San Francisco, California
Phoebe Halliwell stared off into space, one hand covering her mouth as she shook her head slightly, the headset nestled between her ear and shoulder. How could this be happening, now of all times?
"Of course I understand, Burt," she murmured, desperately trying to will away the tears. "I'm so sorry we can't be there for you and Suzanne." She closed her eyes and pressed her lips together. "And Kurt," she whispered, her breath slightly catching. "I'm just…so sorry."
She cleared her throat and nodded at whatever the man was saying, finally cottoning on to the fact that he couldn't actually see her acknowledgment of his words.
"Don't worry about Piper," she said softly. "I'll explain everything; she'll understand. The last thing you need to worry about right now is us. Just…take care of yourself, Burt, okay? Give our love to Suzanne and kisses to Kurty." She bit her lip and nodded. "Call us with any news, and I mean any news, mister. You got me?" She ran a hand through her hair. "Goodbye, Burt."
She gently placed the receiver down on her desk and released a shuddering sob. She then quickly wiped her eyes and primly straightened the hem of her skirt, silently telling herself to get it together.
Her subconscious told her to shut the hell up.
She couldn't deal with this right now, not on top of everything else. Not when Piper was having a very polite breakdown which was sure to result in her going batshit crazy at the worst possible time; not when Cole was wanted dead by every demon in the underworld, and possibly by everyone who had ever existed; not when she looked at the dull, vacant stare in her father's eyes; not when she had a sister to bury.
She laughed out loud.
Prue. She needed Prue.
Prue would know what to do, always had. Prue had grabbed the world by its throat and throttled it into submission.
Except for the one time she couldn't.
Dead. Prue was dead.
It was strange how often she had to keep reminding herself of that fact. She would wake up and go downstairs and think to herself that Prue must have gotten up early and already left for the magazine.
Oh, wait. Prue was dead.
Or that Prue was running late on a shoot and would be tired and cranky when she finally walked through the door long after midnight, but would still sit up and tell them all about it as she ate a plate of Piper's white chocolate macadamia cookies and guzzled coffee like it was water. After all, she had to be back at the magazine in five hours.
Why was Prue's car still in the driveway? She must have caught a cab. Prue didn't wait for anything, least of all a dead car.
Dead car. Dead Prue.
Dead, dead, dead.
She just wanted to hit something. Or someone. Anyone would do: Piper, Leo, Cole, Darryl. Dead sister.
Phoebe really wanted to hit Prue, preferably in the head. But she couldn't because Prue was dead.
She figured the more she reminded herself that Prue was dead, the sooner she would begin to believe it. She had taken enough psychology courses to understand that she was in Denial, while Piper had bypassed that stage and gone straight to Anger, throwing Bargaining and Depression into the mix when it suited. Phoebe actually would have preferred it if Piper lashed out, but that wasn't Piper's way. She would hold it in until she couldn't anymore, and then woe unto those who found themselves standing unceremoniously before her.
Only this time there would be no Prue to rein her in.
She would sometimes catch Piper staring at her from the corner of her eye, and she was pretty sure Piper was convinced the wrong sister had died. She didn't know if that were true, but it might have been, and that was all Phoebe needed to allow herself to feel the guilt and the pain and the sorrow that she had been trying to suppress since it happened.
And now Suzanne.
Phoebe sighed. There was nothing to do now but break the news to Piper.
She prayed to whatever sadistic gods were watching that there was wine in the house.
Piper warily eyed the two wineglasses her sister carried into the room, not that she would refuse the glass once it was offered. She hadn't been blinding drunk since college and was in the mood to revive some traditions.
Looking at the way Phoebe was patently avoiding her gaze, she knew she would not like whatever news her sister was about to deliver.
"I figured when they get here," Piper smoothly opened, "I could stay in your room and give them mine. That way we wouldn't have to disturb anything in…her room."
Christ, she couldn't even say her sister's name. That was just pathetic. Piper rolled her eyes at her own behavior and screamed silently in her own mind to grow up. She knew she was doing neither herself nor Phoebe any favors by being a basket case. Not to mention how Prue would react if she peeked down and saw her acting like a maudlin teenager.
She had always wished she had been more like Prue and found that desire returning full-force. It wasn't that Prue was emotionless or prone to denial, but she'd had an uncanny ability to suppress her feelings and deal with situations in a logical, rational manner. Of course, Prue had suffered in silence for so long that her pain eventually became a part of her, particularly in the way she would distance herself from other people, even her own family.
Still, there was something to be said for being functional, whereas Piper felt that if she started screaming out loud, she'd never stop.
"Piper," Phoebe said.
And she understood. "They're not coming," she said flatly, grinding her teeth and shaking her head. "Look, I get that Burt is uncomfortable with magic, but this is ridiculous. We're the only family Suzanne has, and Kurt adored Prue." A brief smile flashed across her face. "I swear, I thought when they visited that Prue wasn't going to give Kurt back."
She winced. Prue would never have children. That was just so wrong.
Prue would have been an amazing mother. Watching her with Kurt had been a revelation. She'd never seen her sister so relaxed, so comfortable in her own skin. Kurt would look up at her with those huge eyes of his, and Prue had melted, melted, melted until she was nothing but a big pile of goo. Prue had swatted Phoebe when the girl had called her on it, but she hadn't denied it either.
Phoebe looked down at her hands, clasped together so tightly her knuckles had turned white. "Suzanne's in the hospital, Piper. It…it's not looking good."
Piper stared blankly into space and said nothing.
Phoebe waited to speak further, looking for some cue from her sister, but when none was forthcoming she continued. "Suzanne was pregnant…"
"There were complications. After they rushed her to the hospital, they did an ultrasound and found," she swallowed heavily, "several tumors." She sighed. "Stage four ovarian cancer. They wouldn't even have known if not for the miscarriage." She fiddled with her earring and looked away. "That was three weeks ago. It's only a matter of days."
Piper snorted. "Well, that's just great. Terrific! That pretty much takes care of our entire family, doesn't it? Prue's gone. Grams and Mom have been dead for years. Dad shows up when he feels like it." She picked at her cuticles. "Suzanne was the only Warren witch left other than us, and it looks like the curse is about to take her too." She growled. "I want to summon Melinda's ass and then beat her to death again for what she's done to this family."
Phoebe closed her eyes and ran her fingers through her hair. "Piper," she said halfheartedly.
"Save it," Piper snapped. "We're all we have now, Phoebe. Burt will never let us see Kurt again, and without Suzanne in the picture, Kurt will grow up ignorant of magic. He won't remember Suzanne having powers. We're alone."
"Kurt isn't a witch, Piper."
"We don't know that," she argued. "Suzanne never said one way or the other. If you'll remember, she always changed the subject whenever we tried to question her about whether he was magical."
"Warren witches are female."
Piper snorted. "According to Grams, who hated all men with a passion."
Phoebe shrugged. That was true enough, she supposed. It wasn't out of the realm of possibility for Kurt to be magical. "If he does have powers, I'm sure he'll be assigned a whitelighter."
Piper harrumphed. "The bottom line is that Burt will make sure Kurt has nothing to do with us." She held up a hand to forestall the interruption. "Don't put words in my mouth, Phoebe. I know that Burt likes us and considers us part of his family, maybe even loves us in some way, but he doesn't like magic. I don't blame him for it either. It's certainly cost the two of us more than enough. He'll probably reach the conclusion that having us involved in Kurt's life would be dangerous. And he's not wrong."
"He's not," Phoebe softly agreed. "That was the reason Grams bound our powers, after all." She sighed. "I just feel so badly for the little guy, Piper. Burt told me that he'd explain to Kurt about Prue, but it's going to break his itty bitty heart. Kurt all but worshipped Prue, and having to deal with that on top of losing his mom and his sister? He's only six."
"The same age Prue was when we lost Mom," Piper whispered.
Phoebe startled and turned horrified eyes on her sister. God, was it ever going to stop? How much more was their family expected to sacrifice? How much more did they have to give? They'd lost their mother, their grandmother, their sister, and now their only cousin. Another Warren child was losing his mother. It wasn't right. It wasn't fair.
And for what? The demons weren't going to halt their attacks. If anything, now that the Power of Three was broken, they would become more relentless than ever. How were they supposed to survive without Prue? Leaving aside the very real and terrifying notion that their eldest sister, the one who had all but raised them and kept them safe, was gone, they were now sitting ducks for any demon who wanted to make their reputation by taking out the two remaining Charmed Ones.
Not that they were Charmed any longer. Phoebe realized that, as only Piper had active powers, she would be the next logical target. If the demons managed to defeat her, Phoebe herself would be easy pickings. They still had Leo and Cole, but Leo was limited as to what he could do in their defense and Cole himself was as much a target as she and her sister, if not more. Great.
She picked up her wineglass and threw it across the room, roaring like a wounded lion. "This sucks!" she shrieked.
Piper chuckled hollowly. "This is our life."
St. Rita's Medical Center
Burt didn't know how the hell to break this to his wife; he couldn't even explain it to himself.
Prue Halliwell was dead. Murdered.
He hadn't known her well, despite the fact that the woman had been a member of his wife's extended family, some distant cousin or something; Burt didn't really understand all of the degrees, not that it mattered. Suzanne had loved Prue and her sisters endlessly, and that love was fully returned.
The Charmed Ones.
He hadn't appreciated that for what it was, even after Suzanne had explained it to him in painstaking detail. It was one thing to know of magic, but another matter entirely to accept it.
The fact that Suzanne's powers were defensive, rather than offensive, had allowed him to linger in denial. He didn't see magic or have to deal with it on a regular basis, so he happily pretended that it wasn't real, just a quirk. There was no danger. There were no demons. His family was safe.
The only intrusion into this carefully-maintained delusion was Cassie, Suzanne's whitelighter. Watching someone materialize in front of you in your kitchen wasn't something you could just explain away. Still, as Lima had little to offer the plethora of demons who roamed the earth – hell, Lima didn't have much to offer its mortal residents – and Suzanne wasn't really an active participant in the supernatural world, the fact that his wife had been born into a legacy he couldn't even begin to contemplate was relatively easy to ignore.
Then he had taken his wife and son to San Francisco so that Suzanne could introduce Kurt to what little family he had, and everything changed.
It had been fine, initially. He liked the sisters and loved the Manor, appreciating its architecture and grandeur. Piper was an amazing cook and a truly lovely woman; she seemed well matched with Leo, though it was odd to consider a witch and whitelighter together in that way. Phoebe was saucy and funny and the life of the party. They doted on Kurt, to whom they were virtual strangers, and Burt had been stunned to see his normally shy and reserved son come alive in their presence. That alone had been worth the price of airfare.
Burt had been most impressed with Prue, however, as had Kurt. Prue was blunt, no-nonsense, and would kill anything which threatened her family. These were traits Burt Hummel deeply admired, and he had found himself considering her as something of a kindred spirit. He had believed they might become great friends, and hey had.
He had been shocked that Kurt was most taken with Prue. She had simply adored him.
It had somewhat upset him; he and Prue were so similar in personality, yet she had bonded with his son, while Burt himself had not. Kurt had always preferred his mother's company over that of everyone else, including his father. It was very difficult to bear, believing your own child hated you.
Actually, Burt had believed hate would have been preferable. Kurt had always seemed utterly indifferent to him. He loved his son with everything inside him. He would do anything for Kurt, would gladly kill for him, but, for some reason, Kurt always appeared reticent to be alone with him, as though he were scared of his own father.
Why? What had he done, or not done, to his child?
Suzanne had always tried to play the peacemaker, facilitating negotiations and creating events that would unite them as a family. Kurt never fought her, was never belligerent or difficult. In fact, he was such an exceedingly polite child that it was rather disconcerting. He was never interested in the activities of children; in truth, he didn't seem to like other children and went out of his way to avoid them. He preferred reading, and his reading material was at least ten years above his age level. When Burt had walked in on him reading The Scarlet Letter, Kurt was able to describe in detail the meaning and symbolism of the story, as well as offer a feminist semiotics commentary.
And then Burt had realized that perhaps it was he who was afraid. Afraid of what Kurt was, what he would become. His child was brilliant, there was no question. He had seen hints of it. Kurt had begun walking at seven months, his large eyes taking in his surroundings with an almost calculating air. He had been late speaking, but once he started, he not only spoke in full, grammatically-correct sentences, but entire paragraphs. By the time he was two, his vocabulary was that of a fourth-grader and it improved at a rapid pace.
He had taught himself to read six months later. He followed along as Suzanne read to him until he had memorized the stories. He then was able to match up the words to his memories of where they were placed within the story. He hadn't used phonics; it was rote memorization and phonetics.
When Kurt was three, thanks to a series of videocassettes he had insisted his parents purchase, he could hold rudimentary conversations in both French and Spanish and wished to add Chinese to his repertoire. Unfortunately there were no videocassettes for that particular language, so he had settled for Italian, to which he took like a duck to water.
It was intimidating. Burt Hummel was intimidated by his three year old son. His wife thought it was hysterical. At first.
The further the distance grew between Burt and his son, the angrier Suzanne became. Burt grew frustrated; he loved his child more than life itself, but that love wasn't returned. He had accepted that Kurt was different, unique, and enjoyed a special relationship with his mother.
Kurt was the essence of a mama's boy and Burt didn't have a problem with that. He had been closer with his own mother than he ever had been with his father and had vowed not to repeat with his own child the mistakes his father had made with him. He had failed, somehow, though he had comforted himself with the knowledge that Kurt was distant with everyone but his mother.
Until they had gone to San Francisco and Kurt fell in love with the Halliwell sisters.
Burt had pouted and been resentful until Suzanne had literally knocked some sense into him, explaining that Kurt removed himself from his father's company because he sensed Burt's discomfort with him. Kurt believed his father didn't like him, so he sought to make it easier for Burt by not trying to interact with him. Burt had sobbed for an entire day.
Prue had come to his rescue.
She had stormed into the guest room, forced him to eat and to shower and then sat him down and explained a few things, the most shocking of which was that she believed Kurt was probably gay.
He had scoffed and railed against her, insisting Kurt was too young to be anything. But then he had thought about it, of the signs that had been there that he had willfully ignored, and he started to realize Suzanne had been right. Kurt knew he was different and believed his father didn't like the fact that he was, so the little guy tried to stay out his sight lest he anger him all the more.
Kurt believed his father hated him for something he didn't understand and couldn't control.
It had been devastating. It wasn't that Burt was angry, though he was disappointed; he was frightened. He didn't know anything about gay people - if he had ever met one, he was ignorant of the fact - but he knew how the world would treat his son, how he would be perceived, and the dangers that existed in the world for gay people. He had no idea what would befall his child in Lima, but sensed it wouldn't be good.
Prue had dragged Burt and his son down to the Haight. It had been quite an education.
Burt had seen men walking hand-in-hand, women lovingly attending to each other, and he felt completely out of his depth. Prue had introduced him to several of her gay friends, all of whom worshiped her and had been captivated by Kurt: his clothes, his poise, his intelligence and wit. Kurt had fit in there. The shy, reserved child had come to sparkling life in their company.
His singing voice, already so remarkable, so crystalline and pure, had enthralled his small audience, several of whom congratulated Burt on his amazing child, insisting that Kurt was in possession of a gift that had to be cherished and nurtured.
They had given him advice, all of which he had desperately needed to hear. They told him about books he should read, about organizations and hotlines and support groups. It had all boiled down to one simple tenet: love your child regardless. It was such an innocuous truth, so simple, that he had blinded himself to it. He loved Kurt more than life itself. He just had to find a way to show his son that, to connect with him.
Prue had explained further about their magic, about how the Charmed Ones operated. Their powers came from their emotions, their connection to each other as sisters. In the end, the magic itself was irrelevant; it was the love which allowed them to triumph. All Burt needed to do was tell Kurt that he loved him. He just didn't know how to go about it.
Prue had rescued him once more, albeit unwittingly. Her car had broken down in the driveway and she had asked Burt to take a look at it to see if she should call a tow truck. She had shepherded Kurt with them for, by then, he had all but attached himself permanently to her leg. Burt had looked the car over, poking and prodding, and finally Prue had demanded he explain what he was doing. He did so, and a look of wonder had come over Kurt's face.
It's like a puzzle, the boy had said. Daddy solves puzzles.
Burt's eyes had widened and locked with those of Prue. She had passed Kurt into Burt's arms and the man explained to his son everything he was doing, everything he was looking for, what was wrong, what was right, the names of the different parts and how they worked together.
Kurt had been utterly fascinated, questioning his father further, making connections faster than Burt could explain them. Once the problem had been identified, Kurt insisted on helping Burt with the solution. He handed him tools, again asking for names, explanations, and functions. Three hours later, the car was fixed, Prue had already left by taxi, and Suzanne was watching from the living room, tears streaming down her face.
Burt had finally connected with his child, his amazing, wonderful child who was so much more than the biological product of his two parents, a child who was so much more than a frightening intelligence or a sexual orientation or a polyglot.
All of Kurt's reserve had suddenly melted away and it was Burt he followed and questioned relentlessly, wanting to know everything his father knew, wanting to know his father. Burt had been so happy, as happy as the day he married Suzanne and as happy as the day their child had been born.
The next day, demons attacked the Manor.
Burt hadn't known what to do, what was happening, how to protect his family. He watched, hidden in a corner and covering Kurt, as the sisters fought for their lives, for their family.
He had been in awe. He had known about magic, had thought he had understood it, but he had never seen it in action. The way the sisters worked in perfect synchronicity; the way they attacked and defended, moving as a cohesive unit and never losing sight of each other. It was beautiful, that obscene ballet of destruction. But then Phoebe had fallen, followed by Piper, and Prue was left to finish off the attackers.
And then a demon targeted Suzanne.
Suddenly Burt was flying through the air as Kurt burst out from behind him, screaming with rage, waving his hands and scattering all of the demons throughout the lower level of the Manor, inadvertently becoming a target himself. Three demons had maneuvered Prue into the conservatory and were keeping her so occupied she had no idea what else was going on in her house.
Five demons converged upon Kurt, who was standing before his unconscious mother and a barely-conscious Phoebe, a tiny child blazing defiance, his enormous eyes lighted with menace and rancor. He had waved small hands in a complicated choreography that only he understood - sending demons flying, falling, spinning - somehow knowing what they were planning before they even had the opportunity to implement it.
He had kept them on the defensive long enough for Phoebe to recover her wits and rouse Piper and they both began bellowing for Leo. He orbed into the Manor just as Prue burst in through the dining room like an avenging angel, only for both of them to stop and stare, befuddled, as Kurt continued his assault. Finally Piper managed to freeze the demons and the sisters cast a spell to vanquish them just as Kurt keeled over from exhaustion.
Burt had stood there, motionless, staring at his unconscious child as Leo rushed around to heal Phoebe and Piper. He made for Suzanne and Burt snapped out of his stupor long enough to scream for Cassie, unsure as to the whether the woman would respond to his call. His wife's whitelighter orbed into the room, bewildered and confused as she took in the scene. She raced for Suzanne and healed her, all while demanding explanations.
In the meanwhile, it was Prue who had stormed to Kurt's side, picked him up in her arms and held him tightly to her. She related the events, of Kurt's incredible power, of how he had protected her sisters and his mother, and that he shared her power; he was telekinetic, like her.
Kurt was a witch.
Suzanne had burst into tears, bawling, terrified for her child, knowing what an offensive power was likely to mean and not wanting this to be Kurt's life.
Leo had wanted to consult the Elders, but Cassie refused; she would not allow them to dictate Kurt's life. He was a child, all but a baby, and there was no grand destiny waiting for him. He wasn't Charmed and he wasn't a Halliwell.
Phoebe and Leo had protested, but Prue and Piper had leapt to Cassie's defense. Kurt would become a target for any demon that became aware of him. He was too young, far too young, to defend himself, and Suzanne had no offensive powers.
Phoebe had argued that Kurt should live with them, that they could protect him, and Suzanne had gone completely insane. She was not turning her child over to anyone, family or not. The sisters were attacked with regularity and often injured; they might have offensive powers and be Charmed, but they could no more protect Kurt than she could. If it became common knowledge that a magical child had come under the protection of the Charmed Ones, there would be no respite; the attacks would only increase.
Prue, Piper, Cassie, and Suzanne began screaming at Leo and Phoebe that this was not right, that Kurt was not ready, that it wasn't fair to him. And finally Burt had had enough.
His son was a witch. His son was enormously powerful. His son would be targeted by demons, and he would not allow that to happen. He wondered if Kurt was even aware of his powers, if he had known about them for some time, or if he had been so traumatized by the attack against his mother that he had simply surged forward to protect her, not even knowing if he was capable of doing so.
Burt Hummel could accept many things: magic was real; his wife was a witch; her cousins were the most powerful forces of Good in the world. Fine.
He could accept that his son was most likely gay; that, though they had faltered, his son loved him and they would forge an incredible relationship; that his son was the most important person in the world to him; that he would kill anyone or anything that dared to harm his wife or son. Absolutely.
He could accept that his son was a witch, that he was enormously powerful, that he had saved the lives of his family, and was more amazing than he had ever realized. Without question.
But one thing he could not accept, could not even posit, was his son being placed in danger.
He hadn't even been aware that he was relating these thoughts in a stream-of-consciousness narrative. Prue and Piper were nodding at his words, Suzanne softly murmuring her agreement with everything her husband said as Cassie watched her charge's husband with appraising eyes. Leo and Phoebe halfheartedly continued their protests, but had determined it was a lost cause.
They would bind Kurt's powers, Prue had said. There was a spell in the Book of Shadows, the same one Penny had used to bind their own powers after Patty's death. If Kurt knew he was magical, that knowledge would be erased from his memories after the spell.
Suzanne would have to be the one to cast it, as Kurt was her child. The sisters could do it themselves, but it would be more effective were Suzanne to perform the spell; as she had said earlier, Kurt was not a Halliwell, he was a Bowen. They were all Warren witches, but of different branches. Offensive magic wasn't required for the spell; Suzanne was a witch of the Warren bloodline and the Book would open for her, would reveal its secrets.
Suzanne had hastily agreed.
Prue had then added that Cassie should use Memory Dust on the Charmed Ones and on Leo so that they too would have no memories of Kurt being magical; only Burt, Suzanne, and Cassie would know. Kurt and Suzanne, other than the Charmed Ones, were the last remaining Warren witches. The Halliwell name carried more recognition and fear than any other in demonic circles, so much so that other branches of the Warren line had all but been forgotten. There was no need or reason to let anyone think differently.
The others had agreed, Leo and Phoebe reluctantly, and they decided to perform the spell immediately while Kurt was still unconscious, lest he try to fight them. Cassie would then orb the Hummels back to Lima before word could spread that the Charmed Ones were harboring a powerful magical child. There could be no more visits.
The sisters, all of them, had been crushed by the idea of being cut off from Kurt. There would be phone calls and emails and Christmas cards and pictures, of course, but it wouldn't be the same. They were so alone already, had always been such, and to have this taste of family, this connection, severed, was heartbreaking. Piper had been stalwart, Phoebe hysterical, and Prue, though outwardly cool and collected, had been devastated. So had Burt and Suzanne.
They had done the spell and returned to Lima before Kurt had awoken, Cassie leaving a letter for the sisters that demons had attacked them and the Hummels, and that the Cleaners had altered their memories so that magic would not be exposed.
The sisters had no idea what had occurred, only that Kurt had been placed in danger, they assumed, because of them, something which they would never again allow.
Kurt had never forgiven any of them. Not his parents, not the sisters, and not Cassie.
He had no memory of what had transpired, of what he had done, but a hole had been left, something for which his suppressed magic had desperately yearned. He had cried, sobbed, begged, whined, cajoled – all to no avail. He was allowed to speak with the sisters via the telephone, but eventually those conversations had tapered off, the girls too upset by Kurt's repeated pleas for them to allow him to visit. He had demanded to know what he had done wrong, how he had misbehaved, because he didn't remember saying goodbye or coming home.
No matter how many assurances they gave, no matter how often they told him that they loved him and missed him, no matter the number of birthday and Christmas presents they sent, he had continued to blame himself, so sure that he must have been at fault. The sisters hadn't known what to tell him, for they had no memory of the Hummel's departure either; they only knew, for some nebulous reason, that it was safer for Kurt to stay away from them. Finally, Kurt had refused to come to the phone when they called.
And, slowly, he had begun to change.
He was no longer shy, but his reserved nature reasserted itself with a vengeance. He was still polite, but he became cold and aloof. Burt and Suzanne never let a day, an hour, pass without telling him that they loved. He returned the sentiments, for they were true, but he remained distant.
They enrolled him in all kinds of lessons to distract him, to help him make friends, and sometimes it worked. He had hated the tap dancing, but excelled in ballet and gymnastics. He had refused to play soccer, but was passable at tennis and incredible on the ice rink.
Suzanne taught him the piano and drove him to Dayton twice a week for voice lessons. Burt took Kurt to the shop and taught him everything he knew about cars, and while their bond continued to grow and strengthen, Burt nevertheless remained cognizant of the chill in the air when the subject of the Halliwells came up.
By the time Kurt was ready to enter first grade, he had two friends - or BFFs, as he insisted his parents call them - Santana Lopez and Brittany Pierce. They were always together: at lessons, at sleepovers, making sure their mothers shopped for groceries at the same time so they could run into each other.
They were inseparable, an unstoppable force, and Burt and Suzanne couldn't have been more pleased, loving the girls as if they were their own. Kurt was held in the same regard by the Lopez and Pierce families. Burt and Suzanne had been slow to recognize this new dynamic for what it truly was.
Kurt had created for himself a Power of Three.
Santana, the eldest by mere weeks, was so much like Prue in personality that it was eerie. She was devoted to Kurt and Brittany and fiercely protective of them, almost as though they were her own children. Brittany, the youngest, recalled Phoebe: sweet, pleasant, fun-loving, and whimsical. She could always make Santana laugh or snap Kurt out a funk. Kurt, like Piper, was the middle child, and took to that role with abandon. He was the nurturer, the caretaker, and the peacemaker during the group's rare disagreements.
The only difference between Kurt's friends and the Charmed Ones was that, while Prue was the unquestioned leader among her sisters, Santana was merely a figurehead. She outwardly took the lead in public, but behind the scenes, Kurt held all the power and the girls happily deferred to him.
Burt knew how badly his son would need his friends in the coming weeks, months. Perhaps years. He could only hope Kurt would allow Santana and Brittany to help him.
Suzanne drew in a shaky breath, the morphine easing her pain but not the symptoms of the disease which was ravaging her body. Her hand rested in that of her husband and she laced their fingers together, palms pressing tightly.
"Tell me," she whispered. "Whatever it is, Burt, tell me."
He swallowed heavily, his heart in his throat, not wanting to comply but knowing he must.
"Please," she begged.
He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. "Prue is gone, Suzie."
Suzanne blinked owlishly, certain she had misheard. "What do you mean gone? Has Prue been taken? Kidnapped?"
"She was murdered, Sue. Prue is dead."
"No," she breathed, her eyes wide and filled with horror. This couldn't be happening. This absolutely could not be happening.
"Phoebe called me," he continued. "The funeral is tomorrow. I had to explain why we couldn't attend. She…" He shook his head. "It's bad, honey. It's so bad. I've never heard her sound like that. Piper…is not dealing with things very well."
"Oh, dear god. Oh, Jesus," Suzanne babbled, shifting restlessly in her uncomfortable hospital bed. "How did it happen? Who did it?"
Burt frowned and again shook his head. "Some demon," he grunted. "Must have been pretty damn powerful to take out Prue Halliwell. He's still on the loose. Phoebe said she was sure that she and Piper were still in danger. I can't remember his name. Something stupid like Shasta or Saxophone."
"Shax," she murmured. "Oh, sweet Lord. It was Shax."
He nodded warily. "That was it. Who the fuck is this demon, Sue?"
She stared up into his eyes. "He's the personal assassin of the Source."
His eyes widened.
She nodded. "You know what this means. The Source is going on the offensive. Phoebe was right; she and Piper are not safe. None of us is."
"What do you mean?" he nervously asked.
"With Prue's death, the Power of Three is broken. Piper and Phoebe are no longer Charmed." She shook her head. "They're still powerful, probably two of the most powerful witches in existence, but they're also sitting ducks. I read through the Book, Burt. The spell to vanquish Shax is a Power of Three spell. Without Prue, they can't cast it, and nothing else will kill him. He's relentless; he won't stop until he kills them both. With the Charmed Ones gone, with the Halliwell line extinguished, that makes it open season on all witches."
"But Lima's off the radar," Burt said, confused. "We've never seen a demon here. There's never been an attack. Kurt is safe."
"Is he?" she challenged. "When I die…"
"Listen to me, Burt, this is too important!" She took a deep breath. "When I die, the spell will be broken and Kurt's powers will be unbound. I'll be gone; Prue is dead. The only ones who could cast the spell again are Piper and Phoebe, and we don't even know if they'll be alive to do it. Even if they were, would it be worth the risk to take him to San Francisco when the girls are being hunted by the assassin of the Source of All Evil? If you tried to bring them here, Shax would follow them. Kurt would be exposed and any number of demons could come after him."
"Shit," he hissed, closing his eyes.
"It might not even work," she added. "He's two years older, Burt. His powers may have been bound, but that doesn't mean they haven't grown. We don't know how powerful he is or how powerful he'll become, but even now he's certainly more powerful than me. He's a Warren witch. He has Prue's ability and you saw how strong she was. You have to remember the sisters had only had their powers for a year when we were in San Francisco."
"Dear god," he whispered.
"We don't know if Prue was given new powers or what they were. All of them could have additional powers by now, and I can't even begin to think what powers Kurt might eventually receive."
"What are you saying?" Burt questioned, his eyes narrowed.
She sighed. "There's a lot you don't know, Burt. You never wanted to know, and I didn't want to tell you. Neither of us had any reason even to suspect that Kurt would be magical. We had four years with him before it presented itself and I've had two years to think about what it might mean." She shifted onto her side. "Burt, you have to know that his powers can't be bound forever. It's just not natural, and who knows what that would do to him. Even now, part of him must sense that something is wrong, that something is missing. That's probably why he was so hurt when contact with the sisters fell away."
He mumbled something incoherently.
"I should have been preparing him," she savagely muttered. "He doesn't even know I'm a witch, Burt. He's the last of the Bowen line and has no idea what that means, of the legacy into which he was born. That's wrong. I wanted to keep him safe, not ignorant."
"That was never my idea," Burt said carefully, doing his best to suppress his rising anger. "You know that I've never had a problem with you and Kurt being witches. All I've ever wanted was for you to be safe."
She raised her hand and cupped his cheek. "I know that, sweetheart. I wasn't blaming you. I just…thought I'd have more time," she gasped, eyes filling with tears. "This is the curse of my family, Burt. We leave. We leave our children far too soon. Kurt is now the age that Prue was when Patty died. Prue never got over it. I don't think Kurt will either."
Burt said nothing, but knew his wife was right. He had no idea how he was going to cope with Suzanne's death, let alone helping Kurt through it. "How do I help him?"
"By teaching him to help himself. You have to make him strong, Burt, even stronger than he already is. You must keep him in Lima, at least until college. He's safe enough here for now, but it's going to be hell for him."
"What do you mean?"
"Oh, come on," she spat. "You know what this place is. You see the looks he already receives. It will only get worse. He's gay, Burt. Lima will not be kind to him, but it will keep him safe."
Burt was livid. "I don't give a good goddamn that he's queer. What the fuck difference does it make? So he likes boys instead of girls. Who cares?"
She raised a brow. "And what will you do if he falls in love, Burt? How will you react if he brings a boy home to meet you?"
"No," Burt declared with finality. "No boys. They'll want to touch him, put their hands on him. Fuck that. Kurt's not allowed to date until college."
She laughed. "You're doing it again."
"Doing what?" he demanded.
"Treating him like he's a girl."
"I am not!" he thundered. "Kurt's a boy, I know that, but he's my baby. He's my perfect, precious baby. I know boys, Suzie. I was one, as we both well remember. You know what they say: boys marry their mothers and girls marry their fathers. Well, what if gay boys marry their fathers? I won't have him date someone like me! You know how I was! I won't have him…have him be…defiled!"
"Defiled?" she giggled, incredulous. "Oh, Burt," she groaned, shaking her head, "we both know that if he were straight, as soon as he hit fifteen you'd give him a box of condoms and tell him to be safe. And if I remember correctly, it was me who defiled you."
"That's different," he mumbled, flushing.
"How?" she barked.
"He's so small, Sue. He's delicate. They could hurt him. What if they tried something and he couldn't stop them?"
She snorted. "Our son is many things, Burt Hummel, but delicate isn't one of them. He's cold, prissy, argumentative, and a hell of a lot smarter than a kid his age should be, but one thing he's not is delicate. You can't lock him in an ivory tower, Burt. You can't hide him away from the world, and if you try, I will haunt your ass until I drive you insane."
His eyes widened comically.
"You need to trust him, Burt," she said gently. "Trust him to make the right decisions. You have to guide him so that he's capable of making them. He already knows right from wrong, the difference between a lie and the truth. He knows to stay away from strangers, not to take their candy or get in their cars. But you can't protect him from everything. He'll want to date, Burt, and he absolutely has the right to do so. He'll want to find boys like him, boys who will like him. If you tell him he can't date, he'll resent you, go behind your back, and do it anyway. He'll think you find him objectionable or an abomination, and then you won't know what he's doing or with whom he's doing it. He'll never trust you."
"Maybe he'll be asexual," he said, voice filled with hope. "Maybe he won't even want to have sex. With anyone! Ever!"
"Oh, for Christ's sake," she moaned. "Grow up, Hummel. It's your responsibility to teach him how to value himself so that no one else undervalues him. I can only dream he manages to find a man like you. You certainly don't want him to end up with someone like that little thug Noah Puckerman. You know what they say about opposites attracting."
Burt Hummel made a silent vow then and there to keep his son away from Puckerman at all costs.
"He loves you so much, Burt. You're his hero. Make sure you're worthy of that."
"He doesn't like me," Burt whispered.
"No," she fiercely denied. "He's not like you. That's the difference. You don't have a lot in common, but you're family. You're connected. You have to make sure that connection remains strong. You can't allow yourself to bury your head in the sand. You can't ever make him feel as though he can't come to you, can't entrust to you his secrets, his fears, or his pain. Don't make him feel like he's less than what he is. He's gay, but he's a man. Treat him like a man, not some princess to be coddled. You're a damned good father, Burt Hummel. Trust in that. Believe in that, and everything will work itself out."
"How am I going to do this without you?" he wondered, tears streaking down his face.
"Because you have to," she answered simply. "There's no other choice. You're all he has left in the world, Burt, other than Brittany and Santana. Talk to the Lopezes and the Pierces. Let them help you, let them be there for you and Kurt. Don't remove yourself from the world. Because if you do and Kurt sees that, he'll follow that example. He'll isolate himself, push everyone away, including you, and he'll end up completely alone."
"I won't let that happen," he vowed.
She smiled. "I know." She cleared her throat. "Now, as to other matters. Kurt will receive his powers, Burt, there's no way to stop it and there's little I can do to prepare you for that. I myself am unprepared. This was never supposed to happen."
He frowned. "What do you mean?"
"Kurt is the first male Warren witch," she said. "The Warren magical line and all of its various branches have always been matrilineal. We've given birth to boys, of course, but none of them has ever been magical."
"Exactly," she nodded. "The Bowen branch has only ever possessed defensive magic, but Kurt has at least one offensive power: telekinesis. It's possible he will have more. He could also develop defensive powers. I simply don't know."
"How am I supposed to help him with magic?" asked an hysterical Burt.
"You can't, sweetheart," she said. "Even if I were here, I'd be of little help to him. I don't have offensive powers and would have no way to help him control his own. It will all be trial-and-error. Or trial-by-fire."
"What aren't you saying?"
"He'll only grow more powerful, Burt, and he'll eventually attract attention."
"You mean demons."
She nodded. "It's unavoidable. If we're lucky, it won't be until much later, after he has a handle on his powers. That's why I want you to keep him in Lima, under the radar, like you said."
"But what about his powers?"
Cassie orbed in. "I can help with that."
Burt eyed her. He liked Cassie, even loved her in some fashion. She had been a part of his life for as long as Suzanne had. He knew how much Cassie loved Sue and Kurt, that she would do anything for them, but part of him resented her presence now. He knew it was irrational. He knew she couldn't heal Suzanne of the cancer. She didn't have that power, and even if she had, the Elders would never have allowed it. Suzanne hadn't been harmed by evil, but by her own body. Still, Cassie reminded him of what he was about to lose, of what he had already lost.
The sonogram had shown the baby Suzanne had carried was a girl. A daughter he had never seen, would never know, but mourned as if she had died in his arms.
Kurt had been inconsolable. It was harder for him to process that he had lost his sister than it was that he was losing his mother, even though he had effectively already lost them both. Burt didn't know how to help him. Cassie had tried, but it was difficult for her to be around Kurt and not tell him everything she knew about who he was and what he could do. She wanted to protect him, of course, but it was in her nature to want to guide him.
"You're going to be his whitelighter, Cass?" Suzanne asked.
"No," Cassie said. "I wish I was. I would love the chance to stay with him and watch him grow into the incredible man I know he is going to become, but I'm not the right one. I asked, but the Elders said no. There's another."
"Who?" Burt asked, voice laced with suspicion.
Prue Halliwell orbed in.