As they descended the stairs, they could hear an indistinct rumble of voices that eventually formed into words. They reached the first landing in time to see Piper and a woman with short, dark hair pushing a man in a white lab coat into the sun room.
"Prue," Paige whispered, and Henry squeezed her shoulder, supportively.
"Any sign of Shax?" he hissed, looking around.
"Not yet," Paige answered, and then a yell split the air.
Swearing under her breath, Paige sprinted down the rest of the stairs, with Henry right on her heels. They burst into the sunroom just as the demon had cornered the sisters and their Innocent against a wall.
"Shax!" Paige yelled, and Henry could hear the desperation in her voice.
The demon turned at the sound of his name, and Piper took the opportunity to push the Innocent through the French doors and out onto the patio. Paige, meanwhile, had shoved Henry to the side, diving to the floor to avoid the energy ball the demon had launched at them. She landed on top of him, but scrambled to her feet and bolted across the open space to join her sisters.
She'd nearly reached them when Shax threw another energy ball, the blast striking Paige in the chest. She flew backward, her mouth open in a silent scream, and then she crashed through the doors in a deafening shower of glass.
There was someone screaming, and after a minute, Henry realized that it was him. Heedless of his own safety, he ran to Paige's side, falling to his knees when he reached her. He ignored the glass cutting into his legs as he reached out to pull her into his arms. He thought that he was too late, that she was already gone, but to his amazement, her eyes fluttered open, focusing weakly on him.
"Vanquishing spell," she croaked out, and he reached out to take the tattered piece of paper from her clenched fist.
"I've got an idea," he said, and then, hating himself for it, he lay her gently back on the ground. "Hold on, you hear me?"
Sprinting over to where Piper and Prue were still fighting the demon, he grabbed both of their arms and started dragging them backward, using surprise and his greater strength to his advantage.
"What the hell?" Prue exploded at him. "Who are you people?"
Henry ignored her until he'd reached Paige, again, where the Innocent had his lab coat bunched over the wound in her chest in an attempt to stop the bleeding.
"This is the spell you need," he said, tersely, kneeling and cradling Paige in his arms, again. "Grab her hands and say it."
"Who are you?" Prue repeated, angrily. "Who is she?"
"She's your sister," Henry snapped, craning his head around to see Shax advancing on them, slowly.
The demon hadn't fired off another energy ball, but he had the feeling that Shax was playing with them like a cat played with a mouse before it killed it. The comparison made him want to get sick.
"Our sister," Piper said, incredulously, hearing him, and that was when he lost his patience.
"Just take her hands and say the damn spell!" he yelled, startling them both into action.
Something wordless passed between the women as they looked at each other, and then they dropped down to either side of him and Paige, reaching out and taking one her hands in each of their own. Paige let out a raspy breath at the contact, and he could feel his heart seize up in fear when he realized that they didn't have a lot of time.
"Hurry it up," he urged, holding his wife even closer.
He could hear them saying the spell, but he didn't pay it any real attention. All of his attention was focused on Paige, on the agonizingly slow rise and fall of her chest, on the way he could see blood pooling on her lips as she breathed.
'Stay with me,' he begged, silently, not willing to talk in case it screwed up the spell.
There was a sudden scream like a dying animal that jolted him into looking up, and he watched as Shax exploded, creating a gust of wind that knocked out half the windows in the sun room. And when he looked back down, Paige was gone.
Her once-vibrant eyes stared blankly up at him, her mouth gone slack as a trickle of blood ran down the side of her face. There was no movement of her chest, and she was too still when he reached out with a shaky hand to brush her hair back from her face.
"No," he begged, his voice coming out as a broken sob. "No, please."
"She's dead," he heard Piper say, as if from a distance, and that was what broke him.
He curled around Paige's body, sobbing helplessly as he clutched her body to his chest. He could feel a hand on his shoulder but he ignored the contact, blocking out Prue and Piper's attempts to get his attention. Then, suddenly, he was thrown off balance when Paige's body abruptly disappeared from his arms, a bright swirl of lights blinding him.
He staggered to his feet as the light faded from in front of his eyes, but Paige was gone. And those bright lights could only mean one thing.
"Give her back!" he screamed, ignoring the startled looks he was getting from Piper and Prue as he yelled at the Elders. "Give her back, damn you!"
There was no answer, not that he really expected one, and he stared at the spot where Paige had died, feeling as though he'd just aged twenty years in a moment. He looked up at the feel of a hand on his shoulder, and he turned to see Piper looking at him, sympathetically.
"What?" he asked, dully, not even caring if he seemed rude.
"Are you okay?" she asked, but her voice seemed to be coming at him from a distance, as the world disappeared in a shower of bright lights.
When his vision cleared, he found himself standing in a completely white space, the ground beneath his feet resembling clouds. He looked down, instinctively, and when he saw clear blue sky underneath the clouds, he realized that it wasn't ground that he was standing on.
There was a buzzing in his ears as the world swam in front of his eyes. He staggered away from the endless expanse beneath his feet, wondering if at any moment he was going to plunge through the clouds and fall to his death.
Then, his steps backward were stopped by a hand on his back, and he lifted his head to see a figure in a golden, hooded robe standing behind him, holding him up.
"It's easier if you don't look down," a woman's voice said, and she pushed the hood away from her head to reveal a familiar face surrounded by short, blonde hair.
"Sandra," he said, quietly, and the woman raised a curious eyebrow at him.
"I'd love to know how a mortal knows of our existence," she told him, "let alone is able to name us at will."
"My wife is-" he flinched when he caught his slip, "-was a Whitelighter. You were one of her advisors in the future."
"So, you've traveled in time," Sandra said. "Some of us were wondering." At Henry's curious look, she elaborated, "We've been keeping an eye on the two of you since you arrived. We saw what you did with Shax and the Charmed Ones. You saved their lives."
"Why didn't you save Paige's life?" he asked, feeling his anger start up all over, again. "Why did you just let her die?"
"Who lives and who dies is not our choice," Sandra told him. "Although, I'm surprised that a Whitelighter succumbed to Shax's attack so easily."
"What are you talking about?" Henry demanded, confused. "I thought you Elders knew about Paige."
Whatever Sandra was about to say in reply was cut off by a throat being cleared from behind them. A guilty look flashed across the Elder's face as she turned to face the other standing behind them.
"You're supposed to be bringing the mortal into the meeting space," the Elder, Henry thought he might have been called Odin, said, sternly.
"Right away," Sandra said, through gritted teeth, and Henry was reminded why Paige had liked the other woman so much. "You officious, little prig," she muttered, under her breath, and he found himself biting back a grin as he followed her through a pair of columns.
He could feel a tingle run over his skin as he passed through the columns and when he turned back to look, all he could see was a gray fog that filled the air between the columns. Turning around, he saw a dozen robed Elders staring at him, solemn looks on most of their faces. Sandra, at the end of the line, as well as a couple of the others, didn't look so foreboding, and he wondered if they were on his side.
"So, am I on trial, here?" he demanded, when no one said anything.
"You are here to answer our questions," Odin told him.
"Only if you answer some of mine," Henry shot back, but it was clear that the Elder wasn't amused.
"First question," Odin said, "who are you? And who was that woman?"
"That was two questions," Henry muttered, snippily, and he thought he saw a smile flash across Sandra's face at his reply.
"Just answer me," Odin growled, and Henry sighed.
"My name is Henry Mitchell," he told the assembled group. "My wife was Paige Matthews, the last of the Charmed Ones. We came back from the year two thousand six, after a battle with the Ultimate Power left Piper and Phoebe Halliwell dead."
"There are only three Charmed Ones," one of the hooded Elders spoke up.
"In the future we came from," Henry explained, feeling very tired all of a sudden, "Prue died, today, killed by Shax. And then the Charmed Ones were brought back when they discovered their long-lost sister, Paige."
"There are only three Charmed Ones," the Elder repeated, stubbornly.
"Actually, there are four," Henry told them. "Were four," he corrected, a second later, a spasm of pain lancing through his heart. "At least, there was before Paige died."
"How is this possible?" the stubborn Elder demanded, earning a disbelieving snort from one of the Elders standing beside Sandra.
"Has it really been that long, Jonas?" the Elder asked, wryly, getting a glare in response.
"What I meant, Remus," Jonas bit off, clearly upset, "is how could there be another Halliwell that we don't know about?"
"Obviously," Remus continued, undaunted, "Patty Halliwell had another child. One that she hid from us."
"And why would she do that?" Jonas demanded, furiously.
"Because the baby was half-Whitelighter," Henry said, wearily. "They gave Paige up to protect her from you."
"What, exactly, are you implying?" Odin demanded, but before Henry could say anything, a new voice spoke up.
"Oh, leave the boy alone, Odin." Henry turned around at the sound of the familiar voice, a slow smile spreading across his face. "If you have any questions, you can ask me."
Penny Halliwell stepped forward, placing herself squarely at his side as she glared at the line of Elders as though they were disobedient children. To his amusement, several of them were acting just like that, squirming uncomfortably under Penny's direct gaze like they'd just been caught getting into trouble.
Only Odin seemed immune to Penny's glare, stepping forward to confront the older woman.
"You aren't supposed to be here," he barked, and Penny laughed at him.
"When it concerns my family," she informed the Elder, "there are very few places that I can't go."
"Give it up, Odin," Remus told him, not even bothering to hide his smirk. "You, of all people, should know that when a Halliwell makes up her mind, there's no changing it. Especially Penny Halliwell."
Henry snorted out a laugh at the statement, and half the Elders in the room turned to glare at him. But, he couldn't bring himself to care; he felt numb, dizzy, a haze of exhaustion settling over him. it was like the burnout he'd seen other officers experience, when they'd taken in too much to handle.
"Remus used to be my Whitelighter," Penny confided in Henry, quietly, bringing his attention back to the present. Louder, she added, "The boy is coming with me. He has nothing else to tell you that you couldn't possibly figure out for yourselves. Now, if you'll excuse us-"
Slipping her hand into the crook of his elbow, Penny started steering him toward the fog-filled columns, and Henry had no choice but to follow. It was either that, or get pulled off his feet; Penny was surprisingly strong for a dead woman.
He followed her through the columns and back into the space where he'd first appeared. He looked back, half expecting to see a line of angry Elders following them, but they were alone.
"So," Penny said, looking him over. "You're the mortal my wayward granddaughter is so in love with."
"Don't worry," Henry assured her. "You'll grow to love me." Looking around, he added, "So, what now? Are they going to send me back to my time?"
"I don't know," Penny told him. "But, I brought you out here because there's someone who wants to talk to you."
"Who?" Henry asked, confused.
There was no one else around them, but then a swirl of lights coalesced in front of him. When the lights faded, Paige was standing in front of him. She was incredibly transparent, fading in and out of focus, but there was a soft smile on her face as she looked at him.
"I had to hold on long enough to say goodbye," she told him. "I couldn't leave without telling you how much I love you."
"I love you, too," Henry said, his voice choking up as he looked at her. Shaking his head, sadly, he added, "This isn't how I imagined our story would end."
"Don't think of it as ending," Paige told him. "We're just writing a new chapter."
She had faded almost completely from view, and when she came back into focus, he could see that she was holding herself there with an effort.
"I can't-" she started, and it sounded like she was in pain. "I love – Henry-"
And then she was gone, again, and this time, he knew it was for real. He let out a shaky breath as he stared at the place where she'd been standing, and he felt Penny lay a hand on his shoulder. Instead of pushing her away like he'd done with Piper and Prue, he let Penny pull him down into a hug, feeling her arms go tightly around him.
"I'm so sorry," she whispered, and the tears started up, again.
He let the tears fall, unashamedly, losing track of time as he stood there. He ignored everything that went on around them, blocking out the sound of angry voices that filled the space. Then, suddenly, he was jolted out of his reverie by Sandra's quiet voice.
"It's time," she said, and there was regret in her voice.
"Time for what?" Penny demanded, steel in her voice as she stepped between Henry and the gathered Elders.
"Time to get this situation taken care of, once and for all," Odin said, coldly, as he approached them. "We can't have two of him running around, after all."
"What does that mean?" Henry asked, nervously, looking between Penny and Odin, who were glaring at each other.
"You're not taking him," she snarled, and Henry felt sorry for all the demons who'd had to face the imposing witch over the years.
"That's not really your concern," Odin told her, and then with a wave of his hand, he sent her away, her defiant voice filling the air as she disappeared.
"What did you do to her?" Henry demanded, and Odin rolled his eyes.
"She's fine," he said, dismissively. "As for you, mortal-"
His voice trailed off, and Henry started to get a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach. But, then Sandra interceded, laying a hand on Odin's arm to get him to back off.
"I'll take care of him," she said, quietly. "Don't worry, Odin. He won't be a problem to us, much longer."
"See that he isn't," Odin snapped, turning and stalking away.
"When you say that I won't be a problem any longer," Henry said, weakly, and Sandra shook her head, cutting him off.
"This won't hurt," she assured him, gently.
Then, she waved a hand in front of his face, and the world went black.