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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 Seventeen

May, 2026

Parker unconsciously let go of the ragged, old teddy bear she'd been holding onto as she slipped out of her precognitive trance. The stuffed bear tumbled onto the ground, and she snatched it up, hugging the toy to her chest. Winken had been her first toy, given to her by Josh on the day she was born, and it was the strongest link she had to her big brother. She'd been using it as a focus when she was trying to find him and Chris.

"Parker?" She craned her head around at the sound of her father's voice, seeing a worried expression on his face. "Baby girl?"

"I'm fine," Parker reassured him, standing and stretching out the kinks in her legs. "My legs are just stiff."

"Well, no wonder," Cole told her, with a relieved smile. "You've been sitting there for over half an hour."

"I have?" Parker asked, in confusion. "But, it didn't feel that long."

"Psychic trances can mess with your perception of time," Leo spoke up, and Parker looked over at where her uncle was levitating in mid-air, his legs crossed in a lotus position. While he talked, he was floating slowly back down to the ground. "Parker, you did wonderfully for your first guided premonition. I'm very proud of you."

"Thanks, Uncle Leo," Parker said, smiling at the unexpected praise. "You did most of the work, though."

"All I did was provide the conduit," Leo corrected her. "Reaching back to your brother, and Chris, that was all you, Parker."

Parker smiled, squeezing Winken even tighter for a moment. "Do you think it worked?" she asked, hopefully. "Do you think that Josh and Chris got our message?"

"There's only one way to find out," Leo replied, and Parker felt a shudder run through her at the reminder that they were going to be sending her sister straight into the lion's den. "Cole, where's Prue?"

"She's getting ready." Cole sounded even more upset than Parker about Prue putting herself in danger like this. "Leo, I don't like this."

"Neither do I," Leo said, calmly, "but, you know as well as I do that there's no other option. One person can slip in and out of the Manor easier than an entire team, and Prue's the only one who can make herself nearly invisible. She has the best chance of getting this done, quickly, and getting out alive."

Cole made an unhappy noise as he stalked silently out of the grotto they'd holed up in. Parker knew that he was going to find Prue. She went after him, following the sound of clashing metal to where she knew they were going to find Prue. Her sister was training with a pair of Valkyries, a pair of slim daggers in her hands.

They watched her spar with the Valkyries for a few minutes, and then when she stepped back, Cole cleared his throat to get her attention. Prue whirled around to face him, lowering the daggers to her sides when she realized that she wasn't under attack.

"Hey, Dad," she greeted. "Squirt. Am I up?"

"This is the portal," Leo told her, producing a glowing crystal from the pocket of his jacket. "The crystal will dissolve upon contact with the Nexus. And this," he added, holding out a vial with a light blue liquid in side, "is to deal with the Shadow."

"Vanquishing potion?" Prue asked, taking the small vial from Leo. "I guess I'm all set, then."

Cole nodded, gravely. "You don't have to do this," he started, but Prue shook her head.

"Who else are we going to send?" she asked, rhetorically. "We can't send anyone outside the family; they'd be caught in a heartbeat. Only a Halliwell can sneak past Wyatt's defenses to get inside the Manor, and we're kind of a rare breed, these days. And, if we're taking votes, I nominate myself over Parker. No offense, Squirt," she added, hastily.

"None taken," Parker reassured her."And stop calling me Squirt." She stepped forward, wrapping her arms around her sister in a hug, and then she stiffened when she felt a premonition coming over her.

She snuck up to the Manor, using her power to hide in the shadows. When the front door opened as a pair of demons left, it cast a long silhouette in the afternoon sunlight, and she used the shadow to teleport into the house. Creeping slowly, carefully down the empty hallway, she headed straight for the basement – and the Nexus. She was mere steps away from the basement door when a bright light filled her vision, the orbs coalescing into a furious Wyatt. His face twisted into a snarl, there was a moment of complete agony as he stabbed her –

And then the premonition froze.

From what she understood, her mother's premonitions, while powerful, had been relatively straightforward. The same with the few witches in their ancestry who'd shared their power. She honestly had no idea why hers had to be so … unusual.

Parker didn't receive premonitions, so much as possibilities. When she had a vision, she didn't just see one future. She saw several. And all of them, she'd learned, were equally likely to happen, and she was the one who had to figure out the best choice to make.

She'd first manifested her premonitions when she was four, days after her mother had died. She didn't remember much of those early days, but from what she'd learned from her siblings, it had been absolute torture for her family, watching her go through hell at the whim of a power she couldn't hope to control. In desperation, her father had bound her powers mere weeks after she'd first gotten them, hoping that she'd be able handle them better when she was older, that she would be able to gradually acclimate to her visions.

Two years later, they'd been thrown into a war with practically the entire Underworld, with Wyatt as their leader, and all thoughts of gradual had flown right out the window. They'd actually managed to make it an entire year before the topic of her powers had come up, with Uncle Leo wanting to give Parker her powers back, using his own to strictly modulate the effects of her visions until she could handle them on her own. Her father of course, had been adamantly against it.

Parker had ended the discussion, herself, by finding the restoration potion in the fridge and drinking it, and then telling everyone once it was done. Probably not the best choice she could have made, but what's done was done, and she still didn't regret her decision.

Especially when it meant that she had a chance to save her sister's life.

Parker stared at Prue's frozen face in shock for a moment, adjusting to the abrupt shift in perception caused by the freeze, and then her resolve hardened and her gaze shifted to Wyatt, taking in the enraged look on her oldest cousin's face. She very carefully did not look down at the dagger protruding from her sister's stomach.

She needed to go backward, to see her vision in reverse. And a second later, the scene in front of her started to do exactly that, like an old film rewinding. She and Prue zipped backward out of the house, ending up back where they'd started out in the bushes, and then everything froze, waiting for her to start the ball rolling, again.

She couldn't just let things play out the same, though; that wouldn't tell her anything more than that Prue was going to die if she went into the house, alone. But, what if she wasn't alone?

She must have run though half a dozen scenarios in her mind, each of them with outcomes as grim as the first. When she finally pulled away from Prue, she still didn't have any further idea of what she was going to do. But, she had to do something, she wasn't going to let Prue walk into that house, alone. She wasn't going to let her sister die.

But, before she could say anything, Prue gave her a brief grin before abruptly shimmering away without a word. Parker scowled, thinking words that would have gotten her grounded for a month if she said them out loud.

"I'm gonna go-" Cole muttered, whirling abruptly and stalking out of the clearing. Parker watched him go, her shoulders slumping.

"Uncle Leo?" she started, quietly, worrying at her bottom lip with her teeth.

"Don't worry, sweetheart," Leo said, quickly. "Everything's going to be fine. Your sister's strong, she's resourceful-"

"I know," Parker interrupted him, watching a relieved look flash across the Elder's face. "Prue's going to be just fine." 'Because I'm not letting her go, alone,' she finished, silently, determination filling her. 'I'm going to go with her.'

Not that she was about to tell any of her family that. They'd stop her before she could even take a step out of Valhalla. But, it was the one possibility she hadn't explored in her premonitions, if she was the one standing beside Prue.

"I'm kind of tired," she lied, tucking Winken, who'd she'd almost forgotten about, into the crook of her arm. "I'm going to go get some sleep."

"Sleep well, sweetheart," Leo said, affectionately, as he dropped a quick kiss on her forehead. He looked so reassured by her words that she almost felt guilty lying to him. Almost.

Parker started off down the path, taking the quickest route to the small hut that she shared with Prue. Slipping inside, she dropped Winken on her bed, and then she pulled out the small chest that she kept underneath. A quick swipe of her finger across the lock had it clicking open, and she pulled out the slim knife that Josh had given her for her last birthday.

She strapped the sheath around her wrist, sliding the dagger into the holster, and then she stepped back out into the sunshine. For not the first time, she regretted being the only normal witch in her family. Not being demonic like Josh and Prue usually didn't bother her, but there were cases, like now, when the ability to shimmer would have been really useful. As it was, her only way to catch up to Prue, now, meant that she had to find one of the fixed portals that the Valkyries had created for the non-teleporting members of the Resistance.

She started back down the path at a jog, breaking into a run as her muscles loosened up. She knew that Prue wasn't going to immediately head straight for the Manor, which gave her a little bit of time to catch up, but at the same time, the nearest portal landing point was nearly a block away. And she was running out of time.

She was almost at the portal point when a shadow fell across the path in front of her, and she skidded to a stop inches from bowling over one of the Valkyries. Parker looked up, and then she winced when she realized that she'd almost run down Freyja, the leader and the strongest of the demi-goddesses.

"Ma'am," she murmured, respectfully, when Freyja stopped in the middle of the path to stare down at her, silently.

There was no reaction from the Valkyrie, but then, that was common where Parker was concerned. She had a tendency to go unnoticed around the flashier members of her family, but she didn't really mind that too much. It made sneaking around so much easier.

But, now, with Freyja's fierce gaze pinning her in place, it didn't look like she was going to be so lucky.

"Excuse me," she tried, hesitantly. "I really must be going."

"Going where?" Freyja asked, which was absolutely the last question that Parker wanted to try and answer, right now.

"Out," she ventured, but Freyja didn't look convinced. "I – um – well-"

"You will need this if you are going after your sister," Freyja said, and then to Parker's surprise, she reached up and untied the pendant around her neck, holding it out to her. When she made no move to take it, Freyja tied the pendant around her neck for her.

"Thank you," Parker whispered, stunned, and the Valkyrie gave her a brief, rare smile.

"You are not the only one with the gift of foresight," she commented. "Now, simply touch the pendant and think of where you need to go."

"Prue," Parker murmured, gripping the pendant in a slightly sweaty palm. "Take me to Prue."

To her further shock, a swirling, green vortex opened up in the air in front of her. She looked over at Freyja, who nodded encouragingly.

"Go well, little sister," she murmured. "If you need aid, simply call and we will come."

"Why?" Parker blurted out, without thinking, blushing when she realized how it sounded. But, the Valkyries hadn't been all too eager to help them fight Wyatt and his forces, choosing, instead, to stay out of a fight they claimed to have no part in.

"If Evil wins," Freyja said, her voice grave, "your kind will not be the only ones affected. And, as I reminded my sisters, we have never before run from a fight, and we will not start now."

"Thank you," Parker repeated, gratefully.

Then, before her courage could desert her, she ran straight into the portal and disappeared.

Chapter Eighteen

There was a momentary sensation of falling, and then she burst out of the portal on the other side, turning back around in time to watch it wink out of existence.

Looking around, she found herself staring up at the stately Victorian that she only vaguely remembered. The plants that Aunt Piper had kept so carefully manicured were growing all over the place, giving it a wild feel, and she recognized several types of lethal plants among the tangles of vines. The house itself looked immaculate, on the outside at least, but Parker had no doubt that it was the same on the inside. Wyatt wasn't going to have a substandard base of operations, after all.

'The whole place feels evil,' Parker thought with a shudder.

It sounded melodramatic, but it was true. The very air around the Manor felt heavy, like something was weighing down on her shoulders. She wanted nothing more than to find Prue and get out of there as fast as possible.

She'd landed on the side of the house, out of view of the main street. Prue's objective, at least in her vision, had been the front door, and so Parker slowly crept up toward the front of the house. She paused at the corner, peering carefully around, and just like in her vision, she saw Prue hiding in the overgrown bushes on the other side of the walkway. Her sister's eyes were fixed firmly on the front door, and Parker breathed a quiet sigh of relief when she realized that she still had time.

When the front door opened, she watched Prue tense up. A moment later, she turned into a wisp of smoke, blending in with the shadows that stretched across the close-cropped lawn, and she zipped toward the open door before it could close. Parker was about to follow her, but then her attention was caught by the pair of demons that had exited the Manor seconds before.

One had shimmered away after they'd stepped onto the sidewalk in front of the Manor, but the second had glanced back at the house for whatever reason, and his eyes narrowed as he watched the tail of Prue's teleportation disappear inside. He lifted a hand, a small ball of energy forming in his palm, and Parker knew that she had to act before he could do anything.

She sprinted out of her hiding space, releasing her knife from its sheath, and then she sprang at the startled demon. She was coming at him from a higher vantage point, and she hit the demon hard enough to knock him to the ground, the energy ball extinguishing in a puff of smoke.

She went flying a moment later when the demon threw her off, and she went into a roll when she slammed, painfully, into the middle of the street. Coming back up onto her feet, and silently thanking the Valkyries for teaching Prue (and by extension, her) that move, she whirled back around in time to see the demon coming at her, again.

He was moving slowly, a cocky look on his face, like he wasn't expecting her to be any kind of challenge. Big mistake on his part. But, if he wanted to think of her as some helpless, little girl, she was more than happy to encourage that opinion.

She brandished her knife in a threatening manner, the blade pointing straight up, and the hilt visibly wobbling in her deliberately-loose grip. The demon's smirk grew even wider when he saw her, and Parker resisted the urge to roll her eyes.

'Guess Wyatt's run out of smart minions of Hell,' she thought, although, secretly, she was grateful for the dumb demon. A smarter demon would have taken her to be more of a threat, no matter how unimposing she looked.

"Just give up now, little girl," the demon growled at her, "and I'll make it a quick death. Won't be painless," he chuckled, darkly, "but it'll be quick."

"You don't scare me," Parker told him.

Actually, she was lying; he scared her half to death. But, she wasn't about to let that stop her. Not when every second she kept him busy out on the street was another that Prue went undetected, because she was beginning to suspect that he was the reason that Prue had been discovered in her vision. The demon had been about to tip Wyatt off when she'd distracted him. And she never would have seen him if she'd been able to enact her original plan, sneaking into the Manor along with Prue.

'I guess everything really does happen for a reason,' she thought, as she eyed the demon, who'd stopped just outside of her reach.

She bit back a scowl, trying to think of how she could lure him closer. He was probably having fun, playing with his seemingly-outclassed victim, but she wanted to get him taken care of as soon as possible, before someone else came out of the house and saw them. unfortunately, nothing was coming to mind.

"You're ugly," she finally resorted to, and then she resisted the urge to laugh when the demon actually looked insulted. So, she'd not only gotten the dumb demon, but the vain one, as well? This was turning out to be her lucky day. "You're really ugly," she added, mockingly.

The demon growled under his breath, lunging at her. Parker jumped to the side, flipping the knife around in her hand as she moved, the blade pointed out to the side. She thrust out with the knife as the demon got closer, and then he stumbled forward, falling on her. His weight dragged them both to the ground, and she pushed the demon's unmoving body off of her with a pained grunt. She pulled her knife out of his chest, watching as the demon crumbled into dust.

She sighed, her shoulders slumping in relief. Then, she froze at the sound of footsteps, and when she looked up, she was surrounded by demons. Maybe Ugly hadn't been as dumb as he'd looked, if he'd summoned reinforcements. Or, they'd heard them fighting. Well, no matter how they'd found her out, she was screwed, now.

"Well, damn," she muttered under her breath.

She'd learned enough from the Valkyries to take on one demon, but six? Screwed didn't even begin to cover it. She reached up, wrapping her hand around the pendant around her neck, and she squeezed hard enough for the edged to bite into her palm.

"Help," she whispered, as the demons converged on her, slowly. "Oh, help."

A second later, the sky exploded around her.

The demons never even knew what hit them, Valkyries appearing out of nowhere. Parker didn't even know how many there were at first, they were moving so fast. Certainly the demons had no idea what was going on. The demi-goddesses moved almost too fast to be seen, and the demons were vanquished within seconds of their arrival.

"I believe you called?" Freyja asked, a sardonic note in her voice. She and her Valkyries walked over to where Parker was standing, surrounding her in a protective half-circle.

"I was having so much fun," Parker quipped, weakly, as she fastened her knife back into the sheath on her arm, "that I just wanted to share."

"Well, that was hardly a warm-up," another Valkyrie grumbled, looking around at the empty street. A lone car, the first that Parker had seen in the neighborhood since she'd arrived, drove slowly past them, and Freyja gave the driver a hard look until he sped past.

"We're not here to start a war," she said, sternly, but the Valkyrie who'd spoken didn't look chastised by the rebuke.

"They started the war," she reminded Freyja, gesturing toward the Manor. "Why can't we finish it?"

"Because we would lose far too many in the attempt," Freyja said, sternly.

"And because my brother and cousin are going to make sure it never starts in the first place." Parker looked over at the sound of Prue's voice, relief washing over her as her sister walked into the circle. "Squirt, what the hell are you doing here?"

"I thought you were going to stop calling me that," Parker reminded her.

"You told me to stop calling you that," Prue corrected her. "I never actually agreed. And you didn't answer my question."

"Did you get the portal planted?" Parker asked, rather than answering, and Prue shook her head in exasperation.

"In and out without anyone seeing me," she replied. "And Uncle Leo's potion worked on the Shadow, too, which means that Wyatt won't be able to access its power. Now, what are you doing here?"

"I had a premonition," Parker told her, and understanding flashed briefly across her sister's face.

"You could have told me," she replied, sharply, but then her features softened. "Thanks, Parker," she added, quietly. "Thanks for coming after me."

"Not to spoil this tender moment," Freyja interrupted them, "but we should go before someone sees us."

Prue snorted, shaking her head. "You guys really have been out of the world, too long," she remarked. "Wyatt didn't just start a war with the magical world. He exposed us all to the entire world. And even though he's got the mortals convinced that he's one of the good guys, no one's really eager to live next door. The neighborhood cleared out shortly after everything started. He's got the whole place to himself."

"I'm not worried about the mortals," Freyja corrected her, dryly. "But, I have no desire to be caught by your cousin."

"Besides," Parker added, "the sooner we get back, the sooner I can get yelled at by Dad and Uncle Leo."

"Not to mention Ava," Prue told her, wrapping an arm around her shoulders, "and Derek, Billie, Christy, Sam-"

"Yeah, well, it was for a good cause," Parker muttered, and Prue smiled at her. "And I'd do it all over again, in a heartbeat."

She looked over to where the Valkyries were creating a series of portals back to Valhalla. Remembering, she moved to take off the pendant she was still wearing, but Freyja shook her head when she saw her.

"Yours, now," she said, simply, and Parker stared down at the pendant in shock.

"Um, thanks," she stammered, but the Valkyrie had already moved past it, gesturing to the open portal in front of them. The three of them were the only ones left on the street, the others having gone back to Valhalla.

"After you," Freyja told them, and Parker glanced over at her sister.

"Race you back home," she teased her, and then she bolted through the portal before Prue could react, her sister's laughter ringing in her ears.

Chapter Nineteen

November 08, 2002

Piper sighed in contentment, relaxing back into the chaise lounge, her eyes closed. Then, she scowled when something soft and heavy fell into her lap. She batted in irritation at the hands trying to tuck the blanket in around her shoulders, knowing just who was fussing over her without even having to open her eyes.

"Phoebe," she said, a warning tone in her voice, and she could just imagine the guilty look flashing across her sister's face.

"You looked cold," Phoebe said, defensively.

"I'm fine," Piper grumbled, but when Phoebe remained silent, she opened her eyes to see a hangdog look marring Phoebe's features. She relented, letting the blanket drape lightly over her legs. "Thank you," she said, watching Phoebe light up. "It is getting a little cold out here."

"I told you so," Phoebe said, smugly, and then she grinned, sheepishly, when Piper flicked the end of the blanket up to hit her in the face.

"What are the two of you doing?" Piper couldn't see Paige, but she could hear her amused voice coming from the kitchen.

"Piper's hitting me," Phoebe called out, in a sing-song voice.

"Phoebe started it," Piper countered, teasingly.

"Well, I'm going to come out there and finish it," Paige shot back, and Piper chuckled.

A few seconds later, her youngest sister came out of the kitchen, balancing a tray of steaming mugs of cocoa on her hands. She was taking slow, careful steps across the deck, and Piper was confused until Paige got close enough that she could see the tiny, mottled-gray puppy dancing excitedly around her feet. The puppy jumped onto Paige's abandoned chair when she was about to sit down, but Paige just sighed, balancing the tray on one hand as she scooped the puppy up with the other.

"Let me guess," Piper said, fighting back a grin as the puppy jumped on Paige's chest to lick her face. "Another baby gift?"

"A very needy and slobbery baby gift," Paige grumbled, but her tone was belied by the way she cradled the puppy in the crook of her arm to keep him from falling off her lap. She held out the tray so that Piper and Phoebe could take their mugs, and then she claimed the third for herself, letting the tray clatter noisily to the deck. "I can't take two steps without the little guy constantly underfoot, demanding attention."

"Oh, come on, he's adorable," Phoebe told her, reaching out to scratch the puppy behind his ears. "And a lot more baby-appropriate than the golden geese."

As if it had heard her, one of the geese let out an indignant squawk as it ran through the house. The puppy let out an excited bark as it leapt off her lap, skidding across the kitchen floor in hot pursuit. Paige moved as if to get up, but Piper shook her head.

"Let him go," she said. "Maybe he'll save Leo the trouble of having to round up all the geese. Have we figured out why the magical community decided that we needed a dozen golden geese for baby gifts?"

"Maybe it's this year's hot item," Phoebe suggested, sipping at her cocoa.

"Maybe so," Piper replied, "but I just prefer the more traditional baby gifts. Like, Alexandra Van Lewen sent me all of Matthew's old baby clothes, or Emily offered to babysit when we have to go demon hunting. You know, practical things, not-"

"Unicorn!"

"No, see," Piper said, "a unicorn is the opposite of practical, what with the hooves, and that horn – wait, what?"

Josh came barreling out onto the deck, practically shaking with excitement. "Unicorn – in – the – living room!" he gasped out, bouncing eagerly in place. "Mom, can we keep it?"

"We cannot keep-" Phoebe started, but then she was interrupted by Cole's sudden arrival on the deck. He and Josh were sporting identical expressions of childish glee.

"Phoebe!"

"No!" Phoebe exclaimed, as Piper and Paige burst out laughing. "We can't fit a unicorn in the penthouse," she went on, ignoring the exaggerated pout Cole shot her. "And even if we could, I'm fairly certain the neighbors would notice."

A high-pitched yipping cut off the rest of her sentence, and the puppy came racing out to hide behind Paige. He peered warily out from behind her as the unicorn ambled out onto the deck, horn glinting in the moonlight. She whickered, softly, looking around with interest.

"Okay, that's cool," Piper declared. "But, we're not keeping her. How are we gonna baby-proof that horn?"

"We'll take her down into the basement," Cole said, putting a hand on the unicorn's neck. "Hey, buddy, you want to ride her through the house, if she'll let you?"

As if she had understood him, the unicorn knelt on the deck, looking expectantly over at Josh. He grinned, delightedly, scrambling onto her back, and holding tightly to her mane as she got back onto her hooves.

"Don't scuff the floors!" Piper called out, as the unicorn followed Cole into the kitchen.

"No offense, little dude," Paige said to the puppy, who'd emerged from his hiding place to sit on her lap, "but you are no longer the coolest baby gift, ever."

"Now, see, I was hoping to claim that title for myself." A familiar, cheerful voice came out of thin air, and Piper looked around to see Prue standing in the doorway. She blinked several times just to make sure she wasn't imagining things.

"You're here as a baby gift?" Phoebe asked, when Piper couldn't say anything.

"Baby gift, early warning system-" Prue shot them a bright grin. "I'm back! Well, at least until the baby's born, anyway. So, I'm back for the next six weeks, or longer. Take longer, okay?" she added, speaking to Piper's stomach. "I really want to stick around for a while."

"Are you really my Aunt Prue?" Josh spoke up, from where he'd been hovering, nearby. He and Cole had come back from putting the unicorn in the basement.

There was an uncertain look on his face, and Phoebe immediately pulled her son down to sit beside her, wrapping a protective arm around his shoulders. Josh snuggled against her.

"I am really your Aunt Prue," Prue told him. "In the flesh. Temporarily, anyway."

"Cool," Josh said, softly. "Are you-" His words were cut off by an enormous yawn, and Phoebe smiled, fondly.

"Bedtime," she said, and Josh immediately turned pleading eyes on his mother.

"Mo-om!" he protested, but another yawn undercut the strength of his words. "But, Aunt Prue is here, and-"

"And, she'll still be here in the morning," Phoebe countered, calmly.

"I have school in the morning," Josh reminded her, pouting.

"Well, I'll be here when you get home from school," Prue told him. "And for a while, after. We'll still have time to get to know each other."

"You promise?" Josh asked, and she nodded.

"I promise," Prue said, hugging him when he went over to her.

"Come on, kiddo," Cole said, wrapping an arm around his son's shoulders and steering him toward the house. "We'll go get started, and then Mom will be home in a few minutes to tuck you in."

"Okay," Josh agreed, and then Cole shimmered them away.

Prue snagged the last chair on the deck, dragging it over next to Piper's, and sinking down with her legs folded underneath her. Piper just looked at her, a million thoughts running through her mind, and no idea where to start.

"Hey," Prue said. She smiled at Piper, the same one she used to direct at Grams on those rare occasions when she was trying to talk her way out of some kind of trouble. "So, um-"

"I missed you, so much," Piper finally said, finding her voice. "Every damn day."

"I missed you, too," Prue told her, reaching over to pull Piper into a hug. "All of you. You have no idea how much I hate not being here."

"We miss you, too, sweetie," Phoebe said, bounding over Piper to wrap her arms around Prue. "So, so much, and you have to promise never to leave us, again."

"I'll be hanging around so much, you'll wish you could get rid of me," Prue teased her.

"Never," Paige told her, from her chair. "I'd get up, but-" She gestured to the puppy, who'd curled up in her lap, watching the other three, curiously.

"Yeah, who's the cutie?" Prue asked.

"He's a baby gift," Phoebe replied. "Did he come with a card, or anything?" she asked Paige, who shook her head.

"Nothing," she replied. "I guess whoever sent him wants to remain anonymous. And, no, he's not evil," she added. "The Book didn't even twitch when I introduced Fido into the mix."

"His name is not Fido," Phoebe interjected, hastily.

"Well, we have to call him something," Paige replied.

"Well, whatever you wind up calling him," Prue said, "he's adorable."

"Yeah, he's been following Paige around like a-" Piper scowled when her way with words temporarily deserted her. Ever since the third trimester had started, the baby had gotten the majority of her brain power. "Like a puppy," she finished, lamely.

Prue snorted out a laugh. "You should call him Henry," she teased.

Phoebe laughed so hard, she snorted cocoa out of her nose. Paige just rolled her eyes, waving a hand at Prue's chair. It disappeared in a swirl of lights, dumping Prue onto the deck. Prue rolled her eyes as she climbed back into her chair.

"We're not calling him Henry," Paige declared, a note of finality in her voice. "Besides, he didn't even react to it."

"We should call him Herbert," Phoebe spoke up, getting looks from all of her sisters. Piper was the first to speak.

"Where did you get Herbert from?" she asked.

"Well," Phoebe said, "rainbow sherbet is full of different, bright colors, and the little guy is all sorts of shades of gray, kind of like muted rainbow sherbet, so, Herbert."

"Your mind is a scary, scary place," Prue finally said, as she reclaimed her chair.

"Not to mention, that's not how you spell sherbet," Paige told her. "And, we're not calling him Herbert." Then, she groaned in dismay when the puppy perked up at the sound of her voice, staring eagerly up at her. "Oh, no."

"Oh, yes," Phoebe responded. "You set the terms, yourself. He reacted; his name is Herbert. Isn't it?" she cooed at the puppy, who let out a sharp, high-pitched bark of agreement.

"That is what you said," Piper reminded her, and Paige shook her head.

"Hey, Prue," she added, a moment later, "what was that you were saying about an early warning system?" When Piper and Phoebe looked at her in confusion, she went on, "Prue said she was here as an early warning system. I want to know what she's supposed to warn us against."

She turned an expectant look on Prue, joined by Piper and Phoebe.

"There have been rumblings down in the Underworld," Prue started. "Some kind of prophecy going around that's got a lot of Upper-Level demons excited."

"Well, don't keep us in suspense," Piper prompted, when Prue trailed off.

"Well, our side doesn't have the whole thing," Prue said, but she still continued. "When three planets burn as one," she recited, from memory, "over a sky of dancing light, magic will – magic will blank to welcome blank."

"Magic will blank to welcome blank," Paige echoed, flatly.

"The blanks are the parts we don't have," Prue supplied, helpfully, getting an eye roll from her youngest sister.

"Yes, thank you, I got that," she shot back. "Really? The only part they could keep was the useless part?"

"It's not completely useless," Phoebe tried to rationalize. "Three planets burning as one, a sky of dancing light – there's got to be clues in there that we can use to figure out a timeline." Turning to Prue, she asked, "Do the Elders have any ideas about when we can expect this mystery prophecy to occur?"

"Best guess is soon," Prue replied. "They think the part about the 'sky of dancing lights' refers to the aurora." She gestured upward to the spectral light illuminating the darkness.

"When conditions are right for an aurora, there can be dozens all over the world, over months. Hell, there was an aurora the night Pax was born." Paige argued. "What's to say that whatever this is, it's going to happen now?"

"I said best guess," Prue reminded her. "Why are you jumping down my throat? I'm just the messenger, here."

"I'm sorry," Paige replied, her shoulders slumping as she shifted Herbert on her lap and curled her legs up underneath her. "It's just that prophecies are big things, and if evil is celebrating this one, looking forward to welcoming something, that can't possibly be good for our side."

"We'll figure it out," Piper said, reassuringly.

"Can we figure it out in the morning?" Phoebe asked, looking down at her watch. "I've got a little boy at home waiting for a bedtime story. Can we at least put off the end of the world until the sun comes up?"

"Phoebe's right," Piper added. "It's getting late, and we aren't going to be able to do anything, now."

"Yeah," Paige agreed, ruefully. "Phoebe, do you want me to orb you back to the penthouse?"

"If you don't mind," Phoebe said, and Paige slung an arm around her shoulders, orbing them away in a bright flash of light.

She was back about a minute later. Herbert, still sitting on her abandoned chair, jumped up and sprang at her. Paige caught him, mid-bounce, cuddling the puppy up against her chest.

"Come on, bud," she said, "let's go check on the unicorn, and then we'll take a quick lap around the block, okay? You can camp out in my room, if you want," she added to Prue. "Piper and Leo converted Phoebe's old room into the nursery, and it's kind of cramped."

"Sounds good," Prue replied, and Paige disappeared into the kitchen, leaving Piper and Prue alone on the deck. Prue was silent for a long moment. "I feel like I should apologize," she finally said.

"For what?" Piper asked, and Prue shot her an incredulous look.

"For what?" she echoed. "For dying!"

"Well, it's not like you did it on purpose," Piper pointed out. "And, you were protecting the Innocent. It's what we do."

"I saw what happened after the Furies," Prue said, slowly, and Piper sighed.

"I was angry with you," she admitted. "You were gone, and it hurt so much, and I needed to vent at someone-"

"I am so sorry," Prue said, quietly. "I never wanted to leave you or Phoebe, you have to know that."

"I know," Piper reassured her. She yawned, hugely, hiding her mouth behind her hand. "Okay, clearly I'm more tired than I thought. I'm going to turn in. I'll see you in the morning, right?" she added.

"I'll be here," Prue promised.

Chapter Twenty

Phoebe curled up on the sofa, her laptop balanced on her knees. A glass of iced tea was on the coffee table in easy reach, and the house was quiet. The perfect environment for a productive day of writing. She wasn't even bothered when the gaggle of geese came waddling through the living room chased by Herbert. The unicorn trailing after them got a raised eyebrow, however.

"Paige?" she called out, but Prue came into the room instead, looking faintly frazzled. She plopped down onto the couch beside Phoebe with a sigh.

"I forgot how tiring it is having a body," she grumbled.

"Where's Paige? And, what's up with the barnyard crew?" Phoebe asked. "Weren't they in the basement?"

"Yeah, but we can't keep them in there, forever," Prue pointed out. "So, Paige had the idea to take them out to the middle of nowhere for some exercise. We were out for a couple of hours this morning, and then she got a call from a charge, so she orbed us back to the house. I'll round everyone up in a minute."

"Is everything okay with Paige?" Phoebe started, but then bright lights filled the room. Paige materialized in the middle of the living room, holding a young woman by the arm. "Okay, I'm going to guess, no. Paige, problem?"

"Other than Kaitlin being a demon magnet?" Paige asked, rolling her eyes as she gently pushed the young woman toward a chair. "God, Kate, what were you doing in the Underworld, anyway?"

Kate shifted uneasily in her seat, looking guilty. "You said that you didn't want to hear it, after the last time you had to rescue me," she muttered.

Paige pursed her lips. "Last time I had to rescue you, you'd gone whitewater rafting, by yourself, and your raft overturned, leaving you stranded in the middle of the river."

"You overreacted," Kate said, accusingly. "I could have gotten out of that situation by myself, just fine."

"Pneumonia," Paige said, succinctly. "Which you didn't tell me about, for nearly two weeks, and you almost had to be hospitalized before I healed you."

"Well, this is worse than that," Kate admitted.

"I don't see how," Paige protested.

"I was down in the Underworld, spelunking," Kate told her, and Phoebe watched a multitude of expressions flicker across her younger sister's face before she settled on incredulity.

"Spelunking," she echoed, stunned. "You were spelunking." When Kate nodded, Paige dropped her head into her hands with a groan. "You know," she said, her voice muffled, "this is why no other Whitelighter will work with you. You're insane."

"Thank you," Kate chirped, brightly.

"That wasn't a compliment," Paige informed her.

"I'm choosing to take it as one," Kate replied. "Hey, can I borrow your car?" Paige shot her a wordless look, and Kate wheedled, "Oh, come on, it's not like you really need a car. You can orb. And mine's all the way on the other side of town-"

"Well, you should have thought about that before you transported yourself to the Underworld to go cave diving," Paige snapped at her. Kate shot her an entreating look, lower lip putting out, and Paige sighed. "If you scratch my car," she said, a warning tone in her voice. "I mean, even a little, tiny ding-"

"Thanks, Paige!" Kate snatched the keys Paige had orbed into her hand, dashing out the front door, past a startled Piper and Leo.

"What did I do to deserve the crazy ones?" Paige asked Leo, giving him a hard look. "When's the last time you had to go orbing to the Underworld after a lunatic charge?"

"I don't know," Leo said, a contemplative tone in his voice. "How long ago was that mess with the witch doctor, again?"

"Hexes don't count," Paige told him. "Besides, Kate does these things for fun."

"Well," Leo said, slowly, "I may have mentioned to the Elders that you enjoy a challenge."

"This is your fault?" Paige demanded. "You're a dead man."

"I'm already a dead man," Leo quipped, and Paige groaned in exasperation.

"How was your appointment with Ava, this morning?" she asked Piper, who'd joined Phoebe and Prue on the couch.

"It was fine," Piper replied. "Ava said that the baby's healthy, and growing like a weed. She's still ducking the ultrasound wand; this time, she was curled up with her knees up to her chest. We could barely see her."

"We counted ten fingers and ten toes," Leo interjected. "That's the important part."

"Anything else?" Phoebe asked, giving up on work as a lost cause. "How are you doing, Piper?"

"My blood pressure is a little high," Piper admitted, a sheepish look on her face. "Apparently Ava thinks that all of the stress we deal with might be the cause."

"But, our lives are so calm and peaceful," Paige joked, getting grins from her sisters.

"Ava wants me on bed rest for a few days," Piper went on. "And she wasn't happy when I told her about our newest doom-and-gloom prophecy."

"Yeah, well, let us deal with the doom and gloom," Prue said. "That's why I came back, remember? You just rest, and let us wait on you like royalty."

"And your chariot awaits, my queen," Leo said, grandly. "I'll orb you upstairs."

"Bed rest doesn't literally mean bed rest," Piper protested.

"Oh, yes it does," Paige shot back. "Piper, Pax was born a month early, and I was in labor for eight and a half hours. Five of them in a stalled elevator during a blackout. And unless you want that to happen to you-"

"Okay, okay, I'll go upstairs," Piper said, holding up her hands in surrender. "I'll do anything for my baby," she said, softly.

"I know, sweetie," Paige replied. "Which is why, today, we are at your beck and call. Just think of me as your personal taxi." Looking over at Leo, she added, "You get to go talk to the Elders about returning the baby gifts without offending anyone."

"Except Herbert," Phoebe interjected, quickly. "We're keeping Herbert."

From the other room, the puppy let out a bark, and Paige laughed. "Sounds like he wants to stay, too," she commented.

"But, the geese and the unicorn have to go," Piper added. "As do I. I think I'm going to go lie down for a bit."

"I'll orb you," Paige told her, and the two of them disappeared in a flash of light. Leo followed suit, a few seconds later, leaving Phoebe and Prue alone in the living room.

"Want to help me round up the geese?" Prue asked. "And maybe between my telekinesis and your levitation, we can get the unicorn back into the basement. Seeing as how the orbing members of our family have abandoned us."

"Sure," Phoebe replied. "I think work is a lost cause, anyway. Hey, Herbert!" she called out, raising her voice. "Bring the geese!"

Herbert barked, again, and then they heard the sound of claws scrabbling on the hardwood floor. Nearly a minute passed, and then the geese burst into the room, being closely herded by an incredibly determined puppy. He yipped, happily, when he saw them, looking immensely pleased with himself. The unicorn was trailing behind them, her head bowed as she snuffled carefully at Herbert.

"Good boy," Prue praised the puppy. "Come on, let's get everyone into the kitchen."

Between the three of them, they managed to get all of the animals into the kitchen, and Herbert chased the geese down the stairs to the basement. After a bit of maneuvering to try and levitate the unicorn, Phoebe solved the problem by simply climbing onto the mare's back and holding on tightly, levitating them both slowly into the air with Prue's help. Then, Prue put her hands on the unicorn's haunches and slowly, gently pushed them forward and down into the basement.

They were coming back up the stairs to the kitchen when they heard a scream coming from the other room. Phoebe bolted the rest of the way, with Prue hot on her heels, and they burst out into the living room to find Paige crumpled in a boneless heap at the bottom of the stairs. A short, bald man was standing over her, brandishing a knife.

"Hey!" Phoebe hollered, and then she hurled herself through the air toward her sister's attacker.

But, instead of soaring across the room, she levitated only about a foot off the ground before landing with a bone-jarring thud. She automatically looked over at Prue, expecting to see her older sister sending the demon flying with a confident wave of her hand, but to her amazement, Prue shook her head.

"No powers," she said. "Paige has 'em."

"You're kidding," Phoebe demanded, incredulously.

She snatched a vase off a nearby table, briefly mourning the loss of their mother's good crystal, and hurled it at the man. The vase struck him on the head, knocking him away from Paige. He whirled around, staggering toward them, and then he collapse and lay unmoving. As Prue ran to Paige's side, helping the groggy woman to her feet, Phoebe crouched down to roll the man over. His knife was protruding from his chest, green ichor leaking out from around the wound.

"Don't demons usually go poof when we vanquish them?" Prue asked, a revolted look on her face as she prodded the demon's body with the toe of her shoe. Paige elbowed her, shooting her an annoyed look.

"You are borrowing my good shoes," she reminded Prue. "I don't want demon goop on my good shoes." Turning her attention back to the demon at hand, she added, "He wasn't much of a demon. When he summoned an energy ball, it fizzled out after a few seconds. Not that that kept him from getting the drop on me," she finished, looking disgusted with herself.

"Well, it wasn't just the demon," Phoebe told her. "Something's wrong with my powers. I'm grounded; I can't levitate."

Paige blinked in surprise. "I can't orb," she said, a second later. "What the hell is going on? What's happened to our powers?" Turning to Prue, she asked, "Hey, are you out of commission, too?"

"I've been out of commission for over a year, now," Prue told her. "You got my powers in order to keep the Power of Three intact."

"Oh," Paige said, shortly. "Sorry about that."

"Don't worry about it," Prue said, dismissively. "I wouldn't see my powers go to anyone else."

Before Paige could say anything, Piper's voice floated down the stairs. "Hey, what's going on down there?"

"Nothing!" Phoebe yelled back at her. Lowering her voice, she hissed at Prue and Paige, "We have to hide this from Piper. We can't risk stressing her out with this until we know more what's going on."

"This is going to blow up in our faces," Paige retorted, and then she craned her head around at another shout from Piper.

"Okay, Paige, you're on distraction duty," Prue said, quickly. "Phoebe and I will get rid of the dead demon."

"Bad. Idea," Paige hissed, emphatically, but she still bolted up the stairs to intercept Piper before she came downstairs.

"Come on," Prue said, grabbing the dead demon by the shoulders. "We'll shove the body into the hall closet until we figure out a more permanent solution."

"Hopefully we find one before he starts to decompose," Phoebe grumbled, grabbing the feet.

Prue started shuffling backward, and they'd gotten halfway across the living room when the doorbell rang. Phoebe scowled when Prue automatically glanced toward the door. "Oh, no," she said. "You're dead, Prue. Dead people don't answer doors, remember?"

"Oh, yeah," Prue said, grinning sheepishly. "Whoops."

Phoebe rolled her eyes, dropping her half of the demon to answer the door. The doorbell chimed again before she got there, and she shot the stairs a worried look. Prue was still dragging the demon to the closet, and she didn't want Piper to come downstairs to see a dead body.

"I'm coming, I'm coming," she muttered, yanking open the door. Then, she stared in shock at the person on the other side. "Dad."

Victor grinned, holding his arms open for a hug. "Surprise!"

Phoebe nodded, faintly. "It certainly is," she muttered. "It most certainly is."

Chapter Twenty-One

Victor shot her a bright grin. "Hope you don't mind us stopping by unannounced like this."

"Well, actually," Phoebe started, hesitantly, "we're a little – wait, who's us?" she peered over her father's shoulder, but the stoop was empty behind him.

"Doris is down at the car," Victor said, answering her question without actually answering anything. He stepped past her into the house. "She tipped her purse over, and – oh my god, Prue!"

"Oh, yeah," Phoebe said, faintly. "Prue's back."

"Prue?" Victor echoed, stunned.

"Hi, Dad," Prue said, smiling at him. She kicked at the foot protruding from the closet, slamming the door shut.

"Was that a body?" Victor asked, incredulously.

"Dead demon," Phoebe said, with a dismissive wave. "Long story."

But, it was obvious that Victor had already moved past the issue of the body in the closet. He hugged Prue, hard, and when they broke apart, Phoebe could see tears glinting in his eyes.

"You are so beautiful," he murmured, softly, looking at Prue in rapt amazement. "Prue, I-" He trailed off as his voice choked up.

"I missed you, too, Dad," Prue said, her own voice choked up. Then, her eyes widened as she looked at something over Victor's shoulder. "Um, Dad, are we having company?"

Alarmed, Phoebe whirled around to see an older woman with short, blonde hair standing in the open doorway. She gave them a jaunty wave as she sauntered into the house to stand beside Victor. She smiled brightly at Phoebe and Prue, as the two of them exchanged panicked looks.

"Girls," Victor said, his eyes shining as he looked over at the woman. "I'd like you to meet Doris. My new wife, and your new stepmother."

Phoebe gaped, staring between Victor and Doris. "You – you got married?" she asked, slowly.

"Doris and I met on a singles' cruise," Victor said, proudly. "Doris, I'd like you to meet two of my daughters, Phoebe and Prue."

Doris looked at them, quizzically. "Prue?" she echoed, raising an eyebrow. "Victor, I could have sworn you'd said that you lost Prue last year."

"Did I?" Victor said, panic flashing across his face. "No, I – I didn't – Prue isn't-"

"Europe!" Phoebe blurted out, hastily, cutting off her father's rambling. "What Dad meant was that we lost Prue to the lure of backpacking through Europe."

"Yes, backpacking," Prue said, just as quickly. "All of those cathedrals, and castles. I just couldn't resist."

"Well, it's a pleasure to meet you," Doris said, warmly.

Prue smiled, reaching a hand out for Doris to shake, but then she squeaked in surprise when the older woman pulled her into a hug. Phoebe was next, and she resisted the urge to flail in panic. When Doris released her, she took a hefty step backward.

"So, Doris," she said, "you and Dad met on a singles' cruise? Was that the trip you took to Mexico?" she asked Victor.

"Guilty," Victor told her. "Doris and I locked eyes over the buffet table, and it was love at first sight."

"Oh, yes," Doris gushed. "Once I saw your father, I knew that I had to get to know him. And after a few, short hours, I knew that he was the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with."

"That's so sweet," Prue said, and then she was cut off by the sound of footsteps on the stairs. They looked over to see Paige coming down the stairs with a goose tucked firmly under her arm.

"You guys missed a straggler," she was saying, and then she caught sight of Doris. Her eyes went impossibly wide and she let out a strangled squeak. "Oh, we have company."

"Doris is Dad's new wife," Phoebe informed her, with a false cheer. "They met on a singles' cruise. Isn't that great?"

"Yeah," Paige agreed, her eyes still wide with shock.

Doris smiled at Paige. "Is that a goose?"

"Uh huh." Paige suddenly clamped a hand around the goose's beak, tightening her grips on its wings. "Stuffed toy. Um, Prue, could I see you in the kitchen? Now?"

Prue nodded, darting away toward the kitchen with a distinctly relieved look on her face. Phoebe turned back to her father and Doris.

"So," she said, brightly. "Who wants coffee?"

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Prue ducked into the kitchen, her shoulders slumping with relief to be away from Doris and her probing eyes. Paige was leaning against the counter, still cradling the goose in her arms, a bemused look on her face.

"So," she said, slowly, dragging the word out. "What the hell was that?"

"Dad got married," Prue told her, shooting a wary glance back toward the living room. "I can't believe he got – why are you still holding that goose?"

"I need your help to get it back into the basement without letting out the rest of the flock," Paige told her. "Here, you take this one, and when I say, nudge him down the stairs."

"How do you know it's a him?" Prue asked, as she took the goose from her sister, pinning its flailing wings down with her arm.

"I'm guessing," Paige retorted, dryly. "Okay, ready? Now!"

She pulled open the basement door just far enough to fit the goose, blocking the entrance with her body. As the rest of the flock swarmed up the stairs, Prue gave her goose a gentle toss through the opening. The goose flapped its wings a couple times, landing on the floor, Paige deftly shooed the rest of the flock back down the stairs, and then she slammed the door shut, quickly.

"You're good at that," Prue told her, as Paige stood, and the younger woman rolled her eyes.

"Well, thank you," she remarked. "If I ever get tired of being a full-time witch, I'll always have professional goose-wrangler as a fallback career." She jumped up, perching on the edge of the counter. "So, your dad and Doris."

'Yeah," Prue agreed, biting off the word.

Paige leaned forward from her perch on the counter, peering through the open doorway. "How'd they deal with the whole dead issue?" she finally asked.

"Apparently, I've been backpacking through Europe for the last year and a half," Prue replied. Paige raised an eyebrow.

"And she bought that?" she asked, incredulously. "Prue-"

"I know, I know," Prue grumbled. "We're going to have to think of something to tell her about me. Maybe I can meet with some mysterious, yet tragic end in the wilds of Europe."

"And when Doris wants to know why we're not having a funeral for you?" Paige pointed out. "No, after you leave, Leo and I will memory dust her of the whole visit. If we even have magic back, by then," she added, frowning.

"I don't suppose you were able to find anything about that while Phoebe and I were stuffing the demon in the closet?" Prue asked, and Paige shook her head.

"I ran upstairs to check the Book," she replied. "It's completely blank. It's like our family's heritage has been completely wiped out." She and Prue both shuddered at the thought. "And I got calls from a couple of charges whose powers are down, too."

"So this isn't just a localized thing, then," Prue remarked. "Do you think that's why Leo hasn't come back, yet? He's stuck Up There?"

"I hope so," Paige said. "I keep thinking, what if he got a call from a charge like I did? I mean, if Kate had called me for help any later, we would have both been down in the Underworld when-"

"No," Prue interrupted her, briskly. "No, Leo went straight Up There, and he's stuck in the clouds completely bored out of his mind because he can't get back down to us. He has to be."

"Okay," Paige agreed, dubiously, but she didn't look entirely convinced.

"So," Prue went on, "do you think this is connected to the prophecy I told you about?"

Paige shot her a sardonic look. "No, I think us losing all magic is completely unrelated to the doom and gloom prophecy you dropped in our laps last night." She shook her head. "Prue, this is bad. Whatever's coming, whatever the demons are celebrating, it's so big, so powerful that it has to steal magic from what might be the entire world in order to appear. How can we possibly beat that?"

"Because we always do," Prue said, but Paige shook her head, again, frowning.

"Not always," she said, softly. "It took us too long to win against Shax."

"We still won, though," Prue reminded her. "And, who's to say that all of this wasn't meant to happen? That you weren't meant to be a part of the Power of Three, all along?"

"This is your spot, not mine," Paige retorted. "I'm just holding your place for a while."

"I'm dead," Prue said, with a soft chuckle. Paige shrugged.

"Like that ever sticks in this family," she said, dryly. "We're going to find a way to get you back, Prue. Just you wait."

"If anyone can find a way to raise the dead," Prue remarked, "it's you." Then, she frowned at the sound of the front door opening. "Oh, geez, what now?"

"No, it's Henry," Paige reassured her, grinning at the man as he came into the kitchen. "Hey."

"Hey, yourself," Henry said, his eyes wide as he stared at Prue. "Um, Paige?"

"Prue's home from her trip backpacking through Europe," Paige told him, nodding at the doorway, and Doris beyond. "Isn't it great?"

"Amazing," Henry said, softly. He stepped forward, wrapping his arms around Prue in a tight hug. "I've missed you so much."

"I miss you, too," Prue told him, as they parted. "So, what brings you by?"

"I called him," Paige spoke up. "With magic down, and demons on the loose, Piper and the baby are vulnerable."

"When Paige told me what was going on," Henry added, "I volunteered my services as a bodyguard."

Prue looked between the two of them, raising an eyebrow at the identically-serious expressions on their faces.

"Okay, what's going on with you, two?" she asked. "Do you know something I don't?"

"Well," Paige started, but then she was interrupted by the sound of her cell phone ringing. "Hold that thought," she added, pulling the phone out of her pocket. "Hello? Darryl? Darryl, slow down. Okay, start from the beginning."

Paige fell silent as she listened to Darryl, frown getting deeper and deeper the longer he talked. She interjected a few things, mostly to fill him in on their current situation, but she mostly let him talk.

"You're kidding," she finally said. "Okay, well, you should probably keep them away from other people, just to be on the safe side. If magic comes back, and they're surrounded by mortals – yeah, exactly." She listened to Darryl for a moment, and then she nodded. "Yeah, given the circumstances, I think that would be the best-case scenario. Thanks for calling."

She hung up, to curious looks from Prue and Henry. "Darryl said that a couple of demons were just arrested and brought into the station."

"Demons?" Prue echoed. "Wait, how does Darryl know that they're demons?"

"He said that Inspector Grant brought in a couple of tall, bald albino men with red-rimmed eyes," Paige replied. "They were trying to grab a couple of kids out in front of their elementary school."

"Grimlocks," Prue said, and Paige nodded.

"Yeah," she confirmed. "I told Darryl that he should keep them isolated, so that they don't get the urge to start going after the other inmates."

"And that comment about 'the best-case scenario'?" Henry asked.

"When magic comes back," Paige told him, "hopefully the Grimlocks will just shimmer straight back down to the Underworld. We never even thought about this," she sighed. "Prue, you said that a lot of Upper-Level demons knew about this mysterious prophecy. But, what about the ones that didn't know, the demons who were suddenly stranded up here when magic went down?"

"They'd freak out," Prue said. "And when demons freak out, they take it out on Innocents."

"Hence the need for a bodyguard," Paige replied. "I just want to make sure that absolutely nothing happens to Piper or the baby."

"There it is, again," Prue said. "What's with the weird looks between you, two? What aren't you telling me?"

When Paige glanced over at Henry, again avoiding the question, Prue resisted the urge to scream. "It's a long story," Paige finally told her, but Prue just crossed her arms, fixing her sister with a stern look.

"We've got nowhere else to be," she said. "So, spill."

Chapter Twenty-Two

"Is someone going to tell me what's going on?" Prue demanded.

Paige sighed. "How much have you been watching, Up There?" she finally asked.

"Bits and pieces, on and off," Prue answered. "You know how messed-up your sense of time gets when you're Up There; I peek in on you guys from time to time to orient myself to how long it's been."

"About a year ago," Paige said, "did you happen to see the visitors that crashed in Henry's guest room for a couple of months?"

"Somewhat," Prue started, but then she frowned, thoughtfully. "Wait a minute, have you told Piper and Phoebe about those two?"

"I'm getting to that," Paige reassured her. "Anyway, they warned us that something bad was going to happen to Piper's baby-"

"And you didn't tell her?" Prue interrupted, lowering her voice with a scowl when Henry hastily shushed her. Paige shot her an irritated look.

"Yeah," she said, her tone practically dripping with sarcasm. "That's a conversation that would have gone over, great. 'Hey, Piper, I know you're not even pregnant, yet, and the whole topic is a really painful issue, right now, but at some point in the future, some unknown force of evil is going to destroy your future child'." Paige shook her head. "Prue, she would have completely lost it."

"You're right," Prue said, nodding in understanding. "So, you and Henry have kept this a secret all this time? What about Phoebe?"

Paige shook her head. "We didn't think it was a good idea, what with what happened to Josh, and all-"

"So, that really was-" Prue started.

"Phoebe's son," Henry finished for her. "Yeah. He's gonna be an amazing man."

"So, what?" Prue asked. "You're just going to keep this huge secret from Piper and Phoebe, when it concerns their kids?"

"I'm not going to scare them when we don't have any details," Paige argued. "And, before you ask, Leo and Cole don't know anything about it, either."

"Yeah, because keeping secrets has worked out so well for us in the past," Prue muttered, under her breath.

"We will tell them everything," Paige said, patiently. "When we know the when, the who, and the how. And until then, we take out as many demons as we can."

"Sounds like you've been working on this for a while," Prue replied, and Henry chuckled, darkly.

"We've been at this for a year," he told her. "We have this down to a science."

When Prue looked puzzled, Paige added, "Let's just say that being under the witch doctor's hex was not the first time that I orbed into the Underworld on a vanquishing spree."

"And you lecture your charges on being insane?" Prue asked, incredulously.

"I had back-up," Paige insisted, and Henry grinned, giving Prue a jaunty wave.

"You have no powers," Prue stressed, staring at Henry like he'd grown a second head.

"No," Henry agreed, "but I did have a Super Soaker filled with holy water."

"A Super Soaker," Prue repeated, slowly. "Filled with holy water."

"It works surprisingly well," Paige chimed in. "And, now, he has a justification for all those hours spent playing arcade games when we were younger. Or, last week, now that I'm thinking about it."

Prue looked at them in astonishment. "You're both crazy," she declared.

"I've heard stories about you," Paige said. "The Triad ringing any bells? You don't really have any room to talk."

"Hey, I-" Prue started to protest, but then she trailed off when both Paige and Henry shot her knowing looks. "Okay, yeah, you're right."

"I love it when she says that," Paige confided to Henry, with a grin. "Okay, are we all caught up, because I think Phoebe's going to kill us if we leave her alone with Victor and Doris any longer." She jumped down off the counter, shooting the other two an expectant look.

"Um," Prue said, a note of hesitation in her voice. "Actually, there's something that I need to talk to you about. Something I'm hoping you won't tell Piper and Phoebe, just yet."

"Pot, kettle, black," Henry teased her, wincing when both women reached over and smacked him on the shoulder. "Ow."

"What's up?" Paige asked, and Prue sighed.

"The Elders want to make me a Whitelighter," she said, softly, and for someone who was being given a second chance at life, she sounded utterly miserable. Not that Paige could blame her.

"Do you want to be a Whitelighter?" she asked, getting a quick, jerky shrug from Prue in response.

"Okay, I'm confused," Henry spoke up, looking between the two of them. "Isn't becoming a Whitelighter supposed to be a good thing? We like Whitelighters in this family. You're one," he pointed out, looking at Paige.

"Yeah, and I'm still alive," Paige replied, "which means that I can be a Whitelighter and still be with my family."

"But Prue can't," Henry caught on, "because if anyone saw her, it would expose magic."

"Exactly," Prue said, morosely. "If I do this, I won't be allowed to see any of you, again. Maybe Paige or Leo, once in a great while, but the risk of exposure would be too great for me to ever come around San Francisco."

"The Elders would give her charges on the other side of the world," Paige added. "Send her some place where no one could possibly recognize her. It would be a lifetime before we could ever see her, again. Before she could see us, again."

"At least with the way things are now," Prue said, "even if I can't come down to see you guys, I can still look in on you, see how you're doing. If I couldn't do that-" She shot Paige a pleading look. "What would you do, if you were in my position? What do you think I should do?"

"Doesn't work like that," Paige told her. "I can't make this decision for you, and you know it."

"You've been a great help," Prue grumbled.

"I can tell you that I wouldn't walk away from my charges for anything," Paige went on, getting a small smile out of her sister. "Becoming a Whitelighter – it's one of the best things that's ever happened to me."

"I still don't know what I want to do," Prue confessed, after a moment. "I don't-" She broke off at the sound of voices coming from the living room. "What's Piper doing downstairs?"

"Probably wondering what we're doing downstairs," Paige said, darting out of the kitchen, with Prue and Henry on her heels.

She found Piper at the bottom of the staircase, being enthusiastically hugged by Doris. Piper was kind of flailing in Doris's grip, a panicky look on her face. 'Get her off,' she mouthed, emphatically, over Doris's shoulder.

"Hey, Doris," Paige said, quickly, "maybe you could let Piper breathe for a minute?"

"Oh, I'm so sorry," Doris gushed, letting go of Piper, who carefully eased her way past the older woman to move over by her sisters. "I'm a hugger. I always have been. I'll hug complete strangers on the street-"

The sound of high-pitched yapping cut her off, and Paige looked over as Herbert came racing clumsily down the stairs. He tripped over his own paws, tumbling down the last couple of steps, and Paige scooped him up. She could feel his fur bristling as she cuddled the puppy to her chest, and she scratched gently behind his ears to try and calm him down.

"It's okay," she soothed, quietly. "It's just family. It's okay." Herbert ignored her to growl softly at Doris, his whole body shaking with the noise, and Paige shot the older woman an apologetic smile. "Sorry, he's just nervous."

"Oh, don't apologize," Doris cooed, reaching out to pet Herbert, not seeming to notice the way the puppy pulled away from her hand. "I love dogs. He's adorable. What kind is he?"

"We don't know," Phoebe spoke up, trailing off when her cell phone rang. "Excuse me, would you?"

She moved away for privacy, lowering her voice as she talked on the phone. Paige turned her attention back to where Prue was talking to Victor and Doris.

"-get you checked into a hotel," Prue was saying, but Doris shook her head.

"Oh, we couldn't!" she exclaimed. "No," she added, turning a brilliant smile on Piper, "we're going to stay and help take care of you and your baby."

"We've got things under control," Paige started, but Doris cut her off with a dismissive wave.

"Nonsense," she said, briskly. "I used to volunteer at a hospital. Besides," she added, smiling at Piper, "it'll give us a chance for some real mother-daughter bonding."

"Doesn't that sound like fun?" Piper gritted out, shooting Paige and Prue a pleading look.

Phoebe chose that moment to come back to the group. "That was Cole," she said. "He's stuck at the airport in Newark because of a power outage – did I miss something?"

"Dad and Doris are going to stay for a while," Piper said, a strained smile on her face. "Isn't that great?"

"Fantastic," Phoebe began, but then she was cut off by the sound of the doorbell. "Oh, I'm going to get that!"

"I'll come with you," Prue said, quickly, and they darted away.

"We should get you upstairs," Paige said to Piper, not wanting to have Doris and Victor downstairs in case it was another magical surprise at the door. "Doris, can you-"

Like she'd expected, Doris practically jumped at the chance to help Piper. The older woman took Piper's arm, leading her up the stairs, and Henry and Victor followed. Paige dawdled for a moment to see who was coming through the front door, surprised to see an older, gray-haired man standing on the porch. Herbert had started growling again, his gaze fixed unerringly at the man.

"Can we help you?" Phoebe asked, Prue hovering protectively behind her.

"To save magic?" the man asked, in a gravelly voice. "I hope so."

Paige raised an eyebrow, shooting Prue an incredulous look when her older sister turned and looked at her. She nodded significantly at the man.

"We've got this," Prue assured her, coming over as Phoebe led the man out to the sun room. "Go take care of Piper."

"Be careful," Paige said, watching the man go. "Magic or no magic, if he's a demon-"

"He's still dangerous," Prue finished for her. "Don't worry. There's two of us and one of him. You just focus on Piper."

Paige nodded, reluctantly going upstairs and leaving her sisters alone with the mysterious stranger.

Chapter Twenty-Three

"Your dad is just grabbing another blanket from the closet-"

Piper gritted her teeth as Doris's incessant nattering washed over her. She settled slowly against the pillows gathered behind her back, wincing as Doris hit a particularly-perky note, but she pasted a cheerful smile on her face when the older woman looked over at her.

'Be nice,' she scolded herself, sharply. 'Doris is just trying to be helpful. She's family now, and she just wants to get to know me. And it won't kill me to do the same.'

But that still didn't stop her from looking longingly at the door, wishing that Henry and her dad would hurry up out in the hallway. She couldn't imagine what was taking them so long to grab a couple of blankets out of the closet.

"Leo seems nice," Doris said, suddenly, cutting into Piper's thoughts.

"Leo?" Piper echoed, confused, and then she remembered that no one had actually introduced Henry to Doris. "Oh, no, Henry's a friend of Paige's. Leo's at work, right now."

Doris made a disapproving sound, shaking her head in disappointment. "What kind of a man goes gallivanting off and leaves his pregnant wife home, alone?"

"Leo's work is very important," Piper said, barely hiding the frosty note in her voice. "He helps a lot of people, and sometimes that takes him away from home. And I'm hardly alone."

"Of course not, dear," Doris said, hastily. "I wasn't saying-"

An excited yip drew cut Doris off, and Piper looked up to see Paige entering the bedroom, with Herbert on her heels. The puppy was dancing eagerly around her feet, tongue lolling out in a wolfish grin, but then he froze, ears pinned back tightly against his head. Piper looked around, but Doris was still the only person in the room; there was nothing to incite that kind of fearful reaction from Herbert.

"Hey, buddy, what's wrong?" Paige asked, exchanging a worried look with Piper, as she crouched down next to the puppy.

"Oh, hello, puppy!" Doris cooed, suddenly, seeing Herbert. "I swear, you're just the cutest little thing. I could just eat you up!"

Herbert whined, tail between his legs, and then he bolted out of the room before Paige could stop him. She watched after the dog with a slightly stunned look on her face, and then turned apologetically to Doris.

"Sorry," she said. "I have no idea what's gotten into him. He must just be shy around strangers."

Not that he'd been shy around them, when he'd arrived last night, Piper mused. And he didn't seem to have any objection to Henry or Victor. Only Doris.

'Maybe Doris is too perky even for him,' Piper thought, but then her thoughts were interrupted by Henry and Victor finally coming back into the room.

Henry was hanging back by the door with a decidedly hangdog expression on his face, the same look he got whenever Victor or Sam cornered him about Paige. Piper bit back a smirk. Paige wasn't quite so subtle about it.

"So," Piper started, before Paige could tease Henry, "who was at the door?"

That drove the teasing grin right off Paige's face. "Um," she stammered, her eyes flicking significantly over to Doris. "Well-"

"Tea!" Piper blurted out, before Paige could finish. Smiling brightly at Victor, she added, "Hey, Dad? I'm really thirsty, all of a sudden. Could you get me some tea?"

"Sure, honey," Victor said, thankfully picking up on their unspoken hints. "Sweetheart," he asked Doris, "can you help me? You know I don't know my way around a kitchen."

Piper waited until her father had hustled Doris out of the bedroom, and then she turned her attention to Paige and Henry. Arms crossed over her chest, she waited for one of them to say something. Instead, Henry glanced over at Paige, raising an eyebrow, and Paige gave a tiny nod. Despite her impatience, Piper stifled a grin at the way they seemed to read each other's minds. It was less cute a few seconds later when she still wasn't getting the answers she wanted.

"Well?" she prompted, expectantly. "I’m not blind, and I'm not stupid. Something is going on, and everyone seems to want to hide it from me."

Paige looked guilty at the accusation. "I'd just like to go on record as saying that keeping you out of the loop wasn't my idea. And we were trying to keep you from getting stressed out-"

Piper shot her younger sister a sharp look, unimpressed with her weak attempt at deflection. "Point," she said, succinctly. "Get to it."

"Magic is gone," Paige told her, and that was absolutely the last thing that Piper had expected to hear.

"What?" she asked, dumbfounded.

"Freeze this," Henry suggested, grabbing the box of tissues of her nightstand and tossing it into the air. Piper flicked her hands at the box as it fell, but its descent was unimpeded and it hit the carpet to roll under the bed.

"It didn't freeze," she said, stunned by what had just happened.

"Magic is down, everywhere," Paige replied. "I've been getting phone calls from mine and Leo's charges all morning, Leo's stuck Up There, and I'll bet that Cole's 'power outage' in Newark is the same thing."

"And Darryl," Henry reminded Paige.

"What happened to Darryl?" Piper demanded, anxiously. Darryl was mortal; losing magic shouldn't have affected him, and there was no reason for him to be in any danger, unless-.

"A couple of Grimlocks were arrested trying to kidnap some kids," Paige told her. "And they don't have any magic, either, so they're currently locked up downtown."

"But, Darryl's okay, right?" Piper pressed, sighing in relief when Paige nodded. "So, demons don't have magic, either?"

"Everything's gone," Paige confirmed, a grim, unhappy tone in her voice.

Piper sat down heavily on the bed, wrapping her arms protectively around her stomach when she felt her baby shift with her movement. She couldn't believe what she was hearing. She couldn't remember all the times she'd wished for a normal, magic-free life, but now that magic was gone, all she felt was fear, not happiness. How could she protect her family – her daughter – from everything lurking in the shadows if she didn't have her powers?

She was ashamed to admit, even just to herself, that she'd been taking her baby's invincibility for granted, and without magic they were defenseless, and if anything happened to her baby –

"Demons," she said, abruptly, getting a startled look from Paige. "What if demons attack the house? You said that Darryl arrested some Grimlocks, which means they're up here, and-"

"One already attacked us," Paige said, cutting her off. "This morning. He's dead in the downstairs closet."

"And that's what I'm here for," Henry said, gently, and for the first time, Piper noticed that he was wearing his gun on a shoulder holster. "I'm your personal bodyguard until everything goes back to normal. Nothing is going to touch you and your baby. I promise."

Piper relaxed a bit, hearing the determined tone in Henry's voice. "What about magic?" she asked, as she moved to settle back against her pillows. "Do we know why this is happening?"

"Prue's end of the world prophecy," Paige said, and Henry looked at her in surprise.

"Excuse me?" he asked. "Wanna run that one by me, again?"

"Yeah, I was going to fill you in on that," Paige said, sheepishly. "The Elders sent Prue down to tell us about this prophecy they found out, about how something is going to happen to magic when something appears."

"Well that's vague," Henry grumped. "Okay, well I'm going to guess that our current, magic-less situation is Thing One; what's Thing Two?"

"Something big, bad, and a complete mystery," Paige told him, getting a dismayed groan in response. "Yeah, tell me about it."

"Okay, next question," Piper spoke up. "What are we doing to fix all of this?"

"Prue and Phoebe are downstairs, talking to some guy-" Paige started, and then she trailed off when the pair in question walked into the room. "Nice timing. You guys have something? Who was that guy at the door? Yes, I told Piper everything," she added, when Prue looked uncertainly at Piper.

"I made her," Piper chimed in. "And, you three should be ashamed of yourselves."

"Yes, yes," Paige said, hastily. "Secrets are bad, we'll never do it again-" Henry made a strange, choking noise, and Paige elbowed him, swiftly. "Who was that man, and what did he want?" she added, distracting her sisters from Henry's pained grimace.

"He's a demonic sorcerer," Phoebe answered. "Named Cronyn. He wants our help to bring back magic."

"So, he doesn't know any more than we do?" Paige asked.

"Magic disappearing was as big a surprise for him as it was for us," Prue answered. "Or so he says."

"You think he knows more than he's letting on?" Henry asked.

"Yeah," Prue replied. "But, then, so do we."

"We didn't tell Cronyn about the prophecy," Phoebe added, picking up where Prue left off. "If he's Upper Level, then he already knows, and if he doesn't know, there's no point in giving him information that he could use against us."

"Good idea," Piper commented. "All right, what's our next move?"

"Cronyn wants-" Phoebe started, but then she trailed off, awkwardly, when Victor and Doris came back into the bedroom, Victor balancing a tea tray in his arms. "Oh, Doris. Dad. Hi."

"Having a party up here without us?" Victor quipped. He set the tray on the bedside table, handing Piper a steaming cup of tea.

"Who's Cronyn?" Doris asked, curiously, and Piper winced, her mind racing as she tried to think of an excuse.

"Cole knows him," Phoebe blurted out, quickly, which might have even been the truth, once upon a time. "They used to work together. He was stopping by to see if Cole wanted to consult on a case."

"Where is Cole, anyway?" Victor asked.

"He's headed to New York for a week," Phoebe said. "His law firm is opening a new branch, and they want Cole to interview new hires."

"Everyone's so involved with their work in this family," Doris mused. "Doesn't anyone spend any time with their family, anymore?"

Behind Doris, Phoebe rolled her eyes, her face smoothing into a cheerful mask when the older woman looked over at her.

"Work keeps us all pretty busy," she said. "In fact, I have a meeting that I have to get ready for. Big meeting," she stressed, emphatically. Not that Piper needed much of a hint to understand what Phoebe was getting at.

"And Prue and I are going to help you get ready for that meeting," Paige said, quickly. "Piper, are you okay, here?"

"I'm fine," Piper reassured them. "Go. Have fun at your meeting." Be careful went unsaid, but she knew her sisters heard it, anyway.

Her sisters bolted out of the room, probably making a beeline straight for the attic. Paige darted back a few seconds later, emerging from the bathroom with a can of hairspray. She mumbled something about needing the aerosol, and then she disappeared again.

Piper glanced over at Henry, half expecting him to follow Paige, but to her surprise, Henry sat down beside her, draping an arm around her shoulders and letting her lean against him. He shot Victor and Doris, cuddled together on the oversized loveseat by the window, a bright grin.

"So," he said, cheerfully, "how'd you two crazy lovebirds meet?"

Chapter Twenty-Four

Henry walked into the attic to find Paige busy at the low table in the center of the room. She capped a vial containing a bright red liquid, setting it carefully down beside the cauldron in the center of the table. She had the table surrounded by every bottle of cleaning solution in the Manor. The window was open, and there were fans blowing air around the room. She was wearing a painter's mask, and had several more hanging on the doorknob, and Henry grabbed one and put it on before going further into the attic.

"Do I even want to ask?" Henry asked, and Paige startled, her hand knocking into the vial and almost sending it flying off the table. She managed to catch it at the last second, setting it back upright with a visible sigh of relief.

"Do you maybe want to make some noise, next time?" she asked, a waspish note in her voice. "I'm working with some pretty volatile ingredients." Then, she frowned at him. "You left Piper alone with Doris? Aren't you afraid she's going to kill you?"

"Piper sent me up here to find out what you're up to," Henry told her. "Speaking of," he added, peering cautiously at the bottle, "what are you making?"

"Chemical explosive," came the succinct answer, and Henry raised an eyebrow.

"Isn't that a little overkill?" he asked, getting a wry look from Paige in reply.

"Nothing is overkill when it comes to demons," she shot back. "Or protecting our family."

Henry bit back a smile at Paige's automatic inclusion of him. "Little bit nervous?" he asked.

"About meeting with demons?" Paige asked, rhetorically. "Yeah, a little bit." Her brittle tone softened as she sighed. "I'm sorry, I'm just on edge, right now. I don't like the idea of walking into a trap with little more than my high school chemistry skills to protect us."

"Well, considering that high school chemistry just helped you make a bomb in a bottle-" Henry trailed off, watching Paige work in silence for another couple of minutes. "You guys are going to fix this. You're going to get magic back."

Paige gave him a sad smile. "There's a small part of me that kind of hopes that we don't," she confessed. "Without magic, we won't be under constant attack by demons, Piper's baby will be safe-"

"Prue will get to stick around," Henry finished for her.

"Am I that transparent?" Paige asked, wryly.

"Only to me," Henry reassured her. "I don't think you have to worry. Now that the Elders let her come down, once, I don't think you're ever getting rid of her."

"Yeah, maybe you're right," Paige agreed.

"I'm always right," Henry teased her. Settling down on the floor beside her, he donned a pair of gloves from the box on the table. "You want some help?"

They worked together for several minutes, Henry mixing chemicals under Paige's careful instruction. She'd always been better at chemistry than him, and he didn't want to manage to blow something up by accident. Least of all, them.

About fifteen minutes later, Prue and Phoebe entered the attic, Prue wrinkling her nose as the chemical smell hit her. Both women grabbed for the masks on the door when Henry pointed to them.

"As ordered, one whiteout candle," she said, as she put a short, white candle on the table. "What is that smell?"

"Bleach and ammonia," Paige replied, capping the bottle in front of her. "Make sure you don't get splashed by it; it's pretty corrosive."

"Like, eat through skin, corrosive?" Phoebe asked, curiously. She looked absurdly fascinated by the small bottle.

"Like, don't even take the chance, because if it does, I can't heal you," Paige said, exasperated. "Don't you people remember basic chemical safety?"

"So, all of these are made from what we've got in the kitchen?" Prue asked, eying the bottles that Paige had lined up on the table.

"And the bathroom, and the basement," Paige told her. "Without magic, our potions ingredients are useless, so I got creative. Hence the arsenal."

"Looks like we're ready to go, then," Prue commented.

"Not yet," Paige said. She closed the last of the bottles, pulling the mask from her face. "I've got a few more presents for you, both." She picked something up from the floor, silvery chainmail sliding between her fingers. "For you," she said to Phoebe, passing her the chain shirt. "Should be enough to stop a knife, so long as you're not actually standing there, waiting to get stabbed."

"Wow, someone's morbid," Prue remarked, and Paige chuckled.

"Just wait," she replied. A pair of steel-toed boots thumped down on the table, and she pushed them toward Prue. "You're not kicking demon ass in my good Jimmy Choos. And, you'll need these." She passed Prue a pair of chopsticks, the ends sharpened to practically-lethal points.

Prue swept her hair into a quick up-do, securing it with the chopsticks. "What happened to no weapons?" she asked, wryly.

"Like the demons are actually going to follow their own rules," Paige scoffed. "Besides, they said no knives or guns."

"And exploding hairspray cans are completely different, right?" Phoebe asked.

"Exactly," Paige said.

"You know," Prue told her, "there's a fine line between prepared and paranoid."

Paige ignored the jab. "So, we ready to go?" she asked Phoebe.

"Hey, I want you three to be careful," Henry broke in. "Even without magic, these are still demons. They're still dangerous."

"We will be," Paige reassured him. "Take care of Piper."

"And Josh will be home from school, soon," Phoebe added, glancing down at her watch. When Henry started to grin, she huffed a sigh. "Please don't make me regret this," she pleaded. "The last time I left Josh alone with you, you took him to the station's gun range and taught him how to fire your gun."

"A," Henry replied, "your son can create energy balls. B, you and Cole told me I could teach Josh how to shoot a gun."

"I didn't think you'd actually take us up on it," Phoebe protested.

"I carry a weapon, Josh should know how to safely use it," Henry told her.

"Henry promises not to give Josh any loaded weapons," Paige interjected, quickly. "Now, if we could go meet with the minions of Evil?"

"Be careful," Henry repeated, as they headed for the door, and Paige shot him a smile.

"Always," she promised, and then she and her sisters disappeared from the attic.

Henry followed behind, slower, knocking lightly on the doorframe of Piper's bedroom. She waved him in, and he entered to find Josh curled up on the bed beside his aunt, the two of them watching some cheesy soap opera. Josh waved at him, and Henry could see a bit of gray fur squashed between him and Piper. Coming closer, he saw the new puppy nestled in Josh's arms. The puppy wagged its tail when it saw him, tiny pink tongue lolling out in a lupine grin.

"Uncle Henry, have you met Herbert?" Josh asked, excitedly. "He's our new puppy."

"I see that," Henry replied, sitting down in the chair by the window. "He's cute. How was school, kiddo?"

Josh shrugged. "Okay, I guess. Aunt Piper told me about what's been going on. About Mom, Aunt Paige, and Aunt Prue going to meet with demons."

"They're going to be okay," Henry said, reassuring the boy, who gave him a shy smile.

"I talked to Dad for a few minutes," he said. "He said the same thing."

"Cole offered to come home," Piper added, "but I told him that by the time he got a flight back from New Jersey, we'd have this whole situation straightened out. I hope."

"Did he have anything to say about the demons?" Henry asked.

"Just that Cronyn is bad news," Piper replied. "He was pretty high in the Source's organization, even after the Source possessed Cole. Cole said that Cronyn had enough power to command demons even after the Source's demise."

"Well, that's just fantastic news," Henry muttered. He sighed, scrubbing a hand over his face. "Well, at least it's an even playing field."

"Prue said that they're meeting at Manny's Pizzeria," Piper told him. "It's a public place, lots of people-" She broke off, giving Josh a bright smile when she saw the worried look on his face. "They're going to be just fine. I'm sure of it."

Josh didn't look very convinced, but he relented when Herbert licked his cheek, cuddling the puppy closer. The room fell into a tense silence, broken only by the sound of a phone ringing. Henry automatically glanced down at his cell phone, but the screen was dark. The ringing was coming from Paige's phone, sitting on the bedside table. Henry answered the phone, but a woman's frantic voice cut him off before he could get out more than hello.

"Paige, Paige, oh god, I screwed up. I'm in so much trouble, I need your help."

"What?" Henry managed to get out, and then the woman was rambling again.

"Demons. Demons are after me, and my powers are gone-" She broke off with a pained grunt, and then Henry heard the sound of scuffling, and a distant yell. "Paige, help me. I'm at Fifth and Harrison, I-"

The phone cut off, suddenly, leaving Henry listening to dead air. He was already halfway to his feet before he remembered Piper and Josh, and protecting them from demons. He froze, looking over to see a curious look on Piper's face.

"One of Paige's charges in is trouble," he said, and Piper jerked her head toward the door.

"Go," she urged, but Henry hesitated.

"What about-" he started.

"What about what?" Piper interrupted him. "Demons, I can handle. I am still a witch, remember? And Paige's charge needs you. Go."

Henry nodded, darting out the door. In the hallway, he almost ran into Victor and Doris carrying a plate from the kitchen, dancing out of the way at the last second.

"Hey, where's the fire?" Victor asked, with a chuckle.

"Um, work emergency," Henry stammered, quickly. "Hey, Victor? A second?"

"Yeah, sure," the older man said, sounding puzzled. "Honeybunch," he added to Doris, "would you-"

"I forgot the cheese knife," Doris said, quickly, in the most transparent escape attempt Henry had ever seen. "I'll be right back."

She made her exit, leaving Henry and Victor alone in the hallway, and Victor turned an inquisitive glance on the younger man. "What's going on?" Victor asked.

"Long story short," Henry replied, "there's something weird going on, magic is down, there's apparently a dead demon in the downstairs closet-"

"Things are bad, got it," Victor said, catching on. "And you're leaving, because?"

"Emergency," Henry said, shortly. "I need you to look after Piper and Josh. I'll be back as soon as I can."

"I'll take care of things here," Victor assured him, and Henry darted down the stairs and out the front door, headed for his car.

Chapter Twenty-Five

After Henry left, Piper glanced down at Josh, who was still curled up against her side. The boy was staring at the television, but he might as well have been a million miles away, for all the attention he was paying to the screen.

"What's on your mind?" she prompted, gently.

"Evil," Josh replied, distractedly, and Piper raised an eyebrow in surprise.

"That's a pretty heavy topic," she said, slowly. "You want to be a little more specific?"

Josh looked at her, a troubled expression on his face. "What makes people evil?" he asked, morosely.

"What brought this on?" Piper asked, and Josh frowned, hugging Herbert to his chest.

"Well," he said, quietly, "I always thought that it was having demonic powers that made demons evil. But, now magic is gone and demons are powerless, but they're still doing bad things. You were talking to Uncle Darryl earlier about it, and one of Aunt Paige's charges is in trouble-" He broke off, staring plaintively up at her. "Why would they do bad things if they don't have to?"

Piper hugged Josh, holding onto him tightly. "They did those things because they wanted to," she told him. "You're right. They had the chance to do good things, to not be evil, but they didn't. They chose to be evil." Pulling back, she looked down at him. "Is that what this is about? You're worried that you're evil?"

"I'm half demon," Josh started, but Piper cut him off, swiftly.

"You are not evil," she insisted.

"I read the Book," Josh protested. "My mom was evil when she was pregnant with me."

"Your mom turned evil because the Seer was poisoning you both," Piper told him, firmly. "And you were possessed by the Source."

"But-"

"But, nothing," Piper said, ending his weak protest. "You are not evil, sweetheart. You don't have an evil bone in your body. Trust me on this, okay?" she prompted, when Josh remained silent.

"Okay," Josh finally agreed, a faint smile creeping onto his face. He snuggled back against Piper's side, and then pulled away a moment later with a funny look on his face. "Um, Aunt Piper? I think you spilled your tea."

Piper glanced at the cup she'd placed beside her, still as full as when she'd last taken a sip, and then down at the growing wet spot on the blankets. "That's not tea, sweetheart," she told him, an apologetic tone in her voice. "My water just broke."

Josh pulled a face at her words, but then his eyes widened a second later, when he got what else she was telling him. He jumped up, a panicked look on his face.

"You're having the baby!" he yelped, his voice rising with excitement. "What do we do? I mean, what do you do? What-"

"Josh, calm down," Piper laughed, cutting the boy off in the middle of his near-hysterical rambling.

Josh fell silent, followed by Herbert, who'd started barking in response to the boy's agitation. Piper smiled at the dumbfounded look on the pair's faces.

"Calm down," she repeated, patiently. "Everything's fine."

"You just said that you were going into labor," Josh reminded her, as if she could have possibly forgotten.

"Yes, and these things take hours," Piper replied. "Relax, okay? Just breathe, sweetie."

Josh took several deep breaths, his shoulders slumping as he relaxed. "Do you want me to do anything?" he asked.

"Go get Grandpa," Piper told him. "Tell him to call Ava, and to get the car ready. We need to go to the hospital."

"Got it," Josh said, and Piper could see him practically forcing himself to slow down as he walked out of the room, Herbert dancing around his feet.

Piper rubbed a hand over her stomach, feeling a contraction ripple through her. She'd been feeling the pains for a while, now, but she'd figured – okay, prayed – that it was just false labor, and she hadn't mentioned it to anyone. With everything else they were dealing with, she didn't think they needed to deal with that.

"Guess I was wrong," she said, ruefully, as another contraction hit. "You know, sweetheart, you picked a hell of a time to come into the world."

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Josh forced himself to walk slowly out of Piper's bedroom, aware that his aunt was watching him with an amused smile on her face. He couldn't understand why she wasn't more excited; she was having a baby for crying out loud! He would have been bouncing off the walls (assuming that Piper could even bounce with her stomach as big as it was), but she was just sitting there as calmly as if it was any other day. He just didn't get it.

"Grandpa?" he called out, as he went down the stairs. The older man had been headed down to the kitchen with Doris to get Piper something to eat. "Grandpa, Aunt Piper's having her baby!"

When his words failed to produce even a peep out of his absent grandfather, Josh scowled. His new baby cousin was going to be born any minute now. This new little person was going to be theirs, forever. Didn't anyone else understand just how cool that was?

"Am I going to have to do all the cheering for this baby, myself?" he asked, a grumpy note in his voice, as he stepped into the kitchen, and then he froze, horrified.

His grandfather was lying unconscious in a pool of blood in the middle of the kitchen, a dark stain spreading rapidly across the front of his shirt. And standing over his motionless body, holding a bloody knife, was Doris. The older woman looked over at him, a startled look flashing briefly across her face, and then she stepped over Victor's body, toward him. The knife in her hand glinted in the bright lights, little droplets falling from the tip to land soundlessly on the floor.

Josh panicked. He spun around, stumbling in his sock-shod feet as he ran back to the stairs. He instinctively tried to shimmer back to Piper's side, but he couldn't because he forgot that magic didn't work, anymore, and the few seconds he took to try cost him.

Doris caught up to him as he reached the stairs, and he'd just hit the second step when she reached out and grabbed him by the ankle. He crashed heavily to the stairs, the impact knocking the breath from him with a pained grunt. He kicked back as hard as he could with his free foot, hoping to hit Doris in the face, but she simply grabbed his other leg and twisted his ankle in an agonizingly-tight grip. She hoisted him into the air, letting him dangle from her hands for a second, and then she let go.

He hit his head on the stairs, the world spinning dizzily around him, and then he felt himself being hauled upright by the back of his collar, and the cold steel of the knife rested lightly against the base of his throat. A trickle of his grandfather's blood ran off the blade to disappear under the collar of his shirt.

"Don't move," Doris growled in his ear, while he struggled not to even breathe too deeply. "Don't scream. Or I'll cut your throat. Got it?"

"Got it," Josh whimpered, his voice barely audible even to his own ears.

Suddenly, he heard a high-pitched bark from behind them, and he watched as Herbert bared his tiny teeth at Doris, lunging at her leg. She didn't even blink as she kicked out, sending the puppy flying through the air to crash into the wall, sliding down in a boneless heap. Josh felt tears well up in his eyes, resisting the urge to cry out.

Doris tightened her grip on his shirt, forcing him ahead of her as she marched up the stairs. The knife was still pressed against his throat and he tried desperately not to stumble over his own feet. If he fell, now, it would literally be the last thing he ever did.

At the top of the stairs, Doris once again motioned for him to remain silent. As if he needed the reminder. They moved slowly up to Piper's bedroom, and Josh could hear the soft strain of the television floating out of the open door. Piper chuckled at something on the screen, the bright sound dying out into a soft grunt of pain. Josh risked a peek through the doorway to see his aunt rubbing her hands across her stomach, trying to ease a contraction.

"Sounds like it's not going to be too much longer," Doris spoke up, announcing their presence as she dragged Josh into the room.

Piper glanced up, the smile freezing on her face when she saw Doris and Josh. "What the hell are you doing?" she demanded, as she pushed herself up from her reclining position.

"Ah ah," Doris scolded, tilting the knife so that the blade caught the light from Piper's bedside lamp. Piper froze, instinctively, her eyes fixed unerringly on Josh. "Lay back down, Piper," Doris went on, "or the brat is going to meet a very messy end."

"If you hurt him," Piper growled, "I mean, even one, tiny scratch, I am going to kill you. My sisters and I will hunt you down and destroy you."

Piper settled slowly back against her pile of pillows, her hands clenched into white-knuckled fists at her sides and her eyes hard and cold. Josh had seen that look before, when the alternate universe Source had been holding him captive. As terrifying as it had been at the time, it was reassuring now to see that icy fury directed at someone else.

Doris pushed him forward, toward the chair that Henry had been sitting in earlier. She gestured for him to sit down, moving behind him with the knife still held against his throat. Josh held himself very, very still, his back ramrod straight against the cushions. He could feel the edge of the blade scraping lightly against his skin as he breathed.

"What now?" Piper gritted out, staring at Doris. "We're at your mercy. Now what are you going to do?"

"Now we're going to wait," Doris informed them. "Once my partner shows up, we'll get started."

"Started on what?" Piper demanded. "What do you want?"

"Your baby, of course," Doris said, and Piper growled under her breath as she wrapped an arm protectively around her stomach.

"You can't touch her," Piper said, her voice low, angry. "She's protected. I won't let you hurt my baby."

"Oh, Piper, we don't want to hurt your daughter," Doris said, her voice dripping with false sympathy. "We want to mold her, train her. She's incredibly powerful, and she's going to be a great force of evil."

"Over my dead body," Piper threatened.

"If that's what it takes," Doris remarked, with a humorless chuckle. "Actually, I lied. We're going to kill you no matter what. Can't have you coming after us, after all."

"I'm going to kill you, even if I have to come back from the dead to do it," Piper threatened.

The room fell into an uneasy silence after Piper's pronouncement. Piper kept glancing toward the open door every few seconds, an expression of tense expectation on her face. Josh wondered if she was hoping for Uncle Henry to come home. He certainly was.

"Waiting for something?" Doris finally asked, clearly annoyed with Piper's anxiety.

"Where's my father?" Piper asked, her voice tight as she stared at the empty doorway. "You went downstairs, together; you came up, alone. What did you do with him?"

"She stabbed Grandpa," Josh blurted out, quickly, sucking in a harsh breath when Doris tightened her grip on the knife, nicking his throat. He shrank back against the chair, as far away from the blade as he could go.

"You stabbed my father," Piper repeated, her voice oddly even. "Is he dead?"

"Oh, you shouldn't worry about that," Doris said, her voice dripping with false concern. "Stress is bad for the baby."

"But you won't have to worry about that much longer," a new voice spoke up. Josh looked toward the door to see an older man with graying hair stepping into the room. "How far along is she?" the man asked Doris, nodding at Piper.

"I haven't been able to check," Doris snapped, sounding irritated. "I've been a little busy keep these two under control. Where the hell have you been, Cronyn?"

"With Merrill, tying up a few loose ends," Cronyn replied, with a dismissive wave. "I've made sure that the Charmed Ones won't be a problem, any longer."

"You killed my mom?" Josh whispered, barely breathing. The man glanced at him, disinterestedly.

"Phoebe's brat," Doris said, by way of explanation, and Cronyn's eyes lit up with interest.

"The former vessel for the Source," he said, eyeing Josh, speculatively. "Dump him in the basement; we'll pick him up before we leave. He could turn out to be useful."

"No!" Piper snapped, jerking upright, but Cronyn simply pushed her back down onto the bed with a restraining hand. He held her down, easily.

Doris grabbed the back of Josh's collar and hauled him upright. She dragged him out the door and down the hallway, keeping the knife at his throat to keep him from struggling. She was being careful, heeding Cronyn's words, but Josh had the feeling that she didn't care one bit if he died.

Down the stairs and through the kitchen, past his grandfather's motionless body, and then Doris jerked open the basement door. She shoved him down the stairs, into the darkness, and he fell for what felt like an eternity before hitting the concrete with a bone-jarring crash.

Everything hurt, his ears were ringing, and when he tried to push himself to his feet, his ribs screamed in protest. He sank back down against the stairs, panting from the pain, arms wrapped tightly around his stomach. A warm wetness ran into his eyes, and when he lifted a shaky hand to his forehead, his fingers came away bloody.

"Mom," Josh whimpered, softly, curling into a tight ball and rocking slowly back and forth. She couldn't be gone, couldn't be dead. The demon had to be lying. But then why wasn't she here? "Mom," he sobbed, and his whole body shook from the effort. "Mommy."

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Henry pulled his car to a stop at the intersection that Paige's charge had told him about. He didn't see anyone as he got out of the car, so he picked a direction and hoped that he'd made the right choice. When he heard the sound of raised voices coming from an alley up ahead, he picked up his pace. He freed his gun from the holster, angling the weapon toward the ground.

He had his cell phone in his pocket, and he dug it out with one hand, hitting his speed dial for Darryl Morris. The other man picked up on the second ring.

"Want to arrest a couple more demons?" Henry asked, without preamble, and heard Darryl sigh.

"Again?" he muttered. "Okay, where are you?"

"Fifth and Harrison," Henry told him. "Come quickly. I don't know how many I'm dealing with, or if I can hold them off without things getting messy."

Another sigh, and the distinct sound of the top coming off a pill bottle. By now, Darryl had to be working on a massive migraine. "Do me a favor and remember that you're off duty," Darryl reminded him, hastily swallowing a mouthful of water. "And if you get hurt, Paige is going to kill me."

"So, get over here," Henry countered, reasonably, and then he clicked the phone off and shoved it back into his pocket.

Slowing as he reached the mouth of the alley, he peered cautiously around the edge of the building. A pair of hulking men were prowling around, clearly looking for something. One of them had a long-bladed knife in his hands, and the end looked like it was covered in blood, which was all the excuse Henry needed.

"Police, freeze!" he barked, moving to block their only exit out of the alley.

The only other way out was up a twenty foot wall, and even if these were the demons he was looking for, there was no way they'd be able to make an escape without magic. Not without going through him, and from the looks on their faces, they knew it.

"Officer, we were just-" one of the men started, but Henry really wasn't interested in whatever transparent excuse he managed to come up with.

"Put the weapon down," he said, keeping his gun trained on the one with the knife. "Slowly, put it down and kick it away."

There were two of them to his one, but he was the one with the gun, and they weren't close enough to reach him, and they clearly weren't confident in their ability to take him on without powers. The one with the knife put his weapon on the ground and kicked it away, sending it skittering across the ground where it stopped at Henry's feet.

"Face down on the ground," he ordered. "Lace your fingers behind your head and stay there."

"What's this about, huh?" the second man demanded, as he and his buddy slowly complied. "We haven't done anything wrong."

"You're carrying a bloody knife," Henry said, bluntly.

"It's pig's blood!" one of the men bluffed, his voice muffled by his position.

"We'll let the lab figure that one out," Henry replied. "Stay on the ground and don't move."

A few, tense minutes later, a couple of cars pulled up behind him. Henry couldn't risk looking behind him, but he saw Darryl come up out of the corner of his eye. He indicated the knife on the ground with a nod.

"You'll want to bag that," he said, as a pair of uniformed officers moved past them to drag the men off the ground and handcuff them, marching the pair toward the waiting patrol vehicle.

"How do you people always manage to find these things?" Darryl asked, in an undertone, as he stooped and put the knife in an evidence bag.

"More like these things find us," Henry retorted. "I think you're going to want to keep these two isolated with the Grimlocks," he added, softly.

'Yeah," Darryl agreed, watching as one of the men tried to fight the cop restraining him. "I don't suppose you know who the blood belongs to, do you?" he asked, hefting the knife in the bag.

"I have an idea," Henry said, slowly, getting a sidelong glance from Darryl.

"I'm going to trust you to handle this," the other man finally said, "and to call me if you get in over your head."

"Thanks," Henry said. He watched Darryl leave with the other officers, and then he turned back to the seemingly-empty alleyway. "You can come out, now," he called out, softly. "I'm a friend of Paige's. I'm here to help."

For a second, nothing happened, and then the Dumpster at the end of the alley shifted. A young woman with long brown hair climbed out from underneath the contraption. She was moving slowly, arms wrapped protectively around her stomach, where he could see a bloodstain under her hands. She eyed him warily, pushing a strand of hair away from her eyes.

"Prove it," she said, a challenging note in her voice.

"Well," Henry replied, "I did just get the demons arrested for trying to kill you."

"How do I know you're not just trying to finish me off, yourself?" the woman retorted, keeping a careful distance away from him. Henry could see her trying to gauge the distance between them, and how she could get around him and out of the alley.

"I was trying to save you, not kill you," Henry shot back. "You're welcome, by the way."

"Where's Paige?" the woman finally asked. "I called her; why isn't she here?"

"You're not the only one having power problems," Henry told her, choosing his words carefully in case they were overheard. "It's affecting a lot of people. Everywhere. Paige and her sisters are trying to fix it. I'm the one who answered your phone call. My name is Henry Mitchell."

Amazingly, that was what made the woman relax her guard, her shoulders slumping in relief as she leaned wearily against the wall of the building beside her. "So, you're Henry," she remarked.

"Whatever Paige has told you," he replied, as he approached the woman, "it's all lies."

"I'm sure," came the reply. Holding her hand out, she added, "I'm Kate. Kate Morgan."

"Nice to meet you, Kate," Henry said. "What do you say we get you to a hospital?"

Kate shook her head, clamping a hand harder over wound in her side. "No hospital," she replied, a hint of stubbornness creeping into her voice. "I'd have to explain how I got stabbed, and I really don't want to have the 'demons and magic' conversation with a bunch of Innocents. Besides, it looks a lot worse than it really is."

"Then at least come back to the Manor with me," Henry argued. "I can get you stitched up. And once Paige and her sisters figure out the magic thing, she can heal you."

"Okay," Kate finally agreed, following Henry out of the alley and back to his car.

"And hopefully," Henry remarked, holding the door open for her, "this is the most exciting my day gets."

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Paige vaulted over the bar at the back of the restaurant for protection. She caught her knee on the edge of the bar as she went over, landing painfully on the ground, but at least she was behind cover. The bad part was that she was separated from her sisters, but her dash across the restaurant had drawn most of the demons' attention to her, and away from them. And it had given her a bunch of new weapons at her disposal.

Their fight with the demons had wrecked havoc with the restaurant, and most of the contents of the bar had crashed off the back wall to shatter on the floor. One or two bottles were still intact, though, and Paige grabbed one, popped the cap off the top, and poured a small amount onto the floor to free up some space inside the bottle.

She ripped a short strip off the bottom of her tee-shirt and stuffed it down the neck of the bottle, digging for the lighter in her pocket. A couple of flicks later, and she lit the cloth on fire. Then, she popped up above the bar and threw the bottle, ducking back down as the bottle shattered on the floor and exploded.

A chorus of screams greeted her, and she peered cautiously around the edge of the bar to assess the damage. Of the remaining demons, two appeared to be unconscious, one was clutching his badly burned face in his hands, and the last, Cronyn's mentor, Merrill, was backed up against a wall, held captive by Phoebe and Prue.

"Where's Cronyn?" Phoebe demanded, holding the demon's own dagger to his throat.

"He had business to attend to," Merrill rasped, trying to edge backward away from the blade. Paige stooped, grabbing the back of his neck and holding him still.

"What business?" she asked. Merrill remained stubbornly silent.

"Different question," Paige snapped, impatiently, giving the demon a quick shake for emphasis. "Does Cronyn's 'business' have anything to do with the disappearance of magic?"

"Answer the lady's question," Prue added, deliberately stepping on Merrill's hand and shifting her weight forward. The distinct sound of bone grinding against bone could be heard.

"Yes," Merrill gritted out, his face spasming with pain.

"Then I'll repeat my question," Paige said, deliberately calm. "What is Cronyn's business? Why is magic down?"

Merrill shot them an incredulous look, barking out a surprised laugh. "You really don't know?" he asked. "Everything that's been happening, and you don't have a clue?"

"What are you talking about?" Phoebe asked, barely-leashed anger in her voice.

Merrill just shook his head, still laughing to himself. He made a deliberate show of checking his watch, and then he slumped back against the wall.

"I'm going to do you a favor and tell you everything," he said, a mocking tone in his voice. "There's nothing you can do about it at this point, anyway." His voice took on a lilting cadence as he chanted, "When three planets burn as one, over a sky of dancing light, magic will rest on a holy day to welcome a Twice-Blessed child." He sat back, an expectant look on his face as he waited for their reactions.

"Piper's baby," Paige realized. "They're after Piper's baby."

"Very good," Merrill applauded them, his voice dripping with scorn.

"That's why you brought us here?" Prue exploded, grabbing Merrill by the front of his robes and slamming him back against the wall, his head bouncing off the bricks. "You wanted to separate the Power of Three, is that it?"

"When do we get our powers back?" Phoebe asked.

Merrill smirked at them. "When it's too late to use them."

"We have to get back home," Paige said, urgently. She jumped to her feet and bolted for the door,

"You'll never make it in time!" Merrill yelled after them, cackling with glee.

Paige had the car started even before her sisters had gotten in, and she peeled out of the parking lot on two wheels. Beside her in the passenger seat, Phoebe was dialing her cell phone.

"I can't get through to the house," she reported, a few seconds later. "They probably cut the phone lines."

"And we have no way to warn Piper and Henry," Paige said, tersely.

"Drive faster," Prue urged, and Paige stepped on the accelerator. "Hang on, Piper," she heard Prue whisper. "We're coming."

Chapter Twenty-Six

Paige cracked the back door open, pushing it slowly inward when she didn't hear anything on the other side. She crept through the kitchen, Phoebe and Prue close on her heels. Paige veered for the basement, grabbing a knife from the block on the counter. Prue snagged the small ceramic mortar and pestle from the potions cabinet. When they heard a thump coming from overhead, they all froze.

"Piper," Phoebe breathed, worry in her voice, and she instinctively started for the stairs, but Paige stopped her, shaking her head.

"Cronyn won't hurt Piper while she's in labor," she said, tightly. "And we can't help her like this."

"Yeah," Phoebe reluctantly agreed, and Paige pushed the basement door open.

She reached for the light switch on the wall, but the bulb died with a loud pop after she flicked it on. With a soft curse, Paige slowly made her way down the stairs, grateful that the light from the kitchen at least illuminated that much. At the bottom, she looked for the unicorn, surprised to find the mare lying down in the middle of the floor. Her head was bowed down, and she was nudging something insistently with her nose.

"What'cha got there?" Paige murmured, trying not to startle the mare as she moved slowly around her. Then, she saw what the unicorn was shielding, and all thoughts of caution fled. The knife clattered from her numb fingers to hit the floor. "Oh, god. Phoebe!"

Phoebe reached her side as she dropped to her knees, pulling Josh's motionless body into her arms. Her sister choked out a strangled cry, reaching out to Josh with a shaking hand.

"Tell me you can heal him," she demanded, her voice audibly wavering. "Paige, please-"

"Unicorn horn," Paige said, glancing back at her, quickly. "Scrape some off into the pestle."

Phoebe nodded, snatching the knife off the floor and taking the bowl from Prue. She ran the blade along the underside of the unicorn's horn, catching the scrapings in the bowl and quickly grinding them into a powder. Then, she passed Paige the bowl.

Paige took a pinch of the powder, sprinkling it carefully over the dark wound on Josh's head. She concentrated, the powder glittering with a golden light as it left her hand, and Josh's injuries disappeared. Paige breathed a sigh of relief when his eyes fluttered open.

"Hey, kiddo," she said, hugging him.

"Aunt Paige?" Josh asked, blinking in confusion, and he focused on something over her shoulder. "Mom!" He bolted upright, leaping into Phoebe's arms with a happy cry. "Mom," he sobbed, clinging to her.

"I'm here, baby," Phoebe crooned, wrapping her arms around her son, tightly. "I'm here. You're okay, now."

"Demons," Josh babbled, a panicked note in his voice. "There are demons upstairs, they've got Aunt Piper, and Grandpa-"

"Everything's going to be fine," Phoebe reassured him, but Josh shook his head, emphatically.

"No, Doris stabbed Grandpa-" he choked out, and Phoebe exchanged a horrified look with Paige and Prue.

"Dad," Prue gasped, and she and Paige bounded up the stairs to the kitchen.

They found Victor lying in the doorway to the kitchen – how they'd missed him when they'd first come in, Paige would never know. He'd lost a lot of blood, and his skin was cold to the touch.

Paige took a pinch of unicorn horn and sprinkled it over the wound in Victor's stomach, focusing. Beside her, Prue was tense with anticipation, barely breathing, but she visibly relaxed when the stab wound shrank into nothingness. Victor opened his eyes, groaning as Paige and Prue helped him to his feet.

"Doris," he started.

"Is a dead woman," Prue finished for him, her tone frosty. "When I-" The rest of her sentence was cut off by a thumping sound coming from the other room. "Piper."

"Go," Paige told her, nodding at the doorway. "Phoebe and I will be right behind you."

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Piper watched Doris drag Josh out of the room, helpless in the face of the boy's panicked desperation. She clenched her hands into fists, glaring up at Cronyn as the demon loomed menacingly over her.

"If you hurt him-" she threatened, darkly, but Cronyn cut her off with a mocking laugh.

"The boy is a valuable asset," he said, in what he seemed to think was a reassuring tone. "I'm not in the habit of destroying assets."

"He's not an asset, he's my nephew," Piper gritted out, but Cronyn smirked.

"So protective of the little demon spawn," he tutted. "Well, you won't have to worry about it for much longer."

The room fell into an awkward silence, broken only by Doris's reappearance. The older woman started tugging at the blankets on the bed, and Piper shivered as her legs were exposed to the cool air of the room. Doris gave her a patently false smile, clearly reading her shiver as fear.

"Don't worry, Piper," she tries for a soothing tone, "everything will be over, soon. And, I promise that we will take the best care of your baby."

"You're never going to touch her," Piper growled.

Doris just ignored her. Turning to Cronyn, she added, "I need to check how far along she is. You-"

"I'm going to take care of a couple of things," Cronyn interrupted her, smoothly. "To ensure that we can't be followed, once we're gone." Sneering at Piper, he added, "I hope you're not too attached to your precious Book of Shadows. It'll be little more than confetti after I'm done with it." He left the room, chuckling, leaving Piper alone with her demonically-insane stepmother.

When Doris turned her back, Piper made her move. Grabbing the small vase off her bedside table, she lurched up and smashed the vase against the back of Doris's skull. The older woman crumpled from the force of the blow, groaning in pain, and Piper bolted from the room – well, as fast as she could move while crippled by ever-increasing contractions.

She made it as far as the stairs before she lost her balance, stumbling and falling heavily to her knees. She got back up, painfully, but she wasn't fast enough, and she was stopped by a hard hand falling onto her shoulder. Cronyn probably hadn't even made it up to the attic before he'd heard her escaping.

"Stupid witch," Cronyn growled under his breath. "You could have killed the both of you."

Piper jerked against his restraining hand, but the demon was holding firm and she couldn't move. She could only glare at Cronyn, feeling completely, utterly helpless.

"And you," Cronyn continued in a scornful voice, "what the hell happened to you?"

Piper was confused for a moment until Doris stomped past them with a scowl on her face. She didn't bother answering Cronyn until she'd reached the bottom of the stairs.

"She got the drop on me," she grumbled, rubbing at the spot where Piper had hit her with the vase. "She-"

Doris trailed off, a startled look on her face. "Get over here, quietly," she growled, "or we'll kill your sister."

Piper groaned in dismay when Prue moved slowly into view. Her older sister had her hands out in front of her, clearly unarmed, and Doris grabbed her by the wrist as soon as she was close enough, yanking her forward and making her stumble off balance.

'Sorry,' Prue mouthed up to her, an apologetic look on her face.

"Looks like Merrill wasn't as successful in killing the witches as you thought," Doris snapped at Cronyn. She twisted Prue's arm around behind her back, effectively immobilizing her. "Where are the other Charmed Ones?" she demanded, harshly.

"Like I'm going to tell you," Prue scoffed, and then she choked back a pained cry when Doris wrapped her free hand around her neck, digging long nails into her throat.

Piper instinctively started toward her sister, but Cronyn stopped her, and she froze at the feel of a thin blade resting on her neck.

"Move again," he breathed in her ear, "and I'll slit your throat and watch you bleed to death."

"If you hurt me," Piper retorted, just as quietly, "you'll hurt my baby. There go your chances of ruling the Underworld."

Like she'd hoped, the threat made Cronyn back off the pressure on her throat, and Piper dared to breathe a small sigh of relief. She'd bought Phoebe and Paige a couple more seconds for whatever they were planning. Wherever they were.

'Hurry up,' she begged, silently, desperately. 'Please be close by, please, please-'

Her rambling thoughts were cut off by the sound of the front door opening, and then Henry stepped into the foyer. Piper could see a young woman about half a step behind him, and then the pair stopped short, staring at the frozen tableau that greeted them.

"You're going to want to let them go," Henry said, in a low voice, his hand creeping almost imperceptibly toward his gun in its holster.

He was moving slowly as he spoke, and then the woman standing behind him made an aborted lunge toward Prue and Doris. The movement drew both demons' attentions, and Henry used the moment of distraction to free his gun, pointing it squarely at Cronyn.

"Not going to say this again," he said, calmly. "Let. Them. Go."

"You're not going to shoot me," Cronyn said, but there was a hint of nervousness in his voice, and he dragged Piper closer against his chest, using her as a shield. She struggled against his hold.

"Henry, vanquish him," she begged, and a frustrated look flashed across Henry's face.

"I can't," he gritted out, his gun nonetheless never wavering from Cronyn.

"If you fire, I'll kill Prue," Doris threatened, from where she was standing off to the side, and Henry's eyes flicked briefly over to her.

"Prue?" he asked, quietly.

"I'll take her down with me," Prue vowed, darkly, and Henry nodded, turning his attention back to Cronyn and Piper. He shifted a few steps to the side, tracking Cronyn with his gun.

"If you shoot me," Cronyn said, before he could say anything, "this knife will slip. Piper will die."

"Shoot him, Henry," Piper begged, anyway, trying to breathe through the pain of a contraction. "It's to save the baby."

"I can't," Henry repeated, sounding like the words were being ripped from him. "Piper, I don't have a clear shot."

"If you love me," Piper snapped, "you will send this crazy bastard straight to Hell!"

"I can't," Henry repeated, again, an odd emphasis on the words. He was still moving, slowly, both Cronyn and Doris watching him for any sudden movements. Then, he froze, his eyes widening comically as he stared at something on the steps behind them.

Cronyn whirled around, half-dragging Piper with him, and then Phoebe swung the heavy pewter candlestick in her hands, bashing Cronyn over the back of the head. His grip slackened on Piper's arms and she started to fall forward, but Paige jumped out from behind Phoebe to grab Piper and steady her. With her free hand, she blew a handful of dust directly into Cronyn's face.

"Beast of legend, myth, and lore," Phoebe chanted, "give my words the power to soar, and kill this evil, evermore!"

Cronyn exploded in a burst of light and sound. At the bottom of the stairs, Doris was vanquished a few moments later, and seconds after that, the muffled sound of a small explosion coming from the front hall closet.

Paige wrapped both arms around Piper, helping her the rest of the way down the stairs. When they hit the bottom, she freed a hand to pull a small drawstring bag out of her pocket, tossing it to Prue. Prue flicked a handful of dust into the air, and a quick summoning spell had Leo forming in a bright swirl of lights.

"I could see everything," he babbled, as he wrapped his arms around Piper in a tight hug, "but I couldn't do anything, I couldn't reach you-"

"We're okay." Piper stopped his babbling with a reassuring smile. "I'm kind of in labor, but it's not too bad –" She broke off as another contraction swamped her, her fingers digging into Leo's arms as she fought to stay upright. "Okay, I was wrong," she gasped, tears springing to her eyes, "I feel like I'm dying."

"I've got you," Leo crooned, supporting her weight as he guided her to the dining room, where Phoebe was setting up a pillow and blankets on the table. "I've got you, everything's going to be fine."

He helped Piper up onto the table, easing her down onto the pillows. She squeezed Leo's hand, breathing through the contraction, and he wiped a lock of sweaty hair away from her face.

"You're doing great, baby," he said, encouragingly, and Piper choked out a laugh.

"Haven't really done anything, yet," she told him.

"Except foil a pair of demonic kidnappers," Leo corrected her, an affectionate tone in his voice. Craning his head around, he called, "Paige?"

"Just a second," Paige replied. "Just let me take care of Kate, first."

Piper looked over to see her standing over the young woman who'd come in with Henry, sprinkling a pinch of dust over the dark wound in her side. The wound shrank into nothingness, and Kate sighed in obvious relief.

"Unicorn horn," Paige explained, as she came over and noted the confused look on Piper's face. "The only magic your little darling's impending arrival didn't completely wipe out." She was smiling as she moved to the end of the table. "Okay, ready to meet your daughter?"

"More than ready," Piper told her.

Looking over at the sound of footsteps, she saw Victor and Josh entering the dining room from the kitchen. Josh was beaming, wildly as he joined Phoebe and Prue, and he happily took a squirming Herbert out of his mother's arms.

"Are you okay, sweetheart?" Victor asked, worriedly, and Piper nodded.

"Dad?" she asked. "I'm sorry about your demon wife."

Victor laughed in surprise, reaching out and gently squeezing her shoulder. Piper grasped his hand, and then groaned at the pain of another contraction.

"Paige, I don't want to be in labor for eight hours," she pleaded.

"At the rate things are going," Paige told her, glancing up from the blanket she'd arranged over Piper's knees, "it's not even going to be another ten minutes. Next contraction, start pushing, okay?"

"Yeah," Piper agreed, relaxing back into the pillows as the pain ended.

Barely a minute later, when the pain came again, she gripped Leo's hand and bore down as hard as she could. An involuntary cry was ripped from her throat with the effort, and she kept pushing until Paige told her to relax. She repeated the scenario again, and then a third time.

"I see a head of dark hair," Paige said, encouragingly, and Piper blinked back tears.

"You do?" she asked, tremulously.

"What did you expect?" Prue joked, from where she, Phoebe, and Josh were standing behind Piper's shoulder. "A blonde?"

Piper laughed, weakly. Another contraction hit, and she started pushing again, bolstered by Paige's coaching. The pain grew and grew, rather than dissipating like it had before.

"How did Mom do this four times?" she demanded, gritting her teeth through the pain.

"Selective amnesia," Paige told her, lips quirked in a grin. "You forget the pain after the first time you hold your baby. Come on, Piper, push."

"I am pushing," Piper snapped, glancing up as a bright blue light cascaded down from the ceiling. "What the-"

"Magic's coming back," Phoebe told her.

"Not long, now," Paige said, encouragingly. "Okay, I've got a shoulder," she added, a couple of seconds later. "And another shoulder – now you show up?" The last was directed at Ava, who'd come silently into the room.

"Hello to you, too," Ava snarked. "Piper, how are you doing?"

"You've been missing all the fun," Piper gasped out, as she pushed again, and then a thin, high-pitched wail filled the air.

Piper slumped back against the pillows, exhausted, watching Ava hover over her newborn baby, taking the infant from Paige after they'd cut the umbilical cord. Clutching Leo's hand, anxiously, as Ava worked, she waited for the other woman to speak. After a few minutes, Ava turned around, cradling her baby in her arms.

"Here you go, Mom," she said, beaming. "Meet your new baby boy."

Piper reached out eagerly to take her baby from Ava, cradling him protectively against her chest, and then Ava's words caught up with her. "Wait a minute, boy?" She blinked in momentary shock down into her son's bright blue eyes.

"We have a son?" Leo asked, a huge smile breaking out over his face. Looking down at Piper, he laughed. "We have a son!"

"Hey, little man," Piper murmured, softly, tracing her baby's cheek with her fingertip. "Look at you."

"He's a miracle," Phoebe commented, and Piper nodded, wordlessly.

"Our little miracle," she said, to Leo, who was gazing down at their son with a wondering look on his face.

"He's beautiful," Leo replied, a husky note in his voice, and tears shining in his eyes. "Look at what we did." He reached out, brushing his hand gently over their son's head, smiling.

"Good job, you two," Prue said, her own voice suspiciously choked up. "I wouldn't have missed this for anything."

Piper craned her head around to look at her older sister, a proud smile gracing her features. Beside her, Phoebe had her arms wrapped protectively around Josh, and Victor was holding his daughter and grandson. On her other side, Paige was leaning against Henry, his arms loose around her waist. Ava, with Kate's help, was setting up supplies from her medical bag, both women sneaking occasional glances over at Piper and the baby.

Her family. Her friends. The people she loved most in life, surrounding her. In that moment, everything was perfect.

Looking down at her baby boy, she found him watching her with bright blue eyes. When she smoothed her hand over his blanket-wrapped chest, he wrapped his tiny fingers around one of hers, holding on with a surprising strength. She smiled, her eyes filling with tears.

"You are safe, and you are loved," she murmured, softly. "Welcome home, darling boy. Welcome home."

Chapter Twenty-Seven

December, 2001

It felt like they were traveling forever, but in reality, the potion probably only took a few seconds to transport them through time. Josh stumbled a little bit on the landing, blinking in the bright sunlight they'd emerged into.

"Well," Chris remarked, looking around at their surroundings, "at least we landed in San Francisco, this time."

"My landing skills are impeccable, thank you," Josh said, with a half bow. Looking over at the Manor across the street from where they'd landed, he asked, "Do you think that the hide-a-key is still in the same spot?"

"We could always just orb in," Chris suggested, but Josh shook his head in disbelief.

"How you ever made it as a spy for the Resistance is beyond me," he said, sadly. "First rule of espionage, Christopher: never orb into a building when you can sneak in, undetected."

"Just like a demon," Chris teased him, as he followed his cousin across the street. "Devious to the end."

"Hey," Josh retorted, as he rooted around in the loose soil of a chrysanthemum pot, "devious has saved your ass more than once, and don't you forget it." Triumphantly, he came up with the spare key for the front door. "Got it. So, basement, first, or the attic?"

"Attic," Chris decided. "We need to get a hold of the Elders, and we should probably keep them away from the Shadow."

"You're right, no basement," Josh agreed.

He unlocked the door and dropped the key back into the pot. A quick twitch of Chris's fingers covered the key in potting soil, again, and then they slipped into the house and up the stairs to the attic. The pages of the Book were already flipping when they entered the attic, and it stopped after a few seconds, settling on one of the summoning spells.

"That's a spell to summon spirits," Josh commented, looking down at the page. "How is that supposed to help us find the Elders?"

'Rewrite the spell, boy,' scrawled suddenly across the page in thin, spidery handwriting, and Chris laughed.

"Yes, ma'am," Josh muttered, and he could have sworn that he could hear the ghostly echo of Prudence's laughter.

He grabbed the pen and pad of paper that were always sitting ready beside the Book, considering his options as he looked down at the spell in question. He decided that he only really needed to change a few things about the spell – a summoning spell was a summoning spell, after all – and then he passed the modified spell over to Chris for his input.

"Nice," Chris remarked, looking it over. "I don't know about this 'beloved' part, though. I mean, we are talking about the Elders, here."

"Exactly," Josh reminded him. "We're dealing with the Elders; a little flattery never hurt."

"You're probably right," Chris conceded. "Okay, we ready?" Josh nodded, and they chanted in unison:

"Beloved Elders Sandra and Kevin,
We ask that you come to us,
So that we may seek your guidance."

Two more repetitions, and then glowing orbs formed in the center of the attic. The orbs coalesced into a pair of figures: one, a woman with short, ash-blonde hair, the other a teenage boy. Josh blink in surprise.

"You're a kid," he blurted out, and the Elder rolled his eyes.

"You're observant," he mocked. "You're also not the Charmed Ones, yet you're in their house. Who are you?"

"We're-" Josh started, but then he trailed off, looking to Chris for help.

It hadn't occurred to either of them to check a calendar before coming upstairs, and they'd only assumed that they'd landed in the right time. But, if they hadn't –

"We're from the future," Chris interjected, smoothly, filling the silence Josh left open.

"That's not what we asked," Sandra said, dryly. "Who are you?"

"They're mine," a ghostly voice spoke up, coming out of thin air.

Josh looked around, but the four of them remained the only ones in the attic. Then, he caught sight of Sandra, who was staring up at the ceiling, an abashed look sneaking across her features. Kevin looked equally chastised by whatever he was hearing.

"Remind you of anything?" Chris muttered under his breath, watching, fascinated, as the Elders faced Prudence Warren's silent interrogation, and Josh bit back a chuckle.

"Getting called up before Mom and the Aunts when I did something wrong," he said, as Chris nodded in agreement. "It's a lot nicer being on this side of it, though."

"No kidding," Chris replied, and then he clammed up when the Elders suddenly broke away from their silent pow-wow to look at them.

"The two of you certainly have powerful allies," Sandra said, without preamble, "I don't know why Prudence Warren is protecting you, and after that earful, I'm not sure I want to know. Just know that if you're trying to harm the Charmed Ones-"

"Do you really think that the ghosts of the Warren family would be protecting us if we were trying to hurt anyone?" Chris asked, rhetorically. "We really are from the future. We came to save it, and we need your help."

"What happens in the future?" Kevin asked, sounding suspiciously, but Josh promptly shook his head.

"We can't tell you that," he replied. "No offense, but-"

"You've heard that saying about too many cooks ruining the stew?" Chris added. "Well, this is too many cooks unraveling the threads of time."

"I don't think it would be that bad," Josh said, softly, leaning closer to Chris, who shrugged, imperceptibly.

"Better safe than sorry," he retorted, just as quietly. "Well?" he added, louder, to the Elders, "are you still going to help us? Even though we can't tell you anything?"

Sandra almost flinched as she glanced up toward the ceiling, and Josh wondered if she was getting yelled at by Prudence, again. As an Elder, she probably wasn't used to being ordered around by a ghost.

"Within reason," she finally gritted out.

"We need a time portal to the future," Josh informed her, and Sandra blinked in surprise.

"Excuse me?" she demanded, hoarsely. "We cannot just give you a time portal!"

"We're not going to do anything bad with it," Chris tried to reassure her.

"Yeah, we just want to put it in the Nexus, downstairs," Josh added. "Remember that whole 'unraveling the threads of time' bit? This is how we're going to keep it from happening. Hopefully," he added, exchanging a dubious look with Chris.

"It'll work," Chris reassured the Elders. "Maybe," he muttered under his breath, hopefully too low for them to hear.

"And what, exactly, do you plan on doing?" Sandra asked, arms crossed over her chest as she stared at them.

"Stabilize the timeline between this point and our point of origin in the future," Chris answered, promptly. "The time portal will merge with an identical one placed in the same spot, in the future, and act as a conduit between the timelines."

"It could work," Kevin said, hesitantly. "You really can't tell us anything?" he asked, and Josh shook his head.

"It's bad," he replied. "Just trust us that things need to change. This isn't something that we can just leave alone."

"If what you want to change is destined-" Sandra started, a warning note in her voice.

"If it's destined, then it won't change, no matter what we do," Chris interrupted her. "But, what's the harm in trying?"

"You could make things worse," Sandra pointed out, and Josh laughed, humorlessly. From what he could see, there were very few ways for their lives to get worse. They had nowhere to go but up.

"That's a risk we'll just have to take," he answered, and the Elder sighed.

"A time portal," she said, shaking her head in disbelief. "Against all of my better judgment, we'll do it. Kevin?"

"I'll need to borrow your power," the younger Elder said, quietly. Shooting a look at Chris and Josh, he added, "I suppose that's why you called two of us down here."

Actually, they'd only called on the Elders based on Leo's recommendation, but they didn't need to know that. Josh pasted a smile on his face and nodded in what he hoped was a convincing manner.

"Absolutely," he lied, with a straight face. "So, that portal?"

"Yes, yes," Kevin said, a hint of irritation creeping into his voice. "Give me a moment. Sandra?"

His fellow Elder held out her hand, sending a stream of golden energy out to wrap around his shoulders, and down his arms to his hands. For his part, Kevin cupped his hands, closing his eyes in concentration. A small furrow appeared on his forehead, and sweat beaded on his brow. After a couple of minutes, a glowing pinprick of light formed in the center of his palms, growing steadily bigger and bigger. The energy that Sandra sent wrapped around the growing ball.

"Done," he announced, after the light had grown to the size of a grapefruit. "One time portal to the future."

"That's it?" Chris asked, doubtfully, and Kevin shot him a withering look.

"You said that you were sending magic through the portal, not yourselves," he reminded them. "And you want it small, if you're going to put it into the Nexus. Do you have any idea how you're going to do that, by the way?"

"I was going to shimmer in, deposit the portal, and shimmer out, again," Josh replied, and Chris stared at him, incredulity written on his face.

"Are you insane?" he demanded. "That's suicide!"

"He's right," Sandra said, abruptly. "That would never work; you'd never be able to escape the Nexus, unscathed."

"Well, the only other option involves breaking open the basement floor, and that unleashes the Shadow," Josh retorted.

"And it's the only option that would work," Sandra countered, stubbornly. "You need to open the basement floor, drop the portal into the Nexus, below, and then seal it, again."

"And what if the Shadow escapes before we can seal the floor?" Josh challenged.

"Well, that's a risk you'll just have to take," the Elder replied, throwing his own words back at him.

""We have to do it," Chris said, and Josh finally nodded.

"What about that?" he asked, nodding at the portal that Kevin still held in his hands. "Do we need asbestos gloves for that thing, or what?"

"You'll be able to hold it for a short while before it starts to affect you," Kevin said, passing the portal into Josh's waiting hands. "Good luck, both of you. I hope, for all our sakes, that this doesn't blow up in your faces."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence," Josh muttered, as the Elders orbed away.

"They're going along with it," Chris pointed out. "That's about as big a vote of confidence as anyone gets from them. Hey," he added, a speculative tone in his voice, "has it occurred to you that by dropping a time portal into the Nexus-"

"We're giving the Shadow a free ride to the future?" Josh finished. "Oh, yeah. But, Uncle Leo's not an idiot, and neither is Dad. They would anticipate something like this. We vanquished the Shadow, once-"

"No," Chris interrupted, "The Charmed Ones vanquished the Shadow. We're a little short on the Power of Three in the future."

"They're going to figure something out," Josh reassured him. "Uncle Leo never would have proposed this plan if he wasn't ready for anything to happen, and he certainly wouldn't send Prue into a situation where she could get possessed by evil."

"You're right," Chris conceded, and Josh shot him a fierce grin.

"Always am," he retorted. "Let's go."

He shimmered down to the basement, still cradling the time portal in his hands. Chris materialized beside him, looking around and zeroing in on the sledgehammer leaning in the corner.

"I'll smash, you drop?" he suggested, twitching his fingers so that the sledgehammer flew, handle-first, into his hand.

Without waiting for an answer, he swung the sledgehammer in an arc and slammed it down onto the concrete floor. Sparks flew as the metal head of the hammer struck the floor, and a thin crack appeared at the strike point. Shifting his grip on the handle, Chris lifted the hammer again, and Josh heard a faint whistling in the air as he used his telekinesis to augment the next blow. More sparks, and then the crack got larger.

"Get ready," Chris warned, and Josh nodded, holding the glowing portal out in front of him.

Chris held his hands out, frowning in concentration. Slowly, he moved his hands apart, and the crack in the floor widened to a fissure as he literally ripped the floor apart. An inky, black form started to slowly drift out of the fissure, and Chris clenched one hand into a fist, holding the Shadow in an invisible grip.

"Now," he gritted out, and Josh darted forward.

He knelt down by the fissure, dropping the portal into the hole in the floor. The light was quickly swallowed up by the Shadow's darkness, and the demonic entity suddenly started struggling harder against Chris's hold; not to get at them, but to get at the portal it could sense down in the Nexus. Josh shot Chris a look.

"Shadow banishing spell in three, two-" he started.

"One," Chris finished for him, opening his fist to let the Shadow slip back into the Nexus. "I am light," he began, reciting the spell that had been a part of all of their bedtime stories when they were kids, "I am one too strong to fight-"

"Return to dark where shadows dwell," Josh chanted, picking up the thread. "You cannot have this Halliwell-"

"So go away and leave my sight, and take with you this endless night!"

The last, in unison, should have completely banished the Shadow, sealing the fissure in the floor and the time portal along with it. Instead, the ground beneath their feet started shaking, and a bright light pierced the darkness under the floor. Josh started to get a bad feeling in his gut.

"Chris-" he started, but that was all the further he got before the light suddenly surged upward, exploding in front of his face. Blinding agony raced along every nerve ending in his body, and then he was screaming, and screaming, and he couldn't stop…

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chris let go of the Shadow, watching it retreat back into the Nexus as he and Josh chanted the banishing spell. As the demon disappeared, he felt a moment of triumph for a job well done. So, of course that was when the floor started shaking.

'No way that's an earthquake,' he thought, automatically bracing himself against the movement under his feet. He turned to ask Josh what he thought was going on, only to see a horrified look on his cousin's face.

"Chris," Josh said, in a low voice, staring down at the fissure.

And then the Nexus exploded.

Light burst out of the fissure, slamming into Josh and throwing him backward. Josh was screaming when he hit the ground, a terrible, unending sound that Chris felt all the way down to his bones. He lunged across the space that separated them, wrapping his arms around Josh and dragging him further away from the fissure in the floor. He twisted around Josh to shield him with his body, looking back toward the Nexus, but the energy discharge was already dying down, the fissure closing as the energy retreated back under the floor.

He turned his attention back to Josh. His cousin was curled in a tight ball on the floor, arms covering his head. His screams had died down to pained, choked-off whimpers. When Chris gently rolled him onto his back, Josh moaned in agony, his entire body arching in reaction.

"Easy, easy," Chris soothed, trying to keep from jostling Josh too much. "All right, we're going to get you out of here, okay? Just a quick orb up to the living room, I promise."

Josh made some kind of sound that might have been agreement, and Chris put a hand carefully in the middle of his chest. He orbed them out of the basement as gently as he could, but even the small movement from their landing wrenched another cry out of Josh's throat. He arched into a momentary seizure, and then he went limp when he abruptly passed out, his weight heavy in Chris's arms.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Chris babbled, anxiously, even though Josh couldn't hear him. "It's gonna be okay, Josh. I'm going to find a way to fix this."

Problem was, he didn't have the faintest clue how to do that. He couldn't heal, and even if Leo in this time could hear his call, Chris couldn't very well explain what two strangers were doing in the house.

And that was assuming that his overprotective father didn't vanquish first, and ask questions later. For as long as Chris could remember, Leo had employed a zero-tolerance policy when it came to his family being in danger. He was suspicious, and guarded, and he didn't trust easily – and Chris couldn't imagine him being any different, now.

Unfortunately, he didn't have a whole lot of other options. He couldn't very well take Josh to a hospital; even if he could get the staff to believe that Josh had been injured in a mundane accident, there was no guarantee that his injuries could be healed in a mortal manner. So, that meant learning to heal in the next few minutes, or –

The sound of the front door opening had him snapping his head around, instinctively placing himself between Josh and whoever was walking into the house. He kept a hand on Josh's shoulder, silently reassuring his cousin that he was still there, holding up his free hand in a defensive posture.

"Anyone home?"

Chris jerked at the sound of Paige's voice, his shoulders slumping in relief, a second later. If there was anyone he could get to listen to him without immediately jumping to vanquish them, it would be her. He could hear Paige walking through the house, and then she stopped short just inside the doorway to the living room, an alarmed look flashing across her face.

"Wait, please," Chris said, quickly, before she could do anything. "Please. We need your help."

"We?" Paige echoed, a darkly suspicious tone in her voice. Chris shifted so that she could see Josh lying on the floor behind him.

"Please," he repeated, softly, pleadingly. "My friend is hurt. We need your help."

"Why me?" Paige asked, but at least she had moved away from the doorway, and was coming toward them.

"Because you're a Charmed One," Chris told her. "Because you're half Whitelighter. Because you're the only one who can help him."

"If your friend is hurt," Paige asked, even as she knelt down beside Josh, on his other side, "then why didn't you call a real Whitelighter?"

"Because another Whitelighter wouldn't be able to do anything for him," Chris said, willing her to understand. "You're the only one who can help him."

Paige looked up at him, quickly. "Your friend is a demon," she said, her eyes narrowing as she looked back at Josh.

"He's not evil," Chris insisted. "And he's only half demon."

"Like that makes it better?" Paige retorted, but she didn't move away from Josh, and Chris let out a sigh of relief.

"Cole Turner is half demon," he pointed out, stubbornly, and then he winced, wondering if he'd said too much.

"Cole's demonic half was vanquished," Paige shot back. Looking back at Josh, she asked, "What happened to him? How was he hurt?"

"There was an explosion," Chris said, evasively, leaving out the part about the Nexus. He didn't think that Paige would appreciate hearing that he and Josh had been mucking around with potentially unstable magical forces, especially since they were technically strangers in her house. "You can heal him, right?"

"Yeah, sure," Paige said, flashing him a brief smile, and then her smile dimmed a bit as she looked back down. "I think so."

"You think so?" Chris echoed, incredulously, and Paige glanced at him, annoyed.

"I only just learned how to heal," she grumbled under her breath. "Besides, you came to me, remember? Needing a half Whitelighter to heal your half demon buddy? Don't worry, this'll work," she muttered, as she cradled Josh's head in her hands, careful to avoid the burned skin around his eyes. "I am going to make this work."

She took a deep breath, squaring her shoulders in determination. Her hands started to glow with a soft, golden light, and Chris felt himself relax as Josh's burns started to slowly disappear, leaving behind unmarked skin.

"That's it," Paige said, after about a minute, resting Josh's head in her lap and letting her hands fall to her sides. "I can't do anything more. I just hope that I did enough."

"Why is he still unconscious?" Chris asked, but the rest of his sentence was cut off by the sound of the front door opening. "Oh, no."

"Oh, no?" Paige repeated. "It's just my sisters."

"And they can't see us," Chris hissed, frantically. "Paige, please-"

Paige glanced toward the doorway as the front door closed, an indecisive look on her face. Then, she shook her head, slowly.

"I can't believe I'm about to do this," she muttered, almost too low for Chris to hear. Slightly louder, she added, "Hang on, tight, and don't let go."

Then, she grabbed his shoulder, wrapping her other arm around Josh, and she orbed them out of the Manor.

They reformed in an apartment that Chris didn't recognize, but he did recognize the battered leather jacket draped over the back of the couch. Henry had loved that thing, and had worn it everywhere, and he'd given it to Chris after he'd died. Chris still had his, and he cherished it.

"We're at Henry's place?" he asked, and he didn't miss the sidelong look that Paige gave him from where she was still crouched beside Josh.

"You know me, you know Henry-" She let her voice trail off, meaningfully. "Help me get your friend up on the couch, huh?" she added, changing the subject, for which Chris was grateful.

Chris knelt down, scooping Josh up by the shoulders, and waiting until Paige had a grip on his feet before swinging him onto the couch. He snagged Henry's jacket without thinking about it, spreading it across Josh's chest, gently, and then he shot Paige a guilty look. She was studying him, curiously.

"Sit down," she said, nodding at the couch, while she took the armchair beside it. "You're going to tell me why I just helped hide a couple of demons from my sisters."

"I'm not a demon," Chris muttered, stung. "And, neither of us is evil," he added, sitting down by Josh's feet and slumping forward, his elbows on his knees.

"That's not an explanation," Paige prompted, when he fell silent, and Chris sighed.

"I can't tell you," he told her, knowing that it was absolutely the last thing she wanted to hear. "I wish I could, believe me. It's just – it's complicated, and it's dangerous, and I just can't. I'm sorry."

"Why were you in my house?" Paige demanded, impassively, but Chris just shook his head. "You can't tell me," she said, a hint of anger creeping into her voice. "Okay, who are you? Can you tell me that?"

Chris looked over at Josh, taking in his cousin's still features. They'd discussed this very issue when they'd first come up with the plan to go back in time and stop Wyatt: whether or not to tell their family who they were.

When they'd only been planning on going back about ten years or so, there'd been no question about it. They wouldn't have been able to hide who they were, not when faced with their younger selves, and having that kind of credibility would have only made things easier. Even after their plans had changed, and their timeline had changed to after Wyatt's birth, they still would have had Josh to smooth the way.

But, here, in this time, neither of them had been born, yet. And if Cole was human, right now, there was no way that he could tell Paige that his half-demon cousin was Phoebe's son. Bad enough if she didn't believe him, but if she did – she'd do everything she could to stop Cole before he could hurt Phoebe, and that would put Josh's very existence in jeopardy. And Chris wasn't about to lose one of the few good things he had left in his life.

"Well?" Paige prompted, when he'd been silent for too long, and Chris sighed.

"We're from the future," he admitted. He could tell her that much; there wasn't enough detail to get specific, and the best lies always had a grain of truth to them.

"How far in the future?" Paige pressed, insistently, and Chris grimaced as he imagined her reaction to his next words.

"I can't-" he started, and Paige rolled her eyes.

"You can't tell me," she parroted. She burst out of the chair, pacing across the room and back again, glaring down at him. "Listen, Future Boy, I am tired of getting the runaround. If you know something, if something bad is going to happen, then you need to tell me. Right now."

She had her arms crossed over her chest, her foot tapping, impatiently as she waited for an answer. And Chris felt like he was ten years old, again, explaining to an angry Paige why she'd been called to his school after his teacher's hair mysteriously turned blue. He had to resist the urge to fidget under her unwavering gaze.

"What if you could change the past?" he finally said, trying to make her understand why he was being so stubborn. "What if you had the chance to go back in time and save your sister?"

Paige raised an eyebrow at him, and Chris could practically see the explosion brewing, so he rushed to fill the silence. "Look, just hear me out. You've got the chance to go back to the past to save Prue Halliwell, but you're too early. You're back in time before your sisters even know about your mom and her Whitelighter, and they don't know you, either. You're a complete stranger. You couldn't explain about Sam, or yourself, without sounding completely crazy."

"So, I'd tell them as little as possible about myself, while still trying to save Prue," Paige said, quietly. Spearing Chris with a sharp look, she asked, "Are you saying that my family is in danger? That you're family?"

"I'm saying that I can't tell you anything," Chris insisted hoping that she didn't press her point. "Not anything you'll believe, anyway."

"Don't you think that I'd be more likely to believe you, after that little scenario you posited?" Paige pointed out. Chris shook his head.

"I can't," he repeated, helplessly, hating the phrase as it came out of his mouth. He dragged a hand through his hair, feeling it stand on end. "I'm sorry. I just can't."

Paige huffed a frustrated sigh, and then she looked around at the sound of the door opening. "You stay here," she snapped, getting up from her chair. "I haven't decided what to do about you, yet."

Chris closed his eyes, wearily, slumping against the back of the couch. He could hear Paige's quiet voice as she talked to Henry in the kitchen, could hear Henry's deeper counterpoint in return. He couldn't make out individual words, but there was no question as to the topic of their conversation. Opening his eyes, he glanced over at Josh's unconscious form.

"We really stepped in it, now, huh?" he murmured, quietly, but there was no answer. "You want to wake up, now?" he asked, wistfully. "'Cause I could really use you awake, right about now. I'm kind of drowning here, on my own."

Still no answer, and Chris sighed in resignation. Sitting back, he listened to the low rumble of Paige and Henry's voices, and waited for the axe to fall.

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Josh woke up to darkness.

He woke up confused, and in pain, and with an instant certainty that, wherever he was, it wasn't home. And then he opened his eyes, and he was still in the dark, and he was swamped with an immediate, overwhelming panic.

He blinked, hard, several times, trying to convince himself that this wasn't really happening. That he wasn't really blind. But it wasn't working. The world was still dark.

He reached out into the all-encompassing black, needing desperately to find Chris, needing that contact. When he didn't find his cousin, his panic spiked.

"Chris?" he called out, hating the way his voice trembled on the word. "Chris, where are you?"

Rapid footsteps, and then a pair of hands on his shoulders, soft puffs of breath on his face. Josh tentatively reached out with his mind, relaxing minutely when he brushed against the worried tangle of Chris's thoughts. He reached up and gripped Chris's wrists, knowing that he was holding on too tightly, but he just couldn't make himself let go.

"Josh, you okay?" Chris asked, concern heavy in his voice. "Talk to me, man. What's wrong?"

Josh felt a hysterical laugh bubbling at his lips. He shook his head, wildly, unable to put into words the fear that was eating at him, and Chris stopped him with a hand on the side of his face.

"Talk to me," he encouraged, gently.

"I can't see," Josh whispered, the words falling like a death knell. He tipped his head up to where he expected Chris's face to be, feeling tears slide slowly down his cheeks. "I can't see. I can't see-"

He heard Chris's sharp, indrawn breath, and then he was being pulled forward into his cousin's arms, into Chris's tight embrace. He buried his face into the other man's shoulder, mumbling his litany over and over into the soft material of Chris's shirt. Silent sobs wracked his body, and he could feel Chris run a shaking hand through his hair, soothingly.

"What's wrong?" Josh jerked, suddenly, at the unexpected sound of Paige's voice, heart pounding wildly in his chest. Chris gave his shoulders a reassuring squeeze.

"It's okay," he murmured, softly. Josh felt him twist around, and then he said, "He says he can't see. What went wrong? Why can't he see?"

"Let me in," Paige said, her calm voice at odds with the sudden spike of worry that he could sense bleeding off her. When Chris didn't move, the worry was joined by a quick flash of irritation. "This thing goes both ways, Future Boy. If you want me to trust you, then you need to trust me, as well. Got it?"

Chris heaved a sigh, and then his hands slipped off Josh's shoulders, moving away only far enough to sit down beside him. He offered Josh his hand, and Josh squeezed, hard.

"Hey, there," Paige said, softly, and he could hear the rustle of denim as she crouched in front of him. "Hey, I'm Paige. Don't suppose you can tell me your name?"

"Is Chris being a paranoid freak?" Josh asked, trying to inject a lightness into his tone that he didn't feel. He could practically feel Chris's gaze boring into him, and his lips quirked into a tiny smile. "Oh, come on, man. Names are not going to hurt." To Paige, he said, "I'm Josh, and he's Chris. I'm the fun one."

"Well, I hope so," Paige joked, "because he's just been a barrel of laughs, so far. I'm going to take a look at your eyes, okay? Can you open them for me?"

Josh hadn't even known that his eyes were closed. He made a conscious effort to open them, feeling tears prick at the corners when he realized that not even a sliver of light was getting through. There was nothing but complete darkness.

He felt Paige's cool hands on his chin, tipping his face toward her, and then her fingers gently brushed against the side of his face. She trailed her fingers up to the corners of his eyes, and he shivered at the touch.

"Tell me there's something you can do," he whispered.

"I'm going to try," Paige replied, softly.

She pressed her fingers gently into the side of his face, and his skin grew warm as she summoned healing energy into her hands. The warmth spread, creeping underneath his skin, through his blood, into every part of his body. But it wasn't working. The world was still dark.

"I'm sorry," Paige finally whispered, and Josh choked back the terrified sobs that threatened to tear from his throat. "I'm so sorry."

"Don't go," he said, suddenly, when her hands fell from his face. "Please. Don't leave me alone in the dark."

"I won't," Paige said, just as quickly. Her hands went to his shoulders, a solid, reassuring presence. "I won't go. I'm right here; you're not alone."

He slumped forward as she wrapped her arms around him, resting his head on her shoulder. Chris was still holding one hand, and the cushions on his other side dipped down, suddenly, and then Henry was taking his other hand, giving him another anchor to hold onto. And in that circle, the safety of his family surrounding him, he finally let go, and let himself fall apart.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Two months later

The tea kettle and the oven timer both went off at the same time, loud shrieks ripping across the apartment. Josh instinctively jerked at the sound, silently cursing himself for getting startled, so easily, and then he got up from the couch, carefully making his way through the living room to the kitchen. The path was clear, as it had been every day for the last two months, and he moved quickly, having walked the almost-straight line enough to know it by heart.

He took the tea kettle off the burner, the incessant whistling ceasing almost immediately. Flicking off the oven timer and plunging the kitchen into silence, he opened the door and took the pan out without bothering with an oven mitt. Henry hadn't put the mitts back on their hooks on the side of the cabinet after breakfast, and Josh really didn't feel like patting around the counter until he found one. Besides, he could juggle fire in the palm of his hand; a little pan was nothing.

He heard the front door open, but he could make out the distinctive sound of Henry's footsteps, so he wasn't worried. The footsteps got closer, and then he could sense his uncle standing behind him, in the doorway.

"What'cha cooking?" Henry asked, and Josh moved to the side so that he could see the pan sitting on the counter. "Blueberry muffins, Paige's favorite," Henry commented, coming closer. "You know, the only time I whip out the muffin pan and start baking is when I'm trying to butter her up for something."

"Yeah," Josh agreed, after a moment, opening the cupboard over his shoulder and carefully taking down a cup. "Want some tea?" he offered, and at Henry's assenting noise, he grabbed a second cup and placed it on the counter.

"So, dare I ask why you're trying to butter Paige up?" Henry asked, as he poured two cups of tea, handing Josh one. "Or, where you learned my trick?"

"First question, I've got a favor to ask her," Josh told him. "Second, I learned from you."

He could just imagine the surprised look flashing across Henry's face. "That's a lot more forthcoming than either you or Chris have been, since you got here," he remarked.

"You and Paige have already figured out that we know you, in the future," Josh replied, nonchalantly. "I can confirm that without giving you any actual details."

"You know," Henry complained, "sometimes I think you two enjoy being so secretive." He shifted away from Josh, and then, "Speaking of, where is your shadow? Usually he's hovering, without trying to let you know that he's hovering."

"He went out for a run," Josh said. "It might have had something to do with my being annoyed by his mother-henning. And I may have threatened to kick his butt."

"He's just worried about you," Henry pointed out, and Josh sighed.

"Chris feels guilty," he told Henry. "He thinks that all of this is his fault, somehow, even though it's not, and he blames himself, which is stupid-"

"He loves you, and love is irrational," Henry said, simply. "What would you do if the same thing had happened to him?"

"Hover endlessly until Chris threatened to kick my butt," Josh replied, instantly. "But, I'm older, so I can get away with it."

Henry snorted out a laugh. "Prue used to pull the same card with Paige," he said, fondly.

Josh hid a grimace when he realized what he'd almost let slip. Then, he scowled at the sound of crinkling paper.

"Are you stealing muffins?" he accused, and Henry was suspiciously silent.

"Who, me?" he finally replied, a cheeky note in his voice. Josh smirked.

"I'm taking the rest of these before I have nothing to bribe Paige with," he commented, grabbing the pan and tucking it in close to his chest to protect the rest of his muffins from Henry.

"What are you bribing me with?" Paige asked, suddenly, her voice coming from the living room. She had to have orbed in to be so quiet.

"Really, really good muffins," Henry mumbled through a mouthful of baked goods. "He won't let me have any more," he added, a pout in his voice.

"Be nice," Paige retorted, "or I won't share." To Josh, she added, "So, why am I being bribed? Not that I object, mind you, it's just nice to know."

"Can we talk in the living room?" Josh asked.

"Sure," Paige replied.

She paced him as they walked into the living room, sitting down beside him on the couch. She waited in silence while he tried to gather his scattered thoughts, the only sound the rustling of paper as she unwrapped a muffin.

"I have a favor to ask you," he finally said. "I want to try to see through your eyes."

"You thought you needed to butter me up for that?" Paige asked, with a chuckle, and Josh felt himself smile in response.

"Well, I am asking to barge into your mind," he reminded her. "You're really okay with this?"

"Let's do this," Paige told him. "What do you need me to do?"

"Close your eyes," Josh replied, "and try not to push me out of your mind."

He closed his own eyes, a reflexive movement born from years of habit, and he reached out to Paige's mind. Her surface thoughts were whirling and cluttered; she was stressed out over something. And he didn't mean to pry, but he couldn't help but catch a few, stray details. He saw his mom sitting on a couch, wringing her hands. Her ghostly voice floated out of Paige's memory.

"Guys, I'm – uh – I'm pregnant."

A flash of pain cutting through Paige's heart, and then she ruthlessly buried it down as she reached for her sister's hands.

"I'm so happy for you, honey," she said, pasting a smile on her face.

More images flitted by, and Josh swallowed hard at the brief glimpse he caught of a little girl with dark hair, the angel who'd saved him when he'd been a kid. He pushed quickly past the painful memories, trying to keep Paige from seeing anything from him. He didn't want her to find out like this, from him, that she was never going to get her daughter back.

He moved deeper into Paige's mind, trying to find the spot he was looking for. He found a couple of strange dark spots, like impenetrable walls blocking his way into certain parts of her mind, and he filed it away for future reference. After a few minutes, he thought he found it, and he must have been connected more to Paige than he thought, because she quickly blinked before he could ask her to. And he knew that she'd blinked, because he caught a glimmer of light before her eyes closed, again.

"It worked," he said, softly, hardly aware that he'd spoken out loud. "I – I saw-"

"Ready to see more?" Paige asked, when he trailed off, and he nodded.

"I'll go slowly," Paige reassured him. "Hey, Henry, kill the lights, huh?"

A soft click of the light switch was his answer, and then the creak of faux leather as Henry sat down in the armchair. After a moment, Paige slowly opened her eyes.

Henry had pulled the curtains closed, after he'd switched the lights off, so the room was mostly dark, with only a weak beam of late-winter sunlight breaking through. The room was cast in shadows, and everything had a bit of a blurry cast to it.

It was the most beautiful thing that Josh had ever seen.

He instinctively turned his head, trying to take everything in, and then he blushed, furiously, when the view didn't change. Paige reached over and squeezed his hand, without comment, slowly turning her head so that he could see around the living room.

"Well?" Henry prompted, encouragingly, and Josh could only nod in reply. He wasn't sure he could get words out without crying.

"I can feel you in my head," Paige commented, glancing over at him, and Josh had the disorienting sensation of staring at his own face. He was surprised to see how normal his eyes looked, considering that they didn't work.

"What do you mean, you can feel me in your head?" he finally asked, focusing on something other than his own bewilderment.

"Like a tickle at the base of my skull," Paige clarified, tapping the back of her head for emphasis. "It's unusual. Not bad," she hastened to tell him. "Just … odd."

"Do you want me to leave?" Josh asked, and Paige shook her head, the movement managing to make him dizzy, as well.

"Take your time," she reassured him. "Just don't go rearranging things, in there," she joked. "I like my brain to stay intact."

Josh did a double-take when he heard that. He'd assumed that Paige was aware of the closed-off parts in her memory, but, now he wondered if he was wrong. He went back to one of the dark spots, probing delicately at the wall, and he was instantly rebuffed. He wasn't going to give up, though, and he pushed harder at the wall, while trying not to let Paige know what he was doing. Not until he knew more.

He pushed slowly, steadily, at the dark spot, feeling something give just slightly under his mental probing. Slipping into the crack he'd made, he reached out to the exposed dark spot.

And touched a tangled morass of unrelenting, unending, pain.

It felt like he'd just been stabbed in the chest, like everything good and beautiful had just been ripped out of his life. It took every ounce of strength he had to not curl up in a tiny ball and hide in some small, dark corner. He reflexively jerked away from the pain, sealing up the crack in the wall as he went, and then he fled back to the relative safety of his own mind.

'I don't even want to know what was actually inside that memory,' he decided, firmly. Just the thought of that much pain made him want to cry. 'I can't do that to Aunt Paige. I can't break that open, make her face whatever those memories are. There has to be a reason she blocked that pain away.'

"Hey," Paige said, pulling him out of his thoughts. "What's up, kiddo? You okay?"

"I'm fine," Josh lied, smiling at the childhood nickname that she'd unconsciously used. "It was just getting a little overwhelming."

He was saved from having to answer any more questions by the sound of the front door opening. Chris came through, whistling tunelessly under his breath.

"What's going on?" he asked, when he saw the three of them sitting in the dark living room.

"Just experimenting," Josh told him, trying to shake the uneasy feeling that still plagued him. "I can use my powers to see through other people's eyes. Well, Paige's," he amended, "but it would probably be easy enough to try it with other people."

"That's great!" Chris said, and Josh could hear the smile in his voice. "So, you can see again?" he asked, and he dropped a quick hand onto Josh's shoulder as he perched on the arm of the couch next to him.

"From time to time," Josh told him. "I don't want to do it too often; it feels like I'm intruding."

"Speaking of intruding," Chris spoke up, "I think we need to go. We're needed back at home."

'What's really going on?' Josh sent to him, suspecting that there was more behind Chris's announcement than just wanting to go back to their time.

'Things are heating up with Cole,' Chris told him, silently. 'I didn't realize how late it had gotten, and I don't want to screw with this. I don't want to risk wiping you out of existence.'

'Yeah, Mom's already pregnant with me, and I'd kind of like to go on existing,'
Josh replied. Out loud, he added, "Home sounds nice."

"What about your mission?" Paige asked. "Do you think you fixed whatever it was you came back to change?"

"Yeah," Chris added. "About that-"

He paused, and Josh nodded, encouragingly, knowing that Chris was looking for his opinion on the matter. He didn't disagree with Chris's decision to keep their identities a secret, but at the same time, it couldn't hurt to have someone else watching over Wyatt. Especially Paige, who'd already died to protect him once, in the future.

'But, not again, if I have anything to say about it,' Chris thought, grimly, and Josh realized that he'd unconsciously projected that last thought to his cousin.

'Agreed,' Josh sent back. They'd hunt down the demons responsible for taking their family away from them, no matter how long it took.

"What were you talking about?" Paige prompted Chris, when he fell silent.

"Piper's going to have a baby," Chris said, and Paige gasped, quickly. "She'll find out in a couple of months. And the baby – the Underworld is going to be after Piper's child. You have to protect the baby. The future depends on it."

"We will," Paige said, quietly, and Josh knew that she and Henry were both practically ready to storm the Underworld, right that second.

"So, not that I'm eager to leave," he added, "but, how are we getting back to the future, anyway?"

"Leave that to me," Paige said, and then Josh felt her disappear from next to him as she orbed away. She was back about a minute later, and he heard the rustle of paper as she sat back down next to him. "Time travel spell."

'Now, why couldn't we find that when we needed it?' Josh sent to Chris.

'Because Wyatt has control of the Book of Shadows?' Chris pointed out, reasonably.

"It's a one-way spell," Paige was saying, "so it shouldn't propel you backwards in time. It's actually designed to take you back to your original time."

"This looks familiar," Chris mused, presumably looking over the spell. "Did you write this?"

"Penny Halliwell wrote it, actually," Paige told them. "She and my mo – Patty – used it to send my sisters back to the present when they traveled to the past."

"You told me about that," Henry remarked. "Didn't they wind up needing to use the Power of Three to move them through time?"

"Yeah, when they were trying to move the Power of Three," Paige replied. "But, I'm a Charmed One, and I should be able to handle a couple of scrawny half-demons." Josh could hear the teasing tone in her voice.

"Again," Chris sighed, "not a demon."

"Hey," Paige shot back, "if you don't want to tell me what you are, then I'm going to make my own assumptions."

"She's kind of got a point," Josh teased him, and Chris groaned.

"Demon boy!" Paige added, in a sing-song voice.

"Okay, well now I'm not going to tell you," Chris retorted, "because not knowing will drive you absolutely crazy after we're gone."

"I think not having the two of you around is what's going to drive her crazy," Henry said, lightly, and there was a very pointed silence coming from Paige's direction. From the way she'd shifted, Josh could tell that she had her arms crossed over her chest, and was glaring at her best friend. "What? Was that supposed to be some kind of big secret?"

"All right, maybe I'm going to miss you, two," Paige said, quickly. "A little. An infinitesimal amount."

"Yeah, yeah," Chris grinned. "She loves us," he confided to Josh in a stage whisper, loud enough for Paige to hear him.

"You think that spell will have enough juice to send us home?" Josh asked.

"Only one way to find out," Paige told him. "You ready to go?"

"I guess we are," Chris said, replying for both of them. He reached out and grabbed Josh's hand to keep them from being separated.

"Good luck," Paige said, a wistful note in her voice. Paper crinkled as she took the spell back from Chris, and then she chanted, softly:

"A time for everything,
And to everything its place.
Return what has been moved,
Through time and space."

Josh felt pure magic envelope him, and then there was an endless moment of nothingness. The world crashed down on them, a second later, and Josh shuddered in reaction.

"Time travel sucks," he declared.

"Yeah, but it worked." Chris told him. "We're home."
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