Such a commonplace argument with a child, when it happened.
"But Wyatt made most of the mess!" insisted her younger son.
"That may be, Chris, but I know not all of it is his, so please just go clean up the living room," Piper replied.
Her tone brooked no argument, and Chris knew it.
He heaved a deep sigh and rolled his eyes as he turned his head to the side.
At this, Piper's sister Phoebe -- thus far uninvolved in the dispute -- stifled a laugh, prompting her nephew to throw her a distinct look of affront. That only seemed to increase Phoebe's amusement.
"It's not funny!" Chris huffed.
"Sorry!" But she still smiled and shook her head fondly. She turned to her sister, with a look that asked, "Did you see that?" But she stopped short at the look of shock on Piper's face. Chris seemed to notice, too, as further protest died before he spoke.
Wyatt entered the kitchen. "Mom, he's not helping."
Her voice cracking, Piper said quietly, "Chris, please go help your brother."
Wyatt pulled at his arm, but Chris no longer needed persuasion. The boys left for the living room.
"Piper? Are you okay?"
Piper stood very still, her hand covering her mouth.
"Breathe, sweetie. What's wrong?"
Piper shook her head slightly, and finally managed to say, "I think -- I need to lie down a little bit. Can you keep an eye on the boys?"
Phoebe followed her as Piper quickly walked to the stairs and disappeared upstairs. In the living room, Chris paused, a toy in hand, watching his mother with apprehension. Phoebe turned to the boys and put on a smile. "Almost done, guys?"
Just then there was a sparkle of light.
"Phoebe, I've got some news on that demon --"
"Leo! Hi!" Phoebe's over-bright greeting immediately set off an alarm.
"What's wrong?" Leo asked warily.
Wyatt did not hesitate. "Chris was a brat and made Mom cry."
"I didn't ..." Chris struggled for a rebuttal.
"No, it wasn't like that," his aunt jumped in. "She wasn't crying, for one thing. I think ..." She seemed to find herself at a loss for words, but Leo noticed a warning glance at the boys. "Maybe you should go talk to her, Leo. She went upstairs to lie down."
"Maybe I shouldn't disturb her."
"Maybe you should."
Leo found Piper in their bedroom. She was not lying down, but sat on the edge of the bed, her expression deceptively blank.
"Piper?" he ventured.
"I saw him," she said, and he heard the faintest edge of panic in her voice.
She seemed to ignore the question. "Chris was arguing with me about cleaning up. And it could have been my imagination, but Phoebe laughed, and I knew she had seen it too." Her voice trembled slightly.
"What did you see?" Leo sat beside her.
"He rolled his eyes, and looked so ..." -- she searched for the word, with a small rueful smile in spite of herself -- "put-upon. And I'd seen that look a hundred times, but not from him. Not from him."
"Not from Chris right now." Leo paused before adding gently, "I'm surprised you haven't seen it before."
"No!" she said, suddenly forceful. "I can't. I won't. That other Chris ... Leo, I miss him so much. Every day, it's like an ache that won't go away. And I know he's here with us, but I can't look at my little boy and see ... him. Because if I do, I know that he's going to die at 23!"
"But we still don't know, that future may have changed."
"If it doesn't happen, then why do I have to live with the knowledge of it? Why do you have to live with the memory of him dying in your arms?"
"I don't know. I don't know how it works," Leo conceded. "I still have hope that it can change. I hope a lot of things will be different. But what I don't think will change is that our Chris is going to grow up to be a young man who will do anything to protect his family. I know we have to be careful, we can't put expectations on either of the boys based on the future Chris told us about when he came to us. But at the same time -- he is the same person. At least, you can't ignore what's already there. Chris deserves to be seen as himself, now."
Piper raised her eyebrows wryly. "Eye-rolling and all?"
Leo grinned. "Looks like it."
"Mom?" Chris hesitantly pushed the door open. "We're done. Aunt Phoebe says we can go outside if that's it."
Piper's voice regained its steadiness: "Yeah, that's it. Thanks."
Instead of running off, Chris hesitated, then said, "Sorry -- for making you upset." Finally he met her eyes. His mother smiled warmly.
"Come here," she said, and drew him into a hug. "Don't worry, it wasn't you." She caught herself short and amended: "It wasn't your fault. Now go on, have fun."
He gave a brief nod and a smile familiar from years ago. How could she have missed this before? Piper wondered as Leo detained their son for a quick hug too, then let him go to head for the door.
"Chris," Piper called to him before he vanished. "Thank you for helping your brother."
Chris paused. She knew that look, too, a little reproachful, but softening. "He did make most of the mess."
"Chris. Thank you for helping your brother."
He relented. "You're welcome," he said, and orbed away to join Wyatt outside.