But, then he saw the tiny sparks of lightning running through her hair and along her skin, and he realized that she was the source of of the energy in the air.

"Paige?" he said, cautiously, as he entered. He didn't bother to ask if she was okay. It was pretty clear that she wasn't.

Paige flicked her eyes up to meet his for a second before she went back to her study of the Book. A bloody dagger was clutched in her hand, the plain, leather-wrapped hilt digging into her palm. Henry recognized the same dagger he'd given her for her birthday, after they'd first found out about the whole demon-hunting thing.

"You still have that thing?" he asked, and Paige looked down, startled, at the dagger, like she'd forgotten that she was holding it.

"I sleep with it under my pillow," she told him, after a moment, and Henry took a second to process that comment.

"I think I have to stop giving Jenna a hard time about her stuffed dog collection," he decided.

"Yes, you do," Paige told him, flipping through a page. "And, you have to stop giving me crap about Slappy," she added, giving him a sharp look. Her eyes sparkled with mirth as the lightning playing along her skin slowly died down.

"That clown is creepy," Henry protested. "Paige, have you looked at that thing?"

Paige's lips quirked in a tiny, half-smile. "I latched onto Slappy while I was in foster care," she told him, quietly. "I was two, and I'd just gotten rejected by another foster family, and I found this ratty, old clown in the bottom of the toy box at the group home. My social worker said that I grabbed that thing, and I would not let it go. Slappy even went to college with me," she added, a challenging note in her voice. "He's survived six different addresses, a family dog with a destructive streak, Nick and his neat-freak phase, and a teething daughter."

"I get it," Henry laughed, holding his hands up in surrender. "The clown will outlast me."

"Maybe not outlast you," Paige reassured him, "but he's certainly here to stay."

"So," Henry prompted, "I take you haven't found Megan, yet?"

Paige gave him a sharp look. "What makes you say that?" she asked.

"Because you're still holding onto that knife like you want to stab someone with it," Henry told her. "You generally only look like that before a vanquish, not after. Which I want to help you with, by the way. I don't want you going after Megan on your own."

Paige pursed her lips as she stared down at the Book. "What does it say about you," she asked, "that you'd rather go on a demon vanquish than stay here and be safe?"

"It says that I'm pretty damn awesome," Henry informed her, startling a laugh out of Paige.

"Yes, you are," she agreed, with a fond smile. "You know what?" she added, closing the Book with a decisive thump, "I can hunt Megan down later. I want to show you something."

"Is this a good kind of something?" Henry asked, cautiously, "or a 'Hey, I mixed up the dishwashing soap with the dishwasher soap, and now my kitchen is covered in bubbles' kind of something?"

"That was an honest mistake," Paige told him, "and anyone could have made it."

"Yeah," Henry said, dragging the word out, dramatically. "Do I even need to remind you how long it took us to clean that mess up? Although, considering how small that apartment was, I was impressed with the amount of bubbles you managed to produce."

"Hey," Paige protested, "I let you stay the night, didn't I?"

"That first year," Henry remarked, "I think I spent more time in your apartment than I did in my own."

Paige sighed, giving him a rueful look. "I didn't exactly want to be on my own, back then," she admitted, softly.

"I know," Henry replied, quietly, and Paige leaned against him, briefly.

"Okay, come on," she said, a second later, pulling away and practically bouncing to the door. "Surprise time."

"You still haven't told me if this is a good surprise, or not," Henry reminded her, but Paige just shot him an impish grin as she darted out the door and down the hallway.

Henry sighed, shaking his head in exasperation as he followed her out of the attic and down the stairs. He found Paige downstairs in the living room with Piper and Leo, staring in dismay at the ruins of the television and the charred remains of the stand it had been sitting on.

"-didn't have to destroy half the house!" Piper was saying, and Henry saw the witch doctor standing in front of them, his hands folded across his chest.

"My work here is done," the man said, dramatically, and then he disappeared in a flash of light that had Henry shielding his eyes.

Piper glared after the witch doctor. "I'm tempted to have you orb his butt back here, so I can keep yelling at him," she grumbled to Paige.

"You are not going to yell at the witch doctor," Paige retorted. "We'll fix this, somehow."

"I'll talk to the Elders," Leo added, "but since evil caused all of this, I'm fairly certain that you can use magic to patch things up, without any personal gain consequences."

"See?" Paige said, triumphantly, as Leo orbed away. "We'll use spells for the big things, and I am all yours for cleaning the rest. As soon as I show Henry this cool, new spell I've been working on."

"Yeah, about that," Henry said. "Why couldn't you do this spell in the attic?"

Paige got a thoughtful look on her face. "I'm not entirely sure how it would work in the attic, to be honest," she told him. "Come on, we're going to the basement."

Henry shot Piper a pleading look as he followed Paige into the kitchen. "Should I be worried?"

"Run," Piper deadpanned, not even blinking. "Run for your life." Then she grinned, ruining her poker face. "Nah, you should be fine. Mostly. Holler if there's fire, blood, or broken bones."

"You're so reassuring," Henry said, and Piper laughed.

He tromped down into the basement to find Paige standing in the center of the room, turning in a slow circle. The space around her feet had been cleared away.

"So, why couldn't you do this spell in the attic?" Henry prompted, as he sat down on the stairs, propping his elbows on his knees and dropping his head into his hands.

"Wasn't sure how it would work around the window," Paige replied, absently, and Henry blinked in surprise.

"So, you decided to try it in the basement, around the foundation of the entire house?" he asked. "This is your alternative to demon hunting?"

"Oh, hush," Paige chided him. "This is going to be fun."

Her inspection of the basement complete, Paige started muttering softly under her breath. Henry couldn't hear the individual words, but he guessed it was a spell of some sort. And he was proven right when the air literally started to warp around him.

Henry forced himself to hold still as the spell took effect, unsure of what movement would do to Paige's concentration, and unwilling to find out. The basement continued it's weird, psychedelic rippling for nearly a minute, and then everything snapped into sharp focus with an audible crack that actually shook him down to his bones. He shook his head to try and get rid of the ringing in his ears, and then, at Paige's silent, impatient gesture, he looked around at the basement.

Except that he was no longer sitting on the stairs leading down to the basement. He was sitting on a couch. In a house. A very nice house, actually, one that he recognized from a magazine he'd been flipping through, and he'd mentioned to Paige how he'd always wanted to live in a house like that, when he was a kid.

'-with a staircase that you could slide down the banister,' he said, tapping the page for emphasis, 'and a huge backyard with a tree fort, and a dog, because what kid doesn't want a dog?'

Dazed, Henry wandered over to the window, staring in shock at the expansive yard that greeted him. There was a big Golden Retriever running around on the grass, and it let out a happy bark when it saw him. He blinked, rubbing at his eyes to make sure that he wasn't hallucinating, and then he turned his incredulous gaze on Paige. She bit her lip as she watched him, an uncertain look on her face.

"Surprise?" she offered, weakly.

"You-" Henry started, waving his hand around, wildly. "How – what – why?"

"Why is easy," Paige told him. "You remember when you were a kid, and you would take the cushions off the couch to build a fort, and you dragged all the blankets in the house into it, and it turned into this big, elaborate construction in the middle of the room?"

"This is a pillow fort for grown-ups?" Henry asked, and Paige chuckled.

"Sort of," she replied. "I've been working on a spell to expand the space inside a given set of dimensions, and this is the big version."

"What was the little version?" Henry asked.

"Endless coffee cup," Paige said, with a grin. "Okay, not completely endless, it only holds twice the normal volume, since it's such a confined space, but twice-as-big coffee cup just doesn't roll off the tongue. I gave it to Phoebe, which in hindsight was probably a bad idea, since we now go through twice as much coffee in the mornings, and Piper's going to want one when she's back on caffeine-"

"You're rambling," Henry interrupted her, and Paige stuck her tongue out at him.

"Anyway," she said, pointedly, "a few months ago, Emily was telling me about a couple of her classmates that she was helping tutor. The Coates kids?"

"Yeah, she told me about them, too," Henry told her. "Poor kids, their family lost everything in a fire, and they've been living out of a fleabag motel for months."

Paige nodded. "It was demonic, actually," she said, surprising him. "The dad's a witch under the charge of a fellow Whitelighter. And I was trying to find a way to help them with my connections through social services, and Emily mentioned something about how it was too bad that magic couldn't help, since it had gotten them in trouble in the first place."

"And so you came up with house in a box?" Henry asked, gesturing to the house around them.

Paige nodded. "It's not a permanent solution, by any means. I have to renew the spell on Phoebe's coffee cup every couple of weeks, and anything bigger like this would need to be renewed even more often. But, it can be a short-term fix until they get back on their feet; I just need to work out all the bugs."

"So, we're still in the basement, right?" Henry asked, looking around. "You didn't orb us somewhere, or something?"

"No, we're in the basement," Paige reassured him. "Kind of."

"So, the windows?" Henry prompted, gesturing to the view "outside" the house.

"Illusion," Paige told him. "The only working door is that one," she gestured to a door outlined in red, "which is the basement door and leads back into the kitchen."

"That's our exit?" Henry asked, and Paige nodded.

"That, or I take the spell down," Paige replied.

"Don't do that, yet," Henry said, quickly, in case she'd been thinking of dismissing the spell. "It's kind of nice in here, looking out the window and pretending that there are no demons, no danger."

Paige nodded, walking over to where he was still standing by the window. She turned to look at him, and Henry took a startled step back as her eyes suddenly glowed with a bright white light. She shook her head, dazed, swaying like she was dizzy, and Henry put a hand on her shoulder to keep her on her feet.

"You okay?" he asked, concerned.

"Yeah, I'm fine," Paige replied. "What were we talking about?"

"Staying down here out of the way of demons," Henry reminded her, and Paige's whole face lit up as she smiled at him, suddenly.

"That's brilliant!" she cried, hugging him, briefly. "I never would have thought of that."

"Thought of what?" Henry asked, a twinge of unease starting down in his gut.

"You staying down here so that demons can't ever get to you, again," Paige said, like it should be obvious. "It's perfect."

"No," Henry said, slowly, the twinge of unease exploding into full-blown panic. "No, not perfect. Not a good idea. Paige-"

But, she wasn't listening to him. Instead, she moved back into the middle of the room, holding her hands out to her sides. Her palms glowed with a soft, golden light, and then the light rushed out from within her to spread out to the walls before disappearing. Paige grinned as she turned back to face him.

"You sit tight," she told him. "I'll be back as soon as I've vanquished all the demons."

"Paige, wait!" Henry started, but she was already orbing away.

"There's food in the fridge!" she called back to him, her voice fading away, and then she was gone and he was alone.

Henry immediately headed for the red door, tugging futilely on the doorknob, but he didn't really expect anything to happen. And like he expected, the door stayed firmly shut, and he gave up after a few seconds.

"This is just great," Henry muttered, to the empty room, as he dropped onto the couch. "Now, what the hell am I supposed to do?"

Chapter Eleven

After Paige had left, Henry had paced around for about half an hour. He'd pounded on the red door and yelled, hoping to get the attention of anyone who might still be in the house, but there'd been no answer. He'd finally given up about ten minutes ago, slumping back on the couch to consider his options.

He was stuck in the weird not-basement. Paige had shielded it somehow, presumably to keep demons out, but it was also keeping him in. And no one knew that he was down there.

'Yeah, I'm screwed,' Henry thought, staring out the window. 'I have no options until Paige comes back. If she doesn't get herself killed trying to take on the entire Underworld, first.'

A noise had him looking up, suddenly, and he rushed toward the red door, pounding on it with his fist.

"Hey, hello!" he yelled. "Who's out there?"

"Henry?" He sagged against the door in relief at the sound of Piper's voice. "Where are you?"

"Down in the basement," he replied. "Something's happened to Paige, and she flipped out and locked me down here."

"Now, why would she do that?" Piper asked, and Henry sighed.

"I think she's trying to protect me from demons," he told Piper. "Can you get me out of here?"

"Just a second," came her distant voice, and then he heard the sound of the doorknob rattling, but nothing happened. "That's weird, it's not opening."

"Paige generated some kind of shield around the place," Henry said, trying to think of the best way to describe the brilliant light she'd produced. "Like your baby does, actually," he went on, thinking about it.

"Well, it would make sense that they would share powers," Piper said, "since they're both half-Whitelighter."

Henry was about to reply when he heard the sound of running water. He cocked his head to the side, trying to figure out what he was hearing.

"Piper, what are you doing?" he finally asked.

"Dishes," was her reply, and Henry blinked in surprise.

"You're doing the dishes?" he echoed, trying to figure out when housework became more important than getting him out of the basement and fixing whatever was wrong with Paige.

"Uh huh," Piper replied, and it sounded like she was humming to herself as she worked.

"Piper, have you been cleaning this whole time?" Henry asked, suspiciously.

"Yep," Piper said, cheerfully. "You wouldn't believe how messy this house is. It took me forever to clean up the mess that witch doctor made, and don't think that I won't be talking to him about that."

"Piper, I need you to stop cleaning," Henry said, fighting for patience, "and get me out of here."

"I don't know," Piper said, doubtfully. "I mean, if Paige put you in there, she probably had a good reason, and I don't want to go against that. And, if I'm trying to get you out, than I can't clean. These dishes aren't going to wash themselves, you know."

"I'll do it," Henry said, seizing on a moment of inspiration. "If you let me out of the basement, I'll do all your cleaning for you. I know you hate going up on the stepladder to get cobwebs down."

"I do hate cobwebs," Piper mused, a thoughtful tone in her voice. "But, what about Paige?"

"If Paige were in her right mind," Henry said, quickly, "she never would have locked me in here in the first place. And she's going to come back eventually and let me out, so, really, you're just doing what she would. Only sooner."

Piper sighed, hesitating, and Henry could practically see his one chance for escape slipping through his fingers.

"Vacuuming!" he said, desperately. "Piper, if you let me out of here, I will vacuum the entire house for you. And dusting, and polishing-"

"Okay!" Piper agreed, a chipper tone in her voice. "Stand back."

Henry did as she indicated, waiting anxiously. He could hear Piper pacing outside the door.

"Door unlock," she said, suddenly, "No magic block." Then, she rapped her knuckles rapidly on the door, and Henry waited for it to swing open. When it didn't, his shoulders slumped in disappointment.

"It didn't work," he said, knowing that he was stating the obvious, but needing to do it, anyway.

"It should have." Piper sounded puzzled. "That spell worked when we were breaking Phoebe out of prison in the future."

"Can you try another spell?" Henry suggested, hopefully.

"I really should get back to cleaning," Piper replied, her voice distant as she moved further away from the door. "My goodness, these windows are dirty!"

Henry groaned, knowing that he'd just lost his one hope of escape. Whatever was affecting Paige was clearly affecting Piper, as well, and most likely Phoebe, too, since one of them couldn't get cursed without bringing the other two along for the ride. Which meant that he had no more options, unless-

"Leo!" he yelled, suddenly, holding his breath in anticipation of the Whitelighter's arrival.

He'd been put on the other man's account as a charge the same time as Paige, and it had come in handy more than a few times, now being one of them, if he was lucky. He waited, hopefully, for Leo to show up, and then he groaned in dismay when he heard the distinctive thumping sound of a body hitting something hard.

"Why did I just bounce off the basement?" he heard Leo demand, probably to Piper.

"Leo, down here!" Henry called, before Piper could say anything. Not that she probably would, being too busy cleaning, and all.

"What are you doing in the basement?" Leo asked, and the doorknob rattled, uselessly. "And why can't I open the door?"

"Paige sealed me down here with magic," Henry told him. "There's something wrong with her and Piper. And probably Phoebe, too. And this all started after that witch doctor left. What do you want to bet he's got something to do with it?"

"I know he's got something to do with whatever's going on," Leo said, grimly. "I was just talking to the Elders, and they said that the witch doctors' methods of going after evil are shady. One of their favorite tricks is to hex a demon so that a single thought will become an all-consuming obsession, and that obsession will take them over and destroy them."

"Like say, a desire to keep a clean house, or protect loved ones from evil?" Henry asked, with a groan.

"Yeah, exactly like that," Leo agreed. "Look, I can't orb in, so I think you're just going to have to sit tight until I can get Paige to undo whatever it was she did in the first place. You okay in there?"

"Yeah, I'm fine," Henry replied, and he was mostly telling the truth.

Paige's not-house was big, and cushy, and if he didn't think about it, he could almost forget the fact that he was locked up in a basement, of all places, forget the sound of the rats scuttling around in the corners, the slow, rhythmic drip of the water pipes, his foster mother's furious ranting as she slammed the door and locked it behind her, leaving him alone in the dark –

Henry bit down on his lip hard enough to draw blood, the pain jerking him abruptly out of the memories of a long-ago hell. His hands were clenched into fists at his sides, nails leaving little half-moon impressions in the skin of his palms, and the air was filled with the sound of his harsh, ragged breathing. He closed his eyes, forced his fingers to uncurl, and took several slow, deep breaths, trying to calm himself down. It didn't work as well as he wanted.

Fumbling in his pocket for his cell phone, he blindly pressed a number on his speed dial, listening to the phone ring. Then, he exhaled a noisy breath when he heard Jenna's cheerful greeting.

"Hey, big brother," she said, and he relaxed when he heard the smile in her voice. "What are you doing, calling me in the middle of the day?"

"Are you busy?" Henry asked, as he sank down onto the couch. "Can you talk?"

"Yeah, I've got time," Jenna told him.

"Talk to me," Henry asked, quietly. "Please?"

Jenna must have heard something in his voice, because she didn't ask any questions. She just immediately launched into a recounting of everything she'd been up to since the last time they'd talked, with several breaks in her monologue to remind him just how long that had been. Henry closed his eyes, relaxing against the couch cushions, and just let his sister's voice wash over him, feeling the knot of tension in his stomach slowly disappear.

"Okay, Henry, I've got to know," Jenna finally said, after about fifteen minutes, "what's going on? Are you okay?"

"Paige is not exactly herself, right now," Henry told her, "and she kind of locked me in the basement. She's doing it to protect me, and she wouldn't have ever done it if she weren't hexed, but, still, basement."

Jenna gasped in shock. "Are you okay?" she asked, again. "Are you freaking out?"

"I'm trying not to," Henry admitted. "It's not as bad as it sounds. The basement is actually really nice, right now."

"Right now?" Jenna echoed. "What do you mean, right now?"

"Well, Paige cast this spell," Henry replied, "and she kind of stuffed an entire house into the basement."

"Define stuffed," Jenna demanded, and Henry frowned as he thought about it.

"Do you remember that scene from Mary Poppins when she was pulling all that stuff out of her carpet bag?" he finally asked, and Jenna laughed.

"Paige built you a TARDIS!" she said, gleefully. "You have to get her to make me one. I'll even find the police box! It doesn't even have to travel in time - okay, time travel would be awesome, and if it came with its own Peter Davidson, even better - please, Henry, please, please, please, I won't ask for anything else ever again-"

"Wait," Henry interrupted her, "are you talking about that British show you used to watch, the one with the weird guy with the scarves, and the one who wore celery, and somehow they were the same person-"

"That's the one," Jenna confirmed.

"Jenna, I'm not asking Paige to build you a time machine," Henry told her, getting a dismayed huff from his sister in response.

"You are no fun," she informed him. "It's just one little time machine."

"Okay, let's hope you never get powers," Henry replied, "because the words 'personal gain consequences' clearly have no meaning to you."

Jenna snorted out a laugh, clearly not offended by his teasing. "You know what this reminds me of?"she asked him. "Crazy, mind-whammied Paige is the evil witch," she went on, without giving him time to answer, "normal Paige is the knight in shining armor, and you, my dear brother, are Rapunzel, waiting in your tower to be rescued."

"I'm hanging up, now," Henry said, flatly, and Jenna laughed.

"Feeling better, now?" she asked.

"Yeah," Henry said, softly, "I think I am. Thanks, Jenna."

"Anytime," Jenna promised him. "What are sisters for, right? Although, if you're ever stuck on what to get me for my birthday-"

"No time machine!" Henry told her, and Jenna's laughter was the last thing he heard as he clicked off the phone.

Then, he slipped his phone back into his pocket, stretched out on the couch, and waited for his knight in shining armor to come to her senses and get him out of there.

Chapter Twelve

Leo hated leaving a charge in any kind of distress, especially given the barely-concealed panic he could sense from Henry. But, he had no choice. He couldn't break the other man out of the basement on his own; he needed to get Paige to undo whatever magic she'd used, first.

"I'll be right back," he reassured Henry, but he had a feeling that the other man wasn't listening to him. Casting a quick look over at Piper, who was still cleaning the kitchen and ignoring everything else going on around her, he orbed to where he could sense Paige.

He found her in the attic, standing in front of an empty crystal cage. Recently empty, if the scorch marks on the floor were any indication. Paige didn't seem to see him as she turned her attention back to the Book open on its lectern, flipping slowly through the pages.

"Paige, what are you doing?" he asked, and she jerked her head up to stare at him in surprise, blinking.

"What does it look like I'm doing?" she asked after a moment, gesturing at the cage. "I'm vanquishing demons."

"Paige, you need to stop this," Leo told her.

"I will," Paige reassured him. "Once I've rid the world of demons."

"No, you need to stop, now," Leo insisted, groaning softly when she proceeded to completely ignore him. "Paige, this is crazy."

"No," Paige corrected him, a patient tone in her voice, "crazy is having all these demons running around without doing anything about them. Well, I'm doing something about them."

"You can't summon demons into the house to vanquish them," Leo argued. "It's dangerous. Piper's down in the kitchen, Henry's down in the basement-"

He trailed off, giving her a significant look, and Paige looked pensive for a long moment.

"You're right," she finally told him, shutting the Book with a quiet sigh. "You're absolutely right. It's too dangerous; I can't keep bringing demons into the house like this."

"That's right," Leo said, encouragingly.

"I need to take the fight to them," Paige finished, picking up a slim dagger from where it was resting beside the Book, and orbing out of the attic. Leo groaned in dismay.

"I should have seen that one coming," he told the empty attic.

He orbed out of the attic, following her orb trail down to Hell. But, when he emerged in an empty cavern, she'd already moved on. He focused, trying to sense her, and he got a distant trace that was getting fainter by the second. She was on the move, and moving fast.

He orbed out after her, rematerializing in empty space after empty space, always trailing her. It was hard to sense her down in the Underworld, her magic masked by the dark energies of Hell. The longer he followed her, the more clear it was that she was looking for something, but he didn't think she'd found it, yet.

The closest he came to finding Paige was when he stumbled across the scene of an obvious vanquish. There were scorch marks on the stone walls, a couple piles of ash that he supposed had once been demons, and most worryingly, blood spatters that formed a trail out of the cavern and down the corridor.

Leo crouched down, smearing some of the blood between his fingers. He could sense an echo of Paige's emotions: anger, determination, and a courage that almost bordered on recklessness. It reminded him of Piper when she was under the influence of her Fearless spell. What he couldn't sense, though, was Paige, herself. There was no orb trail, indicating that she'd walked out of the cavern – or limped, more likely – and her voice was notably absent from his mind.

'If she's shielding herself from demons, then I wouldn't be able to sense her, either,' he thought, grimly. He hoped that was the reason that he couldn't sense her. He didn't want to consider any other reasons.

Either way, it was clear that he wasn't going to be able to find Paige on his own. He needed help.

He orbed into the kitchen to the sound of Phoebe's voice, and he relaxed when he realized that she was one less sister he was going to have to track down. Then, he listened to what she was actually saying.

"-may have to flee the country," she was telling Piper, "but it's just for a little while, and I will call you, I promise."

"Oh, no you don't, Missy!" Piper said, her arms crossed over her chest as she leveled a glare at her younger sister. "There will be no fleeing the country until you clean up this mess!"

"Fleeing the country?" Leo echoed, incredulously, as both women glanced over at him. Phoebe started edging toward the door, now that Piper's attention was temporarily diverted from her. "Phoebe, what's in your hand?"

"Oh, just a little potion," Phoebe told him, dismissively, as she stopped trying to escape the kitchen. "For a turkey, actually."

She gave him a guileless smile, and Leo shook his head. He knew that he should try to stop whatever it was she was doing, but he still had Paige to worry about, who was in very real, physical danger. And Phoebe was focused on a bird.

"I need a tracking spell," he said, after a couple of seconds. "Paige is-" He broke off, glancing toward the basement door. He lowered his voice, not wanting to worry Henry any more than he already was. "Paige is missing, and I can't find her," he whispered.

"Sorry, busy!" Phoebe sang out, darting out the kitchen and toward the front door. "Ask Piper!"

"I can't," Piper said, before he could even say anything. "I've still got the curtains to wash, and I wanted to put slipcovers on all the furniture, and Phoebe left this huge mess for me to deal with-"

She gestured emphatically at the detritus that Phoebe had left scattered across the butcher block table, and Leo jerked back in surprise when some of the mess exploded. Piper pursed her lips as she stared at what remained of the mess, and then she whirled around without warning, flicking her hands at the window and blowing it up.

"I was getting tired of trying to scrub those water spots," she told Leo, who was watching her, warily. "This is much faster, don't you agree?"

"Piper, I really need that tracking spell," Leo said, deciding to tackle her obsession, later. "Paige is-" He cut himself off, remembering Henry. "I just really need that spell. Please."

"I'm kind of busy, right now," Piper replied, her voice distant as she was drawn away to yet another facet of her obsession. "You know, I don't think I ever noticed just how filthy this ceiling is."

Leo sighed in frustration, knowing that his chances of getting Piper to listen to him were slipping away like water through his fingers.

"Do you know if Cole is still at the office?" he asked, instead, and he got a half nod from Piper that might have been an affirmative answer.

Rather than ask again, knowing that she wasn't going to answer him, he orbed out of the Manor. He rematerialized directly in Cole's office at the law firm where he worked, keeping himself cloaked to keep anyone from seeing him. From the way that Cole looked up, though, he could tell that the other man had sensed him, and after a few seconds, Cole made his apologies to his coworkers and ushered them out of his office, locking the door and closing the curtains. When they were alone, Leo dropped his cloak.

"We've got a big problem," he said, without preamble.

"I figured," Cole said, grimly, "otherwise you wouldn't have risked exposure by orbing into a public place. What's going on?"

"Piper, Phoebe, and Paige summoned a witch doctor to clean up the evil in the house," Leo replied, "and he hexed them into obsession."

"What?" Cole demanded. "Why?"

"I don't know," Leo told him, shaking his head. "When he was in the house, he kept talking about all the evil they attracted. I think he's worried about them being evil."

"That's ridiculous," Cole scoffed. "All right, what do you need me to do?"

"Come down to the Underworld with me," Leo replied. "Paige is down there hunting demons, and she's not acting like herself. I'm afraid she's going to get herself killed."

"Let's go," Cole said, promptly, shimmering out of his office.

Leo followed him to the Underworld to find Cole frozen, his gaze riveted on something on the far wall of the cavern they'd landed in. And his heart stopped in his chest when he saw what Cole was staring at. Paige was backed up against the wall with her own, slim dagger protruding from her shoulder, pinning her to the stone. A Darklighter was standing in front of her, crossbow aimed at her heart and ready to fire.

And then the Darklighter grinned, his finger twitching on the trigger, and the arrow flew…

Chapter Thirteen

Leo lunged across the space separating him from Paige, praying. His fingers had just barely brushed against her skin when he started to orb, and he wrapped his arms around her waist in transit, cushioning her fall when they reformed in midair and fell to the ground. The Darklighter's arrow thudded into the wall and stuck there, and he didn't have the chance to fire off a second one when Cole hit him with an energy ball, vanquishing him instantly.

Paige jerked herself to her feet as Leo eased himself out from underneath her. She swayed, hand going up to stabilize the dagger in her shoulder and keep it from moving.

"Why don't you let me take a look at that?" Leo suggested, cautiously, wondering how Paige was even able to stay on her feet.

When she nodded, and he put a hand on her shoulder, his amazement for her resilience increased. With contact, his sensing ability was able to breach her shields, and he could feel the injuries she'd taken while fighting demons in the Underworld. She was bleeding from nearly half a dozen wounds, she had a sprained wrist, and there was a sizable knot forming on the back of her head. But, there was also enough adrenaline flooding her system that she wasn't reacting to the pain.

'Or, more likely,' he thought, 'it's a side effect of the hex. Making her ignore everything but her obsession until it destroys her.'

"Hold still," he told Paige, reaching for the dagger. "I just need to ease this out-"

Then, he flinched when Paige simply yanked the blade out of her shoulder, blood pouring out of the wound that had been opened even more with her vehemence. Leo cursed under his breath as he put his hand over her shoulder, pouring healing energy into Paige in a barely-controlled rush. Her wounds knitted together under his hands, but he didn't relax until she was completely healed.

"Thanks for the help," Paige told Cole, smiling briefly at him. "I had things under control-"

"How?" Cole demanded, from where he was guarding the entrance to the cavern. "Paige, you were about to get skewered."

"Why didn't you orb the crossbow away from the Darklighter?" Leo asked, as he finished healing Paige.

"Honestly, I didn't think about it," Paige admitted, after a moment, and Leo shared a grim look with Cole. The witch doctor's hex was definitely messing with Paige's thinking and common sense. "Anyway, thanks," Paige went on, blithely, oblivious to the silent tension between the other two. "Leo, can I have my knife back? I need to keep hunting."

"No," Leo said, flatly, tightening his grip on the dagger's hilt as he stepped away from Paige, out of her reach.

"Leo, give me back my dagger," Paige said, her eyes gone hard.

"I can't do that," Leo told her. "Paige, think about this for a minute. What are you doing?"

"What am I doing?" Paige echoed, in disbelief. "Leo, I'm keeping my family safe, that's what I'm doing."

"At the expense of your own life?" Leo asked, a challenging note in his voice. "Paige, you're going to get yourself killed if you keep going like this."

Paige shrugged, and Leo was reminded that her behavior was a side effect of the hex. He hoped.

"Paige-" he tried, but she didn't let him finish.

"I am tired of losing people, Leo," she ranted at him, her eyes flashing with barely-constrained fury. "Mom, Grams, Prue, Pax – demons have taken so much from us, and I just can't do it, anymore. I can't keep losing the people I love!"

"What about us?" Leo asked her, gently. Paige looked at him, startled, and he went on, "What are we supposed to do when we lose you?"

Paige shook her head, her lips pressed into a tight line, and Leo reached out and snagged her hand when she tried to turn away.

"What I am supposed to tell Piper and Phoebe when I come back without you?" he asked. "Or, Henry?" Paige jerked, her eyes wide with something like panic. "He's still in the basement," Leo continued, encouraged by her reaction. "Waiting for you."

Paige took a shaky breath, her eyes shining with tears. "Henry," she whispered, and then her eyes glowed with a bright, white light, and she staggered. Leo automatically reached out to hold her up.

"You okay?" he asked, and Paige nodded, slowly.

"Oh, God, what have I done?" she said, looking completely heartbroken.

"Nothing that can't be fixed," Leo reassured her, but Paige didn't look convinced by his words. "We have to go home," he went on, after a moment. "Piper and Phoebe are under the same hex you are. Piper's probably thrown most of our belongings into the trash, by now, for being too dirty, and Phoebe's off doing God-knows-what to some, poor bird."

"Bird?" Paige echoed, incredulously, and Leo shrugged.

"She was making a potion," he told her. "For a-"

"Turkey?" Paige guessed, weakly, and Leo nodded in surprise.

"Yeah, how'd you know?" he asked.

"It's not a bird," Paige groaned. "It's Spencer Ricks."

"The other advice columnist?" Cole asked, doubtfully.

"She was ranting about him challenging her, and she called him a turkey-" Paige trailed off, shaking her head. "We have got to find her. Now."

"The paper," Cole said, instantly. "The last time I talked to Phoebe, she said that she was headed back to the office."

Paige orbed out without a word, and Leo and Cole followed her, a moment later. They emerged in the empty hallway outside the bullpen of the Bay Mirror, and Leo could see Paige inside the bullpen, talking to Elise. She joined them a few seconds later.

"Phoebe's not here," she informed them, without preamble. "But, Elise very helpfully told me how fired up Phoebe's gotten about this challenge that Spencer Ricks threw down, and how she was talking about wanting to kill the competition."

"That's not good," Leo decided. Paige nodded, grimly.

"We have to find Phoebe before she does something she'll regret later," she replied. "Cole-"

"Josh is getting out of school, soon," he interrupted her, glancing down at his watch.

"Go get him," Paige said, promptly. "You and Josh need to stay away from the Manor until we fix this. Leo and I will call you when it's safe."

Cole nodded, shimmering out of the hallway, leaving Leo and Paige alone in the hallway. Paige was the first one to speak.

"I didn't want to say this in front of Cole," she said, in a low voice, "but I can't sense Phoebe. She's just – gone."

"Yeah," Leo agreed, watching Paige's face fall when he confirmed her suspicions. He guessed that she'd been hoping that he could sense Phoebe where she couldn't. "I can't sense her, either. She could be shielded, like you were."

"Phoebe doesn't have that power," Paige argued.

"But someone else might," Leo insisted. "Phoebe is not dead. If the witch doctors didn't get to you after you did half their job for them and walked straight into Hell, then Phoebe's competitive streak isn't going to do her in, either."

"Let's go back home," Paige told him, sighing. "I'll hit the Book, do a couple tracking spells, and we'll go from there."

"Piper's still under the hex," Leo reminded her.

"We'll break her out of it," Paige replied, her confident words belied by the tension in her voice. "And if we can't, well, then, I guess I'm just going to have to summon the witch doctor and make him tell me how to reverse it." A fierce, furious light filled her eyes. "Evil needs to stop screwing with my family."

"I think after today," Leo said, carefully, "the Underworld is starting to get that message."

Chapter Fourteen

Leo and Paige orbed out of the hallway and back to the Manor. Back to back, an instinctive formation to protect each other, Leo didn't see anything out of the ordinary, at first, looking out at the street. But, he could feel Paige stiffen behind him.

"We have a problem," she said, faintly, and Leo turned around at the sound of the alarm in her voice. Then he froze, gaping in shock at the big, empty space where the Manor used to be.

"Big problem," he agreed.

They broke into a run as they crossed the street, to where Piper was sweeping the sidewalk in front of the concrete steps that had once led up to the walkway. She smiled at them when she saw them.

"Piper, where's the house?" Paige asked, an overly-calm tone in her voice.

"Everything was taking too long, so I just used a little vanishing spell," Piper said, matter-of-factly. "It's like a good dusting, only better."

"Piper, you can't vanquish an entire house," Paige protested. "Especially not ours. People are gonna notice."

"Not vanquish," Piper corrected her. "Vanish. I figured that we'd start from scratch." Whistling tunelessly, she went back to sweeping.

Paige gaped at her sister in wordless shock for a moment before she turned to Leo. "You have to break her out of this. Like you did with me."

"It's not that simple," Leo protested. "You broke the hex on your own, when you realized how much it would hurt everyone if you-"

"If I got myself killed in a vendetta mission?" Paige finished, wryly. "Well, we need to find a way to knock some sense into Piper. Because, without the house, I can't get to the Book, and we'll never find Phoebe."

"Not to mention, you still have to get Henry out of the basement," Leo reminded her, and a horrified look flashed across Paige's face.

"Henry," she gasped, sprinting up the steps and across the foundation to where the basement door had once been. Leo followed her to see a glowing orb shield surrounding a hole in the floor. "Henry?" Paige called out, her voice wavering, slightly.

"Still here," Henry called back, and Paige's shoulders slumped in relief.

"Give me a minute, and I'll get you out of there," she told him.

Crouching, she put a hand against the orb shield. Her hand glowed for a moment, and then the shield collapsed in a scattering of orbs. Henry, standing directly underneath, was staring up at them with a bemused look on his face.

"You have no idea how glad I am to see you back to normal," he told Paige. He climbed the remaining steps, accepting the hand Paige held out to him to get out of the hole. "You are back to normal, aren't you – what the hell happened to the house?"

"Piper vanished it," Paige told him. "And, Phoebe's missing-"

"Phoebe was in the house," Henry interrupted her, grimly. "She was in the kitchen. I could hear her talking to herself, and then all of a sudden she went quiet. I couldn't see anything past that shield, and no one was answering me, so I couldn't figure out what was going on." Looking around at the bare slab of concrete, he shook his head, incredulously. "Piper vanished the house?"

"We're lucky that Paige's shield was stronger than Piper's spell," Leo remarked. "And thanks to you, I think I have a way to snap Piper out of her hex."

He went back to where his oblivious wife was still sweeping the sidewalk in front of the bare foundation. Leo looked around the quiet neighborhood, amazed beyond belief that no one had noticed them. The Elders had to be involved, somehow.

"Piper," he said, and she looked up at him, flashing him a brief, brilliant smile. "Piper, where's Phoebe?"

"Phoebe?" she echoed, confused.

"Henry said that she was in the kitchen when you cast your vanishing spell," Leo went on, and a small furrow appeared on Piper's forehead.

"No," she denied, shaking her head. "No, she wasn't-"

"When you made the house disappear," Leo pressed, "you also made Phoebe disappear."

Piper shook her head, a genuinely distressed expression clouding her face. "No, I wouldn't-"

"Yeah," Leo said, insistently, and Piper looked past him toward the space where the Manor had previously been.

"No," Piper said, forcefully, and then her eyes glowed just like Paige's had, when the hex was breaking. "Phoebe!" Piper bolted past him, up the steps to where Paige and Henry were waiting. She looked around in a panic, her eyes wide. "What have I done?"

"Piper, you need to reverse the spell," Leo encouraged her.

"I don't know if I can," Piper said, doubtfully.

"Well, then you better make us disappear," Paige commented, "because this one is going to be hard to explain."

"You can do it, Piper," Leo tried, again, and he watched her take a deep breath.

"Let the object of objection return," she said, softly, "so that its existence may be reaffirmed." She was holding her breath, clearly not expecting the quick and dirty spell to work, but she relaxed as the house reformed around them, whole and complete.

"Nice one," Henry said, grinning, but whatever else he might have said was cut off by the sound of a turkey's gobble. "Turkey?"

"Spencer Ricks," Paige replied, as they ran into the kitchen.

They found Phoebe pinning the turkey to the butcher block table, an enormous cleaver in her free hand. Paige let out a strangled noise, stretching out a hand, and then a sparkle of orbs filled the air. A second later, Paige found herself with an armful of enormous, struggling bird.

Phoebe lunged at the bird in Paige's arms, a mindless craze in her eyes. Leo caught her around the waist, squeezing her wrist until she dropped the cleaver, and then he pinned her arms down, holding her in place.

"Let me go!" she cried, fighting Leo's grip. "I have to kill Spencer."

"Okay, we have got to break that hex," Piper said, shaking her head. "Paige, you and I are going after that witch doctor. Leo, keep Phoebe away from that turkey."

"Which leaves you on turkey wrangling duty," Paige told Henry, an apologetic look on her face as she passed him the furious bird.

"I don't get paid enough for this," Henry grumbled, as he wrapped an arm around the bird's wings, and caught its legs with his free hand to keep from being clawed.

"You don't get paid at all for this," Paige pointed out, reasonably. Hooking her arm around Piper's, she orbed them both out of the kitchen, the room slightly darker in the wake of their departure.

Leo wrapped his arms tighter around Phoebe when she continued to struggle against his hold, exchanging a wordless look of exasperation with Henry. "She won't stop fighting me," he grumbled.

Henry shifted his grip on the feisty bird in his arms, scowling at Leo. "What? You want to trade?"

Leo decided after a moment that he really didn't. And he held onto Phoebe and prayed that Piper and Paige got back, soon.


Paige groaned as she dropped down onto the couch beside Henry, snuggling into the arm he slipped over her shoulders.

"Hi, honey," Henry quipped. "How was your day?"

"Well," Paige drawled, playing along, "I got hexed by witch doctors, and I vanquished a bunch of demons in the Underworld, and then Piper and I scared the crap out of those same witch doctors to get them to undo the hex."

"Big day," Henry teased her. "I babysat a really grumpy advice columnist that Phoebe turned into a turkey."

"Yeah, what happened to your hand?" Paige asked, brushing her fingers against his bandaged palm.

Henry pulled a face. "Spencer Ricks bit me," he grumbled, and Paige stared at him in disbelief before bursting into laughter. "Oh, yeah, yuck it up," Henry muttered, mulishly.

Paige grinned at him for a moment. Then, sobering, she added, "I also trapped my best friend in a nightmare. Henry, I'm so sorry," she said, softly, regret shining in her eyes. "I hurt you, and I never wanted-"

"I'm okay," Henry said, gently, hands on her shoulders as he turned her to face him. "Paige, I'm okay."

"I never should have-" Paige started, but Henry shook his head, cutting her off.

"You weren't trying to hurt me," he reminded her. "You were trying to protect me. And I can't say that there haven't been times where I've wanted to do the same thing. I hate knowing that you put yourself in danger every day, fighting demons. And I wish I could help you, somehow, take some of the weight off your shoulders."

"You do," Paige told him, quietly. "Just having you here, knowing that I can always turn to you, that means more to me than I'll ever be able to tell you."

"You already did," Henry replied, and anything Paige could have said was cut off by the sound of someone cooing from the doorway.

Without even looking, Paige grabbed the pillow beside her and hurled at whichever sister was in the process of making fun of them. Then, she smirked at Phoebe's exclamation of mock outrage.

"You missed," Henry remarked, grinning.

"Yeah, well, I wasn't actually trying to hit her," Paige grumbled. "If I'd wanted to hit her, I'd have orbed the pillow."

"Doesn't that go against personal gain?" Henry asked. Without waiting for an answer, he added, "Hey, speaking of blatantly violating all Wiccan rules, Jenna wants a time machine."

"Jenna wants what?" Paige echoed, incredulously, laughing.

"A time machine," Henry repeated. "You know that old science fiction show, with all the British guys-"

"Doctor Who?" Paige guessed, quizzically. "Yeah, I remember it. It was cute."

"Well, I was telling her about the spell that you put on the basement," Henry told her, "and apparently the space ship on that show is also bigger on the inside, and it's a time machine, so-"

"Relax," Paige broke in, with a chuckle. "I'm not going to build Jenna a time machine."

"No?" Henry asked, a suspicious note in his voice.

"No," Paige reassured him. Then, grinning, she added, "I don't know how to make it travel in time, yet."

Henry shot her a skeptical look. "You're joking, right?" Paige just kept smiling at him, and Henry's scowl deepened. "Paige?"

"I want popcorn," Paige declared, bouncing up from the couch, and heading for the kitchen. "You want popcorn?"

"I want you to promise me that you're not going to build my sister a time machine," Henry grumped from behind her. "Paige? Paige!"

Chapter Fifteen

September, 1737

Josh's first words as they stepped out of the portal were, "They overpowered the spell."

Looking around at the enormous, lush trees that surrounded them, not to mention the dirt road they were standing on, one that was pitted with thin wheel tracks, Chris was inclined to agree. Richard and Olivia were only supposed to send them back two years, not two hundred.

"Where do you think we are?" he asked, and Josh shrugged.

"Not San Francisco, that's for sure," he commented. "I mean, look at these trees!"

"We have trees back home," Chris protested, but Josh shook his head in disagreement.

"Not like this," he corrected, absently, as he stared up at the sky that was barely visible through all the foliage. "We're on the ocean, back home. We've got nothing like this."

"Uh huh," Chris muttered. "Well, if you're done hugging trees, can we go figure out where we are, now? Maybe find some people? Civilization?"

"If you want people, then we should just stay here," Josh replied. When Chris simply stared at him, silently willing an answer out of his frustrating cousin, Josh sighed. "People," he said, pointing down the road. "Coming this way. Soon."

"Why do the psychics in this family have to be so annoying?" Chris asked, getting a smirk from Josh.

"Maybe because we're always right?" he countered, cheerfully.

"Annoying and smug," Chris corrected himself, while Josh chuckled. "Okay, genius, so you've found people. What are you going to do if we're really far back in time, and we don't look like everyone else? For all you know, we could be burned as witches just for wearing jeans."

"I'd be more worried about being burned as witches because we are witches," Josh pointed out. "And, as you pointed out, I'm psychic. I'll just make them think that they don't see us, and we'll follow them to wherever they're going."

"That's … actually a good idea," Chris conceded.

"I do have them from time to time," Josh shot back. "Stay close, huh? Further away, you're harder to hide."

They waited on the side of the road for several minutes, and finally Chris started to hear the sound of leather and wood creaking, and the muffled sound of heavy footfalls. He looked over at Josh who nodded in confirmation. A few seconds later, a rustic wooden wagon came into view, pulled by a sleek, bay horses. A man wearing a large, wide-brimmed hat hanging low over his forehead was driving the wagon, slouched over as the horses ambled up the road.

The wagon pulled even with them, and then started to pass without the driver ever even giving an indication that he'd seen them standing on the side of the road, and Chris started to relax, thinking that Josh's plan was going to go off without a hitch. So, he was understandably more than a little startled when a dark-haired young girl poked her head out of the back of the wagon, staring unerringly at him and Josh.

"Papa, stop!" the girl cried, twisting around to face the man. "It's the strangers!"

The man clucked to the horses, stopping the wagon in the middle of the road. He looked around, still not seeing Chris and Josh, and then he shot his daughter a quizzical look.

"Right there," the girl insisted, pointing directly at the two of them.

Chris still didn't think that the man could see them, but he looked in the general direction his daughter was indicating. "If you gentlemen could kindly reveal yourselves?"

'What do you think?' Josh asked, silently, and Chris frowned, slightly as he studied the man and his daughter – daughters and son, he realized, as another two kids popped up beside the first. 'I don't sense anything dangerous about them.'

'Might as well,' Chris replied, after a moment. 'Shielded or not, that kid can still see us. And she's not freaking out, so-'

Josh nodded, and a second later, the man jerked in surprise, seeing them for the first time. He jumped down off the wagon, pushing the brim of his hat up and revealing his face, and now it was Chris's turn to be surprised. The man was a dead ringer for Henry Mitchell.

"Do you see that?" he muttered to Josh.

"One of Uncle Henry's past lives, maybe," Josh shrugged, looking unconcerned by the revelation. "We've seen weirder in this family."

Then, he pasted a wide smile on his face as the man approached them, warily. Not that Chris blamed him for his suspicion. People in hiding usually had something to hide, and this man had three young children to protect.

"Jonathon Wentworth," he said, holding a hand out for them to shake. "I hope you're the ones we've been waiting for."

"Well, I don't know about that," Chris told him, shaking his hand, "but we'll certainly do our best to help you."

"Waiting for what?" Josh asked, shaking Jonathon's hand as well.

"That's best explained when we're not standing in the middle of the street," Jonathon told them, gesturing to the wagon. "Will you ride with us? I promise that all will be explained, soon."

Chris and Josh started toward the wagon, climbing onto the wheels to drop down into the back with the kids. The girl who'd first seen them was beaming, happily, moving over to make room for them to sit beside her. The little boy on her other side was eying them with frank curiosity, a lock of white-blonde hair falling into his face every few seconds, no matter how many times he tried to move it. And the third child –

The little girl, taller than her sister, with honey-blonde hair, was openly glaring at them. Her brow furrowed, and then Chris suddenly felt the wagon shifting under him and he looked down to see a couple of inches of air between him and the wagon. Then, the girl blinked and he crashed back down, jostling the wagon.

"Beatrice, mind the horses," Jonathon admonished, gently.

"Yes, Father," she said, primly, and then she turned her furious glare back on Chris and Josh, her voice dropping into a low (and impressive) growl. "If you try to hurt my family, I will throw you out of the cart and into the road."

"Oh, stop it, Beatrice," the other girl scolded. Turning to Chris and Josh, she smiled and held her hand out to them. "I'm Brianna," she introduced herself. "The stick-in-the-mud is Beatrice, and this is our brother, Jack."

"Beatrice, Brianna, and Jack Warren," Chris echoed, exchanging a glance with Josh. "And I suppose that you have another sister named Grace, back at home?"

Jonathon twisted around at his words, a speculative look in his eyes. "My wife has just found out that she's pregnant," he told them. "So, it's a girl, then?"

Chris winced, as Josh elbowed him in the side. "I shouldn't have told you that. I thought you already-"

"What harm is there in knowing if I'm having a daughter or son?" Jonathon pointed out, reasonably. "Unless you are more worried that I know that you came from the future?"

"You want to run that by us, again?" Josh asked, slowly, and the man turned and gave them a slow smile.

"It wasn't so hard to figure out," he replied. "You are strangers, and yet you know my family, including my unborn child. Your manner of dress is highly unusual, as is your speech."

"And don't forget Mama's premonition!" Jack piped up, eagerly, his eyes shining.

"And that," Jonathon finished. "My wife had a rather interesting vision involving you, two."

"And from that you came up with time travel?" Josh asked, incredulously. "Only in this family," he lamented.

"Are we related, then?" Beatrice asked, studying them, curiously, and now it was Josh's turn to look abashed.

"We're just gonna shut our mouths, now," he replied. "Before we say anything we really shouldn't."

"But, you can't!" Brianna cried, looking dismayed. "Can't you tell us more? Will we marry? Beatrice wants to be a doctor-"

"Brianna, hush," Jonathon scolded, gently, and the little girl's face crumpled. "If they cannot tell us, we should not pester them to."

"Yes, Papa," Brianna murmured, twisting her hands in her lap. Chris leaned closer, giving her a conspiratorial grin.

"Of all my ancestors," he said, softly, "you were always my favorite."

Brianna beamed at him, the smile lighting up her face. She wrapped her arms around him in an impulsive hug, and then she bounced to her feet without warning.

"We're home!" she whooped, and Chris automatically reached up to steady her before she could fall down.

Jonathon guided the wagon to a stop in front of a rough-hewn log cabin, and Brianna and Jack jumped out of the wagon, sprinting to the house while yelling for their mother. Beatrice moved slower, dangling her legs down over the side of the wagon, and that was when Chris saw that one of her legs was made of wood.

'I'd heard that she'd lost a leg,' he thought at Josh, exchanging a look with his cousin, 'but I don't know if I ever knew how early.'

'Apparently very early,' was Josh's grim reply, as he jumped out of the wagon, landing lightly on the ground. 'It would explain how her telekinesis is so strong at an early age; she's supporting herself as she walks.' Turning his attention to Beatrice, he added, "I would be honored if you would allow me to assist you," he said, grandly, and a hint of a smile crept over the girl's face.

"Most people are afraid of me," she murmured, as she accepted the hands that Josh held out to her.

"Me, too," he told her, with a small smile. "I learned from you how to not be afraid of them." At that, Beatrice's smile was no less stunning than her sister's.

Chris looked over at the sound of footsteps, seeing Jonathon watching them with his oldest daughter. He gave her a hug when she passed him to go into the house, and then he turned his attention to Chris and Josh.

"I believe I promised you an explanation?" he said, gesturing toward the house. "After you."

Chapter Sixteen

Chris and Josh followed Jonathon into the small house. The kids had swarmed around a woman sitting at the kitchen table, and Chris wasn't really surprised to find that she looked exactly like Paige. Her polite smile turned genuine when she saw who was standing behind her husband.

"We've been waiting for you," she told them.

"That's what he said," Josh replied, nodding at Jonathon. "What we haven't heard is why."

"I have a message to give you," the woman said, surprising them. "Cassandra Warren," she introduced herself, and Josh made an odd, choking noise in the back of his throat. Chris rolled his eyes, thumping his cousin soundly on the back.

"I'm Chris," he replied, "and this is Josh. We don't really know how we wound up here," he started, as he and Josh took the chairs that were offered to them, sitting across from Cassandra and Jonathon at the table.

"We intercepted you," a new voice said, before Cassandra could say anything, and Josh twisted around in his seat to stare disbelievingly at the older woman who'd just entered from one of the bedrooms. He gaped at her like a landed fish.

"Do you know who that is?" he hissed, in a hoarse whisper, his eyes wide with excitement. "That's Prudence Warren!"

"You're a dork," Chris teased him, an affectionate note in his voice.

"Are you brothers?" Cassandra asked, a curious note in her voice. Chris gave Josh a long, considering look.

"He's the big brother I wish I could have had," he finally said, getting a sympathetic look from his cousin. "So, um," Chris went on, swallowing past the lump that had unexpectedly formed in his throat, "Jonathon said that you had a premonition about us?"

"I had a premonition meant for you," Cassandra corrected, much to Chris's surprise. "Almost a month ago, I received a premonition of a young girl trying to deliver a message through time. She was trying to reach out to her brother."

"Parker," Josh guessed, almost immediately. "She's been trying to teach herself Mom's astral premonition trick; I doubt she'd be strong enough to reach this far by herself, but with Uncle Leo's help, it's certainly doable. Which also explains why you received her premonition," he went on, looking at Cassandra. "You share the same power."

"Okay, but why didn't Aunt Phoebe intercept it, then?" Chris asked. "If it's just about having the same power-"

Josh frowned, a deep furrow creasing his forehead. "She would have been trying to avoid reaching out to Mom, even accidentally," he finally replied. "She – she was so young when Mom died, and she's the only witch in our family that shares Mom's premonition power, and the Elders still won't let us talk to Mom and Aunt Piper, which means that she's never even really spoken to her-"

"Parker's afraid of disappointing Aunt Phoebe," Chris guessed, and Josh nodded.

"Yeah," he confirmed, softly. "Prue and I got time with Mom that she didn't, and it's hard for her. She just feels like she's got so much to live up to. It really doesn't help that she's the baby of the family."

"From what I've seen of your sister," Cassandra interjected, delicately, "she's not going to have to worry about living up to anyone. She's going to be spectacular all on her own."

"When I tell her you said that," Josh told her, with a wry grin, "she's going to be absolutely over the moon."

"What was your premonition about?" Chris asked, trying to steer the conversation back to their original topic, because he and Josh were kind of working against the clock. Time really was of the essence.

"She-" Cassandra started, and then she shook her head, frustrated. "I don't know how to tell you exactly what I saw," she said, "and I don't want to risk having you miss anything."

"Can you show us?" Chris suggested, but Cassandra looked doubtful.

"At times, I've been able to share my visions with others," she replied, "but it's not perfect."

"What about with a telepath?" Josh asked. "I could see the vision as you do, and I could share that with Chris."

"That could work," Cassandra acknowledged, thoughtfully.

"Am I the only one here who's concerned that you've only had these powers for about a month?" Chris spoke up. "Do you even have the kind of control over your powers that you'd need to do something like this?"

"No time like the present to learn," Josh replied, with a shrug.

"And even if he can't, I can always bolster the boy," Prudence spoke up, from where she was sitting.

"Might as well try," Cassandra finally said, after a moment. "Take my hand," she instructed Josh. "Close your eyes; it will be easier to handle what you see."

Josh placed his hand in hers, reaching out to Chris with his free hand. Chris folded his fingers around Josh's hand, closing his eyes, as well. He could feel something like a tickle at the back of his mind, reminding him almost of someone knocking lightly on a door, and then he realized that it was Josh.

'Trying to impress the great-great-great Grandmoms with your precise mental etiquette?' he teased his cousin.

'I was trying to be polite,' Josh groused. 'You ready for this?'

'Bring it,' Chris challenged, injecting a bravado into his voice that he wasn't sure he really felt.

'Both of you may feel slightly disoriented.' Cassandra's voice in their minds was calm and quiet. 'If you are overwhelmed at any point, just drop my hand.'

'Understood,' Josh replied. 'We need to see this. And I need to know that my sister's okay.'

Cassandra nodded, although Chris had no idea how he knew that, since he wasn't actually looking at her. For a moment, everything was simply black behind his eyelids, and then swirls of gray started creeping into his vision. The swirls solidified into an image, Parker's face popping into his mind.

"Okay, here goes," she said, pasting a weak smile on her face. "Josh, if you get this – no, when – when you get this. Uncle Leo says that you're going to get this, somehow, that he's doing some fancy Avatar thing to make this work, so you better be seeing this."

She cleared her throat, looking over her shoulder like she was looking at someone for guidance or reassurance.

"Anyway," she went on, "we don't know what's been going on at your end of time, but here, things are changing. There's this new girl, here, she's Malcolm's older sister. And it's weird, because we all remember her being here, but we remember when she wasn't, too. Uncle Leo says that it's not supposed to be like that. Something's wrong with the way that time is changing, with you and Josh in the past. But, Uncle Leo says that he might be able to make things stop being so weird."

Parker broke off, staring over her shoulder, again. "I don't know if I can say this part, right," she said, sheepishly. Whatever reply she received must have encouraged her, because she smiled a little bit.

"Okay, here goes," she said, squaring her shoulders. "Uncle Leo says that you guys have to make another jump in time, to right before Wyatt was born." A frustrated look flashed briefly across her face. "Okay, now he's saying that any time within a year of his birth will work – a year is not right before, Uncle Leo! – and he says that you need to get a time portal and drop it into the Nexus."

"Details, Parker," Josh grumbled. "We need details. And where the hell are we supposed to find a time portal just lying around?"

"Uncle Leo says that there are a couple of Elders, Sandra and Kevin, who can help you with the portal," Parker was saying. "It has to go forward in time, so that it can reach us, and then Uncle Leo's going to put a portal in our Nexus that goes backward, toward you guys, and once the portals merge, we're – and by we, I mean Prue, because she's the only one who can sneak in undetected, and I hate that! – Prue is going to put a potion into the Nexus that should stabilize the timeline and keep us protected, or so Uncle Leo claims.

"He says that right now, if things change too much, we could forget something important, or we could all be wiped out of existence, and Josh, if I get wiped out of existence before you can fix things, I am going to be really, really mad at you. But, with the spell, things will still change, and we'll still remember the way things used to be, and hopefully none of us will just up and disappear. And, yeah, that's the plan. It sounds crazy, I know, but if anyone can do it, it's you guys."

Parker fell silent, looking down at her hands, where they were clasped in her lap.

"I miss you, Josh," she whispered, quietly. "You're really far away, and I hate it, and I just wish that you could come home. But, I know that you can't, because you're trying to make the world better for everyone, and I know that you can't even promise me that you're going to be safe, because nothing's ever safe-"

She broke off, a hitch in her throat. Tears shone in her eyes.

"Can you at least promise me that you'll be careful?" she asked, sniffing back tears. "Will you and Chris please be careful? Don't do anything crazy, okay? I love you. I love you, both. Come home, soon."

Chris could feel Josh pulling away from him as the vision started to fade, and he opened his eyes slowly to the now-blinding light of the small cabin. He automatically looked over at Josh, unsurprised to see tears sliding down his cousin's cheeks.

"You okay?" he asked, quietly, and Josh hastily wiped the tears away from his eyes.

"Not really," he said, his voice hoarse, "but I'm going to have to be. We need to get out of here, get this plan into action."

"Yeah," Chris agreed. "Cassandra," he added, turning to their host, "thank you for showing that to us. It's vital, to say the very least."

"Mother and I," Cassandra told him, gesturing to Prudence, "have spent the last six months trying to find you so that we could get this message to you."

"And you may have just helped us save the future," Chris told her, gratefully. "Can you help us get back to the time we need?"

Prudence snorted, dryly. "We're witches, boy. We can do anything."

"What my mother means," Cassandra interjected, dryly, "is that we'd be happy to help. Give me an hour, and I should be able to whip a potion up for you."

"Do you need some help?" Josh asked, and Cassandra nodded.

"I'd be honored," she told him, smiling, and he followed her into the small kitchen. Chris had half risen from his chair, intent on following them, when a cool hand was clamped around his wrist.

"Sit, boy," Prudence barked at him, "and tell me what's gone so wrong with our family."

"I'm not really sure that I should-" Chris started, but the steel-haired woman speared him with a sharp look, cutting him off, mid-sentence.

"If you've come to change the past, it's because there's something that needs to be changed. I'm not an idiot, boy. You don't change the good things. You change them because they've gone bad, and the worst our family can do is fall to evil. I lost my mother when she fell in love with a warlock," she added, "and I don't ever want to see evil touch our family in that way, again."

Chris hesitated for several moments, fighting the urge to squirm under Prudence's sharp gaze. "My brother," he finally told her, quietly. "He – after our mother died, I think he lost himself. And he started going dark, and we just didn't notice – I didn't notice – and now-"

"How old were you?" Prudence asked, softly.

"When my mom died?" Chris asked. "Fourteen. Wyatt's two years older."

"Just a child," Prudence said, but Chris shook his head.

"He's my brother," he argued. "I should have noticed."

"That girl who reached out to you," Prudence said, talking about Parker, "she's not much older than you would have been. If her siblings turned to evil, would you place the blame on her shoulders?"

"No!" Chris cried, horrified, and Prudence put a restraining hand on his wrist when he tried to shove away from the table.

"Then, why would you blame yourself?" she asked, piercing his anger with the quiet question. "You are not responsible for your brother; he makes his own choices."

"I don't-" Chris started, but Prudence cut him off with another, silent look.

"I hope I'm not about to hear that you don't believe me," she said, her voice deceptively mild. "I'm not often wrong, boy."

"There must be something about the name Prudence," Chris said, in reply, "because both of your namesakes are exactly like you."

"I'll take that as a compliment," Prudence sniffed, and Chris smiled. "Now," she went on, a moment later, "tell me more about this future you come from." Chris hesitated, again, and he could have sworn that Prudence rolled her eyes at him. "By the time any of this matters," she informed him, tartly, "I will have been long dead. Telling me won't change anything."

Chris sighed, but he did as she asked. He didn't keep track of how long they were talking, and he was surprised by how soon Cassandra and Josh walked back into the dining room, Josh holding a couple vials of a dark blue potion in his hands. He handed Chris one of the vials, rolling the other between his fingers.

"That's it," Josh said. "We down these, and we'll find ourselves where we need to be. We need to think of the time we want to go to-"

"Then, can you do what you did with Cassandra's vision?" Chris interrupted him. "Link up to my mind, telepathically, and direct both of us? I don't want to wind up six months separated from you because I concentrated too hard, or something."

"Yeah, I think so," Josh replied. "Are you ready to go?"

"Let's hit the road, so to speak," Chris told him. He turned to Prudence, surprising the older woman by pulling her into a hug. "Thank you," he murmured, softly, for her ears alone. "I will definitely think about what you told me. I can't promise that I'll be able to follow it all the time-"

"You wouldn't be a Warren if you didn't rebel, every now and then," Prudence reassured him, warmly. "Go well and be safe, both of you."

"Thank you for having us," Josh was saying to Cassandra and Jonathon. "It's been an honor."

"The honor is ours," Cassandra told Josh, hugging him. "And I imagine we'll be meeting again, soon. Relatively speaking, of course. Blessed be, boys."

"Blessed be," they echoed.

Chris linked arms with Josh, holding the potion in his free hand. He waited until he felt Josh's presence in his mind, again, and then he popped the cap off the vial and raised it to his lips. He downed the potion in a single swallow, feeling an intense cold sweep over him. He intentionally kept his mind blank, letting Josh run the show.

And the world started to swirl, before disappearing in front of his eyes…
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December 2013

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