Henry slammed his car to a stop in front of the Halliwell Manor and sprinted out of the car, only to be stopped, cold, by what he saw.
Or, rather, what he didn't see.
The Manor, to be specific. The once-majestic house had been reduced to little more than a pile of smoldering rubble.
Heart in his throat, he ran the rest of the way up the walk, looking around anxiously.
"Paige!" he yelled, skidding to a stop in the middle of the destruction. "Paige, where are you?"
A glint of color caught the corner of his eye and he whirled around to see a foot poking out of the rubble. He began digging, frantically, ignoring the pain in his hands as he tossed aside blisteringly hot pieces of the house.
Finally, he'd uncovered enough of the body to clearly see a face, and he felt a sharp pang of relief, followed by guilt, as he stared down at Phoebe's still features.
"Paige!" he called, again, still determined to find his wife.
A crash drew his attention away from Phoebe's body, and he scrambled over a pile of debris toward the source of the noise. Several yards away, he could see a dark-haired figure hunched over a broken pile of wood, the Book of Shadows clutched in her arms.
"Paige?" he called out, hesitantly, starting cautiously toward the woman.
Then he froze a few feet away, backing away slowly as Christy Jenkins lifted her head and glared at him. Her long blonde hair was made dark by the blood matted in it, and her hands were covered with more of the same. Billie's body was sprawled at her feet, her chest a bloody mess, and Henry figured that Christy had been trying to revive her sister.
"Where's Paige?" he demanded of the younger woman, keeping a wary eye on her hands in case she decided to start shooting off fireballs.
Christy growled low in the back of her throat, advancing on him with a murderous look in her eyes. Her hands twitched and Henry stumbled backward, away from the fire that leapt to life in front of him. He yelled in pain when the fire scorched his hands, the flames following him, licking at his boots and the legs of his jeans.
Then, the flames died down as quickly as they had appeared, and he looked up in shock in time to see Christy crumple to the ground. Paige stood behind the unconscious woman, a jagged piece of wood clutched in her hands. She glared down at Christy, a furious snarl twisting her face, and her hands tightened on the piece of wood.
"Paige," Henry said, softly, and her head snapped up, the wood falling from her suddenly-limp hands when she saw him.
Wordlessly she stumbled forward, practically falling into his embrace. Henry wrapped his arms around her, holding on tightly and shaking with suppressed emotion.
"I thought I'd lost you," he whispered, brokenly, and he could feel Paige's head shake from where she'd buried her face against his chest.
Then, she pulled away from him, and when he looked down, there were tear tracks streaking down her face.
"Piper's dead," she said, without preamble. "And Phoebe… I've lost everyone."
Her voice broke in a sob, and she squeezed her eyes shut to stem the flood of tears. Henry hugged her again, feeling her shoulders shake under his hands.
Suddenly, he saw movement behind Paige and he instinctively jerked his wife behind him even as he pulled his gun out its holster. Christy staggered toward them, flames forming on her outstretched hands, and Henry acted without thinking.
He pulled the trigger twice, watching dispassionately as the younger woman fell backward, blood from the gunshots blossoming on her chest. Paige moved past him to yank the Book of Shadows out of Christy's lifeless hands.
"I have to fix this," she said, and Henry winced at the utter despair he heard in her voice.
"How?" he asked, quietly.
"I don't know!" Paige exploded, suddenly, but Henry didn't let himself back down in the face of her anger.
Instead, he wrapped his arms around her waist, holding her as she sobbed, wildly. He didn't know how long they stood there, but the sound of screaming sirens shook them out of the trance they'd fallen into.
"Paige," he said, with quiet urgency, "honey, we need to get out of here."
Paige nodded, dashing away the tears that were blinding her. Then, she grabbed Henry by the arm and orbed them away, but to his surprise, they only went as far as the other side of the street. They ducked down behind the neatly-trimmed shrubs, Henry keeping a careful lookout while Paige flipped rapidly through the pages of the Book.
"What are you looking for?" he hissed, watching as she left bloody fingerprints on the pages.
"The spell that's going to fix this," Paige replied, distractedly.
"Are you sure that one even exists?" Henry asked, uncertainly. He may not have known a lot about magic, but he couldn't imagine anything that could fix the destruction that faced them.
"It does," Paige said, grim determination in her voice. "There is a way to fix this, and I'm going to find it. The Charmed Ones are not going to end like this. My family isn't going to die like this."
Her voice cracked with the strain, and she took a shuddery breath to get herself back under control. Then, fixing an emotionless mask back on her face, she kept looking through the Book.
"Found it," she said, at last, and Henry let out a quiet sigh of relief.
The police that had shown up to the destroyed Manor were still busy poking around the ruins of the house, but it was only a matter of time before they started talking to the neighbors. And Henry wanted to be long gone before they showed up.
"Hear these words," Paige started, softly, "hear the rhyme. Heed the hope within my mind. Send me back-"
"Us," Henry interrupted her, still keeping a wary eye on the goings-on across the street.
"What?" Paige demanded, keeping her voice down as she stared at him.
"Send us back," Henry corrected her, gently. "You're not going without me."
He had only the vaguest idea what Paige's spell was hinting at, but he knew he didn't want the woman he loved walking into it, alone.
"Henry, this is dangerous," Paige hissed, quietly. "Billie and Christy are dangerous."
Very deliberately, Henry drew his gun from where he'd replaced it in his holster. He moved the slide forward to check the magazine and then let it settle back into place with a click.
"So am I," he said, quietly, and after a minute, Paige nodded.
"Hear these words," she began, again, "hear the rhyme. Heed the hope within my mind. Send us back to where we'll find what we wish, in place and time."
For several moments, nothing happened, and then a dazzling light filled his vision, blinding him. When the light cleared, he and Paige were still crouched behind the bushes, and for a wild second, he thought that the spell had failed. But, then he realized that they'd gone from night to day in a matter of seconds, the sun beating down on them. Risking a glance around the edge of the bushes, he saw the Manor standing whole and undamaged.
"You did it," he told Paige, who breathed a quiet sigh of relief from where she was still kneeling, with the Book cradled in her arms. "We really went back in time," he went on, wonderingly.
"Let's just hope we went back far enough," Paige replied, taking his outstretched hand and letting him pull her to her feet.
"It's the middle of the day," he pointed out, as they dashed across the street. "Billie and Christy aren't going to attack until later tonight."
He realized, as they were walking up to the front door, that he was still holding Paige's hand. But, he couldn't bring himself to let go, even for a few seconds. Which was why he wound up rooting around in the planter for the spare key when Paige realized that her keys weren't in any of her pockets. As he looked for the key, Paige was looking around the neighborhood, a frown on her face.
"Something wrong?" he asked, when he saw the troubled expression on her face.
"I don't remember Mrs. Donaldson's house being for sale this morning," Paige told him, nodding at the realtor's sign planted at the edge of the front yard.
"You were a little busy trying to stop the Ultimate Power," he pointed out, sensibly. "You probably just missed it."
"Yeah, maybe," she agreed, and then he got the door open and they went inside.
"So, what now?" Henry asked. "Do we call your sisters?"
"Attic, first," Paige decided, heading for the stairs. "I want to get as much of this figured out as I can, before I start trying to explain it to Piper and Phoebe."
As he was following Paige up the stairs, Henry paused at the first landing, his attention caught by a painting on the wall.
"Hey," he said, squeezing Paige's hand to get her attention as they stopped. "Didn't that picture of your grandmother get torched two weeks ago?"
"Three," Paige replied, giving the painting a puzzled look, "by a Canzite demon."
"So what's it doing on the wall?" Henry asked.
"Maybe we went back further than just this morning," Paige said, with a shrug.
"Yeah, but how far?" he pressed.
"Far enough for me to save my sisters," Paige replied. "That's all I care about."
"Hey," Henry said, again, stopping her before she could keep going up the stairs. "If we went back far enough that we haven't met yet, then you better be planning on marrying me, again."
Paige tugged at his hand until he came up the stairs to her level, then she leaned over and kissed him, deeply.
"I will always marry you," she told him, when they'd parted.
"I'm going to hold you to that," Henry said, smiling. "I love you, so much."
"Love you, too," Paige murmured, resting her forehead against his, for a moment.
When they entered the attic, the Book started twitching in Paige's arms, immediately. She made an effort to hold onto the Book, but it flew out of her arms, sailing over to the lectern where the past version of the same Book was resting. Both Books started glowing, and then, as they watched in amazement, the two Books melded together into one.
"Did you know it was going to do that?" Henry asked, and Paige shook her head, wordlessly.
"We've never brought the Book back with us," she replied, still looking stunned.
Moving across the room over to the lectern, she flipped rapidly through the pages of the Book, her eyes scanning the pages as they turned.
"It's all here," she said, as she stopped going through the Book. "Everything we've added to the Book over the years is here. It's like it updated itself."
"That's handy," Henry remarked. Crossing the room to join Paige, he had to swerve around a couch he didn't remember ever seeing, before. "And that's new."
"That's Aunt Pearl's couch," Paige explained, glancing up from the Book. "It was blown up three years ago, when a demon made Piper go blind."
"So, we've gone back in time three years?" he asked, incredulously.
"Or so," Paige hedged, carefully.
"Please tell me we didn't go back in time before your sisters even found out about being witches," Henry groaned, a possibility he didn't even want to contemplate, right now.
"No, no, we're good, there," Paige assured him, quickly. "We couldn't have gotten into the attic, otherwise. Apparently, Grams had it locked before then."
"So, how far did we go back in time?" Henry asked. "I mean, it would be nice to know if your sisters are going to recognize us when they get home."
"There's a calendar in the kitchen," Paige told him. "I'll be right back."
She orbed away in a bright swirl of lights, reappearing a few seconds later. There was the calendar from the kitchen wall in her hands, and she was staring down at it in shock.
"So, when did we arrive?" Henry asked, but he started to get worried when Paige didn't say anything. "Paige, honey? What's wrong?"
"This calendar is from five years ago," she finally said, her voice shaky. "From May of two thousand one."
"And?" Henry prompted, gently, when she fell silent, again.
"Prue died in May," she said, and when she looked up, there were tears shining in her eyes. "May seventeenth."
"Do you think we're in time?" Henry asked, knowing what she was thinking without even having to ask.
"We have to be," Paige said, taking a deep breath to calm herself down as she wiped at the tears in her eyes. "I don't think I could deal with it if we were a day late."
"You said the spell so that you could come back to save your sisters," Henry pointed out, thinking about it. "Now, you can save all of them."
"I can't believe I'm going to finally get to meet Prue," Paige said, flipping through the pages of the Book, again.
"What are you looking for?" Henry asked, watching her go past page after page.
"The Shax vanquishing spell," Paige told him, a hint of frustration in her voice. "I don't want to give him another chance at my sisters, and I could use a little help!"
The last part, yelled as she glared up at the ceiling, was definitely not directed at him, and he was glad that her irritation was aimed at her dead relatives. But, yelling seemed to have worked, with the pages of the Book suddenly flipping on their own until they came to rest at the picture of a gray, hooded demon.
"Thanks, Grams," Paige said, absently, as she grabbed a notepad and pen off of a nearby table and started scribbling the words of the spell down.
She'd just gotten the pen capped when they heard the sound of the door slamming open, downstairs.
"Showtime," Paige declared, heading for the door.
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.
Around midnight, Piper found Prue sitting in the middle of the attic, surrounded by maps. Maps of San Francisco, of Southern California, of the entire state, even of the country. Piper even thought she saw a map of the world mixed in with the rest. At the edge of the ragged circle of maps that surrounded Prue, the Book of Shadows lay open on the floor, its pages flipping every time she twitched her fingers.
A scrying crystal hung from her fingers, one of Phoebe's necklaces tangled in the chain where it was held in her tightly-clenched fist. The crystal was moving constantly over the maps, never staying in place for even a second, and Piper's heart sank at the implications.
Prue was scowling down at the maps, her brow furrowed in intense concentration as she focused her energy on the scrying crystal. Piper was almost loathe to interrupt her efforts, but they needed to talk.
"Find anything?" she asked, even though she figured that she already knew what the answer was.
Prue shook her head, wordlessly, letting her outstretched hand fall to her side. She sighed as she pushed herself to her feet, stepping carefully over the circle of maps as she bent down to pick the Book up off the floor.
"I've been looking all night," she replied, sounding exhausted. "There's no sign of Phoebe, anywhere. Not in San Francisco, not in the world."
Her voice cracked on the last word, and she sounded close to tears. Reaching over, Piper rubbed her back, comfortingly, leading her sister over to the couch in the corner.
"I was talking to Darryl, earlier," she told her. "He said that, officially, there's nothing he can do. He said that Phoebe has to be gone for forty-eight hours before she can be declared a missing person. Only after forty-eight hours can the police start looking for her."
Prue groaned, dropping her head into her hands as she took in what Piper told her.
"I can't believe we're even having this conversation," she said, quietly, her voice muffled by her hands. "Our sister is not a missing person."
"Right," Piper said, without thinking. "We just can't find her. Or Cole, or Leo."
Prue reached over and squeezed her hand, comfortingly, when her voice broke on Leo's name.
"The Elders don't know where he is?" she asked, quietly.
"The Whitelighter they sent down, Gregory, said that no one Up There knows anything about Leo's whereabouts," Piper replied. "He just dropped off their radar and no one can find him."
"Did they have anything to say about our strange guests?" Prue asked.
"Gregory said that all of the Whitelighters are talking about them, but the Elders aren't saying a word," Piper told her.
"Do they know who they are?" Prue pressed. "I mean, are they witches, or Whitelighters-"
"According to the guy," Piper reminded her, "that woman was our sister."
"Which is impossible," Prue said, flatly, her tone inviting no argument.
"Then, how do you explain the vanquishing spell working?" Piper pointed out. "Shax was a high level demon; that spell was a Power of Three spell. Phoebe was supposed to be getting it while we went after Dr. Griffiths, remember?"
"But, those two came down with it, instead," Prue said, clearly frustrated. "I don't know how to explain it, Piper. But, it's impossible; we cannot have another sister."
"Maybe we should go to the source," Piper said, softly. "We should ask Mom."
"You light the candles," Prue said, in agreement. "I'll set the crystals up."
They cleared the floor in the middle of the attic, carefully folding the maps and setting them aside for later. While Piper gathered the pillar candles they used for summoning, Prue marked out a circle on the floor with a set of quartz crystals. Piper set the candles in between the gaps of the crystals, lighting them with a match. Then, she joined Prue at the lectern with the Book.
"Hear these words," they chanted, in practiced unison, "hear my cry, spirit from the other side. Come to me, I summon thee, cross now the Great Divide."
They waited in breathless anticipation, and after a few seconds, a swirl of lights appeared inside the crystal circle. When the lights coalesced into Patty's form, Piper let out a breath she hadn't even been aware she was holding.
"Mom," she said, happily.
"My girls," Patty greeted them, smiling. "But, where's Phoebe?"
"You mean, you don't know?" Prue asked, dismayed. "Mom, Phoebe's been missing ever since we went after Dr. Griffiths to protect him from Shax."
"Missing?" Patty asked, tremulously. "Have you tried scrying?"
"We've tried everything, Mom," Piper told her."Phoebe's just … gone."
"Mom," Prue cut in, reminding Piper why they'd summoned her in the first place, "we were attacked by Shax, earlier today."
"I know," Patty said. "I saw some of what happened."
"Then you saw the people who saved us," Prue said, bluntly.
"I did," Patty confirmed, although she sounded like the words had been dragged out of her, reluctantly.
"Who is she, Mom?" Prue demanded, not backing down for an instant. "Is she really our sister?"
Patty was silent for so long that Piper was afraid she wasn't going to answer. But, finally, she nodded, slowly.
"Her name is Paige," she said, quietly, while Piper and Prue stared at her in shock. "She's your younger sister."
"But, how is this possible?" Piper asked, finding her voice before Prue could.
"You remember my Whitelighter, Sam?" Patty asked. At their nods, she continued, "Well, he and I had more than just an affair. We had a child together."
"Why don't we remember this?" Prue asked, finally finding her voice. "We were old enough, weren't we?"
"You and Piper were," Patty told them. "But, Mother and I cast a spell to cloud your memories of that time."
"But, why?" Piper asked, baffled. "Why wouldn't you tell us about our sister? Why didn't we ever get to know her?"
"It was just too dangerous," Patty said, tearfully. "Whitelighters and witches were strictly forbidden to be together; Sam and I feared that there would be repercussions if they found out that we'd not only broken their rules, but had a daughter, as well."
"What kind of repercussions?" Prue wanted to know.
"We were afraid that you girls would be affected," Patty said. "We couldn't risk you losing your powers for good, losing the Charmed Ones. And we were afraid of what the Elders might do to Paige if they found out about her."
"You thought they might take her away," Prue guessed.
"Or worse," Patty confirmed. "As painful as it was, the thought of having her live with strangers was still better than the alternative."
"So, you gave her up?" Piper asked, and Patty nodded.
"Sam and I left her at a local church," she told them. "There was a nun, Sister Agnes, who promised to find her a good home. We left knowing that we would probably never see her, again."
"Well, she found us, anyway," Prue said. "She's a witch, Mom. She helped us vanquish Shax."
"I saw," Patty said. "But, things are more complicated than that, and she'll be in danger. You have to find her."
"What are you talking about?" Piper demanded. "She died, Mom. Prue and I watched her bleed to death."
"She disappeared," Prue reminded her. "Maybe the Elders healed her?"
Both of them looked hopefully at Patty, but she just shook her head.
"That's the part that's complicated," she told them. "That Paige came back from the future, to change it. She was a Charmed One in the future, and that's how she was able to say the vanquishing spell with you. She's the one who died."
"So, you're saying that we still have a sister out there?" Piper asked, cautiously. "One from this time, who doesn't know she's a witch, doesn't know about demons, and doesn't know about us?"
"Exactly," Patty said, and then she looked up, listening to a sound only she could hear.
When she looked back down, there was an apologetic look on her face.
"I'm sorry, darlings," she said. "I have to go. They're calling me."
She disappeared before either of them could protest, and Prue scowled as she slammed the Book shut.
"Well, that's just great," she said, irritably. "Not only is Phoebe still missing, but we have a brand new sister that we have to find, as well."
"We will," Piper reassured her, firmly. "Demons are not going to get either of them. We're going to find our sisters and bring them home, safely."
"I hope you're right," Prue said, with a heavy sigh.
"Come on," Piper said, slinging an arm around Prue's shoulders and steering her toward the attic door. "Let's get some sleep. We'll pick this up in the morning."
"Yeah," Prue agreed, quietly. "I just hope that we're not too late. For either of them."
Henry woke up to the shrill sound of his alarm clock, the newscaster droning about a protest marching the length of Lombard Street. Rolling over with a groan, he slapped the snooze button just as the news segued into a string of advertisements, plunging the room into blessed silence.
With his eyes still closed, he rolled back over, bumping into a body sprawled out beside him in the bed. He wrapped his arm around a slim waist, smiling as he dropped a kiss onto the curve of a graceful neck.
"Morning," he mumbled, his voice still rough with sleep.
The body in his arms shifted, soft lips brushing against his own.
"Good morning," came the soft reply, and his eyes flew open at the voice that was most definitely not Paige's.
"Amanda?" he blurted, staring in shock at the ex-girlfriend he hadn't seen in almost five years.
The blonde woman lying beside him propped herself up on an elbow as she stared at him in amusement.
"Were you expecting someone else?" she asked, wryly.
'Yes, actually,' Henry thought, but he had enough self control not to voice the thought out loud. 'I was expecting my wife,' he thought, the shock of losing Paige hitting him all over again.
But, Amanda was still waiting for an answer, so he forced a grin onto his face.
"Who else could I possibly have been expecting?" he asked, and she laughed, leaning forward to kiss him, again.
He returned her kiss, quickly, falling back against his pillow and staring up at the ceiling. His mind was whirling, and he didn't know what to think.
"I don't suppose you know the date?" he asked.
"It's the eighteenth," Amanda told him, which wasn't quite the answer he was looking for.
"What about the year?" he asked, and Amanda gave an incredulous laugh.
"Exactly how much did you have to drink last night?" she demanded, playfully, and Henry shrugged, helplessly. "It's two-thousand-one," she informed him, after a few moments. "Anything else you've forgotten since last night?"
Her tone was teasing, but Henry couldn't bring himself to smile. Instead, he sat up, abruptly, headed for the bathroom.
"Henry?" Amanda demanded, incredulously, "Henry, what's wrong?"
"Nothing," he muttered, dismissively.
He knew he was being rude to Amanda, but he couldn't help it. His memories of the woman were tainted by their last encounter. He couldn't even remember what their last fight had been about, but he remembered the yelling, the tears, and the frying pan she'd chucked at his head before storming out.
And he remembered drinking himself into a stupor for three days straight after she'd walked away, convinced that he'd just lost the one, great love of his life. It had taken his best friend dragging him into the bathroom and dousing him in a freezing cold shower to completely wake him up.
That woman, the one who'd hated him, wasn't the same one who was standing behind him in the doorway, watching him with a worried expression on her face. That woman wouldn't make an appearance for at least another six months, on the same night he'd been planning to propose to her. But, he couldn't bring himself to separate the two in his mind.
"Henry," Amanda pressed, insistently, and he finally looked at her when she placed a hand on his shoulder.
"What is wrong with you?" she asked, and he sighed.
"Amanda, what are we doing here?" he asked.
"What?" she asked, confused. "You mean, here in your apartment?"
"No, I mean, us, here," he said, not sure how to explain it any better than that. "What are we doing in this relationship?"
"What brought this on?" Amanda asked, quietly, and there was a distinctly worried tone in her voice.
"You and I both know this isn't going anywhere," he said, looking away from the concern on her face. "You hate my job, my friends, we have practically nothing in common-"
"What are you saying?" she asked, and he didn't look at her for fear of what he would see on her face.
"Maybe we should just end this," he said, and from behind him, Amanda gasped, and he could hear a sob in her voice. "Just stop before things get too complicated."
"Just give up, you mean," Amanda said, bitterness creeping into her tone. "Like you always do. My friends warned me about you, Henry. I guess they were right."
"I guess they were," Henry muttered, still not looking at her.
He'd wanted to deny her words, but she'd been speaking nothing less than the truth. Before Paige, his track record with relationships had been spotty at best. His job had gotten in the way more than once, leaving him to watch women walk away after they'd claimed to understand his devotion to his parolees, only to be unable to deal with the reality of the situation, with the long nights he put in, with the danger he sometimes found himself in. Amanda was just the latest in a long line.
With Paige, though, he'd not only found someone who truly understood, but whose devotion to her own charges matched his own. He hadn't realized just how amazing that was until it was gone. He hadn't realized until it was too late, until she was gone, how much he truly loved his wife.
Amanda was silent for a long time, but finally, out of the corner of his eye, he could see her turn and stalk back across the bedroom. Finally turning around, Henry watched her grab her clothes off the floor where they lay in a pile, practically tearing her clothes as she wrenched them on. Shoving her feet into an uncomfortable pair of shoes, she stomped through his apartment in a fury.
Stopping at the door, she turned and glared at him.
"Have a good life," she spit at him, and then she disappeared down the hallway, slamming the door behind her.
"Well, that went well," a new voice spoke up, cheerfully, and Henry whirled around in shock to see Sandra standing in the middle of his living room.
Then, he blushed bright scarlet when he realized that he was standing in the middle of his apartment, stark naked. Not that Sandra seemed to mind, if the smile on her face was any indication.
Henry wasn't going to give the Elder the satisfaction of seeing him run away, so he walked back into his bedroom with as much dignity as he could muster. He shut the door firmly in her face, hearing the woman's bright laughter behind him.
He got dressed, quickly, and when he went back into the living room, Sandra was sitting on the couch, her robes tucked neatly around her legs. She looked up as he entered, cocking an eyebrow at him.
"So, the show's over, already?" she asked, and he scowled at her, dropping down across from her in a chair.
"What am I doing here, Sandra?" he asked, bluntly. "After our little conversation, yesterday, I half expected to be dead, right now."
"Well, if Odin and his ilk had his way," Sandra told him, "then you would be. But, luckily for you, others thought differently."
"Luckily," Henry echoed, dryly. "I'm trapped in the past, I watched my wife die, yesterday, and I've lost everything. Tell me, again, how lucky I am."
"You're alive," Sandra countered, with just as much bluntness. "And you get to live this time over, again."
"Yeah," Henry muttered, bitterly. "Alone. Just the way I always wanted."
"You know," Sandra told him, and from the testy tone in her voice she was losing patience with him, "some of my fellow Elders wanted to keep you in Up There, separated from this time and used as a source of information."
"Why didn't they?" Henry grumbled.
"Some of us, though," she went on, ignoring him, "felt that you deserved a reward for saving the Charmed Ones. So, we sent you back to Earth and merged you with your current self."
"And what good does that do me?" he muttered, and Sandra rolled her eyes.
"Think about it," she told him. "If there's a Henry Mitchell in this time-"
For several seconds, he couldn't see what she was hinting at, although it felt as though the answer was just floating out of reach. Then, suddenly, he got it.
"You mean, Paige is here, too?" he asked, breathlessly, finally catching on.
"Exactly," Sandra told him, and he sank back in his seat, weak with relief.
"She's alive?" he asked, softly, and Sandra smiled, understandingly.
"And maybe, this time, you two won't take five years to cross paths," she teased him, gently.
"But," Henry protested, even as he wondered what the hell he was doing, "doesn't that break some rules, or something?"
"I think it's a little late to be worried about rules at this point," Sandra said, laughing. "After all, just by saving Prue Halliwell's life, you've changed things more than anyone can anticipate."
"I can't thank you enough for this," Henry told her, still dazed. "This is incredible. You've given me a second chance with Paige."
"Only if you're brave enough to take it," Sandra reminded him.
She stood, and Henry suddenly was reminded of something she and the other Elders needed to know.
"Wait a minute," he said, quickly, before she could orb away.
"What is it?" Sandra asked, curiously.
"Billie and Christy Jenkins," Henry told her. "They're the witches in the future who killed Piper and Phoebe."
"That is the kind of information I was talking about, earlier," Sandra said.
"You have to stop them," Henry said. "Bind their powers, or something. Billie, she'd be about fourteen, now, and Christy, she's being held in the underworld by demons."
"Don't worry," Sandra told him, before he could go on. "We'll take care of it."
"It's just that they're dangerous," Henry protested, but he had the feeling that Sandra wasn't listening.
She probably wondered just how dangerous a couple of kids could possibly be, but he knew better. And if the Elders weren't going to do anything about the Jenkins sisters, he'd find some way to deal with them. He'd be damned if he was going to go through the hell of watching his family die, again.
"We will take care of this problem," Sandra repeated, as if she'd read his mind – and for all he knew, she had. "You have your own problems to take care of," she added.
"What does that mean?" Henry asked, but her answer was cut off by the sound of the phone ringing.
He turned to grab the cordless phone off the coffee table, and when he turned back around, Sandra had orbed away.
"Stubborn Elders," he muttered, hoping she was listening, and he thought he could hear ghostly laughter at his words. "Hello?" he said, a moment later, answering the phone.
"Hey, Mitchell, man," a familiar voice said, "you planning on coming in to work, today?"
The grin that had spread across his face at the sound of his best friend's voice fell when he looked at his watch and realized how late it had gotten.
"Oh, crap," he muttered, and on the other end of the line, Ryan was laughing at him.
"Get your ass in here before you get fired," he said, and then he hung up.
Muttering curses under his breath, Henry sprinted around the house, grabbing his coat, his shoes, and his service revolver from the safe in his bedroom. Then, barely remembering to lock his front door, he ran down the hallway, bypassing the eternally-slow elevator for the stairs.
Hitting the bottom landing at a run, he burst out of the stairwell and immediately slammed into someone, knocking them both to the floor.
"Sorry, sorry," he apologized, quickly, climbing to his feet and extending a hand to help the woman to her feet.
The woman took his outstretched hand, letting herself be pulled to her feet. Bending, she snagged the strap of her purse from where it had landed and slung the rainbow-colored bag over her shoulder. Then, she brushed her hair back away from her face, and Henry felt his heart stop.
"Where's the fire?" Paige asked, jokingly, but Henry couldn't answer her.
He wasn't even sure if he was breathing, right now, and words were definitely beyond his capabilities. It was all he could do not to grab Paige and hold on to her as hard as he could, which would have certainly freaked her out. So, he just settled for staring at her in shock, drinking in the sight of Paige standing before him, alive and well.
His silence must have unnerved her, because she was eyeing him, oddly. Then, lifting her hand in front of his face, she snapped her fingers, rapidly, startling him back to attention. She moved her hand slowly back and forth in front of his face, her eyes never leaving his.
"What are you doing?" he finally managed to force out, and she lowered her hand.
"Checking your reactions," she told him. "The way you were just staring, I thought you might have hit your head when we fell down."
"No, I – I'm fine," he said, still staring, and she shook her head in disbelief.
"You're sure?" she pressed. "You're not dizzy, you're not seeing double? Because I'd hate to walk out of here and have you pass out five seconds later."
"I'm fine," Henry reassured her, finally able to form coherent sentences, again.
"Okay, then," Paige said, even though she clearly wasn't convinced. "If you're sure you're not hurt, then I have to get going. I'm late for work."
She'd turned and started walking across the lobby, and Henry watched her go with a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. He knew it was foolish, especially since she seemed to live in the same apartment building as he did, but he couldn't help but feel that he'd never see her again if she walked out the doors.
"Henry," he blurted out, right before she could leave the lobby. "I'm Henry Mitchell."
"Paige Matthews," she said, turning and smiling at him. "Nice to meet you, Henry."
"I live in three-eighteen," he told her, because he couldn't think of any other way to stop her from leaving than to just keep talking.
"Three-oh-two," Paige replied. "Looks like we're practically neighbors."
"Looks like," he echoed, lamely, and then his heart started beating faster when she turned and had her hand on the door handle, ready to leave. "Do you want to go out for coffee, some time?" he said, quickly, and she turned to face him, again.
"I'm really sorry," she said, an apologetic tone in her voice. "I'm kind of seeing someone."
"Oh, right," Henry muttered, feeling his heart sink in his chest. "Of course you are."
Paige's smile grew uncertain, and he had the feeling that he was making her uncomfortable.
"Hey, it's no big deal," he said, quickly, trying to brush it off. "I mean, it's not every day I run into a beautiful woman, so I just figured I'd take that chance."
Paige laughed, and her whole face lit up as she grinned.
"It was nice meeting you, Henry," she said. "I'll see you around, yeah?"
Then, before he could say anything, she'd disappeared out the door. He had to force himself to walk normally across the lobby and not sprint over to the door to watch her drive off. Going over to his own car, he got in, but he didn't start the engine. Instead, he stared out of the windshield, the keys held limply in his hand.
He couldn't believe his luck, couldn't believe that she'd been so close all along. Just down the hallway, and he'd never noticed. At least not until today. He suddenly realized what Sandra had meant about a second chance, and he felt like he'd been living life with his eyes closed before now.
'But, not anymore,' he thought, determinedly. 'Today really is the first day of the rest of my life. And I'm going to take advantage of every second.'
His mind made up, Henry started the car and backed out of the parking lot, driving to the police station where he worked.
Paige pulled into the parking lot of South Bay Social Services and eased her tiny car into the furthest spot she could find. She slipped into the building through the back entrance, passing Lilah on the way, but her friend had her nose buried in a magazine and only gave her a quick wave.
Making her way out to the front offices, Paige was about to go to her desk when a figure sitting outside the director's office caught her eye. She went over to the boy, who was entranced by a video game, and sat down beside him.
"Joining us, again?" she asked, and the boy sighed as he looked up at her.
"This is my third time in as many months," Tyler Martin grumbled, letting the game fall unnoticed into his lap. "I'm beginning to think that I'm never going to find a foster family."
"Don't say that," Paige said, quickly. "The perfect family is out there for you, buddy. And we're going to find them."
"Yeah, maybe," Tyler muttered, but he didn't sound convinced.
"So, what was it this time?" Paige asked.
"The usual," Tyler told her. "There was a fire in the living room and they think I started it. But I didn't," he added, in a rush, looking at her with pleading eyes. "You believe me, don't you, Paige?"
"I believe you," Paige assured him, watching some of the worry drop off his face at her words. "You're a good kid, Ty."
"Yeah, well, they don't think so," Tyler replied, bitterly. "I heard my caseworker talking to Mr. Cowan. He thinks that I'm a delinquent, and an arsonist, and that I should spend some time in Juvie to get straightened out."
"No way," Paige declared, decisively, and a small smile crept across Tyler's face at her words. "Look, you sit tight," she continued. "I'll talk to Mr. Cowan and set him straight."
"Thanks, Paige," Tyler said, and she smiled at him.
"Don't worry, Ty," she told him. "Everything is going to work out fine."
Going over to the closed office door, she gave a perfunctory knock before she entered, and the man behind the desk looked up at her.
"You are not sending that boy to Juvenile Hall," she said, bluntly, letting the door fall shut behind her.
"And good morning to you, too, Paige," Bob Cowan said, wryly, meeting her angry gaze head-on. "Have a seat, won't you?"
Paige sat in one of the chairs across from the older man, leaning forward to glare at him.
"Tyler's done nothing wrong," she said, insistently. "You can't send him to Juvenile Hall."
"Fires have started in the last five foster homes the kid has been in," Cowan told her, tapping the open case file in front of him for emphasis. "Am I supposed to believe that it's just coincidence?"
"He didn't do it," she said, and the older man sighed.
"Those fires didn't just start themselves," he told her. "But, you're right. We're not sending him to Juvenile Hall."
"Thank you," Paige said, sitting back in her chair.
"I spoke to the judge, this morning," Cowan continued. "I convinced him, due to Tyler's age, to let us take care of things before they drag the kid in for a hearing."
"And by take care of, you mean what?" Paige pressed, not giving up until she was satisfied by the answer.
"Someone from the parole office will be coming by in a little while to speak with Tyler," Cowan said. "I'm hoping that will scare him straight. I don't want to have to send a kid that young up before a judge if I don't have to."
"And Frank Lawson was okay with this?" Paige asked, incredulously.
She couldn't imagine the hard-as-nails social worker settling for the gentler of two options. His tough-love methods very rarely included just having someone come in and talk to his charges.
"Lawson requested that Tyler be reassigned," Cowan replied. "When we spoke this morning, he told me that he couldn't work with the kid if I was going to insist on going soft with him."
"The man's all heart," Paige grumbled. "So, who has Tyler's case, now?"
"Well," Cowan said, "since you seem so invested in the boy's future, you can have it."
"Me?" Paige protested, automatically. "Mr. Cowan, I'm not even a full social worker, yet. I'm still an assistant. I don't take cases."
"Consider this a test," Cowan told her. "How you do with this case will determine your future chances of a promotion."
"Oh, that's not intimidating at all," Paige muttered, seeing her future hanging on the line.
"Besides," Cowan went on, "I've seen you with the kid, and you've got a real rapport with him. If anyone can reach out to this kid, it's you, Paige."
"Thanks," Paige said, touched by the older man's faith in her.
"Just don't blow it," Cowan continued, ruining the moment. "And get out of my office and get back to work."
Paige snorted out a laugh at the man's attempt at gruffness, but she went back out to the main office and over to where Tyler was sitting.
"So, am I a goner?" Tyler asked, dread in his voice.
"You're safe," Paige told him, and his face lit up at the news. "And," she continued, wondering how he was going to take the next part, "it looks like you're stuck with me for a while. I'm your new caseworker."
A grin spread across Tyler's face as he jumped up, wrapping his arms around her in a tight hug.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you!" he said, happily, as he let go. "I knew you wouldn't let me down!"
"Come on," Paige said, ruffling his hair, affectionately. "We've got some work to do."
"So, if I'm not going to Juvie," Tyler asked, as he sat down in the chair Paige had dragged over to her desk, "then what's going to happen? Do I have a new placement, or am I going to a group home?"
"Well, for right now," Paige replied, "they're sending someone over from the parole office to have a talk with you."
"I have a parole officer?" Tyler asked, dismay plain in his voice. "But, I haven't done anything wrong."
"I know," Paige assured him. "This is just a precautionary thing. And I promise, I am completely on your side, here."
"Thanks," Tyler muttered, sounding slightly mollified.
Settling back in his chair, Tyler got lost in his game, again, while Paige opened his case file. She knew Tyler's story practically by heart, having known the boy since his first day with South Bay Social Services, nearly three years ago, but she wanted to go over Lawson's latest notes.
When she had finished going over the file, she tried talking to Lawson, himself, but it was a dead end. The older man had nothing more to say than he'd already put in his reports, and his opinion of Tyler was decidedly negative.
"Thanks for all the help," Paige said, sarcastically, after Lawson had finished giving her his opinion.
"I wouldn't trust that kid if I was you, Matthews," Lawson told her, bluntly. "I've been at this a long time, and I know a future felon when I see one."
Paige snorted, derisively, at the man's immediate dismissal of Tyler.
"I guess I just have a little more faith in him, than you," she muttered, turning and walking back to her desk.
Halfway there, her attention was caught by a familiar figure walking through the front doors. When he saw her, Henry Mitchell's face lit up with what she could only call a goofy grin, and she had to fight to keep a similar expression from creeping over her own face.
She'd only talked to him for a few seconds, earlier that morning, but she hadn't been able to get him out of her head. And she knew that if she hadn't been seeing Shane, she would have taken him up on his offer to go for coffee in a heartbeat.
"You, again," she said, teasingly, when he walked over to where she was standing. "You should be careful, I might think that you're following me."
"Just a coincidence," he told her. "Not one that I'm complaining about, mind you."
That had her laughing, and his smile got bigger in response.
"Actually," he went on, "I'm here to talk to a kid named Tyler Martin, and his social worker."
"You're looking at her," Paige told him, and he sighed.
"That's just my luck," Henry said, ruefully.
"Tyler's just a kid," Paige said, bluntly, meeting his eyes, squarely. "Keep that in mind, won't you?"
"Paige, I'm just going to talk to the kid," he said. "I'm not trying to be a bad guy."
"We're on a first name basis, now?" Paige asked, and a smile quirked across Henry's face.
"Well, I just figured," he replied, "seeing as how I practically ran you over, this morning."
"I guess I can buy that," Paige told him. "Just," she added, as she led him over to her desk, "be nice."
"I'm always nice," Henry muttered, taking the chair she pulled over for him. "Hey, kid," he added, looking at Tyler.
Tyler grunted out something that might have been a hello, and Henry sighed.
"Hey, buddy, can we talk?" he asked, and Tyler lifted his head to glare at the older man.
"I'm not your buddy," he muttered, and Paige broke in before either of them could say anything else.
"Officer Mitchell just wants to talk, Ty," she told him, and the boy relented with a quiet sigh.
"Fine," he replied. Turning his attention to Henry, he added, "I didn't start those fires."
"I believe you," Henry said, and both Paige and Tyler looked at him in shock.
"You do?" he asked, wonderingly, and Henry nodded.
"But," he continued, "I do want to talk about what's been happening when these fires start."
"What do you mean?" Tyler asked, nervously, and Paige reached over, squeezing his hand, comfortingly.
"Well," Henry said, carefully, "what were you doing right before the last fire started?"
"I was in the living room," Tyler said. "Doing my homework."
"And then what happened?" Paige prompted, when Tyler fell silent.
"Mr. Garner came in," Tyler said, with obvious reluctance. "He was yelling about how the house was a mess."
"Was it?" Henry asked, and Tyler jerked his shoulder in a shrug.
"My backpack was on the couch," he said, "and my math book was on the table, but it didn't look too bad to me."
"But, your foster father thought that it was messy?" Paige asked, and Tyler nodded.
"He was always getting upset about the house being messy," he replied. "So, he started yelling, and then the couch was on fire."
"Just like that?" Henry prompted, as Paige wondered what he was getting at. "He was just yelling at you?"
"He kind of grabbed my arm," Tyler admitted, softly, and Paige could almost feel the blood draining from her face at his words.
"Let me see," she said, quietly, but Tyler pressed his lips together, tightly, shaking his head.
"It's no big deal," he whispered.
"Tyler," she said, insistently, "let me see it."
Moving slowly, Tyler peeled his jacket off and rolled up the sleeve of his tee-shirt. Paige gasped in horror at the dark, distinct handprint that covered his shoulder.
"Tyler," she asked, slowly, fearing she already knew what the answer would be, "did your foster father ever hit you?"
Tears sprang to the boy's eyes, and that was all the answer she needed. Reaching out, she pulled Tyler into a hug, feeling the boy shaking against her.
"Why didn't you tell anyone?" she whispered, feeling tears come to her own eyes. "Ty, why did you try to hide this?"
"I did tell someone," Tyler choked out, pulling away to look at her. "I told my teacher, and I told Mr. Lawson, but they wouldn't listen."
Paige caught Henry's eyes at that, seeing the same fury in his expression that had to be reflected on her face.
"Everyone said that I was lying," Tyler went on, and Paige felt her heart clench at the despondent look in his eyes. "They said that I was just trying to get myself out of trouble – but I'm not a liar!" he cried, and that was when the trash can exploded.
Henry swore, jerking back in shock as the trash can a few feet away from him burst into flames. Paige jumped to her feet, pulling Tyler out of his chair and away from the fire.
"Fire extinguisher," Henry demanded, and Paige pointed, wordlessly, across the room where the bright red tool was hanging from the wall.
Henry sprinted across the room and was back in a few seconds, fire extinguisher in his hands. He pulled the pin, pointed the nozzle, and a cloud of white foam shot out of the extinguisher to smother the flames.
"It's okay," Paige called out to her coworkers, who were staring at the trash can in shock. "Just a bit of an accident. Nothing to worry about."
Tyler, still in her arms, was shaking like a leaf, his eyes wide in shock as he stared at the remains of the fire.
"I – I don't know how that happened," he stammered, clearly terrified, and Paige hugged him, tightly.
"It's okay," she told him, and he looked at her in surprise. "It's going to be okay," she repeated, firmly. "I promise."
Tyler still didn't look convinced, but he finally nodded, reluctantly, giving her a tremulous smile.
"Okay," he whispered, his voice barely audible.
"I need you to stay here," Paige told him, pushing him gently back into his chair. "Officer Mitchell and I have something we need to discuss, but we'll be right back."
Getting another, reluctant nod from Tyler, she grabbed Henry's arm and practically dragged the man into an empty office down the hall. She could feel herself shaking as she shut the door behind her, and Henry didn't look too steady, either, when she got a good look at him.
"He just lit the trash can on fire with his mind," she said, shakily, barely able to believe the words that were coming out of her mouth.
When Henry nodded, wordlessly, it confirmed to her that she hadn't gone crazy and hallucinated the entire thing. That was both reassuring and terrifying.
"Started the fire with his mind," she said, emphatically, because, really, it was something that just had to be repeated.
"You sound surprised," Henry said, and Paige snorted out an incredulous laugh.
"Oh, no," she said, sarcastically. "My charges always turn out to be Carrie."
She could feel herself shaking, and she knew that she was close to losing it. In the normal, rational world, people did not start fires with their mind. They did not make things explode just by looking at them.
But, she was very quickly realizing that the world was neither normal nor rational. There was a little boy sitting at her desk who had powers that were supposed to only exist in science fiction movies. And he was counting on her to be the strong one.
Leaning back against the closed door with a groan, Paige closed her eyes and rubbed her temples to try and stave off the headache she could feel forming there. When she felt a hand rubbing her shoulder, she opened her eyes to see Henry standing in front of her, a concerned look on his face.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
"I have no idea," Paige admitted, honestly. "This sort of thing isn't supposed to be happening."
"But, it is," Henry pointed out, and Paige sighed.
"I know," she said, quietly. After a moment, she added, "Don't worry, I'll be okay. I just need to reevaluate my view of the world."
"I've been there," Henry said, a grin quirking at the corners of his mouth.
"Is that why you're not freaking out?" Paige asked, wryly.
"This isn't the weirdest thing I've seen," Henry told her, piquing her interest. "But, it does come pretty close."
"You'll have to tell me about it, some time," Paige said.
"Maybe I will," Henry said, and Paige realized that he was flirting with her. And she just as quickly realized that she didn't mind in the least. "So, what are you going to do about Tyler?" Henry continued.
"Well, I can't let him go into a group home," Paige said, immediately. "Not with his … powers. It's too risky for him and for everyone else."
"Another foster family?" Henry asked, but Paige shook her head.
"Even if we could arrange a placement on such short notice," she said, "it'd be the same situation all over again. Tyler's volatile, and we can't leave him with anyone who doesn't know what he's capable of."
"So, what then?" Henry asked, and there was really only one option that Paige could see.
"He'll come home with me for the weekend," she told him, and Henry raised an eyebrow in surprise.
"Oh, sure, you'll just take the kid home with you," he said, and Paige laughed.
"I'm a registered foster parent," she explained. "Most of us who work here are, for just this kind of situation."
"You mean fire-starting kids are a common problem?" he asked, teasingly, and Paige rolled her eyes at him.
"Sometimes, we can't get kids placed, and they can't go into group homes for one reason or another," she elaborated. "So, we take them in as a temporary measure, until a more permanent solution can be found."
"That's actually a really reasonable idea," Henry said.
"Thanks, we think so," Paige replied, and he grinned at her sarcasm. "I don't suppose you know where I can stock up on fire extinguishers, do you?" she added. "I have the feeling I might need them."
"I can pick some up for you," Henry volunteered, much to her surprise. "And now I'm going to go talk to the kid. I want to make sure he knows that he's not in trouble."
Paige spent another minute in the office, trying to get her nerves under control, and then she went to Cowan's office. She cleared her plan with her boss surprisingly quickly, although she left out the part about the fire in the trash can. There were just some things that no one else needed to know.
When she went out into the main office, she saw Henry sitting at her desk, talking to Tyler. The boy actually had a smile on his face, and the fact that Henry had been able to put it there endeared him to her just that much more.
"Henry says that I get to go home with you," Tyler said, excitedly, as she came up, and she noted that he was already on a first name basis with the older man.
"Absolutely," she replied, as Tyler practically beamed with happiness. "But, you still have to do your homework."
"I can live with that," the boy replied, pretending to think about it for a few seconds.
"We'll leave in a little while," Paige told him. "I still have to get some work done, even if I do get to take off early."
"I should probably get going, too," Henry said, standing up and offering her the chair he'd vacated. "My boss is mad enough at me as it is."
Paige watched him leave, and then she turned her attention back to Tyler. The boy had his attention focused on his video game, again, and he looked so innocent. He certainly didn't look like he was hiding such destructive powers as he'd shown earlier.
'I hope I know what the hell I'm doing,' Paige thought, wryly.
Then, Tyler looked up at her, briefly, and smiled, and she knew that she was doing absolutely the right thing.
Sitting in the lobby of the police station, Piper drummed her fingers impatiently on her knee. She'd been sitting there, waiting to talk to Darryl, for nearly an hour, and she wondered what was taking him so long.
Her words to Prue yesterday, aside, she hadn't wanted to come down to the station and file a missing person's report on Phoebe. Doing so felt too much like giving up, like they were admitting that she was really gone and that they couldn't do anything to find her.
But, she and Prue had exhausted all magical means of trying to track Phoebe down, with no success. And, as unpleasant as it was, they needed to do this. There was a million-to-one chance that it might actually work, but they needed every extra advantage that they could get.
It was nearly another fifteen minutes before Darryl came and got her, and Piper almost jumped down his throat before she took in the dark circles under his eyes and the exhausted look on his face.
"You look like hell," she said, bluntly.
"I feel like it," Darryl replied, leading her back to his desk. "We've all been putting in a lot of overtime, lately, and I don't think I've been home in two days." Pulling a chair over for her, he added, "Any news on Phoebe?"
"That's why I'm here," Piper told him. "I want to file a missing persons report."
"Do you think it'll help?" Darryl asked, taking a notepad out of one of the drawers and digging for a pen.
"At this point," Piper said, quietly, "we think anything might help."
"All right," Darryl told her, "let's start with the basics. Height, weight, date of birth, that sort of thing."
They'd been at it for about twenty minutes, and Piper was amazed at everything that went into reporting a person missing. Darryl had her going over every single detail, even things that she thought wouldn't have been important. What time it had been, where'd they'd last seen Phoebe, where she and Prue had been before they discovered her missing.
Everything was heavily edited, of course, but even with the magic part left out, there was a clear picture forming of the time when Phoebe had disappeared.
"Is it possible," Darryl asked, suddenly, "that Phoebe got up and just walked out of the house?"
"No way," Piper said, immediately. "She wouldn't just leave us like that. Not in the middle of a vanquish. Not with an Innocent on the line."
"Sorry, but I have to ask," Darryl said, apologetically. "Because, I can tell you right now, anyone who looks at this file is going to jump immediately to that conclusion."
"What do you mean?" Piper asked.
"You have a young woman disappearing from an empty house, with no witnesses," Darryl explained. "The house is intact, there's no sign of a break-in or a struggle, she's just gone."
"We're not going to find much help, you mean," Piper said, realizing what Darryl was getting at. "If they think Phoebe just walked out on us, they're not going to be as concerned as if there was actually evidence that she'd been taken."
"I know it sounds callous," Darryl told her, "and it's not fair, but that's just the way it is. The Missing Persons Department has limited resources, and they've got to devote their time and energy to the most urgent cases."
"So, all of this is going to be for nothing?" Piper asked, but Darryl shook his head, immediately.
"I'm not saying that," he said. "I just don't want you and Prue to get your hopes up over anything."
"Well, this was a long shot in the first place," Piper told him. "I mean, if Prue and I can't find Phoebe-"
"Do you think that her disappearance was demonic?" Darryl asked, quietly, lowering his voice so that no one could hear him.
"It's been almost two days without any sign of Phoebe," Piper told him. "Or Leo, or Cole. And, right now, I don't know what to think, any more."
She heaved a frustrated sigh, and Darryl reached out and squeezed her shoulder in comfort.
"How are you two holding up?" he asked, but Piper shrugged.
"I don't know," she admitted. "I think if this goes on any longer, then one of us is going to snap."
"Well, hopefully, this will do something to help," Darryl said, as he printed off the finished report. "I'll get this to Missing Persons, and I'll do what I can to get them to make it a priority."
"Thanks," Piper said, touched by his obvious concern. "Hey, Darryl, can I ask another favor?"
"Anything," Darryl said, immediately.
"Do the police get involved in adoption cases?" Piper asked.
"Well, Child Protective Services will get involved with cases where the kids are in danger, or being abused," Darryl told her. "But, usually adoption is something that we leave up to Social Services, unless there's a pressing need we have to address."
"What about when a baby is left somewhere?" Piper asked.
"You mean, like abandonment?" Darryl asked. "Because, CPS will definitely get involved when children are abandoned."
"Well, she wasn't really abandoned," Piper hedged. "I mean, at least not in the traditional sense. When you know the whole story, it was really for her own good-"
"Piper, you're rambling," Darryl interrupted, cutting her off. "Is there a point to all of this?"
"Would there be any way of tracking down a baby who was left at a church right after she was born?" Piper asked.
"There would be a CPS record of the incident," Darryl said, "because the church would have had to report the incident to both the police and Social Services. Do you have a name for this baby?"
"Paige," Piper answered.
"Does this Paige have a last name?" Darryl pressed.
"I only know her first name," Piper told him.
"Well, which church was she left at?" Darryl asked.
"I don't know that, either," Piper admitted, sheepishly.
"Do you have anything on this girl other than a first name?" Darryl asked, with a sigh.
"She'd be about twenty-four or twenty-five, right now," Piper said. "And, no," she said, a second later, anticipating his next question, "I don't know her date of birth."
"Piper, just who is this girl?" Darryl asked. "Is she an Innocent, or something?"
"She's our sister," Piper told him, and Darryl's eyes widened in surprise.
"Are you sure about this?" he asked.
"We heard it from a pretty impeccable source," Piper replied. "And, we think she could be in danger, so we have to find her, now."
"Do you have anything other than her name?" Darryl asked, again. "Where was this church? Who was she left with?"
"I don't know!" Piper said, frustrated. "All Mom said was that the church was local."
"Okay," Darryl said, sighing. "We can start with that, start checking with the churches in the area around your house."
"Thanks," Piper said, quietly. "I just – I wish I had more to go on. I wish I didn't feel so helpless."
"If there's one thing I've seen over the years," Darryl told her, "it's that you ladies are very rarely helpless for long. If anyone can do this, it's you and Prue."
He led Piper out of his office and out into the main lobby, Phoebe's report and his notes on Paige still held in his hand.
"I'll talk to Missing Persons and CPS, and get back to you as soon as I can," he told her, but Piper's attention was caught by someone on the far side of the room.
"Darryl," she asked, gesturing in the direction she was staring, "who is that?"
"Who?" Darryl asked, and then he saw who she was looking at. "Oh, that's Mitchell, he's one of our parole officers. Why, do you know him?"
"No, but I think he can give me some answers about Paige," Piper said, absently.
She started to push her way through the crowded police station, trying to keep the man in her sights. But, she lost track of him for a just a second, and when the crowd in front of her cleared, he was gone. Piper swore in frustration, seeing her chance at finding Paige slipping out of her hands.
"Piper, what are you talking about?" Darryl demanded, coming up beside her. "Why do you think that Mitchell knows Paige, if you don't even know this girl?"
"It's a long story," Piper told him, "and I can't really get into it, right now. But, I know he can help us find her. If I can find him, again."
"He works here," Darryl reminded her. "The next time I see him, I'll tell him that you want to talk."
"Oh," Piper said, surprised, and Darryl grinned.
"Sometimes, it really is that simple," he told her.
"I've had enough of Hell," Phoebe declared. "What do you say we go home, now?"
"Sure," Cole said, absently, his eyes glued to the corridor outside of their little hidey-hole. "I'll get right on that."
The cavern they'd holed up in was well hidden, and thanks to the shielding spell Phoebe had worked, the only spell she'd been able to work down in the underworld, they'd been able to avoid detection for the last two days.
It was even in an area that dampened demonic powers, meaning that no one could shimmer in and surprise them. Of course, it also meant that Cole couldn't shimmer out, but no plan was perfect.
There'd been some close calls, but so far, they'd managed to stay one step ahead of the bounty hunters the Source had placed on their tail. Unfortunately, Leo hadn't been so lucky. Demons had captured the Whitelighter two days ago, before he could orb back up to Piper and Prue, and they'd been trying to find him ever since.
And, now, Cole finally thought he had a lead.
He'd heard whispers of an ascension ritual, one that was supposed to involve the sacrifice of a witch. He and Phoebe thought that they'd prevented it, by staying out of the reach of the demons, but they hadn't counted on the demons finding Leo – and deciding that the Whitelighter would make an acceptable substitute.
"Stay here," Cole said, peeking out of the cavern, again, to make sure that the corridor was empty.
"When Hell freezes over," Phoebe muttered, earning a dark look from Cole.
But, when she joined him in sneaking out into the corridor, he didn't protest. They stuck to the shadows, finally finding the coronation chamber where the demons were supposed to be gathering. There was a pedestal in the chamber, with a book resting open on top, and a stone altar in the center of the chamber. Even from the door, Phoebe could see the dark stains that covered the surface.
"What, exactly, are they doing, here?" she hissed to Cole, as they hid around the corner, in a spot where they would still have a good vantage point.
"By sacrificing a being of good on the Dark Altar," Cole replied, softly, "the Source will absorb his powers and become stronger as a result."
"But," Phoebe asked, confused, "how is this different from any other time a demon kills a witch or a Whitelighter?"
"Demons have practiced ritualistic sacrifice for centuries," Cole explained. "There's power to be gained from the pain and suffering of a victim, and it breaks down their defenses, makes them vulnerable. And then when they finally make the sacrifice, the victim's energy is absorbed by the demon."
"So, that's why they haven't killed Leo," Phoebe said, "even though they've had him for two days."
"Exactly," Cole replied. "They're actually rushing the ceremony, since they know that we're still on the loose."
"Couldn't that work in our favor?" Phoebe asked. "I mean, if they're rushing, then they're likely to make mistakes, right?"
"Maybe," Cole said, guardedly. "Or, it could set them more on edge, making it harder to rescue Leo."
"Is there going to be anything left of Leo to save?" Phoebe asked, worriedly, not sure if she really wanted to know the answer.
Suddenly, they could hear footsteps, and they drew back into the shadows as a processional of demons turned a corner and started toward the coronation chamber. The two demons at the front of the processional were dragging a familiar figure between them, and Phoebe had to stifle a gasp at the state Leo was in.
His face was a bloody mess, with one eye swollen completely shut. The other was open, but Phoebe could tell that he wasn't really focusing on anything. What remained of his clothing was hanging from him in tattered rags, and his skin was marked with bloody furrows that traced the length of his body. He was conscious, but he wasn't fighting, and Phoebe wondered if they were too late.
Cole gestured to her with a quick jerk of his hand, and Phoebe moved silently behind him as they came up behind the processional. Moving quickly, they managed to subdue and drag off two of the rearmost demons. Cole dispatched the demons, quickly, with one of their own daggers, and then he and Phoebe donned their robes and flipped the hoods up to conceal their faces.
After hiding the bodies, they hurried to join the end of the processional, slipping into the coronation chamber just as Leo was being tied down to the altar. His head lolled to the side, and Phoebe winced when she saw the gash on his temple and the dark blood matted in his hair.
"How are we supposed to rescue Leo when we're surrounded by a dozen demons?" she hissed to Cole, keeping her voice low so that no one else could hear her.
"Technically, it's only ten demons," came the quiet reply. "Eleven, once the Source joins the ceremony. The two we took out would have made it thirteen, which is what they need for the ceremony to work, properly."
"Oh, 'cause that makes it so much better," she muttered. "You still haven't answered my question."
"Just follow my lead," Cole replied.
They joined the rest of the demons standing in a semicircle around the altar, and a few seconds later, another hooded demon entered the chamber. As all the demons around them started bowing, Phoebe realized that it must be the Source.
She and Cole bowed as well, but Phoebe kept a careful eye on the Source's movements. The rest of her attention was on Cole, so that she could be ready for when he made his move.
The Source stopped at the head of the altar, reaching out with scarred hands to hold Leo's head in a punishing grip. Under the demon's touch, Leo moaned in pain, thrashing weakly on the altar, but the ropes holding him down hampered his movements.
Around them, the demons started chanting, one of the demons leading the ceremony out of the book on the pedestal, and Phoebe mumbled along so that no one would get suspicious. Beside her, Cole was muttering words of his own, and Phoebe thought it was the demons' chant, but after a second, she realized that he was mispronouncing the words and throwing the cadence off.
She caught a slight movement out of the corner of her eye, and when she looked closer, she saw the handle of the stolen dagger nestled in Cole's palm, the blade still concealed by the sleeve of his robes. Then he moved, and if she hadn't been watching for it, she would have missed his hand flicking out, sending the dagger flying across the length of the altar faster than the eye could follow.
The demon he'd struck went down, the dagger buried to the hilt in his chest, and at the same time, Cole shoved the demon beside him, making him stumble. To the casual eye, it would have looked like he'd been knocked off balance, and suddenly Phoebe had an idea of what Cole's plan was. So she was ready when he made his next move.
"Traitor!" Cole bellowed, and Phoebe wasn't surprised to hear Balthazar's deep voice coming out from under the hood. "You're trying to sabotage the ascension!"
Predictably, his accusation sent the demons into a furious frenzy as they turned on the demon that had been set up. Phoebe would have felt sorry for him, as everyone converged on the demon, but after what had been done to Leo, the demon deserved whatever he was about to get.
With the rest of the demons suitably distracted, Phoebe used her own, stolen dagger to slice through the ropes holding Leo to the altar. It was painfully clear that he wasn't capable of leaving the chamber under his own power, but Cole solved the problem by simply picking Leo and slinging the Whitelighter over his shoulder in a fireman's carry.
Then, they bolted for the exit.
Their escape went miraculously unnoticed, but they didn't stop to congratulate themselves on a job well done. They sprinted through the corridors and back to their cavern, Phoebe covering Cole's back as he protected Leo. Only when they were safely inside the small space, and the shield spell back up in place, did she breathe a sigh of relief.
"You know that was way too easy," she told Cole, helping him carefully lower Leo to the floor.
The Whitelighter had slipped completely into unconsciousness during their flight from the chamber, and he didn't stir even when Phoebe was checking the extent of his injuries.
"We have to get him out of here," she said, worriedly. "He's not going to heal down here, and he won't make it much longer."
Cole, who was sitting slumped against the wall of the cavern, took his attention off the doorway long enough to look over at her.
"That's going to be easier said than done," he told her. "Because, now the Source is going to have the entire underworld out hunting for us."
"Shane, I'm sorry." Paige winced at the indignant tone in her boyfriend's voice as he kept ranting at her over the phone. "I know this is the third time this week that I've canceled on you, but I can't help it. Work just keeps following me home."
From his position on the couch, Tyler started laughing when he heard her, and Paige had to smile when she realized what she'd said.
"I'm sorry, Shane," she repeated. "Maybe we can make plans in a month or so, when things are less hectic."
"Maybe we should just call the whole thing off," came the angry response, and then she was listening to the dial tone.
"Well, that went well," she muttered, hanging the phone back up in its cradle.
"I'm screwing things up for you, aren't I?" Tyler asked, morosely, as she sat down beside him on the couch.
"Never," Paige told him, instantly.
When he still looked unconvinced, she leaned over and pulled him to her in a hug. Tyler was stiff for a moment, and then he slumped against her as she wrapped her arms around him.
"Don't you ever think that," she went on. "I'd take you over a thousand Shanes any day."
That brought a small smile to his face, and she ruffled his hair as she straightened back up.
"What do you want for dinner?" she asked, and Tyler looked at her in alarm.
"You're not cooking, are you?" he asked, in mock horror, and then he ducked, laughing, as Paige swatted him on the back of his head.
"No, I'm not cooking," she told him, and he heaved an exaggerated sigh of relief.
"Good," he said. "Because that spaghetti last night was pretty bad."
When she'd brought Tyler home, last night, she'd tried to cook dinner for the two of them. Tried, being the operative word. She'd managed, somehow, to knock a pot of boiling water off the stove, soaking the entire kitchen. Then, a fire had started on one of the burners and, in putting it out, she'd managed to set two potholders ablaze.
Only through sheer luck had she avoided setting the smoke alarms off, but she'd taken the hint and ordered pizza. And Tyler had practically begged her to never try her hand at cooking, ever again.
"How's pizza sound, again?" she asked, and Tyler shrugged.
"Sounds good," he replied, and then his head popped up and he jumped off the couch at the sound of a knock at the door. "I'll get it!"
He threw open the front door, and Paige found herself smiling when she saw Henry standing out in the hallway. He had takeout bags in his hands that he brandished with a flourish.
"It's like you read my mind," Paige told him, as he entered the apartment.
"Well, after last night," he said, teasingly, "it was either bring over food or watch you starve."
Paige glared at him, but he just grinned at her, completely unabashed. Tyler had called Henry during last night's cooking fiasco, and he'd arrived right as she was putting out the kitchen fire with one of the fire extinguishers he'd bought for them. So far, he hadn't let her live down the event even for a moment.
"So, what are we having for dinner?" Paige asked, taking one of the bags from him and setting it down on the counter.
"Burgers from this little diner I found," Henry told her. "And I got a lot, so I hope you and the kid are hungry."
"Are you kidding?" Paige asked him. "Tyler's a bottomless pit," she added, pitching her voice so that the boy could hear her.
"I'm a growing boy," Tyler retorted, as he joined them in the kitchen.
Rooting through the bags, he took his dinner and retreated back into the living room, sitting on the couch where he could see the television. Watching him go, Paige raised an eyebrow at Henry.
"Did he leave us anything?" she asked, wryly.
"Here," Henry told her, digging into a bag and passing her a paper-wrapped hamburger. "You want any fries?"
"No, I'm good," Paige replied, moving a pile of papers off the counter and hopping up to sit, angling so that she could see Tyler in the living room. "Thanks for bringing us dinner, Henry."
"No problem," he said. Leaning against the counter beside her, he added, "So, how are you two doing?"
"Well," Paige told him, "in two days, the only fire was the one I caused, yesterday, so I think we're okay."
"But, how are you holding up?" he pressed, and Paige knew that he wasn't just repeating himself.
"It's still a little strange," she replied, "knowing that my foster son can light things on fire with his mind. And, Tyler's understandably freaked about the whole thing, too. I've been doing a lot of reading," she added, gesturing to the table that was covered with various books about the paranormal. "But, it would be nice to just know the right answers, without having to make wild guesses about what's happening."
"At least you've kept the apartment from going up in flames," Henry pointed out.
"Tyler and I have been talking about it," she told him. "We've been going over things, and we think we figured out a pattern to the fires in his foster homes."
"Oh, yeah?" Henry asked, curiously.
"Whenever he gets angry," Paige explained, "that's when he loses control over his powers. The angrier he gets, the bigger the explosion."
"What happened with Garner," Henry said, cautiously, "are these previous incidents more of the same?"
"Not to that degree," Paige told him, and relief crossed his face. "But," she went on, "he hasn't had the easiest life. After the first fires started, people started dismissing him as a troublemaker. He was alone, and scared, and he didn't know what was happening. No one was willing to give him a chance."
"You did," Henry pointed out.
"I've known Tyler for a few years, now," Paige told him. "He's a good kid. And, what happened before, it's not his fault. He didn't even know he was doing it."
"You've got no argument, here," Henry replied. "Frankly, I think you're pretty damn amazing, Paige." She shot him an incredulous look, and he laughed. "I mean it," he went on. "Not many people would do what you're doing."
"I can't do anything else," Paige said, quietly, smiling when Tyler laughed at something on the television. "I can't turn my back on him, Henry."
They were silent for a few minutes, eating dinner while they watched Tyler. The grin on the boy's face spread from ear to ear, and he looked happier and more relaxed than Paige had seen him in quite some time.
"How is he doing?" Henry asked, breaking the silence. "With the fire-starting, I mean?"
"Well, since we figured out what triggers his powers," Paige said, "we started doing a little practicing, last night."
"Is that what those little black marks all over the linoleum are?" Henry asked, looking down at the floor. "I just figured that it was another cooking experiment gone bad."
Paige reached over and smacked him on the arm, getting a wince in response.
"You hit like a girl," he muttered, even as he surreptitiously rubbed his sore shoulder.
"Those are scorch marks," Paige said, ignoring his jab. "Tyler practiced setting things on fire, and I got a lot of practice putting them out. It's probably not completely under control," she added, "not after a day, but at least we've got a chance to avoid starting any big fires."
Looking at the scorch marks, again, she added, ruefully, "Of course, this does mean that I've probably lost my security deposit."
"You know," Henry told her, "there are some people that we could take Tyler to. People who could help him control his powers."
"I don't want Tyler getting hurt," Paige protested, automatically. "How do you know that we can trust these people?"
"I know these women," Henry told her. "Sort of, anyway. And, they're good. They're not going to hurt Tyler, I promise."
"If you're sure," Paige said, hesitantly, and Henry nodded, decisively. "Saturday's my day off," she went on, "and Tyler doesn't have school. Does that work for you?"
"Saturday it is, then," Henry agreed.
"I remember you mentioning something about telling me how you knew about all of this," Paige reminded him, a few minutes later. "Because, it's not really something you can talk about openly, I'd imagine."
"I had a friend who taught me about magic," Henry admitted, after several long moments. "I was a little freaked out at first; I didn't know what to think. She – she brought me into her world and showed me how amazing it could be."
There was a sad smile on his face as he reminisced, and Paige had the feeling that it was far from being the whole story.
"This friend," she asked, gently, not wanting to press him too hard if the memories were painful.
"It's kind of complicated," Henry told her. "I thought, for a while, that I'd lost her, completely, but now I'm not so sure."
He trailed off, and Paige let the matter drop, not willing to press him about something that was obviously so painful. They finished eating in silence and then they went out into the living room and joined Tyler on the couch, on either side of the boy. They watched television for a while, sitting in companionable silence.
At one point, Paige stretched her arms out over her head, trying to ease an ache in her shoulders. Draping her arm across the back of the couch to let her muscles stretch out, she looked over in surprise when she bumped something with her hand. Henry had his own arm stretched out over the back of the couch as well, and he laughed when he realized what they'd done.
"Completely coincidental, I swear," he insisted, as Paige giggled. "I haven't deliberately made a move this lame since I was in high school."
"But, you have used it," Paige pointed out, still chuckling. "Did the girls you dated actually fall for it?"
"Of course," Henry said, quickly. "The girls found me irresistible, back then."
"Not this girl," Paige teased him.
But, she left her hand where it was, with Henry's fingers brushing lightly against the back of her hand. And when he twined their fingers together, she made no move to pull away.
She felt comfortable with Henry, in a way that she hadn't felt for a long time. It felt like she'd known him for years, like she could share anything with him. When she was with Henry, things just felt right. And that was both exhilarating and terrifying.
'Mostly exhilarating,' she thought, with a small smile, glancing over at Henry who was staring, rapt, at the television screen.
Finally, it was getting late, and Henry glanced at his watch in regret.
"I've got to go," he told her, and Paige nodded, reluctantly, surprised at how much she wanted him to stay.
"Thanks, again, for dinner," she said, instead, "I'd walk you to the door, but-"
She gestured ruefully to Tyler, who was slumped against her side after falling asleep nearly an hour ago. The boy was snoring, softly, and Paige didn't want to move for fear of waking him up.
"I can let myself out," Henry assured her.
He stood, moving around the back of the couch, and then to her surprise, he bent down and brushed a soft kiss over her cheek.
"What was that?" Paige asked, surprised, and Henry grinned.
"Me, taking a chance that you're not going to risk waking Tyler up by slapping me," he said, cheekily.
"Well, then I guess I owe you one," Paige told him.
"A slap, or a kiss?" Henry asked, cautiously, but Paige just smirked at him.
"I guess you'll just have to wait and see," she said, teasingly.
Henry left, leaving her and Tyler alone in the apartment. The sound of the television filled the small space, suddenly too loud, and Paige leaned forward to grab the remote off the table. But, it was just out of reach, and she sighed in frustration. She stretched forward to grab it, again, but she just couldn't reach it from where she was sitting, and she didn't want to move in case she woke Tyler up.
'Come on,' she thought, exasperated, as she reached out a third time.
Then, from out of nowhere, a puff of wind swept across the coffee table, knocking a stack of magazines to the floor. At the same time, the remote rocked back and forth on the table, and then to her amazement, it jumped into her hand. She stared in shock at the remote for several long seconds, and then grabbed the remote with her other hand, staring at the palm of her free hand, where the wind had come from. Numbly, she clicked the power button on the remote, plunging the apartment into silence.
"I – I'm losing my mind," she said, softly, overcome with the urge to run to the phone and call Henry, begging him to come back.
Tyler snorted, softly, in his sleep, and Paige looked down at the boy, shifting on the couch to a more comfortable position. Tyler having strange powers was one thing, and she had just started to come to terms with that, but she wasn't sure if she could deal with the same thing happening to her.
"I'm hallucinating," she said, slowly, testing the words out as she said them. "It's late, and I'm tired, and I imagined the entire thing."
But, there was no mistaking the evidence, the remote in her hand, and the magazines on the floor. And she wasn't really fooling herself, anyway.
She didn't know how long she sat there on the couch, staring at the dark television screen lost in thought. Her mind was whirling, thoughts swirling frantically like a maelstrom, and she couldn't settle on anything for more than a few seconds.
Finally, when she was too tired to try and keep her eyes open, she eased her way off of the couch, settling a pillow under Tyler's head as she stood up. She brushed a kiss across the boy's forehead with a soft murmur and pulled the blanket off the back of the couch to cover him, and then she made her way into her bedroom, one hand along the wall to keep her upright.
She fell into bed, still dressed in the clothes she'd been wearing all day. Closing her eyes, she tried to fall asleep, but she finally gave up and stared at the ceiling for the rest of the night. Finally, around dawn, she fell into a fitful sleep, her dreams haunted by fire and blood.
After a sleepless night that was over far too quickly, Paige woke up to the sound of her alarm clock squawking at her. She quickly slapped it off, before it could wake Tyler up, but from the sound of the snoring from the direction of the couch, he hadn't even been disturbed.
The light streaming in through the window was bright enough to give her a headache, and she was cursing herself for forgetting to close the blinds before she crashed, last night. She was still grumbling about the early morning, and the too-bright California sunshine, when she stepped in the shower, but then she groaned in pleasure when the hot water cascaded over her shoulders.
"God bless modern plumbing," she mumbled, pouring a generous blob of shampoo into her hands and working it into her hair.
She ducked back under the spray to rinse the suds out, and then she shrieked when the hot water suddenly turned cold. She jerked in shock at the sensation, feet slipping on the wet tile, but she caught herself before she could fall. Shampoo had gotten into her eyes while she was flailing around, making them sting, but before she could duck back under the water, a cold spray washed over her.
She instinctively tipped her head up, letting the water rinse her eyes out. When the soap was out of her eyes, she stepped away from the water and opened her eyes, staring in shock at the clouds that were hovering over the shower, raining cold water down into the stall.
'It's raining,' she thought, numbly, 'inside the apartment.'
The clouds, oblivious to her shock, were moving even closer, and she shuddered when she was doused with cold water, again. Keeping a wary eye on the clouds, just in case the light rain decided to turn into a full-blown storm or something, she reached behind her and blindly shut the shower off, leaving only the cold water to swirl down the drain.
Paige reached for the shower door, intending to step out and grab her towel, but she changed her mind when the cloud followed her, and she had a sudden image of the entire bathroom getting soaked. She tried to sneak past the cloud, trapping the rain in the shower, but it kept hovering almost directly over her head, keeping her cold and wet.
"This is ridiculous," she muttered, out loud, her voice filling the small space. "I'm trapped in my bathroom by a cloud."
The words, as unbelievable as they were, didn't change the reality of the situation, and Paige was starting to shiver from cold. Even the residual warmth from her shower couldn't combat the cold water raining down on her.
"Go away," she muttered, irritably, at the cloud.
She felt foolish talking to a cloud, but she was freezing and desperate, and at this point, she was willing to try anything. But, if anything, the rain only started coming down harder, and she scowled as the water got even colder.
"Why is this happening to me?" she groaned. 'Because I'm a witch,' she thought, a second later, but she had no idea where the thought had come from.
What she did know was that it was the truth. She didn't know where the term had come from; it certainly hadn't been in any of the books that she pored over while looking for answers on Tyler's powers. But, then, she hadn't exactly been looking back to medieval times for answers.
"I'm a witch," she said, out loud, testing the words, and they just felt right. "But, how does that help me, now?"
She knew she was getting worked up, and, as if in answer, the rain was only getting worse, and that gave her an idea.
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, trying to calm herself down, and to her amazement, the rain didn't seem to be coming down as hard as before. Not daring to open her eyes, in case she jinxed everything, she continued breathing slowly, pushing away the stress and worry that had been gnawing at her for the past couple of days.
When the water stopped raining down on top of her, she looked up in time to see the last wisps of the clouds disappearing. She heaved a sigh of relief, and then froze in case it made the clouds come back. But, the air above her remained clear, and she stepped out the shower to grab her towel.
After drying off and getting dressed, she went out into the living room, where Tyler was sitting on the couch with a bowl of cereal on the coffee table in front of him.
"Hey, Ty," she greeted the boy, and he looked up at her with a smile.
"Finally," he groused, but the smile indicated that he was teasing. "I thought you were going to be in there, forever. I had to go ask Henry if I could use his bathroom."
"Sorry about that," Paige apologized, sitting down beside him. "You were still asleep when I got up, and I didn't expect to take that long."
"That's okay," Tyler said, with a dismissive shrug. "Henry called it girl stuff and told me that I'd understand when I was older."
"Actually," Paige said, "it was more magical stuff." When Tyler looked at her in confusion, she elaborated, "I made it rain in the bathroom."
"Cool!" was Tyler's immediate reply, and she was happy to see that the news wasn't freaking him out. "Can you do it, again?" he asked, and Paige shook her head.
"Not in the middle of the living room," she said. "Besides, I don't even know how it started in the first place."
"That's so cool," Tyler gushed, not perturbed in the least by her lack of enthusiasm. "We can practice our powers, together!" Then, his face fell as he added, "At least, for as long as I get to stay here."
Paige had been thinking the same thing ever since the first night she'd taken Tyler home, and she'd felt much the same way. She hated the prospect of seeing Tyler leave, and she was glad to see that he seemed to feel the same way.
"What would you say," she asked, "about making this arrangement permanent?"
Tyler's eyes lit up as he stared at her in shock.
"You mean, I could stay here?" he asked, incredulously. "You want me to stay?"
"More than anything," Paige told him, and he lunged across the space between them, wrapping his arms around her in a crushing hug.
"No one's ever said they wanted me, before," he cried, into her shoulder, and she could feel his shoulders shaking as she hugged him back.
"I want you," she told him, firmly,
"Did you find the demon, yet?"
"Not yet," Prue answered, absently, trapping the cordless phone between her shoulder and jaw, keeping her hands free to flip through the Book of Shadows. "You said that they appeared in puffs of smoke?"
"Yeah," Piper told her. "In the middle of the alleyway, right after I chased the thief out of P3."
"You know, I don't remember this much info being in the Book," Prue muttered, absently, as she flipped more pages. Louder, she asked, "Your powers didn't have any affect?"
"Well, it pissed them off," Piper said, dryly. "Other than that, my powers didn't do a damn thing. They didn't freeze, and they certainly didn't blow up."
"Well, that's just great," Prue grumbled. "So, we have unknown demons running around San Francisco, and no way to vanquish them."
"Pretty much," Piper confirmed. "Oh, and one really freaked out Innocent. Although, I don't think he'll ever try to rob anything, ever again."
"What did you tell him?" Prue asked, curiously. "You didn't tell him the truth, did you?"
"God, no," Piper answered, snorting out a laugh. "No, I told him that they were my ex-boyfriend's crazy sisters, and they hated me and were going after the person they thought was my new boyfriend."
"And he bought that?" Prue asked, incredulously.
"Hook, line, and sinker," Piper told her. "And then I called Darryl and had the guy arrested for threatening my new bartender at gun point and robbing my club."
"So, except for the demons," Prue commented, "things turned out okay?"
"As well as anything could, anyway," Piper said. "But, you know what's been bothering me? I can't figure out why the demons were going after this Innocent."
"What do you mean?" Prue asked.
"According to Darryl," Piper told her, "this guy has a rap sheet as long as his arm. And demons don't usually go after bad guys."
"Maybe they were trying to recruit him?" Prue suggested.
"Not unless they do their recruiting at the business end of four-inch-long talons," Piper replied. "No, I think they were genuinely trying to kill him."
"Vigilante demons," Prue remarked, shaking her head in disbelief. "Now, I've seen everything."
"I just hope we can find them before they go after someone else," Piper said. "And that we don't need the Power of Three to vanquish them."
When she fell silent, Prue knew that Piper was thinking about their missing sister.
"Still nothing on Phoebe from Missing Persons?" she asked.
"Not even a little hint," Piper said, frustration evident in her voice.
"Well, we knew it was a long shot to begin with," Prue reminded her, and Piper sighed.
"I know," she said, quietly. "Darryl didn't have anything on Paige, either," she added, a moment later. "And, he said that he'd try to talk to that guy, Mitchell, who was with future-Paige, but he keeps missing him at work."
"So, basically, we're at a dead end," Prue said, now also frustrated. "You know, considering that we're two of the most powerful witches in the world, you think we'd have an easier time finding our own sisters."
A bright light caught her attention out of the corner of her eye, and she turned to see a swirl of orbs coalescing in the middle of the attic.
"Piper, I've got to go," she told her sister. "Gregory's orbing in."
"How did you know it was me?" the Whitelighter asked, obviously having overheard her last comment.
"Because if it was Leo," Prue pointed out, pressing the power button on the phone, "he'd have gone to see Piper, first."
"How is Piper after those demons attacked?" Gregory asked, concerned. "I could only stay long enough to heal the scratches on her cheek; I was called away by another charge before I could find out everything that had happened."
"She's fine," Prue assured him. "I just hope those talons weren't tipped in poison, or anything."
"Even if they were, I would have gotten it," Gregory told her. "I'm very thorough when I heal someone."
"Now I just have to find these demons," Prue said, turning her attention back to the Book.
"Catch me up," Gregory requested, leaning over her shoulder to look at the Book.
"Piper said that they smoked into the alley," Prue replied. "They had long talons and they were immune to Piper's powers."
"May I?" Gregory asked, gesturing to the Book.
As Prue stepped away to give him access, he flipped through the pages, looking for something.
"Most demons shimmer," he continued, glancing up at her. "Transporting themselves through smoke is pretty rare. Talons aren't all that common, either. Did Piper say anything else?"
"Just that one of the demons had the Innocent pinned to the ground," Prue told him. "She said that it looked like she was trying to bite him."
"Bite him," Gregory asked, sharply, "or breathe on him?"
"Do you recognize the demons?" Prue asked, picking up on the interested tone in his voice.
"They sound like Furies," he replied.
"The dog-faced women from Hell?" Prue asked, doubtfully, and the Whitelighter nodded.
"Well, a modern version, anyway," he amended. "Their MO is the same, though. They go after evil doers."
"Wouldn't that make them good?" Prue asked, but Gregory shook his head.
"They'll go after anyone," he told her. "They pursue shoplifters with the same zeal as they do demons." Then he stopped on a page in the Book, stabbing at it with his finger. "And here they are."
He moved aside so that Prue could read the entry, and her eyebrows flew up as she scanned the page.
"Talk about nasty," she muttered. "It says here that they exhale their smoke into their victims, causing them to burst into flames."
"Hell of a way to die," Gregory remarked. "Does it say how you're supposed to vanquish the Furies?"
"There's a potion," Prue told him. "It looks simple enough to make."
"Do you need any help?" Gregory offered, but Prue shook her head.
"Thanks, anyway, but I've got it," she told him, as she descended the stairs to the kitchen. "And, thanks, for everything you've done for us for the past few days. It must be hard trying to keep up with us in addition to your other charges."
"Yeah," Gregory said, a guilty look on his face as he drew the word out. "About that."
"What's wrong?" Prue demanded. "Don't the Elders think you're doing a good job?"
"It's nothing to do with that," Gregory replied. "It's just that, with Leo still missing, it's looking more and more like a long-term assignment. And it's not fair to either you two or my other charges to keep splitting my attention like I have been."
"You're a good Whitelighter," Prue protested, automatically.
"A good Whitelighter would have stuck around longer after healing Piper," Gregory pointed out. "I had to go after one of my other charges, and hope that Piper would have been able to call me if anything else went wrong. And I can't keep putting you both in danger like that. You're the Charmed Ones; you need a full-time Whitelighter."
"So, what?" Prue asked, an irritated tone in her voice. "The Elders are just going to assign us another Whitelighter? With our luck, it'll probably be another slave driver like Natalie. "
"Natalie just had a hard time relating to her charges," Gregory said, in defense of his fallen comrade. "But, if this new Whitelighter is some kind of hard-ass, give me a call, and I'll try to talk the Elders around."
"You don't know who our new Whitelighter is?" Prue asked, and Gregory shook his head.
"No idea," he replied. "Your new Whitelighter probably doesn't even know about you two, yet. We don't get a lot of advance notice when we're assigned charges."
"I'm surprised they assigned you to us in the first place," Prue commented, "since you said that Leo was your mentor and taught you everything you know."
"I think they figured that I was one of the few Whitelighters you'd actually be able to work with," Gregory told her. "And, trust me, it was a short list."
"I think I'll take that as a compliment," Prue decided, after thinking about it for a moment.
"Anyway," Gregory said, chuckling, "your new Whitelighter should be here at any moment-"
He trailed off when a swirl of lights appeared in the kitchen, stepping back to give the other Whitelighter room to form. Prue waited for the lights to clear, and then her jaw dropped in amazement.
"Andy?" she demanded in shock, and her former boyfriend smiled at her.
"Hey, Prue," he greeted.
"Hey, Prue," Andy greeted her, as she moved forward and pulled him into a hard hug. "How've you been?"
"You've been dead for two years, and that's all you can say?" Prue asked, but she was smiling as she pulled away from him.
"How about, 'it's good to see you,'?" he tried again.
"Better," Prue told him.
"I take it you two know each other?" Gregory asked, curiously. When Prue nodded, he continued, "then I'll leave you two alone. Good luck, Prue; tell Piper I said good-bye, will you?"
"Sure," Prue told him. "And, thanks, again, for all your help."
Gregory orbed out, leaving her alone with Andy in the kitchen. Prue could have spent the rest of the day just staring at him, but she still had things to do.
"So, you're a Whitelighter, now?" she asked, turning her attention back to the potion she'd been working on.
"After I died," Andy told her, "I was given a choice. I could move on, or I could become a Whitelighter and continue helping people. I made my choice, and I never looked back."
"Leo never told us any of this," Prue said, but Andy shook his head, quickly.
"He didn't know," he told her. "He wasn't allowed, since he was so close to you three."
"Well, then how did you convince the Elders to let you be our Whitelighter?" Prue asked. "I mean, if they didn't want us to know that you were still around, why assign you to us?"
"They didn't have a whole lot of choices," Andy replied. "And they needed someone who would not only work well with you three, but with Leo, as well. Apparently my posting is going to be permanent, even after Leo comes back."
"Two Whitelighters?" Prue asked, and Andy nodded.
"The attack by Shax was a wake-up call," he told her. "The Elders realized just how close they came to losing the Charmed Ones, and that's a risk they can't afford to take."
"Well, good for them to realize that," Prue replied, "but without Phoebe, we still don't have the Charmed Ones. Have they thought about that?"
"They're working on it," Andy assured her, quickly. "But, they also want to make sure that nothing happens to you or Piper, in the meantime."
Prue just nodded, working quietly on the potion to vanquish the Furies, and out of the corner of her eye, she could see a worried expression on Andy's face.
"You're okay with this, right?" he asked. "Me being your Whitelighter, I mean? Because if you're not, then I could ask the Elders for reassignment."
"No!" Prue said, quickly, and the worried look disappeared from his face. "No," she repeated. "I just – I hate feeling helpless. I hate knowing that Phoebe and Paige are out there, somewhere, and we can't find them. They're my sisters, and they could in danger, and I can't do anything about it!"
The kitchen was plunged into silence as she finished, and she realized that she'd been shouting. She looked at Andy, who had a sympathetic look on his face.
"You're not helpless," he told her. "Far from it. Prue, you're one of the most capable women I've ever known. If anyone is going to figure this out, it's going to be you. I just know it."
"Thanks," Prue said, smiling at him.
She returned to the potion, turning the stove on and setting the saucepan over the flames. As she stirred the potion, she eyed it critically as she waited for it to boil.
"I heard a rumor Up There," Andy told her, watching her work. "Paige from the future, the one who was killed by Shax? Apparently, she disappeared. Or, rather, her soul did."
"What do you mean, disappeared?" Prue asked. "Do you mean that there are two versions of my younger sister running around? One living and one dead?"
"I don't know," Andy admitted. "But, from what I heard, one of the Angels of Death was escorting her soul to the afterlife when she just stopped and told him that she wasn't going to go."
"That sounds like something that a Halliwell would do," Prue remarked, feeling a spark of pride for the younger sister she had yet to meet.
"Then," Andy went on, "she just disappeared. Death couldn't find her, anywhere."
"Which brings me back to my original question," Prue said. "Are there two versions of Paige running around out there?"
"One of the Elders told me about what they did with the man who came back with her," Andy said, rather than giving her a yes or no answer. "They couldn't have two of the same person running around, so a couple of the more sympathetic Elders merged his future soul with his current one. They essentially updated him with memories of a future that's not going to happen, anymore."
"What, exactly, are you getting at?" Prue asked.
"They think the same thing might have happened to Paige," Andy told her.
"You mean that Paige might have-" Prue trailed off, unsure of what she was trying to say, but Andy got it, anyway.
"She might have intentionally updated herself," he finished for her. "And if she's got even some of her memories of the future, then she's not likely to be as helpless as you might think."
"I'm liking this girl more and more," Prue said, grinning. "It sounds like she's going to fit right in with this family."
The sound of the doorbell had her looking up toward the doorway, and she turned the stove down to a simmer before leaving the kitchen. Andy trailed her out to the foyer, but he paused before she could open the front door.
"I should probably get out of here," he said, quickly. "Seeing as how I'm supposed to be dead, and all."
"It's just Darryl," Prue told him, checking the peephole.
"Then, I should definitely get out of here," Andy decided.
"Darryl knows everything," Prue assured him. "Trust me, he'll be just as happy to see you as I was."
So saying, she threw the front door open and stepped aside before Darryl could even say hello, giving him a clear view of his former partner. In the doorway, Darryl was staring at Andy in shock, his mouth moving, soundlessly as he tried to force words out. He looked quickly from Andy to her, as though trying to figure out if he was hallucinating, and Prue just nodded in confirmation.
"Hey, Darryl," Andy greeted, coming forward. "How've you been?"
"I've been good," Darryl said, faintly, moving into the foyer so that Prue could shut the door behind him. "You?"
"Dead, mostly," Andy said, grinning. "But, that got old, fast, so-"
"He's a Whitelighter," Prue interrupted, taking pity on Darryl. "He was assigned to us while Leo is still missing."
"Just when I thought I'd seen everything," Darryl said, shaking his head in amazement.
Then, laughing, he stepped forward and pulled Andy into a quick hug. Prue hid a grin behind her hand when she saw them thump each other on the back like jocks in a locker room.
"So, what's going on, Darryl?" she asked, as the men separated. "Did you find anything out about Phoebe or Paige?"
"Paige," Darryl told her, as he and Andy followed her back into the kitchen. "Child Protective Services turned up a record of a female infant left at a church twenty-five years ago. August second, to be specific."
"Which church?" Prue asked, her attention on the herbs she was carefully chopping up.
"Saint Anthony's," Darryl answered. "At seventeen-twenty-three Oakland Street."
"And you're sure that this baby was Paige?" Prue asked him.
"According to the CPS report, the nun who called it in told the officers that the baby was given to her by angels," Darryl said. "Angels who appeared in bright white lights. Sound familiar?"
"Oh, yeah?" Prue muttered. "I don't suppose you have a current address for Paige, or even a last name?"
"I'm still trying to convince CPS to release those records," Darryl said. "Problem is, everything was sealed, and they're being very reluctant to unseal the adoption records."
Prue sighed in frustration. "At least this is more than we had, this morning," she said, trying to look for a bright side to the situation.
Adding the herbs to the still-simmering potion, she grabbed a ginger root and placed it on the cutting board.
"Are you making a potion, or baking cookies?" Darryl joked, and Prue shot him a withering look.
"Do you want to vanquish the demons?" she asked, and then she hissed in pain as the knife slipped on the root, slicing into her finger. "Damn it," she muttered, grabbing for a towel to stop the bleeding.
"Let me look at it," Andy said, reaching for her hand.
"Did I bleed in the vanquishing potion?" Prue asked, craning her head over to peer at the saucepan.
"Better hope not," Darryl said, jokingly. "You might vanquish yourself or Piper, by accident."
Prue froze at his words, and then she jerked her hand out of Andy's grip before he could heal her finger.
"Darryl, you're a genius," she crowed, running for the stairs.
"What did I say?" Darryl asked, but she was too busy to answer him.
Entering the attic, she headed for the map and scrying crystal that were still laid out on the floor where they'd been for the last four days. A nudge with her power had the crystal flying through the air towards her and she grabbed it with her good hand.
Unwrapping the towel from around her cut finger, she let a few drops of blood fall onto the crystal, staining the clear surface. The blood was still clinging to the crystal as she dropped to the floor beside the map, dangling the crystal over the surface.
"Come on, come on," she muttered, concentrating as the crystal started moving slowly over the surface of the map. "Please, let this work."
"What are you doing?" Andy asked, as he and Darryl stopped beside her.
"Phoebe and Paige aren't just witches," Prue pointed out, her eyes fixed on the map. "They're my sisters. We share blood."
"And if you scry with that blood," Andy said, catching on, "you might find them. Or, one of them, anyway."
"Exactly," Prue said, satisfied.
The crystal dropped a few seconds later, but she shook her head before either of the men could get excited.
"That's P3," she said, setting the crystal to searching, again. "Piper's still there, and the crystal homed in on her."
The crystal found Piper two more times, and Prue was starting to get frustrated. Then, finally, the crystal dropped onto a new location, and she moved it to see where it had landed.
"Hey, Darryl," she asked, "what did you say that church's address was?"
"Oakland and eighteenth," the man answered.
"Anyone want to guess where this crystal just landed?" Prue asked, rhetorically. Not waiting for an answer, she grabbed the phone and dialed Piper's cell. "Piper, I found her. I found Paige."
Looking furtively around her to make sure no one was watching her, Paige placed a single sheet of paper in the center of her desk. Then, holding her hand out, she bit her lip as she focused on making the paper move.
She had no idea if she could do it, again, but after last night's incident with the remote, and then the shower incident earlier that morning, she knew she couldn't risk her newfound powers getting out of control. The last thing she needed was to create a storm in the middle of the office.
'Come here,' she thought, focusing on the paper.
For a few seconds, nothing happened, but then the paper shuddered on the desk. She concentrated harder, but the paper didn't move any more. Instead, her pencil cup tipped over, suddenly, pens rolling across the surface of her desk. One was rolling toward the edge of the desk, and she focused on it, a tiny furrow appearing on her forehead as she glared at the pen.
The pen had just started to fall when it seemed to jump in mid-air, flipping around on the puff of wind that left her hand. The pen shot back toward her and she caught it before it could hit her, grinning in triumph.
"I did it," she said, in satisfaction.
Granted, it was only moving one pen, and even that was probably a fluke, but it was still a step in the right direction. And now she knew how Tyler had felt when he'd been able to light a candle wick during their practice.
She kept up the practice while she worked, and after nearly an hour of effort, she managed to finally make the piece of paper float a few inches above her desk. Of course, she had a major headache to show for all of her effort, but she dug through her purse for the bottle of ibuprofen she kept there, downing the pills with the bottle of water she kept on her desk.
"Matthews!" Cowan bellowed, suddenly. "My office!"
Paige flinched as her boss's voice carried across the room, people looking over at her in its wake. Filing away the application she'd been working on, she stood and headed for Cowan's office.
"Shut the door," he said, not looking up from the stack of paper on his desk. "Have a seat."
"Is something wrong?" she asked, carefully, taking the seat he'd indicated across the desk.
"There's a problem with your request to adopt Tyler Martin," he said, without preamble, and Paige found her heart sinking.
"What is it?" she asked, dreading the answer. "Is it because I'm single? Because I work odd hours? Half the staff here works crazy shifts."
"It's nothing to do with you, Paige," Cowan assured her, which only confused her more.
"Well, then why would there be a problem with my application?" she asked. "There wasn't a problem with the temporary placement; why would a permanent placement cause trouble?"
"Tyler's biological parents showed up," Cowan told her, obviously seeing no other way to soften the blow.
"What?" Paige demanded, not sure if she'd heard the older man correctly. "You're telling me that, after nine years, these people show up out of the blue, and what? What could they possibly want?"
"They want to take Tyler back," Cowan said, and Paige blinked, in shock.
"They can't," she protested, automatically.
"Paige, they're his parents," Cowan retorted. "They want their son to come home."
But, Paige shook her head at his words, taking a deep breath to try and calm herself before she spoke.
"You and I both know that's a load of bull," she snapped. "His parents abandoned him when he was three years old, left him wandering around Chinatown for a day before someone found him. They certainly didn't want him then; why the hell would they want him, now?"
"I don't know," Cowan told her.
"You're not seriously going to let these people take Tyler, are you?" Paige demanded, cutting him off. "He can't go back to them."
"I'm trying," Cowan told her. "Believe me, Paige, I'm doing everything I can to block this."
"But?" Paige prompted, sensing that there was more to be said.
"But, the final decision isn't up to me," he said, gently. "And, they're appealing their case to a judge in two hours."
"I want to be there," Paige said, immediately, but Cowan shook his head.
"You're too close to this," he said. "I'll handle this, Paige. And I'll call you when it's over."
"So, what am I supposed to do?" Paige protested, weakly. "Just sit around and wait to hear if I've lost my son?"
"Get out of the office for a while," Cowan told her. "Go with Maggie Carter and Adam O'Brian to that boarding school interview. It'll be a good experience for when you're flying solo."
Paige nodded, wordlessly, leaving the office and heading for her desk. Maggie was waiting for her by her desk, and from the sympathetic look the other woman shot her, Paige was pretty sure that her conversation with Cowan had already made it around the office. The downside to working in such a small environment; nothing stayed private for very long.
"You okay?" Maggie asked, quietly, and Paige jerked her shoulder in a shrug.
"I don't know," she admitted, sighing. "I just want to keep busy until I know for sure how things stand."
Thankfully, Maggie took the hint, and they went out into the parking lot. Paige followed Maggie in her car, and, after picking Adam O'Brian up from school, they made it to the boarding school with nearly fifteen minutes before the interview.
The interview was fairly lengthy, and Paige tried her best to concentrate on the proceedings. She knew she participated, answering the headmaster's questions about Adam, but for the life of her, she had no idea what she'd said. All she could think about was the impending court case, and whether she was going to lose Tyler before she'd even gotten a chance to really know him.
Finally, the interview was over, and Maggie was grinning ear to ear as they left, Adam's admittance papers in her hand. The boy was beaming as well, and Paige pushed her black thoughts to the back of her mind, forcing a smile onto her face when they both looked at her.
"Congrats," she told Adam, who looked so happy that he could fly.
"Are you coming back to the office?" Maggie asked, as they reached their cars.
"I'm going to take an early lunch," Paige told the other woman, opening her door. "Take some time to think about things."
"Where are you going?" Maggie asked, curiously.
"Church," Paige told her. "I'll see you back at work."
Saint Anthony's was just as she remembered, as she pulled into the parking lot. The gargoyles out front had weathered with time, and she remembered how much they used to scare her when she was young. She'd absolutely refused, for a time, to even go near the church, convinced that the gargoyles were really monsters that were going to eat her.
Now, she couldn't help but smile at the almost comical expressions on their stone faces. The creatures weren't nearly so frightening now that she was older.
Inside, the church was almost empty, save for a single nun tending to the candles on the altar.
"Excuse me?" Paige asked, approaching the older woman. "I'm looking for a Sister Agnes?"
"I'm Sister Agnes," the woman told her, turning around, and Paige found herself looking at an elegant woman in her fifties. "Can I help you?"
"I hope so," Paige said, fervently. "My name is Paige Matthews."
"I'm sorry," Sister Agnes said, a confused look on her face. "I don't think we've met."
"Well, we have, but it's been a few years," Paige said, apologetically. "Does August second, nineteen-seventy-seven ring any bells?"
She'd been expecting a reaction, but not the one she got. Sister Agnes gasped, her hand flying to her mouth as she stared at Paige. Tears filled her eyes and she reached out and grabbed Paige's hands.
"Oh, my dear," she said, smiling. "I've been waiting so long for you to come back."
"Waiting for me?" Paige asked, confused. "Sister, I didn't even know that I was coming here until a few minutes ago."
"I knew you'd be coming back here, one day," Sister Agnes told her. "I knew you'd have questions. And your parents wanted me to be able to answer them, for you."
"My parents?" Paige echoed.
"The ones who left you here, twenty-five years ago," Sister Agnes said. "The angels."
"Angels?" Paige asked, feeling like she was getting nowhere. Every question just served to make her more and more confused.
"Your adoptive parents were amazing people," Sister Agnes said. "But, you come from angels."
"You'll forgive me if I find all of this a little hard to believe," Paige said, stunned.
"You came here for answers, didn't you?" Sister Agnes asked. "To find out who you really are?"
"Honestly," Paige told the other woman, "I don't really know what I was expecting when I came here."
"Come with me," Sister Agnes said, taking her by the arm and leading her back to the office. "There's something I have to show you."
Opening a file cabinet by the window, Sister Agnes pulled a pink bundle out of one of the drawers. When she turned around, Paige saw that she was holding a baby blanket.
"You were wrapped in this when they brought you to me," Sister Agnes told her, handing over the blanket.
Unwrapping it, Paige draped the soft fleece over her arm, tracing over the embroidered P in the corner with a shaky hand.
"They wanted your name to start with a P," Sister Agnes said, quietly.
"They," Paige echoed. "You mean the angels?"
"They appeared in a swirl of bright, white lights," Sister Agnes said. "Your mother was holding you in her arms, and they were so scared."
"Why?" Paige asked, concerned. "Were they in trouble?"
"They said that you were in grave danger," Sister Agnes went on. "That the only way to protect you was to give you up. That they had no other choice."
"Wow," Paige said, quietly, as she tried to absorb everything that Sister Agnes had told her. "Did – did they say anything else?"
"Just how much they loved you," Sister Agnes told her. The phone rang, then, and she gave Paige an apologetic smile. "I have to get this."
"Of course," Paige said, quickly. "I'm sorry I kept you from your work. Thank you for everything that you've told me."
Leaving Sister Agnes to her phone call, Paige went out into the main part of the church. She sank down into a pew, wrapping her arms around the blanket as she stared off into the distance. The candles on the altar had all been lit, and the pinpoints of flame were almost mesmerizing.
"Angels," she muttered, not really believing the words that were leaving her mouth. "My birth parents are angels."
'Whitelighter.' The word seemed to echo through her mind, although she had no idea where she'd heard it.
"Half-Whitelighter, and half-witch," she said, testing the words. They sounded right, even though she didn't know what all of it meant.
She groaned, dropping her head into her hands. She could feel the beginnings of a headache starting, and she was starting to wonder if coming to the church had been a good idea. The last thing she needed was more stress on top of everything else going on right now.
'I just want to figure out what's going on,' she thought, looking back up at the empty church. 'I just want some answers to all of this.'
Predictably, the empty church offered no answers. Suddenly restless, Paige stood, still clutching the blanket to her chest. She paced down the aisle toward the door, intending to just go back to work. If she was going to be distracted, she might as well be at the office, where she at least had a chance of getting stuff done.
But, she was stopped halfway there when the door opened and two women entered the church. The first woman, tall with short, dark hair, was completely unfamiliar, but the second woman sparked recognition when Paige saw her.
She was sure that she'd never seen this woman, before, but at the same time, she knew this woman as well as she knew herself. Knew that she had a husband and children that she loved, that she was fiercely protective of her family, that she was a force to be reckoned with.
This woman, this stranger, was her sister.
The women headed for her when they saw her, and Paige froze as they got closer.
"Paige Matthews?" the first woman asked, but Paige wasn't paying attention to her.
Instead, she looked past her to the other woman, the one who was so familiar.
"Piper?" she asked, incredulously.
"Are you sure that we're going to find Paige at this church?" Piper asked, as she navigated the busy streets.
Prue had orbed to the club with Andy, after she'd gotten off the phone with Piper, and after a brief but joyful reunion between herself and the Whitelighter, she and Prue had left to go to the church. Andy had returned to the Manor to look through the Book of Shadows for any further leads on the Furies.
"That's where the crystal landed," Prue protested, defending her scrying skills. "What, don't you want to finally meet Paige?"
"Well, what are we supposed to say to this girl?" Piper demanded. "Hey, guess what, we're your sisters, and, oh by the way, we're witches?"
"We should probably ease into that last part," Prue said, and Piper shot her an incredulous look.
"You think?" she muttered.
"What's wrong?" Prue asked, obviously concerned.
"We've been so busy trying to find Paige," Piper admitted, "that we haven't really had a chance to sit down and talk about it."
"You mean trying to fit a new sister into our lives?" Prue guessed, and Piper nodded.
"Exactly," she said. "We don't even have our whole family back together, and we're looking to bring someone new into the mix? This is turning our lives upside down. And it's not just ours. What if Paige doesn't even want sisters?"
"Future Paige must have," Prue pointed out. "She came back in time and died to save our lives."
"Yeah, but who knows what we've done to change things," Piper said. "What if she doesn't even like us?"
"What's not to like?" Prue asked, rhetorically. "We're here," she added, unnecessarily, as Piper pulled into the church parking lot.
But, Piper took the hint and stopped freaking out. At least out loud, where Prue couldn't hear her. As they entered the church, Prue glanced up at the gargoyles and shuddered.
"Creepy," she explained, when Piper looked at her in surprise. "Those things have always freaked me out."
Inside the church, the large space was empty expect for a woman sitting halfway up the aisle, her head buried in her hands. Even as they started down the aisle toward her, the woman stood and started walking toward the doors. Then, she stopped, staring at them with a shocked look on her face.
"Paige Matthews?" Prue asked, when they reached the woman.
But, the young woman wasn't paying attention to Prue, staring at Piper, instead, like she was seeing a ghost.
"Piper?" she whispered, incredulously.
"Maybe we won't have so much to explain?" Prue suggested, optimistically. To Paige, she added, "I'm Prue Halliwell. This is my sister, Piper."
"I – I know," Paige stammered, still staring at them in shock. "But, I don't know how I know that. Oh, God, I really am going crazy."
"You're not crazy," Piper spoke up, quickly, remembering what Prue had told her about Paige potentially having memories of the future. "But, you probably are really confused."
"That's an understatement," Paige muttered, sinking down into the nearest pew and dropping her head into her hands, again. She was silent for so long that Piper was starting to get worried, but then she looked up at them, biting her lip, nervously. "Are you really my sisters?" she asked, quietly. "I didn't just make that up in my head?"
"Us, and our other sister, Phoebe," Piper assured her, and a distinctly relieved look flashed across the younger woman's face.
"And witches are real?" Paige pressed, insistently. "And Whitelighters, whatever they are?"
"Whitelighters are kind of like guardian angels," Prue said. "And, yeah, witches are real. We think you might be one."
"Well, at least I know I'm not nuts," Paige said, weakly.
"You're not crazy," Piper repeated, firmly.
"It's just," Paige went on, "I've got all these strange thoughts in my head, all these memories, and I shouldn't know any of this stuff!"
Her voice cracked on the last word, and Piper wondered how long she'd been holding everything in. She remembered how confusing the whole magic thing had been when she'd first found out, and she'd had two sisters and the Book of Shadows to help her out. It sounded like Paige didn't have anyone to really confide in, and Piper wondered how she was managing to keep from going crazy.
"There's actually an explanation for the weird memories, too," Prue spoke up, and Piper shot her an incredulous look.
"Are you sure this is a good idea?" she muttered, knowing what Prue was about to lay on the younger woman.
Magic was one thing, but finding out that time travel was real, and that a future version of herself had died, and it was her memories that Paige was experiencing was probably too much for anyone to handle, no matter how strong she was.
"What is it?" Paige asked, impatiently. "Some kind of magical schizophrenia? Am I seeing some sort of past life?" she added, sarcastically.
"Future life, actually," Prue told her, and Paige's jaw dropped.
"Excuse me?" she demanded.
"All these strange thoughts and memories started about three days ago, right?" Piper asked, figuring that if Prue was going to spill the beans, she might as well help her.
"Yeah," Paige said, cautiously. "And they've been getting more frequent every day since."
"Four days ago," Prue continued, picking up the thread, "Piper and I were attacked by a demon-"
"Demon?" Paige echoed, a slightly panicked look in her eyes. "Like hellfire and brimstone demons?"
"We'll get to that," Prue told her. "Anyway, Piper and I were attacked by a demon, and we were saved by another witch. Specifically, you. From the future."
"Are you sure that insanity doesn't run in our family?" Paige joked, weakly, her face pale and her hands shaking.
"Well, that's never been conclusively proven," Piper muttered, and Prue elbowed her in the side, hard.
"So, future-me came back to the past," Paige said, clearly trying to wrap her mind around the concept. "And I – or, she, rather – fought a demon?"
"Saved our lives," Prue pointed out.
"Does that mean that there's another me running around?" Paige asked.
"Um," Prue hesitated, and it was clear that she didn't quite know how to phrase the next part. "Not really."
"Then, what, really?" Paige demanded.
The shaky, hesitant tone was gone from her voice, to be replaced by the steely tone that Piper had heard Prue use with demons, telemarketers, and repairmen who'd just given them bad news. Under the fear and confusion was clearly a tough, capable woman, and it was clear that she was going to fit in just fine with the rest of the Halliwell family.
"Future Paige kind of died," Piper said, and Paige fell back against the pew, staring off into space.
"Died?" she echoed.
"And then her spirit disappeared and we think that maybe it kind of merged with yours," Piper continued, quickly, before Paige could get too caught up in the dying part. "And that would explain the weird memories. It's a future life you've been seeing."
She and Prue waited breathlessly for Paige's reaction, wondering if the knowledge was enough to give the woman the breakdown she'd obviously been hovering on for some time. Paige, for her part, was still staring at the front of the church, seemingly mesmerized by the row of candles on the altar.
Then, slowly, she held her hand out in front of her.
"Candle," she said, quietly, and then she gave a weak laugh when nothing happened. "I don't know why I expected that to work," she went on, still not looking over at Piper and Prue. "I mean, things are bound to be different, right?"
"Probably," Prue said, exchanging a look with Piper as they tried to figure out what she was talking about.
"But, maybe," Paige continued, and then she trailed off as she held her hand out toward the row of candles, again.
A line furrowed in the center of her forehead, and she bit her lip in concentration.
"Come on," Piper heard her mutter to herself. "This is just like that piece of paper."
Then, she yelped in panic when a bolt of lightning shot out of her hand to strike the candle. The candle was obliterated in a puff of smoke, and Paige stared at her empty hand in shock.
"That wasn't supposed to happen," she said, weakly, while Piper and Prue stared at her in amazement. "That was just supposed to be wind," she explained, and it was clear that she was trying not to squirm under their incredulous gazes. "I wasn't supposed to kill the candle."
"Well, that's something you and Piper have in common," Prue said, clearly at a loss for anything else to say. "Her powers are out of control, too."
"They are not," Piper protested, and Prue gave her a withering look.
"Did you, or did you not, blow up the coffee maker, this morning?" she asked, pointedly.
"Maybe," Piper muttered, sheepishly.
"If it makes you feel any better," Paige spoke up, "I made it rain in the bathroom, this morning." Then, the full impact of what she'd said hit her, and she gave a weak chuckle. "God, is this what all of our conversations are going to sound like, from now on?"
"Yeah, we're not exactly normal," Piper told her. "Although, I gotta say, electricity is a pretty cool power."
"I think I'd rather just make it rain, if it's all the same to you," Paige joked, nervously.
"Are you okay?" Prue asked, worriedly. "Believe me, I know how hard it can be to try and take all of this in."
"I think I can handle it," Paige told them. "I mean, I did once, right?" she added, her voice growing stronger with resolve. "Or, will – is time travel always this confusing?"
"Always," Piper replied.
"Is that supposed to be reassuring?" Paige muttered. "Hopefully you're better at it by the time you have kids." She froze, clearly thinking over what she'd just said, and then she added, "I have no idea where that came from."
"Maybe more future knowledge?" Prue suggested, and Paige groaned.
"That's going to get old real fast," she decided.
When her phone rang, suddenly, in the quiet space, all three of them jumped at the sound. Then, Paige pulled her phone out of her pocket and quickly checked the display.
"I need to take this," she said, brusquely, and then she walked up to the altar, flipping her phone opening and answering as she moved.
Piper couldn't hear what she was saying, but it was clear that Paige was agitated. She was pacing in front of the altar, her hands moving restlessly while she kept the phone trapped between her ear and shoulder. Her gestures were becoming more erratic, more emphatic, the longer she talked to the person on the other end of the line, and Piper was starting to get worried about her younger sister.
The feeling only intensified when she looked closer and realized that tiny sparks were jumping off of Paige's skin and weaving through her long hair, making the air around her shimmer with electricity. Piper nudged Prue to get her attention, but she was already staring at Paige, her jaw dropping in shock.
"She's throwing off sparks of lightning," Prue finally managed, and Piper was impressed. It took a lot to stun her older sister into speechlessness.
Suddenly, Paige slammed her phone shut with a curse that carried clearly across the space to where they were sitting, and a surge of electricity gathered in her clenched fists, blinding them with its brightness, even from across the room.
When the light faded, Paige was staring down at her hands in dismay, and at the smoking remains of her phone. She started slowly back towards them, and Piper could see tear tracks streaking down her face that she was trying unsuccessfully to scrub away with her free hand.
"Paige, are you okay?" she asked, cautiously, and Paige just shook her head, wordlessly.
"I'm fostering this boy," she said, softly, as she sat down. "And then his birth parents – or at least people claiming to be – waltzed back into the picture and they're taking him away."
"Oh, honey, I'm so sorry," Piper told her.
"It's just, I don't understand how the judge could agree to let him go back with those people," Paige went on, her voice choked up with emotion. "They never wanted him; they abandoned him without a second thought. How could they just come back and –"
Her voice cracked as tears filled her eyes, and Piper reached out automatically to wrap her arms around her sister in a hug. Paige resisted for a second, but then she leaned into the embrace, burying her face into Piper's shoulder as she shook with silent sobs.
When she finally pulled away she was calmer, but her face was red with embarrassment.
"Sorry," she muttered. "I don't usually break down like that around people."
"We're not people," Piper told her. "We're your sisters."
"Thanks," Paige told her. Sighing heavily, she added, "I just wish I knew what I was going to do about this thing with Tyler's parents."
"We could always vanquish them for you," Prue suggested, getting a weak chuckle out of Paige.
"I should probably stick with more legal means, right now," she replied. Then she glanced at her watch and her eyes widened. "I have to get back to work before I get fired."
"Are you sure you're okay to drive?" Piper asked.
"I'm fine," Paige sighed. "But, I just have to get out of here, right now. Get too busy to think about things."
She'd started up the aisle, but stopped when the doors flew open, a shadow of a man standing in the doorway. As the man started toward them, Piper saw fireballs forming in each of his hands, and she started to yell a warning.
Then, a high-pitched, unending scream filled the air, drowning everything else out…
"What the hell is that?" Piper cried, clapping her hands over her ears as the unearthly scream went on and on. Ahead of her, Paige was clinging to the pew to keep from falling to the ground.
The demon who'd entered the church was writhing on the ground, his face screwed up in a rictus of pain. He'd collapsed as soon as the screaming had started, and there was blood pouring from his nose and eyes.
"The gargoyles," Paige gritted out, forcing herself to stay on her feet. "They come alive in the presence of evil."
"Handy bit of information," a new voice spoke up. "Saves us the trouble of tracking our prey."
"What the hell?" Prue muttered, staring at the trio of scantily-dressed women that had entered the church, stalking toward the downed demon.
"Those would be the Furies," Piper told her, in an undertone. "But, why aren't they being affected by the gargoyles?"
"We're not evil," the lead Fury spoke up, clearly having heard her comment. "Consider us to be neutral parties, if you will."
"You're here after him," Piper guessed, nodding at the demon, who was staring up at the Furies in fear, frozen from the combined powers of the gargoyles and the Furies' influence.
"The vanquish is ours," another Fury growled, glaring at them. "We don't need witches interfering with our business."
"Kill all the demons you want," Piper told them. "We've got no problems with fewer demons in the world. But, stay away from the humans."
"We hunt evil," the first Fury said. "No matter what form it takes."
"You can't hunt humans," Prue argued. "We've got laws to deal with human evil."
"Your mortal laws are weak and useless," the second Fury sneered. "Our process is much more efficient."
So saying, the trio stepped forward, toward the demon. Even as he tried to get away, the lead Fury grabbed his head in her hands, breathing on his face. The demon choked on the smoke that entered his mouth and nose, and then, while the Furies stepped back, the demon burst into flames, leaving only charred ashes behind.
Piper paled at the thought of what that would have done to the Innocent she'd saved, earlier. Beside her, Prue was glaring at the Furies, her hands clenched into fists to keep herself from attacking the trio. One her other side was Paige, and Piper snuck a look over at the younger woman, expecting to see panic and fear.
Instead, there was a determined look fixed firmly on her face, her eyes hard as she stared the lead Fury down. She didn't look as if any of this was surprising her, and Piper wondered if more of those future memories were coming into play.
"You are not judge, jury and executioner," Prue declared, suddenly, getting the Furies' attention. "And if you try to go after any more humans, we will vanquish you."
"I'd like to see you try," the lead Fury began, but then the third one, the one who'd been silent since they'd entered the church, stepped forward to look at them.
"The middle one," she said, nodding at Piper. "She's the one who stole our prey from us this morning, sister."
"Really," the lead Fury said, her eyes sharpening with interest. "Then we have a score to settle with you, witch."
"You'll have to go through us, first," Prue growled, and Paige nodded in agreement, stepping forward with Prue to block Piper from the Furies.
"Sounds fine to me," the lead Fury said, and then she and her sisters lunged at them.
Piper snapped her hands out, instinctively, as the leader of the Furies came at her. She knew that her powers weren't likely to be any more effective than they had been, before, but she was hoping to at least catch the Fury off guard.
Unfortunately, her powers were malfunctioning, again, and all she managed to do was blow up a section of the pew. The Fury smirked at her, advancing on her with her talons extended, and Piper switched tactics, trying to freeze the Fury, instead. That worked about as well as her last attempt.
She dodged the viciously sharp talons that swiped at her face, but then the Fury managed to knock her to the ground, her hand at Piper's throat as she pinned her to the floor. Piper stared up at the Fury looming over her, and then something crashed into the Fury's face, sending the demon flying backward.
"Keep your hands off my sister, you bitch," Paige snarled, a heavy silver candle holder clutched in her hands like a weapon.
"Spunky one, aren't you?" the Fury taunted, getting to her feet. "Be a pity to have to kill you."
"You can try," Paige retorted, challengingly.
The Fury came at them, again, ducking the candle holder that Paige swung at her head and seizing Paige's wrist in a crushing grip. Piper clubbed the Fury with her clenched fists, not willing to risk using her powers when she could hurt Paige, instead, but the Fury just shrugged off the blow.
With her free hand, she backhanded Piper, sending her flying up the aisle to crash, heavily into the ground. Prue, who was fighting the other two Furies, nearby, dispatched them both with a surge of her power that sent them soaring toward the door. Prue pulled her to her feet, and they turned to find Paige still fighting with the last Fury.
The Fury had her talons wrapped around Paige's throat, digging in deep enough to draw blood. Paige scrabbled at the Fury's vicious grip with her free hand, struggling to breathe. Her hands were sparking with electricity, but, unlike her cell phone, the Fury seemed unaffected. She just grinned, evilly, as she leaned closer to Paige, tendrils of smoke already leaving her mouth.
"No!" Piper and Prue screamed, in unison, but they were too late to do anything as the Fury breathed smoke into Paige's face.
But, Paige just choked on the smoke, and Piper breathed a sigh of relief when her younger sister didn't burst into flames. The Fury seemed perplexed, as well, and Paige took advantage of the opportunity to knock the Fury's hand away from her neck.
She stumbled backward, rubbing at the bruises on her neck as she coughed, trying to draw in a breath. The Fury had recovered quickly, and was coming at Paige, again, even as her sisters hurried to her side, and a panicked look came over Paige's face when she saw the demon advancing on her.
Then, the fear disappeared, replaced by a fierce scowl as she deliberately stepped forward to meet the Fury. She grabbed the Fury's arms, halting her in her tracks, and she tightened her grip. A second later, the Fury was consumed by the flames that leapt from Paige's hands, her dying screams filling the air.
When the flames died down, there was nothing but ashes covering a scorched mark on the carpet, and Paige was glaring down at the remains of the demon.
"Shake that off," she snarled, and then her head snapped up when the other two Furies started toward her. "You really want to try it?" she asked, softly, and in answer, they smoked out, disappearing from the church.
"Okay," Piper said, faintly, from where she and Prue had frozen in shock. "Don't ever piss off Paige."
"Noted," Prue replied.
They cautiously approached Paige, who was still staring down at the scorch marks on the carpet. As they got closer, Piper could hear her wheezing as she breathed, and she could see the rapidly-darkening bruises that ringed the younger woman's neck. Paige looked up at them as they stopped beside her, and there was a tired look in her eyes.
"For having never seen a demon, you were pretty amazing out there," Prue told her, and Paige gave her a small smile.
"I don't know where that came from," she admitted, quietly. "I just saw Piper in danger and I reacted. I wasn't even thinking; I just-"
"Kicked some major demon ass," Piper finished for her. "Which I'm grateful for, thank you."
"Looks like all that future knowledge came in handy," Prue remarked, but Paige shook her head.
"I don't know how," she said. "It's not like I'm getting anything useful; it's all just confusing flashes. I don't even know what those things were."
"They're called Furies," Prue told her. "And, speaking of, we should get our Whitelighter to take a look at those scratches on your neck. They might be poisoned, or something."
"No, the talons are fine; it's the smoke that's dangerous," Paige replied, absently. Then, an irritated look came over her face. "I hate that I know that kind of stuff, and I don't know how I know it."
"Why is the smoke dangerous?" Piper asked, catching on to what Paige had said.
"I don't know!" Paige said, frustrated. "I just know there's something bad about getting smoked."
"Which you did," Prue pointed out, and Paige sighed.
"Yeah, don't remind me," she muttered.
"Which is just more reason for us to call our Whitelighter," Piper said, firmly. "Andy!" she called out, without waiting for a reply, and a cloud of orbs formed a few feet away as Andy materialized in the church.
"You must be Paige," he said, when he saw the younger woman.
"I must be," Paige replied, wryly, shaking the hand he held out to her.
"So, what's the problem?" he asked.
"Paige got smoked by a Fury," Prue told him. "We need you to heal her."
Andy obligingly held his hands out over Paige's chest, a golden glow emanating from his palms. Paige's breathing was visibly eased as Andy healed her, and when he stepped back, there was a distinctly relieved look on her face.
"Thanks," she said. "I was beginning to think that I was going to be coughing all day."
"We should probably get out of here," Piper said, suddenly. "We don't want to have to answer any awkward questions if people come in."
"Good point," Prue said, and the four of them headed for the doors.
Out in the sunshine, Piper looked back to the gargoyles that guarded the church, but they'd fallen silent, again. She guessed that once the demon had been vanquished, they'd gone back to being stone, again. She also wondered if they could get some for the house, for a demonic alarm system.
"Probably wouldn't be very practical," Prue said, seeing the direction of her gaze and guessing what she was thinking.
"Probably not," Piper agreed, regretfully.
Glancing over, she saw Paige standing by the open door of her car, staring off into space. Going over to the younger woman, Piper laid a hand on her shoulder, getting her attention.
"Are you okay?" she asked, softly.
"I don't know," Paige admitted, quietly. "Now that the adrenaline's worn off, I'm just confused. I mean, I've got all of these strange memories floating around in my head and I still don't know what any of it means."
"We'll figure it out," Piper told her, getting a surprised look from Paige. "You're not alone, any more," she pointed out. "You've got sisters, now."
"Thanks," Paige said, with a small smile.
"Speaking of," Piper said, scrounging for a pen and a scrap of paper, "here are Prue's and my cell phone numbers," she added, scribbling on the paper and handing it to Paige. "If you need us, you call, any time, day or night."
"Thanks," Paige said, again, tucking the paper into her pocket. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go get my son back."
She climbed into her car and started the engine, and Piper watched her drive off. Paige had sounded fine, but Piper couldn't help but be worried. She had a nagging feeling that there was something that she just couldn't see.
Fire was coursing through his veins. A white-hot agony pounded through him and he couldn't breathe. The pain was so intense that he wanted to die just to get away from it.
Then, as suddenly as it began, the pain stopped. Panting, Cole sagged forward with relief as his torturers stepped back. The chains that suspended him from the ceiling of the cavern went tight as his legs went out from underneath him, the magically-enhanced links the only thing holding him up from falling to the floor.
Cole blinked as blood flowed into his eyes, but he couldn't do anything to stop it, and a red haze filled his vision. His shoulders burned from having all of his weight supported by the muscles in his arms, a dull ache that paled in comparison to the agony of just a few moments earlier.
He waited, anxiously and with no small amount of fear, for the torture to start, again, but curiously, his tormentors weren't coming after him, again. Risking a glance up, he watched as a hooded figure swept into the cavern where he was being held, the trio of demons bowing immediately to their leader, heads lowered submissively to the floor.
The Source ignored the demons as he strode over to where Cole was restrained. Cole had to force himself not to flinch when the Source ran a razor sharp talon lightly over his cheek, tearing through his skin like it was paper, a thin line of blood snaking down the side of his face. Forcing his head up, Cole looked into the hood that covered the Source's ruined face, the space dark except for the glowing eyes that looked out at him from inside the depths.
Cole met the Source's burning gaze, unflinchingly, glaring up at the demon that had ruled his life for over one hundred years. Then, gathering all the moisture he had in his mouth, Cole spit into the Source's face, causing the demon to instinctively flinch out of the way. Then, the Source raked his talons across Cole's face, coming dangerously close to his eyes as he slashed at him.
"What did he tell you?" the Source demanded of the trio of demons, never looking away from Cole.
"Nothing," one of the demons managed to force out, clearly dreading delivering even that much bad news. "He didn't tell us anything."
"Then, obviously, you're not doing something right," the Source commented, and all three demons flinched, as though they expected to be incinerated on the spot.
"I assure you, my liege," another one of the demons dared to speak up, "we were very effective in trying to extract information from the traitor."
The Source was ominously silent as he turned around to face the demons, regarding them like a hawk would a mouse that it was planning to rip apart. Cole almost felt sorry for the demons.
"If you were effective," the Source said, slowly, drawing each word out, "then the traitor's guts would be spilling out onto the floor. If you were effective," he added, spitting out the world like it was a curse, "I would have the rogue witch bound and gagged at my feet."
"With all due respect, my liege," the second demon stammered, and the Source's gaze sharpened as he turned on him.
"Since I see neither a witch, nor a dead traitor," he growled, stalking closer and closer to the demon while his partners backed slowly away, fear written plainly on their faces, "then it seems very clear to me that you were not effective."
The last word, so quiet that Cole could barely hear him, was punctuated by a fireball that burst from the Source's hands, engulfing the demon. The demon died with a short, high-pitched scream, leaving only ashes in his wake. Calmly, the Source turned to the other two demons.
"Do either of you want to attempt to explain why you have failed me?" he asked, softly, and both demons were practically shaking by now.
"We – we have almost broken the traitor," the third demon finally managed to stammer out, forcing himself to meet the Source's gaze.
"Almost is not good enough," the Source growled, and both demons nodded, quickly, although what they were agreeing with, Cole had no idea.
Then, as the Source turned back around to face him, Cole steeled his expression into something resembling defiance. Fixing an insolent smirk on his face, he waited as the older demon stalked back over to him, acting as though he had nothing better to do than to be tied up and tortured all day.
"You will tell me everything, in the end," the Source snapped at him, and Cole let his smirk get bigger.
"When the sun shines in Hell," he retorted, his head snapping violently to the side as the Source slammed his hand into his face, again.
"How long do you think your little witch can survive down here, anyway?" the Source asked him, tauntingly. "Hunted by every demon under my command, burdened by the dying Whitelighter – she'll be in my clutches soon enough."
"And how many of those demons have come back?" Cole asked, challengingly, sparking an infuriated growl from the older demon. "She can see the future. You really think she can't see your demons coming?"
From the silence that met his comment, Cole was certain that he'd hit a nerve. He knew that Phoebe was more than capable of taking care of herself, and protecting Leo in the process. And if she vanquished some demons along the way, all the better.
The Source was silent for so long that Cole was starting to get worried. Whatever the other demon had planned for him, he was sure that it involved a lot of pain in his future. But, then, someone else entered the cavern, and the Source turned to deal with the new interruption.
A new demon entered the cavern, a furious look on his face. He stormed over to the Source, clearly about to say something, but then he seemed to remember where he was, because he took a deep breath to calm himself down before he spoke.
"You said that there were only two Charmed Ones," he said, a slightly accusing tone in his voice that he tried to hide behind respectful deference.
"The third witch is trapped down here in the Underworld," the Source said, a bored tone in his voice. "There are only two witches to be a problem to you."
"There were three witches in that church," the demon retorted, angrily, but he quickly cooled off as the Source turned to look at him. "Malik is dead," the demon continued in a much calmer tone.
"Vanquished by the witches?" the Source asked, but a new voice spoke up before the demon could answer.
"By me and my sisters," a cool, female voice said.
To Cole's surprise, a Fury was striding toward the Source, a smug smirk on her face. As she passed the lesser demons, they both collapsed in her wake, hands flying to cover their ears as they listened to screams that only they could hear. And as she got closer, Cole could hear an endless screaming start up inside his own head, his earlier agony flaring up again.
But, the Source was unaffected by the Fury's power, and he met her unblinking gaze without flinching.
"We vanquished your little underling," the Fury continued, smugly. "But your other idiot was right; there were three witches there. One of them even killed my sister."
"There were three witches when Shax was vanquished," one of the demons offered, fighting through his pain enough to speak.
"She was killed by Shax," the Source retorted, but the Fury just laughed.
"Little witch looked lively enough to me," she said, smirking. "Of course, she won't be for long, not after I rip out her murdering heart. Then you'll only have two witches to worry about, again."
"And why would you want to help me?" the Source asked, suspicion plain in his voice.
Cole didn't blame him. Furies had never worked with demons, preferring to hunt them down. For one to offer her services, now, made no sense. But, if the Fury was only offering as part of some plan to try and vanquish the Source, Cole was all for it. Even if she did make his head want to explode.
"I already told you," the Fury answered. "I want revenge. Dirae tried to convert the witch, but she resisted the change and set my sister on fire. And I want the witch's heart."
"You breathed on the witch?" the Source asked, his interest seemingly piqued, but the Fury just shrugged.
"It didn't take," she retorted.
"But, it will in time," the Source pointed out. "I want you to use the witch."
"Use her for what?" the Fury demanded, and now she sounded suspicious.
"Use her to get to the other witches," the Source told the Fury. "You will destroy all three of them, and I will no longer have to worry about the Charmed Ones."
"And what do I get for serving your interests?" the Fury asked, a calculating tone in her voice. "Erinyes and I are the one risking our necks, not you."
"You get your revenge," the Source pointed out. Then, looking around the cavern, he gestured carelessly in Cole's direction. "And you can have him, as well. Without the Charmed Ones to worry about, I'll no longer have any use for him."
"Deal," the Fury said, her eyes lighting up with a predatory gleam as she circled Cole.
She traced her talons lightly over his chest, drawing blood while he reeled in agony from her presence.
"Oh, we're going to have fun with you," she purred, and then she smoked out.
Once she was gone, the Source turned to the fourth demon.
"If the Furies fail, kill them," he said, quietly. "And then kill the witches."
"Yes, my liege," the demon said, bowing low before he shimmered away.
Then, the Source turned his attention on Cole, who was really hoping that his presence had been forgotten.
"And, as for you, traitor," the Source said, and then Cole lost track of the rest of what was being said in the agony that engulfed him.
Entering South Bay Social Services, Henry made an immediate beeline for Paige's desk. He couldn't help the goofy grin that lit up his face when she glanced up at him, and after a few seconds, she returned his greeting with a weak smile of her own.
"Hey," she said, quietly, as he stopped beside her desk. "What are you doing here, Henry?"
"Well, I figured that you probably haven't eaten, yet," he told her. "So, I came by to see if you wanted to go get some lunch."
"You came all this way to see if I was hungry?" Paige asked, in disbelief.
At the confusion in her voice, Henry was reminded, forcibly, that he and Paige weren't married, any more. He wasn't even sure how she really felt about him, other than regarding him as a neighbor and a burgeoning friend. The thought of Paige not being in love with him in this time suddenly made him very uneasy.
"Well, actually, I just wanted an excuse to see you, again," he admitted, waiting for Paige's reaction.
To his happy surprise, she actually smiled at that, a genuine expression that lit up her face.
"You did?" she asked, and her smile got wider when he nodded. "I missed you this morning when Tyler said that you had to run into work early," she continued, and then the smile abruptly dropped from her face.
"What's wrong?" Henry asked, concerned by her sudden change in mood.
"It's Tyler," Paige told him, with a quiet sigh. "His birth parents are back in the picture."
"And, this is bad?" Henry guessed, and Paige's eyes filled with tears as she nodded in confirmation.
"They're taking him away," she said, her voice choked with emotion, and the unexpected words were like a blow to the stomach.
He'd gotten close to the kid in the few days that he'd known him, and even more, he'd seen how much Paige had cared for Tyler. And how much Tyler had cared for her. And he could see how much just admitting any of this was hurting Paige.
"I'm so sorry," he said, gently, and Paige nodded.
"It's just so frustrating," she told him, anger coloring her voice. "I don't understand how these people could be absent for so much of his life, and then just want to waltz right in like they have any rights to him."
"Well, they are his parents," Henry hedged, hating himself for having to play the devil's advocate for something that had her so upset, but needing to point it out, anyway.
Paige glared at him, and for a moment he wondered if she was going to yell at him. But, then she took a deep breath, visibly calming herself down before she spoke.
"I know they're his parents," she said, shaking her head in frustration. "And, of course, they have rights to him. It's just – I want to hate these people," she told him.
"Go right ahead," Henry told her. "In fact, I think I'll even join you in hating them. We'll beat the Christmas rush."
Paige quirked the corners of her lips in a tiny grin at his words, and she grabbed her coat off the back of her chair as she stood up.
"I believe you said something about lunch?" she asked, and Henry offered her his elbow with a gallant bow.
"This way, my lady," he started, but then he trailed off at the sight of Paige's boss walking toward them.
"Looks like lunch might be delayed," Paige said, with a sigh, freeing her hand from the crook of his elbow. "Did you need something, Mr. Cowan?"
"Just wanted to see how you were doing," the older man said, and Henry was impressed by the obvious concern in his voice.
"I'll be doing better if you tell me that our appeal against Tyler's parents is getting somewhere with the juvenile judge," Paige told him, but the older man sighed.
"The judge is holding firm to his decision," Cowan told her. "Tyler is to remain with his biological parents."
"Great," Paige said, a tight tone in her voice. "I hate this," she continued, her hands clenching into fists. "I promised him that I'd do everything I could."
"And you did," Cowan reassured her, while she worked to keep her temper under control. "This is just something that is out of our hands, now."
When Paige just shook her head, clearly not convinced by his words, the older man switched tacks. "Take the rest of the day," he offered. "Come back tomorrow when you've had some time to rest, all right?"
"Yeah," Paige said, quietly, hugging her coat to her chest as she offered the older man a weak smile. "Thanks, Mr. Cowan."
"Get out of here before I change my mind," her boss said, gruffly, and Henry took the opportunity to gently steer Paige out of the office.
"Do you want to take separate cars and just meet somewhere for lunch?" Henry asked, fully expecting Paige to turn him down, altogether.
"Can we just walk?" she asked, instead. "I just – my head is spinning, and I don't know what to think-"
"Yeah, we can walk," Henry said, gently, cutting off her rambling. "If you want to talk about anything-"
"Thanks," Paige said, softly, but she was quiet for the first few minutes as they started walking down the sidewalk.
As they started walking, Henry instinctively wrapped an arm around her waist before he even realized what he was doing, and then he almost kicked himself for the overly-intimate gesture. But, to his surprise, Paige just fitted herself against his side while they walked, matching her pace with his.
"I told Tyler that he could stay with me," she said, softly, after a few minutes of silence. "I told him that he had a home with me, that I wanted him."
"I'm sure he knows that," Henry told her, not sure what else to say.
"It's just so frustrating, you know?" Paige asked, clearly not expecting a response. "I mean, the one defense we have at Social Services against deadbeat parents is that it takes forever to do anything. There's so much red tape involved in these kinds of cases that it can take months for anything to get through the courts."
"But?" Henry prompted, when Paige fell silent, again.
"But, these people managed to get everything rushed through in less than a day," Paige told him. "And that's not possible."
"Then, how did they do it?" Henry asked, even though he already had an idea in mind. And he didn't know what it said about him that his first thought was that magic was involved, somehow.
"I don't know," Paige said, angrily, her hands clenching into fists.
Then, a second later, Henry jumped away from her as a shock ran through his body, making him feel like he'd just been electrocuted. The feeling faded as he broke contact with her, but there was a ringing in his head and the hair along his arms was standing on end. And when he reached up gingerly to feel the top of his head, he could feel his hair sticking straight up.
"What the hell?" he gasped, when he could breathe, again.
"Oh my god, are you okay?" Paige demanded, reaching out to him.
Another shock jolted through him when her hands touched his arms, and she jerked her hands away, quickly.
"Oh, god, I'm so sorry," she said, apologetically, carefully not touching him. "I guess I don't have that one under control, yet."
"Under control?" Henry echoed, feeling like he was several steps behind and struggling to catch up. "Wait a minute," he said, when he got what Paige was saying, "you electrocuted me?"
"I'm really sorry," Paige said, a miserable expression on her face. "I guess this happens when I'm upset, or something. I had to replace my cell phone, earlier."
As he tried to digest what she was saying, Henry took a closer look at Paige, his eyes widening when he saw the little sparks of lightning that were running through her hair and over the surface of her skin.
"That's new," he managed, and she gave him a weak smile.
"It all started happening last night," she said, clearly anxious to see his reaction. "I made it rain, this morning, and I created wind and fire earlier this afternoon."
"And I thought orbing was cool," Henry muttered, getting a curious look from Paige. "Nothing," he told her, quickly, although he was starting to wonder how long he could manage to keep lying to her about everything.
"You're not freaked out?" Paige asked, cautiously, and Henry shook his head.
"No way," he reassured her. "This is really cool. So long as you stop electrocuting me, I mean."
"I'll try," Paige said, smiling at him.
Then, her cell phone rang, and she pulled it out of her purse, checking the display, automatically.
"At least I didn't fry this one," she said, wryly, as she answered it. "Hello?"
Then, her whole demeanor changed, drawing in a sharp breath as she listened to the voice on the other end of the line.
"Tyler?" she asked, incredulously.
"Put him on speakerphone," Henry told her, abruptly, getting a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach at the sound of her voice.
Paige hit a button on her cell phone, holding it out so that he could hear Tyler.
"Tyler, what's wrong?" she asked, and Henry found himself waiting anxiously for the boy's reply.
The line was ominously silent for a few seconds, and then when Tyler finally spoke, his voice was slurred, his words slow and awkward.
"I don't feel good," he mumbled, incoherently. "Paige, I'm scared. That woman had a knife."
Beside him, Paige's breath hitched at his words, but she took a deep breath struggling to keep calm.
"Tyler, buddy, where are you?" she asked, and Henry could hear a quiver of fear in her voice.
"Don't know," Tyler said. "I hear water."
"That could be anywhere," Henry said, quietly, frustrated. "Tyler," he added, pitching his voice so that the boy could hear him. "What do you see around you?"
"It's dark," Tyler said, his voice growing quieter by the second. "I'm cold."
"Tyler, baby, stay with us," Paige interjected, abruptly, her voice tight with tension. "Can you tell us where you are?"
"I think I'm-" Tyler started, and then his voice cut off, suddenly, leaving only dead air over the phone.
"Tyler," Paige snapped, urgently, but there was no answer. "Tyler!"
"Damn it!" Henry swore, furiously, when the phone remained silent.
Paige, meanwhile, was dialing a new number on her phone, her hands shaking as she pressed the buttons. Henry could hear the other phone ringing, and Paige was staring desperately at her phone.
"Come on," she muttered, trying to will the other person into answering the phone. "Please pick up the phone."
But, her call switched over into voicemail, and Paige's voice was shaking with suppressed emotion as she left her message.
"Piper, it's Paige," she started, and Henry had a moment of surprise when he realized that Paige must have met her sisters. "My son – Tyler – he's in trouble, and I need your help. Please call me as soon as you get this. Please."
Henry could feel his heart clenching at the heartbroken sound of her voice. When she hung up her phone and looked at him, there was a despairing look in her eyes.
"Come on," Henry said, abruptly, grabbing her elbow and starting to steer her back down the sidewalk. "We'll talk to the police, or something. We'll find Tyler, don't worry."
"We can help you find your son," a new voice spoke up, and they whirled around to see a pair of scantily-dressed women walking toward them.
"You," Paige snarled, her hands curling into fists, electricity sparking along her hands. "What are you doing here?"
"Do we really want to recruit her?" one of the demons asked, a bored tone in her voice as she looked Paige over. "She's such a good, little witch."
The last word was spit out like a curse, and Henry's hand instinctively went to the gun in his shoulder holster, reacting to the hate he heard in the demon's voice.
"Don't make me laugh, mortal," the other demon scoffed. "Do you really think your weapons can hurt us?"
"Try me," Henry challenged, but Paige stepped between him and the demon, her hands still throwing off sparks.
"Don't touch him," she snapped, furiously, and Henry watched in amazement as her hands uncurled, revealing long, wickedly-sharp talons instead of fingernails.
"Paige," he said, quietly, and when she looked back at him, for a second, a completely alien expression was written on her face.
Then, her expression cleared and she visibly shuddered, taking a shaky breath.
"I can't stop it," she whispered, clearly scared. "Henry, what's happening to me?"
"Fight, Paige," he encouraged her, but one of the demons laughed.
"You can't fight us," she purred, smirking at Paige when she whirled around to confront the demons, again. "Don't even try."
"You want to find your son, don't you?" the second demon asked, also circling Paige, a predatory gleam in her eyes. "Your little boy, helpless in the grip of those who want only to hurt him."
"Come with us," the first demon said, as Paige tried to resist. "We'll help you hunt down your evil."
"Don't listen to them," Henry entreated, but any further words were cut off by the first demon, who backhanded him hard enough to send him flying.
He slammed, hard, into the ground, and Paige cried out as she tried to get to him. But, the demons clamped down on her arms, leaning in close and whispering things he couldn't hear. Then, to Henry's horror, all three of them disappeared in clouds of smoke, leaving him alone on the sidewalk.
"Tell me you found something."
Pacing the length of the attic, Piper glanced over at Prue, who was bent over the map of San Francisco, scrying crystal clenched in her fist. Even from where she was, she could see the drops of blood that spotted the crystal's quartz surface courtesy of both her and Prue, after they'd cut their fingers on a knife to add their blood to the scrying crystal.
"Nothing," Prue practically growled, glaring at the crystal that was moving restlessly over the surface of the map. "Paige still isn't answering her phone?"
"It just keeps going to voicemail," Piper told her, snapping her phone shut in frustration as she, yet again, got the cool, computerized voice telling her to leave a message after the tone. "Damn it," she growled, throwing her phone onto the couch, where it landed on their old pink baby blanket that Paige had left in the church. "Why can't we find her?"
"We will," Prue said, her voice tight with tension. "What did Paige's message say, again?"
"Just that her son was in trouble, and she needed our help," Piper answered. "But, we can't do that if we can't even track her down!"
As if in response to her words, the crystal suddenly dropped onto the map, but Prue shook her head before Piper could get excited.
"It landed here at the house," she said, lifting the crystal and setting it swinging, again, across the map.
"That's the third time that's happened," Piper said, frustrated. "What's the use of being witches if we can't find our sister when she needs us?"
Before Prue could reply, the attic lit up with a brilliant glow as someone orbed in. For a second, her heart leapt, thinking that it was Leo, but then the orbs coalesced into Andy, and she came crashing back down to Earth. Trying not to show how disappointed she was, Piper greeted the Whitelighter with a weak smile.
"Anything?" she asked, hopefully, and found herself being disappointed, again, when he shook his head, regretfully.
"Paige is too new of a witch for the Elders to locate," he told them.
"Can't you sense her like you can with us?" Prue asked, looking up from her scrying.
"She hasn't been formally assigned as one of my charges," Andy answered. "And, I don't have any other kind of connection to her, so there's really no way for me to find her."
"Great," Prue grumbled. "So, we're back where we started. With nothing to go on."
When the pages of the Book started flipping, rapidly, the three of them looked over at the ancient tome in surprise.
"You think sometimes that Grams waits for the most dramatic moment possible to help us?" Piper asked, dryly, as they went over to the pedestal holding the Book.
"Wouldn't surprise me," Prue retorted, and then she looked down at the Book in surprise. "We're back on the Furies? Didn't we already deal with them?"
"Technically, we only vanquished one Fury," Piper reminded her.
"Yeah, but do you really think the other two are back for a rematch?" Prue asked, earning a half shrug from her sister.
Then, Piper glanced down at the entry in the Book, and her eyebrows flew up in shock as she read.
"Prue," she asked, curiously, "did you read the entire entry?"
"I skimmed it," Prue admitted. "Just enough to get what we needed for the vanquishing potion. Why?"
"To paraphrase," Piper told her, "When a good witch gets smoked by a Fury, the smoke seeks out a portal of unexpressed rage in the witch, eventually turning them into a Fury."
"Paige is turning into a Fury?" Prue echoed, incredulously.
"So it would seem," came Piper's answer. "But, what do you think her 'unexpressed rage' is about?"
"Why don't you start with the people who took her son away?" a new voice spoke up, and they looked toward the attic door to see a man leaning wearily against the door frame. It was the same man who'd been with future-Paige when she'd vanquished Shax, the one who'd been taken away by the Elders.
"Your door was open," he said, by way of explanation, as he walked into the attic. "I'm Henry Mitchell, by the way."
"You-" Piper started to say, but then she trailed off, not sure how to continue that sentence.
Luckily, Henry took pity on her confusion.
"I know that Paige is a witch," he said, stopping in front of the pedestal that held the Book. "I know that you two, and Phoebe, are her sisters, and that you all have magical powers and you fight demons. Are we all caught up, now?"
"Very efficient," Prue remarked to no one, spinning the pedestal around so that Henry could see the Book. "Here's what we know so far."
"Those are the demons," Henry said, immediately, not even bothering to read the entry. "They attacked us right after we found out that Tyler was in trouble."
"You didn't get breathed on, did you?" Piper asked, immediately alarmed, but Henry shook his head.
"It was weird," he told them. "It was like the demons were trying to recruit Paige. And then she grew these really long talons and disappeared with them."
"She's already started turning into a Fury," Andy said, a grave tone in his voice, and Piper shot him an annoyed look.
"Is stating the obvious something they teach you in Whitelighter school?" she muttered. Turning her attention back to Henry, she added, "Is there anything else you can tell us?"
"Not much," Henry said, clearly frustrated. "I don't even know where Tyler is. They drugged him, or something, and he was completely out of it when he called Paige."
"Do you have anything of Paige's?" Prue pressed. "Keys, wallet, something we can use to scry with?"
"How about a cell phone?" Henry asked, digging into his jacket pocket and coming up with the small phone.
"Worth a shot," Prue answered, taking the phone and bending over the map, again.
The attic was completely silent as she scryed for Paige, the tension so thick that it could have been cut with a knife. Piper had to restrain herself from looking over Prue's shoulder, knowing that it wouldn't help the process. Beside her, Henry was rigid as he stared at the Book, practically burning holes in the pages with his gaze.
Then, a grin spread across Prue's face as the crystal slammed down onto the map.
"Let's go," Piper said, as Prue committed the address to memory. "Is the Fury vanquishing potion still in the kitchen?"
"On the stove," Prue answered, and then she and Piper both stopped in surprise, when they realized that Henry had followed them out of the attic.
"I'm coming with you," the man said, shortly, before either of them could say anything.
"This is going to be dangerous," Prue interjected, but Henry had a determined look on his face.
"I'm not going to just sit here and do nothing while the woman I love is in danger," he said, quietly. "I'm coming with you."
"Fine," Piper said, resolving the issue before Prue could say anything else. "We don't have time to argue about this. Let's just get going."
Prue detoured to the kitchen to get the vanquishing potion while Piper went out and started the car. Then, they drove to the spot marked on the map, the car filled with tense silence. The address turned out to be an imposing-looking mansion hidden behind an iron gate. A pair of burly men was patrolling the area in front of the front gate, most likely there to provide security.
"What the hell is this place?" Prue demanded, taking in the scene.
"Never mind that," Piper told her. "How are we supposed to get in?"
"Can't you just blow them up?" Henry asked, leaning forward from where he was sitting in the back seat, and Piper had to wonder just what the man knew about them and their powers.
"We don't even know those are demons," Piper argued, but then she trailed off when a third man shimmered in front of the main gate.
The man had an unconscious girl slung over his shoulder in a fireman's carry. He said a few, short words to the guards at the gate, and then one of the guards waved a hand at the gate, a shimmer of power running across the metal as the gate swung open.
"Need to see anything else?" Henry asked, dryly. "Besides, if you have any doubts, you can still just freeze them, instead."
"My powers aren't exactly under control at the moment," she admitted, even as she wondered just how much the mortal knew about them and their powers. "I'm sort of freezing and exploding at random."
"We'll take what we can get," Henry insisted. "Paige and Tyler are in trouble, and we have to get in there."
"You're going to have to be pretty fast," Prue warned her, and Piper shrugged.
"If I can freeze bullets, I think I can be faster than a couple of demons," she said. "You two stay here, and wait for my signal."
Getting out of the car, she started across the street, keeping a careful eye on the demons. They hadn't noticed her at first, being too busy talking to each other, but then one of them spotted her when she was just within range. The demon who'd spotted her threw an energy ball at her, clearly choosing to preserve their secret over any need for discretion, and Piper swore as she had to dive out of the way.
Taking refuge behind a low wall nearby, Piper took a second to catch her breath. Then, she popped up from behind the wall and flung her hands out, hoping for the best. One of the demons froze in mid-stride, the beginnings of an energy ball just leaving the tips of his fingers, but to her dismay, the other demon was still moving around.
She tried to blow this one up, but the demon dodged the blow, advancing on her with a cruel grin on his face. Then, the demon stumbled, thrown off his feet by a blow that came from behind. While he was down, she flicked her hands out at him, again, and this time the demon exploded in a shower of pieces.
Looking up, she saw Prue and Henry standing behind the demon. Henry was holstering his service revolver, and when he saw her looking at him, he shrugged, nonchalantly.
"Maybe bullets can't kill demons," he told her, "but they can sure hurt like hell."
"Aren't you worried about someone hearing you?" Piper asked, as the three of them walked toward the gate.
"They're secluded enough that they've got demons moving around in plain sight," Henry pointed out. "Gunshots probably aren't going to draw a whole lot of attention."
"It's kind of scary how much you've thought this out," Prue told him.
"Fighting demons was a big part of Paige's life," Henry said, quietly. "And I didn't want to be a liability."
"You really love her, don't you?" Piper asked, and Henry nodded, wordlessly.
"She was my life," he said, with a wistful smile on his face. "And, I hope she will be, again."
Reaching out, he grabbed the gate and gave it an experimental shove, and then he was thrown backward as a shock jolted through his body. Groaning, Henry picked himself up off the ground, accepting the hand that Piper held out to pull him to his feet.
"Maybe that wasn't the smartest move," he admitted.
"You think?" Prue retorted, dryly.
Turning her attention to the gate, the eldest witch flung her hands out, throwing her telekinetic power at the metal. The spells surrounding the gate flared, brilliantly, as her power hit it, and then the metal bowed inward. Another push warped the metal even more, and then Prue stepped aside, gesturing toward the gate.
"Your turn," she told Piper, who threw a blast of explosive energy at the gate.
Her power, combined with the effects of Prue's, succeeded in blowing the gates inward, and the three of them marched through the opening. The demon guard was still frozen behind them, and they hurried to get out of his line of sight when he inevitably unfroze.
Unlike the heavily-guarded gate, the front door was wide open – and suspiciously demon-free. They were able to walk into the mansion without anyone noticing them, and Piper was starting to get worried.
"Does this feel like a trap to anyone else?" she asked, in an undertone, while they slunk along the main hallway, keeping a careful eye out for demons.
"What, you think they knew we were coming?" Prue asked.
"I'm just saying," Piper replied, "this is pretty quiet. Where are all the demons?"
The sound of voices up ahead had them pausing, and then the three of them snuck ahead to the open door of an office where the voices were coming from. Piper took a chance and peeked inside, seeing the demon from before standing in the middle of the office.
The girl that he'd been carrying over his shoulder was sprawled on the floor at his feet. She was still unconscious, and a strange white pallor covered her skin. After a second, Piper realized that the girl was covered in a coating of ice; she'd been frozen alive.
Her demonic captor was talking to another man, this one sitting behind the desk, regarding the unconscious girl with an almost predatory gleam in his eyes.
"You're certain of her power?" he finally asked, turning his attention to the demon.
"I saw it, myself," the demon answered, immediately. "She went completely intangible; energy balls didn't even touch her."
"But, can she extend that power to others?" the man pressed, insistently.
"Oh, yeah," the demon told him. "She grabbed some kid that Aeros was aiming at and protected him with it. The only way we even knocked her out was by surprising her. Otherwise, we never would have caught her."
"Take her downstairs," the man ordered, sitting down at his desk. "And make sure you put one of the dampening collars on her. I don't want her using her power to escape."
With a quick nod, the demon picked the girl up and shimmered out of the room, leaving the man alone. Piper was about to try and freeze the man when a flickering out of the corner of her eye caught her attention, and she ducked back out of the way just in time to avoid a new demon that shimmered into the office.
"What is it now?" the man asked, a bored tone in his voice.
"It's the witch," the demon gasped out, clearly winded, and Piper immediately knew that he was talking about Paige. "She's still resisting."
"She's just one witch," the man said, frustrated, while Piper silently cheered for her younger sister. "I would have expected you to have taken care of the situation by now."
"She's really strong," the demon protested. "We can't even get near the boy."
The man sighed, rubbing at his temples as though he was staving off a headache.
"I don't care how you do it," he said, slowly, "but I want that Firestarter. And then kill that damn witch!"
Paige was certain that she'd never been more scared in her life.
She remembered being confronted in the park by the Furies, seeing them attack Henry. She remembered trying to get to him, but something had been holding her back. Then, everything had disappeared in a red haze, and the next thing she knew, they were somewhere else, standing in the middle of a strange hallway.
The next thing she clearly remembered was seeing Tyler lying unconscious on the floor of an office, a man standing over the boy, with ice coming out of his hands to cover Tyler's body. She'd screamed, somehow throwing the demon across the room, although she didn't know if that was due to her witch powers, or if it was something that the Furies had done to her.
And then, when she'd reached Tyler's side, the world had whited out in front of her eyes, and when she could see again, she was, once again, somewhere else. She hadn't seen the Furies that had brought her to wherever she was, and she and Tyler were alone in the new room.
She'd tried, desperately, to wake Tyler up, but the boy had been completely unresponsive. And then a group of demons had burst into the room, coming straight at them, and she'd panicked. Before she knew what was happening, a maelstrom of fire had roared to life, surrounding her and Tyler and cutting them off from the demons.
At first, the unexpected fire barrier had been a godsend, shielding them from the demons' attacks. Most of the energy balls had simply bounced off the fury of the fire that surrounded them, and the rest were simply absorbed by the maelstrom, the energy of the attacks adding fuel to the fire and making it even more intense.
But, the fire that had saved them was just as quickly turning against them. The intense heat was searing her skin, and she had burns on her arms from where she'd lost her tightly-leashed control over the fiery monstrosity and had gotten singed when it got too close. And the fire needed more energy than could be absorbed from the demons' attacks, which meant that it was sucking oxygen out of the surrounding area.
And it was starting to get difficult to breathe.
Paige flinched as another energy ball hit the fiery wall in front of her, making the barrier flicker where the energy ball had struck. It was taking more and more of her power and concentration to keep the fire alive, the energy fluctuating wildly every time her concentration wavered for even a second. She knew the barrier was going to fall, she just hoped that it held out long enough for help to arrive.
In her arms, Tyler stirred, suddenly, letting out a gasping breath. The ice that had coated his body had melted under the heat of the fire she'd accidentally conjured, and she sighed in relief as his eyes fluttered open, slowly, and he stared at her in confusion.
"Paige?" he asked, his voice slurred and heavy. "What happened?"
"That's a really long story, kiddo," she told him, hugging him closer to her in relief. "How are you feeling?"
"My head still hurts," Tyler told her, a dazed look still on his face. "And I'm really cold."
"You'll warm up," Paige reassured him, casting an uneasy glance at the fire that surrounded them.
Tyler tried to say something else, but he was overwhelmed by a sudden coughing fit and he clung to Paige until it passed, collapsing weakly against her when he'd finally stopped coughing. His breathing was labored and his skin was ashen. He didn't look good, and Paige felt her fear ratchet up a notch.
"What's wrong with your face?" Tyler managed to ask, once he finally got his breath back.
He reached a shaky hand toward her cheek, where a series of demonic sigils were slowly appearing on her skin. Paige had seen them etched on her arms and spreading down to the backs of her hands, darkening every time her tenuous control slipped, releasing for even a second the Fury that raged within.
That was the other reason she was so scared. She could still feel the Fury deep inside, trying to escape, and she was terrified of what was going to happen if, or rather when, she lost control. Part of her wanted to let go, to just let the Fury take over and take her revenge on the demons on the other side of the fire. But, she reined in the demon as best she could, throttling back the impulse to go out and fight.
Sure, she could have taken one or two demons out, if she let the Fury take over and consume her, but she couldn't possibly take on them all. Plus, trying to fight the demons would mean letting go of the fire barrier, which would leave Tyler unprotected, and she couldn't risk it. Much as she hated it, her only option was to stay right where she was and hope that help showed up, soon.
Tyler coughed, again, suddenly, and the sound ripped through the air like a gunshot. A few seconds later, the fire around them suddenly flared brighter, and Paige wondered if the boy was losing control of his powers like she was.
'If the demons don't kill us, the fire will,' she thought, with a sudden clarity. 'We're going to suffocate, or burn alive, and there's nothing I can do to stop it.'
Another energy ball hit the barrier from the outside, the barrier flickering dangerously from the impact. Paige clenched her fists in anger, and in response, the fire suddenly roared even brighter. As the fire flared even bigger, she gasped as the air inside the barrier was practically sucked away.
In her arms, Tyler was choking, struggling to breathe. Spots were swimming in front of Paige's eyes, and she stared at the out-of-control fire in growing horror.
"Stop," she gasped out, barely aware that she was speaking out loud. "Please stop."
But, the fire ignored her, spreading relentlessly outward. Paige heard a scream as a demon was consumed by the fire, and then the sound of frantic footsteps as everyone else tried to get out of the way.
Paige wasn't about to mourn the demon, not when he'd been trying to kill her for the past half hour, but she knew she had to stop the fire. She couldn't let it get any further out of her control, couldn't let it hurt an innocent person.
"I made you," she gritted out, staring up at the fire in furious defiance as she clamped down on the surge of power she could feel raging from the fire. "You will listen to me!"
The fire wavered, but stopped its forward movement, halted for the moment. Paige let out a quiet sigh of relief, but she didn't dare let up on her concentration, not even for a second. The demons, sensing that they had the advantage, again, starting attacking the barrier. Paige could feel each blow like it had hit her, rather than the barrier, and her concentration wavered, the fire creeping forward again before she leashed it.
"Stop that," she growled, and the fire flickered as if in response to her words.
Another volley of energy balls hit the barrier and she struggled to hold the fire in place. It wanted to be let go, wanted to be out of control, and it was getting harder and harder to hold onto.
"Give up, witch!" a voice yelled from outside the barrier. "Give up, and we'll kill you quickly!"
"Go to hell," Paige spat, hacking coughs racking her body as she spoke.
The edges of her vision were growing dark, and it was getting harder to breathe. In her arms, Tyler had passed out, again, slumping heavy against her chest, his own breathing ragged and heavily labored.
"Help," Paige begged, quietly, not sure who she was talking to.
The fire flickered, again, as the demons kept up the attack, and then, to her horror, the fire died. The barrier vanished as quickly as it appeared, and Paige stared in shock at the demons standing a short distance away.
The demons recovered their composure first, and they advanced on her, energy balls held at the ready. Paige tried, desperately, to summon the fire, again, but she was tapped out. Her powers were exhausted, and she could barely manage a few sparks of lightning from her fingers.
"Die, witch," one of the demons growled, and Paige cringed for the blow she knew was coming.
Then, as the energy balls got close enough to singe the hair on her arms, the world disappeared in front of her eyes in a swirl of bright, white lights. When she could see again, she and Tyler were on the opposite side of the room, behind the startled demons. Paige tried to stand, pulling Tyler with her, but she collapsed before she'd made it more than a few steps.
The demons, undeterred by this new development, simply turned and stalked toward her again. The one in the lead threw the energy ball in his hands, and Paige threw herself over Tyler to shield him. The energy ball grazed her back before hitting the wall behind her, leaving a streak of agony in its wake. Paige cried out, instinctively, and the demon who'd hit her grinned, a cruel expression on his face.
The demons continued their slow, tortuous way toward her, and they were just playing with her, now. Paige felt like a mouse being stalked by a particularly vicious cat. She hated that feeling. She could feel the fury welling up inside her, and for once, she didn't want to try and rein it in. She wanted to let the demon out, let the monster rage at her attackers.
"Look at her," one of the demons taunted, mockingly. "She's not so tough. She doesn't even try to fight."
"You want a fight?" Paige asked, quietly, pushing Tyler behind her to keep him out of the way. "You've got it."
Letting out a slow breath, she let go of the tight leash she had over the Fury, feeling the rage blaze through her like a firestorm. A slow smile curved over her lips as she stood and confronted the demons, uncurling her clenched fists to reveal long talons at the end of her fingers. A red haze filled her vision and, this time, she didn't try to hide from it. Instead, she embraced the feelings coursing through her, let them fill her with a new strength.
"Come and get me," she challenged, softly, and the first demon leapt at her…
Phoebe anxiously paced the confines of the cavern, glancing at her watch with each circuit. Cole had been gone for nearly three hours,, now, and what had started out as a simple foray to get information had obviously gone very, very wrong.
She wanted to go after him, to rescue him if he was in any sort of trouble, but she couldn't just leave. Not when she had Leo to think about. The Whitelighter was still badly injured and he was in no shape to protect himself if she left. But, if Cole had been captured, then her and Leo's safety was already at stake.
Phoebe groaned, dropping her head into her hands.
"Someone tell me what to do," she muttered, and as if in answer, Leo started coughing.
She hurried to his side, helping her brother-in-law sit up while he struggled to breathe. Phoebe watched helplessly as he fought for breath, and finally his breathing eased and he leaned back against her, his eyes closing with exhaustion.
"Sorry," he whispered, weakly, but Phoebe took solace from the fact that he was even talking.
When they'd first rescued the Whitelighter, Leo hadn't even been able to open his eyes. But, now he'd healed enough to stay awake most of the time, and even talk, even though the effort clearly wore him out every time.
"Don't worry about it, sweetie," she murmured, quietly, the endearment coming easily to her as she helped Leo lie back down. "With the soundproofing spell I managed to lay over this place, no one can hear us, anyway. It's the only way we're safe, here."
"Your magic is getting stronger down here by the day," Leo commented, his eyes still closed, although he turned his head in her direction.
"Yeah," Phoebe agreed. "I don't know whether that's a good thing or a bad thing," she joked, weakly, and Leo reached out blindly to grab her hand and squeeze it.
"We're going to get out of here," he rasped, obviously hearing the worry in her voice.
"Right," Phoebe muttered. "Cole is missing, you can't orb, and the magic to magic spell only works on the person who casts it, which would leave you two stranded down here. Of course we're going to get out of here. How could I possibly think otherwise?"
Her voice had risen to a practically-hysterical pitch by the end, and she found herself even more grateful for the soundproofing spell.
"Take my powers," Leo told her, suddenly, and she looked over at him in shock.
"What?" she demanded, in disbelief.
"Use the power switching spell," Leo continued, opening his eyes slowly to look at her. "Swap our powers, and use my sensing powers to find Cole. Then, you can orb all of us out of here."
"No way," Phoebe said, immediately vetoing the idea. "Not a chance. I'm not swapping our powers and leaving you defenseless."
"I'll have your power of premonition," Leo argued, weakly.
"So, you'll be able to see the demons coming before they kill you," Phoebe retorted, glaring at him. "Oh, and then, with levitation, you'll be able to float up to the ceiling to make a more attractive target for their energy balls."
Leo sighed, picking up on the sarcasm in her voice.
"Phoebe," he protested, but she cut him off, abruptly.
"No. Freaking. Way," she repeated, enunciating each word clearly.
"There's no other choice," Leo argued.
"There's always another choice," Phoebe told him. "We'll think of another plan."
Despite her confident words, however, nothing was coming to mind. She had no idea how to find Cole, or even rescue him when she did. She'd tried all manner of summoning spells, including the Balthazar summoning spell, but nothing had worked. She'd even tried, as foolish as it had been at the time, to bring herself to Cole, but that one had also failed. And Leo had been more than a little ticked at her when he found out what she'd done.
"This is nuts," she groused, out loud. "This would be so much easier if my premonitions would just do what I want them to."
"Your powers don't work like that," Leo reminded her.
"Piper and Prue have their powers under control," Phoebe pointed out.
"Premonitions were unreliable even for Melinda Warren," Leo told her. "There's a reason it's a rare power, even along the Halliwell line."
"Yeah, well, it's my power, and I should be able to control it," Phoebe told him.
So saying, she reached out and grabbed Leo's wrist, closing her eyes and concentrating. She ignored Leo, who was trying to get her attention, and focused everything she had on getting a premonition. After a while, she could feel a headache starting to form, but she pushed through the pain to keep trying to trigger her power. Finally, when nothing seemed to be happening, she reluctantly opened her eyes.
And she wasn't in the cavern in the underworld, any longer. Instead, she was standing outside in the bright sunlight, surrounded by a bunch of colorful tents. There were people all around her, and when she looked around, she saw Leo lying on the ground in front of her, and a barely-conscious Cole sprawled out beside her. He was a bleeding, burned mess, and she was about to call for help when she saw someone running toward her out of the corner of her eye.
She looked up as a woman with long, dark hair stopped beside her, kneeling down beside Leo.
"Phoebe, thank god," the woman said, relief clear in her voice. "Don't worry. Everything's going to be fine."
Startled, Phoebe let go of Leo's wrist, ending the premonition. She sat back, her head spinning wildly, and gave Leo a weak smile.
"It worked," she told him, trying to quell the worried look she could see in his eyes. "I didn't really see anything useful – at least, I don't think I did, but I still had a premonition. Practically on command."
She grinned at him in triumph, and Leo sighed when he saw the determined look on her face.
"You're really serious about this, aren't you?" he asked, and Phoebe nodded.
"It might be the only way that we can get out of here, alive," she told him.
With another sigh, Leo heaved himself to a sitting position, and Phoebe helped him up until he was leaning, wearily, against the cavern wall. Just the exertion of trying to sit up had him panting with exhaustion, his skin ashen gray. But, he had a fiercely determined look in his eyes as he met her gaze.
"If you're going to do this," he told her, "you need to do it, right. I don't want to see you get hurt."
"How could I get hurt seeing the future?" Phoebe asked, wryly, but Leo just shook his head.
"Cassandra Warren, the last witch to have premonitions before you tried to harness her powers, as well," Leo went on, his tone serious. "The effort nearly drove her insane."
"I'm a Charmed One," Phoebe said, stubbornly. "This is my destiny, and I'm taking control of it."
"Then take my hands," Leo instructed, reaching out to her. "Just close your eyes and let go of everything in your mind. Don't think, don't feel, just be."
Phoebe didn't know exactly how useful the Whitelighter's advice was, but she was determined to give it a shot, anyway. Scooting closer to Leo, she reached out and took his hands in her own, closing her eyes as he'd instructed.
"Listen to my voice," Leo told her, his voice quiet and rhythmic. "Just breathe, slowly, in and out. Like you're meditating."
"Okay," Phoebe said, hesitantly, still not sure what she was supposed to be doing.
She and Leo breathed together for several minutes, falling into an easy rhythm. Leo had stopped talking, and the sounds of everything around them rushed in to fill the silence. But, following Leo's instructions, Phoebe just let everything wash over her. She didn't try to hold onto anything; she just let everything go.
"Now," Leo said, his voice still quiet. "I want you to anticipate what I'm going to say next."
"How am I going to do that?" Phoebe wondered, out loud, and Leo squeezed her hands to get her attention.
"Focus," he told her, firmly. "Just tell me what I'm going to say next."
He kept talking, and Phoebe listened, intently, trying to figure out what he was going to say. But, she always wound up echoing him, after flubbing her initial guess. And her frustration with the exercise was starting to rise.
"You're thinking too much," Leo interrupted her, quietly. "Stop thinking. Start feeling."
Forcing herself to take a deep breath, Phoebe let go of all the negative thoughts clamoring for her attention, the ones telling her that she was never going to be able to do whatever it was Leo was trying to get her to do. Then, she took Leo's advice to heart, sinking into the light trance she fell into when she was meditating.
She could still hear Leo talking, but now he sounded as if he was standing at a distance. And, over it, she could hear a small voice almost whispering in her ear. At first, she couldn't make out any of the words, but when she gave up trying to hear them, the words started to become more distinct, more clear.
"You need to relax," came the soft whisper, and she realized that she was hearing Leo's words before he'd even said them. "Stop trying to force your power to work; just let it come to you. Don't just see the future-"
"Live the future," Phoebe murmured, out loud, and it took her a second to realize that Leo hadn't said the words out loud, yet.
"Exactly," Leo told her, a grin spreading across his face. "You've got it."
"You mean that my power is under my control?" Phoebe asked, excited by the possibility.
"Probably not total control," Leo cautioned her, a warning tone in his voice. "I wouldn't go out there and rely on premonitions, completely, to keep you from running into trouble. Don't get cocky out there."
"Everything is going to be fine," Phoebe said, unconsciously echoing the woman from her earlier premonition. "You just stay here and don't get caught. I'll be back with Cole as soon as I can."
At the mouth of their hidden cavern, she checked carefully to make sure that there were no demons around. Then, she moved out of the cavern, stolen athame in one hand while her other hand trailed lightly along the wall, so that she could hopefully pick up on any premonitions before danger could strike.
"All right," she muttered to herself. "Time to put this new control over my power to the ultimate test."
As she moved slowly down the corridors, Phoebe kept a careful eye out for any demons. She'd been moving for nearly fifteen minutes without running into anyone, when suddenly the corridor in front of her changed. She caught a flash out of the corner of her eye, and she spun around to see a pair of demons bearing down on her, energy balls held aloft.
Then, the premonition ended, and she staggered as she was released from its grip. She was alone in the corridor once again, but she could hear footsteps in the distance, and she ducked around a corner up ahead, waiting anxiously. A few seconds later, the same demons from her premonition passed within a few feet of her, completely oblivious to her hiding spot.
When they'd moved past her, Phoebe let out the breath she'd been holding, sagging in relief against the wall behind her.
"I can't believe that actually worked," she muttered, in amazement.
As she continued her trek down the corridor, her premonitions saved her two more times from demons, one encounter that she was able to avoid all together, and the other where she wound up vanquishing two demons. She was especially proud of the last one, since when she'd first surprised the demons, she hadn't been sure that she could take them.
It had been surprisingly easy, which scared her just a little bit. The longer she stayed down in the Underworld, the easier it was to work her magic. And she couldn't help but wonder if that said something about her, if she should be worrying about turning evil.
"Worry about getting Cole out of danger, first," she told herself, firmly. "Then, worry about turning evil."
She continued down the corridors, moving with confidence back to the altar room where Leo had almost been sacrificed, which she was sure was the same place Cole was being held. But, when she reached a fork in the latest corridor that she'd turned down, she had the strongest feeling to go in the other direction.
"Might as well go with the feeling," she muttered, turning down the corridor. "My premonitions haven't led me wrong, so far."
As she crept down the corridor, the feeling got stronger and stronger, until she had finally reached the cavern at the end of the corridor. Taking refuge right outside the entrance, she peered inside and gasped in horror.
Cole was strung up in the middle of the cavern, bruised and bloodied just like she'd seen in her premonition. His head was slumped down to his chest, and if she hadn't seen him breathing in slow, shallow breaths, she would have thought that he was dead, rather than just unconscious.
He was also surrounded by demons, and that put a severe hitch in her plans to rescue him.
'Maybe I should have taken Leo's powers,' she thought, ruefully. 'That way, I could orb in, grab Cole, and get out before anyone could touch us.'
Then, she realized that she didn't need Leo's orbing power. Not when Cole's very handy shimmering power was so close for the taking. And, if she had his energy balls, she could use them to fight off the demons at the same time.
The only hitch was that she couldn't use the standard switching spell. Without being able to get close to Cole, there was no guarantee that she wouldn't wind up accidentally switching powers with one of the other demons in the chamber. And she didn't want to lose her premonitions, or, even worse, risk someone else getting them.
Which meant making up a spell on the fly. Hard enough under the best of conditions, and these were certainly not the best of conditions.
'I have to be specific,'>/i> she thought, pacing away from the entrance to the chamber, tapping the athame absently against her hand as she thought. 'I have to word everything just right, or-'
She froze at a flash out of the corner of her eye, the signal she'd come to interpret as a vision coming to her. She caught a few seconds of a demon bearing down on her, and then the premonition ended and she was alone in the corridor, again. She moved to find a hiding spot, but before she could get out of sight, the demon had rounded the corner, her eyes widening in alarm when she saw Phoebe standing there.
Swearing under her breath, Phoebe launched herself at the demon, levitating into the air and kicking her in the face. The demon staggered back, blood pouring from her nose where Phoebe had broken it, but she quickly righted herself, glaring murderously at Phoebe.
She opened her mouth, presumably to call for help and alert the Source and his other demons to Phoebe's presence, but she never got the chance. Faster than even she'd imagined that she could, Phoebe threw the athame in her hand, watching as the blade was buried to the hilt in the demon's throat. The demon's voice came out in a strangled gargle, and she collapsed to the floor clawing madly at her throat. Her body twitched once, twice, and then she was still.
Moving quickly over to the demon, Phoebe pulled the athame out of her throat, wiping the blood off on the demon's skimpy outfit. Then, she hooked her hands under the dead demon's arms, pulling her back along the corridor until she'd found a niche to stuff the body in.
Creeping back to the entrance of the chamber where Cole was being held, Phoebe took a quick peek in to assess the situation. She flinched when she saw Cole being tortured, his head thrown back in a silent scream, and she had to force herself not to run to his side before she was ready.
'Get that spell done,' she told herself, firmly. 'Then you can rescue Cole and vanquish everyone who's hurting him.'
After thinking about it for a few minutes (and blocking out the sounds of Cole's torture going on just a few feet away from her, so that she could concentrate), Phoebe thought she had something that would work. She'd decided that the powers that she really needed were her premonitions, so that she could stay one step ahead of demons, and Cole's shimmering power, so that she could get him out of there and back to where Leo was hiding.
His other powers, especially energy balls, would certainly have been useful, but she wasn't going to count on them. Not with the way she'd been able to word the spell. She just had to hope it worked the way she wrote it to, and let everything else fall into place.
Getting as close the entrance of the chamber as she could, Phoebe peered cautiously around the corner, making sure that she had a clear line of sight with Cole. Then, sending up a quick prayer for luck, she took a deep breath and whispered:
"Balthazar's powers, switch with me,
But keep the future, so I may see.
Give me flight to aid our escape,
So we may avoid a grisly fate."
There was a quick flickering of lights around Cole, as if the spell had worked, and Phoebe held her breath, waiting to see if any of the demons had noticed. But, the light seemed to have gone unnoticed by any of the demons, and Phoebe slowly let out a quiet sigh of relief as she stepped away from the entrance to the chamber, out of sight.
Moving quietly back to the nook where she'd hidden the demon's body, Phoebe took a few, quick seconds to practice Cole's powers. She needed to make sure that the spell had actually worked, for one thing, and she also wanted to be able to use his powers correctly when she rescued him. The last thing she needed was to go into an area filled with demons, unprepared.
Ignoring the dead demon behind her, Phoebe focused on a spot a few feet away from her. Then, taking a few deep breaths to center herself, she willed herself to be in that spot. For a few seconds, nothing happened, but just when she was about to give up on the spell as having been a lost cause, she felt herself go away.
There was a split-second moment where she felt like she was nowhere and everywhere, all at once, and then the world slammed down on her as she materialized on the spot she'd been concentrating on. She could feel everything that she'd eaten over the last few days trying to come back up on her, and she staggered back against the wall with her hand over her mouth, trying desperately to keep from throwing up.
'If this is how Cole and Leo feel all the time when they do this,' she thought, as she fought the nausea rising in her throat, 'then I don't think I ever want to do that, again.'
But, after a few uneasy moments, the nausea finally started to fade. Pushing herself away from the wall, Phoebe started to head back out into the corridor, but she stopped before she left her impromptu hiding place. Before she walked out into what was going to be a definitely dangerous situation, she wanted to make sure that she still had her premonitions.
Putting a hand on the wall of her hiding spot, Phoebe concentrated on Cole, on seeing where he was at that moment. Then, as the world grayed out in front of her eyes, showing her exactly what she wanted to see, a slow smile spread across her face.
"It's show time," she muttered, determination in her voice.
She crept out of the hidden nook and back down the corridor, toward the chamber where she could still hear Cole being tortured. Stopping at the entrance to the chamber, she peered carefully around the corner, making sure that she had a clear line of sight with Cole. As if he could sense her watching him, Cole lifted his head from where it had fallen to his chest, his bloodshot eyes meeting hers.
He shook his head, imperceptibly, trying to warn her off without alerting the other demons to her presence, but Phoebe wasn't about to let herself be deterred. She gave him a quick thumbs up, hoping to convey that she had a plan, and that she knew what she was doing. But, when Cole just let his head fall back onto his chest, she got the feeling that she hadn't been very convincing.
'You'll be convinced after I get all of us out of the Underworld,' she thought, resolutely. 'I am a Charmed One, damn it. I am not some shrinking violet victim, and I'm not going to let some demons control my life.'
Making sure to keep her eyes locked on Cole, Phoebe focused on being right beside him. She felt that moment of disorientation as she disappeared, and then she materialized right next to Cole. Pushing through the nausea that threatened to rise in her throat, she wrapped her hands firmly around Cole's arm and focused on getting away from the torture chamber. Then, her eyes widened in shock when she realized that they were still standing there, that they hadn't shimmered anywhere.
"Why aren't your powers working?" she demanded in a furious undertone, edging closer to Cole as the other demons suddenly became aware of her existence.
"There's a dampening spell around me," came the tired reply. "Don't you think that if I could shimmer out of here, that I would have done it, by now? And what were you thinking, anyway?"
"Less criticism, more coming up with a plan to get us out of here," Phoebe snapped at him, and then she cringed back, instinctively, when one of the demons threw an energy ball at her.
The energy ball fizzled out when it hit the dampening spell, which was a relief. But, she knew that she couldn't stay inside the spell's circle, forever. It wasn't like the spell kept the demons out, as well. There was nothing preventing them from coming in to get her.
In the same breath, she realized that there was nothing keeping her in, either. And she was still armed with her stolen athame, giving her an advantage that the demons didn't know about. Before she had the chance to think about what she was doing, Phoebe palmed the dagger, holding it tight against her forearm, and then she darted out of the relative protection of the spell circle.
"Phoebe, what the hell?" Cole demanded, incredulously, as she left his side.
"Don't worry, honey," she called back, grimly, as she slashed at one of the demons with the athame, slicing deep along his extended arm. "I've got everything under control."
Even as the demon she'd crippled staggered backward, clutching his injured arm to his chest, she lashed out with a high kick that sent him straight into the path of a fireball that was headed for her. The demon was vanquished, screaming, but Phoebe didn't give him more than a second's thought as she moved to confront the next attack.
She was depending on her power of premonition more than ever before, pushing her new advancement to the limit. And so far, it hadn't let her down, giving her split-second warning as to the demons' plans and keeping her one step ahead of their fireballs. She was starting to think that it was too good to be true.
A second later, as another energy ball came flying at her, Phoebe silently cursed at herself for tempting fate. Focusing, she shimmered in place, reappearing right after the energy ball had soared past where she had been standing. Then, she thrust her hand out, intending to throw the athame at her attacker.
Instead, she watched in amazement as an energy ball left her hand to strike the demon in the chest. He was vanquished a heartbeat later, going up in flames, and Phoebe took a second to consider the implications. Then, she grinned in triumph.
"That power rocks," she informed Cole, who gave her a weak smile in return.
Moving the athame into a more secure grip in her hand, Phoebe moved forward to challenge the last pair of demons in the chamber. They both threw energy balls at her, but she ducked them, easily, thanks to her premonitions. Then, summoning another energy ball, she threw it at the one of the demons, watching as he was vanquished in a burst of flames.
That left just one.
"What's the matter?" Phoebe asked, tauntingly, as she and the demon circled each other, warily, sizing each other up like dogs before a fight. "You're not afraid of one little witch, are you?"
"You won't find me such an easy target," the demon retorted, as he made a mock lunge at her that she moved away from, quickly. "I'm not going down without a fight."
"Neither am I," Phoebe said, grimly.
Taking a chance that she could catch the demon off guard, Phoebe threw an energy ball at him, then she watched in dismay as he deflected it off a shield that had formed around the palm of his hand. The energy ball hit the dampening spell around Cole and fizzled out of existence, but Phoebe thought she caught a flicker of electricity in the air when it hit.
That's when she noticed that Cole was swinging from the chains holding him suspended in the middle of the chamber. With his head dropped down to his chest and his eyes closed, he looked like he was just randomly swaying, the result of having been pushed or struck by something. But, when she looked closer, Phoebe watched as his bare feet deliberately dragged against the ground every time he moved.
For a second, she couldn't figure out what he was doing, but then she watched as his toes barely cleared the lines of the spell that had been traced in the dirt that covered the floor. And, as his movement created an almost imperceptible blemish in the circle, she got what he was trying to do.
Praying that the last demon hadn't noticed what Cole was up to, Phoebe moved slowly across the floor, angling herself to get into the best position. Then, she threw another energy ball at the demon, hoping that he thought that she was just trying to break through his protective barrier.
The demon deflected that energy ball, and the one after it, both of them dying out on the dampening spell that surrounded Cole. But, each time, the sparks of energy that flew off the spell's perimeter lasted a little longer, and were a little brighter. Phoebe figured it would take just one more energy ball to get the job done, and she focused on making it a big one.
Like expected, the demon deflected the energy ball away from him, a smug smirk on his face. Then, the smirk fell off his face as the energy ball soared through empty air to hit the chains holding Cole suspended from the ceiling. The chains disintegrated where the energy ball had hit them, and Cole collapsed to the floor, unable to stand on his own.
Not wasting a second, Phoebe threw another, small energy ball at the demon, followed quickly by the athame. The demon deflected the energy ball, but he wasn't fast enough to catch the athame, which sunk deep into his chest, right over his heart.
Then, Phoebe sprinted over to Cole, wrapping her arms around her boyfriend and shimmering away…
As the demon shimmered away, Prue and Piper sprinted away from the office, with Henry hot on their heels. Prue, in the lead, didn't even know where she was going, but she knew that they had to get to Paige and Tyler before the demons did.
But, before they'd gotten even a hundred feet down the hallway, a sparkle of bright lights in their path had them all slamming to a stop. The lights coalesced into Andy, who had a grim expression on his face.
"Andy, our sister is in trouble," Prue snapped at him, impatiently.
"Maybe more than you know," the Whitelighter told her, before she could move around him. "I've been talking to the Elders."
"And?" Henry demanded, as he and Piper came up beside Prue. "What did you find out?"
"If Paige kills as a Fury," Andy told them, "then she'll stay that way. Permanently."
Henry swore, vividly, and then Prue found herself doing the same thing when the man ducked past them and sprinted down the hallway, his gun out and pointed at the floor. She and Piper gave chase down the hallway, now with Andy on their heels, as they tried to catch up to Henry before he got into trouble and got himself killed. She had the feeling that Paige would be pretty pissed at them if they let that happen.
When they caught up to Henry, he was standing just outside a doorway, peering cautiously into the room.
"Paige is in there with a whole bunch of demons," he hissed, quietly, as they stopped beside him. "And, she doesn't exactly look like herself."
Taking a quick look into the room, Prue saw her youngest sister sporting a wicked looking set of talons on her hands and strange tattoos that covered nearly every inch of exposed skin. The markings on her skin started out light on her hands, becoming progressively darker as they moved up her arms and toward her face. The markings on her face were the darkest ones, and Prue really didn't want to think about what that could have meant.
"We have to get in there," she told Piper, in a hushed voice. "We have to stop Paige before she goes fully Fury on us."
"On three," Piper agreed, as she counted down on her fingers, and as she curled the last one into a fist, the three of them burst into the room.
First into the room, Prue swept her arm in an arc, sending a trio of demons flying backward to crash into the far wall. Piper, just behind her, flicked her hand out and froze another demon that had lunged at them, stopping him mid-stride. Then, Prue sent the demon flying backward with a wave of her hand, straight into the path of an oncoming fireball.
As they moved further into the room, back to back fighting off demons, Prue noticed Henry out of the corner of her eye, slipping away along the wall. At first, she couldn't tell what he was doing, but then she noticed a slumped figure lying on the floor, blond hair visible even across the room, and she realized that he was trying to get to Tyler. She only hoped that they weren't too late.
She kept an eye on Henry while she was fighting, and he'd just reached Tyler when she saw someone moving toward them. Breaking away from Piper, Prue bolted across the room to reach Henry and Tyler before the demon did.
But, as she got closer, she realized that it wasn't a demon, but Paige, a look of protective fury on her face. She'd stopped in front of Henry, her hand raised as if to slash at him with her talons, but then he turned and looked at her, and she froze.
"It's okay," Henry said, quietly, even as Prue got ready to strike her sister down if she tried to hurt the man. "It's all right, Paige. I've got Tyler; he's safe with me."
Paige nodded, once, stiffly, lowering her hand, slowly. It was then that Prue noticed the tremors that wracked her body, making her shake. She was clearly fighting for control against the demonic influence that threatened to take over, and Prue was afraid that she was losing.
"Prue, help me," Paige whispered, her voice cracking with the strain. "I can't-"
"It's going to be okay," Prue hastened to reassure her. "You just have to not kill anyone. Otherwise, you'll be a Fury for the rest of your life."
"That's easier said than done," Paige replied, honestly. "I can barely think straight, and these demons are too strong. I can't fight them."
"You're not alone, now," Prue told her, firmly. "You've got me and Piper, now."
"And me," Henry spoke up, quietly, surprising them. "If anyone can fight this thing, it's you, Paige. Trust me."
Paige nodded, again, a determined look crossing her face at Henry's words. Then, she and Prue moved into the fray, leaving Henry to protect Tyler. They fought their way to Piper's side, where the middle witch had just blown up a demon.
"Nice shot, sis!" Prue cheered her, and Piper grinned.
"Thanks," she said. "And, that one, I was actually trying to blow up. I think I'm finally getting the hang of my new power."
"Good," Prue replied. "Now, we just have to help Paige keep control of hers."
"This thing about turning into a Fury?" Paige asked, her voice strained as she slashed out at a demon with her talons. "Am I allowed to maim the demons at all?"
"Andy just said no killing," Piper told her, flicking her hands out and freezing a demon in his tracks and then moving aside so that Prue could send the demon flying. "So, I'd say, maim to your heart's content."
She was about to blow up a demon heading for Prue's back when something small came flying through the air. The demon instinctively caught the flying object, and a second later, the object exploded, making the demon scream as he suddenly caught fire.
"What the hell?" Prue asked, startled, as she and her sisters turned to see what had just vanquished the demon.
They saw Henry and a now-conscious Tyler in the corner, with Tyler leaning against the older man, and Henry had his arms wrapped protectively around the boy. Henry had something in his hands that he threw, and as soon as it was near a demon, Tyler squinted at the flying object, making it burst into flames and injuring the nearby demon.
"Those are the emergency flares from the roadside kit in the back of my Jeep," Piper said, surprised, as Henry threw another flare toward a demon.
"I didn't know they could explode like that," Prue commented.
"Apparently, they can," Piper replied. "And, apparently, it's a good way to kill demons."
"Since Henry's got everything under control over there," Paige interjected, suddenly, "can we maybe worry about these demons?"
Prue whirled back around in time to see Paige slash at a demon with her talons, opening his chest up with a single blow. The demon staggered backward, reeling with pain, but he still managed to throw an energy ball that hit Paige and threw her backward. She landed, hard, on the floor, and when she got back to her feet, her eyes were blazing and the markings on her skin were getting darker.
But, with an obvious effort, she managed to rein herself in, keeping control of the demon inside that was trying to take over. Her struggles cost her, however, as she didn't notice the demon advancing on her, and Prue barely had time to shout.
Focusing, she astral projected to Paige's side, kicking the demon away from her youngest sister. A second later, she was back in her own body, again, but she'd bought Paige enough time to get herself back under control.
Trying to keep her attention on both Piper and Paige, Prue turned to confront the latest demon coming at her, but then the demon stopped in his tracks, his head tipped to the side as though he was listening to something. Then, before she had the chance to do anything, all of the surviving demons shimmered out of the room, leaving them alone.
"What the hell?" Piper burst out, into the silence that fell over the room.
"They all ran away," Prue noted, unnecessarily, as she looked around the room. "Maybe we were too much for them?"
"Maybe MacGuyver over there scared them away," Piper quipped, jerking her head in Henry's direction.
Prue turned to look at the man, and watched as Paige moved unsteadily toward him and Tyler, still shaking. But, Henry didn't hesitate, reaching out and pulling Paige into his arms, holding on tightly, with Tyler joining in on the hug, as well. After a second, Paige relaxed into the embrace, dropping her head onto Henry's shoulder as she hugged him and Tyler back. At the same time, the markings on her skin vanished into smoke and her talons disappeared. When she pulled away from Henry, she was completely human, again, a tired smile gracing her features.
"Thank you," she said, quietly. "For not giving up on me, thank you."
"Well, I couldn't exactly let you spend the rest of your life as a demon," Henry said, jokingly, although from the look on his face, it was clear that he wanted to say something else, entirely.
"We still have another problem," Piper spoke up into the silence that had fallen over the room. "I don't think Tyler was the only kid being held here," she added, as she and Prue walked over to the couple. "There was a girl in the office of some creepy demon, and he said something about taking her down to somewhere and putting some kind of collar on her."
"He was talking like it would inhibit her powers, or something," Prue added.
"Let's go, then," Paige said, immediately. "Henry, can you stay here with Tyler?"
"Be careful," Henry said, in response.
Then, in a move that clearly surprised Paige, he leaned forward and brushed a gentle kiss across her cheek. He didn't say anything about it, and Paige just looked at him for a second with a strange look on her face.
"I guess that's two that I owe you, now," she finally said, and a small smile quirked across Henry's face.
Then, Paige spun on her heel and headed for the doors leading out of the room, with her sisters scrambling to catch up.
"What the heck was that about?" Prue asked, when they'd caught up to Paige outside the room.
"I think that man delights in being confusing," was all Paige said, as they walked down the hallway. "Hey, you guys didn't run into the other Furies on your way here, did you?"
"No," Piper answered. "We actually expected to find them here with you, since Henry said that they were the ones who grabbed you."
"They disappeared right after we got here," Paige told them. "I'm worried that they're going after someone else."
"If they are, then we'll hunt them down," Prue vowed.
As they followed the hallway, they passed a single elevator in the middle of the hallway, and Prue stopped her sisters when she saw it.
"Since when to mansions come with elevators?" she asked, jerking her head toward the steel doors.
"You think that'll take us where we need to go?" Paige asked, as she reached out and pushed the only button on the wall, an arrow pointing down.
"So long as it doesn't take us to another demonic training ground in the Underworld," Piper commented, and Paige shot her an incredulous look.
"Okay, I'm going to want the story on that little remark, later," she said.
When the elevator arrived, the three of them got on, moving cautiously out of range of the doors, just in case. The elevator only had two buttons, up and down, and with some trepidation, Prue pushed the down button.
The elevator started traveling, and a few seconds later, the doors slid open with an almost imperceptible hiss. Piper was the first one out the door, her hands raised to freeze anything in sight, but the room they'd emerged in was completely empty, and she signaled her sisters out with a wave of her hand.
"Looks like we were too late," she said, as they looked around the room.
The walls of the room were lined with prison cells, all of them empty with the doors thrown open. Each cell was outfitted with a single cot with a thin blanket thrown over it, and the cells were only big enough to comfortably hold one person.
"What the hell were they doing down here?" Prue asked, in disgust, as she picked up one of the thin blankets.
"I'd give anything to have Phoebe and her premonitions here, right about now," Piper said, quietly, obviously not thinking about it, and Prue flinched at the reminder of their younger sister.
"Where is Phoebe?" Paige spoke up, quietly, into the awkward silence that followed Piper's comment. "I mean, I know that she should be here, but-"
"Phoebe went missing the day that your future self came back and saved us from Shax," Prue told her. "She was supposed to be up in the attic getting the vanquishing spell, but you and Henry came down, instead."
Paige looked surprised at that, and Prue wondered if she knew that her future self hadn't come back, alone. From the speculative look that crossed her younger sister's face, she guessed not.
"I still don't remember anything about that day," Paige said, quietly, after a few seconds. "I don't know if I saw Phoebe on that day, or not. I'm sorry."
"It's okay," Piper tried to reassure her, but Paige shook her head, stubbornly.
"No, it's not," she said, flatly. "If I came back from the future to save you guys, then I came back to save all of you. I'll do everything I can to help you find Phoebe. It would just be a hell of a lot easier if I had all of my memories."
"You're getting your memories back, aren't you?" Piper asked.
"Yeah, slowly," Paige grumbled. "The only thing that seems to speed things up is when I get a burst of adrenaline, but I can't keep putting myself in life or death situations just to test that theory."
"If you stick with us long enough, you won't have to go looking for them," Prue said, jokingly. "The life and death situations just start falling into your lap, after a while."
A faint look of alarm flashed across Paige's face and she blinked at Prue in shock, trying to digest that little bit of information.
"Is it too late to back out of the whole witch thing?" she asked, faintly, as the three of them headed back to the elevator.
"You're stuck with us, now," Prue told her, slinging an arm around the younger woman's shoulders.
"How reassuring," Paige grumbled.
When the elevator opened on the main hallway, they got out and headed back to the room where they'd left Henry and Tyler. As they walked into the room, they were greeted by a pile of ash in the middle of the room – and a Fury advancing on Henry and Tyler with her talons outstretched.
"No!" Paige yelled, and a gust of wind whipped up out of nowhere to slam into the Fury, whirling her around and around in a mini-tornado before it spit her out on the other side of the room.
The Fury staggered to her feet, clearly dazed by her sudden trip across the room, but Paige didn't let the demon have a second to regain her bearings. She thrust her hand out, wordlessly, and a bolt of lightning left her palm to strike the Fury squarely in the chest. The Fury went up in flames, leaving only a pile of ashes like the one a few feet away.
Still quiet, Paige went over to where Henry and Tyler were standing, hugging them both tightly as she reassured herself that they were okay. Prue and Piper hung back, letting the three of them having their quiet moment, but it was interrupted by the sound of distant sirens getting closer and closer.
Going to the window on the far side of the room, Prue looked out, her eyebrows flying up in shock at what she saw.
"Okay," she demanded, "who called the cops?"
"Okay," Prue demanded, as she whirled away from the window. "Who called the cops?"
"I did," Henry spoke up, surprising all three of them.
Paige stared at him, incredulously, as she pulled away from him.
"You did what?" she demanded. "I don't suppose that it occurred to you that we just vanquished a lot of demons in here?"
"It did," Henry answered, evenly. "But, I talked to an Inspector Morris, who you-"
He broke off, suddenly, and Paige realized that he was trying to figure out a way to phrase things so that he didn't sound like he was crazy. Prue and Piper might have let the cat out of the bag, in regards to Henry having come back from the future with her future self, but Henry didn't know that she knew that.
"Darryl Morris is a friend of ours," Piper spoke up, smoothly, saving Henry from trying to come up with something plausible. "He helps us on cases like this, and none of this is going to freak him out."
"Besides," Henry added, quickly. "We have to think of some way to explain how Tyler's parents disappeared."
"I think you vanquished one of them with your exploding flares," Paige told him, wryly.
"Yeah, well, we can't exactly tell that to a judge," Henry retorted. "So, maybe this Morris guy can help us with that."
"Help with what?" a new voice spoke up, making all of them jump with surprise.
"Make some noise, next time, Darryl," Piper scolded the man as he walked across the room to join them.
Quickly and concisely, they told Darryl everything that had happened, that day, and Paige watched as his frown got deeper and deeper as he looked around the room.
"You said that Tyler called your cell phone?" he finally asked, turning to Paige.
"Yeah, it's-" She broke off, patting down her pockets, quickly. "Wait a minute, where's my phone?"
"Oh, here," Henry said, quickly, digging her phone out of his pocket and passing it to her. "Prue and Piper were using it to scry for you, earlier."
"So, Tyler called you," Darryl prompted, as Paige took her phone back. "Did he actually mention demons, at all?"
"Just some crazy woman with a knife," Paige told him.
"Why?" Prue asked, looking over at Darryl. "What are you thinking?"
"That we stick as close to the truth as possible, on this one," Darryl said, surprising all of them. "Leave out the demon part, of course. We'll say that Tyler's parents were part of some kind of satanic cult, or something, that they drugged him for some kind of ritual, and that he called you after he managed to get away. Then, you called me to help, came out here against my advice, and found the whole place empty, with Tyler hiding somewhere."
"That's actually a really good excuse," Paige said, impressed by the man's quick thinking.
"I do have my moments," Darryl said, with a sardonic grin.
"You want me to lie to the police?" Tyler spoke up, a hint of doubt in his voice.
"Well, we've seen some dangerous things happen when regular people find out about magic," Prue spoke up. "And, I know it seems bad to lie, but the alternative is even worse."
"But, what if I can't?" Tyler asked, nervously, and Paige realized that there was more than just nerves in his voice, there was outright fear.
"You don't even have to talk to the police, if you don't want to," she reassured him.
"What if they make me?" Tyler asked, looking at her with a desperate look in his eyes.
"They're going to have to get through me, first," Paige told him, firmly, and behind him, Prue had an eyebrow raised.
"The cops aren't going to know what hit them," she muttered.
Finally, Tyler nodded, leaning against Paige for support. Paige wrapped her arms around him, and she winced as a sudden pain shot up her arms. Gingerly, she rolled her arms so that she could see what was wrong, and she saw the burns on the insides of her arms that she'd managed to forget about in the adrenaline rush of fighting demons.
Henry looked shocked when he saw the state of her arms, but to her surprise he didn't say anything. Instead, he pulled Piper aside, whispering something that she couldn't hear. Piper nodded, saying something in return, and a few seconds later, bright white lights filled the air. Andy, the man that Piper and Prue had introduced as their Whitelighter, walked toward her.
Quietly, he healed her arms, and Paige sighed in relief as the pain subsided. 'Thank you,' she mouthed over Tyler's shoulder, as much for the healing as for the man's discretion in not alerting Tyler. He'd had a rough enough day without worrying over her.
Andy nodded, silently, stepping back, and then Paige looked up at the sound of voices. Beside her, Andy had gone completely stiff, staring in shock at the police officers who were filing into the room, talking with Darryl, Piper, and Prue.
"Oh, shit," he breathed, softly.
"Something wrong?" Henry asked, quietly, as he joined them.
"Just that I died two years ago," the Whitelighter muttered.
"That could be a problem," Paige said, taking a quick look around to see if there was anywhere that they could hide Andy, in a hurry.
But, before they could do anything, one of the officers looked over at them, his eyes widening in shock when he saw Andy.
"Hey, Trudeau," he called out, as everyone looked over in their direction. "Back at work so soon?"
"Um, yeah," Andy stammered, as he shot Paige and Henry a nervous, sidelong glance. "Hey, Morris, I got witness statements from these three."
"Great," Darryl called back, and Paige watched Andy breathe a quiet sigh of relief.
"Well, that's one obstacle out of the way," she said, quietly. "At least we don't have to worry about talking to the cops. No offense, Andy."
"None taken," Andy said, waving her comment off.
Paige was about to say something else, but she snapped her mouth shut when one of the other cops came over to where they were standing.
"Ms. Matthews, Officer Mitchell," he greeted them. "I'm Inspector Marks. You know that what you did was extremely dangerous, don't you?"
"Yeah," Henry said, ruefully, with a glance over at Paige. "We're starting to pick up on that."
"That aside," Marks continued, "it was also incredibly brave. I don't know many people who would go charging into a situation like this."
"You have kids, Inspector?" Henry asked, quietly, wrapping his arms protectively around Paige and Tyler. "Kind of makes the danger irrelevant."
"Did you want something, Inspector?" Paige asked, hoping that the man wasn't about to start asking questions that they really weren't prepared to answer. "We've all had a long day, and I really just want to get Tyler home."
"I'm afraid that's the problem," Marks told her. "Tyler Martin is no longer your foster son, Ms. Matthews. And with his parents currently missing, he's back to being a ward of the state."
"Like hell," Paige growled, tightening her arms around Tyler as she glared at the man.
"I'm not saying that it's right," Marks insisted. "But, it is the truth."
"Not for long," Paige retorted, under her breath.
When Darryl called out to Marks, the other man thankfully left them alone, and Paige let out a breath that she hadn't even been aware she was holding.
"How could I forget about having to deal with the family court judge?" she sighed, heavily. "God, what are we going to do?"
"Go up in front of the judge and hope that Darryl's story doesn't have any holes in it," Henry said, calmly. At her incredulous look, he added, "What? Like you're afraid of a mere mortal after facing down all those demons?"
"Yeah, a mere mortal with the power to take away my kid," Paige shot back, but there wasn't any real heat in her voice.
"It's not like you're the only one who's going to be lying to the judge," Henry retorted, quietly, so that no one else could hear him.
"You're coming with us?" Paige asked, and Henry nodded.
"I've got your back," he reassured her.
"That's so sweet," Prue said, in a syrupy voice, as she and Piper came over, and Paige rolled her eyes at her older sister. "So, Darryl's taking off with the other cops, presumably to start a search for Tyler's abductors. Apparently they're leaving Andy to handle things, here." Shooting the Whitelighter a look, she added, "Any idea what that's about?"
"You mean, why no one seems to remember that I died?" Andy asked, bluntly. "I have no clue."
"The Elders probably did something," Henry suggested. When Prue and Piper shot him an incredulous look, he shrugged. "Well, if they can merge my soul with a version of me five years in the past, bringing someone back from the dead probably isn't out of the realm of possibility."
"So that really is what happened," Paige muttered, and Henry gave her a curious look. "I'll explain later," she said, quickly.
Her phone rang a second later, and she dug it out of her pocket, flipping open the phone.
"Hello?" she asked.
"Paige, I heard about what happened to Tyler," Cowan told her. "Is he all right?"
"Tyler's fine, he's not hurt," she hastened to reassure the older man. "Mr. Cowan, what am I going to do about Tyler's situation? I can't just let him go back into foster care. Not after everything that's happened."
"Funny you should mention it," her boss said, "A couple of hours ago, I was contacted by the judge who presided over Tyler's original hearing, and it seems that there were some inconsistencies about it."
"What kind of inconsistencies?" Paige asked.
"Apparently," Cowan told her, "all of the evidence provided by Tyler's so-called parents was faked, somehow."
"Really," Paige said, dryly. "Imagine that."
"As you can imagine," Cowan continued, "the judge is not very happy about having been scammed, especially after he heard what nearly happened this afternoon, and he wants to set up another hearing."
"When?" Paige asked.
"In about half an hour," Cowan answered, and Paige automatically glanced down at her watch, grimacing at the cracked face that had been broken some time during the fight. "It's just a formality, really," Cowan went on. "The judge will want to talk to Tyler, and then to you, and, well, you know the drill."
"Yeah," Paige replied, having been to her fair share of custody hearings in her three years at South Bay Social Services. "So, you said half an hour?"
"Try not to be late," Cowan told her, and then he hung up.
"So, apparently, we have a court date," Paige told Henry, flipping her phone shut. "And we need to be across town in half an hour."
"How are we even going to get to the courthouse? Neither of us really drove here," Henry reminded her.
"Take my Jeep," Piper said, tossing her keys to Paige, who caught them one-handed. "Andy can orb us back to the Manor."
"Are you sure?" Paige asked, doubtfully. "I mean, I don't want to leave you guys without a car."
"Yeah, don't worry about it," Piper reassured her. "We've got Prue's car if we need it."
"Thanks," Paige said, gratefully. "I'll get your car back as soon as I can."
"Don't worry about it," Piper repeated. "Just get going. You don't want to be late."
"We'll call you when it's all over," Paige promised, and then she, Henry, and Tyler ran out to Piper's Jeep.
The drive to the courthouse was filled with tense silence, and in the rearview mirror, Paige could see Tyler fidgeting anxiously as he stared out of the window. He looked freaked out, not that Paige could blame him, considering everything that he'd gone through.
"We're almost done, okay?" she tried to reassure him, but Tyler still looked worried.
"What if the judge tries to make me go with some other family?" he asked, quietly, so low that she could barely hear him. "I don't want to leave you, again."
"That's not going to happen," Paige said, automatically. "Those demons used magic to screw things up in the first place, so if I have to use magic to fix it, I will."
"If nothing else," Henry told her, "there are a couple of Elders that we can convince to help us out. They still owe you for saving Piper and Prue's lives, after all."
"I think we'll leave that as plan B," Paige decided.
She parked in front of the courthouse, carefully maneuvering Piper's car into the first open spot she could find in the parking garage. She was driving slower than she usually would, because Piper's car was so much larger than she was used to, and she breathed a quiet sigh of relief when she got the car parked without a single scratch.
They went into the courthouse and got directions from the front desk to where they needed to go. On the elevator, Paige leaned against the wall, wrapping her arms around Tyler when he slumped against her.
"How are you holding up, kiddo?" Henry asked, sympathetically, and Tyler jerked his shoulder in a listless shrug.
"I'm fine," he mumbled, and Paige squeezed his shoulders, encouragingly. "Just want to go home."
"We will," Paige told him, firmly. "They're not taking you away, again. I promise."
When the elevator stopped on their floor, the three of them stepped out of the car, only to almost be run over by a middle aged man with a stack of file folders in his arms.
"Watch it," the man snapped, glaring at them, and Paige bit back the urge to snap back at him.
"Sorry," she said, instead, pasting a falsely-bright smile on her face. "Which way is Courtroom Seven?"
"Down that way," the man said, jerking his hand back over his shoulder. "Now, do you mind?" he added, gesturing impatiently for them to move out of his way.
"Wow," Tyler muttered, after the elevator doors had closed behind the man. "And I thought my demon parents were bad."
"Actually," Paige told him, as they went down the hallway, "it turns out that all of the evidence that the demons presented to the court was faked. That's what my boss had called to tell me."
"You mean they weren't my real parents?" Tyler asked, incredulously.
"Not a chance," Paige said. As they stopped in front of the courtroom, she added, "You ready for this?"
"Ready as I'll ever be," Tyler replied, determination in his voice.
"Paige," Henry said, suddenly, stopping her before she could pull open the door, "Paige, wait a minute."
"What's wrong?" Paige asked, turning to look at him.
"Nothing's wrong," Henry hastened to assure her. "It's just – I have an idea, and I know it's going to sound crazy, but just hear me out, first-"
"Henry, what is it?" she demanded, starting to get worried at the solemn look on his face.
Henry opened his mouth to say something, but then he snapped his mouth shut, swallowing hard. He'd gone pale, and he looked nervous. Finally, he screwed his courage up and just blurted it out.
"What?" Paige demanded, incredulously, her hand falling away from the door handle as she stared at Henry in shock.
"I think we should get married," Henry told her, clearly nervous but pushing ahead, nonetheless.
Paige gaped at him, soundlessly, a million protests running through her mind. The foremost one being the fact that they hadn't even known each other for a week, certainly not long enough to make such a life-altering decision. Not to mention that she didn't even really know Henry – except that she knew that he was unbelievably brave, and he clearly cared for Tyler, and it was becoming pretty clear that he had some pretty strong feelings for her, as well.
And, if she was going to be honest, she'd never found herself falling so hard and so fast for anyone, before. It was a little terrifying, actually, to feel such a deep connection to another person. Over the last three days, Henry had been in her thoughts practically every second that she wasn't with him. And when they were together, she felt like she'd known him for years.
But, it was such a huge, life-altering decision.
'Any bigger than rearranging your life to adopt Tyler?' a little voice in the back of her head, asked, wryly. 'Bigger than discovering magic, and demons, and your sisters?'
When she glanced over at Henry, he was still looking at her, expectantly.
"Why?" she finally asked him, quietly. "Why do you want to marry me?"
"Well," Henry said, thoughtfully, "in the short term, because of Tyler. You've seen it yourself, that foster kids are placed better in two parent homes, and I don't want to lose Tyler any more than you do."
"Really?" Tyler asked, softly, and Henry reached out and pulled the boy over, hugging him to his side.
"Definitely," he reassured him.
"Cool," was all Tyler said, but he had a huge, beaming grin on his face, and Paige could already feel her resolve starting to melt at the pure happiness in his expression.
Part of her would have said yes on that, alone, to see Tyler safe and happy. But, another part of her needed to know for sure, know that Tyler wasn't the only reason that Henry was asking her to marry him.
"You said in the short term," she said, quietly. "But, what about the long term?"
"I love you," Henry said, earnestly, reaching out and grabbing her hands. "Paige, I've loved you since practically the first moment I saw you. You are the most courageous, spirited, amazing woman I've ever known, and I can't imagine loving anyone else. I want to spend the rest of my life with you; I want to wake up beside you in the morning and fall asleep beside you at night. I want us to grow old together." Pausing, he added, "I want you to say yes before I have to resort to lovesick clichés that just end up embarrassing us both."
Paige grinned at his small joke, but then the smile turned sad as something occurred to her.
"This future that we came from," Paige asked, hesitantly, "we loved each other, didn't we?"
"Yeah," Henry said, quietly. "Why do you think I came back with you?"
"Then, yes," Paige told him, and she watched his eyes light up. "I will marry you, Henry Mitchell."
Laughing, Henry grabbed her and pulled her to him, kissing her quickly. Paige leaned against him, kissing him back as she twined her fingers with his.
"But," she cautioned, as she finally, reluctantly, pulled away from him, "we'd better hope that the judge is satisfied with just an engagement, since I don't think that we can get married in the next five minutes."
Before Henry could say anything, a young man in a suit approached them from down the hallway, a stack of papers in his hands.
"Oh, are you folks here for the Martin case hearing?" he asked, when he saw them.
"Don't tell me we're late," Paige said, dread pooling in her stomach at the idea.
"No, no," the young man hastened to reassure them. "As a matter of fact, the hearing has been postponed for a couple of hours. The judge was inevitably delayed."
"So, when is the hearing?" Paige asked, and the young man glanced at the bright yellow sticky note on the top of the stack of papers in his arms.
"Seven pm," he answered. "In two and a half hours," he added, glancing quickly at his watch. "I'm sorry if this has inconvenienced you in any way."
"Not at all," Paige told him, shooting Henry a wry glance. "No, thank you for coming to tell us."
"My pleasure," the young man answered, and then he left them standing in the hallway.
"You were saying?" Henry asked, arching an eyebrow. "You know, I think I saw the county clerk's office down on the first floor."
"Are we even going to be able to get a marriage license this fast?" Paige asked, doubtfully, and Henry shrugged.
"We can try," he told her.
"Okay," Paige said. "Let's go get married."
As they walked back to the elevator, Paige dug her cell phone out of her pocket and dialed Piper. After three rings, her sister answered.
"How'd you like to come to a wedding?" Paige asked, before Piper could say anything.
"Whose?" Piper asked, and Paige grinned at Henry.
"Mine," she answered, and there was a stunned silence on the other end of the line.
"You're getting married?" Piper demanded, incredulously, and Paige could hear a distant exclamation that sounded like it came from Prue. "When?"
"As soon as Henry and I can get the marriage license approved," Paige told her. "So, what do you say? Can I count on my sisters to stand by my side?"
"We'll be there," Piper promised. "Hey, do you need Prue and me to pick you up anything?"
"I need my driver's license; it's in my purse," Paige said, and then she trailed off when she realized that she hadn't seen the bag since earlier that afternoon when she'd been grabbed by the Furies.
"Your purse is in my car," Henry spoke up, having heard her. "You dropped it when the Furies attacked, and I took it with me."
"Well, where's your car?" Paige asked.
"Parked in front of the Manor," Henry told her. "Tell Piper that your purse is on the floor of the passenger seat, and my car keys are sitting on the table in the foyer."
"I heard," Piper told her. "We'll get your purse to you in a minute."
"Thanks," Paige said, gratefully.
She hung up the phone as they stepped onto the elevator, and a few seconds after the doors slid shut, a bright white light filled the small space. When the light cleared, Andy was standing in the middle of the elevator car with Paige's purse in his hands.
"Here," he told her, handing her the purse. "Piper and Prue will be here in about half an hour. They've got some things to get ready before your wedding."
"What kind of things?" Paige asked, suspiciously.
"With those two?" Andy said, with a wry smile. "Anything's possible."
"Should I be worried?" Paige asked Henry, as Andy orbed away.
"Nah," Henry said, with a shrug. "What's the worst that could happen?"
Paige just shook her head, ruefully. When the elevator stopped on the first floor, they headed for the county clerk's office. And forty-five minutes later, they walked out with their marriage license.
"So, now we just have to find someone to officiate," Paige said, and Henry reached out to take the marriage license from her.
"Tyler and I will take care of that," he reassured her. "You go talk to your sisters."
He nodded to where Piper and Prue had just walked into the courthouse, Piper with a dress bag slung over her arm. Prue waved quickly to get her attention, and Paige crossed the lobby to where her sisters were standing.
"What is that?" Paige asked, nodding at the dress bag, but her sisters just took her by the arms and started steering her toward the restroom down the hall.
"You'll see," Prue told her, mysteriously.
The restroom was empty when they entered, and Piper hung the dress bag from a coat hook on the wall. She unzipped the bag and pulled a lacy, ivory wedding dress that made Paige gasp in amazement.
"That's beautiful," she murmured, brushing her fingers lightly over the delicate material.
"It was Mom's dress," Piper told her, with a small smile. "Prue and I thought that you should get to wear it, today."
"Oh, Piper, I can't-" Paige protested, automatically, but Piper cut her off with an upraised hand.
"You cannot get married in the same clothes that you vanquished demons in," she said, sternly. "It's a family rule."
"Since when?" Prue asked, with a laugh.
"Since now," Piper told her. "Come on," she encouraged Paige. "Try the dress on."
Paige stripped out of her work clothes, folding up the jeans and blouse, neatly and setting them on the counter. Then, she slipped the dress on, adjusting the skirt as it fell to the floor.
"A perfect fit," Prue told her, helping her settle the dress where it lay on her shoulders.
"All right," Piper said, passing Paige a small bag. "Makeup and other essentials; Prue and I will be right back."
"Should I be concerned about whatever you two are up to?" Paige asked, suspiciously, but all she got from her sisters was a pair of bright smiles as they disappeared out of the door.
"And to think," Paige muttered to the empty room, "my life used to be so simple."
Standing in front of the mirror, she started carefully working on her makeup, but she had to stop when an unexpected burst of tears filled her eyes, blinding her. Paige hastily wiped the tears from her eyes, sniffing slightly.
"I'm getting married," she said to her reflection, a catch in her voice. "I'm in love, and I'm getting married."
She could hardly believe it, even saying the words out loud didn't seem real. But, the reality of the situation hit her suddenly when she glanced down at her watch, and saw how little time she had left. Muttering quietly under her breath, Paige looked in the mirror, again, to keep working on her makeup, but her vision was still blurry, and she could barely see her own reflection. Then she blinked, and suddenly she wasn't standing in the courthouse restroom, any longer.
She was sitting in front of her vanity, doing her makeup, when a swirl of bright lights filled the room behind her. Paige whirled around, a smile breaking out over her face when Sam materialized in the middle of her bedroom.
"You made it," she said, happily, and her father nodded.
"I'm not going to miss my only daughter's wedding," he told her, and Paige moved forward to wrap her arms around him in a hug.
"I'm glad you're here," she told him. "I can't wait for you to meet Henry."
"From everything you've told me," Sam said, "he sounds like a good man."
"He is," Paige reassured him. "He's the best."
"Oh," Sam said, suddenly, pulling a small box out of his pocket. "I have something for you."
He opened the jewelry box and held it out to her, and Paige gently lifted the delicate necklace from the box with slightly shaky fingers.
"This is beautiful," she breathed.
"I gave that to Patty when we found out that she was pregnant with you," Sam told her, and Paige could feel tears spring to her eyes. "She wanted me to give it to you."
At Sam's gesture, Paige turned around, lifting her hair off the back of her neck so that he could fasten the necklace around her neck.
"It suits you," Sam said, smiling at her. "Paige, you look beautiful."
"I can't believe that this is really happening," Paige told him. "I'm really getting married."
"I have something else for you, too," Sam told her, and Paige looked at him in surprise.
"What could you possibly-" she started, but then she trailed off when Patty and her adoptive parents materialized in the middle of the room.
"Hello, sweetheart," Christine Matthews said, and Paige choked back a sob as she hugged her mother.
"We can't stay long," Andrew warned her. "But, Sam got permission for us to pop down here for a few minutes, to see you."
"I can't believe this," Paige said, as she hugged her father, hard. "I never thought you'd get to see this day."
"We are so proud of you, honey," Andrew told her. "Our little girl is getting married."
"I wish you could be there," Paige told her parents. "But, you'd probably freak out Henry's guests."
"We'll be watching," Christine told her, smiling warmly. "We're always watching over you, sweetheart."
Then, she and Andrew both looked up at the ceiling, as though listening to a distant summons.
"We have to go," Christine said, apologetically, and Paige nodded, wrapping her arms around her parents in a final hug.
"I love you," she said, her voice choking up with emotion. "I love you both, so much."
"We love you, too," Andrew told her, his voice echoing slightly as he and Christine disappeared.
"I know that wasn't very long with them," Sam said, but Paige shook her head, smiling.
"It was perfect," she reassured him. "Thank you so much, Dad."
Then, she turned to Patty, wrapping her arms around her mother as the older woman hugged her.
"My baby," Patty murmured, quietly. "Look at you."
"I love you, Mom," Paige said, feeling her voice choke up, again. "I'm so happy you're here."
"I've missed so much in your life," Patty said, a note of regret in her voice as she pulled away, but Paige shook her head, stopping her in the middle of her sentence.
"You and Dad did what you had to, to protect me," Paige reminded her. "And I wouldn't have given up that life for all the magic in the world."
"And we have the chance, now, to get to know our daughter," Sam told Patty, reaching out to hug both women.
A moment later, he looked up at the ceiling, frowning slightly as a faint jingle filled the air.
"Go," Paige told him, before he could say anything. "Take care of your charges, and I'll see you at the party, afterward."
Sam nodded, orbing away. A few moments later, Patty also disappeared, leaving Paige standing alone in her bedroom. She stared after her parents with a sad smile on her face, and then she turned back to the makeup spread out on her vanity, whistling 'Going to the Chapel' softly under her breath.
Paige gasped as the memory ended, staggering slightly as she held onto the sink in front of her to keep her balance. She could feel wetness on her face, and when she lifted a shaky hand, she wiped tears away from her eyes.
"I miss you, Mom and Dad," she whispered, quietly, and she almost thought that she could feel a ghostly hand on her shoulder at the words.
Then, she whirled around when she saw a swirl of bright lights reflected in the mirror. The lights disappeared, leaving Sam standing in front of her, and Paige felt a shaky smile spread across her face.
"Dad," she said, a burst of emotion rushing through her.
Sam didn't say anything; he just moved forward, unsteadily, his steps labored and shaky. Alarmed, Paige moved to meet him, and then Sam collapsed into her arms with a quiet groan.
"Dad?" she said, panicked, and then she saw the Darklighter's arrow protruding from the back of his shoulder…
"Hey, Henry, can I ask you a question?"
Tyler had an unusually serious look on his face, and Henry wondered what was up. The boy had seemed excited earlier about him and Paige getting married; now he was wondering if Tyler was having second thoughts.
But, the boy surprised him, like he'd been doing for the past few days.
"You and Paige aren't from around here, are you?" Tyler asked, with a careful look around at the few people lingering in the lobby of the courthouse.
"What do you mean?" Henry asked, confused, and Tyler worried at his lip with his teeth as he tried to think of what to say.
"When you asked Paige to marry you," he said, hesitantly, "Paige asked you if you two loved each other. In the future," he hissed, the last word quiet to keep people from hearing him.
"Ah," Henry said, as comprehension dawned.
He steered Tyler to a secluded corner where they were likely to be overheard, leaning against the wall as he tried to think of how to phrase his answer.
"Paige and I," he finally answered, "travelled back in time from the year two thousand and six. We came back to save her sisters' lives."
"Wow," Tyler said, clearly impressed. Then, he frowned, and asked, "But, why wait five years? Why not come back a couple of weeks after whatever happened, and change things then? Wouldn't that have been easier?"
"Paige was right," Henry told him, with a wry grin. "You're a pretty smart kid. And yes," he continued, before Tyler could say anything, "to answer your question, it would have been a lot easier, and was exactly what we were trying to do, to save her sisters who had died that evening. But, the spell – something went wonky, and the next thing we knew, we were five years in the past."
"What you were trying to fix," Tyler asked, "did you?"
"With any luck," Henry said, "we've prevented it from ever happening in the first place."
"So, if you've stopped it," Tyler said, quietly, "does that mean you're going back to the future that you came from?"
The flash of realization hit him like a ton of bricks, but rather than answer, Henry reached out and pulled Tyler to him in a tight hug.
"Paige and I may not have gone back to when we intended," he said, fiercely. "But, we ended up exactly where we needed to be."
"You're staying?" Tyler asked, a hopeful note in his voice. "You're not going to leave?"
"Fire-breathing demons couldn't drag me away," Henry reassured him, but Tyler pulled away with a slightly alarmed look in his eyes.
"They breathe fire?" he demanded, incredulously, and Henry chuckled.
"It's an expression," he said. "A poorly-phrased one, apparently, but, still, just an expression."
"Good," Tyler said, visibly relieved. "Cause, throwing energy balls, I can handle. But breathing fire is just not fair."
"Nothing the demons do is fair," Henry told him. "Now, come on. You and I have some work to do before the wedding."
Twenty minutes later, he'd managed to get a minister to officiate the wedding, the same woman who'd married him and Paige the first time around, not that she'd know that. He'd known the older woman for years; she ran a youth group that he'd gotten many of his younger parolees involved in, and he'd cultivated a close relationship with her. Which was probably the only reason he'd been able to convince her to officiate his wedding at the last second.
Now, he was on the phone, trying to get a best man. His best friend, Ryan, answered on the third ring, sounding distracted as he spoke. Henry grinned, imagining the look on his face when he heard the news.
"Hey, man, it's Henry," he said, and Ryan offered a preoccupied greeting, his mind clearly focused on something else.
"What's up, Mitchell?" Ryan asked.
"Oh, nothing much," Henry told him. "I didn't have anything else to do, tonight, so I figured I'd get married. Want to be my best man?"
There was a moment of silence on the other end of the line, and then, "Tell me it's not Amanda. Because that road is only going to lead to heartbreak, man."
"It's not Amanda," Henry assured him, and he could hear Ryan sigh with relief.
"So, who?" he asked. "That social worker that you haven't been able to shut up about for the past two days?"
"Yeah," Henry told him. "She's it, Ryan. She's the one."
"Is there any point in my reminding you that you've only known this woman for less than a week?" Ryan pointed out.
"Not really," Henry told him.
"All right, then," Ryan said. "Sure, I'll be your best man."
"We're at the courthouse," Henry told him. "Wedding's in about half an hour. Don't be late."
"Hey," Ryan said, before he could hang up, "Do you have a tux?"
"No," Henry answered, and he could practically hear Ryan's eyes rolling.
"Do you love this woman?" the other man asked.
"Of course I do," Henry replied, automatically.
"Then, you are not getting married in a pair of jeans," Ryan told him, flatly. "My grandfather's shop is near the courthouse; I'll pick you up a tux and you can return it in the morning."
"Do you think you can dig up a kid's-size tux at the same time?" Henry asked, glancing over at Tyler.
"You certainly don't ask a lot, do you?" Ryan muttered. "All right, how tall is the kid?"
"Five feet, give or take a couple of inches," Henry told him.
"I'll see you in twenty," Ryan replied, and then he hung up.
Fifteen minutes later (and Henry didn't even want to know how fast the other man had been driving to get across town that fast) he and Tyler were in the men's room changing into their borrowed tuxes under Ryan's critical gaze.
"This isn't going to be a perfect fit," Ryan warned, but Henry thought that the other man had done a pretty good job of it.
"I don't know," he disagreed, looking himself over in the nearby mirror. "Mine fits me pretty well. And so does Tyler's."
"Yeah, it feels comfortable," the boy agreed with him, tugging on the jacket.
"Looks like you're set, then," Ryan told him, making a few, nearly-invisible alterations to the way the jacket hung on his shoulders. "Ready to get married?"
"As ready as I'll ever be," Henry told him, a jolt of excitement running through him at the words. "I'll be out there in a second," he added, as Ryan and Tyler started for the door.
"Five minutes, and then I come looking for you," Ryan threatened, and then he and Tyler disappeared out the door.
Alone in the bathroom, Henry took a deep breath to calm the butterflies that had sprang up in his stomach. He couldn't figure out why he was so nervous. He hadn't felt like this even before his first wedding; by now, everything should be old hat. But, that didn't do anything to quell the anxiety.
"This is it," he told his reflection, solemnly. "The first day of the rest of my life."
Taking another deep breath, he turned to leave the bathroom. But, he was stopped by a swirl of bright white lights out of the corner of his eye. Turning back around, he watched the lights fade, leaving a small box sitting on the edge of one of the sinks.
He picked up the box, carefully unfolding the note that was attached to the top.
'I thought you could use these,' the note read. 'Congratulations and good luck – Sandra.'
Curious, Henry took the top off the small box, and then a smile spread across his face as he saw his and Paige's wedding rings resting on a cushion inside. He'd thought the rings had been lost, forever, but it looked like Sandra had been able to save them.
Closing the box back up, he tucked it away carefully in his pocket to give to Ryan before the ceremony. Then, he headed out to Paige – to his future.
Paige staggered as all of Sam's weight collapsed on her, and she lowered the gravely-injured Whitelighter to the floor of the restroom as gently as she could. Sam barely stirred as she moved him, and she was starting to get worried.
"Andy!" she hissed, but there was no answer, and she wondered if the Whitelighter could even hear her.
'Guess I'm on my own, then,' she thought, after a second call went unheeded.
For a second, she considered leaving the restroom to find her sisters, but a pained, choked moan from Sam had her quickly changing her mind. If she left her father, now, he might not be alive when she got back.
Instead, she turned her attention back to Sam – and the incredibly lethal arrow jutting up from his back. Carefully, she reached out and grasped the arrow's shaft, well above the poison-tipped point. Leaning forward, she braced herself on the floor and set her knee against Sam's shoulder to keep him from moving.
Then, she took a deep breath and yanked the arrow out of his back before she could lose her courage.
Beneath her, Sam jerked like he'd just been electrocuted, his breath coming out in a sharp, ragged gasp. A dark bloodstain started swiftly spreading across the back of his shirt, and Paige instinctively pressed her free hand against the wound, holding pressure on it to stop the bleeding.
With her other hand, she threw the arrow away from her and Sam. As the arrow flew through the air, she twitched her fingers and watched in satisfaction as the arrow burst into flames, falling to the floor as a shower of fine, gray ash.
"So, the old man's found himself a protector, has he?" a sneering voice spoke up from behind her, and Paige twisted around in shock to see a Darklighter smirking at her. "You might as well give up, witch," the Darklighter continued, a smug tone in his voice. "I'm just going to finish him off, anyway, and if you give him to me without a fight, I might let you live."
Paige's eyes narrowed as she glared at the Darklighter, sparks of lightning flying around her hands as she fought to contain her fury.
"Go to Hell," she snarled. "You're not touching him."
"Guess I'll just have to kill you, too, then," the Darklighter said, casually, and with a flick of his wrist, he summoned his crossbow, pointing it straight at her heart.
Paige snapped her hand out without thinking, and a burst of wind slammed into the Darklighter. It drove him backward and pinned him against the door, and the Darklighter struggled futilely against the force of the wind, unable to even lift the crossbow he still held in his hands. From the other side of the door, she heard a muffled curse, and she realized that she'd just inadvertently blocked someone from coming into the room.
"What the hell?" a woman's voice exclaimed, anger evident in her tone. "Come on, unlock the door!"
"You don't want to come in here," Paige called back, not letting her attention wander from the Darklighter for an instant as she kept him pinned by the winds that she generated. "Someone got sick all over the floor; it's a real mess in here."
"The next bathroom is three floors up," the woman whined, and Paige wondered what the woman would think if she knew that finding a bathroom was the least of her worries.
"Sorry, can't help it," she said, instead. "It's disgusting in here. Trust me; you do not want to see this."
There was some indistinct grumbling, but the woman finally left, her heels making a sharp retort on the tile floor as her footsteps faded in the distance. Paige breathed a quick sigh of relief, still keeping a sharp eye on the captive Darklighter who was still struggling against her hold.
"Give up, witch," the Darklighter growled at her. "You can't hold me here, forever."
"Maybe not," Paige admitted, and something like triumph snuck into the Darklighter's expression. "But," she added, before he could get cocky, "I don't have to hold you here, not when I can just vanquish you."
Taking a chance, she lifted her other hand from Sam's back and snapped her fingers. A sharp retort rang through the bathroom, and a thin bolt of white-hot lightning left her fingers to strike the Darklighter in the chest. The Darklighter stared at her in shock, and then at the festering burn on his chest.
Paige flicked her hand out, throwing another bolt of lightning, and this one incinerated the Darklighter. His crossbow fell to the floor, but she lit it on fire before it even touched the tile. The world spun a little bit in front of her eyes from the effort she'd expended, but she quickly shook off the dizzy feeling.
Turning her attention back to Sam, Paige held her hands gingerly over the wound on his back. The sight of so much blood was almost overwhelming, and she closed her eyes, taking a deep breath to center herself.
"Let his power to heal flow through you."
The distant words sparked a memory, and Paige opened her eyes. Reaching out, she grasped Sam's hand in her own, placing her free hand over his wound. Biting her lip, nervously, she concentrated, and slowly the bloody wound started to heal. She almost cheered before she realized how sluggishly the wound was really healing – and then little black dots started swimming in her field of vision.
'No,' she thought, fiercely, bearing down and forcing more magic through her hands. 'I will not pass out. Not while Dad is still in danger.'
Somehow, she found the strength to keep going, and finally the wound sealed shut, leaving unmarked skin on Sam's back. Paige felt a moment of triumph as Sam slowly lifted his head, looking groggily around the small space. Then, she suddenly found herself slumped over on the floor, barely able to keep herself from completely collapsing.
She could hear Sam talking to her, but she could barely make out what he was saying. She was having a hard enough time just staying conscious. And she was swiftly losing the battle.
Then, she felt a pair of hands grip her shoulders tightly, and a burst of warmth rushed through her. When she opened her eyes, she saw Sam crouched in front of her, a worried expression on his face.
"Are you all right?" he asked, anxiously, his hands still resting on her shoulders.
"Yeah, I – I'm fine," Paige said, even though she still felt a little shaky. "I guess I fell over."
"You almost passed out," Sam said, bluntly. "Although, I don't know what the Elders are doing sending a novice Whitelighter out if you can't even heal another Whitelighter without draining yourself to do it."
"The Elders didn't really have anything to do with it," Paige told him, wryly.
With Sam's help, she got back on her feet, breathing a quiet sigh of relief when nothing started spinning around her. Once she was securely on her feet, Sam let go of her arms, looking around with a confused look on his face.
"Where are we?" he asked, clearly baffled. Then, looking back at her, he added, "And why are you in a wedding dress?"
"We're in the women's restroom of the county courthouse in San Francisco," Paige told him. "And I'm in a wedding dress because I'm getting married in less than twenty minutes."
"Why is a Whitelighter getting married?" Sam asked, and Paige grinned.
"Well, I'm not exactly a Whitelighter, yet," Paige answered. "And, I'd think that you of all people would understand falling in love," she added. "Dad."
Sam's eyes went wide as he took in her words, and Paige found herself waiting anxiously for his reaction. The older man just stared at her for several endless seconds, clearly too shocked to say anything.
"Paige?" he finally whispered, his voice coming out shaky, and Paige nodded, feeling tears prick at the corners of her eyes.
Then, to her surprise, Sam lurched forward, wrapping his arms around her in a tight hug. Paige wrapped her arms around him, letting her head fall onto his shoulder as she held on. She could feel Sam shaking in her arms, and she realized that he was crying.
"When I orbed away from the Darklighter," he choked out, "I must have found you instinctively. Just like I could always find Patty."
"I'm glad you did," Paige told him. "You might have died, otherwise."
Pulling away, suddenly, Sam looked around the room with a slightly panicked look on his face.
"The Darklighter," he started, but Paige cut him off.
"I vanquished him right before I healed you," she told him. "Which," she admitted, sheepishly, "is probably why I almost passed out."
"You have your witch and your Whitelighter powers?" Sam asked, clearly surprised, and Paige nodded. "How long?" he asked.
"Um, about a day," Paige said, after thinking about it for a moment.
"A day?" Sam asked, incredulously. "You've only had your powers a day, and you're already vanquishing demons?"
"Well, isn't that what witches are supposed to do?" Paige asked, dryly.
"At the risk of sounding like I'm lecturing you," Sam said, "allow me to point something out. Using your powers takes energy and endurance. Things you aren't going to have built up the first day you have your powers."
"That makes sense," Paige said. "It's like learning to run; you don't go from being a couch potato to running a marathon your first time out."
"Exactly," Sam said, nodding. "How many times have you used your powers, today?"
"I kind of lost count," Paige admitted. "I mean, there were my experiments at work, this morning, and then the fight with the Furies, and then the demons who took Tyler, and then the Darklighter, just now-"
"You are definitely Patty's daughter," Sam said, cutting her off. "She was always diving into things headfirst without thinking about what she was doing."
"Apparently, it's a family trait," Paige told him. "Prue and Piper seem to do the same thing."
"You've met your sisters?" Sam asked, surprised. "You certainly don't do things by halves, do you?"
"That's actually a really long story," Paige told him.
She was about to say more, but then she caught sight of her reflection in one of the mirrors, and she went pale.
"Oh, god, Mom's dress," she breathed, as she took in the dark bloodstain on the skirt. "Prue and Piper are going to kill me."
"No, they're not," Sam told her, coming up behind her.
Reaching out, he held his hand over the dark stain, and his hand glowed with a soft, golden light. Then, to Paige's amazement, the stain shrank and disappeared.
"What the-" she demanded, and Sam chuckled at the baffled look on her face.
"Sometimes," he told her, "we can heal broken things, as well as people. In this case, a ruined wedding dress."
"That's amazing," Paige told him, flatly.
"I should probably get going," Sam said, suddenly, and Paige twisted around to look at him in surprise.
"What?" she demanded, incredulously. "Why?"
"You have your wedding to go to," Sam started, hesitantly.
"Yeah, and I'd like my father to be there with me," Paige told him.
"Why would you want that?" Sam asked, and Paige thought she heard a bitter undertone to his voice. "I abandoned you as a baby, why would you even want me around, now?"
"You and Mom did the only thing you could," Paige insisted, grabbing Sam's arm when he tried to turn away from her. "You didn't abandon me," she continued, firmly. "You gave me up to protect me."
"I couldn't protect you," Sam muttered. "I never could."
"What are you talking about?" Paige asked, and then she remembered why Sam had seemed so familiar to her, outside of that earlier memory flash. "Wait a minute, you're the sad-eyed man."
When she was a kid, Paige had convinced herself that she'd had a guardian angel. That angel had saved her from getting hit by a car when she was three, had taken her to the hospital after she'd fallen out of a tree and broken her leg when she was nine, and had been in the background of her life for as long as she could remember.
And he'd always been a sad-eyed older man. The same man who was standing in front of her, now.
She'd never told anyone about her guardian angel, wanting desperately to keep him a secret. But, she had notebooks full of sketches that she'd done from memory, the drawings getting better and better as she got older.
She'd also drawn all of the times that she'd remembered seeing the older man. Except for the last time, which, even now, was simply too painful. But, she remembered every detail with crystal clarity.
It had been the day of the car accident. One second, she'd been arguing with her parents, saying things that she'd never forget, or forgive herself for. The next second, she'd somehow been thrown from the car, watching in horror as the truck slammed into her parents' car, head-on, with her parents still inside.
She remembered screaming, remembered struggling to get back to the car, to her parents. And she also remembered the man who held her back, who'd kept her from going back into the burning wreck.
He'd stayed with her while the police arrived and swarmed over the scene, while the ambulance roared up and the emergency techs looked her over before taking her to the hospital. He'd stayed with her at the hospital while she waited for Social Services.
He hadn't said anything other than a broken, heartfelt, "I'm so sorry," but he'd been a quiet, calming presence at her side. He'd been a rock, a shoulder to cry on when the reality of the situation finally pierced the shocked state she'd fallen into and she'd broken down sobbing.
Then he'd disappeared, and she hadn't seen him since. Not until today.
Paige looked at Sam, who was still staring at her with a lost, haunted look on his face. Then, in a move that clearly surprised him, she stepped forward and wrapped her arms around him in a tight hug.
"You have saved my life more times than I can even count," she told him, resting her head on her father's shoulder. "You've always been there for me, looking out for me-"
"I couldn't just walk away," Sam choked out, as he stood stiffly in her arms. "You're my daughter; I just couldn't leave you."
"And I'd probably be dead, now, if not for you," Paige said, still holding on. "I used to call you my guardian angel; I never knew you really were."
"I couldn't protect you," Sam insisted, bitterly. "Not when you really needed me."
"The accident wasn't your fault," Paige told him, firmly, surprising even herself with the words. "It wasn't my fault, it wasn't anyone's fault. It was an accident; and nothing that either of us could have done would have prevented it."
"Why don't you hate me?" Sam asked, a plaintive note in his voice.
"I spent too much time hating you for something I didn't fully understand," Paige answered, softly. "But, I just can't do that, anymore. Not when I think I finally understand the pain you must have been in."
Sam was silent for several long moments, then, finally, he relaxed into her embrace. Hesitantly, he wrapped his arms around her waist, holding on tighter as he buried his face in her shoulder.
"I want you with me at my wedding," Paige told him, her voice muffled against his shoulder. "I want you to meet your future son-in-law and your grandson."
"I-" Sam started, but Paige wasn't going to give him the chance to finish.
"Please," she asked, quietly, as she pulled away to look him in the eye. "Will you walk me down the aisle, Dad?"
Finally, Sam nodded, and Paige beamed at him.
"I love you," she told him, and the older man looked like he was blinking back tears.
"I love you, too," he responded. "And, I've missed you so much."
"I'm not going anywhere," Paige told him.
Sam nodded, the haunted look finally leaving his eyes, to be replaced by something that looked like peace.
"Let's go get you married," he said, quietly.
Paige and Sam left the bathroom, an older lady giving both of them a suspicious glare as they passed her. Even Sam's weak attempt at a charming smile didn't phase the woman, and they quickly moved away from her and down the hallway.
Halfway down the hallway, they ran into Tyler, who was leaning against the wall, tugging at the suit jacket he was wearing. But, he stopped fussing with it when he saw Paige, a bright smile spreading across his face.
"Wow," he said, when he saw her. "You look awesome, Paige."
"You don't look too bad, yourself," Paige told him, hugging the boy. "Where'd the tux come from?"
"Henry's best man," Tyler told her. "Oh, man, Paige, wait until you see the room," he went on, practically babbling, he was so excited. "It's all decked out – you're not going to believe it."
"Well, let's not keep everyone waiting," Paige said, and Tyler tucked his hand into the crook of her arm to escort her the rest of the way down the hallway.
When they reached the conference room where Henry, Piper, and Prue were waiting, Tyler pushed the door open with a dramatic flourish. Then, he looked back to see her reaction.
Paige was impressed. Her sisters had managed to take an empty conference room and transform it into a wedding hall. Flowers decorated every available surface, there was white gauze draped over the table at the front of the room, and the lights had been dimmed, with tall, white pillar candles lighting up the room.
Henry stood at the front of the room, with a dark-haired man in a suit standing beside him. Her sisters stood a short distance away, both of them holding small bunches of flowers. Tyler passed her a similar bouquet from a vase beside the door, and Paige took the long-stemmed lilies from him with a watery smile.
"I can't believe this," she murmured, and beside her, Sam smiled at her.
"You ready?" he asked, offering her his arm as Tyler dashed down the makeshift aisle to stand beside Henry.
Looking down the aisle, Paige met Henry's eyes, and she was sure that the beaming smile on his face matched her own.
"I'm ready," she answered, never taking her eyes off Henry.
Tucking her hand into his elbow, she moved down the aisle with Sam at her side. They stopped in front of the minister and Sam dropped a quick kiss on her cheek before he moved to stand beside her sisters.
"You look beautiful," Henry told her, quietly, sparking a memory of having heard the words, before.
"And you look very handsome," she told him, echoing the words that she'd spoken a lifetime ago.
"I was surprised when Henry told me he was getting married, especially so suddenly." Paige looked over at the minister standing in front of them, smiling when she recognized the older woman. "But, I was very happy to hear who he was marrying."
"I didn't know you did weddings, Carol," Paige said, pleasantly surprised.
She'd met the older woman a couple of years, ago, when a couple of kids from work had gotten involved in the youth group she ran. Paige had been impressed by the woman's setup, and she'd volunteered weekends to helping the older woman out.
"I don't often perform weddings," Carol answered. "But, I couldn't very well refuse two of my favorite people." Raising her voice so that everyone in the room could hear her, she added, "Shall we get started?"
Paige moved closer to Henry, clasping the hands that he held out to her, never taking her eyes off him.
"Dearly beloved, we are gathered here, today," she heard Carol's quiet voice, "to join Henry and Paige in holy matrimony."
Paige lost herself in the quiet cadence of Carol's voice, listening with half an ear to the traditional words of the wedding ceremony. The rest of her attention was focused on the man in front of her, the man who was her future.
When prompted, Henry recited his vows, a declaration of love and devotion that moved her to tears. Her own vow, promising to love him to the end of time, had him blinking at her in surprise, his own eyes suspiciously wet.
Then, Carol asked for the rings.
Paige didn't know what to expect until Tyler opened the small wooden box that he held in his hands, a glint of gold resting on a cushion inside. She gasped as Tyler passed her the ring that she was supposed to slip onto Henry's finger, taking the slim gold band with slightly shaky fingers.
"With everything that's happened," she said, quietly, "I thought these would have been lost."
"We've got some people looking out for us," Henry told her, and then he slipped her wedding ring onto her finger. "I do," he murmured, quietly.
"I do," Paige echoed, putting his ring on his finger. "Forever."
"You may now kiss the bride," Carol told them, and she and Henry embraced to the whistles of her sisters.
Then, as she pulled away, she caught a glance at the clock over his shoulder.
"It's almost seven-thirty," she said, flatly, and Henry twisted around to stare at the clock.
"Time to go," he declared, and with copious apologies to Sam, Carol, Ryan, and her sisters, they dashed out of the room, with Tyler between them.
Paige groaned with exhaustion as she pushed open the door to her apartment. Behind her, Henry flipped the light switch, flooding the room with light. He shuffled past her with his arm around Tyler's shoulders, keeping the yawning boy on his feet.
"Longest day ever," Paige declared, as she locked the door and stumbled across the room to fall heavily into the nearest chair.
"It's over, right?" Tyler asked, looking at her from where he was slumped over on the couch. "No one's going to try and make me leave, again?"
"You're ours," she told him, firmly. "We signed the custody papers, the adoption process has been started, and nothing is taking you away from us."
"Tomorrow's Saturday, right?" Tyler asked, barely able to stifle a yawn behind his hand.
"Yeah, it's Saturday," Henry confirmed, and at his words, Tyler flopped over on the couch.
"I'm gonna go to sleep and not wake up for a while," he mumbled, grabbing blindly at the blanket over the back of the couch.
"Go to sleep," Paige told Tyler, smoothing the blanket over him as she brushed a gentle kiss over his forehead. "Love you, kiddo."
"Love you, too," Tyler mumbled, and then he dropped off to sleep a heartbeat later.
Paige and Henry moved slowly down the hall, to Paige's bedroom, but Henry hesitated before he could enter.
"Um," he said, quietly, and Paige shook her head, reaching out to snag his arm and tug him into the room.
"We're married, now," she reminded him. "What's mine is yours, and all that."
"I just-" Henry stammered. "You've only known me a couple of days, and-"
"Oh, just sit down," Paige told him, giving him a gentle push toward the bed and watching him fall on top. "You look about as exhausted as I feel."
"Paige-" Henry protested, but she wasn't going to let him interrupt her.
"I've been remembering things," she told him, as she paced the length of the room, too keyed up to sit down. "Things about our life together, about the time before we came back from the future."
"But, that's not possible," Henry told her, clearly confused. "You didn't – she died-"
He broke off, unable to complete the sentence, but Paige knew what he'd been trying to say.
"Her soul merged with mine," she told him. "It wasn't perfect; I don't remember everything. But, the woman you fell in love with, she's in here, somewhere."
"I love you," Henry told her. "Not just the woman I met five years in the future, but the one I ran into in the hallway. The woman who fought for her family, who stood up to an army of demons and won, who said yes to the crazy guy who proposed to her-"
"Not that crazy," Paige told him, with a fond smile. "And, besides, I seem to remember telling you that I would always marry you."
"And you did," Henry said, quietly, watching her with a cautious look on his face. "Do you regret it?"
In answer, Paige spun around and crossed the room to where he was sitting. Bending down, she steadied herself with her hands on Henry's shoulders and then she kissed him. Henry's hands went to her waist, holding her in place as he deepened the kiss.
When they finally broke apart, both gasping slightly for air, Paige rested her forehead against Henry's, her eyes closed.
"I don't regret a thing," she told him. "I love you, and that's all that's important."
"So, what now?" Henry asked, as she moved back across the room and started carefully taking her mother's wedding dress off.
"Well," Paige said, her voice muffled by the layers of the dress as she tried carefully not to wrinkle it, "we definitely have to go apartment hunting. I don't know about your place, but we cannot fit three people into my apartment. Tyler can't keep sleeping on the couch; he deserves a room of his own."
"Apartment hunting it is," Henry said, as he flopped back on the bed. "And I think one of us needs to get a new car. Because neither of them are exactly family vehicles."
"Mine," Paige told him. "We can barely fit two people into it, comfortably, and I don't relish the thought of feeling like a sardine every time I have to drive somewhere."
Finally free of the dress, she hung it on a hanger and placed it carefully in her closet. Then, she grabbed her favorite, oversized sleep shirt from where it was draped over the handle of the closet door and pulled it on over her head.
"I don't suppose you've won the lottery, recently?" she asked, wryly, as she sat down beside Henry and stretched out beside him, laying her head on his shoulder. "Because we're going to need it."
"We'll figure something out," Henry told her, his jaw cracking in a yawn. "We always do."
"Are you tired?" Paige asked, as they lay there, staring up at the ceiling.
"Too tired to sleep," Henry replied. "I know that sounds weird-"
"Makes perfect sense to me," Paige said. After another few minutes of silence, she added, hopefully, "Will you tell me about yourself?"
"Let's see," Henry said, quietly. "Well, there's not a lot to tell. I grew up in foster care, bounced around a lot of different homes as a kid, got in trouble as a teenager. My parole officer, Nick, turned my life around when I was fifteen; he was the one who inspired me to go into law enforcement. I've been at the job for five years, and the rest is history, really."
"I don't even know how old you are," Paige realized, after a moment of thinking about it.
"Twenty-five," Henry told her. "My birthday is July eighteenth."
"Coming up fast," she remarked.
"Yeah, the social workers didn't know exactly how old I was when I got to them," Henry replied. "They figured that I was a couple of weeks old, and they went backward from the day I was turned over to them."
"When was that?" Paige asked, curiously.
"August second, nineteen-seventy-seven," Henry said, sleepily.
In contrast, Paige was wide awake as she propped herself up on an arm to stare down at him in shock.
"August second," she echoed, flatly.
"Yeah, at some church over on Oakland Street," came the reply. "Saint something-or-other."
"St. Anthony's," Paige said, and Henry opened his eyes to look up at her.
"Yeah," he said. "How did you know?"
"I guess I never told you about my own adoption?" Paige asked him. "About where my parents left me when I was born?"
It took a second, but then Henry's eyes widened in comprehension as he stared at her in shock.
"You're kidding me," he said, stunned, and Paige shook her head.
"St. Anthony's, August second, a nun called Sister Agnes," she told him.
"That's – that's," Henry tried, but then he gave up on trying to say anything coherent. "That's really weird," he finally declared.
"Not so much," Paige decided. "Not with how the rest of my day has gone. I think that it's proof that magic has a strange sense of humor, though," she added. "I mean, why else would we keep running into each other like we have?"
"Maybe," Henry acknowledged. "Who knows? Maybe we're soul mates, living lifetimes together, over and over."
"Maybe you're tired," Paige told him, wryly. "I certainly am," she added, dropping her head back onto Henry's shoulder with a yawn.
She closed her eyes as Henry wrapped his arms around her, and she was asleep within seconds.
Paige woke up the next morning to see Henry propped up on an elbow, looking at her with a fond smile on his face.
"What?" she asked, when he just smiled wider when he saw her awake.
"I love you," he said, simply, and Paige curled her hand around the back of his neck, pulling her new husband in for a deep kiss.
"I love you, too," she murmured, when they parted. "I had a dream, last night," she continued, as she lay back on the bed, snuggling into Henry's arms. "I think it was the first time we met."
"Oh, yeah?" Henry asked, curiously. "You mean with your charge, Speed?"
"I remember being really pissed at you," Paige told him. "And then you tried to hit me with your car."
"Oh, come on," Henry said, laughing. "I didn't hit you; I wasn't even close."
"And yet," Paige said, "I fell for you, anyway."
"Yeah, well," Henry said, "I guess I'm just a really charming guy."
"You're something, all right," Paige said, teasingly. "You know," she added, thoughtfully, "I think we were given more than just a second chance with each other."
"What do you mean?" Henry asked.
"My charges, your parolees," Paige told him. "All the Innocents we've lost over the years; we can save them."
"Act instead of react," Henry said, thinking the idea over. "Sounds like a pretty good plan."
"But, first," Paige said, sitting up and stretching. "Car shopping."
She shook her head, dreading the prospect. It wasn't finding a car that she didn't like, but the thought of spending so much money.
"Whoever said that love makes you richer must have been a millionaire," she said, wryly.
"That's why banks give people loans," came Henry's reply, and Paige laughed.
Disappearing into the bathroom, she showered quickly, wrapping a towel around her torso when she was done. She dressed while Henry showered, and then the two of them jockeyed for space in front of the mirror, dancing around each other in the cramped space.
"You sure you don't want to go looking for a new apartment, first?" Henry asked, dryly, as they kept bumping into each other.
"My car is even more crowded," Paige told him. "Besides, running into you isn't exactly a hardship."
"I need to run back to my place to grab some clothes," Henry told her, as he got dressed in the tux that he'd been wearing ever since the wedding the night before. "Be back in a few minutes."
Paige watched him duck out the front door, ruffling Tyler's hair on the way and getting a sleepy grin from the boy as he sat up on the couch. Tyler yawned hugely as he stood up and stumbled toward the bathroom, otherwise silent, and Paige headed for the kitchen.
Ten minutes later, she had her hands wrapped around a steaming cup of coffee, watching Tyler as he devoured a bowl of cereal.
"So, am I ever going to get to unpack my duffel bag?" Tyler asked, between bites.
"That's the plan," Paige told him. "We're going to get a bigger place, one where you can have your own room."
"Good, because that couch is tiny," Tyler told her, rolling the residual stiffness out of his shoulders.
"It won't be for much longer," Paige reassured him.
Then, she swatted at Henry's grasping hand as he tried to take the cup of coffee out of her hands.
"Get your own cup," she scolded him, curling protectively around the cup.
"What happened to 'what's mine is yours'?" Henry asked, teasingly.
"Coffee's the exception," Paige told him. "So," she continued, as he poured himself his own cup, "I was thinking that we could stop by my sisters' place before we start. I want to drop off Mom's wedding dress."
"Could we go to the street fair, too?" Tyler asked, hopefully. "I've never been."
"Sure, why not?" Paige said. "Finish eating, kiddo. We've got a busy day ahead of us."
"Hello?" Paige called out, as she, Henry, and Tyler entered the Manor. "Anyone home? Piper? Prue?"
Her voice echoed through the big house to be greeted by silence. Then, Prue appeared on the landing in a flash of light to look down at them.
"We're up in the attic, Paige," she said, and then her astral form disappeared from the top of the stairs.
"Your new family is so weird," Tyler commented, as they went up the stairs to the attic.
"Says the boy who can light things on fire with his mind," Paige teased him.
"You're all strange, how about that?" Henry declared, as he threw his arms across both of their shoulders.
They entered the attic to find Prue and Piper bent over a small table in the middle of the attic. Piper was adding ingredients to the silver chalice in the center of the table while Prue lit the slim candles that ringed the outside of the table.
"What's going on?" Paige asked, curiously, as she watched her sisters work.
"It's a spell to find a lost witch," Piper told her, looking up briefly from the cauldron.
"For Phoebe," Paige realized, immediately.
"I know it's been nearly a week," Prue spoke up, quietly, as she finished lighting the candles. "And, God knows the spell hasn't worked before now, but we just can't give up."
Paige nodded, crossing the small room to stand beside her sisters at the table.
"What do I need to do?" she asked. When both Prue and Piper looked at her in confusion, she shrugged. "Maybe I'm not a Charmed One," she explained. "But, I am a Halliwell. And, maybe if the three of us say the spell-"
"It'll be enough to bring Phoebe back!" Piper finished for her, excitement in her voice.
"Well, all of the set up is done," Prue said, giving the table a quick once-over. "All that's left is to say the spell."
"Then, let's get our sister back," Paige declared, confidently.
Standing between Piper and Prue, she clasped hands with her sisters, looking down at the Book, quickly, to commit the spell to memory. Then, they started chanting in unison:
"Powers of the witches rise,
Course, unseen, across the skies.
Come to us, who call you near.
Come to us, and settle here."
They paused as Prue picked up a small knife from the table, pricking her finger and squeezing a couple of drops into the chalice. Piper, and then Paige, followed her, and then they picked up the spell, again.
"Blood to blood, we summon thee.
Blood to blood, return to me."
The candles on the table flickered and died, as something blew them out. But, nothing else happened, and after a few seconds, Prue sighed, heavily. She dropped her sisters' hands, stalking away from them to stare out of the window. Piper was glaring down at the table, as though it had let her down, somehow. And Paige tucked her hands awkwardly in her pockets, not looking at either of her sisters.
"I'm sorry," she finally said, quietly. "Maybe, if I was stronger-"
"This isn't your fault," Piper said, quickly, her voice sounding suspiciously like it was choked up. "The spell is never going to work, we just need to accept that."
"You're saying that we should give up on Phoebe," Prue stated, flatly, from where she was still staring out of the window.
"I'm not saying that," Piper argued, hotly. "But, clearly, the spell hasn't worked any of the times that we've tried it. And, wherever Phoebe is, she either can't or won't come home on her own-"
"What about Leo?" Prue interrupted her, whirling around to glare at her younger sister. "You're just going to give up on him, too?"
"I'm not giving up on anybody!" Piper protested. "I'm just saying that what we're doing now isn't working!"
"Well, it's not like we have a lot of other options," Prue snapped, and then a sharp whistle cut through the air, cutting off whatever Piper was about to say in response.
"Back to your corners, both of you," Henry spoke up, from where he was leaning against the door frame. "I've seen this family go through hell and back, together. I've seen you willing to die for each other. What I can't believe I'm seeing is the two of you sniping at each other like this."
Prue opened her mouth to say something, but Henry wasn't about to let her get a word in, edgewise.
"After everything you've faced, everything you've gone through, you're not going to let this break you apart," he said, moving further into the room. "You're both stronger than that."
"And I suppose you have some idea of how to find Phoebe?" Prue snapped, glaring at him. "As you may have noticed, none of our spells are working."
"If the traditional spells aren't working to find Phoebe," Henry said, bluntly, "then you'll find some other way. You always do."
"Now you see why I said yes," Paige said, into the silence that followed his statement. "It's kind of like facing down a force of nature."
"I see what you mean," Piper said. "But, we still don't have a way to find Phoebe or Leo. I mean, even if we invented some new spell, what would it even do?"
"I might be able to come up with something," Paige told her, as her sisters looked at her in surprise. "I can't promise that this is going to work, but-"
"But, nothing," Prue told her, firmly. "All we can do is try."
"Then," Paige said, determinedly, "here goes nothing."
She pulled the chalice toward her, studying the contents inside. Then, letting out a slow breath, she passed her hand over the chalice, watching as the contents burst into flames. Then, sending up a quick prayer that it wasn't about to blow up in her face, she started the spell that she'd hastily composed in her mind.
"Give me sight in blessed fire;
Show me now my heart's desire.
In this time and in this place,
Show to me my sister's face."
The flames in the bowl flickered, and for a moment, she didn't think anything was going to happen. Then, the flames flared higher in the chalice, turning white-hot. And in the center of the flames, a picture was starting to form.
Forcing herself to breathe slowly and evenly as she kept a tight rein on the fire in the chalice, Paige stepped back enough to give Prue and Piper room to see the picture in the flames. Beside her, her sisters gasped in shock at the image of a young woman and a pair of men that flickered in the flames.
"Phoebe," Prue whispered, and Paige felt Piper clutch at her shoulder as she leaned closer.
"And that's Leo," Piper said, excitement in her voice. "And Cole. But, where are they?"
"Looks like the Underworld," Paige said, biting her lip in concentration as she tried to maintain the image in the flames.
The image flickered, and she clenched her fist, sending more magic into the flames. For a heartbeat, the image flared brightly, lighting up the room, and then she lost control of the magic, the flames dying down as quickly as she'd summoned them.
"Damn," she swore. "Sorry, I just couldn't hold it, any longer."
"That's more than we've managed in a week," Prue told her, squeezing her shoulders in a quick hug. "And, at least now we know that they're all right."
"But, how did they even get into the Underworld?" Piper asked, skeptically. "And how are we supposed to get them out?"
The three of them looked at each other for a moment, then as one, they yelled for Andy. The Whitelighter appeared in a swirl of bright lights, a slightly disoriented look on his face. Probably from having been yelled for by all of them.
"What's going on?" he asked, looking around the attic.
"We found Phoebe, Leo, and Cole," Prue told him, quickly. "They're in the Underworld."
"You have to go after them," Piper added, an urgent tone in her voice.
"Fine," Andy said. And before any of them could say anything, he added, "I'm going alone. It's safer that way."
Before anyone could protest, Andy orbed away, the lights of his orb trail fading away into nothingness.
"She'll be fine," Paige said, into the silence that followed. "Andy's going to bring everyone home, and they're going to be fine."
"And, in the meantime, we wait," Prue said, sounding frustrated. "I hate waiting."
"I'm going to go to the club," Piper decided, after a moment. "I just can't sit around here and not do anything."
"I guess work's as good a place as any," Prue grudgingly agreed. "Might as well keep busy."
"We need to get going, we've got a ton of things to do," Paige said, as they went downstairs. "You'll call me as soon as you know anything?"
"The second we find anything out," Piper promised her. "See you later, Paige. Oh, hey," she called out, stopping Paige before she could head out the door. "Those things you have to do? You wouldn't happen to be going near Chinatown anytime today?"
"We could," Paige said, with a glance over at Henry. "Did you need something?"
"Time to restock the potion cabinet," Piper told her. "I keep meaning to go, but I haven't been able to find the time, lately."
"Sure," Paige replied. "Just get me a list of what you need, and we'll pick it up for you."
"Thanks, sis," Piper said. "You're a lifesaver."
Shopping around for a new car had been every bit as stressful as Paige had remembered it being. Which was probably why she'd stuck with the same car for so long.
They'd gone to three separate dealerships before they'd found a salesperson who'd talked to both of them, rather than just Henry. The others had all acted as though Paige was only there to choose the color of the car, a sentiment that had Paige quietly simmering with anger.
But, they'd finally found a dealership, and a car that she could afford. They'd even given her a decent trade-in on her old car. Still, it wasn't an experience that Paige was looking to repeat any time soon.
"Hopefully, it'll be a while before we have to do that, again."
From the frustrated tone of Henry's voice, he felt the same.
From the car dealership, they'd gone straight to the street fair, hoping to use the time to unwind. And it seemed like it was working. Paige could feel the stress draining away from her as the three of them walked down the blocked-off street, among the colorful tents that the vendors had set up.
"This was a good idea, Ty," Paige said, and, naturally, that was when all Hell broke loose.
She caught a flicker of something out of the corner of her eye, and she whirled around in time to see a huddled trio shimmer into the middle of the street. There was a moment of stunned silence, and then someone started screaming.
Swearing under her breath, Paige sprinted down the street, shoving people out of her way and ignoring the dirty looks it got her. She pushed through the crowd of people to see Phoebe crouched in the middle of the street, Leo and Cole lying on the ground beside her. There was a wild, panicked look in the other woman's eyes, and she had a hand held up defensively as the people that surrounded her started closing in.
Then, before Paige could do anything, everything froze. There was no movement, no sound, nothing. Without stopping to think about it, Paige darted forward to Phoebe's side, kneeling beside her startled sister.
"Phoebe, thank God," she said, unable to stop the smile that stretched across her face. "Don't worry," she said, quickly, when Phoebe just kept staring at her. "Everything's going to be fine."
The panicked look on Phoebe's face wasn't going away. In fact, as she looked around at the people standing frozen around them, the expression was starting to get worse.
"Who are you?" she demanded, a hostile tone in her voice as she glared at Paige. "What did you do to all of these people?"
"Me?" Paige said, with a startled look around. "I didn't do this, Pheebs."
"Don't call me that," Phoebe snapped, jerking violently away from the hand that Paige laid on her arm. "Who the hell are you?"
"My name is Paige Matthews," she told the clearly startled woman. "And, I know that this is going to sound a little bit crazy, but I'm your sister."
If she was expecting Phoebe to light up at her pronouncement, or show any kind of excitement, she was going to be sorely disappointed. Instead, Phoebe stared at her like she'd just sprouted another head, shock visible on her face.
"What did you say?" she demanded, incredulously.
"I'm your sister," Paige repeated, patiently.
"That's not possible," Phoebe said, flatly, and Paige scowled, inwardly. Phoebe was supposed to be the easy one to convince.
"Actually, it is," she told her. "See, when our mom had an affair with her Whitelighter-"
Her explanation was abruptly cut short by the arrival of a pair of men in impeccable white suits, and Paige shot the taller of the two an aggravated look as she stood up to confront them.
"It's about damn time," she said, before either of the men could say anything. "What? You froze everything, and then just decided not to show up?"
"We were unavoidably delayed," the shorter man said, in a haughty tone. "Not that our business is any of your concern-"
"Considering everything that's happened," Paige snapped, "I think your business is my concern."
"You dare-" the taller man began, incredulously, but Paige wasn't about to let him finish.
"If the two of you had been doing your jobs the first time around, my sisters wouldn't have even gotten into this mess!" she growled. "When Prue and Piper were exposed vanquishing Shax, you should have been there to stop it. This never should have gotten as far as it did!"
"What – how do you know about Prue and Piper?" Phoebe demanded, but Paige was still focused on the Cleaners standing in front of her.
"Your purpose," she said, stabbing her finger into the taller man's chest, "your whole reason for being, is to cover up the exposure of magic. So, what the hell happened, last week? Where the hell were you?"
"We were created in response to the incident with the demon, Shax," the shorter Cleaner spoke up, and Paige looked over at him in surprise.
"Oh," was all she could think to say. "Well, that makes sense."
"The Elders decided that they could not risk another exposure of magic like that one," the taller Cleaner told her. "So they, along with several powerful demons, created us, and others, to deal with potential magical messes. Although, how you know about us, when only very few are aware we exist-"
"I've had dealings with you, before," Paige told them, to the men's surprised looks. "In another time; you wouldn't know about it."
"Well," the taller man said, a wry smile on his lips, "if you're done lecturing us, I believe we have a job to do, here."
"Yeah, sure, sorry," Paige said, apologetically. "Hey, could you unfreeze my husband for a second? I need to talk to him."
The shorter of the Cleaners huffed out an impatient sigh, but a quick wave of his hand had Henry staggering where he was standing, a startled look on his face. Seeing Paige, he hurried to her side, questions in his eyes.
"Honey, what's going on?" he asked, carefully, as he reached her side. "What's with the Mr. Clean team?"
"They're on our side," Paige reassured him. "Kind of. It's complicated."
"Everything is complicated, these days," Henry told her.
"You knew that when you married me," Paige reminded him, teasingly. "So, as you can see, Phoebe is back-"
"I see that," Henry replied. "Nice to see you safe, Phoebe. Love the hair."
"Anyway," Paige went on, interrupting him, "I'm going to get them out of here," she added, with a gesture that included the frozen Leo and Cole in her statement, "and the Cleaners are going to erase people's memories of seeing magic."
"Going back to the Manor?" Henry asked.
"Too far," Paige said, looking down at the frozen men, critically. "Once the Cleaners unfreeze everything, Leo and Cole are back to being in really bad shape. I need to get them healed, now."
Looking around for a place where they might be able to hide, she spotted a tent about a hundred yards away with a very familiar stylized symbol on the back.
"There," she said, pointing. "That tent with the Evil Eye."
"And you don't think the people inside are going to be a little suspicious of you appearing out of thin air?" Henry asked, skeptically.
"Madame Theresa will be fine," Paige said, hoping that her hastily-returned and somewhat hazy memories weren't playing tricks on her. "I'm more worried about Leo and Cole, right now."
"Right," Henry said. Leaning forward, he kissed her quickly and pulled away with, "Be careful."
"Always," Paige promised him.
As Henry moved back to where he'd been originally standing, Paige turned her attention back to Phoebe. Her sister had a deeply suspicious look on her face as she eyed Paige and the Cleaners.
"Who are you people?" she demanded, a little hysterically, which Paige figured was normal considering everything that had happened.
"I told you-" she started, and Phoebe cut her off with a disbelieving snort.
"Like I'm going to believe that," she said, scornfully, and Paige had to resist the urge to roll her eyes.
"I take it you're the one who shimmered everyone out of the Underworld?" she asked, instead, and Phoebe nodded warily.
"I switched powers with Cole," she began, but then she clamped down on the rest of her sentence, glaring at Paige.
"Can you get Cole to that tent over there?" Paige asked, nodding at Madame Theresa's tent. "I'll be right behind you with Leo."
"I'm not trusting you with him," Phoebe snapped, and Paige could see the beginnings of an energy ball forming at her fingertips as she hovered protectively over the injured Whitelighter.
Heaving an exasperated sigh, Paige grabbed Phoebe's wrist, startling her enough that the energy ball fizzled out before it had really formed.
"I'm not here to get into a pissing contest with you," she forced out between gritted teeth, her voice low so that Phoebe had to concentrate on her. "I am trying to protect my family. Now, will you please shimmer Cole into the tent so that we can get off the street?"
Phoebe stared at her for several seconds without backing down, and Paige was ready to grab all three of them and try orbing, anyway, just to get things moving. But, the taller Cleaner solved her problem for her, making Phoebe disappear with a wave of his hand.
"Thanks," Paige told him, but the man just looked impassively at her.
"Are you going to get on with it?" he asked, in a bored tone.
This time she did roll her eyes as she crouched down beside Leo and gripped his hand in hers. Then, just like she'd done when she healed Sam, she closed her eyes and focused on channeling his power. Orbing, this time, and a second later, she could literally feel herself start to disappear.
She was weightless for a heartbeat, and then the world came crashing back down on her as she reformed on the floor of the tent. Shaking her head to clear away the dizzy feeling, Paige steadied herself to keep from falling over.
As her head cleared, she looked around the tent. Madame Theresa was standing in front of the curtain that divided the front of the tent from the back, and there was a curious expression on the older woman's face. Before Paige could say anything, she ducked out of sight, returning a few seconds later with a first aid kit in her hands.
"To what do I owe the honor of a visit from Whitelighters?" she asked, her quiet voice melodic as she started treating Cole's wounds.
"Refuge, mostly," Paige answered, not correcting her misassumption. "I'm sorry for bursting in on you like this, but there was nowhere else that we could go."
Turning her attention back to Leo, Paige took a deep breath and squeezed that hand that she still held between her own. Then, focusing, she started healing his injuries, watching in satisfaction as the wounds slowly started to knit together. His injuries healed completely, not even leaving scars, and Paige grinned in triumph when Leo opened his eyes and sat up.
"What happened?" he asked, looking around. "Phoebe, where are we?"
"Ask Little Miss Know-It-All, there," Phoebe snapped, jerking her head in Paige's direction. "She seems to have all the answers."
"It's a long story," Paige said, when Leo looked at her, quizzically. "And, I will explain everything in time. But, first we need to heal Cole."
"He's half demon," Leo protested, even as he stood up and moved to the other man's side. "I can only heal his human half."
"Well," Paige said, "I'm half Whitelighter, and that should offset his demon half."
Leo looked like he was thinking about it for a few moments, and then he nodded.
"I guess it would work," he said, skeptically. "I mean, I've never tried anything like it."
"First time for everything," Paige told him, holding out her hand for Leo to take. "For you, anyway," she added, thinking about it. "Shall we?"
Leo took her proffered hand, but before they started, Paige dug in her pocket for her cell phone and tossed it to Phoebe.
"Call Piper and tell her that you're okay," she told her confused sister. "She's number two on my speed dial."
Then, she and Leo held their free hands over Cole's wounds. She relaxed, letting Leo take control of the healing, and slowly, Cole's injuries started to disappear. When he opened his eyes, groggily, Paige grinned and hugged a clearly startled Leo.
"We did it," she crowed in triumph.
Then, her attention was caught by Phoebe, who was still clutching her cell phone to her ear, talking quietly. Phoebe looked distressed about something, and she kept shooting Paige suspicious little glares as she talked. Then, without warning, she reached out and grabbed Cole's shoulder, shimmering them both away.
Paige stared at the spot where Phoebe had been standing, aware that she was gaping in stunned disbelief.
"That was my phone," she said, flatly.
One second she'd been standing in the middle of a frozen street, and the next second, she was standing in the middle of one of the brightly-colored tents, cardboard boxes pressing up against her back. She hadn't been the one to get them there, and she wasn't entirely sure how they'd gotten there in the first place, but she shrugged it off as unimportant in the face of other matters. Cole, for example, who was lying on the ground at her feet, and Phoebe knelt down beside him as she checked him over.
Her fingers were gentle on his neck as she automatically checked for his pulse, her eyes scanning the rest of his body to assess the rest of his injuries. Thanks to a surprise attack before they'd managed to get out of the Underworld for good, both Leo and Cole had been severely injured. She'd managed to escape the attack, unscathed, although she still didn't know how.
Cole had taken an energy ball directly to the chest, the burn mark standing out vivid red and ugly against his skin. He looked like hell, his skin pale and his breathing heavily labored as he struggled just to get enough air. But, Phoebe supposed that they were lucky that he hadn't died, being attacked in his already weakened state.
And, Leo –
Phoebe looked around the small tent, suddenly, when she realized that Leo hadn't been transported into the tent with her and Cole. Which meant that he was still out there on the street, with that strange woman who'd claimed to be her sister.
'Which is impossible,' she thought, angrily. 'I have two sisters, not three, and I don't know what this woman thinks she's trying to do-'
Her thoughts were cut off, abruptly, by a flash of light in front of her. When the light cleared, the strange woman was crouched in the middle of the tent, with Leo lying on the ground in front of her. The woman had one of Leo's hands clasped in her own, and her hands started to glow.
Alarmed, Phoebe started toward the woman, ready to throw her away from Leo if she had to. But, to her surprise and confusion, Leo's wounds were healing, half-healed injuries sealing shut in front of her eyes. Then, Leo's eyes opened, slowly, and he looked around the tent, locking his eyes on hers.
"What happened?" he asked, slowly, as he sat up. "Phoebe, where are we?"
"Ask Little Miss Know-It-All, there," she snapped, feeling a surge of anger and resentment for the woman who'd been able to help Leo in mere seconds while she'd been helpless for days. "She seems to have all the answers."
"It's a long story," the woman said, a shy smile on her face as Leo looked over at her. "And I will explain everything, in time. But, first we need to heal Cole."
'Leo can't heal Cole,' Phoebe thought, angrily, even as the Whitelighter protested to the same. 'He's half demon, and it isn't going to work.'
But, the woman really did have the answers for everything, it seemed. Phoebe nearly snorted out loud when the woman claimed to be half Whitelighter, adding that it would help heal Cole.
'Not only do you just happen to be my long-lost sister, but you're also half Whitelighter?' Phoebe thought, cynically, as she glared at the young woman. 'You're not fooling me for a second.'
She was jerked out of her thoughts by something small flying at her. She fumbled the cell phone that the young woman had tossed to her, looking up in confusion.
"Call Piper and tell her you're okay," the woman told her. "She's number two on my speed dial."
Phoebe felt her mouth drop open in shock as she scrolled through the contact list on the woman's phone, seeing not only Piper's number, but Prue's as well.
'Who does this woman think she is, trying to hone in on my life?' Phoebe seethed, feeling a new surge of fury rise up in her as she glared at the woman. 'Doesn't she have her own family that she could be bothering? Why mine?'
But, she wasn't about to give the phone back. Not when she had the chance to talk to her sisters for the first time in nearly a week.
She dialed Piper's number and listened to the phone ring, waiting anxiously to hear her older sister's voice. Then, Piper answered, and it was like a bucket of cold water had been thrown in her face.
"Hey, Paige," Piper greeted, cheerfully, and Phoebe could feel her stomach twisting in knots at the other woman's name. "Did you find a new car?"
"Piper," Phoebe croaked out, and there was a stunned silence on the other end of the line.
"Phoebe?" Piper whispered, and her voice sounded choked up, like she was crying. "Pheebs, honey, is that you?"
"Piper," Phoebe repeated, dully, barely able to think now that she was finally talking to her sister.
"Where are you?" Piper demanded. "Are you okay?"
"I – I don't know," Phoebe admitted, honestly. "I just – middle of the street, somewhere."
"Wait a minute," Piper said, suddenly. "You're on Paige's phone. Did she find you?"
"More or less," Phoebe muttered, feeling resentment start to bubble up at the sound of the other woman's name. "Piper, who the hell is this woman?"
"You're not going to believe this," Piper told her, "but she's our sister. Our baby sister."
"Our sister," Phoebe echoed, skepticism heavy in her voice.
"She's awesome, Pheebs," Piper gushed, as Phoebe rolled her eyes at the clearly-unwarranted praise. "She's smart, and she's brave, and she's so much like Prue that's it's almost scary. You're going to love her."
'Yeah, right,' Phoebe thought, angrily, glaring at the woman who'd managed to fool her sisters into believing her little con act.
But, she wasn't going to say that out loud. No, if she didn't want to alienate her sisters, after this stranger had already seemingly won them to her side, she was going to have to choose her words wisely.
"Have you considered," she asked, instead, keeping her voice quiet and keeping a wary eye on the younger woman, "that she's lying to you and Prue?"
"What?" Piper asked, incredulously, and Phoebe pressed on.
"Think about it," she insisted. "I disappear, and this complete stranger pops up, and she just happens to be our long-lost sister? Doesn't that seem just a little too coincidental, to you?"
"Phoebe, it's not like that," Piper protested.
"It sure seems that way to me," Phoebe argued, hotly, lowering her voice when the woman looked over at her. "Piper, we've had people try to get to us like this, before. Aviva, Abbey, hell, even Cole before he turned good."
"Okay, one," Piper said, "Aviva was being used by a demon. Two, Abbey was completely insane. Three, Paige really is our sister."
"How do you know that?" Phoebe hissed. "What, you're just going to believe any crazy person who walks in off the street and says she's related to us?"
"No, I believe Mom," Piper told her, "I believe the Elders, and I believe Paige, who saved our lives when Shax attacked. Phoebe, what is wrong with you?"
'Nothing's wrong with me,' Phoebe thought, resentfully. 'But, I'm starting to think that something is wrong with you. Very wrong.'
"I don't know what this woman did," Phoebe hissed, furiously. "But, I'm going to fix it, Piper. I promise."
Snapping the phone shut before Piper could say anything else, she reached out and grabbed onto Cole's arm. Then, she shimmered them out of the tent, getting him away from that woman.
She reappeared in the attic, with Cole standing by her side. But, then she had to catch him as he started to fall, still clearly weakened from his injuries. Slinging Cole's arm around her shoulder, Phoebe dragged him across the attic to the couch in the corner, setting him down on the cushions as gently as she could.
"I am not going to let her win," Phoebe growled, as she stalked toward the Book of Shadows. "I am not going to let her ruin my family."
The Book was standing open on its pedestal, but the cover flipped shut as she reached for it. Glaring at the Book, Phoebe tried to open it, only to receive a painful shock as the Book shot off the pedestal and skidded across the floor. And it kept moving away every time she tried to pick it up.
"What the hell is wrong with the Book?" she growled, and from the couch, she heard Cole cough as he tried to speak.
"My powers," he told her, quietly, his voice rasping painfully as he spoke. "You have to give up my powers, Phoebe. They're corrupting you, turning you into someone I don't recognize."
"She got to you, too," Phoebe realized, with dawning horror. "You're still hurt, so it's obvious she didn't heal you. She must have done something to cloud your mind, the same thing that she did to my sisters."
"Phoebe, think about what you're saying," Cole entreated, trying to push himself up off the couch but collapsing in pain before he'd even completely straightened up. "Listen to yourself."
"That evil bitch," Phoebe growled, barely hearing Cole's words. "She's not going to get away with this. That – that demon is going to pay for what she's done to my family."
"Phoebe," Cole said, insistently, but she wasn't listening to him, anymore.
Instead, she was listening to the sound of voices floating up from downstairs. Leo's voice – and that woman's.
Stalking toward the door, Phoebe grabbed an athame from the box of discarded weapons that they'd salvaged from demon vanquishes over the years.
"Time to end this," she growled.
As he moved back to Tyler's side, Henry turned to see Paige and Phoebe talking. Then, a second later, Phoebe disappeared from the middle of the street in a shower of white lights. Paige followed her a moment later, and Henry watched the orb trail disappear into the colorful tent that Paige had indicated.
The men that Paige had called the Cleaners looked around at the frozen tableau, and the taller man had a disdainful look on his face. But, whatever he clearly wanted to say remained unsaid, and after a moment, his partner waved a hand. The air in front of Henry's eyes shimmered, like he was trying to look through smoke, and when it cleared, the men were gone.
The people standing in the street had also unfrozen, and Henry looked over at Tyler, who was looking around with a confused look on his face.
"Where's Paige?" he asked. "She was just standing right here."
'Looks like those Cleaners really did change people's memories,' Henry thought, wryly, even though he wondered why his memories had been left unchanged.
"There was a … situation," Henry said, choosing his words carefully and deciding that they were going to have to come up with a better code phrase for discussing these kinds of things in public.
"Like a demon thing?" Tyler hissed, quietly, which he figured just proved his point.
"Sort of," Henry hedged. "Come on; she's over here."
It actually took him a couple of minutes to find the right tent. He couldn't very well go in the back of the tent, and when they went around to the front, it became somewhat difficult to distinguish one brightly-colored tent from another. But, he finally found what he figured was the one, with a sign outside proclaiming palm readings by Madame Theresa.
He and Tyler ducked into the tent to be greeted by a woman with curly blonde hair sitting at a low table.
"Are you here to have your fortunes read?" she asked, her voice quiet and lilting.
"Actually, we're here looking for someone," Henry said, and then he hesitated as he tried to think of how to phrase the rest of his request.
He was saved by the arrival of an older, gray-haired woman who emerged from the back of the tent. She gave him a long, appraising look, and then nodded at the other woman.
"They're with our visitors," the older woman said. Looking back at Henry, she added, "If you will come with me?"
Henry and Tyler followed her into the secluded area at the back of the tent, in time to see Phoebe shimmer out of the tent with the strange man at her side. Paige stared after her sister with a stunned look on her face.
"That was my phone," she said, disbelief clear in her voice.
"The way you keep having to replace them, you should buy stock in the company," Henry teased her, and Paige shot him a withering look.
"Phoebe's acting really strangely," she told him. "Leo and I are going to go after her-"
"We are?" Leo asked. "No offense, but I don't even know who you are."
"That's right," Paige said, musingly. "You were kind of unconscious when I first talked to Phoebe."
"So, who are you?" Leo asked, challengingly. "And how do you know Phoebe?"
Henry bristled at the other man's tone, until he realized that Leo was just doing what he would have, if their situations were reversed. Leo didn't have any idea who he and Paige were; he was doing everything he could to protect his family, and Henry couldn't help but respect the other man for it.
"My name is Paige Matthews," Paige told him, holding her hand out for him to shake. "I'm Patty and Sam's daughter."
From the absolutely stunned look on Leo's face, that was clearly the last thing he was expecting. He shook Paige's proffered hand with a dazed expression, looking her over.
"Patty Halliwell?" he asked, as if Paige could have been talking about anyone else. "But, that would make you-"
"Yeah," Paige confirmed, with a wry grin. "Piper and Prue kind of had the same reaction."
"But, we never knew about you," Leo protested.
"No one did," Paige said, with a casual shrug. "That was kind of the point."
"You're half Whitelighter," Leo said, insistently. "That's against the rules."
"So is getting married," Paige said, challengingly. "Didn't seem to stop you and Piper, though."
"Good point," Leo said, faintly. "Wait a minute; if no one knew about you, who taught you to heal? Where'd you learn your magic?"
"Look," Paige said, clearly taking pity on him. "All of this is a really long story. And like I said, earlier, I will explain everything. But, I really think that we should go after Phoebe, right now."
"You're right," Leo said, his priorities shifting immediately. "I know where she's gone, and I can orb us there."
"Thank you," Paige said, gratefully. Turning to Henry, she added, "Do you and Tyler want to take the car back to the Manor?"
"After we stop at Chinatown, sure," Henry told her. "Piper's list?" he prompted, when she looked at him, confused.
"Oh, right," Paige said, digging into her pocket for the scrap of paper with Piper's list of potion ingredients on it. "But, do you even know what you're looking for?"
"No," Henry said, honestly. "But, the store owner will, and that's all that counts."
"All right," Paige said, passing him the piece of paper. "So, I'll see you guys later."
She hugged Tyler, who'd been standing back and watching everything, curiously. Then, she linked hands with Leo and the two of them orbed away.
"What do you say, kiddo?" Henry asked, turning to look at Tyler. "You want to hit Chinatown?"
"Sure," Tyler answered, but he sounded subdued, a shadowed expression on his face.
After thanking Madame Theresa and her friend Lydia for their hospitality, Henry and Tyler headed back to where the car was parked. The drive to Chinatown was silent, and Henry kept looking over at Tyler, worried by the boy's sudden quiet mood.
"We could have stayed longer at the street fair, if you wanted," he finally offered, trying to figure out what was wrong with his son.
"It's not that," Tyler muttered, but then he fell silent, clearly unwilling to discuss the matter, further.
Henry waited, knowing that any attempt to force the issue was only going to make Tyler clam up even further. He'd seen the same thing from a lot of his parolees who'd had hard lives, watched them shut down when they were forced to confront something they weren't ready to. Tyler certainly hadn't had things easy throughout his life, and a few peaceful days with Paige weren't enough to make the scars disappear.
They'd arrived at the apothecary shop indicated on Piper's piece of paper, and Henry had parked the car on the side of the street, when Tyler finally spoke. His voice was so low that Henry could barely hear him.
"I was three when my birth parents abandoned me," he said, softly, avoiding Henry's eyes. "Mr. Cowan told me that they found me wandering around Chinatown in the middle of a rainstorm. I got sick with pneumonia, and I almost died. And I went to my first foster home two weeks later."
"I guess this place has some pretty bad memories for you," Henry said, mentally kicking himself for not asking Paige about Tyler's history. Some father he was shaping up to be. "Ty, if you want to go home-"
"You told Paige that we'd get Piper's potion ingredients," Tyler said, sounding confused.
"The ingredients aren't important," Henry said. "If you don't want to be here, we won't be. It's as simple as that."
Tyler looked like he was thinking about the idea for a few moments, but then he shook his head.
"We should get Piper's stuff," he said, jerking his shoulder in a shrug. "Since we're here, and all."
They went into the apothecary, where a young woman was arguing with the man standing behind the desk. Henry couldn't hear what she was saying, but she was obviously upset about something, if the distressed look on her face was anything to go by. She kept gesturing anxiously at the shopkeeper, but the man just kept shaking his head, clearly unable to help her.
Finally, the young woman stalked off in a huff, brushing past Henry as she stormed out of the door. The shopkeeper waved Henry and Tyler over when he saw them standing by the doorway.
"What can I help you folks with?" he asked, and Henry passed him Piper's list.
"We need all of that," he said, gesturing at the list.
"Sure thing," the young man said, getting to work.
Fifteen minutes later, they left the store with a paper bag filled with the potion ingredients. They were about to get back in the car when Henry stopped, his attention caught by the young woman who'd been in the shop, earlier. She was standing outside the door, pacing nervously back and forth and glancing at the door. Her behavior was suspicious, like she was casing the shop.
When she ducked into the shop, Henry started to get a bad feeling.
"Stay with the car," he told Tyler, quietly, and then he started back across the street.
He'd only made it halfway across when the door to the shop burst open, and the young woman came sprinting out. She had a cloth-wrapped bundle in her hands, but Henry couldn't tell anything more than that.
"Hey!" the shopkeeper hollered, as he made an aborted attempt to give chase. "Get back here with that!"
Henry chased after the woman, running after her as she ducked down an alleyway. She was fast, but so was he, and he'd almost caught up with her when she suddenly jerked to a stop. The cloth bundle went flying out of her hands as she crashed heavily to the ground. She jerked in a strange motion as she fell, and Henry saw a hand wrapped around her ankle. Then, he watched in amazement as an arm slowly emerged from a puddle at the woman's feet, followed swiftly by a body.
The man stepped out of the puddle, letting go of the woman's ankle as he stood up, and she took advantage of her freedom to jump back to her feet.
"Yen Lo," she snarled, furiously, while Henry tried desperately to figure out who was the good guy in the scenario.
"An Ling," the man said, a taunting note in his voice. "Why don't you just give up and give me the dragon blade? Maybe then I won't kill you."
"You know," Henry spoke up, startling both of them, "it's a really bad idea to talk about killing someone in front of a police officer."
Yen Lo's eyes flickered over him, for an instant, and then he looked away, clearly dismissing him as unimportant. But, the young woman had a calculating look in her eyes as she looked at him, and Henry figured that she saw him as a potential ally. And since Yen Lo had been the one talking about killing her, Henry figured that helping her was probably the safest option.
When she dove to the side, going for the cloth bundle, Henry threw himself at Yen Lo. He wrestled the other man to the ground before he could get to the woman, getting an elbow in the face for his troubles.
Pain exploded in his head, and he heard a distinct crack as his nose broke. He tried to ignore it, but it was harder than he expecting, trying to push the pain away, and he lost his grip on Yen Lo. The other man scrambled to his feet while Henry was distracted, grabbing An Ling around the waist and forcibly hauling her backward.
"I'll just take you back with me," he growled, as he dragged the struggling woman toward the puddle that he'd first emerged from. "I'm getting that blade, one way or another."
"I don't think so," Henry grunted out.
He lunged at Yen Lo, taking the other man by surprise as he knocked him backward. Henry felt a moment of triumph as Yen Lo lost his grip on An Ling – and the mysterious bundle she was still holding in a death grip. Then, his triumph turned to horror as he twisted around and saw that they were falling toward the puddle of water.
Henry tried to let go of Yen Lo, but he wasn't fast enough. He half expected to slam painfully into the concrete as they fell, but instead he felt water rushing over his head, surrounding him. He instinctively held his breath, trying not to drown. Pain shot through his head as he struggled not to take in the breath his lungs so desperately screamed for, and black spots started dancing in front of his eyes.
Then, mercifully, everything went black.
As they orbed into an empty Manor, Paige looked around in confusion.
"Maybe Phoebe and Cole didn't come back here, after all," she suggested.
"No," Leo told her. "Phoebe's here. I can sense her; she's my charge, and my family."
The unspoken 'And you're not,' was heavy in the air, and Paige had to fight the urge to sigh.
She'd thought, based on clearly faulty memories, that Phoebe and Leo would have been the ones who would accept her the easiest. She hadn't expected to be treated like some interloper, like the enemy.
She didn't have a chance to say anything, though, because Leo suddenly tackled her, slamming her to the floor behind the couch.
"What the hell?" Paige choked out, as Leo landed heavily on top of her.
"That," Leo said, shortly, jerking his head up and Paige followed the gesture to see an athame embedded in the wall behind where she'd just been standing.
"Thanks," Paige said, faintly, as she stared up at the dagger. "Where did that even come from?" she demanded, as she pulled herself to her feet.
A second later, she dropped back down to the floor to avoid the energy ball that came winging at her head, using the couch as cover.
"Phoebe knows we're home," she told Leo, as they huddled behind the couch.
"Why is she trying to kill us?" Leo asked, confused.
He tried to look over the top of the couch, but Paige jerked him down before he could make a target of himself.
"What are you doing?" Leo demanded, in a low voice. "I can talk to her."
"I think Phoebe's a little beyond rational conversation at this point," Paige hissed. "You'd think the energy balls would have clued you in to that."
"So, what are we supposed to do?" Leo snapped, glaring at her. "Just sit here, trapped and waiting for Phoebe to find us?"
"I don't know, all right!" Paige snapped back, frustrated. "I'm working on it!"
Taking a chance, she moved slowly until she was peering over the top of the couch, her eyes barely visible over the top cushions. She flexed her right hand, sparks of lightning jumping between her fingers as she looked for Phoebe.
She saw her sister standing on the stairs, her own eyes moving restlessly as she looked around the living room, clearly trying to find her and Leo. When Phoebe's eyes lit up a second later, Paige knew she'd been spotted.
Letting out a quiet curse, she dropped gracelessly back down to the floor, wincing as an energy ball sailed over her head to strike the stones of the fireplace and explode in a burst of light. She took a second to gather up the sparks that had gathered on her hand, forming the lightning into a ball. Then, she popped back up and, saying a quick prayer that Phoebe hadn't had time to recover, she threw the small ball at her sister with a quick flick of her wrist.
Phoebe was fast, though, and she dodged out of the way of the ball of lightning, throwing an energy ball that absorbed Paige's attack. Then, she climbed back to her feet, a snarl twisting her face.
But, while Phoebe was distracted, Paige had grabbed Leo's arm and dragged him upright, bolting into the kitchen with the Whitelighter on her heels. Then, she whirled around and sent a burst of wind toward the doorway, sending Phoebe flying backward from the force she'd generated.
"I can't keep knocking her down, like this," she warned, a twist of her wrist turning the burst of wind into a mini tornado that picked Phoebe up and spun her around, wildly, before dumping her unceremoniously on the floor.
Paige wasn't trying to hurt her sister; she just wanted to disorient Phoebe and keep her from going after them.
"It's Cole's powers," Leo said, although Paige had been able to figure out that much. "Mortals can't handle demonic powers; it corrupts them and eventually drives them insane."
"Phoebe's a witch," Paige felt compelled to point out.
"Which makes it even worse," Leo told her. "And since she seems to have fixated on you-"
"She thinks I'm trying to hurt Prue and Piper," Paige said, grimly. "And, she seems pretty determined to kill me."
"She doesn't know what she's doing," Leo said, defensively.
"Doesn't exactly make me feel better," Paige muttered, as she forced Phoebe back, yet again.
Phoebe was strong, and she wasn't going to be able to hold her back, forever. But, she had an idea that might work.
"When I tell you to," Paige told Leo, tersely, before he could say anything, "orb us back to the living room."
"Why would I-" Leo started to demand, but then Paige gripped his arm as a shadow fell through the doorway.
"Now!" she snapped, as Phoebe stepped into the kitchen, an energy ball at her fingertips.
She went weightless as Leo orbed them out of the room, experiencing a moment of disorientation as they rematerialized in the living room. She shook it off, though, in favor of dragging Leo toward the stairs.
"Attic," she explained, as they took the stairs two at a time. "We can barricade ourselves in there against Phoebe, and maybe figure out a way to get Cole's powers out of her."
But, her impromptu plan came to a screeching halt when Cole stumbled down the stairs from the attic, his arms wrapped around his torso, where his shirt was dark with blood. Leo caught the other man as he fell, managing to lower him to the floor.
"Phoebe," Cole groaned, his eyes clouded with pain. "She's-"
"We know," Leo reassured him, quickly, and Cole sighed with obvious relief, slipping into unconsciousness a moment later.
"You have to get him out of here," Paige said as she glance warily back at the staircase, expecting Phoebe to appear at any second.
"I can't leave you here, alone," Leo protested, concern creeping into his tone for the first time since they'd met.
"Cole's hurt," Paige said, insistently. "You're the only one who can orb, and right now, he's our first priority. Get him out of here."
Leo finally nodded, gripping Cole's arms and orbing away in a flash of light. Alone, Paige started to reassess her plan, especially since she could hear footsteps on the stairs. Clearly, Phoebe was taking pleasure in hunting down her prey on foot, rather than using her powers to go after her.
'That's more than a little disturbing,' Paige decided, ducking into the first open room she saw just as Phoebe appeared on the landing.
She pressed herself up against the wall, out of sight, barely daring to even breathe as Phoebe stalked down the hallway past her. Then, she bolted for the staircase, hurtling down as fast as she dared and praying that she didn't slip and break her neck.
Once down the stairs, she looked longingly at the front door, but immediately dismissed the idea. With the way Phoebe had fixated on her, she didn't dare go outside, around other people. That was just asking to get someone hurt, or even killed.
No, she was staying put in the Manor, where she was the only one in danger.
Which was now, apparently, as an energy ball went whizzing past her ear, and she reflexively dove to the ground. She managed to get behind the couch, again, pressed up against the back as she prayed that Phoebe hadn't seen her.
"Do you really think you can hide from me?"
So, apparently, her luck was running out on all fronts, today.
"Come on, Pheebs," Paige entreated, still staying put. "Can't we talk about this?"
"Talk," Phoebe echoed, scornfully. "That's a new one. Most demons just want to kill us."
"I'm not a demon, I'm your sister," Paige snapped, and she could hear Phoebe laugh.
"Right," she said, disbelief clear in her voice. "Pull the other one."
"You're allergic to shellfish!" Paige blurted out, desperately, seizing at the half-formed wisps of memories that teased at the edges of her mind. "Your favorite movie is Kill it Before it Dies, you were named after Mom's great-aunt-"
"Shut up!" Phoebe growled, furiously, and Paige could hear her voice cracking with the strain. "I'm not going to let you hurt my sisters!"
"I'm not-" Paige started to protest, but then she broke off as the front door started to open.
Phoebe whirled around at the sound, an energy ball already sparking at her fingertips, and Paige watched in horror as Piper and Prue walked through the front door, oblivious to what lay beyond.
"No!" she yelled, bolting from her hiding place toward her sisters.
She dimly remembered running like this, before, trying to beat Shax, only this time she was trying to save her sisters from Phoebe. Her thoughts immediately went to Henry and Tyler, a split second later.
'I'm sorry,' she thought, fleetingly, as she threw herself at Piper to get her out of the line of fire. 'I love you, both.'
As Paige dove at Piper, the energy ball struck her in the shoulder, sending her spinning around to crash heavily into her sisters. They slammed into the floor, Piper's arms instinctively going around Paige to steady her, and Paige groaned in pain as they hit the floor in a tangled heap. There was a moment of confusion as they tried to disentangle themselves, and Prue was the first one back on her feet.
"Ow," Paige mumbled, as she staggered back to her feet, aided by Piper's strong grip.
She looked immediately over to Prue, to make sure that she was all right. The oldest Halliwell had her arm extended toward Phoebe, pinning her wildly-struggling sister to the far wall with a look of grim determination on her face.
"So, what'd you do to piss Phoebe off?" she asked, but there was an undercurrent of tension beneath her light tone.
"She has Cole's powers," Paige explained, shortly. "They're driving her insane. We have to get them out of her before it kills her."
"Well, think of something fast," Prue told them. "I can't hold her here, for long. She's too strong."
"The power swapping spell," Piper said, snapping her fingers. "We might be able to modify it to give Cole his powers back – where is Cole?"
"He's hurt," Paige replied. "Leo took him somewhere safe."
"Leo's all right?" Piper asked, a hopeful note in her voice, and Paige smiled reassuringly at her sister.
"He's fine," she told her. "Doesn't seem to like me, much, but that just seems to be the theme of the day."
"Leo?" Prue called out, having heard her. "Leo, bring Cole."
Lights filled the room a second later, and Leo materialized in the middle of the living room with Cole, the other man still unconscious and clearly in pain. When she saw her husband, Piper let out a wordless cry and lunged at him, wrapping her arms around him in a crushing embrace.
Paige bolted to Cole's side to check on the fallen man, her fingers gentle on his wound as she checked him over. Ignoring Phoebe's outraged scream of protest, she turned to Prue with a worried frown.
"If we're going to do something, we need to do it, now," she told the older woman. "Leo and I never got the chance to finish healing Cole, and he's pretty weak."
"Piper," Prue called out, urgently. "We need that power swapping spell. Right now."
As she turned back, Paige could see Piper muttering something softly under her breath, probably the words of the spell. Then, she shook her head with a regretful look on her face.
"The spell won't work," she said, sounding frustrated. "Phoebe has to be the one to say it."
"Yeah, good luck with that one," Paige muttered, shaking her head in disbelief. "So, you're saying that we have to wing it?"
"Pretty much," Piper confirmed. "Otherwise, Phoebe's stuck with Cole's powers."
"Not an option," Paige agreed. "How about, 'Powers swapped'-"
"Taken," Leo corrected her, quickly. "Phoebe took Cole's powers; she didn't swap any of her own. It was the only way we got out of there."
"Okay," Prue said, picking up on the thread. "Powers taken when needed most-"
"Return now to their rightful host?" Piper suggested, hopefully, and they all looked over at Phoebe, hoping to see Cole's powers leaving her body.
"Well, damn," Paige muttered, when nothing happened. "Okay, now what?"
"I still think we're on the right track," Prue insisted, scowling as Phoebe struggled against her magical hold. "Damn it, Pheebs, we're trying to help you!"
"She's evil!" Phoebe snarled, and Paige rolled her eyes.
"If I was really evil, I would have killed Prue and Piper when I first met them," she shot back. "I certainly wouldn't have waited for you to show up and bring back the Power of Three."
"You have to admit," Prue said, into the silence that followed. "It's a little creepy that you've thought that out."
"Yeah, well, I've always been a little twisted," Paige retorted.
"Can we focus here, people?" Piper broke in. "Brainstorming a spell, remember?"
"Okay, okay," Paige muttered, rubbing at the headache she could feel forming at her temples. Her shoulder was really starting to hurt, as well, where Phoebe's energy ball had hit her. "Why didn't the spell work?"
"Maybe it needs the Power of Three?" Piper suggested.
"For a power swapping spell?" Prue asked, incredulously. "No way, not when the one in the Book affected all of us that time you read it, Piper."
"Maybe we weren't specific enough," Paige mused, shrugging when her sisters looked over at her. "I don't suppose you want to tell us the spell you used to take Cole's powers in the first place?" she asked Phoebe.
"Go to Hell," her sister spat at her.
"Guess that's a no, then," Prue muttered. "Hey!" she yelped, a second later, when her concentration slipped and Phoebe managed to force herself away from the wall.
Paige snapped her hand out and pinned Phoebe back to the wall with a gust of wind like she'd done with the Darklighter that had attacked Sam, moving to Prue's side to help her contain the other woman.
"Any time, Piper," Prue suggested, as she and Paige worked to keep Phoebe from getting free, a task that proved harder by the second as she regained more and more of her strength.
"Right, no pressure," Piper snapped back, glaring at them.
A few, impossibly-long minutes later, she darted to where Prue and Paige were standing, still struggling to keep Phoebe from getting loose.
"I think I've got something," she said, brandishing a slip of paper. "It should work if all three of us say it."
"Fingers crossed," Paige muttered, as she and Prue looked over at the paper, chanting in unison with Piper.
"What's yours is his,
We take from thine,
Balthazar's powers cross the line.
His powers were not yours to take,
Your true nature, we now remake."
A bright cloud of lights surrounded Phoebe, lifting away from her body to float through the air. The lights entered Cole, making his unconscious body arch up from the shock, and at the same time, Phoebe sagged limply against the wall.
Paige broke away from her sisters and bolted to Cole's side, catching Leo's hand as the two of them knelt down beside the unconscious man. Paige held her hand over Cole's wound, concentrating as hard as she could on healing him. And, between hers and Leo's efforts, his wounds finally closed, healing completely.
"What the-" Cole slurred, as he slowly opened his eyes and looked around, groggily. "Phoebe-"
"She's fine," Paige reassured him, quickly, glancing back to confirm it for himself. "Here, let's get you up."
Cole reached up and grabbed the hand she held out to him, and then he gasped in shock, his eyes rolling back in his head as his body went completely rigid. He relaxed a second later, but it was long enough that both she and Leo had started hovering over him, worriedly.
"I'm fine," he brushed them off, before either of them could say anything.
Gingerly, he grabbed the hand Paige was still holding out to him, and when nothing seemed to happen, he let her pull him to his feet.
"I think I just had a premonition," he said, baffled. "But, that's never been one of my powers."
"No," Phoebe spoke up, testily, "it's one of mine."
They looked over to where Phoebe was leaning on Prue and Piper, her furious gaze fixed squarely on Paige.
"Good going, sis," she sneered, mockingly. "You screwed the spell up."
"But, that shouldn't even be possible," Piper protested. "The spell specifically targeted Cole's powers. Yours shouldn't have even been affected."
"Well, Cole just had a premonition," Phoebe snapped, as she pushed herself away from her older sisters. "And, look," she added, testily, "I can't levitate."
"Well, maybe there's another spell," Piper offered, but Phoebe shook her head.
"No way," she snapped, still glaring at Paige. "And let her screw up something else?"
"This isn't Paige's fault," Prue protested, in her sister's defense.
"She's not one of us," Phoebe insisted, furiously. "Why else would the spell have gone wrong?"
"Excuse me?" Paige demanded, incredulously. "How about a thank you for saving your life?"
"You did this to me!" Phoebe practically howled, shaking with rage.
"No one is at fault here," Leo spoke up, firmly, before anyone could say anything else. "Accidents happen, Phoebe. Especially in magic, you know that."
"All I know is that I don't have my powers," Phoebe snapped, a bitter tone in her voice.
"We'll fix it," Prue insisted, but Phoebe just shook her head, still glaring at Paige.
"I'm not letting her work any more magic on me," she declared. "I'll probably end up with a tail, or something."
"Hey, Cole," Piper interjected, quickly, clearly trying to change the subject. "What was that premonition you had?"
"There was a fire," Cole started, but the rest of his sentence was cut off by the sound of water splashing in the kitchen.
"What the heck was that?" Prue asked, and a second later, Tyler came barreling into the room, soaking wet.
He careened into Paige, practically hysterical and babbling incoherently. Paige wrapped her arms around him, steadying the boy as he swayed on his feet.
"Tyler," she said, firmly, breaking into his rambling speech. "Slow down, sweetie. I can't understand you."
Tyler gasped, taking a deep breath to center himself. Then, he looked at Paige with a lost expression on his face.
"Henry's gone," he told her, quietly. "Some demon grabbed him when we were in Chinatown."
Paige rocked back like she'd just been struck. The news was like a physical blow, and she couldn't seem to wrap her mind around what Tyler had just said.
"What?" she whispered, disbelievingly. "But – he's mortal; he's supposed to be safe-"
"He was very brave," a new voice spoke up, and Paige looked up to see a young woman standing in the doorway to the kitchen. "Your Henry saved my life. If not for him, Yen Lo would have killed me."
"Who are you?" Prue demanded, glaring at the young woman, and Paige found herself grateful for overly protective older sisters. "How did you get in our house?"
"We came through the kitchen sink," Tyler spoke up, from where he was still leaning against Paige. "I don't really know how."
"It is taught to all how study the ancient arts," the young woman said, hesitantly, as she moved slowly into the living room. "My name in An Ling. I am-"
"A Zen Master," Paige said, quietly, surprising the young woman.
"My father is the true master," An Ling corrected her, after a moment. "I am only his student."
"Are you remembering something?" Piper asked, curiously, but Paige shook her head.
"Not enough," she said, frustrated. "Not anything helpful. Damn it, I hate this."
"Well, let's hit the Book," Prue suggested, sensibly. Turning to An Ling, she added, "You said the demon was called Yen Lo?"
"He is not a demon," An Ling replied. "He is as human as any of us."
"Just a human who kidnapped my husband," Paige muttered, her arms tightening protectively around Tyler as she spoke. "Demon or not, he's still dangerous."
"Very," An Ling confirmed. "Which is why we must proceed with caution."
"We?" Piper asked, in surprise, and the young woman nodded, firmly.
"Yen Lo has taken my father," she told them, her tone grave. "The only problem is that I do not know where he has taken him, and nothing I do to track him down is working."
"We could always scry for him," Phoebe spoke up for the first time. She very carefully avoided looking at Paige as she added, "We can get started, now, if you have something that we can track Yen Lo with."
"Sounds like a plan," Prue said, but Paige wasn't listening to her.
Her attention had been caught by the paper bag that Tyler was clutching in his hands. Taking the bag, she opened it and stared at the herbs inside, feeling the wisps of a memory tease at the edges of her mind.
There was an answer there, she just knew it. Now, only if she could just see it.
When she caught a flash of light out of the corner of her eye, she looked up to see An Ling brandishing a very familiar-looking dagger, light reflecting off its blade. She caught the word soul, and everything clicked into place.
Paige ran into the kitchen, ignoring her sisters' surprised exclamations from behind her. She flicked on one of the gas burners on the stove, lighting it with a twitch of her hand as she put a saucepan on the flames. Then, she moved to the potion cabinet, pulling things down.
She was thrown for a minute when the layout of the cabinet didn't match the picture in her memory, the cabinet she distinctly remembered spending hours rearranging one day, even though she'd never been in this part of the house, before. But, she shook off the confusion and dug around until she found what she needed, lining everything up on the edge of the counter.
The next part was trickier; she knew what ingredients needed to go into the potion, but she didn't remember if there was a specific order they were supposed to go in.
'Oh, come on,' she scolded herself, firmly, when she found herself hesitating over adding the ginger before the eye of newt. 'I know how to make this potion; I'm the one who invented it in the first place.'
Her mind made up, she threw the ginger into the saucepan, followed by the eye of newt. She added the rest of the ingredients quickly, nodding in satisfaction when the potion started bubbling and turned the same bright blue color that she remembered it being.
Picking up the last ingredient, the powdered toadstool, she looked up to see her sisters staring at her in shock, with Leo, Cole, Tyler, and An Ling standing behind them.
"Where did you learn to make potions?" Piper demanded, but Paige shook her head.
"Later," she promised. "Look, I've got a way to find Henry and An Ling's father. Just – don't freak out on me, okay?"
Before anyone could say anything, she tossed the powdered toadstool into the saucepan.
"I want to be Henry," she said, quietly, and the world went white in front of her eyes…
When Paige bolted out the living room with Tyler's paper bag held in her hands, Piper was the first to follow her. She called after Paige, but the other woman didn't seem to hear her in her haste, and when she got into the kitchen, Paige had already lit one of the gas burners and was rummaging through the potion cabinets.
She had several bottles and batches of herbs lined up on the edge of the counter, and Piper watched her sudden burst of efficiency in amazement.
'For someone who only discovered her magic a week ago,' she thought, idly, 'Paige is a whiz at potions.'
Behind her, Piper could hear everyone else entering the kitchen, and she squeezed Leo's hand that he dropped onto her shoulder.
"What is she doing?" Prue hissed, softly, as they watched Paige throw the potion ingredients into the saucepan seemingly at random.
"I have no idea," Piper muttered back, just as softly. Raising her voice so that Paige could hear her, she added, "Where did you learn to make potions?"
Looking up at them, Paige just shook her head, a strange expression on her face.
"Later," she said, which seemed to be the watchword for getting any sort of answers out of their youngest sister. "Look, I've got a way to find Henry and An Ling's father. Just – don't freak out on me, okay?"
"Why would we-" Prue started to demand, but then Paige threw the last ingredient into the saucepan, causing the potion to explode.
Through the smoke that rose up from the potion, obscuring her face, Piper could see Paige saying something, although she couldn't hear what. Then, her entire body glowed white for a few seconds, and she swayed on her feet. As the glow faded, she blinked, slowly, looking around the kitchen in confusion.
"How did I get-" she started, and then she trailed off, a horrified look coming over her face.
Crossing the kitchen in a few strides, she grabbed Piper's best cookie sheet and flipped it over to the shiny side to look at her reflection. Then, she closed her eyes with a barely audible sigh.
"Crap," she muttered, shaking her head in disbelief. "Paige, what did you do?"
"Paige?" Piper asked, cautiously, when no one else seemed eager to step up to the plate. "Sweetie, you okay?"
At the sound of her voice, Paige's head snapped up, looking over at Piper with relief clear in her eyes.
"Thank god," she said. "Piper, what did Paige do?"
Piper looked back at Prue and Phoebe, sharing a confused look with her sisters.
"Paige," Prue said, carefully, "you're not making a whole lot of sense, here."
"What are you talking about?" Paige demanded, and then she looked down at her hands with a decidedly sheepish expression on her face. "Oh. Right. You guys probably don't know, then."
"Don't know what?" Phoebe snapped, irritably. "What did you do, this time?"
Paige raised a skeptical eyebrow in Phoebe's direction, looking surprised at the other woman's hostile tone. Piper found that strange, especially since all of Phoebe's hostility had been directed solely at her.
"It's not what I did," Paige finally said, looking away from Phoebe to glance at everyone else. "It's what Paige did." Before anyone could say anything, she continued, quickly, "I'm Henry. In Paige's body."
A stunned silence met that declaration, and Paige sighed.
"I really am Henry," she protested, when no one said anything.
"You're Henry," Prue echoed, skepticism heavy in her voice.
"You don't believe me," Paige said, flatly. "Of course you don't believe me. Look, when we were tracking down Paige and the Furies, you asked me why I'd learned to hunt demons. I told you that I didn't want to be a liability to Paige." Looking over at Piper, he added, "You called me MacGuyver because Tyler and I were taking demons out with road flares."
"You're really in Paige's body?" Piper asked, and Paige – no, Henry – nodded firmly.
"Yeah," he said. "Although," he added, looking confused, "if this is anything like what happened last time, Paige should be in here with me, and she's not."
"So, what happened?" Prue asked, getting an exasperated look in return.
"That's what I'm trying to figure out," Henry said, shortly.
Going back over to the potion that Paige had made, he looked down at the scattered ingredients with a pensive look on his face. He poked at a sprig of rosemary with his finger, jumping back in surprise when the herb burst into flames at the contact.
Piper flicked out a hand, freezing the flames.
"Ground rule," she said, firmly. "No pointing at anything until you learn to control Paige's powers."
"No offense," Henry said, "but I really hope that I'm not in her body long enough for that."
He quickly patted the frozen flames out with a dishtowel, and surveyed the rest of the potion ingredients with his hands tucked carefully behind his back.
"Okay," he finally said, "I recognize this one, now."
"You do?" Prue asked, clearly surprised.
"It's a body swapping potion," Henry told them. "Paige used it with one of her charges, once. She knew the kid was in trouble, but she couldn't sense him, so she swapped bodies with him so that she could find him and get him out of trouble."
"So, Paige swapped bodies with you for the same reason," Piper realized. "So that she could find out where you were and make sure that you weren't in any danger."
"Yeah," Henry confirmed. "Except, now she's the one in danger." Looking past her to where An Ling was standing, he added, "You're lucky that Yen Lo guy didn't get his hands on you."
"He has my father," An Ling said, a stony look on her face, "and I would happily trade places with him in a heartbeat."
"Older guy?" Henry asked. "Gray hair, wearing black robes?"
"That is my father," An Ling replied. Her expression turned hopeful as she added, "You've seen him? Is he all right?"
"He's alive," Henry said, and his voice was guarded. "He's hurt, though, and if we don't hurry-"
"Okay, fine," Prue said, briskly. "So, where are you – or Paige, rather – being held?"
"Yen Lo called it Limbo," Henry told them. "He was talking about a plan to trap other Zen Masters there and seal their knowledge off from the world."
"Limbo?" Piper asked, looking back to Leo for an explanation.
"It's a place between life and death," Leo answered. "It's sacred, a place of peace."
"Not anymore," Henry told him. "He's perverted it, somehow. It is not a nice place down there, and we need to get Paige and An Ling's father out, as soon as we can."
"How do we get there?" Phoebe asked. Looking over at Leo, she added, "Can you orb us down there?"
"I don't know how to get to Limbo," Leo confessed, and Cole shook his head when everyone looked over at him.
"My powers don't let me get into the realms of the dead," he said, apologetically.
"But, I might be able to," An Ling spoke up. "I brought myself and Tyler here through the water left in your sink," she added, nodding at the sink full of soapy water that someone had forgotten to drain, earlier. "I think I can get us to Limbo the same way."
"You think?" Prue echoed, doubtfully.
"It's our only chance," Henry said, firmly, ending the debate. "That's how Yen Lo dragged me to Limbo, after all."
"Then let's go and get our sister back," Piper said.
When she looked over at her sisters, she saw her same determination reflected on Prue's face. Phoebe's face was blank and closed off, but she still followed her older sisters to the sink.
'Maybe Phoebe's getting over this strange animosity she has for Paige,' Piper thought, hopefully, but she didn't voice the thought out loud. She knew how stubborn her younger sister was, and pushing the issue was only going to make things worse between the youngest sisters.
But, Henry wasn't with them, and when Piper turned to find her, she saw Henry hugging Tyler, tightly.
"Stay here with Leo, okay?" Piper heard him ask, softly. "I need to know that you're safe."
"Bring Paige home," Tyler said, just as quietly, and Piper could feel pain lancing through her at the fear she heard in the boy's voice. "You guys have really got to stop getting grabbed by demons."
"I'll bring her back," Henry promised. "Everything's going to be fine; don't you worry."
Then, he joined Piper, Prue, Phoebe, and An Ling by where they were standing by the sink. An Ling waved a hand over the water, banishing the suds and making the surface of the water ripple, wildly.
"This will be easiest if everyone holds hands," An Ling warned them. "And whatever you do, do not let go."
Piper gripped Prue and An Ling's hands, and Henry and Phoebe completed the circle. An Ling waved her free hand, causing some of the water to slosh out of the sink and fall onto the floor. The puddle at their feet spread out over the floor, widening until it stretched out just touching their shoes. Then, An Ling stepped forward, with everyone else following her lead.
They fell for what seemed like forever, and then they hit the ground with an impact that rattled Prue down to her bones. She grunted softly with pain as she fell to her knees, dragging Piper and Phoebe down with her.
The three of them disentangled themselves and got to their feet, looking around. Henry and An Ling were nowhere to be seen, and Prue started to get worried, with An Ling's warning about not letting go still ringing in her ears.
"Henry!" she yelled, as she looked around to see if she could spot the other two. "An Ling!"
"Quiet," Phoebe hissed, elbowing her hard in the side. "Do you want to bring Yen Lo right down on top of us?"
Prue opened her mouth to say something, but then she thought better of it. Phoebe had just spent the last week dodging demons in the Underworld; most likely she knew exactly what she was talking about. Swallowing her words, Prue fell silent as she and Piper followed Phoebe out of the open area they'd landed in.
They found shelter behind a mound of rocks, and Prue used the relative safety of their impromptu hiding place to look around. Leo had described Limbo as peaceful, as a sacred place, but it looked nothing of the sort.
The clouds above them were dark gray, jagged streaks of lightning filling the sky. The air around them was filled with electricity, the energy humming along their very bones. Prue itched all over, and she had to resist the urge to scratch at her skin as hard as she could.
"I don't see Yen Lo," Piper said, in a hushed whisper, as she looked around the dismally barren landscape.
"He could be hiding somewhere," Phoebe shot back, just as quietly.
"Why would he be hiding?" Prue felt compelled to point out, and rather reasonably, she felt.
Phoebe glared at her, but before they could say anything, the sound of rocks tumbling together from somewhere nearby had them looking around in alarm. Then, Prue breathed a quiet sigh of relief when she saw An Ling and Henry moving slowly toward them. Her relief turned to worry, however, when she noticed that Henry was stumbling as he walked, leaning heavily on An Ling to keep from falling down.
Beside her, Piper had shot up in alarm, helping An Ling lower Henry carefully to the ground as the pair joined them.
"What's wrong?" Piper demanded, worriedly.
"I don't know," An Ling said, an anxious tone in her voice. "We landed about half a mile away and started off to find you. Then, Henry started stumbling, and he couldn't stay on his feet. I've had to drag him most of the way here."
"Henry?" Piper asked, quietly, tapping him gently on the cheek, but she didn't get a response.
"I haven't been able to get him to respond to me at all," An Ling told them, but just then, Henry blinked, looking up at them in confusion.
"What-" he mumbled, sitting up with Prue's help. "How'd we get here?"
"What do you remember?" Piper asked, concerned.
"We jumped through the portal and landed in Limbo," Henry said, pushing Paige's long hair away from his face. "And then everything after that is a blur."
"But, why?" Prue asked him. Looking over at An Ling, she asked, "Could it be because he's in Paige's body?"
"I wouldn't think so," An Ling said, doubtfully. "But, it is entirely possible. Limbo is still a mystery, even to Zen practitioners."
"Hey!" Phoebe suddenly snapped, and Prue turned back around to see her younger sister slapping Henry lightly on the cheek, trying to keep him awake. "Don't go floating off on us, again."
"No, I-" Henry started. "I'm okay. I just-"
He swayed, dangerously, even sitting down, only staying up with Piper's help.
"It's Paige," he told them. "She's in pain; I can feel it."
"Paige's Whitelighter powers," Prue realized. "Her sensing power must have kicked in, or something."
"Limbo can enhance magical abilities," An Ling spoke up. "It might even activate dormant powers."
"Well, we need to find Paige, fast," Henry said, with a quiet groan. "She's in bad shape."
"How?" Phoebe demanded, turning to face her sisters. "He can't even stand up, straight," she added, jerking her head at Henry, "and we're supposed to go traipsing all over Limbo?"
"We don't even know how to find Paige and An Ling's father," Piper pointed out, quietly.
"Yes, we do," Henry corrected her. "We start walking, and the closer we get to Paige, the worse I'm going to get. We'll use that to track them down."
"We're not using your pain as a compass," Prue argued, and Henry shrugged.
"Fine," he said, shortly, pushing himself to his feet with an effort. "See you."
As they watched in amazement, Henry started moving slowly away from them, stumbling painfully every few steps. He didn't let any of that deter him, however, and he just kept moving forward, stubbornly.
"I can certainly see why Paige married him," Piper muttered, as they hurried after him. "He's just as bullheaded as she is."
Prue and Piper eased onto either side of Henry, slipping his arms over their shoulders so that he could lean on them to walk. He sighed with quiet relief as they helped him, closing his eyes and trusting them to lead him across the uneven ground.
Phoebe and An Ling were walking off to the side of them, and An Ling was unwrapping the long, cloth-wrapped bundle that she'd been carrying in the Manor. She pulled out a long dagger with a blade that glowed green in the dim light.
"This is the Dragon Blade," she told them, quietly. "It is why Yen Lo attacked my father and me, and I think we can use it to defeat him."
"It looks like an ordinary dagger," Phoebe commented. "What's so special about it?"
"The Dragon Blade can be used to take a person's soul," An Ling answered. "Yen Lo wants the Blade for its power."
"Then why did you even bring it down here?" Prue asked, looking over at the other woman.
"I'm hoping that I can convince Yen Lo that I want to trade the Dragon Blade for my father," An Ling told her. "And then I'm hoping that all of us, working together, can defeat Yen Lo and send him through the Vortex where he belongs."
"I thought that the Vortex lead to the realms of the dead," Phoebe pointed out.
"When Yen Lo first attacked us," An Ling replied, "I stabbed him. It was a wound that would have been fatal, had he not retreated to Limbo to stave off his own death."
"Speak of the devil," Prue said, softly, as she, Piper, and Henry stopped. "I hear voices up ahead, and I think one of them is Yen Lo."
"That is him," An Ling confirmed, a grim expression on her face. "Yen Lo is very dangerous, and we must proceed with great caution."
They snuck forward, quietly, using the strange terrain as cover to keep from being seen. Yen Lo was pacing in front of a large, dead tree, his hands moving restlessly as he talked to someone. There were thick ropes tied around the tree, presumably holding someone to it, and Prue hoped that it was Paige and An Ling's father.
They crept closer, trying to get a better look. Their missing people were indeed tied to the tree, and Prue had a moment of disorientation to see Henry's body tied to the tree, when the man was leaning heavily on her.
'Paige,' she reminded herself. 'That's Paige inside Henry's body.'
And Paige didn't look good. She was slumped over, weakly, and it looked as though the rope was the only thing that was holding her on her feet. There was also a dark stain on her white shirt, and Prue didn't even want to think about what that could have been.
But, when Yen Lo said something, she managed to lift her head to pin the man with a vicious glare. She might have been down, but she certainly wasn't out. Not yet, anyway.
Behind Yen Lo was a stone bridge leading to something that looked like a tornado.
"The Vortex," An Ling said, softly. "Whatever you do, avoid it at all costs. If you are pulled inside, you will not come out, again."
"Got it," Henry muttered. "Avoid the Tornado of Death."
Then, he groaned, suddenly, doubling over in pain. Alerted by the noise, Yen Lo's head snapped up, looking unerringly in their direction.
"So much for proceeding with caution," Piper muttered, as the man started toward them.
She flicked out her hands, exploding the patch of ground under his feet and making him stumble. Yen Lo regained his balance, quickly, but they used the time that he was distracted to move past him toward the tree where Paige and An Ling's father were being held.
Reaching the tree, Prue flicked out a hand, using her telekinesis to untie the ropes holding Paige and An Ling's father captive. Paige slumped to the ground as soon as the ropes were untied, and Prue found herself lowering Henry to the ground a second later to keep him from crashing, as well.
"Hey, honey, you're not looking too good," Henry croaked, and Paige gave him a wry smile.
"Ditto," she whispered, leaning against Henry. "Sorry about the body swap."
"It's okay," Henry told her. "Wow, I need a shave when I'm back in my own body."
"Are you guys okay here?" Prue asked, worriedly, looking back to where Phoebe and An Ling were fighting Yen Lo.
"Go," Paige told her, closing her eyes with exhaustion. "We can't let him out of Limbo."
Prue turned, leaving Paige and Henry in the hands of An Ling's father, in time to see Phoebe go flying across the empty space toward the bridge.
"No!" Prue screamed, a yell that was quickly echoed by Piper as they watched Phoebe get sucked toward the Vortex.
Prue focused, and a second later, her astral form was standing on the bridge in time to catch Phoebe. She wrapped an arm protectively around her younger sister to keep her from being sucked into the Vortex, anchoring them both to the bridge with her free arm.
"Hold on, Pheebs," she gritted out, as she clung to her sister. "Don't you dare let go."
Twisting around as much as she dared, Prue watched as Piper flung out her hands, the explosive blast knocking Yen Lo to his knees. The man tried to strike out at Piper, but a bolt of lightning slammed into him, throwing him backward.
Henry was swaying where he'd forced himself up to his knees, hand still held out in front of him. Energy was crackling along his palms, and another stray bolt shot from his hand to obliterate a nearby rock.
"I can't control it," Henry called out.
"Then don't point at anything," Piper called back. "Especially us."
Then, Piper and An Ling darted forward, to where Yen Lo was just picking himself up off the ground. When he lunged at the women, An Ling thrust the Dragon Blade forward, and Yen Lo collapsed against her with a shocked look on his face.
Seconds later, to Prue's amazement, the dismal, barren landscape around them started to change. Grass grew on the dry, cracked ground, flowers sprouted up everywhere, and the sky turned a brilliant blue color. And the Vortex abruptly died down, letting go of the hold it had on Phoebe, who collapsed against Prue in relief.
Prue made sure that Phoebe was steady on her feet before she dismissed her astral form, opening her eyes to find that she was still standing beside the tree, itself now a vibrant, living thing. Phoebe, still standing on the bridge, let out a cheer, and Piper joined her as she and An Ling walked back to join everyone else. Prue was about to join them when she remembered Paige and Henry.
Looking down, she saw Paige bent over Henry's prone form, her lips moving soundlessly in a prayer as her hands glowed with healing energy. Then, Henry's eyes opened, and Paige let out a quiet sigh of relief as she slumped forward to let her forehead rest against his.
"Thought I was going to lose you, there, for a second," she murmured quietly, and Henry said something softly in response.
"Paige?" Prue said, hesitantly, not wanting to destroy the tender moment, but needing to know for sure if she was dealing with her sister.
"It's me," Paige confirmed, as she stood up and pulled Henry up after her. "When Limbo went back to normal, it reversed the body swap, as well."
"Which I, for one, am very happy for," Henry said, stretching his arms over his head. "No offense, honey, but I like being tall."
"Are you calling me short?" Paige asked, challengingly, a teasing glint in her eyes.
"Not short," Henry temporized, as he wrapped his arms around her waist. "Just –"
"Yes?" Paige prompted, raising an eyebrow at him when he trailed off.
"If you were any taller, then I wouldn't be able to do this," Henry said, quickly, as he rested his chin on top of her head. "I like that we fit together like this."
"Nice save," Paige told him, as she leaned back in her husband's embrace. Catching Prue's eye, she added, "Cute and charming. I think I'll keep him."
Piper and Phoebe had joined them by then, and Piper greeted Paige with a warm grin. Phoebe nodded stiffly at the younger woman, and Prue bit back an impatient sigh. She was about to say something, when she realized that they were missing a couple of people.
"Hey," she asked, looking around, "where are An Ling and her father?"
"Over by the bridge," Piper said, quietly, nodding toward the Vortex. "An Ling is saying good-bye."
Prue looked in the direction that Piper had indicated, watching as An Ling hugged her father, tightly. Then, to Prue's amazement, the old man turned and walked across the bridge, fading into the Vortex.
"He was mortally wounded in the fight with Yen Lo," Paige said, softly.
"But, you could have healed him," Phoebe said, an accusing tone in her voice as she glared at Paige, as though the old man's injuries were her fault.
"He wouldn't have let me, even if I'd been in my own body," Paige said, shaking her head. "He knew that it was his time."
"That's not fair," Prue started to say, but then An Ling joined them, wiping tears from her eyes.
"Are you all right?" Paige asked, reaching out to the other woman, who nodded, shortly.
"I will be fine," she said, softly. "It's just going to be very hard without him."
"I know it's not much comfort, now," Paige told her, "but, the pain will get better in time."
"Thank you," An Ling murmured, nodding.
"Um," Phoebe broke in, suddenly, "where's the Dragon Blade?"
"My father took it with him through the Vortex," An Ling told her. "So that Yen Lo may be reborn."
"Next question," Henry asked, as he looked around. "How are we getting out of here? I don't really see any handy puddles of water lying around."
"I think I know how," An Ling said, with a sad smile. "My father taught me."
Reaching out, she linked hands with Prue and Piper. Phoebe, Paige, and Henry completed the circle, and then An Ling levitated upward, pulling everyone after her. Prue propelled herself with a burst of her power, to take some of the burden off An Ling, and when she saw a swirl of orbs surrounding Paige, she realized that her sister was doing the same thing, although she didn't even seem aware of it.
They traveled through the fluffy clouds that littered the sky, and a second later, they were bursting out of the puddle of water that was still on the kitchen floor. Everyone collapsed in a pile, quickly untangling themselves and climbing to their feet.
"We're home!" Piper called, and then they heard footsteps pounding on the floor.
A second later, Tyler threw himself at Paige with a happy cry, but he just as quickly pulled away with a slight frown on his face.
"Wait a minute," he said, looking between her and Henry. "Who am I hugging?"
"It's me, kiddo," Paige reassured him, as she and Henry wrapped their arms tightly around their son. "We're back to normal."
"Good," Tyler said, his voice muffled as he hugged them back. "No more getting kidnapped again, okay?" he added, speaking to both of them.
"Promise," Paige said, squeezing him tightly before she finally let go. Looking over at Henry, she added, "We should probably get going, anyway. I don't know about you, but I'm beat."
"Small problem," Henry told her. "The car is still in Chinatown."
"No, it's not," Tyler told them. "You dropped the keys in the street, and Leo and I went to get the car while we were waiting. It's parked on the street."
"Good job, Ty," Henry said, approvingly.
They went out into the living room where everyone else was, and Piper smiled at them when they entered.
"Look who's back," she said, nodding to where Andy was perched on the arm of a chair beside Prue.
"Looks like you three found Phoebe before I did," the Whitelighter said, wryly. "But, my trip down there wasn't a complete waste." Looking over at Paige, he added, "The Elders want me to bring you Up There."
"Why?" several voices chorused, at once, but Andy was still focused on Paige.
"They'll explain everything when we get Up There," he told her, apologetically. "It's – it's complicated."
"Let's get going, then," Paige said, with a sigh. She looked over at Henry with a small shrug. "So much for going home."
"We can stay until you get back," Henry offered, but Paige shook her head.
"This could take all night, whatever it is," she told him. "No, you guys should head back to the apartment, and I'll have Andy drop me off when we're done."
"Be careful," Henry said, seriously, and Paige nodded.
"I will," she promised him.
She kissed her husband good-bye and hugged Tyler, and then she stepped back and clasped the hand that Andy held out to her. They disappeared in a bright swirl of lights.
"Let's get going, buddy," Henry said to Tyler, draping an arm across his shoulders. Turning to An Ling, he added, "Would you like a ride home?"
"That would be lovely, thank you," An Ling said, gratefully.
Bidding their goodbyes to everyone, the three of them left, shutting the door quietly behind them. Piper, on the couch, curled into Leo's arms in the silence that followed, sighing with contentment.
"Well, this was certainly an exciting day," Prue said, as relaxed into her chair. "You are over the whole evil thing, right Pheebs?" she added, looking at her younger sister.
"Definitely," Phoebe sighed, curling against Cole's side where they were snuggling on one of the oversized chairs. "I'm still not happy about my powers being in Cole – no offense, sweetie."
"None taken," Cole assured her.
"Pheebs, that was an accident," Piper pointed out.
"Yeah," Phoebe snorted. "Some accident."
"Phoebe," Prue began, but her younger sister was apparently on a roll, and not about to be stopped.
"I mean," she ranted, "it's not bad enough that I was trapped down in Hell for a week; now I'm powerless on top of it all."
"I wrote the spell," Piper reminded her, knowing what she was still obsessing over. "If anyone screwed up that spell, it was me."
But, Phoebe just shook her head, angrily.
"Paige never should have been saying that spell with you," she insisted. "She's not one of us."
"Phoebe, she's our sister," Prue pointed out. "She helped us find you in the first place."
"Well, all hail the Amazing Paige, then," Phoebe spit out, her eyes flashing, furiously. "I'm so glad that you two are so enamored with her."
Prue shook her head, ready to put a stop to her sister's ranting, but Phoebe didn't let her get a word in edgewise.
"I didn't know if Tempus had really reversed time; I didn't even know if you two were alive or dead," she snapped, glaring at her sisters. "I was fighting for my life down there, and I had no idea if I even had a family to come home to. And here you were, gallivanting around with a new sister."
"Phoebe, we looked for you every day," Piper insisted.
"But, it didn't work, did it?" Phoebe snapped. "I still had to rescue us by myself. Nothing you did helped."
Piper rocked back like she'd just been slapped, but Phoebe wasn't finished.
"But, that's okay," she went on, a bitter tone to her voice. "I guess you were just having too much fun with your new sister to try and get us out of Hell. Heck, you vanquished Shax together, from what I understand. You don't even need me, anymore. You have Paige, now; she can be your new Charmed One."
Abruptly, she stood up, brushing off Cole's hand that he put on her arm.
"I'm tired," she said, shortly. "See you in the morning."
She stormed up the stairs, leaving her family staring after her in disbelief. Piper was the first to speak.
"Well, that went well," she said, sarcastically. Looking over at Prue, she added, "What are we supposed to do, now?"
It was late when Cole joined Phoebe in bed. He cautiously slid an arm around her waist, uncertain of the reception he was going to receive, but she just snuggled up against his chest with a quiet sigh.
"Sorry I've been such lousy company, tonight," she murmured, sleepily. "I'm just really tired."
"It's been a long day," Cole reminded her. Then, he hesitated, unsure of how to phrase his next sentence. "Phoebe," he finally said, "about what you were saying earlier-"
"I need to apologize to my sisters in the morning," Phoebe replied. "I know that they did everything they could to look for us; I was just frustrated with everything that's been happening."
"I think that you should apologize to Paige, too," Cole ventured, knowing that he wasn't likely to get as good a response to that request.
And he was right. Phoebe whipped around to stare at him in disbelief, her lips pressed into a tight line.
"I've been nothing but civil to that little interloper," she snapped, irritably.
"Discounting the fact that you tried to kill her when you had my powers," Cole argued, "you've been incredibly rude to Paige. Phoebe, you accused her of stealing your powers."
"Oh, so you're taking her side, now?" Phoebe demanded, incredulously.
"There are no sides, Phoebe," Cole said, with a tired sigh. "And, she's your sister."
"Being related by blood doesn't make her my sister," Phoebe growled at him. "I have two sisters; I don't need another one."
"Phoebe, once you get to know her-" Cole tried to say, but Phoebe cut him off.
"I'm not the least bit interested in getting to know her," she snapped. "As far as I'm concerned, she can just go the hell away and leave my family alone."
"She got married, yesterday," Cole continued, still trying to win Phoebe over to the younger woman's side. "Piper told me that she and Prue were her bridesmaids. She even wore your mother's wedding dress."
That was apparently the completely wrong thing to say, because Phoebe stared at him, fury rolling in her eyes.
"She wore Mom's dress?" she gritted out, her voice barely more than a loud whisper. "What is she going to steal, next?"
"She's the only reason that Leo and I are still alive, right now," Cole argued, but it was clear that Phoebe wasn't listening to him. Cole shook his head in disbelief, looking at her, sadly. "What happened to you, Phoebe?" he asked. "This isn't the woman that I fell in love with."
"The woman that you fell in love with died when we were trapped in the Underworld," Phoebe said, coldly.
Then, without another word, she rolled back over and firmly closed her eyes, ignoring Cole's attempts to talk to her. He finally gave up trying to talk to Phoebe when it became clear that she was just going to go on ignoring him. Closing his eyes, he fell into a fitful sleep.
He woke up some indeterminate time later, haunted by lingering dreams filled with fire and death. He bolted upright, startled and extremely disoriented, and it took him a few seconds to regain his bearings. For those few seconds, he didn't know where he was, until he heard Phoebe breathing softly beside him. The room was almost completely dark, the curtains over the window letting in only the merest slip of light from the full moon outside.
But, it was that slip of light that saved all their lives.
He heard a soft shushing sound, like something being dragged across the carpet. A second later, he caught a flicker of movement out of the corner of his eye, and he levitated up to the ceiling in time to see the bedroom door open. Then, a hulking demon, his face cast in shadow, crept noiselessly into the room.
The demon summoned an energy ball into the palm of his hand, standing over Phoebe's sleeping form, menacingly, but he never stood a chance. Cole threw an energy ball of his own, watching in satisfaction as the demon burst into flames and died.
The noise from the vanquish woke Phoebe up, and she bolted upright in bed, her hand going under her pillow and pulling out a sharp athame from where she'd hidden it. She held the blade in a long-practiced grip as she looked around the room, her gaze lighting on Cole as he slowly floated back down to the floor.
"Were you levitating?" she asked, as she slid the knife back under her pillow.
"There was a demon," Cole told her, shortly. "I vanquished him."
"In the middle of the night?" Phoebe asked, clearly puzzled. "Demons don't attack us at night."
"Looks like they do, now," Cole replied, but the rest of his words were drowned out by an outraged scream coming from down the hall.
Cole ran around the bed and headed for the door, Phoebe right on his heels as they sprinted down the hallway. At the end of the hall, Prue's bedroom door flew open suddenly, and a man came flying out to crash heavily into the wall. The man – demon, rather, Cole amended, watching as his eyes flashed yellow – jumped back to his feet, but another blow from Prue had him crashing back to the floor.
Cole finished the demon off with an energy ball, getting a short nod of thanks from Prue, and the three of them headed for Piper and Leo's room.
Piper came storming out of her room before they reached it, a furious expression on her face.
"I was just attacked by a demon!" she raged, and everyone instinctively ducked out of the way of her wildly-gesturing hands. "Some red-haired bitch just tried to stab me while I was sleeping."
"Are you okay?" Phoebe asked, worriedly, and Piper nodded.
"I'm fine," she grumbled. "I blew her up. But, still, a demon attack in the middle of the night?"
"Brute demon with an energy ball," Cole supplied, when Piper fell silent. "I vanquished him before he could do anything."
"Mine's dead, too," Prue added, gesturing to the scorch mark on the wall behind them. "And that's going to be a pain to get out."
"Three attacks?" Piper asked, incredulously. "What, are we on some kind of hit list?"
"Actually, that's not far off," came Leo's oddly-distant voice, and Cole looked over to see the other man just orbing into the hallway.
Andy was right behind him, and both Whitelighters had nearly-identical grim expressions on their faces.
"The Elders think that this is just the first strike," Andy said, picking up on Leo's thread of conversation. "Demons are trying to impress the Source by killing you three. They're attacking now, hoping to catch you off guard."
"Well," Prue said, looking around the hallway, "I think it's safe to say that we sent a message, tonight. And we'll be ready for them, no matter what time they attack."
"Except that we're not the only ones in danger," Piper said, suddenly, dread in her voice.
Cole got it, immediately, Piper's words reminding him of the premonition he'd gotten off Paige, earlier. The one he hadn't had a chance to tell her about.
"If the demons are going after us," Piper continued, "then they're going to go after Paige, too."
"So, what did the Elders want to talk about?"
Paige looked up from where she was getting dressed for bed, her hair flying wildly around her face as she pulled her knee-length sleep shirt over her head.
"Christy Jenkins, actually," she told him.
"What?" Henry demanded, incredulously, keeping his voice down to keep from waking Tyler up where he was sleeping in the living room. "Why could they possibly want to talk about her?"
"Because Andy found her when he went down to the Underworld," Paige said, with a sigh, as she dropped down onto the edge of the bed. "Because of my history with her and her sister, they wanted to keep me in the loop."
"Keep you in the loop about what?" Henry asked.
"What they're going to do with her and Billie, apparently," Paige told him. "They had convened a special council to discuss the situation, and they wanted my advice."
"What did you say?" Henry asked, curiously.
"I couldn't tell them much," Paige admitted. "I mean, I remember that she'd been kidnapped by demons as a kid, and that she and Billie were potentially dangerous, but not much more than that."
"They're the ones who killed Piper and Phoebe in the future," Henry told her, and Paige swore, softly.
"I wish I'd known that earlier," she said, ruefully.
"What did you tell the Elders that they should do?" Henry asked her.
"Strip them both of their powers, and Christy's memories of the Underworld," Paige told him. "Then, they should send them back to their parents, to live the rest of their lives as mortals."
"That's probably the only thing you could have said," Henry said, after thinking about it for a moment. "I just-"
"I saw Christy Up There," Paige told him, gently. "I don't really remember what she was like in the future, but she was just a scared kid, today. Henry, she was completely terrified. And some of the Elders certainly didn't make things better."
"What happened?" Henry asked, sympathetically, sitting down beside her.
"Think Spanish Inquisition without the thumbscrews," Paige said, wryly. "And Odin kept shutting me out every time I tried to intervene. Christy finally just shut down completely, and she wouldn't talk to anyone. Sandra finally put an end to things, and that's when they sent me home."
"So, what are they going to do?" Henry asked, and Paige shrugged.
"I don't know," she told him. "All I was told was that they would take my advice into consideration. Sandra told me, privately, that she'd keep me apprised of whatever happens."
"I don't know if I like the idea of those two running around loose," Henry said, quietly.
"It's out of our hands," Paige reminded him.
"I just don't want to have to live through that hell, again," Henry sighed, quietly.
"We'll protect our family, no matter what," Paige said, firmly. "At least this time we can be prepared for it. Of course," she added, ruefully, "it would be easier if I could remember everything."
"You will," Henry told her, as they turned down the covers on the bed and climbed inside. "It'll just take some time."
"Yeah," Paige sighed, as she curled up against Henry, with her head resting on his chest. "Hopefully not too much time."
She closed her eyes as Henry wrapped his arms around her waist, and they dropped off to sleep almost immediately. When Henry woke up some time later, the apartment was quiet, and he couldn't figure out what had disturbed his rest.
Paige was sleeping peacefully beside him, her long hair fanned out over her pillow. Henry reached out, running his fingers gently through her hair, and Paige stirred at the contact. She blinked at him, slowly, a sleepy smile coming over her face.
Then, the smile disappeared, replaced by a wide-eyed panic. She threw herself over Henry before he could react, and he could only watch in horror as an energy ball sailed through the air to graze across Paige's back.
Paige gritted her teeth against the pain, thrusting her hand out to send a lightning bolt towards the far wall. Then, she swore softly under her breath when it only hit the wall.
"Demon," she hissed, unnecessarily. "She just shimmered away."
"Not for long," Henry told her, catching sight of the demon as she shimmered in on the opposite side of the room.
Paige growled as she twisted around, a spurt of flame springing up into the palm of her hand. But, before she could throw it, the demon smiled at them, gesturing broadly. Then, she shimmered away as the room around them burst into flames…
Practically every surface in the room lit on fire at the same time, leaving them sitting in the middle of an inferno. Henry could feel his eyes watering from the thick smoke that filled the room, and he choked when he tried to breathe. And every breath he managed to take was filled with agonizing pain, the intense heat searing his lungs.
"We have to get out of here!" Paige shouted, suddenly, in his ear, yelling to make herself heard over the noise of the fire. "We have to get to Tyler-"
She broke off on the last word, bent double as she coughed, painfully. Henry grabbed the back of her sleep shirt, managing to drag them both off the bed and onto the floor. The air was marginally cooler down there, and it was slightly less painful to breathe.
"Can't you summon rain, or something?" he asked, coughing as they crawled toward the door, keeping as low to the floor as possible.
"I tried," came Paige's raspy answer. "The fire is so hot that it burns up the clouds before I can get any water in them."
When they reached the door, Henry used the wall to pull himself up, helping Paige to her feet, as well. Then, he unthinkingly reached for the door knob, hissing in pain when he burned the palm of his hand.
"Careful," Paige snapped at him, yanking his hand away from the door knob. "Limbo was an anomaly; I can't heal you up here."
Then, she sent a burst of wind straight at the door. The wood around the hinges splintered instantly when she hit them, and Henry kicked the broken door away from the frame. They burst out of the bedroom and into the living room, stopping in horror at what they saw.
The couch where Tyler had been sleeping was engulfed in flames.
"NO!" Henry yelled, his mind absolutely refusing to accept what his eyes were telling him.
Beside him, Paige screamed with grief, a wordless sound filled with agony and rage. They bolted forward, heedless of the fire that surrounded them, and Henry reached for the body he could see lying motionless in the flames.
The heat seared at his skin, the pain almost unbearable, but he grabbed Tyler by the shoulders, intending to pull his son off the couch and into his arms. Then, he jerked back in surprise as Tyler opened his eyes at the contact, sitting up on the couch with a confused look on his face.
The boy shouted when he realized that he was on fire, but the sound was more surprised than anything else. He bolted upright, dancing around as he slapped at the flames on his arms. Henry pulled his shirt off, using the fabric to smother the flames, and Tyler collapsed into their arms when he was done.
"There are no burns," Paige said, stunned, as she quickly checked Tyler over. "Not a single mark."
"Maybe my power makes me immune," Tyler suggested, his voice muffled. "It didn't hurt; I didn't even know I was on fire until I woke up."
"Thank god," Paige breathed, holding tightly onto Tyler.
"We still have to get out of here," Henry said, urgently, steering them toward the front door.
Out in the hallway, people were pouring out of their apartments and headed for the stairs. Amazingly, most of their neighbors were managing to keep their heads in the chaos, with several people keeping everyone else moving toward safety.
The hallway was relatively smoke free, with the fires mostly confined to the individual apartments. Henry was about to comment on how strange it was, when he saw the look of intense concentration on Paige's face as she worked to contain as much of the fire as she could.
They'd almost made it to the stairs when they heard a shout from further down the hallway. Henry looked up to see Erin Malloy standing in front of her apartment, sobbing wildly. The three of them ran to her side, to see her apartment completely consumed with flames.
"Erin, you need to get out of here," Henry told the woman, grabbing her by her shoulder. "Where are your kids?"
"Danny and Mark are downstairs," Carol said, still sobbing. "But-"
She broke off, her voice catching as she lost control and buried her face in her hands.
"Erin, what happened?" Paige demanded, insistently. "Where's your daughter?"
"Lindsey ran in after the puppy!" Erin cried, her voice tinged with hysteria. "Everything's burning – my baby-"
"I can go in after her," Tyler said, quietly, getting Henry's attention as Paige held the traumatized woman. "You saw it; I can't get hurt."
Henry met Paige's eyes, silently asking her what she thought. After a moment, Paige gave the tiniest of nods.
Seeing the exchange, Tyler didn't wait. He darted through the flames, to be quickly swallowed up by the thick smoke that filled the apartment. Henry reached out for Paige's hand, squeezing her fingers in an almost painful grip as they waited anxiously for their son to return.
An agonizing two minutes passed, and then Tyler ran out into the hallway, a little girl and a soot-tinged puppy clutched in his arms.
"I found them hiding under her bed," Tyler gasped out, as they sprinted toward the stairs, Paige practically dragging Erin with her as the other woman clutched her daughter to her chest.
"You did good, kiddo," Henry told him. "Real good."
They pounded their way down the stairs to the lobby, Paige and Tyler using their powers to push the fire out of their way. Then, after what seemed like forever, they burst out of the front doors and out into the cool night air.
There were already fire trucks and ambulances lined up on the side of the street, Henry could hear more sirens in the distance, getting closer and closer. They found themselves being grabbed by a pair of paramedics, and they were all quickly bustled into the back of one of the ambulances for emergency treatment.
Paige and Tyler huddled together on one of the benches, both holding oxygen masks over their faces as they were checked over by one of the paramedics. Henry was being examined by the other paramedic, holding his burned arms gingerly out in front of him. The screaming of the sirens as they sped down the streets filled the air.
"You okay, honey?" Paige asked, her voice muffled by the mask.
"I'll be better once we get to the hospital," Henry said, wincing in pain at the paramedic's ministrations.
"We're almost there," the driver called back, reassuringly. "Just another couple of minutes."
The hospital was crowded when they arrived, and Paige and Tyler were shuffled off to one of the larger waiting rooms, which had been hastily converted into a treatment area. Henry was taken back to the emergency department to have his burns looked at.
"Henry's going to be okay, right?" Tyler asked, where he was plastered against Paige's side.
"He's going to be fine," Paige reassured him, wrapping her arm around his shoulders. "When we get out of here, we'll have Leo heal him."
"When we get out of here," Tyler echoed, quietly. "Where are we going to go? We don't have a home, anymore."
"We'll be okay," Paige declared. When a passing nurse looked pointedly at the oxygen mask dangling from her hand, she put it back over her face. "We'll stay with my sisters, or at a hotel, or something."
About half an hour later, Tyler had fallen asleep leaning against Paige, his breathing slow and even. Paige could feel herself starting to fall asleep as well, but she kept jerking herself back to wakefulness every time she started to drift off. Henry hadn't come back from being treated, and she wanted to be awake when he returned.
Her nerves were the other thing that kept her from falling asleep. She kept replaying everything that had happened, earlier, kept seeing every moment in her mind with crystal clarity. The one image she kept coming back to, over and over, was Tyler wreathed in flames.
She looked up when she sensed someone standing over her, but to her disappointment, it wasn't Henry. Instead, Andy was standing in front of her, a frown on his face.
"We need to talk," he said, softly, and Paige nodded.
She eased away from Tyler and got him settled across the seats they'd been sitting in. When the boy mumbled in protest, Paige ran her fingers gently through his hair.
"Go back to sleep, kiddo," she murmured, softly. "I'll be right back, okay?"
She followed Andy down the hall, far enough away that they wouldn't be overheard. Leaning against the wall, she rubbed at the headache she could feel forming in her temples, her eyes drifting involuntarily closed. When she opened her eyes, again, she found Andy watching her with a sympathetic look on his face.
"You okay?" the Whitelighter asked, and Paige let out a short bark of laughter.
"This has been a really shitty night," she said, aware that her voice was tinged with hysteria. "I could have lost them both, tonight, Andy. That crazy bitch lit my son on fire!"
Her voice broke on a sob on the last word, and when Andy wrapped his arms around her shoulders, she leaned against his chest without protest. Her shoulders shook as she cried, the stress of the last hour finally catching up with her. And she couldn't seem to get herself under control; painful sobs wracked her body and she knew that she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
She could hear Andy talking, but she couldn't make out what he was saying. She just listened to the cadence of his voice and she breathed, trying to slow down her racing heartbeat. Finally, she could feel her tears starting to dry up and she wasn't shaking as badly as before.
"Sorry," she muttered, sheepishly, as she pulled away from Andy to lean against the wall, again. "I wasn't intending to fall apart on you, like that."
"It's okay," Andy said, soothingly. "After everything that's happened, I think you've earned the right to have a breakdown."
Paige gave him a small smile, nodding shortly. "You said that we had to talk," she reminded him.
"Officially," Andy told her, "I'm here as one of the cops investigating the fire at your apartment building."
"Investigating?" Paige echoed. "Aren't you kind of dead?"
"Our good friends, the Cleaners, erased any memory of my death," Andy replied, wryly. "Apparently, the Elders figured out that working with your sisters was going to involve a certain amount of interaction with the mortal world, and I can't do that if people think I'm dead."
"Points to the Elders for actually doing something useful, for once," Paige muttered, wryly. "Okay, so you're looking into the cause of the fire. Please don't tell me they suspect demons."
"From the looks of things," Andy told her, "the fire seems to be the result of a massive electrical short that occurred simultaneously in several apartments throughout the building."
"Well, that's actually really convenient," Paige said, relieved. "So, we're actually covered on the magical front?"
"For once," Andy replied.
"So, if that's the official business," Paige asked, "what's the unofficial?"
"Unofficially," Andy told her, "I'm here as your Whitelighter, to make sure that you're all right."
"We're not hurt," Paige answered. "I'm still not sure about all right. But, how did you know that we were in trouble?"
"Your sisters were attacked, too," Andy told her. "They're fine," he hastened to reassure her, when she looked at him in a panic. "No one was hurt."
"Thank god," Paige muttered, breathing quietly in relief.
"The Elders don't think that it's a coincidence that you were all attacked, tonight," Andy said, gravely. "They think that you and your sisters are being targeted."
"With my son and my husband getting caught in the middle," Paige said, bitterly. "When I see that bitch, again, she's dead."
"I think your sisters will be more than happy to help you," Andy told her, " When you three are released from the hospital, I'm supposed to bring you back to the Manor. Prue and Piper aren't taking no for an answer."
"That's fine," Paige sighed, closing her eyes as she let her head fall back against the wall. "I'm sorry, it's just-"
"Been a really long day?" Andy said, sympathetically, and Paige nodded.
She felt his hand on her shoulder a second later, and a warmth spread through her as he healed the injuries she'd sustained during the last day. Her back, not to mention her shoulder where she'd gotten hit by Phoebe's energy ball, had been screaming in agony, but the dull roar of pain finally, gratefully subsided, and she breathed a quiet sigh of relief.
"Thanks," she said, quietly, and she leaned on the Whitelighter as they made their way back to the impromptu treatment area.
Henry had finally been treated and released, and he was sitting beside Tyler, who was awake. Henry smiled tiredly when he saw her, standing and hugging her awkwardly with two heavily bandaged forearms. He was wearing scrubs to replace his burned clothing, and his skin was pale against the dark blue fabric.
"I'm so glad you're okay," he murmured, softly. "I don't ever want to lose you, again."
"I love you," Paige replied, feeling tears spring to her eyes, again. "Both of you," she added, as she pulled Tyler into their embrace.
"I have to finish talking to your neighbors," Andy said, as he reached out and healed Henry with a casual hand on the other man's shoulders. "And then I'll take you all back to the Manor, okay?" To Henry, he added, "You might want to take those bandages off after you're out of the hospital."
"Got it," Paige told him. "We're not going anywhere."
So saying, she and Henry took seats on either side of Tyler, holding their son and each other. Another hour passed before Andy came back to get them, and after finding a secluded hallway, the four of them orbed back to the Manor.
Prue, Piper, and Phoebe were waiting for them when they arrived. Phoebe had been nearly motionless on the couch, while Prue paced with restless energy. From the clattering coming from the kitchen, Paige guessed that Piper was in the other room, using cooking as a way to distract herself. But, when she heard them, the other woman came out into the living room, drying her hands on a towel.
"We're fine, and no one's hurt," Paige said, quickly, when she saw the worried looks on her sisters' faces.
"Thank god," Piper said, hugging Paige, hard. "I can't believe the demons attacked your entire apartment building."
"Probably trying to make sure that they really got us," Henry said, wryly, his arm slung across Tyler's shoulders. "Thank you for letting us stay here."
"You're family," Prue said, firmly. "We're not going to hear of you staying anywhere else."
"We cleaned out Grams' old sewing room," Piper told them, as they went upstairs. "It's not much, but-"
"No, it's fine, really," Paige reassured her. "Right now, I could fall asleep on a concrete slab."
After bidding good-night to her sisters, they went inside the small room and closed the door behind them. The walls were lined with dusty cardboard boxes that had clearly been hastily pushed there from the middle of the room. A pair of dingy curtains covered the window on the far wall, and a trio of sleeping bags had been arranged in the middle of the floor.
"Home sweet home," Henry said, with a quiet sigh, as they climbed into their sleeping bags.
According to her watch, it was about two-thirty in the morning, but Paige had no problem falling asleep once she'd closed her eyes. But, she didn't stay asleep for long, an uneasy sensation jerking her out of a fitful sleep.
Opening her eyes, she saw that the bedroom door was open a crack, and Henry's sleeping bag was empty. After checking to make sure that Tyler was still asleep, she quietly got to her feet and padded out into the hallway.
She found her husband sitting at the top of the stairs, staring off into the distance with a lost expression on his face. Sitting down next to Henry, Paige leaned against him, threading her fingers with his. She didn't say anything, just held onto him, and when his head dropped onto her shoulder, shuddering sobs wracking his frame, she was ready to catch him when he fell.
"We're okay," she crooned, softly, as Henry fell apart in her arms. "We're safe, I promise."
She continued murmuring quiet nonsense as he clung to her. And they sat together on the stairs as the sun slowly rose in the sky, thin streaks of light creeping in through the windows.