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The Gloaming

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May 2000

Halliwell Manor

San Francisco, California

 

Phoebe Halliwell stared off into space, one hand covering her mouth as she shook her head in disbelief, 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 hear 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 wiped her eyes and primly straightened the hem of her skirt, 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. 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.

Nope. Dead.

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, 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 had been 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 …"

Was.

"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."

 


 

May 2000

St. Rita's Medical Center

Lima, Ohio

 

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 believed they might become great friends, and they 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 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 was 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 mother than he had been with his father and 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 just before Kurt's fourth birthday and he 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 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 it - 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 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 must 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 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, picking him up in her arms and holding 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.

No. Never.

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 do it; 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 and 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 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 Hummels' 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 …"

"Stop it."

"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. 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 will 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, 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 … be defiled!"

"Defiled?" she giggled, incredulous. "Oh, Burt," she groaned, shaking her head, "we both know 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 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."

"Holy shit."

"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.

Chapter Text

May 2000

St. Rita's Medical Center

Lima, Ohio

 

Burt and Suzanne gaped at Prue, who looked a curious mixture of triumphant and inconsolable.

"You're dead," Burt whispered.

She nodded. "Still am, but I've been upgraded."

Suzanne had absolutely no idea how she was expected to react to this revelation. Prue was her cousin and she loved her, but not a moment earlier she had been struggling to accept the almost impossible idea that Prue – Prue Halliwell, Charmed One – had been murdered by the personal assassin of the Source of All Evil. She hadn't been able to say goodbye, wouldn't be physically allowed to attend the funeral or comfort Prue's sisters, and was facing her own death.

And now Prue stood before her, healthy and whole, ready to serve as Kurt's whitelighter. A part of Suzanne was thrilled; if anyone would be able to care for Kurt and guide him, it was Prue, especially since they shared a power. Hell, it had taken almost everything the Source had to get rid of her and Suzanne knew Prue would protect Kurt at all costs.

And therein lied the problem. Prue was technically dead, and newly dead at that. Suzanne believed Prue deserved to be mourned properly, to be allowed the time to mourn what had been stolen from her. And what about Piper and Phoebe?

Perhaps she was also slightly bothered by the fact that while she loved and trusted Prue, her cousin nevertheless had been killed by a demon, so how could she truly feel comfortable leaving Kurt in her care? It was selfish, she knew, and guilt wracked her.

"I don't understand," she said, somewhat belligerently.

Prue smiled wryly. "Well, that makes two of us. I've had it explained to me at least three times and I still don't really get it myself."

"Which is why you shouldn't have been given this assignment," Cassie sniped.

Prue rolled her eyes. "Not this again," she muttered under her breath. She shook her head and looked at Cassie. "Look, honey, it wasn't my decision, but I'm here and I'm not leaving, so you need to get over it. I'm sorry you're losing your charge, but in case you missed the memo, Suzanne is my cousin, my family."

"And you just had to have Kurt too, right?"

Burt and Suzanne exchanged an uneasy glance.

"Are you serious right now?" Prue barked. "There's a little boy who's about to lose his mother, and you want to stand here and whine because he's not going to be named your charge? Newsflash, lady, you're not his mother. You're not his family."

"He barely knows you!" Cassie protested.

"He knows me well enough," Prue argued, "and his magic recognizes mine."

"You're dead! You don't have any magic!"

"Wrong."

"What?" Suzanne asked, blinking owlishly. "You mean your whitelighter powers?"

Prue grimaced and tried to think of a way out of this, before deciding it couldn't be helped.

"The Elders assigned you to Kurt?" Burt asked her, trying to make sense of this unfolding drama. From what little he knew of the Elders, they wouldn't do this out of the kindness of their hearts. They had put the sisters through hell, so why were they so keen on helping Kurt? Why would they assign his cousin to be his magical guardian? There was some agenda at work, he knew it.

Prue smirked. "No. I was assigned to be Kurt's whitelighter, but I'm not under the purview of the Elders."

Cassie stilled. "That's not possible."

"All things are possible."

"Who sent you?" Burt demanded.

Prue stared at him before her gaze slowly slid towards her cousin. "I'm an agent of the Powers That Be. I'm technically a whitelighter, but I've also retained my Wiccan powers."

Suzanne paled far beyond what the cancer had already leeched from her skin. "Oh, god. What do they want with him?"

"The Powers That Be What?" asked a confused Burt, incognizant of his wife's question.

Prue gave him an indulgent smile. "I'll explain everything, but first Cassie has to leave."

"Absolutely not," the other whitelighter spat.

"This doesn't concern you." Prue snapped, growing angrier. "I understand you love this family, Cassie, and I respect that. Suzanne won't be taken from you before you're allowed to say goodbye, but there is far more at work here than you know. I can't risk the Elders finding out and interfering – and you know they will. They're angry this was taken out of their hands. They know that I'm Kurt's whitelighter and that I don't answer to them, but they don't know why. They can't know. This is too important, Cassie. Kurt is too important."

Most of the wind left Cassie's sails. "They'll find out anyway."

Prue nodded. "They will eventually. Even were I not in the picture, they'd find out the moment Kurt's powers were unbound. But their knowledge is now limited and will remain such. They'll try to interrogate you, but there's nothing you can tell them other than what they already know. That's for your protection as well as Kurt's. The Elders would try to recycle you."

Cassie paled. She couldn't even conceive of any circumstance why that outcome would be considered, but she could tell Prue wasn't lying; her fear and concern, both for Kurt and Cassie herself, was real.

"This ultimately does not concern the Elders," Prue said, "and they will be made to understand and accept that." She shrugged. "They really don't have a choice. The consequences would be too severe."

Cassie stared at her. "What are you?"

"I'm beyond you. Don't try to understand it; you're not ready yet. One day you will be and then I will come for you, but today is not that day."

"You're here for Kurt," Cassie said slowly.

"Yes."

"He's important."

"Far more than you or anyone else yet realizes."

"You'll protect him?"

"No matter the cost." She hesitated a moment. "You kept him off their radar once before, Cassie," she said in a low voice. "I need you to do it again. I need all the time you can buy me."

Cassie nodded, blew a kiss to Suzanne, and orbed out.

Prue cleared her throat, held out a hand, and sealed the door to Suzanne's room. "Brace yourselves," she said to them. "There's a lot to tell."

 


 

"I feel like I should give you my condolences on your, uh, death," Burt said to Prue, who smiled.

"I sure didn't see that one coming." She shrugged. "Maybe Phoebe would have, but she was in the underworld at the time."

"The what?"

Prue raised an eyebrow and turned toward Suzanne. "How much have you told him?"

"Not nearly enough," a pained Suzanne whispered. "It never seemed relevant." She shrugged. "Who am I? I'm not a Halliwell or a Charmed One. I'm just me."

Prue scoffed. "Well, just you is pretty damn spectacular, and if you undercut yourself like that again, I'll knock you out, cancer or not."

Burt tried to swallow his snicker but ended up snorting instead. Suzanne rolled her eyes.

"But your son, Suzanne …" she trailed off, shaking her head. "You couldn't have known, no one knew, but Kurt is important. Extremely important, much more so than me, you, or any other witch."

"What?" Suzanne demanded. "You're a Charmed One, Prue!"

Prue shrugged. "Not anymore. Now I'm a whitelighter. Well, I'm still a witch. I guess I need a new title." Her brow furrowed. "How does witchlighter sound?"

"Lame," Burt said.

She nodded. "I agree."

"Prue," Suzanne said through gritted teeth, "what about your sisters? Shax is still after them. The Power of Three is broken."

Prue's eyes filled but she blinked the tears away. "It's not. It will be reconstituted."

Suzanne screwed up her face. "What the hell are you talking about? That's not even possible, unless …" Her eyes widened. "Unless …"

Prue nodded. "There's another sister, my baby sister. She's a half-sister, strictly speaking, one I didn't know about and who I'll never get to meet. Her name is Paige; she's Mom's daughter with her whitelighter, Sam. She was given up for adoption to protect her from the Elders." She dropped her hands to her sides and stared at the floor. "Piper cast a spell. She wanted to see me again, so she called for a lost witch. She got Paige. Or she will soon."

Suzanne shook her head dumbly.

"Why can't you meet her?" Burt gently asked. "Paige, I mean."

Prue snorted. "The Elders. They can't keep me from Kurt, but they can keep me from my sisters. Piper and Phoebe are not allowed to summon me. The Elders had Grams tell them it was because they need to accept my death, accept Paige as their sister, but that's not why. It's punishment."

"That's disgusting," Suzanne hissed.

Prue made a strangled noise. "But they can do it, and there's no end run I can make around them.

"It's actually rather ingenious. When I died, the Power of Three was broken. Piper tried so hard to bring me back, to speak with me again, that she inadvertently reactivated the Power of Three with Paige in my place. I'm still their sister, I still have my powers, but I'm no longer their sister witch. I'm not Charmed, and I no longer fulfill the hallmarks of the prophecy."

She sighed. "The Elders are petty and stupid, and I think this will actually make it worse for my sisters in the long run, Piper especially. She won't accept my death anytime soon. She'll become me, the leader of the family, cold and hard like I know I am. Phoebe will become Piper, the middle child, the peacekeeper, and Paige will feel completely out of her depth, made to feel as a replacement for a person she's never known and trying to fill my shoes rather than her own. It's short-sighted and dangerous. The Elders are spiting me, but could end up hurting so many people and they don't care."

Burt curled a lip. He was offended for her and her sisters, even Paige.

"Still," Prue said, "I can understand the necessity if not the process. As much as the Elders believe they control so many things, they don't control Magic; it's a force unto itself. We don't know what would happen if my sisters could summon me at will, especially with Paige in the picture. If they made me corporeal with my powers still active, there would technically be two Power of Threes: Piper, Phoebe, and me, which is no longer Charmed; as well as Piper, Phoebe, and Paige, the new Charmed Ones. I'm not Charmed, but I'm a Warren witch with the prophesied power, the same one Paige will possess, if not the same manner.

"Who knows how Magic would react, how it would differentiate between the subsets? It could cause one or all of us to lose our powers, and then the Power of Three would be irrevocably broken. There simply can't be two Powers of Three existing in the same time and place."

"That doesn't preclude Piper and Phoebe from summoning you as a ghost," Suzanne argued. She was pissed and thought the Elders were idiots. She narrowed her eyes. "They'll do it to me too, won't they? They'll make it so Kurt can't summon me after I die."

Burt's eyes widened. He had never considered the idea that his son would able to summon Suzanne, that the mortal parting they would soon be forced to endure wasn't permanent. And now that hope, he sensed, was about to be snatched from him.

"Probably," Prue softly admitted, "and they'll probably try to make it so that I can't either." Then she raised her head and they saw the sparkle in her eyes. "It won't work, of course, but even if it did, that doesn't mean another witch couldn't summon you."

Suzanne gasped. "What other witch? I know of no other witches in Lima."

Prue gave her a half-smile. "You hid yourself very well to protect your family, but they're here, loving you more than you could ever realize."

She stared. "I know them?"

Prue nodded. "Very well. Lydia Lopez and Ashley Pierce."

Burt and Suzanne exchanged shocked looks and then Suzanne turned back to face Prue, who nodded.

"Their daughters are witches, too, and Santana and Brittany will stand at Kurt's side resolutely. They are not only his best friends; they'll become his greatest allies."

 


 

"Santana and Brittany are witches," Burt muttered.

"They are," Prue confirmed, "and they're well aware Kurt is one too, though they've been keeping that bit of information under their hats, from their parents and from Kurt."

"But how?" Suzanne asked. "The spell …"

Prue clucked. "One of Brittany's powers is hypersensation. She can tell when a person or object is magical just by looking at them. She knew Kurt was a witch the moment she laid eyes on him, but also recognized his magic was bound. She didn't know why or what it meant, so she didn't say anything to him, but she did tell Santana, who decided it was best to keep it quiet until the situation explained itself.

"Our spell bound Kurt's powers and removed his memories he had them, as well as from me, my sisters, and Leo. Obviously, after I died and entered the afterlife, I remembered everything. I still contend we made the right decision. Were Piper and Phoebe to become aware that Kurt is magical, they would seek him out, desperate for any connection to what little family they have left."

She shook her head sadly. "That's too dangerous, and they'll be busy enough trying to teach Paige everything she needs to know in order to survive. The Source was actively hunting us before, but once he learns the Charmed Ones have been reconstituted, he'll redouble his efforts, especially since Paige is a novice. She's incredibly vulnerable, but I trust Phoebe and Piper to look out for her. Kurt is even more vulnerable. He has to be kept away from them until the time comes when he's able to defend himself."

Burt understood her point and appreciated her desire to keep Kurt safe, even from his own family, but still felt she was underestimating his son. "He was able to defend himself well enough in San Francisco."

"That's the point," Prue said sharply, "he wasn't defending himself at all; he was defending his mother and my sisters. He had no conscious thought for his own personal safety. His trigger, like mine, is anger, and his rage at seeing his mother and cousins hurt caused his magic to overwhelm and seize control of him. He was operating solely on primal instinct and nothing else. It never occurred to him that he could have been hurt or killed. Even if it had, he wouldn't have cared. In that moment, all that mattered to him was protecting his family, even if it was at his own expense."

Burt swallowed heavily, proud of his son but terrified. Suzanne had tears rolling down her face.

Prue took a deep breath. "This is why the Powers wanted me with Kurt, to help him understand his magic and to make him recognize his limits. I didn't recognize my own until it was too late." She shook her head. "I don't know if my death could have been prevented, but I made mistakes. All of us did, including my mother. We took things for granted and thought we knew better, and didn't realize the impact it would have should one of us fall. And now the magical world has been thrown into chaos."

"But you're the Charmed Ones," Burt said.

Prue looked at Suzanne. "And Kurt is the Hand."

Suzanne bolted up from her bed. "No."

"What the hell does that mean?" Burt demanded. "The Hand of what?"

"I will not allow this, Prudence," she whispered darkly.

"I don't want this for him either, Suzie," Prue said quietly, "but it's not within our control. You know the prophecy." She averted her gaze. "And he fits more than one."

"Not my son. Goddamn it!" Suzanne screamed. "Not my son!"

 


 

"One of you better tell me what the fuck is going on here," Burt seethed. "What the hell is my son?"

"He's your son first and foremost, never forget that," Prue replied, "but he's also more. He's so much more."

"I can't believe this," Suzanne whispered, shaking her head. "Why him? Out of all the witches in this world, of this time, why does it have to be him?"

"We'll never know for sure," Prue said. "If the Powers know, they didn't tell me, but I honestly don't believe they know either. Like the Elders, they believe in their own omniscience, but they're sometimes just as blind as we are."

"Tell me!" Burt roared, standing up and kicking the chair out from behind him. "What the hell is happening to my son?"

"Kurt is powerful, Burt. Far more powerful than we realized, more powerful than that for which you ever could have prepared. The Charmed Ones were prophesied to be the most powerful witches in existence, but as a collective force. Singularly, me, Piper, and Phoebe are phenomenal, and together we were almost invincible." She paused. "Kurt is more powerful than me or my sisters."

She crossed the room to stand before him and stared up into his eyes. "Kurt Bowen Hummel, your son, will become the most powerful witch in the world."

His eyes widened, head shaking in denial or perhaps incredulity, as he staggered back against the wall and slid down to the floor, his head in his hands. Suzanne laid back in her bed, sobbing.

"Let the enormity of that statement wash over you," Prue quietly said. "You can try to deny it, try to fight it, but, in the end, you'll only be fighting your child. I don't want this for him any more than you do, any more than my mother wanted this life for my sisters and me, but it's out of our hands. Kurt was chosen by whatever power for whatever reason. All we can do is make sure he's kept as safe as possible, that he learns as much about his powers and how to control them as he can, and that anything that comes after him dies bloody."

Burt raised his head and nodded sharply. All of this shit, this magic shit, he didn't understand and didn't particularly want to. He didn't care how important his son was to the world or to Magic or to anyone other than himself and his wife. That was all he knew: to keep his son safe.

"You have to tell us everything, Prue," he said stonily. "We need to know what we're up against, what Kurt will be facing."

"Along with Brittany and Santana," Suzanne whispered, voice shaky.

Burt winced. He couldn't even imagine those two little girls as witches, let alone powerful ones.

As if Prue read his mind, she held up a hand. "Let me put you at ease with that one," she said. "Do not underestimate those girls, Santana especially. Kurt may be powerful, but Santana is fearsome, especially in defense of her friends."

"And Brittany?" Burt asked.

"She's vulnerable," Prue admitted, "due to the nature of what she is. She has no offensive powers and never will, but her defensive powers are incalculable. She will prove to be invaluable to Kurt."

"What are they?" Suzanne asked. "Her powers, I mean."

"She's an Oracle."

Suzanne's eyes bulged. "That … makes so much sense, why she always appears to be off in her own world. She is. She sees … everything."

Prue nodded gravely. "It's a tremendous gift and a horrible responsibility. She will need Kurt and Santana as much as they need her."

"And Santana's powers?"

Prue smirked. "I can't say just yet, there's too much at stake, but they're a doozy."

Suzanne pursed her lips. "What about Kurt's powers? We know he's telekinetic, but there's more, isn't there?"

Prue took a deep breath. "A lot more. He has the potential for many powers, but which ones will ultimately be given to him is anyone's guess. He'll receive them as he can handle them, but they're about equal in number in terms of offense and defense. He already has two active powers, as well as a passive one."

She looked at Burt. "You were the only one in the room who was conscious when Kurt attacked those demons. What do you remember most about it?"

Burt frowned and went over the assault step-by-step in his mind. "His control startled me. He knew exactly what he was doing, but as you already explained, he was operating on instinct; it was unconscious." His frown deepened. "But the way he attacked them, as if he knew what they were about to do before they did it …"

Suzanne closed her eyes. "He's telepathic."

Prue nodded.

"Holy shit," Burt murmured, running a hand over his face. "My boy can read minds?"

"Not as such," Prue said slowly, "but soon. As he grows, his magic will grow, and so will his individual powers. Right now, he's able to read thoughts in a very rudimentary form. Like his attack on the demons, his telepathy is instinctual. It isn't something he can access at will, which is a good thing. He will need to learn to control it and himself in order for him to shut out extraneous thoughts that are irrelevant. He will also need to learn focus, so that he can zero in on a target and read them when it's necessary."

"How can you help him with that?" Burt demanded. "You're not telepathic."

Prue shrugged apologetically. "No one can really help him with that, Burt. Even among those who have the gift, the amount of power they have and their reactions to it vary. Most of the work will have to be done by Kurt himself, alone. However, the one bright spot is that Santana is his anchor."

Suzanne's face blossomed with hope.

"What does that mean?" Burt asked.

"It means that Santana is the one mind he can't read," Suzanne explained. "She's his eye in the hurricane. She will keep him anchored in this reality, to keep the thoughts from overwhelming him."

Burt sighed with relief. "That's good, I guess." He looked at Prue. "This all sounds like it was predestined or something. Sanny being my boy's anchor thing, Brittany needing their protection but offering the insight they'll need to do deal with this … whatever this is. You still haven't explained that part."

"In a moment," Suzanne said. "Kurt's defensive power?" she asked of Prue.

"First," Prue began, "Burt is right. This was all predestined, and I will explain that, I promise. As for his passive ability," she looked at Suzanne, "I'm not the only one with whom he shares a power."

Suzanne threw her hands up in the air. "Great! So he's empathic too. That's terrific! Because everyone knows that telepathy and empathy go so well together." She snorted derisively. "Tell me, Prudence, how long do you think he has before he's driven completely insane? How is a child supposed to cope with being able to read the thoughts and feelings of everyone he encounters?" She shook her head. "Fuck this. No, seriously, fuck this. I'll bind his powers again somehow. I'll write a spell to do it, or one to strip him of his powers altogether. I will not allow this to be my son's life."

Burt's mind raced with the thoughts of what could happen, of what probably would happen, and his wife's words echoed throughout his skull like ricocheting bullets at the same time another mystery was solved. His wife had been right two years ago when she said that Kurt had pulled away from him because the boy had known he made his father anxious and confused. They just hadn't realized Kurt had been experiencing those emotions as though they were his own.

Jesus. His poor kid. All of that time Burt had believed his son didn't love him, when the truth was his boy had been trying to spare his feelings, feelings neither one of them had understood. Kurt must have been so miserable, felt so unwanted, unable to differentiate the emotions from each other and from reality, yet his first instinct had been to protect his father, just as his offensive powers had first manifested in defense of his mother.

"Was the empathy blocked?" Burt asked in a rough voice. "Did the spell block that too?"

"I don't know," Prue murmured.

"So this could mean that all of my fear and anguish over slowly watching my wife die … my six-year-old son has been reading that from me? He's been feeling all of that on top of his own terror at losing his mother?" His eyes filled and he shuddered. "Oh god." He covered his eyes with a hand and howled brokenly.

This was too much, this was all too much. Kurt was just a child, a baby. These should not have been his gifts.

Prue remembered when she had temporarily become an empath, of how she had almost lost her mind, but she had learned to control it by necessity and knew Kurt could as well. He was strong enough to do it and too strong not to.

"No, Burt," Suzanne said softly. "If his empathy was unbound, I'd be able to read him. At this point, he's okay, but once I die and the spell dissolves, he's going to be hit hard. There will be nothing you can do about that either, baby. You can't fix this one for him. He's going to need help and so will you, more than Prue or any of our friends can provide."

She laid her hand on his shoulder. "I want you to promise me right here and now that you will see to it that both of you seek counseling. From a professional. I know you hate the idea of psychology, but you have to do this for Kurt. He won't be able to move on unless you move with him, and I will not allow you both to move on in your own ways, only to move on from each other. So you're going to have to take the bull by the horns and deal with things as they come." She raised a brow. "Everything, Burt," she said harshly. "Do you hear me? Are you listening?"

He nodded.

"Promise me."

"I promise," he eventually said, reluctant to voice the words. He knew his wife was right, she always was, and he knew he had to agree to this not only for her peace of mind, but for their child's as well. But he didn't like it.

"I'll have Lydia make a referral," Suzanne said, "and Prue will make sure you follow through."

Prue nodded swiftly. "I will. As for what you said earlier, you're not able to strip Kurt's powers, Suzanne," she said in a steady voice. "His magic is more powerful than yours and would reject the intrusion. You bound them once after they first manifested, when they were still in their infancy, but that's no longer the case. Stripping his powers doesn't negate the prophecies or his role in them. All it would do is condemn him to an early grave. You know that, Sue. You would leave him defenseless; they'll come after him anyway. Who he is cannot be kept secret forever. He will have enemies, yes, powerful ones, but he will also have allies. Don't discount them."

Suzanne laid back against her pillow and stared off into space.

Prue heaved a sigh and turned to Burt. "You know about the prophecy of the Charmed Ones, the one made by Melinda Warren."

He nodded.

"The two concerning Kurt are even older, made centuries ago before the Warren line was ever created. Melinda willed the Charmed Ones into existence, channeling her magic to exact vengeance and provide defenders to persecuted witches, but what Kurt is to become is far older. The prophecies concerning him were not made by witches, but by gods."

"That's the stupidest fucking thing I've ever heard," Burt scoffed. "What, so Zeus came down on his thunderbolt two thousand years ago and pontificated about an adorable gay moppet from Lima, Ohio and how he was supposed to save the world?"

"It was Apollo, actually," Prue said smoothly, "and he didn't come down from Olympus as such, but rather spoke through the Pythia, his oracle. Of course, it was merely a repeat of a prophecy which had been made millennia before in Babylonia. And India. And Assyria. And Judea. And Japan." She turned to her cousin. "He's in the Sybilline Books, Suzanne, as well as the Akashic Records."

"Oh my god," the woman whispered, gagging.

"I'm starting to get the picture," a nauseous Burt mumbled. Holy fuck, now they were dealing with ancient gods? Was Xena going to pop up next? "What do these prophecies say?"

Prue crooked her finger and a chair flew across the room. She gracefully plopped down into it and exhaled. "There a lot to this. I know you want me just to get to the point, but if I do that without preparing you, without explaining what's come before and how we arrived here, it will do little good. So I'm asking you for patience. Some of this Suzanne, I assume, will already know. However, much of this will be information of which most mortals, most humans, are unaware. We need to keep it that way."

Burt nodded warily. Suzanne merely sighed.

"Okay, cousins," she smiled grimly, "here's a brief history of the true nature of our world."

 


 

"I don't want this to get too esoteric," Prue opened, "but a certain amount of metaphysics is required in order for any of this to make sense."

Burt rolled his eyes impatiently.

"This world, what we call Earth, was created by an essence humans have colloquially termed God."

His head abruptly pulled back and he stared at her. "God is real?" he asked reverently.

Prue hesitated. She had the sense that no matter what she said, Burt would not be pleased. The truth did not mesh with his idea of God, a God at which he was already angry for slowly taking his wife from him. She also had the feeling that, despite her cautioning words, he would interrupt her continually, thus drawing this out far longer than necessary.

"God exists," she acknowledged, "but not in any form that has been popularized. What we would call God is, as I said, an essence, a consciousness that wields tremendous power, power which was used to create this world and the life forms that would eventually evolve into animals and humans." She gave him a measured look. "Do not mistake that for anymore than what it is. This power is not benevolent or malicious; it just is."

Burt was obviously struggling to reconcile that information in his own mind, and before he had a chance to argue or refute her claim, she barreled ahead.

"The creation of the planet exhausted this essence and it dwindled in a coma-like state for literally thousands of millennia. During this time, the earth was overrun with demons. Geomantic lines of power crisscross the globe and, in certain places, that power collects and builds exponentially, creating surges of supernatural energy which can be harnessed by those who know how. The worst of these places, the most dangerous, cause the barriers between worlds and dimensions to thin, allowing demons entrance. These spots are called Hellmouths."

She paused, knowing this was a lot to take in. "With me so far?"

Burt nodded robotically, too enthralled with her tale to dispute or even rationalize it. Suzanne raised a brow. As Prue had said, most of this information was somewhat familiar, though she was being given far more detail than she could have ever imagined.

"The active Hellmouth is located in a small town called Sunnydale, in Southern California, about two hours north of Los Angeles. Its Guardian is the current Vampire Slayer, Buffy Summers."

Burt blinked. "I'm sorry, the current what?" He turned to Suzanne, who shrugged helplessly. She'd never heard of any such thing.

Prue couldn't blame them. Until a few days ago – she guessed it was days; time passed so differently there, wherever the hell she had been – she had never known anything about the Slayer or her Calling.

"Don't worry, I'll come back to the Slayer, but we need to get through other things first. As I said, the worst of these places of mystical convergence are Hellmouths and the active one is in California." She hesitated. "There's also a nascent one, and though it won't be an issue for years, I can't in good conscience not tell you. It's Cleveland."

"Shit," Burt hissed, frantically shaking his head. "I know what we discussed, Sue," he said to his wife, "but I can't. I can't have Kurt anywhere near a place like that. We'll have to move."

"That's exactly what you shouldn't do," Prue interrupted, "for reasons which I'll soon explain." She held up a hand to ward off his argument. "You need to hear these things, Burt, and you need to let me say them if you have any hope of protecting Kurt."

His protests died on his lips.

"There is one other type of these places of convergence," she explained. "They're called Nexuses. Unlike a Hellmouth, the power of a Nexus is neutral; it can be used by either Good or Evil. Stonehenge is probably the most famous example, although very few have learned how to access its power. Delphi is another." She paused. "Another Nexus lies beneath Halliwell Manor. The Charmed Ones are its Guardians."

Burt and Suzanne reeled back.

"That's why so many demons attacked you in your home," Suzanne whispered.

Prue nodded. "They were out to kill us, certainly, but they were ultimately after the power of the Nexus. They would have to take possession of the Manor in order to access it, and its power is a far greater allure than even the heads of the Charmed Ones."

"I assume there's a point to this," Burt sneered.

Her eyes flashed. "There is," she snapped, "and this is it: Hellmouths attract Slayers, whereas Nexuses attract witches. The war between Good and Evil is being fought on two different levels, with different kinds of magic. On the one hand are Slayers, mortal girls endowed by an ancient spirit with superior gifts like increased speed and strength, as well as accelerated healing. They don't live long, and when one dies, the spirit animating them Calls another. Slayers are primarily concerned with vampires and other lower-level demons, but they're essential to the continuation of this world. The current Slayer, one of the most accomplished and long-lived, is responsible, along with her friends, for the aversion of approximately half a dozen apocalypses."

"What kind of bullshit is this?" Burt demanded. Suzanne was noticeably silent.

Prue ignored both of them. "On the other hand are witches, like Suzie, Kurt, and myself. We're considered natural witches who were born with magic and specific powers. Our enemies, the ones who hunt us and seek to steal those powers, are higher-level demons, those that desire to take over this world but not eradicate it. These fronts have always been distinct, but a point is approaching where that will no longer be possible."

"And somehow Kurt figures into this," Suzanne guessed.

Prue nodded. "That's the reason for the history lesson, because it's important you understand all the players in this endless war. Forewarned is forearmed."

Burt exhaled and gestured for her to continue.

"After the Power who created this world slipped into, well, let's call it unconsciousness, the first race of demons exploited a Hellmouth and crossed over into this realm. They were called the Old Ones and ruled for an incalculable period of time. While we were still evolving from protozoa, they were conquering other races and building nations. Their evil poisoned everything, including each other, until there were only a few left who were strong enough to rule. That's when God woke up."

Suzanne dropped her head in her hands and moaned softly. Burt just stared.

"God didn't like what it saw," Prue continued, "so it began expelling the demons from this dimension. Not all of them, of course, but the Old Ones were either forced to leave or lapsed into eternal sleep. Some are still hidden in pocket realms on this plane of existence, waiting to be awakened."

"The Deeper Well," Suzanne murmured.

Prue blinked. "How did you know?"

She gave her cousin a tired smile. "The Bowen Book of Shadows is heavy on ancient lore."

Prue slowly nodded. Stupidly, she had never before considered that the Bowen branch would have their own Book, but now she found herself fascinated, wanting to devour it in its entirety and compare it with that of the Halliwell Book.

"So God got rid of the demons," Burt reiterated.

"It did," Prue confirmed, "but again, it lapsed into unconsciousness. The amount of power required to accomplish this was devastating to it. Other demons appeared, as did other gods. The world was ripe for the picking. The new demons had learned from the fall of the Old Ones, however, and kept to the shadows, interfering with humans, who, by then, had evolved and began to populate the earth, only when necessary."

Suzanne raised a brow. "Like feeding from us?" she blithely asked.

Prue nodded. "Vampires are by far the most prolific demonic scourge humans have ever encountered but, like I said, the new demons had learned from the mistakes of their predecessors and covered their tracks. As the earth and humans evolved, so did Evil."

"And the gods?" Burt asked.

"Most of what you've read, what we consider mythology, is true. Gods existed and still do, but not in any tangential form. Only a few were able to manifest themselves physically in this realm and, though they ruled for a while, the majority of their worshipers turned away. By this time, God had once again awoken and decided to take back its creation. This happened over a period of millennia."

"You mean like in the Bible?" Burt asked. "The Flood?"

She shook her head. "The Judeo-Christian idea of God is probably the most accurate representation of this essence, but the majority of the Bible is allegory. It's a moral guideline and should not be taken literally, especially as it's static and doesn't evolve as we do. Whether it was inspired by God's Word or not, it was still written by humans, and humans always have an agenda. There was no Garden of Eden, no Great Flood.

"The Bible, as we are familiar with it, is not complete. Scholars and historians selected which books to include. After the persecution and crucifixion of Jesus, who did exist, the Christians revised the Bible further, rejecting any number of available Gospels for myriad social and political reasons."

"Jesus was real?" Burt croaked.

"He was, and he was sent by God, but most major religions have a Christ-like figure born of a virgin, and they all walked this earth, as well; though their fathers, for lack of a better term, were different deities."

She sighed. "God became fascinated with the humans it had inadvertently created and fixated on them. It was jealous that humans were worshiping deities who had no hand in their creation, so it expelled as many as of the gods as it could. As the Common Era dawned, Christianity began sweeping through the Mediterranean Basin and expanded at a relatively rapid pace. Many pagan gods left this dimension or were exiled. Those who didn't want to leave descended to earth and intermingled with humans, passing their gifts on to their offspring. Magical witches were the result."

"We're descended from gods?" an hysterical Suzanne barked.

"Yes," replied a serious Prue. "That is why we were so persecuted by the Church and other sects during the Middle Ages, through the Reformation and the colonization of the New World. That's why Melinda was burned at the stake. Witches were a threat to the dominant regime, but not the only one."

"Who else?" Burt asked.

"There's more than one kind of witch. There are magical witches descended from pagan gods, like those of the Warren line, and there are witches who are not born with the power of gods, but who can access it."

"How?" Suzanne demanded.

Prue shrugged. "They invoke the gods who did not flee, the ones who didn't breed with humans but instead hid themselves in pocket realms. These witches call on their patron gods and goddesses and they are heard. There are not many of these witches, but they are very powerful. Not as powerful as we are, but you have to understand that when they exercise their power, it is the undiluted power of a god. It is addictive and often more than they can control. There is such a witch in the company of the Slayer. She is perhaps the strongest of her kind."

"And the Elders?" Suzanne asked.

"The Elders were created by the First Brood, the original set of offspring between gods and humans. They were long-lived, but not immortal. After they passed into eternity, they decided they needed to create some kind of body to govern the world, or at least the witches within it. After the Second Brood died, the Elders endowed them with whitelighter abilities so they could return to earth and guide the next generation of magical witches, as well as those who were descended from the union between a god and a human but who had no powers: future whitelighters."

"This is unbelievable," Burt said, dropping his head into his hands. "What about Satan?" he snickered wildly. "Is he real too?"

"Yes," Prue snapped. "You see, that's one of the fundamentals of existence. For every good, there must be a corresponding evil. Nature – the entire universe, for that matter – is predicated on one thing: balance."

Suzanne nodded. The Rule of Three, karma, the Golden Rule, the law of personal gain; all were hypothesized in order to keep the balance of energy in equal measure.

"God needed a counterpoint," Prue said, "so it created Lucifer, whose Fall was mandated by his very nature, and that is not the only example of the world requiring balance in order to function. During the second time that God fell asleep, those humans who were aware of demons decided they needed a defender, an inexorable warrior to keep the demons at bay. A group of them, ancient humans called Shadowmen, captured a young girl and performed a ritual. They merged her essence with that of a tremendously powerful and incorporeal demon."

"The Slayer," Suzanne guessed.

Prue nodded. "As I earlier explained, the Slayer is a young girl – and it is always a girl – whose destiny it is to fight demons. The demon gave the first Slayer, known as the Primitive, several gifts, including accelerated healing, enhanced speed and strength, and the ability to sense demons in their midst. The strength of these gifts varies from Slayer to Slayer. Girls who have the ability, for whatever reason, to become a Slayer are called Potentials. When a Slayer dies, a Potential is Called to take her place."

"These girls," Burt grunted. "How old are we talking about here?"

"The youngest on record was nine," Prue said, her disgust obvious.

"That's fucking sick," he rasped. "Some group of assholes stood in a circle and decided the best way to fight scary shit was to have little girls, babies, do it for them? Fucking assholes."

"I agree," Prue said coolly. "It's an abomination, but it's also reality."

"And the current Slayer," Suzanne interjected. "You said she was, er, successful?"

Prue nodded. "The most successful on record. A large part of that is due to the friends who surround her. Before, the Slayer always fought alone. She no longer does."

"That's something, I guess," Burt muttered.

"And does she have an enemy to maintain the balance she upsets?" Suzanne asked.

"All demons are her enemy," Prue replied, "but they exist with us in this realm. There is another enemy that lurks beyond the walls of our dimension, of all dimensions, constantly seeking a foothold into whatever reality can admit them. The last time it entered our world was long ago, before records, even before speech, but it's out there, just waiting to return. The Slayer will be the first to stand against it, but if she falls, our world goes with her. This enemy belongs to all of us, though no one wants to claim it or even acknowledge the fact that it is real."

"What is it?" Burt whispered.

"The First Evil," Suzanne murmured. "It's the genesis of all Evil. It's responsible for every wicked thought, every treasonous action, every lie and betrayal. It is the physical manifestation of Evil itself." She stared down at the blanket covering her weak, trembling legs. "Evil is real, Burt. It is a true and potent force in this world, and it is always seeking entrance. And do you know why people deny it, why they don't know? Because they don't want to."

He closed his eyes. Ignorance had been bliss.

"But I've never heard of the Slayer or how she was made," Suzanne continued. "You would think this would be known information to natural witches, or at least whitelighters."

Prue shrugged. "The origin of the Slayer has been lost to time. Even the Council, the Slayer version of Elders, has no idea of how the Line was first spawned. Whatever her powers, she's still mortal, just like witches. Just like me. She can die. In fact, the current Slayer has already died once; her friend resuscitated her, inadvertently spawning a Second Line. Now two Slayers walk the earth and will in perpetuity. The boy who did that, the Father of the Second Line, also figures into the prophecies regarding Kurt. He will become one of Kurt's greatest protectors."

Burt exhaled shakily, grateful for this information yet still horrified at whatever was to befall his son. "That's the point of all of this, isn't it?" he asked. "The two lines of this war, the ones fought by Slayers and witches, they're going to collide, aren't they? They're going to converge, and Kurt is the one who is going to bring it about."

"Yes."

 


 

She paused and licked her lips. "What you must understand is that God and Satan are the balances of power only for this world and in this time."

Burt frowned. "What do you mean?"

"God and Satan are the arbitrators of this plane of reality, but there are eleven such planes, all of which coexist amongst our own. That does not take into account parallel worlds, which exist in concert with this world in this dimension; alternate worlds, which are mirror images of this world in this dimension; other dimensions; and the universe itself."

"I need drugs," Burt moaned. "I can't get through this without being stoned." He turned to his wife. "Can you share your morphine drip?" he begged.

She seriously considered his question, because she was about to depress the button to have more narcotics pushed into her bloodstream.

"I'm so sorry," Prue whispered. "I know how difficult this is. It's all still new for me, too, so I understand your fear and confusion. Most humans never need to be aware of this knowledge; many of those who come to know it reject it. I wouldn't be doing this to you unless it was absolutely necessary. Please believe that."

Suzanne sighed. "I know, honey."

"It's all for Kurt, right?" Burt asked.

Prue nodded.

He shrugged. "Then that's all that matters."

"So," Suzanne said with false brightness, "the other planes of reality in this dimension, that's where the Powers That Be come into play, right?"

Prue released a breath and nodded.

"And they're the ones who sent you?" Burt asked.

She nodded again. "The Powers That Be are the arbitrators of this dimension and the planes of reality that exist within it - all of them, including parallel and alternate worlds. Usually, these worlds function well enough with minimal interference. They have their own arbitrators and their own rules, but occasionally there are events so cataclysmic that they interfere with this natural order. That's when the Powers step in and appoint Champions to their cause, to be their representatives on the specific plane affected."

"And Kurt is one of these Champions?"

"He will be," she said, "but first let me explain a bit more about the Powers." She waited for them to acknowledge her with nods. "They are immortal, but their duties are not; they can and have often been replaced when deemed to be inefficient. They, like the God of this reality, are neither Good nor Evil. They are not immoral, but rather amoral; their sole function is to maintain the balance between Good and Evil." She paused. "Now this is where things start to get very tricky. How much do you know about physics?"

Burt snorted. "Sorry, I skipped that class. Every single one of them."

Prue smiled wryly and looked at Suzanne, who shrugged.

"All I remember are the Laws of Thermodynamics."

Prue's eyes shined. "And what's the First Law?"

"For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction," Suzanne quoted.

Prue nodded. "Yes," she said in approval, "but that can be reduced even further: for every force, there is an equal and opposing force, and so it is with Good and Evil. These are merely monikers humans have bestowed upon these essences, but, at their simplest, they are merely opposing forces. That is the true nature of existence: balance. It is not morality which determines an outcome, but intent. Intent, whether it be natural or supernatural, physical or psychical, is at the root of every action. If that force which we deem Good pushes ahead, then its corresponding force, Evil, pushes back.

"It really is," she concluded, "just that simple. There is no grand design, no master plan. We all have been drafted as warriors in the eternal battle to maintain the status quo. Everything happens for a reason, but that doesn't mean the reason is necessarily good."

"I think I get it," Burt said slowly. "The whole universe and everything within it, including us, are made up of these two forces. Everything has the potential to be Good or Evil, or both, like Nature is both, loving and cruel at the same time. Whether we choose Good or Evil depends on the circumstances of those decisions. We change as the circumstances change. With every decision, every choice we make, the balance shifts, and it spirals out beyond us, affecting everything else."

"Yes!" Prue all but shouted in her excitement.

Suzanne nodded, proud of her husband. Of course, she had always been proud of him. "Tell us the prophecy. Or prophecies. You said there were two."

Prue nodded somberly. "God has fallen asleep again, and the choices humans have made, the way we've reacted to Evil, have thrown both this world and several of the others out of balance. God will eventually awaken, but the battle for this world is almost lost; it's already effectively lost to its arbitrators. Soon there will be no God or Devil. The Powers have finally realized that God and Lucifer simply don't understand the harmony of the spheres, that what happens to this world, here in this time, can have disastrous and permanent consequences for the other worlds. So the world will be taken from them and they will be expelled to another dimension.

"The Powers have no control over the Slayers; Slayers are a human construction. The Powers have named a new Champion, but given what he is facing, it's entirely probable that he will be unsuccessful in his ultimate mission. They've foreseen an event which will level the playing field dramatically in our favor, far too much so, and somehow the Slayer's witch is involved. I don't know what it is or when it will happen, but there is one Power that believes the balance will be shifted irrevocably - and not for the better. Everything will fall out of balance, the entire universe, because of a supercharged butterfly effect. If that happens, this world could be annihilated. I'm not speaking of an apocalypse in which demons assert dominion over the earth. I mean that this world and everyone in it will be blinked out of existence and replaced, so that the balance will never again be so threatened."

They stared at her. What the hell could they say to that? And where were the drugs? They definitely needed some drugs - in heavy doses and of every possible variety.

"There are currently three Powers who govern this dimension," Prue continued. "Three were selected so that any action taken would be by vote of majority, a system of checks and balances. The problem is that the Powers are just as fickle and hubristic as God and Lucifer, as the pagan gods and the Elders, and the Shadowmen and the First. They argue, they bicker, they waste time when important decisions have to be made. Like I said before, while they are immortal, their positions as The Powers That Be are not."

Suzanne narrowed her eyes. She had an inkling of where this was going and she didn't like it. Burt looked utterly confused.

"The Power who is so concerned with the Slayer's witch and the new Champion is the same one who recruited me. It plucked me out of the afterlife and explained to me what was happening, what could happen, and the role Kurt was destined to play." She looked at them sorrowfully. "I didn't want to believe it. I still don't. But I decided that whatever happened, I would be at Kurt's side when it occurred."

Burt nodded stalwartly. "But what is that role?"

Prue stood and began pacing. "Dawn is breaking," she said. "That's what the Power told me. A time is fast approaching that will herald the end of the reign of the current Powers That Be. Prophecies throughout all of the worlds have confirmed it. It can't be denied or fought. At the hour of the greatest menace, when the most dangerous enemy attempts to seize control of this dimension, the New Power will claim Its throne, exile Its brethren, and cleanse this realm to reset the balance."

She looked at them.

"The New Power approaches, and this world will tremble at Her Hand."

Burt swallowed. "Kurt is the Hand?"

"He is."

"And this New Power?" Suzanne asked, quaking. She was familiar with the prophecy and its variations, at least as far as this world was concerned. That it had been validated by an untold number of prognisticators throughout the dimension was stultifying. She knew about the Powers That Be, at least in the abstract, enough to understand that there was a force or forces beyond the existence of just this world, beyond the Elders and whatever deities ruled, a force which guided things toward a specific destiny.

"There will be portents of Her arrival," Prue replied. "The King will be crowned; an Old One will again walk this earth; the Twice-Blessed will be born; Cain and Abel will rise; and the Pentad will awaken."

"The Pentad?" Suzanne gasped.

Prue nodded, looking away. "The second prophecy concerning Kurt is that of the Pentad. You're familiar with it, Suzanne. I know it. If it's in our Book, it's most likely in yours as well. It's coming, and the Hand will lead it."

Suzanne shook her head in disbelief. The Pentad was only legend. It was only ever supposed to be legend. It could never possibly exist. Their power would exceed even that of the Charmed Ones. How bad was this world going to get that both the Charmed Ones and the Pentad had to be activated, that two supernatural armies would have to come together to fight for their very existence?

She couldn't even fathom it, was somewhat grateful she wouldn't live to see it, but Jesus Christ, her child would be leading this fight? Her brilliant, beautiful baby who still required bedtime stories and checks under his bed and nightlights before he could even think of going to sleep? He was tasked with keeping the darkness at bay?

It was obscene.

She knew Prue was right, that she couldn't fight it, but once she crossed over, the Elders, the Powers, whoever met her in that long corridor, was going to be in for a very rude awakening. She would see her son again, this she vowed. She would be at his side whether or not he knew it, and woe to those who would try to stop her. Because there was one thing these Powers, Elders, and gods couldn't negate: free will. Her body might be betraying her, might be slowly dying, but she had an iron will, one she had passed on to her child, and together they would demand a reckoning for everything that had and would be done to them.

"What the shit is a Pentad?" Burt demanded, snapping Suzanne out of her vengeful thoughts. "And what of this New Power? When the hell is that supposed to happen?"

Prue's gaze was steely, resolute. "It's not known who or where She is, nor when She will arrive, but She's coming."

"That's it? That's all you know? Some chick is going to take over this dimension and use my son as her war general, and you don't anything about her? Are you serious?" Burt raged.

"All that's known is that she is called the Queen."

Chapter Text

A pall of silence descended over the hospital room as Kurt's parents contemplated what his future was to entail.

Burt longed to linger in denial about the entire affair, desperate to convince himself to believe that his son was, in fact, not a witch, and certainly not one who literally had the fate of the world resting on his shoulders. He had believed he had understood, even if only dimly, what it meant for the Halliwell sisters to be the Charmed Ones, what it was for his wife to be a witch, but now he realized he had never had even an inkling.

Suzanne, meanwhile, had entered Project Mode, wanting to tie up as many loose ends as possible prior to her death.

"Do you know how much time I have left?" she asked her cousin.

Prue shook her head. "Not long," she said thickly. "I don't know much, but I know that." She sighed. "I'm so sorry, Sue."

Burt stared down at the floor, suppressing a sigh.

"Forget it," Suzanne snapped, though not unkindly. "What we have to do is prepare as much as we can so that Kurt will be ready."

"How?" Burt asked dully.

"I'll talk to him," Suzanne said. "Explain to him about magic and what we are."

He shook his head sadly. "He won't believe you, Suzie," he quietly said.

Suzanne stared at her husband for a long moment and at last nodded. "You're right. It would be better coming from Prue."

Prue blinked slowly and nodded. "I can do that," she said, exhaling loudly. She had no idea what the hell she was going to say to the little guy, how she could make him understand all that was happening and what was in store for him, but she knew she had to try. She figured it was best to start with things with which he might already be familiar. "How much does he know about Cassie, about what she is?"

"I honestly don't know," Suzanne confessed. "To my knowledge, he just considers her a family friend. It's possible he could know more, that perhaps he's seen her orb in and out of the house." She shook her head. "If he has, he would have kept it to himself. He's very removed from us. He has been, ever since San Francisco."

"I'm sorry," Prue said quietly.

"I'm not," Suzanne said sharply. "Don't get me wrong. I don't like this; in fact, I hate it. But you were right before: I can't fight it. History is filled with stories of men and women who have tried to avert prophecy. It never works. I don't want this life for him, but I know he can handle it. I choose to believe that. I have to believe that, otherwise I couldn't go on."

"So what do we do?" Burt asked no one in particular.

Suzanne stared off and contemplated her options. "After I die, how soon will the spell be rescinded and his powers restored?"

Burt glared ineffectually at her.

"Almost immediately," Prue answered. "It could happen as soon as you start to slip away. I'd say within a day."

"But why?" Burt asked. "You told me yourself that you and your sisters didn't receive your powers until six months after Penny died. You only got them when Phoebe read the incantation from the Book."

She gave him a smile she didn't feel. "Because our magic is, in part, tied to the Book. Our Book of Shadows isn't just a book of magic, Burt, it is magic. That's why every demon wants it."

"Is yours?" he asked his wife, feeling stupid for not already knowing the answer.

Suzanne shook her head. "No. My Book has spells and remedies and family history, as well as lore, but it's not a magical tome. My branch of the family simply never had the level of power required to make it such." She blinked. "That could be a problem."

He nodded and looked away. He wanted to help, but there was nothing he could add, no real solutions he could offer. He didn't even know why he had stayed for this. There was nothing he could do to help his wife and son with this part of their lives.

He felt as though he were a complete failure as a man. He had lost his daughter, would soon lose his wife, and then he would spend the remainder of his days wondering as to when he would finally lose his son. He thought of Patty Halliwell and could only assume that she had experienced similar thoughts after giving birth to Phoebe, knowing she had delivered the Charmed Ones. He longed to call Victor Bennett and ask how the hell the man coped with having his daughters as the Charmed Ones.

Suzanne reached over and grabbed his chin. "You'll need to be with him. I don't want him with me when I die. He's far too young, Burt, and that will be all he remembers of me. It will color all of his memories of me. I don't want that for him. I don't want that for me."

"No you don't," Prue softly agreed. "I watched my mother die. No child should witness such a thing."

Suzanne raised her eyes and looked into those of her cousin. "What?" she whispered. "You were there when Patty …"

Prue nodded.

Suzanne faltered, having no idea what to say. "I didn't know that."

Prue shrugged diffidently. "No one did, not even Grams. I never told Phoebe or Piper. They didn't need to know."

"How old were you?" Burt asked.

"I was six," she said, her eyes staring sightlessly before her. "As old as Kurt is now."

Suzanne turned her head and choked back a sob.

"How did you deal with it?" Burt asked.

"I didn't," Prue confessed, "not really, but it definitely informed who I became. As Suzanne said, it colored everything, poisoned it in a way. Kurt shouldn't have to deal with that." She closed her eyes. "My mother died by violence, trying to destroy a demon. Twenty years later, that same demon came for me. I almost embraced it, because I had always expected to die young." She gave him a wry smile. "And I did."

She shook her head and cleared her throat. "Even though your death will be natural, Suzanne, as natural as any death can be, it's not something Kurt should see."

Burt said nothing, but disagreed with their decision. He remembered too well how Kurt had changed since San Francisco, how mature he was now, far too much for such a little boy. The truth was that he believed there was very little his son could not handle, but with so many life-altering events crashing down upon him all at once, it was more than conceivable that he could break. Besides, this was Suzanne's call. It was her death; she should plan for it in whatever way might bring her comfort.

"What about our Book?" he asked Prue, deliberately changing the subject. "How will we keep it safe?"

Suzanne smiled faintly at his use of the possessive. Her husband might not have understood magic, might not have wanted his son to have to deal with it, but from the moment Kurt had been revealed as magical, Burt had vowed to protect him, and that meant protecting every tool that Kurt would require to fulfill his destiny.

Prue grinned. "Just leave that to me."

 


 

Five minutes later, Prue orbed back in to the hospital room with the Bowen Book of Shadows, which she had liberated from the Hummel house, clutched in her hands. It was smaller than the Halliwell book, but she could feel the ambient magic it emitted; it wasn't as strong, but it was more gentle, definitely reflecting its most recent bearer.

What she was about to attempt to pull off might be easier than she had thought.

"What are you going to do?" Suzanne asked, her displeasure and unease with someone else holding the tome patently obvious.

"This is more than just a book of spells," Prue said softly. "This is your son's legacy. It will grow and change as he does, as he and those who come after him add to it. It must be protected at all costs."

Burt's brow furrowed. "How?"

She smirked. "I'm going to call upon our own higher power." She placed the book at Suzanne's feet, closed her eyes, and opened her arms wide.

Suzanne frowned as she watched a protective circle appear around the perimeter of the room. It must have been a whitelighter power, because she'd never heard of any Wiccan ability that could make such a circle tangible; either that, or the Halliwell line was far more powerful than anyone could have ever conceived.

She felt vaguely resentful that she had never been a recipient of that power. She too was a descendant of Melinda Warren, but the Halliwell line had always contained the most potent abilities. She then remembered her son and blinked. The magic must have been waiting for him, she realized. Her terror for her son's future renewed itself.

Burt couldn't see the magic filling the room, but he could certainly sense it. It was a new experience for him and he didn't know if it was because of Prue – because she was a whitelighter – or if it was something altogether different. Whatever it was, he hoped it was permanent and would perhaps give him some kind of edge in keeping his son safe.

Prue took in a deep breath. "I call forth, from space and time, matriarchs of the Bowen and Halliwell lines - mothers, daughters, sisters, friends; our family spirit without end – to gather now in this sacred place and help us to bring a child to grace."

Slowly, one by one, they appeared, beginning with Melinda, followed by her daughter Prudence. Melinda's mother Charlotte stood behind them, smiling gently at Prue.

Melinda beamed widely. "Blessed Be, my daughters," she said to Prue and Suzanne.

Suzanne covered her mouth with a hand. "Oh, my god," she whispered, tears gathering in her eyes. She had heard of summoning, had known it was possible, but she had never witnessed one. She didn't even know if she possessed enough power to perform one.

"This is just the beginning," Prue said, grinning.

More and more spirits emerged from the ether: Laura, Astrid, Helena, Grace, Deborah, Sarah, Anna, and Felicia; all of whom stood behind Melinda and formed two distinct lines, one Halliwell and the other Bowen. Finally, Patricia and Penelope Halliwell appeared, standing on either side of Melinda.

"Prue?" asked a confused Patty.

"What is going on, Prudence?" Penelope tersely demanded.

Prue opened her mouth and just as suddenly closed it as one final ghost materialized.

Suzanne moaned deep in her throat. "Mom?"

"Hello, my darling," Olivia Bowen said.

 


 

Penny stalked forward, hand on her hips, and gave Prue a sweeping look. "Well?"

"You remember our cousin, Suzanne," she replied, gesturing to the woman in question.

Penny frowned. "Of course, and it's lovely to see you, sweetheart," she said to Suzanne before turning back toward Prue, "but that doesn't answer my question."

"You always were a blowhard," Olivia said, rolling her eyes.

Penny whirled on her heel. "Well, there's a voice I haven't missed. I should have known I couldn't escape you even in eternity, Livvie."

Olivia's eyes hardened and she opened her mouth to retort before Patty cut her off.

"Both of you can shut up," she spat. "I'll be damned if I'm forced to put up with this bickering in the afterlife. I had enough of it on earth, and it's the reason Suzanne and my daughters didn't grow up together." Her eyes narrowed. "As they should have."

Suzanne glared at her mother as Prue glared at Penny. Both ghosts lightly blushed, which was really quite a feat, in Burt's opinion.

"Prue," Patty hesitantly began, "where have you been? You were supposed to stay in the receiving chamber while your grandmother and I spoke to your sisters."

Prue nodded slyly. "How is Paige coping?"

Patty's eyes widened as she stumbled back.

"How did you know about her?" Penny demanded.

Prue raised a brow. "Grams, I love you, but I'm dead now. There's nothing you can hold over my head to force me to bend to your will. The fact of the matter is that I know far more than you about what's going on in this world, as well as in several others. That's why I'm here with Suzanne, and it's why I summoned all of you. Things are far more unbalanced than most people have realized."

Although surprised by her granddaughter's admonishment, Penny dismissed it from her mind. "Very well," she said, nodding. "What can we do to help you?"

Prue shook her head. "It's not me who needs your help, but Suzanne."

Patty blinked and suddenly took in her surroundings. "Why are we in a hospital?" She silently answered her own question and her eyes filled with sadness as she looked at her cousin. "Oh, no," she whispered, "not again. Not so soon after Prue." She covered her mouth with a hand. "This just isn't fair."

"It never has been," Olivia said darkly, crossing to her daughter's side and taking her hand. "Oh, my darling, I'm so sorry," she said softly, stroking her daughter hair. "I don't know why I wasn't informed about what the hell was going on down here, but you can be sure that I'll find out. This shouldn't be happening."

"But it is," Suzanne said evenly, struggling not to cry, "and I have to make sure Kurt is safe."

Olivia's brows gathered. "What does this have to do with my grandson?" She blinked. "Hello, Burt. I'm sorry we never had the chance to meet while I was alive, but I want you to know how happy I am that my daughter found such a wonderful man with whom she could share her life."

Burt blushed. "Thank you, ma'am," he mumbled.

She waved a hand. "Tosh! Call me Olivia. Now, what is this about Kurt?"

Burt and Suzanne immediately looked to Prue, who nodded.

"Something incredible has happened," she began, "something no one in our family even considered possible."

Penny raised a brow. "Which is?" she drawled.

Prue shot her a look. "Six years ago, Suzanne gave birth to the first male Warren witch."

 


 

The excited and confused murmurings of the ghosts quickly filled the room, giving Burt a headache.

"Ridiculous!" Penny finally thundered. "Warren witches are always female."

Melinda frowned and made to argue, but was interrupted.

Burt stood and glared at Penny. "Things change. My boy is a witch, lady, and a pretty damn powerful one. He's a member of your family and he needs your help. So are you going to help him, or do I call Ghostbusters to blast your ass out of here?"

Penny curled a lip and opened her mouth to retort, but was interrupted by Prue.

"I wouldn't advise it, Grams. Burt is far more stubborn than you, and you really don't want to see the lengths to which he will go to protect his child. Believe me, this is one man you should absolutely respect."

Penny closed her mouth, tilted her head, and gave Burt a thoughtful look. Finally, she nodded. "I like you."

"I really don't care," he shot back.

She grinned. "Which is why I like you." She rubbed her hands together gleefully. "All right, what's going on and how can we help? If young Kurt has shown himself to be magical, he must have powers. What are they?"

Prue smiled. "He shares our power, Grams. He's telekinetic."

"Outstanding!" Penny squealed. "What else?"

"He shares my power, too," Suzanne said quietly. "He's empathic." She looked up at her mother. "He's also telepathic."

Olivia winced. "Shit."

"Oh, dear," Patty fretted, wringing her hands.

"Difficult to manage," Penny allowed, "but certainly not impossible. He's a Halliwell, after all."

"He is a Bowen," Olivia spat.

Penny rolled her eyes.

"Enough!" Melinda interjected. "At the end of the day, this child is a Warren. He is my blood, and he will be embraced by the entire line." She glared at Penny. "As for you, Penelope, your ridiculous prejudices against men have no bearing on this conversation. They are not shared by every member of this family, and you would do well to remember you were only ever alive thanks to your parents, one of whom was a man. A man is the only reason you had Patty. And whatever you think of Victor, it is partly because of him that you are the grandmother of the Charmed Ones, in whom you take so much pride."

She stared the other woman down and then finally walked over to Prue. "Whatever you ask of us is what we will do. It's just that simple."

"Thank you," Prue said, sighing.

"Where is Kurt?" Olivia asked excitedly. "It's about time I met my grandson!"

"He's in the daycare center," Suzanne explained. "Burt dropped him off there to tell me about Prue's, uh, death."

Penny nodded. "Which brings me back to my original question, granddaughter. What are you doing here?"

"I'm Kurt's whitelighter."

Patty gasped. "The Elders made you a whitelighter? Already? And for a member of your own family?"

Prue snorted. "Of course not. The Elders didn't assign me to Kurt. I'm above them now. After I died and crossed over into eternity, I was reunited with you. When the Elders called you away to send you to Piper and Phoebe, I was summoned by the Powers That Be."

An eerie silence fell over the room.

"What do they want with that boy?" demanded an angry Penny.

Olivia was soon at her side, her fierce glare also asking for an explanation, their love of family overriding their rivalry.

"It's why I summoned you," Prue said softly, gathering her courage. She looked up and ensnared the assembly before her in her gaze. "Kurt Bowen Hummel, our kin, our blood, is the Hand."

The explosion was immediate.

 


 

"Absolutely not," Olivia said flatly. "I will not allow this," she hissed, unconsciously echoing the earlier words of her daughter.

"This is ridiculous!" Penny expounded. "He's a child!" She shook her head. "No. This is outrageous. How much more is our family expected to give? How many more sacrifices must we make to ensure the safety of this world? Unacceptable. This is simply too much."

Melinda sighed. "I agree, but it's irrelevant. If Kurt is the Hand, that means he was prophesied to be so. We're all aware of that prophecy. We know the price Kurt would pay were we to interfere. Destiny will always have its way, no matter what machinations we devise in an attempt to thwart it. There is nothing we can do except help him as much as we can."

Penny and Olivia were furiously whispering to each other, united for the first time in life and death by a mutual loathing for the powers which ruled their dimension.

Patty studied her daughter. "There's something more, Prudence. What aren't you telling us?"

Burt cleared his throat. "There's another prophecy. Kurt is supposed to lead something called the Pentad."

Penny's eyes bulged as Olivia once again swore under her breath.

Melinda gritted her teeth. "Oh, this really is carrying things too far. To saddle a child with such responsibility is simply reprehensible."

"My Wiccan powers have been restored," Prue interrupted, "and I've been given full whitelighter powers."

Suzanne narrowed her eyes. "That's …

slightly different than what you said before. What exactly does it mean?"

Prue smirked, lightning bolts appearing in her hands. She twirled them around as though they were revolvers. "I have the powers of an Elder."

Burt grunted. "Huh. That's new."

Penny snorted.

Prue flicked her wrists and the lightning bolts disappeared. "I can't prevent Kurt from fulfilling his destiny, but I can do everything in my power to protect him as much as possible, and that's exactly what I'm going to do."

"If this child has been positively identified as the Hand," Charlotte said quietly, "then the Gloaming is upon us. It could occur within his lifetime."

"The what?" Burt asked.

"The Gloaming," Suzanne repeated. "It's also known as the Twilight, the time in which this world will fall." She nodded to Prue. "Tell them."

Prue gave an abbreviated version of what she had been told and the Matriarchs ruminated over her words.

"And you have no idea who this Queen is," asked a suspicious Penny, "or of when She will Ascend."

Prue shook her head. "None. The Power who told me didn't release that information, if they even know." She frowned. "This is just a feeling, but I got the idea the Queen wasn't known, not to the Powers, not even to Herself." Finally, she shrugged. "Maybe She hasn't been pressed in to service yet."

Penny grunted. "Perhaps."

Patty tilted her head. "Hasn't been pressed in to service yet," she slowly repeated. She looked at her daughter. "Why did you phrase it that way?"

Prue looked at her blankly. "I don't know," she finally said. "But if the Powers don't know who She is, or of the precise time of Her arrival, it stands to reason that they don't know anything about Her, which makes me think that though this may be Her destiny, that She was created for it, it doesn't mean She's aware of it. She might not have any more choice in this than Kurt does."

"A logical supposition," Melinda murmured, "and a frightening one. If She truly is unknown to the Powers, to Herself, then how could She possibly prepare for what is to come? If Kurt is the Hand, it makes sense that he would be called to Her side."

"Maybe there's a reason the Powers don't know who she is," Burt grunted. "Why would they go out of their way to help their replacement?"

Prue whirled on her heel and stared at him.

"Shit," Suzanne muttered as her thoughts raced. If her husband was right, and she rather thought he was, then who or what had selected the Queen to replace the Powers? If they were only replaced because of failure, who had initially appointed them? Obviously some player or players as yet unknown. And it stood to reason that, whoever was responsible, had also selected Kurt as the Hand.

"What about the rest of it?" Charlotte asked. "Who is the King who will be crowned?"

"I don't know," Prue admitted. "Honestly, the more I think about it, the more I believe Kurt is the only known quantity involved. Obviously, this King is some kind of consort, but that doesn't mean he's an equal of the Queen, only that he will stand at Her side. If Kurt is the Hand, perhaps the King is the Heart."

Several of the ghosts nodded.

"And the Twice-Blessed?" Penny asked.

"There were rumors," Melinda recalled, "ones that predated my time, in which a magical child born of a most incredible union would be delivered into this world as planets burned and magic died. Not necessarily a permanent death, but perhaps merely a day of rest."

"Piper's child," Suzanne whispered.

"What?" asked Penny, Patty, and Prue.

"It's logical," she replied, her voice gaining strength. "A magical child of a most incredible union? Piper is now the eldest of the Charmed Ones. She is the most powerful witch in the world until Kurt assumes that mantle. Most likely, Piper will begin having children before Kurt is of age. Her husband is a whitelighter, one of the strongest forces for Good in this and any other world. Any child of theirs is guaranteed to be remarkable."

Burt frowned. "What about Paige? She's half-whitelighter."

Suzanne shook her head. "Patty wasn't Charmed." She frowned deeply. "Surely the Elders are aware of the Twice-Blessed prophecy and how Piper might deliver it." She raised her head and stared at Penny and Patty. "You must watch over them. The Elders have plotted against Piper and Leo before. I always thought it odd they allowed the marriage. Patty gave up Paige, fearful of what the Elders would do to the girl, and I doubt they've relaxed their stance significantly since then."

Patty swallowed heavily.

"Which means," Suzanne continued, "the Elders will either try to prevent Piper from conceiving, which I doubt they can do, or they want the child to be born. The question, of course, is why."

Prue swore under her breath.

"I knew her marrying that … that man was a bad idea," Penny spat.

Prue and Patty rolled their eyes.

"An Old One will again walk the earth," Olivia quietly repeated. "The very idea is terrifying. I don't think the Charmed Ones or Kurt would stand a chance against it. We're talking about a god incarnate. Granted, this Old One would probably not have access to their full powers, but at the very least would be significantly more powerful than a mortal witch."

"But what can we do?" Deborah asked. "Mortals, even magical ones, don't have access to the Deeper Well. There are rumors that it's not even located on this plane of existence."

Helena nodded. "Not to mention that it contains the remains of all Old Ones not expelled from this world. It's possible that the combined forces of the Hand, the Charmed Ones, and the Twice-Blessed would be able to subdue one Old One, but for them to go in to the Deeper Well and potentially face several or all of them?" She shook her head. "They would never survive."

"But could the Queen?" Burt asked.

"Doubtful," Olivia replied. "Beings of such power are not able to manifest themselves physically in this realm. That is why the First Evil must use agents like the Source to enact its will. Likely, this Queen will find Herself in a similar situation. My grandson, as well as this mysterious King, are likely to be two of Her agents.

"Does he have other powers?" she asked, turning toward Prue. "Or, should I say, will he?"

Prue nodded. "As I told Suzanne and Burt, Kurt has the potential for several abilities, most of them offensive powers. He will become the most powerful witch this world has ever seen, surpassing the individual powers of the Charmed Ones. As he already shares one of my powers, it's possible he'll share another."

"Astral projection," Patty guessed.

Prue nodded. "Or some other form of teleportation. I choose to believe that whatever Power created him for this had enough foresight to provide him with a method of transportation so that he's not forced to be reliant on me."

Olivia shrugged and nodded. "Makes sense."

"And the Pentad?" Penny asked. "He will lead it?"

Prue smiled wryly. "Right now, it's just a triad, but yes, eventually all five witches will come together under Kurt's leadership."

"Who are the other two current members?" Melinda asked.

"Two little girls Kurt's age," Prue answered. "Santana Lopez and Brittany Pierce."

"I'm not familiar with those surnames," Penny said, frowning. "And their powers?"

"Brittany is an Oracle."

Several of the ghosts gasped.

"The other, this Santana?" asked a thrown Patty.

Prue shook her head. "Not here, not yet. I can't be sure we aren't being observed. All I will say is that Santana is Kurt's anchor; her mere presence will be able to help him master his defensive powers. Together, they will shield Brittany." She looked around nervously. "The cloaking spells I cast should keep us off the Elders' radar, but I don't know what else could be lurking about. Remember that we are no longer dealing with just Wiccan powers, but those of the godlings."

Several of the witches grumbled.

"The worlds of the Slayers and natural witches are beginning to collide," she continued. "If we have prophecies, they might have their own. We're no longer just fighting demons and Elders, but also pure demons, the Council, and the First Evil. I'm an agent of the Powers That Be, but remember that everything they know is also known by the Wolf, Ram, and Hart. We have to assume they have their own agents in place, as well."

"Don't get ahead of yourself," her mother warned. "Let's just take this one step at a time." She paused. "Is Kurt aware of what's happening?"

"No," Burt said. "Right now, it's all he can do to cope with the loss of his sister. He knows his mother is terminal, but he refuses to think about it."

"Sister?" Olivia frowned, before gasping and turning toward her daughter. "Oh, baby! Were you pregnant?"

Suzanne's face collapsed and she began shuddering with sobs.

Olivia looked to Burt, who shook his head. "There are times when a child needs her mother."

She nodded sadly and went to take her daughter in her arms as Burt crossed to stand next to Prue.

"Three years ago," he began, "Sue, Kurt, and I went to visit the sisters in San Francisco. Kurt fell in love with them, but then demons attacked. Piper and Phoebe were injured. Kurt held the demons at bay until Prue could vanquish them."

Penny gaped. "At three years old your son did this?"

"He did."

She blinked. "Well, hell." She shook her head. "Then what?"

He explained about how Prue and Piper fought with Phoebe and Leo, finally forcing them to agree to help Suzanne bind Kurt's powers, and how Cassie, Suzanne's whitelighter, used memory dust to make the sisters forget that Kurt was magical.

"A very wise decision," Patty said, before shaking her head in consternation. "What was Phoebe thinking, wanting to keep Kurt from his parents and raise him in the Manor? The next time she summons me, I'll have to force myself not to shake some sense into her!"

"So the other girls still don't know about Kurt?" Penny asked.

Burt and Prue shook their heads.

She heaved a sigh of relief. "Good. And Kurt doesn't remember any of this?"

"No," Burt replied, "but he knows something happened. His forced separation from the sisters did not go over well. He's never forgiven us or them."

"Stubborn," Penny said fondly.

Prue snorted. "From what I remember about Kurt, he's worse than Piper, Phoebe, and me put together."

Penny shuddered and turned to Burt. "My condolences, but it is a family trait."

"It's one of mine, too."

She smirked at him and turned back to Prue. "What do you want us to do? Obviously we're here for more than a debriefing."

Prue nodded and retrieved the spellbook. "This is the Bowen Book of Shadows. This is Kurt's legacy, containing the history of his line and their magic. I am requesting that all of you – Halliwells, Bowens, and Warrens alike – step forward and bless it. Fill it with your knowledge; everything you know, everything you believe, anything you think might be possible, put in to these pages. He cannot be left undefended."

She looked at all of them solemnly. "We must help him, because if Kurt falls, the rest of the world will go tumbling after, including the Charmed Ones, their children, and all of us. If this world goes, the associated heavenly dimensions and the Higher Realms will go with it. The Warren line will be extinguished. I will not allow that to happen."

 


 

Burt sat and stared, stupefied, as each of the Matriarchs stepped forward, closed their eyes, and laid their hands on the Book. As each blessed it, the Book itself began glowing and changing, growing in both length and width. By unacknowledged yet universal acceptance, Melinda was the last. She stepped forward toward the foot of Suzanne's bed and beckoned Suzanne and Burt to join her.

Suzanne leaned forward and placed her hand on the book, but Burt hesitated.

"I'm not magical," he said.

Melinda smiled. "Perhaps not, but that doesn't preclude your line from being so. Your son is magical, Burt. It's possible your ancestors were, as well. Victor's were."

"What?" Prue, Patty, and Penny all whispered.

"Everything happens for a reason," Melinda said patiently. "Magic is not confined to a gender. The father of my own Prudence was a witch, a strong one, who unfortunately encountered an even stronger demon. Though my powers were greater, I was heavily pregnant and at my most vulnerable. Lucas sacrificed himself so that I and our daughter might live."

She looked at her descendants. "Despite what you think of Victor, do you truly believe he would do any less to protect his own children?"

"There's not a doubt in my mind he would protect his children with his life," Patty said staunchly.

Slowly, Prue nodded. "He would."

Penny was the holdout.

Melinda frowned. "Penelope, you watched him as well as I did when he was told of Prue's death. He was completely destroyed. Prue was his first-born, and though Phoebe is his youngest, Prue was his baby. He will never recover from her loss, any more than you did when Patricia was stolen from you."

Prue pressed her lips together as her eyes filled with tears. Patty drew her close.

Finally, Penny nodded, looking away. "I handled him all wrong," she quietly admitted.

"Victor will love Paige," Melinda continued, "because Piper and Phoebe will, because Patricia does, and because Prue would have. The Charmed Ones will need allies, yes, but more importantly, they will need their family. Other than Kurt, Victor is the only one left."

It was a sobering realization for the Halliwells.

Melinda turned back to Burt. "Every mortal possesses a kernel of magic, though they may never be able to access it. The bottom line is that, in the end, magic matters very little. You are Kurt's father. Your love for him is magical in and of itself. Burt Eugene Hummel, place your hand on the Book."

Burt looked up at her with gratitude shining in his eyes and did as she commanded.

Melinda laid her ghostly appendages over the living flesh of Kurt's parents, closing her eyes.

"Prudence, Patricia, Penelope; Laura, Astrid, Helena, and Grace; Deborah, Anna, Sarah, Felicia; Prudence, Charlotte, and myself, Melinda; Olivia, Suzanne, and Burt. Warren Witches, allies, friends; never will we allow this circle to end. In this time and in this hour, I call upon our ancient power. All magic and wisdom, pass through me. Fill this Book with our love and guarantee."

Her eyes opened and were opalescent.

"Kurt Bowen Hummel; Hand and Pentad Head; son, grandson, nephew, and cousin. Flesh of our flesh, blood of our blood, bone of our bone, this I vow: never shall you walk alone."

The Book itself groaned as it was flooded with magic. Light poured into it before bending prismatically and exploding outward, the pages rustling and whipping back and forth in a fierce wind. It expanded for the final time, quadrupling in size, before the cover slammed shut. There was a crackle of lightning as a pentagram was carved into the leather. The pentagram then caught fire, a circle of flame burning itself around the points and transforming it into a pentacle before it was extinguished.

"Evil will never touch this Book," Melinda swore, her voice booming and ricocheting off the walls of the small hospital room. "It is now tied to Kurt himself. It cannot be taken from him. It will open to none but those he permits access."

To demonstrate, she closed her fingers around the cover and tugged, but the Book remained stubbornly shut.

"Not for me," she whispered, a small smile on her face, "and, I'm sorry to say, Suzanne, not even for you. The Book will wait until Kurt is ready to claim it."

Suzanne keenly felt the loss as the magic closed to her and her connection to the Book was severed, but she didn't regret it. For the first time since Prue had orbed into her room, she felt she had managed to do something to protect her child.

"How will we get it home?" Burt wondered. "It can't stay here. It's not safe."

Melinda tilted her head and considered the problem. Finally she looked down at the Book and raised an eyebrow. "Home. Your Master comes."

The Book disappeared in an explosion of golden orbs.

Prue blinked. "Whoa. Can we do that for our Book?" She startled and looked down at the floor. "For their Book, I mean."

Penny scoffed. "That Book will always be yours, Prudence. You know very well that I am still able to access it."

Patty took her daughter's chin in her hand and forced Prue to look into her eyes. "You are Prudence Halliwell. You will always be Prudence Halliwell. You may no longer be Charmed, but you are forever a Warren witch. Piper, Phoebe and Paige will always be your sisters. That connection does not end with death; not yours, and not theirs."

Prue pursed her lips and nodded.

"To answer your question, Prue," Melinda interrupted, "we cannot do this for your Book. Were we to try, the ancient magic which protects it would consider our spell to be a corrupting influence and the Book would destroy itself. It was created with a different purpose in mind. Though the Bowen Book was filled with ambient magic, it was not sentient. Now it is, as that of your Book always has been."

Penny stared at her. "Is that what would happen to our Book if something happened to the girls?"

Melinda nodded. "If Piper, Phoebe, and Paige were to perish before they had their own children, the Book would incinerate itself so that Evil could not take possession of it. The spells of protection were laid over it for precisely that reason. Though demons seek the Book, they will never truly be able to claim it."

"But it's been taken before," Prue argued.

"Yes," Melinda nodded, "but it has always returned to you. Even when it was corrupted by the dark priestess and her demon slave, it remained intact because you and your sisters lived. The Book is tied to the Halliwell line, not to a specific person. The Bowen Book is now tied only to Kurt. If he dies, it will go with him."

Burt and Suzanne really didn't wish to contemplate their only child dying and said as much.

"We need to know," Prue said softly. "It helps that I don't have to expend any time or effort protecting the Book and can instead focus exclusively on Kurt." She looked at Melinda. "Is his Book more powerful than our own?"

She nodded. "It contains the magic of the entire Warren line, not just the Halliwell branch. It is Halliwell and it is Bowen. It is Baxter, it is Russell, it is Johnson. It is all the knowledge we have ever possessed, even those Warren branches which have been extinguished or lost to time."

"And it's tied to Kurt?" Burt asked, wanting to make sure he understood.

Melinda nodded again. "The Book cannot be removed from his side. If someone or something somehow ever manages it, and I truly can't conceive of such an instance, the Book will simply return itself to him. If he perishes, the Book will immolate itself."

"What if he turns Evil?" Prue asked. "Not that I think he ever would, but because of a spell or something," she rushed to add, ducking her head at the combined glare from Burt and Suzanne. "It happened to us."

"But that wasn't your conscious choice," Melinda said gently. "The Book was turned Evil because you yourselves were through a spell, and the Book is tied to your emotions. Once the spell was rescinded, the Book was returned to its proper self. If Kurt chose Evil, fully committed himself to it, the Book would destroy itself and could never be reconstructed." She paused. "That said, though Kurt's powers are also tied to his emotions, and even though the Book is tied to him, that tie is predicated on his legacy as a Bowen, and thus as a Warren, not simply to his emotions. If a spell turned Kurt, the Book would not turn with him."

She raised a brow. "Therefore, I would suggest that as soon as he takes possession of it, he grants access to his father and to Prue, so that should something happen to him, they will be able to help him. Whatever access he grants will be dependent on his intentions, so he can limit the circumstances in which the Book is available to anyone other than him."

Prue shook her head in wonder, feeling slightly jealous of Kurt's Book and its capabilities, even though she was the one who had engineered it all. She knew it was for the best, and she was excited to see yet again what magic could accomplish; yet even though she knew she would eventually be able to use the Book, she wondered how different her life would have been had it been in the possession of her and her sisters. "Wow."

"Will our Book be closed to the Charmed Ones, as well?" Suzanne asked.

Melinda frowned. "Theoretically it would be, yes. Kurt could allow them access if he so chose. I assume he eventually will allow access to Brittany, Santana, and the other two witches who will join his coven, whoever they might be. If something happened to Kurt, the Book would not pass to the Charmed One or their offspring, nor would it be inherited by his other coven members or their future children."

"What if Kurt has children?"

Melinda shook her head. "It won't automatically pass to them. He can give them initial access and then do a blood ritual to allow the Book to enter their possession upon his death."

"What if he adopts children?" Burt suddenly asked.

"Why?" Penny asked.

"Kurt is gay," Prue said fiercely, glaring at every ghost in her proximity and daring them to say something against her little cousin.

Penny shrugged. "As long as he has a Wiccaning for his child or children, be they of his blood or not, it should not be an issue. The blood ritual would still work and the family magic would recognize them." She looked at Melinda. "Yes?"

Melinda nodded. "Of course." She looked at Burt and Suzanne. "Please, never think for a moment that Kurt's nature would be considered unacceptable to us. There have been Warren witches since the line began who have been oriented toward their own sex. It matters not to us, and we would never deny him." She stared into their eyes. "We have spent centuries fighting and destroying Evil. We know what it is and what it is not. No expression of love is ever Evil, regardless of what others might think."

The Matriarchs nodded firmly and as one.

Penny frowned and looked at the Hummels. "Speaking of which, did Kurt himself have a Wiccaning?"

Suzanne looked down, flushing with embarrassment. "No," she admitted. "By the time we learned he was magical, he was already four and we were more concerned with hiding him from the Elders. Besides, his powers have been bound for two years."

Penny clucked and shook her head.

"What's a Wiccaning?" demanded a confused Burt.

"It's akin to a magical baptism," Patty said. "It's a ceremony in which the family spirits are summoned to bless and welcome the child as one of them. It also helps stabilize the child's magic, grounding it in the family line."

Burt nodded carefully. "Then Kurt will have one."

"Honey," Suzanne began.

"No, Sue. I understand why we didn't before, but that was then. This ceremony is not only important to who he is and who he will become, it's his birthright. My son is a witch, and a powerful one at that. I won't allow him to be denied his due." He shrugged. "Besides, after his powers are restored, he'll need the stability Patty says this Wiccaning will give him. You'll be gone, Sue, and frankly, I don't know how well I could handle everything. I can't do magic. I can't help him with his gifts. Thank god Prue will be there, but every little bit helps, right?"

Suzanne smiled and nodded, tears in her eyes, as she took Burt's face in her hands and kissed him full on the mouth.

Penny really liked this man.

"My girl did well for herself," Olivia murmured.

Penny nodded. "Absolutely."

Suzanne pulled away from her husband and sighed. "I just wish I could be there for it."

Burt gripped her hand.

"Why can't you be?" both Penny and Olivia barked.

Prue scowled. "Once Kurt is exposed, the Elders will make it forbidden for him to summon Suzanne, as they have Piper and Phoebe from summoning me."

"Wait, what?" Patty hissed.

Prue smirked and shook her head. "They lied to you, Mom. Keeping me from my sisters won't help them to move on, and the Elders know that. Phoebe wasn't there when I died, and Piper was unconscious. After Leo healed her, she woke up to my dead body. She'll never get over that. She needs closure, and the Elders are denying it to her because it suits them to do so. They're hoping to bring Piper under their wing, and now I realize it's most likely because of the Twice-Blessed prophecy."

Patty curled her lip and snarled.

"Don't worry, Suzie," Prue said to her cousin. "You will be at Kurt's Wiccaning. Like I told you before, even though he can't summon you, no one can stop me from summoning you for him, and I will. Even if I couldn't, there's no reason Brittany and Santana, or their mothers, couldn't call upon you. If necessary, I'll help Kurt write a spell to call on all the Warren Matriarchs, not just the Bowens. The Elders won't be able to stop that."

Olivia and the other Bowens nodded fiercely.

"You will call on all of us, Prudence," Melinda decided. "I don't answer to the Elders, and I do not know who they think they are by forbidding anything. They certainly do not control my family. They may believe that they are beyond our reach, but that belief is false. I would be happy to prove it to them."

Her mother Charlotte nodded. "We are all Warrens, especially Kurt. He will require and receive blessings from us all. We will not leave him undefended in this mockery Destiny insists should be his life. He will have to face many things, but he will never do so alone."

Suzanne laid back, closed her eyes, and breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank god," she whispered, "and thank all of you."

And then she died.

 


 

Burt stared stupidly at his wife's body.

"We have to go," Penny said urgently. "If we're not there to welcome her, the Elders will sense our absence." She glanced at Suzanne with sorrow. "We will take care of her, Prudence. That I promise you."

Prue nodded absently. "Her whitelighter is trying to get in. I promised her she could be with Suzanne before she …" She sighed. "I have to dispel the circle." She shook her head. "Suzanne must have known. Even if she didn't know, she knew. She waited until we could do something for Kurt."

"Summon us whenever you need," Patty whispered in her daughter's ear, "even if it's just to talk."

Prue nodded again.

Olivia pressed her spirit form in between that of her daughter's body and her son-in-law. "Listen to me, Burt. Please listen. This is not the end. There is no end."

He stared at her sightlessly.

"You will see Suzanne again. You will be with her again. Love always survives."

As she reached up toward him, her hands became corporeal. She cupped his face in her hands. "Don't lose yourself because you've temporarily lost her. Don't lose Kurt because you're mourning Suzanne. You must protect him."

Burt nodded.

"You've had no time to prepare, and I'm so sorry for that. We can only assume that there is a reason behind this. Kurt's powers will soon be unbound. You have to be ready." She leaned forward and brushed her lips across his forehead, leaving a faint silver sheen in their wake. "What would she want you to do?"

"Kurt," he mumbled.

Olivia nodded. "Don't allow yourself to lose both of them," she warned. "I never got the chance to meet my grandson, but I know him. He will pull away. He will fight you. He will put up walls to keep you out. Don't let him."

Burt choked on a sob. "He's so much stronger than me. He always has been. He's never wanted me."

"Fiddle-faddle. Kurt is your son, so be his father." She stared into his eyes. "They're coming, Burt. I don't know who they are, and I don't know when they'll arrive, but they're coming, and they're coming for Kurt. So the question is: what are you going to do about it?"

"Stop them."

"Hold tight to your son, Burt Hummel. Never let him go." She pulled back, once again turning transparent. "I will take care of Suzanne, and together, she and I will watch over you and Kurt. Make us proud, son."

He nodded and she was gone in a swirl of golden lights, the other ghosts following her. Prue raised her hands and the circle was disbanded. Cassie immediately orbed in.

"You promised," she seethed at Prue.

"Not now, Cass," Burt sighed.

"You don't …"

"Shut up," he hissed. "Suzanne was my wife. Suzanne was the mother of my son. What you want or what you feel you're entitled to doesn't matter here." He shook his head. "We've had our problems, but I love you, Cassie. Don't make this worse than it already it is. She's dead. They won't allow you to come back. Don't let this be how we leave things."

Cassie huffed as she swatted angry tears from her cheeks, knowing he was right and hating him for it.

Burt looked at Prue. "What happens now?"

"Time is temporarily frozen," Prue whispered. "Cassie will retrieve Suzanne's soul from her body and help her cross over. The others will be waiting for her." She paused. "There are things you'll have to deal with. I'll go to the daycare and get Kurt." She closed her eyes. "What do you want me to tell him?"

Burt shook his head. "He already knows. I can feel it. He'll ask, so tell him the truth. He'll know if you lie."

Cassie nodded, albeit reluctantly.

Prue nodded in concert and left the room, the door swinging shut behind her.

"Do what you need to do," Burt said dully to Cassie.

She looked at him and hesitated.

"It's just a body," he said, though it was obvious he didn't truly believe his words. "It's not her anymore. I have to take care of Kurt. She said she'd haunt me if I didn't."

Cassie blinked, snorted, and began laughing hysterically, tears streaking down her face.

"I meant what I said, Cass," he said lowly. "We haven't always gotten on, but I do love you. You're family. Even if they won't let you see us anymore, I know you'll be watching, somewhere, somehow, and I'll make sure Kurt knows that, too."

"I'll miss you," she whispered.

"I'll miss you, too, but this is how it has to be. For Kurt."

She nodded. "For Kurt." She stepped forward toward the bed and raised a hand, and Suzanne's spirit rose from her body.

"I can see her," Burt whispered. "How?"

Cassie was dumbfounded.

"Magic," Suzanne said, smiling as she got to her feet. She turned toward her husband. "Mom must have used a spell. Don't question it. Don't try and figure it out."

He shook his head. "I'm too grateful."

"Mom was right, Burt. This isn't the end."

"I know," he warbled, fat tears seeping from his eyes.

"Be strong, baby," she murmured. "I love you so much. You are the best decision I ever made."

He shook his head and sobbed. "I didn't deserve you."

"Don't be an idiot," she grinned, and then sobered. "Take care of our son. Trust Prue. Trust the girls. Don't trust anyone else. If anyone comes to you and claims I sent them, don't believe them. If you ever feel in doubt, if you ever feel that something is wrong, tell Prue. You've got excellent instincts, Burt, better than my own. Trust them. Trust those of Kurt. His are almost as good as yours."

He nodded.

"We have to go," Cassie whispered. "Time is restarting, and the doctors are coming."

"I'm always with you," Suzanne vowed to her husband. "And now I'm going to go and be with our daughter."

Burt doubled over and sobbed.

"This isn't the end," she reminded him. "Prue will be able to summon me. We'll never be apart, Burt. We're forever." She leaned over and whispered into his ear. "You are the love of my life. That will never change."

"Please don't go," he begged. "Don't leave me."

"I'm so sorry, baby," she said brokenly. "It's not fair, it's not, but it's not the end. Trust in that. Trust in us." She passed through him and Burt gasped, shooting straight up as her essence merged with his. "Until we meet again."

He collapsed into the chair and curled in on itself, giving in to his despair.

Cassie held out her hand. "Ready?"

Suzanne took it. "Never, and there's a stop we need to make first."

They disappeared.

 


 

May 2000

Lopez Mansion

Lima, Ohio

 

Santana Lopez was hosting a slumber party for her best friend, Brittany Pierce, and, at her mother's insistence, another girl named Quinn Fabray.

Santana didn't like Quinn. Quinn was pretty and smart and very bossy. She had come into Santana's house like she owned it and everyone inside of it. Santana had set her straight pretty quickly, especially after the walking Skipper doll had tried to boss Brittany around, and though Quinn hadn't challenged her as Santana had expected, the seething resentment was obvious.

Santana so didn't care. She didn't have time for Quinn. She was far too busy worrying about Aunt Suzanne and Uncle Burt, and especially Kurt.

It was kind of interesting that Kurt was a lot like Quinn, except Kurt was much prettier and a lot smarter. He was bossy, but it was okay because he was always right and he bossed everyone around, including his parents, her parents, Brittany's parents, and that boy at the park who smelled like a puppy shelter. But he never bossed her or Brittany around. He loved them too much.

She thought that if she introduced Kurt to Quinn, he would hate her, which was awesome, since it would totally validate Santana's belief that Quinn was not to be trusted. She didn't even know why Quinn had to be there. Just because their mothers were friends? That was so lame.

She rolled her eyes as Quinn began telling her and Brittany all about some Disney on Ice thing her mother had taken her to see in Dayton last week. The only reason Santana hadn't told her to shut up was because Brittany liked Disney. She listened with half an ear as Quinn prattled on and on about Belle and Jasmine and Ariel until Santana wanted to claw her eyes out. Unfortunately, Brittany was styling Quinn's hair and was thus blocking access to the twit.

Everyone knew Mulan was the only Disney Princess worthy of note. Mulan ruled. She was a complete badass and boys bowed down to her, which is exactly the way things should be, in Santana's opinion. It was just the natural order of things. Well, it had been.

Now, everyone should bow to her, Brittany, and Kurt. Quinn especially should bow.

"I wish Kurt were here," she muttered.

"Who's Kurt?" Quinn chirped.

"Kurt Hummel. He's our best friend," Santana snottily replied.

Quinn sneered. "You're best friends with a boy? That's so gross! Boys are foul and nasty. I won't ever like them."

"Good," Santana snapped, "because there's no way he could ever like someone like you."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Quinn demanded, huffing and narrowing her eyes.

Brittany pulled at one of Quinn's pigtails. "You be nice. Kurty is a good boy. He's very pretty and smart and speaks European. He ice skates and dances and does gymnastics like me and Sanny. He's very sad now, but he's still okay enough to kick your butt."

Santana growled. "Now you've upset Brittany! You'll have to be vanquished!"

Quinn rolled her eyes. "I'm sorry, okay? I wasn't making fun of your friend, really. I don't even know him!" She hedged. "He sounds pretty cool," she said softly.

"Kurt is the best," Santana insisted. "He helps me protect Brittany, and last week at the playground, Dave Karofsky pushed me off the swings and Kurt kicked him in the naughty place."

Quinn's eyes widened. That was indeed impressive. Karofsky was a real jerk, always picking on girls and pushing around the other boys. Quinn couldn't stand him. "What does Kurt look like?"

After all, she couldn't properly judge him on unimportant attributes like intelligence and bravery.

Brittany squealed and skipped over to Santana's bookshelf, grabbing a photo album and darting back to Quinn, dropping down next to her. "This is us! All three of us. We've been best friends for ages."

Quinn blinked and took the album from her, thumbing through the pages.

Brittany was right. Kurt was very pretty, as pretty as Quinn herself was. She wasn't sure she liked that.

His skin was pale, like the color of the dolphin sculpture she had in her bedroom. He was also very short, shorter even than Santana. His hair was dark, though not as dark as Santana's, and it was really, really shiny. His lips were pink like Bubble Yum. If all boys looked like Kurt, she might like them more.

His eyes mesmerized her. She had always wanted to have blue eyes because she thought they would better match her blond hair, but Kurt's eyes were the most beautiful she had ever seen. They were blue and green and grey, all at the same time. His eyes changed color in almost every picture, depending on the light or where they were or what clothes he was wearing.

And the clothes! They were the most amazing thing of all. They were bright and pretty and colorful and Kurt looked like he had just stepped out of a magazine.

As she scanned the pictures, it was pretty obvious that Kurt was very important to Santana and Brittany. Quinn desperately wanted friends, and though she had been reticent about this slumber party, the prospect of spending the night with two girls her own age was too good to pass up. She liked Brittany well enough, even if the girl was a little strange, and she really liked Santana, though she was sure Santana didn't like her.

But why would they want to be her friends? They had Kurt. She thought she'd like to be friends with him too. Maybe he would like her?

"Where is Kurt now?" she asked.

Brittany's eyes filled with tears. "He's in the hospital."

Quinn became alarmed. "Is he okay?"

"Aunt Suzanne, his mom, is really sick," Santana said softly. "She has cancer. She also had a baby in her tummy, a little girl, but the baby died. Aunt Suzanne is going to die too, so Kurt stays at the hospital with his mommy so she won't be lonely and sad."

Brittany was now sobbing and fat tears streaked down Quinn's cheeks.

"That's awful. That's not right," she said, shaking her head. "That's not fair."

"No, it's not," Santana said bitterly. "My mommy's a doctor at St. Rita's, and she visits Aunt Suzanne every day. So does Aunt Ashley, Brittany's mom. They're three friends just like me, Brit, and Kurt."

"He's so sad," Brittany murmured. "I don't want Aunt Suzie to die. She's really nice and makes really yummy brownies and gives the best hugs."

Santana clenched her teeth and stared down at her hands in her lap.

"I want to meet Kurt," Quinn said importantly.

"Why?" Santana hissed. She was not about to let Princess Barbie around her best friend.

"Because he's sad. Because he needs friends now." She sighed. "And if I don't become friends with you all, Mommy will make be friends with that Rachel girl." She shuddered and wrinkled her nose. "That girl is very, very loud and is always talking about shows that I've never heard of. They're not on TV; I had Mommy check."

"She sounds weird," Brittany said.

Quinn nodded. "And she has two daddies but no mommy."

"Really? I didn't know you could do that."

Quinn nodded again. "That's what my daddy said – well, he said it shouldn't be allowed – but then Mommy yelled him a lot and told him not to be so judgy or something. Rachel's dads were really nice, but her room is pink."

Well, that sealed it for Santana. She couldn't abide pink or anyone who called it a favorite color. It was acceptable in small doses, like Pepto Bismol for when your tummy hurt, but pink was gross and girly.

Except for Hello Kitty's bow. Hello Kitty was awesome, and if she wore pink, that was okay.

Rachel was obviously not okay and would need to be avoided at all costs. The girl was probably a demon.

"Two daddies?" Santana repeated, frowning.

Quinn nodded. "They're gay."

Brittany brightened. "Kurty is gay! He likes boys instead of girls."

Quinn shrugged. "I don't blame him. Who'd want to date girls?"

Brittany and Santana exchanged a quick glance but said nothing.

"Does he have a boyfriend?" Quinn asked. "Finn Hudson is my boyfriend. I told him so yesterday. He's tall and kind of dumb, but he's nice. I mean, he's dumb, but he's not stupid like other boys. He gave me his apple juice at aftercare when Jacob dropped a booger in mine."

Santana scowled. "I hate Jacob. He's in my dancing class. I take tap, but Brittany and Kurt take ballet. Jacob's nasty and dirty and smells like bugs. He used to follow Brittany around, even after I punched him."

"Kurt takes ballet?" Quinn asked.

Santana nodded. "He and Brittany are in Madame Deveraux's class," she said grandly.

Quinn's eyes widened. Madame Deveraux's classes were super advanced and by invitation only. She didn't even know kids their age were allowed in that class. She herself was in the beginner class with Mrs. Kathy. She liked it well enough, but could take it or leave it. Maybe she should switch to tap; at least she'd be with Santana. Of course, she'd also be with Jacob. Ew.

"So what else does Kurt do?" she asked. "You said ballet and gymnastics, right? And ice skating? Do you mean hockey?"

Brittany shook her head. "Figure skating, like the pretty girls on television. He can even do some jumps! But he falls a lot, too. He's better at spins."

"He also plays piano and takes singing lessons," Santana added in a bored voice.

Quinn so wanted to meet Kurt Hummel.

"Did Jacob stop following you?" she asked Brittany, who nodded.

"Yep! Kurty made him, but I don't know how. Kurt whispered something to Jacob, and then Jacob wet his pants and started crying. Now he leaves me alone and runs away from Kurt!"

Okay, Quinn definitely wanted to be friends with Kurt.

"Sanny," Brittany whispered, scrambling to her feet, her stance rigid. "Sanny!"

Santana's head snapped around and she mumbled something in Spanish. Quinn was pretty sure it was a bad word. Santana raced to her desk and grabbed her Lisa Frank pad and her favorite purple glitter pen.

"What's wrong?" a worried Quinn asked.

Santana shushed her. "I'm ready. It's okay, Brit."

"'kay," the girl sniffled, before her eyes turned glassy. She pitched forward slightly and her hair blew back from her face by a sudden wind, her slack mouth opening and a rumbling, low voice began speaking.

 

"The Knight of White, the Seer of Truth:

He, pure of Heart; She, Sayer of sooth.

Born of the Light, yet dark with great pain,

Their joint Ascension shall herald a New Reign.

Blind to each other so shall these two be,

until she comes along, a Warrior Queen.

Her path shall they walk, at her side yet alone;

From her despair, the Light shall they glean."

 

 Santana blinked. What? This was far beyond what she could deal with and she knew it. Her hand was already cramping from trying to write down everything Brittany had said, but a lot of words she didn't understand, and she sure heck didn't know how to spell them. And since when did Brittany deliver in rhyme?

"Try to hang on, Brit. Mom!" Santana screeched. "Aunt Ashley! Brittany needs help!"

Quinn stared at Brittany in fascination. "You're witches," she breathed.

Santana grunted. "What of it?"

"I'm one too," Quinn whispered.

Santana's eyes widened as all three of their mothers tore in the room, questions dying on their lips as Brittany continued. Ashley Pierce immediately took out a pocket recorder and switched it on.

 

"The Knight will face trials of incredible breadth:

A father, a witch, a daughter, and Death.

His Heart shall shatter again and again,

and only the Hunter shall cause it to mend.

The Seer's path will be no less dark,

and she will lose much before finding her mark.

A fall through space, and one from grace;

a martyred life will begin her race.

When the Knight falls, the Seer descends.

Reclaiming her throne, several hearts will she mend.

The Knight will acknowledge only his Queen

and only through him can She ever be seen."

 

 "Dear God," Judy Fabray murmured, eyes wide.

Lydia Lopez and Ashley Pierce dimly registered her exclamation but ignored her. Memory spells existed for a reason.

 

" An army will gather to bolster their rule,

yet one of their strongest will be but a fool.

As the Queen is anointed, the Knight becomes King.

Beacons of hope, the Bells of Heaven will ring.

The Sisters Three shall be torn asunder,

their line broken by a temporal blunder.

The call of Two will be answered, though not as expected.

Another one comes who must not be rejected.

The Twice-Blessed approaches; the heavens will tremble.

The Omega will travel but must never dissemble.

Love and Valor will prove themselves true

and the Line will spawn Magic anew."

 

 Lydia and Ashley exchanged a glance.

There was no doubt this prophecy was, in part, referencing the Charmed Ones, but what exactly did it mean? Had the Power of Three been broken? Had something happened to one or all of the sisters?

They didn't know the Charmed Ones except through myth and legend; no one did. There had been rumors that they had been activated a few years back, but no one knew their identity or where they were to be found, although speculation offered California as a possibility. Demons would know more, of course, but there were none in Lima, and as curious as witches were about the Charmed Ones and their line, questioning a demon to discover more about them really wasn't a top priority.

 

"The Last Scion rises as the Lioness falls,

Three cubs surround him, reinforcing his walls.

As an angel departs from the hereafter,

only the Scion can halt the coming disaster.

The Queen will awaken, Her transformation complete.

And Judgment at Her hand shall the world meet.

Her pronouncements are final; Her words resolute.

The tainted will tremble at Her rebuke.

And the Scion shall be Her Hand.

The Pentad approaches."

 

Lydia's eyes widened to the size of banjos. Ashley gasped. Judy stared.

Brittany gave an exaggerated blink and then began bouncing up and down with excitement. "Did I have an English accent this time? I really want an English accent!"

 


 

Prue robotically navigated the hallways of the hospital, lost in thought and paying no real attention to where she was going. She only dimly registered the notion that she need not have bothered anyway. She could sense Kurt.

It was utterly bizarre. There was a dim buzzing in the back of her mind that told her where he was, that he was in no immediate danger, and that he was mildly anxious. It wasn't bothersome, not exactly, but it was still a foreign presence in her mind and was therefore unwelcome. She was sure she would grow accustomed to it – would even come to be thankful for it – but she wondered how Leo could stand it, especially given that he had more charges than just her sisters.

She had no idea how she was going to approach him or what she was going to say. How was she supposed to tell her sweet little cousin that his mother was dead? And that was to say nothing of how he would react upon seeing her. As far as he believed, she had sent him away from San Francisco three years ago. She and her sisters had tried to keep in touch with him, but he had resisted and finally refused to come to the phone to receive their calls.

Of course she now remembered the spell and its effects; she knew it wasn't her fault. They had been trying to protect him. That didn't mean, however, that Kurt would see it that way.

And then, on the heels of delivering the news of his mother's death, she was to tell him that he was a witch with special powers? She shook her head. Why would he believe her? She wouldn't, were she in his shoes. Hell, she had been in his shoes once and had laughed at Phoebe after she had pronounced them witches.

For the first time since this had all started, doubt crept in to her thoughts. Could she do this? Could she really play the role of Leo for someone else? Especially someone who was so very young, someone who had just lost his mother?

But then she thought of what might happen had she refused. She didn't know if she could keep Kurt safe, if she could truly help him in what he would eventually face. What she did know was that if she hadn't agreed, if she had just gone on into that white light, she would have spent eternity wondering and castigating herself for being a coward.

It wouldn't be easy. Kurt himself was not easy. Of course, neither was she.

But what if they were too similar? What if he pulled away from everything the way she once had? Kurt was now the age she was when her own mother had been killed. She had interacted with her family only because it had been required, because Grams had needed help with Piper and Phoebe. Still, she had locked a large part of herself away that day, and it had never truly been released. She had become sensible, responsible, helpful, and resourceful, but she had suppressed so many of her emotions, her willingness to be happy and have fun. It was only recently that she had begun getting back in touch with that side of herself.

And then she had died. Awesome.

She sighed.

She hesitantly pushed open the door to the nursery and ventured inside, wincing at the volume of the shrill cries of children of all ages, of toys being tossed around and played with, of off-key singing, and the general din that arose when children were gathered in one place.

In the middle of the room sat Kurt.

God, he was a beautiful child. He always had been, but two years had passed and they showed well on him. Prue could see glimpses of the man he would become, and that man would be stunning.

She suddenly had the realization that she would never have children of her own. She would never get married. She probably wouldn't be allowed to see Phoebe marry, or her and Piper have their own children. She felt so cheated, so angry. But this wasn't about her, and if one there was one thing Prue Halliwell knew how to do, it was prioritize.

Kurt sat in a small chair, his posture perfect, reading a book, the size of which she supposed she should have found alarming. Of course, she knew that children's books were much larger than her own had ever been, thanks to the Harry Potter series. She was all for children reading. Most children didn't read Anna Karenina, however.

Kurt was.

He wasn't interacting with any of the other kids, nor was he heeding the cautious glances thrown at him by the staff. He simply sat and read, calm and contained in his own personal bubble. She could all but see the walls he put around himself. It set off alarm bells within her, mainly because it was so damn familiar.

She took another step forward and watched, mesmerized, as he carefully placed a bookmark against the page and shut the tome. He laid the book in his lap and looked up at her.

Jesus, his eyes.

How had she never noticed that he had her eyes?

She had always thought his blue eyes were the hallmarks of his father, but the eyes too had changed. They were blue and gray and green, with golden threads. She immediately knew they would change color depending on whatever emotions he experienced, like mood rings. But the shape of the eyes, their color at that moment, the almost preternatural shine that bespoke of knowledge, were all hers. The cheekbones were another Warren legacy, and when his baby fat melted away, they would be so sharp they could cut glass.

"Hello."

She pursed her lips and willed away the tears in her eyes. "Hey, sweetheart. Do you remember me?"

He raised an eyebrow. "Yes, of course."

She raised an eyebrow in reply. Wow, he had that move down. Impressive little guy.

"Can I help you?" asked an irritated voice.

Prue blinked and turned to her left, to see a harried young woman regarding her with suspicion. "I'm here to pick up Kurt Hummel."

"And who are you, exactly?" the woman rudely demanded.

"This is Prue Halliwell, my cousin," Kurt answered.

The woman turned and gave Kurt a look of such condescension that Prue winced. "Now, son, I'm sure that you …"

"I am not your son," Kurt forcefully, yet politely, interrupted, "and I would appreciate you not referring to me as such. As I've told you, this is Prue Halliwell, my cousin. I'm quite certain as to who and who is not a member of my family, madam."

The woman's mouth fell open and she stared at Kurt, who immediately dismissed her from the conversation. He stood, tucked his book away in his small backpack, which he then placed over his shoulders. He walked over to Prue, looked up at her, tilted his head, and regarded her with placid eyes.

"Mommy has died, hasn't she?"

The staff member gasped. This time, Prue didn't bother to blink back the tears.

"Yes, baby, she has."

He frowned, nodded, and stared straight ahead. "Where's Daddy?"

"He's speaking with your mommy's doctors, honey."

Kurt nodded again and fell silent for a brief moment. "I have to be a big boy now. I have to take care of Daddy."

"You don't have …"

"I have to take care of Daddy," he repeated.

At last, she nodded. "May I help you with that?"

"You may." He raised his arms. "Up, please."

She swallowed heavily, bent at her waist, and hauled him into her arms. He weighed practically nothing, she noted. He was rather small for six years old, and he was also very thin. He didn't look unhealthy, but she wondered how well he had been eating since Suzanne had entered the hospital. She held him tightly to her as he wrapped his legs around her waist and his arms around her neck.

"I missed you," he whispered in her ear.

"I missed you," she murmured, ghosting a hand over his hair. "Every single day."

The daycare attendant finally emerged from her stupor. "You can't just take him!" she protested. "You're not on the list! I don't even know who you really are!"

Kurt stiffened in her arms and slowly turned around to face the woman. "My mother has just died. My father is all alone. I have already identified this woman as my cousin. Obviously, my father sent her to pick me up and bring me to him. If you really insist on being so very bothersome, you may contact my aunt, Lydia Lopez. She is the Chief of Cardiology at this hospital. I doubt she will welcome your interruption of one of her few days off, but please, if it will make you feel better, go right ahead. We'll wait."

The woman stared at him, flabbergasted. "Who are you?"

"I'm Kurt Hummel. Shouldn't you know that?"

Prue wanted to burst out laughing and barely refrained from doing just that. Kurt was far too young to be so articulate and combative, but it was endlessly amusing. Of course, she knew that she wouldn't appreciate his wit and candor once it was turned on her, but at the moment, in this entire surreal experience, the levity was welcome.

"I have to go see my dead mother now," Kurt said to the woman. "Thank you for taking care of me, even though I only sat in a chair and read for three hours."

A deep flush overtook the woman's face.

"Goodbye."

Kurt turned back into Prue's embrace and indicated they should take their leave. Far be it for her to contradict him.

So they left.

 


 

Lydia, Ashley, and Judy were gathered in the Lopez kitchen. Richard Lopez was working late at his law office and wasn't expected home for several hours. They scheduled their working hours down to the minute to ensure maximum time spent with their daughter, as Lydia didn't believe in babysitters unless absolutely necessary. Ashley, who didn't work, often took care of Santana, but as she was considered family, and Lydia herself returned the favor with Brittany whenever possible, they didn't regard the hours their child spent with the other as babysitting.

Lydia was transcribing Brittany's prophecy from both Santana's notes and the recorder, knowing Ashley was too wound up from recent events. The nervous wringing of her hands was a dead giveaway.

Ashley peered speculatively at Judy, who was desperately struggling to remain calm.

"I had no idea there were other witches in Lima," Judy whispered, more to herself than her friends, "and I never would have expected the two of you. I've felt so alone, so trapped."

"Does Russell know?" Ashley carefully asked.

Judy snorted with derision. "Are you serious? He'd most likely burn us at the stake. You know what the Bible says about witchcraft, and Russell is such a good Christian when it suits him." She raised an eyebrow. "I think he's screwing the grocery store clerk this month," she frowned, "or is it the paralegal? It's so difficult to keep track."

Lydia looked up from her notes. "I think the better question is why you put up with him."

Judy shrugged, looking distinctly uncomfortable. "He's my husband. He's Quinn and Emily's father."

Ashley looked at her sympathetically, but Lydia was having none of it. "And what effect do you think it will have on Quinn and Emily to see their parents in a loveless marriage, one in which their mother is constantly disrespected and belittled, where she feels she must hide herself? Whether or not he's your husband, he will always be your daughters' father." She sighed. "Judy, I like you a lot; you're a good friend. So for your sake and for that of your daughter, get rid of him."

Judy bit her lip but said nothing.

"Do you have powers?" Ashley asked.

Judy nodded. "Only a passive one. Psychometry."

Lydia's eyes widened. "Impressive."

"If you say so," Judy said, shrugging. "Why didn't either of you ever tell me?" she suddenly demanded, her anger palpable.

"It really isn't something we advertise," Ashley said wryly, "and please forego the self-righteousness; you never said anything to either of us. I know you and Lydia are close, Judy, but you and I know each other enough to say hello in the grocery store or the bank. I was not about to spill my secrets to you, especially considering that you might have let something inadvertently slip to that brute you call a husband. Brittany is very special, very unique. I will not allow anything to harm her."

Judy fell silent, recalling with vivid clarity the prophecy the girl had spoken in Santana's bedroom. That kind of power was simply astonishing. Prophecies were almost unheard of in the modern age, and for a mere child to deliver one so complex, so obviously important and compelling, Brittany had to possess an amazing amount of psychic ability.

She looked at Ashley with concern. "Does she have an active power?"

"No," Ashley muttered. "I doubt she'll develop one, either. My family has always possessed psychic gifts, but Brittany is different. She possesses all of them: clairvoyance, precognition, and retrocognition, as well as a few others. She sees everything. It is very difficult for her to walk through this world, to interact with people, because she sees every possibility, every moment in time. What it was, what it could be, and what it will be." She sighed. "Thank god for Santana."

Lydia reached over and grabbed her hand.

"Kurt helps too," Brittany piped up, pulling a frightened Quinn and a bawling Santana into the room with her, "and now we have to help him." Her face was fierce and determined.

Lydia raced forward and swept her daughter into her arms, Santana burying her face in her mother's neck. "What happened, darling? And what's wrong with Kurt?"

"Who's Kurt?" Judy whispered to a pale Ashley.

"Kurt Hummel, the girls' best friend," she replied. "His mother Suzanne is very ill. She doesn't have much longer."

"Aunt Suzanne came to say goodbye to me," Brittany said. "She said I have to protect Kurt." She glared at her mother. "No one hurts my Kurty."

"Suzanne is dead?" Lydia gasped. "Oh, god. Oh my god."

"Brittany, sweetheart," Ashley said slowly, forcing her grief for Suzanne and the Hummel boys to the back of her mind for the moment, "why do you have to protect Kurt?"

"Because the spell will soon be broken," Brittany replied. "His magic will be free now."

Ashley stared. "Kurt's a witch?"

Brittany nodded. "Aunt Suzie locked his magic away to protect him from the demons. Kurt is very strong, a lot more than me and Quinn, even stronger than Sanny."

"We'll help him, Brittany," Quinn vowed. "He'll need us now that his mommy had to go away."

"His mother must have bound his powers," Judy said softly, "but what demons? There are no demons in Lima."

"I want to be with Kurt!" Santana wailed.

"What else did Aunt Sue tell you, Brittany?" Ashley gently asked.

Brittany frowned, obviously considering the question. "Kurty is very important. He's the last of his line. He wasn't expected. He's something new."

The three women looked at each other, puzzling over her words.

"Santana," Lydia said, "I need you to listen to me, alright? This is extremely important. Did you know that Kurt is a witch?"

Santana sniffled and reluctantly nodded. "Brittany and I knew."

"Has he told anyone else?"

"Why would he?" Brittany asked. "He doesn't even know."

"What!" Lydia and Ashley thundered.

"Brittany could see his power," Santana said, "but she said it was locked away. So we didn't think it would be a good idea to tell him."

"You were probably right," Lydia replied, hugging her daughter close to her. "I'm just not sure what we can do. If Suzanne bound his powers, there must have been a valid reason to do so. Demons, I'm guessing, like Brittany said." She shook her head. "But there are no demons in Lima!" She sighed. "I can't believe all these years I never knew Suzanne was a witch. She was my best friend and she never told me." Her eyes spilled over. "Oh god, she's dead. Suzanne is dead. I need to call Burt."

"Aunt Suzie told me not to bother Uncle Burt," Brittany said. "She told me to call for Aunt Prue."

"Who?" Ashley asked.

"Kurt's aunt," Santana answered. "She's going to live with them now and take care of them."

"Who the hell is this woman?" Lydia demanded. "Suzanne and Burt are only children, so there's no way this person can be Kurt's aunt."

"Let's find out!" Brittany chirped. "Aunt Prue? Aunt Prue!"

"What are you doing?" her mother asked.

Brittany looked at her, puzzled. "Calling her."

Ashley winced. "Sweetheart, I don't think that's what Aunt Sue ..."

Prue orbed into the Lopez kitchen, Kurt wrapped around her, and her free arm wrapped around Burt Hummel's waist.

Chapter Text

Santana flew to Prue's side, ignoring the older, unknown witch as she reached out with her hands to gain some purchase on Kurt.

"Kurt!" she warbled.

Kurt startled and pulled his head from Prue's shoulder. "Hello, Santana. How are you?"

Santana stared at him, as did everyone else.

Kurt began to prattle, either uninterested or uncaring of his audience. "Mommy died and went to be with my sister and grandmother. Prue's going to help me take care of Daddy now."

Burt blinked heavily, trying to throw off the shock of his wife's death so that he might parent his child. "Baby boy, Prue is here to help me take care of you."

Kurt cocked his head and considered his father. "If you say so, Daddy," he said, clearly disbelieving.

Burt couldn't help but laugh, though it sounded and felt hollow. He felt guilty for finding even a modicum of light in the dark wake of his wife's death. He could almost hear Suzanne scolding him for being ridiculous.

Kurt tapped Prue on the shoulder. "Down, please."

She acquiesced and gently dropped him to his feet. Immediately, Santana and Brittany were all but on top of him, hugging him to within an inch of his life and crying quietly over the loss of their aunt. Quinn watched this with sadness and envy, turning shy and awkwardly looking down at the floor.

"It's all right," Kurt said to his girls. "Mommy had to go. This isn't her place anymore. Now she doesn't hurt."

"Did she come to say goodbye to you, too?" Brittany asked, sniffling.

"No," Kurt said slowly. "Did she come to see you?"

Prue and Burt exchanged startled glances.

Brittany nodded. "Aunt Suzie said that Santana and me and Quinn had to protect you because you're special, but I already knew that because you're too pretty not to be special and your skin is really soft. Can I kiss you?"

"I suppose," was his bewildered reply.

Brittany immediately attached her lips to his, the others watching this development with confusion and concern.

"You kiss really good," Brittany said, panting heavily, after Kurt gently pushed her away.

"Well, Brittany," he corrected. "People kiss well, not good."

She nodded. "I'll remember," she promised. "You kiss very well."

"Thank you. Who is Quinn?"

That was a question to which Prue also wanted an answer. She could only assume that the other older female present was Quinn's mother. Before she could even open her mouth to posit a question, she felt three more bonds snap into place; while she had been expecting those of Santana and Brittany, the third was a surprise, which meant Quinn was to be the fourth member of the Pentad.

Well, that certainly was convenient. Hm.

"She is!" Brittany said grandly, turning around and pointing at the other girl, who had wrapped her arms around herself for lack of anything better to do.

"Hello," Kurt said.

"Hi," Quinn said shyly.

"You're very pretty."

His blunt demeanor indicated to her that he was being truthful. "I know. You're pretty, too."

He nodded. "Yes."

Santana rolled her eyes. "Welcome to Club Narcissism."

Kurt raised an impressed eyebrow.

She glared and swatted him. "I can know big words!"

Quinn put her hands on her hips and huffed. "It's not narcissism if it's true."

Kurt liked Quinn and told her so, much to Santana's veiled displeasure.

Quinn smiled widely and skipped over to join him.

As the three girls surrounded Kurt and cooed at him, the adults unconsciously came to stand next to one another, though Burt noticed that Kurt kept one eye on him and Prue.

"Is he handling this too well?" he asked her.

"I honestly don't know," she replied, looking uneasy.

She was far more concerned and somewhat overwhelmed by her ability to sense three new people. The bond with Kurt, though considerably stronger, given they were kin and shared a power, had been much easier to assimilate. She didn't yet know the girls, but their magic, even at this age, was incredibly powerful. After Kurt, Santana was the strongest, but Brittany and Quinn were certainly in that rarefied league. She could only wonder how Leo had managed to be bound to her, her sisters, and countless other charges. Her respect for the man grew exponentially.

She cleared her throat. "He shifts so rapidly between adult and child that I can't get a firm reading on him. When I went to pick him up in the daycare center, he was sitting by himself, reading Anna Karenina. Then he looked up and saw me, politely bitched at the attendant who tried to stop me from taking him, and then demanded that I carry him to you."

Judy's mouth fell open.

Burt snorted. "I guess he finished The Catcher in the Rye."

Prue's eyes widened. "Seriously?" She shook her head. "I know he's smart, but that's ridiculous."

He shrugged a shoulder. "He's a sponge with an eidetic memory. His vocabulary is already at a high-school level and he speaks four languages. The administration at Patton Elementary wanted Suzanne and me to skip him to the fourth grade when the fall term starts."

She raised an eyebrow. "Are you doing it?"

He shook his head. "We considered it, but thought there would be problems with the other kids in the class. Kurt's already small for his age and bringing a big brain into it seemed a little dicey. Still, we decided to leave it up to Kurt. We asked him if he was interested, but he refused. He wouldn't leave Brittany or Santana." He looked at his son. "Or Quinn, apparently."

Prue and the other women turned toward the children. Santana was sitting in Kurt's lap with her arms wrapped tightly around his neck. Brittany was grooming the boy's hair, which surprised those who knew Kurt and were familiar with how particular he was about his hair. Quinn was whispering furiously into Kurt's ear and he nodded at whatever she was saying.

Judy couldn't believe how easily and quickly Quinn had taken to Kurt, who seemed just as enamored. That alone proved to her just how magical this boy was, because Quinn, for all her loneliness, had no real use for other children. She knew her daughter had only agreed to this sleepover so that she wouldn't have to be subjected any further to Rachel Berry. As bizarre as all of this was, if Quinn could come out of it with three good friends, Judy was definitely counting it as a win.

"Burt …" Lydia said quietly, her voice strangling on the sob trying to burst forth.

"I know, Lyddie," he said, patting her arm. "I know." He paused, swallowing heavily. "I saw her, after, when Cassie called her spirit from the body."

Judy and Lydia stared. How was it possible for Burt, a mortal, to see a spirit?

Ashley frowned. "Cassie?"

"Cassie was Suzanne's whitelighter," Prue murmured. "Kurt and your daughters have been assigned as my charges."

"A whitelighter?" Judy reverently uttered. "I thought they were just legends."

"No witch in my family has ever had a whitelighter," Ashley remarked, forcing a casualness into her tone which she hoped would not betray her concern or resentment.

Prue shrugged helplessly. "I don't have an answer for that. This is all new for me too." She gave them a wry smile. "I've only just died."

Lydia's eyes bulged and she shook her head. "Apparently Suzanne told Brittany that you are to be Kurt's aunt?"

Prue nodded. "I thought that would be easiest. Suzanne isn't from Lima and her family isn't known here. I figured Aunt Prue would be less objectionable to some than an unknown cousin close to Suzanne's age just suddenly moving in with her widower and son. So, as far as anyone else will know, I'm Suzanne's sister."

"I never knew she had cousins," Ashley said.

Judy stared at Prue. "Who are you, really?"

Prue raised an eyebrow. "My name is Prue Halliwell, Suzanne was my cousin, and Kurt and Burt are my family. Until my death, I was the eldest of the Charmed Ones."

Judy and Ashley couldn't even begin to process that statement, but Lydia had already moved on to more important things, Brittany's prophecy all but shouting in her mind.

"Kurt is a Warren witch," she said softly. She knew what that meant, both for him and her daughter. She could only guess what would be expected of Kurt, and knew Santana would always stand at his side. She also knew that there was no force on this earth which could separate them. That had been apparent from their very first meeting. The thought of predestination had never been so terrifying.

"He is," Prue said fiercely, nodding, obviously proud of her little cousin.

"The Power of Three is broken," Lydia whispered.

"No. I have another sister. The Charmed Ones will be reconstituted."

Burt's eyes widened as an unwelcome thought entered his mind. "Prue," he said lowly, "do you think your death was engineered?"

The eyes of the other three women widened.

Prue gave him a long, measured look before replying. "I think we have to assume so. Everything happens for a reason, but I believe it's fairly obvious what the reason behind this was. I had to be put into a position where I could help Kurt the most, but as to whom engineered it, I have no idea. And, yes, that frightens me.

"Given that I was killed by Shax," she continued, ignoring Lydia's choked gasp, "it would be easy to assume Evil played some key role in this, though I think that's too pat an answer. Any speculation would be pointless."

He nodded uneasily. He could read in her eyes she was just as unsettled as he, but determined to put it behind her. She probably had to in order to function. Still, a nagging feeling of guilt persisted. Whatever the reason, whatever grand destiny was to unfold for Kurt, the simple truth of the matter was that, for all intents and purposes, Prue's life had been sacrificed for his.

"She's not a pawn, Daddy," Kurt said, his mouth turning down into a frown. "In the most basic terms, the war between Good and Evil can be likened to a chess match. Two forces are constantly battling for position, either pushed forward or compelled to retreat. This is no different. Even if Prue were a pawn, upon her death she reached the Queening Square and can now return to the Game as any piece she wishes. In the end, it doesn't really matter who or what was responsible for this. They made the foolish decision of underestimating my cousin."

He raised an imperious brow and nodded to himself. "It will be their undoing."

Burt gaped, as did the other four women, Kurt's vow ringing with a certainty that recalled Brittany's prophecy.

Kurt turned to Prue. "Your death will not go unpunished. I promise you this."

"Who is this boy?" Judy whispered in awe, shaking her head.

Prue stared hard at Kurt. "You know everything, don't you." It was a statement, not a question. "About magic, that you're a witch, about your powers. The spell never worked on you, did it?"

"For all intents and purposes, no."

"Oh, god," Burt hissed, gagging on bile.

"It's all right, Daddy," Kurt assured his father. "I'm not angry. I understand why you and Mommy made the decision you did. It's not your fault that the spell didn't work completely."

"Completely?" Prue pressed.

Kurt gave her a small smile. "You and the sisters forgot something elementary, Prue. Just because Mommy was an empath doesn't mean I inherited the ability from her. Empathy is not necessarily a Wiccan power. When you were cursed to be an empath, that power was stolen from a mortal, not a witch."

Prue gaped at him, feeling inordinately stupid and resenting it.

"My empathy is a human gift, not a magical one. I can't say this with certainty, but I feel it."

He decided it best not to mention his belief he inherited both his telepathy and empathy from his father, not his mother. Even though powers and their strengths varied, he believed were his telepathy and empathy the result of magic, he would sense it, like he did his telekinesis. There was no such correlation, however, and he wasn't supposed to know he even was telekinetic yet.

"I'm what's known as an absolute empath, and therefore my power is not bound by magical standards. I've researched this extensively, of course. Theoretically, there is no upper limit to my ability."

Burt stared helplessly at his son, while Prue and the other women desperately puzzled over Kurt's words.

"My telepathy is also a human ability," Kurt continued, "I don't remember possessing it prior to San Francisco, so my only recourse is to believe it manifested due to the absence of my Wiccan powers. I had to compensate. After I woke up and was back in Lima, I could hear Mommy and Daddy's thoughts quite clearly and determined the gist of what had happened."

He tilted his head and looked at Prue. "I want to thank you, and Piper, for fighting for me. If Phoebe and Leo had won and I had been forcibly separated from my parents, I very much doubt the Manor would still be standing."

She silently agreed with him.

"The spell bound only my Wiccan powers," he repeated, frowning. "I don't know what those entail, but I can only assume they drew unnecessary attention to me. I can feel them, but can't access them. The telepathy and empathy, however, I can, and I've been able to for almost as long as I can remember."

Burt paled and had to sit down, as did Judy.

Prue dumbly shook her head. This changed everything.

Lydia and Ashley, long familiar with Kurt's intelligence and bluntness, exchanged a look and nodded, deciding to take control of the situation.

"Please do," Kurt said, smiling.

Lydia raised a brow. "Stay out of my mind, young man."

He gave a contrite nod.

"Can you?" Ashley gently asked him. "Can you control your powers?"

Again, Kurt nodded. "Not as well as I'd like, but yes. As I'm sure you can imagine, being so young, it is very difficult for me. I do well enough at home, or here or at your house, Aunt Ashley, but public places are much more taxing. The extraneous thoughts and feelings," he exhaled harshly, "can be overwhelming. Mortals think constantly and feel safe to do so within the privacy of their own minds. They should feel that way, of course, but there are some thoughts and emotions I would very much prefer not to hear or feel."

He shuddered.

Burt felt as though he was going to vomit at any moment. All he wanted was his dead wife. He knew Suzanne could have dealt with this so much better, sharing one of Kurt's powers herself. Burt doubted if he would be able to deal with it at all.

Prue laid a hand on his shoulder. "I can only guess how you must feel, but we need to understand the context of this."

He nodded and looked at his son. "How strong are you, buddy?"

Kurt shrugged. "I'm not sure how to qualify my answer, as I have no standard against which I could measure my powers. That said, I've yet to come across a person I cannot read, except for Santana and Brittany. That's why I prefer to be with them whenever possible. Not only because I love them, but because they are, for me, the eye of the hurricane."

"That makes sense," Prue said, nodding. "I was told that Santana would be Kurt's anchor, that she would be the one person whom Kurt could not read." She frowned. "I don't understand why the same holds true for Brittany, however."

Lydia knew that her earlier supposition had been correct. Nothing would separate Kurt and Santana. They had all but been created to walk together through this life. Not to mention that she knew her daughter was already more powerful than her, and Kurt's own power was most likely incalculable. Separating them would never work, not for very long, and she wasn't sure she'd ever even consider the possibility.

Kurt gave another mild shrug. "Her mind is too chaotic. There are no stray thoughts because she spends a majority of her time cataloguing and organizing the information she possesses. It's overwhelming."

Brittany offered a smug and triumphant smile.

"Did you know we were witches?" Santana asked him.

Kurt shook his head. "Not exactly. As I said, I cannot read or feel either of you, but I get a sense of your powers, though I don't know what they are. No two witches are the same, even if they share a power. Mommy was different from me, though we technically shared a power, albeit of different origins and degrees. I just knew that you were more than you appeared to be."

"Why didn't you say anything?"

"It wasn't my secret to tell."

Santana hugged him fiercely. This was why she loved him so much: he always put the welfare of others, particularly her and Brittany, above his own. His natural instinct was to protect, just as her own was, though she wasn't nearly as self-sacrificing and had no interest in being so.

"This explains so much," Burt said in a choked voice. "Why you never spoke of San Francisco, why you refused to talk to the sisters, why you pulled away from your mother and me."

Kurt bit his lip and his eyes filled. "I had to, Daddy. It was all just too much. It was nothing you did, and even if I had told you, I don't think it would have helped. Mommy was an empath, but she couldn't shield herself because it had never occurred to her to try."

He sighed lightly. "Also, my empathy is much stronger than hers was. I could read the sisters even over the phone, how much they loved me and missed me and wanted to see me, but I knew that couldn't happen for a long time. I had to develop my own shield and, in order to do that, I had to retreat inside myself as much as possible. It was just something I had to learn to live with, but it's not bad. I'm not upset about it."

"How much do you know?" Prue asked in a defeated voice.

He raised a brow. "I cannot possibly answer such a vague question."

She grinned. "You're obnoxious."

"It runs in the family."

She threw back her head and laughed, long and hard and loud, and only slightly hysterically.

"There are things I could tell you about what I know," he said carefully, "but I don't think it would be very useful. In fact, it might be hurtful."

"I need to know, Kurt," Burt said softly.

The boy gave a gentle sigh. "All right. I've always known Mommy was a witch. I've always known I am one, too. I knew Prue and Piper and Phoebe were witches, were the Charmed Ones, because you and Mommy knew that."

He paused. "I knew ... no, that's not right ... I felt ...," he trailed off, shaking his head and obviously frustrated.

"What is it?" Prue gently coaxed.

"I sensed ... another. While we were at the Manor, I mean. I could feel you, Piper, and Phoebe. I could feel the legacies of Aunts Patty and Penelope, but I also felt ... I'm not sure what you'd call it; maybe an empathic echo? ... of someone else. Someone alive, who belonged there, yet wasn't there. Thinking about it now, I think I sensed Paige, probably because she was born in the house."

Prue blinked.

Kurt turned back to his father. "I knew Mommy was pregnant before she did. I knew the baby was a girl before you told me."

"Could you read the baby?" Burt whispered.

He shook his head. "She had no thoughts or feelings as we understand them, but I felt her presence, her existence. And then ... then I felt her absence." He looked down at his shoes. "I loved her," he whispered. "I miss her."

A sobbing Brittany all but tackled him with a hug. Both she and Santana had so been looking forward to Suzanne's baby, thinking of her as their own sister. They had been devastated. She looked at Santana and was unsurprised to see her mask of cold indifference descend. To those who knew Santana well, it was an automatic indicator of how terrified she was and how badly she was grieving.

"The baby …" Burt began.

"Her name was Lila, Daddy," Kurt said quietly, but with force. "Everything should have a name. Lila was hers."

Bitter tears spilled over. "How did you know that?"

Kurt smiled sadly.

Burt nodded and looked away.

"I felt no pain from her. No sense of what was coming, on her part. That helped. I hope it helps you."

"It does," Burt said thickly.

Ashley was in tears, as was Judy for, though she hadn't known Suzanne, any woman who had been married to a man like this, who could birth a child like this, deserved respect and remembrance, as did her lost little girl.

"Did you know Aunt Suzanne was going to die?" Santana whispered.

"Yes. So did she." He cocked his head. "This is why I am the why I am. I have to be. I have to remove myself as much as possible in order to function. It's why I prefer individual activities rather than group activities. Ballet is acceptable because it's mostly silent and the other children are too focused on their dancing to worry about anything else. I participate in figure skating, gymnastics, piano, and voice for the same reasons."

Prue nodded, dumping all of this information into her brain and analyzing it as Kurt spoke.

"I feel everything," Kurt continued, "all the time. I feel the pain of other people, as well as their joy and their fear. I hear their thoughts, their concerns and worries and prayers." He paused. "I learn from them. I learned to read not from phonetics and memorization, as Daddy thought, but because Mommy said the words in her head before she spoke them. I could see the words there and learned to match them on the page."

Quinn frowned. Did Kurt just say he could see things in the heads of other people? She'd never heard of any power like that. What was it, and what did it mean?

"My Spanish improved because Santana and Uncle Robert think in Spanish. I do well at gymnastics because I learned them from Prue and Phoebe; I read their muscle memory. I do well in figure skating because Aunt Ashley was a figure skater; I know how to do the jumps and spins because she does."

Ashley frowned, considering his statement. She didn't feel it was accurate, and she worried that anything which made Kurt special was considered by Kurt himself to be borrowed information or talent, which wasn't the case. Kurt, at six, was far more talented a figure skater than she had been at sixteen. He may be prepossessed of knowledge, but that meant little in the long run; it was what he did with it that counted.

She said as much and wanted to hug the stuffing out of him when he ducked his head and blushed.

"It's getting stronger," Kurt said. "I can pick up stray thoughts from people in passing cars, from other neighborhoods. It can be very difficult to shut them out." He looked down at the floor. "This is why I don't like touching people or being touched, because when contact is made, I not only feel their emotions, but I see them. I see, in their minds, the images from which those emotions are born."

He shrugged. "I learned to block Daddy out for the most part, even before I could talk. It was very hard, and I know he believed I didn't like him, but that was never true. I've always loved Daddy. It was that he thinks so much, feels so much, that I could no longer distinguish my thoughts and feelings from his."

Burt inhaled sharply. His boy had always loved him; that had never been the issue. Instead, his constant worry and fear that Kurt disliked him had actually caused Kurt to turn from him. His poor baby must have been so confused.

"I never had to block Mommy," Kurt continued. "Even though my empathy is much stronger than hers was, she never realized I had that power. Also, even though she couldn't shield herself, she was used to reining in her emotions; it had become second nature to her in order to deal with the stray ones of others. So she felt my emotions, but her love for me overwhelmed them and unintentionally created a feedback loop. We could read each other perfectly, but she just assumed I was intuitive, picking up on her cues." 

He shrugged again. "Perhaps that was the case, or maybe she was just in denial that I was a witch."

His brow furrowed. "In fact, she most likely was, as there has never before been a male Warren witch. Since my powers were bound in San Francisco, I can only deduce they must have exhibited themselves in some unpleasant manner. I don't know how, as the spell worked well enough to take those memories, but it meant my Wiccan powers were active prior to that. Even if I had never before displayed any particular defensive or offensive power, she should have sensed that I had them."

He cocked his head. "Interesting."

His face cleared and he rolled his shoulders.

"I feel and read all of this, so much of everything," Kurt said quietly. He paused, gazing into Prue's eyes. "But I won't be ruled by it."

She flinched, remembering similar words spoken by the slain whitelighter, Natalie, but she now understood them in a way she hadn't then. In the end, it was about survival and nothing more. It wasn't that Natalie hadn't cared for her charges, and for the Charmed Ones and Leo, even for the entire world, but had realized letting emotions overwhelm her would make her useless to those she was meant to help.

Kurt was strong because he had to be, not necessarily because he felt that he was or even that he wanted to be. He had detached himself from the world around him and the people in it so that he could survive.

He nodded at her. "You will have to learn that, as well," he cautioned. "It's not easy."

She grinned, though it was pained. "I know. It's happening already. I can feel you and the girls in my head."

"What?" Santana asked.

"Us?" Quinn demanded.

Prue nodded. "I'm your whitelighter as much as I am Kurt's. I'm able to sense you; your location and state of wellness."

"What does a whitelighter do?" Brittany asked, frowning.

Prue smiled. "It's my job to guide you as witches as you grow into your powers. I'll be your teacher, as well as your healer, a kind of doctor, if you're hurt because of magic."

Quinn stared, first at Prue, then at the other adults. She exchanged glances with Kurt and Santana. "What are we?" she asked. "What are we really? We're more than just witches."

Prue nodded. "You are."

Lydia, Ashley, and Judy looked at each other in fear.

"What are they?" Lydia demanded.

Prue held her gaze for a long moment. "The girls in front of you will one day be members of the Pentad. And Kurt will lead them."

 


 

Burt listened with only half an ear as Prue once again went through her spiel about destiny and the world of the Slayer and the godlings and the First Evil and everything else.

His eyes never left Kurt's face, and he was almost undone by the utter boredom his son was exhibiting, as if this were nothing incredible, as if his entire life hadn't been stolen out from under him all in order for this never-ending cosmic chess game to continue.

Judy and Ashley hadn't wanted their children to be a part of this discussion but had been overruled by Prue, Lydia, and Santana, the latter of whom espoused Kurt would just tell her anyway.

Kurt had simply nodded at her statement. "There's no point in hiding anything from us," he had demurred. "I'd pick it up eventually, and Santana, of course, is right; I would tell the girls. I will never lie to them or withhold information. Forewarned is forearmed."

Quinn had nodded, as several pieces started fitting themselves together.

Kurt had turned toward her. "What prophecy?" he whispered.

She had gruffly sighed. "I'm never going to be able to lie to you, am I?"

He had frowned. "Why would you ever feel that you had to?"

She'd had no answer for that and merely crawled into his lap.

So the children sat in silence as Prue explained everything.

Ashley and Judy were practically hysterical. They didn't want this for their children anymore than Suzanne had, but, as witches, they knew their objections were all but useless in the face of the truth. Their hysteria was born from their feelings of utter uselessness, as if they had failed their children on a fundamental level.

Kurt scoffed. "Aunt Judy, that's just ridiculous."

Her eyes flew wide open. He considered her another aunt, in the vein of Lydia and Ashley?

"Of course I do," he replied. "You're Quinn's mother." He frowned. "You really should divorce your husband."

"Kurt!" Burt thundered.

Quinn rolled her eyes. "I've thought that for years."

Judy's hysteria morphed into hysterical laughter, especially with the pointed glances of agreement Lydia and Ashley shot at her.

"What would I do?" she finally asked. "Where would I go? I haven't worked in years, and I have two children to support."

She surprised everyone by posing these questions to Kurt, who frowned in thought.

"Your elder daughter, Emily," he said, "is she a witch?"

Judy raised a brow. "Don't you know?"

He shook his head. "I picked up her name as a stray thought from Quinn, but Quinn hasn't consciously thought about whether or not her sister is a witch, and I'm doing what Aunt Lyddie asked and trying to stay out of your heads."

She smiled. "No, she's not."

"Does she know you and Quinn are witches?"

Judy nodded. "She does, but what does this have to do with anything?"

"Does she accept you and Quinn being witches? Does she support you?"

"Yes," Judy replied, frowning.

Kurt bit his lip. "I'm trying to formulate a plan. It's highly probable that Mr. Fabray will eventually see evidence of magic, especially as Quinn grows into her powers. He will not react well to this."

"No," Quinn said sullenly.

Kurt turned toward her. "Do you love your father?"

"Yes," she whispered, now looking down at the floor, "but I don't think he loves me. He doesn't love Mom, and he barely tolerates Emily."

Judy, embarrassed, wrung her hands and looked away.

Brittany tugged on Kurt's sleeve. "That's not right. You have to fix it."

The adults meant to interject, but Prue held up a hand to silence them. She wanted to see how Kurt would handle this. This was, in essence, his first trial as leader of his coven.

Kurt tilted his head. "My house has four bedrooms. I have one, Daddy has one, and Prue will have one, which leaves one extra." Though he said the words aloud, it was obvious he was speaking only to himself. "We'll redecorate the basement, and I'll move down there. That way, Aunt Judy can take my old room, and Quinn and Emily can share the guest room."

Burt blinked. "What?"

Santana startled. She definitely did not like Kurt's idea.

Kurt turned on his heel and stared at his father. "Mr. Fabray hits Aunt Judy, Daddy."

Color flooded Burt's cheeks as he angrily breathed through his nose. Any man who raised his hand to a woman was, in Burt's estimation, not a man, but a coward who attacked weaker prey in order to deflect his own self-loathing. He would not stand for it, and he certainly wouldn't allow two young girls to bear witness to it.

Judy, now completely mortified, hid her face in her hands.

"Oh, Judy," Lydia whispered, "why didn't you tell me?"

Judy merely shook her head in reply.

Quinn, to whom Kurt's plan was already a foregone conclusion, looked at him. "Can't I share a room with you instead?"

Santana's eyes bulged. Okay, that would not be happening. Ever. It was one thing to tolerate Quinn for the sake of witchy stuff, but it was altogether different to have a walking Skipper doll sharing a room with her Kurt.

Kurt shrugged. "I suppose. The basement is quite large."

Judy make some strange clucking noise, but Quinn waved her off.

"It's okay, Mom. Kurt likes boys."

Judy blinked.

"It's not fair," Brittany sniffled. "He's such a good kisser."

Kurt flushed.

"I don't think this is a good idea," Santana blurted.

Kurt turned toward her and raised a brow. "Why not?" he asked, honestly curious.

Santana took a moment to work out her answer. She had to approach this delicately, or else she'd just be accused of petty jealousy. Which was true, of course, but that was neither here nor there. Praise Hello Kitty he couldn't read her mind.

"It's really nice that you want to help, Kurt," she said carefully, "but what about your powers? It's one thing to pick up stuff from strangers, but it's something else to have people you don't really know living in your home. You'd have three new people living in your house, and that's a lot of thoughts and emotions you'd have to deal with. All the time. Are you strong enough to do that, especially now?"

Kurt paused. Her words had merit.

Santana was positive her smugness wasn't apparent.

"I agree," Prue said quietly.

Kurt opened his mouth to retort, but Prue cut him off.

"I'm not saying we shouldn't help," she continued, "but you're being irrational, Kurt. I appreciate that you care for Quinn, and I'm very proud that you're willing to do all you can for her, but you've just lost your mother. You already have two very difficult powers you're trying to master, and soon more will be added. Don't forget that Quinn is my charge, so of course I'll do everything I can for her, but you're my cousin. You have priority, whether you like it or not."

He glared at her.

"That doesn't work on me," she said, "and you have far to go before your glare even approaches the terror mine can induce." She shook her head. "I don't care how mature you are, Kurt. You're still your age. You don't get the final say on things."

He grimaced, but acknowledged her with a nod.

Burt wanted to laugh again, and only barely refrained. He supposed he should just be glad Prue was willing and able to keep Kurt well in hand because, at this point, he would find it very difficult to refuse his son anything.

Quinn was furious and hurt. She had just been offered sanctuary only for it to be cruelly snatched from her. She hated Santana a lot right then, but she couldn't really blame her either. She was sure Santana was jealous and didn't want to share Kurt with anyone, but she also knew the girl was right; three new people, whom Kurt didn't even really know, living in his house would be overwhelming for him. She didn't want her new friend to hurt, and she certainly didn't want to be the cause of that hurt.

Lydia released a slow breath and looked at Judy. "Have you kept your license current?"

Judy frowned, confused, but nodded. "Of course."

Lydia nodded in kind. "Then you and your daughters will move in here until you can afford your own place. We have more than enough room, and I'm sure I'll be able to find you a position at the hospital. You're one of the best surgical nurses I know, Judy, and there's a severe shortage right now."

Santana certainly wasn't thrilled by her mother's generosity, but understood the necessity. She didn't want Quinn living in her house, but at least she would be able to keep an eye on the girl and her developing friendship with Kurt. She didn't want Quinn getting ideas. Also, she supposed she didn't want Quinn to suffer any pain. At least, pain which Santana herself hadn't inflicted.

"I can't ask you to do that," Judy whispered.

"You didn't ask; I offered," Lydia countered. "I'm sure Robert will represent you against Russell, and I really doubt Russell will make that much of a fuss. He won't want custody, and if we can arrange it so that he only has to pay child support and not alimony, he won't press things too far. He won't want certain issues to come to light in court. It would ruin his reputation in the community and surely get back to his board of directors."

Judy tilted her head and considered the words of her best friend. It really was the best option. She refrained from mentioning then and there that she had hired a private investigator to follow her husband. She knew far more than that of which he was aware; a few well-placed threats would neutralize him. She had to do this for her daughters.

Finally, she sighed. "I don't know why I waited this long."

"Because you loved him once," Ashley softly answered, "and he's the father of your children." She paused, eyes darkening. "That doesn't mean, however, that he has the right to treat you as he does. The longer you wait, the worse it will get, and eventually he'll start taking out his anger on other targets."

Judy paled and nodded, her hands shaking.

Quinn knew what that meant. "Daddy would never hit me. I wouldn't let him."

Santana cocked her head. "How could you stop him? Hey, what are your powers?"

Quinn smirked, dropped her chin to her chest, and suddenly two identical copies of her were standing on either side of her. The three figures then moved around at a ridiculous speed, rearranging themselves, and it was impossible to tell which was the original.

"Cloning," Lydia murmured. "Impressive, and very advanced magic."

Burt gaped. He could at least understand the gifts of his son and the Charmed Ones. Telepathy, empathy, telekinesis; these made sense, though they were relatively fantastic. He even allowed for freezing and premonitions, but cloning?

Kurt was utterly fascinated by the powerful display. "What are the limits of this particular power?" he asked the Quinn on the far right.

"How do you know she's the real Quinn?" Santana demanded.

He gave a mild shrug. "I can read her thoughts. They're replicated in her duplicates, of course, but also somewhat ... muted." He blinked. "If we were to encounter a warlock with this power, it would give me pause," he allowed, "but my empathy is stronger than the telepathy in this case. Still, it could cost precious moments."

"Warlock?" Burt repeated. "What the hell is a warlock?"

"A warlock is a witch who betrayed his or her powers and uses them for evil," Prue lectured. "The literal meaning of the word is oath-breaker. After the initial betrayal, in which they commit themselves to Evil, they become upper-level demons, but the only way for them to advance their powers is to kill good witches. They then call that witch's powers and said powers become their own. Therefore, even the weakest warlocks typically have more magical abilities than some of the strongest witches. That doesn't mean their magic is stronger, only that they have more tricks of the trade, so to speak."

Burt nodded, slightly dazed. "But why are you worried about warlocks, buddy?" he asked his son.

"We have to consider every possible threat," Kurt explained. "You can't necessarily recognize a demon, because some look just like us, so we have to be prepared." He sighed. "Each of you thought your families were the only ones in Lima with magical gifts, but we've proven tonight that's not the case. There could be others. There could be demons. We just don't know."

He looked at Prue. "Is there such a thing as demonic children?"

She flashed on her misadventure with the Ice Cream Truck. "Yes," she said. "I agree with you; we should be on guard. We can't afford to take anything for granted. Once your powers are unbound, you could become a target. I can help you with one of your abilities, but if you've gained another, you should try to master it quickly."

"When will Kurty get his powers?" Brittany asked.

Prue frowned. "Actually, I'm surprised it hasn't happened. The spell should have departed when Suzanne did."

"Didn't Piper tell me that you three only received your powers after Phoebe read some spell or incantation or something?" Burt asked.

She nodded absently. "Perhaps we should check the Book."

"Do we have to?" he asked in a small voice.

"Yes," Prue hissed. "Kurt needs his magic, Burt."

Burt bit his lip.

"I'll be fine, Daddy," Kurt assured him. "You worry too much."

Burt stared at him and then released a harsh bark of laughter.

"What Book?" Lydia asked.

"The Bowen Book of Shadows," Kurt answered.

Burt and Prue glanced at each other and then at Kurt.

"How did you know that?" Prue asked.

He merely raised an eyebrow.

She pursed her lips. "Never mind."

Burt couldn't stand it anymore. "I don't understand any of this," he murmured, shaking his head. "It's too much. It's too soon."

Kurt toddled over to his father and gave him a hug. "Daddy," he said softly, "I know that Mommy died. I know what that means."

Burt's eyes welled.

"You saw her spirit," Kurt continued. "You know that she's moved on somewhere else, someplace better." He paused. "I'm sad, I'm very sad, and I will always be sad that she can't be here with me, with us, but we can't change that. We have to do what she would want us to do. That's the only thing we can do."

Burt nodded miserably.

"Now she's with Lila and Grandma, and Aunt Patty and Aunt Penny and all of the rest. That doesn't really make it better, but it helps, because I know they're all watching over us. You know that, too."

Burt nodded again, feeling disgusted with himself for allowing his six-year-old son to comfort him. He should be comforting Kurt, helping him grieve, not taking advantage of his naïveté.

"Please don't feel that way," Kurt whispered. "Daddy, I may be only six, but I'm not naïve. Neither are the girls. We better understand what's going on in this world than most adults. Children have fought wars and built nations. Please don't treat us as less than that just because we're young."

Lydia, Ashley, and Judy stared, unable to comprehend how a child so young could be so wise. It was disconcerting, upsetting their views of the world and their place within it. None of them, however, found themselves able to argue his words, or even wanting to argue them.

Burt flinched, his mind screaming that Kurt was wrong, was too young to understand, but he knew that was fallacy. Despite Kurt's intelligence and maturity, his son was also very pragmatic, able to maintain rationality when most would crumble. That outlook hadn't been gifted by magic or a stultifying intellect; it was just who Kurt was.

Still, he didn't want his son drafted into this nadir of Good and Evil. He wanted Kurt to enjoy his childhood and his friends. He wanted Kurt kept safe. The boy was still so innocent.

Kurt pulled back and took his father's face in his hands. "Daddy," he said quietly, though it rang throughout the room, "innocence is the only gift we're given in this life; for everything else, we must fight." His eyes were all but glowing. "In that gift lies purity, and in that purity lies strength."

Burt experienced a rush of emotions so profound, some so unfamiliar, he could ascribe them no names, but he was humbled as he stared into his son's eyes.

"I am strong, Daddy," Kurt said. "Not because I want to be, not because I have to be, but because I am." He tilted his head and smiled sadly. "Please don't ask me to sit on the sidelines. Please don't ask me to watch as this world falls away."

"I don't want to lose you," Burt whispered.

Kurt's eyes filled with tears. "Daddy, has it occurred to you that I'm much more likely to lose you? I have magic to protect myself and I'll use it to do just that, and protect you. Shouldn't I have that right? Shouldn't I be able to fight for my family?"

Burt didn't have an answer that wouldn't sound petulant or idiotic. How had it not occurred to him that his son must be terrified he might end up an orphan? How could he ask any less of his son than he would ask of himself? This was Kurt's family, as well, after all.

"We're not alone, Daddy," Kurt said. "We have each other and we have Prue. We still have Mommy, even though she can't be with us right now. We have Santana, Quinn, and Brittany. We have their families. One day, we'll have Piper, Phoebe, and Paige. We have to let that be enough, because it's just too sad otherwise."

Burt opened his mouth and, just as abruptly, closed it.

"I need your help, Daddy. I can't do this without you."

Burt picked up his son and settled him on his lap, recalling the words of Melinda's spell. "You'll never have to."

 


 

The adults decided it best to continue the next day, as there was still much to discuss. They wanted to include Robert Lopez and Patrick Pierce, both of whom were also witches. Brittany refused to go home with her mother, wanting to stay with Santana, and cried when Kurt said he would be spending the night at his own house.

Judy left to pick up Emily. She and her daughters would move into the Lopez mansion that night and would return to the Fabray house the following morning to retrieve their belongings. Burt and Prue informed her that they would accompany her and would brook no argument to the contrary.

Prue and Burt got little sleep that night, fretting to each other about Kurt and how he was handling the loss of his mother, thus pushing aside their own mourning, though both knew it was unwise to do so.

Kurt dreamed of his mother.

 


 

They once again gathered in the Lopez kitchen. While the Hummel and Pierce homes were large enough to accommodate everyone, many felt they should continue their discussion where it had begun.

Lydia and Ashley had explained, to the best of their ability, everything to their husbands, who were no more pleased than their wives. However, as Robert and Patrick were themselves magical, they knew there was little to be done. Interfering with prophecy was a dicey notion, and the consequences, no matter how well-intentioned, were always severe. Also, they knew Kurt and loved him as their own. They would never abandon him, so how could they ask their children to do the same?

Both men had been appalled by what Russell had been doing to Judy, and while Robert was particularly sympathetic, Patrick harbored some anger at the woman for not sooner extricating herself and her children from the situation. He was more than happy that he wouldn't have to involve himself and his family in that drama.

"Uncle Ricky!" screeched a cheerful Kurt, bounding into the kitchen with unfettered joy and throwing himself at Brittany's father.

"There's my little man!" Patrick exclaimed, throwing the boy into the air and catching him, before clutching Kurt tightly to his chest. Kurt's tiny arms automatically wound their way around Patrick's neck.

Ashley and Robert rolled their eyes; while each was loved by Kurt, the boy had always preferred Lydia Lopez and Patrick Pierce. Lydia was obvious, given her close relationship to Suzanne, but Patrick was chosen, many were sure, because he was exceedingly pretty. His golden hair shimmered in every light, loose Byronic curls artfully disarrayed, and his blue-green eyes always sparkled with happiness.

Burt just shook his head. He had the vague idea his son would one day bring home a boy who looked a lot like Patrick Pierce. If said boy possessed half the personality and intelligence as Patrick, Burt would consider his son well-matched.

"How are you doing, kiddo?" Patrick softly asked Kurt, kissing his cheek.

"A little better," Kurt said. "Mommy came to me in my dreams last night. She said that she was happy and would always be watching over me. I knew this already, of course, but it was comforting to hear it directly from her."

Patrick nodded. He had loved Suzanne as much as Ashley, Lydia, and Robert, and while his grief was overwhelming, he refused to burden Kurt with it. He rested Kurt on a hip and shook hands with Burt.

"You must be Prue," Patrick said to the unknown woman, who nodded.

"It's nice to meet you, Patrick," she said warmly, though he detected an undertone of distraction.

"We were just at the funeral home," Kurt whispered, resting his head on the man's shoulder.

Patrick widened his eyes and cuddled Kurt closer. His wife was soon at his side, their daughter in her arms, who held out a hand to join with one of Kurt's own.

"Is there anything we can do, Burt?" Ashley asked for both herself and her husband, tears in her eyes. When the cold light of day had dawned, she had finally allowed herself to admit to her grief.

"Thanks, Ash," Burt said quietly, "but we've got it covered. Sue had made plans, so there wasn't much for anyone to do, other than pick a time and call the paper. She didn't want a viewing; the cancer had really eaten her up, and she didn't want to be remembered that way."

She stifled a sob and nodded.

"Where's Santana, Aunt Lyddie?" Kurt asked.

Lydia rolled her eyes. "She and Quinn are fighting over the bathroom, despite the fact that they don't share a bathroom."

Kurt rolled his eyes in concert. "Girls," he said sourly.

Brittany thwacked his arm. "Hey! You spend more time in the bathroom than me!"

"Flawless perfection takes time," he drawled, "but I would never be so common as to fight for a bathroom. My natural superiority ensures that I don't have to."

She nodded. "Okay, Draco!"

They both lapsed into giggles, which brought Quinn and Santana running into the room, pushing at each other as they tried to get there first.

"Please don't fight," Kurt said.

At once, the girls stopped their shenanigans, though they continued to glare at each other.

"What's the plan for today?" Patrick asked.

"My Wiccaning," Kurt promptly said. "I need the grounding. I can feel my magic struggling to break free." He ducked his head, eyes pained. "It hurts," he said softly.

Patrick frowned, clutching the boy even more tightly to him. "Brittany and Santana had theirs when they were babies." He looked at Judy. "Did Quinn have one as well?"

Judy cocked her head. "Not a Wiccaning, per se, but I did have a blessing ceremony for her. Her father wasn't involved, of course. I don't know if I even have the power to conduct a proper summoning."

"All magical witches have that ability," Prue interjected. "You have a power, Judy, so it wouldn't be an issue."

"It doesn't matter," Kurt said. "The Matriarchs will bless all of us. We will call upon them again when we find our Fifth." He looked at Brittany. "Do you have any idea who it is?"

Brittany shook her head, her pigtails whipping about. "I know there are other witches our age. I've seen them at kindergarten and on the playground."

"You have?" several people demanded.

She nodded.

"Anyone we know?" Santana asked, somewhat irked that Brittany had never shared this information with her. She understood, of course. As Kurt had said last night, Brittany received magical impressions at an astonishing rate. It was all second-hand to her at this point, so she didn't bother sharing her knowledge unless it directly affected someone they knew.

"Not really," Brittany said, "and I don't even know for sure if they're witches or something else, like you are."

Robert and Lydia exchanged a look.

"Something else?" repeated an interested Burt, eyebrow cocked.

Santana flushed. "I am a witch, just not one like Kurt, Brit, and Quinn."

Prue immediately threw up a shield which enveloped the entire room, much as she had the day previous in the hospital, to keep any potential spies at bay. "Santana, I know very what well what you are, and it is nothing of which you should be ashamed. Take pride in your power and the legacy into which you were born."

Santana's eyes burned fiercely as she nodded.

Prue turned to Lydia. "Do you want to explain, or should I? I'm assuming the Pierces already know?"

Lydia nodded. She called her daughter to her side and they each extended their left arms, the undersides facing toward the ceiling. Lydia waved her hand, dispelling two glamour charms. A marking appeared on the insides of both of their wrists.

"Santana and I are Phoenixes."

Burt and Judy had no idea what this meant and looked appropriately lost.

"Okay," Judy said slowly.

"And?" Burt grunted.

"This is nothing to be taken lightly," Lydia said. "Phoenixes are exceedingly dangerous. We're a clan of elite assassin witches, descended from the Burning Times."

"Assassins?" Judy repeated, eyes both skeptical and scared.

"Burning Times?" Burt asked.

"The witch trials," Kurt softly explained, "during the Middle Ages in Europe, and shortly after colonization here in the United States."

Burt blinked.

Lydia shook her head. "Our particular branch is descended from the Basque witch trials in Spain, which occurred in the seventeenth century under the Spanish inquisition."

Burt paled. Never had he consciously considered the witch trials, of the people who had been burnt at the stake simply because of who they were. He couldn't help but consider how his wife and son would have fared under those tender mercies, and he felt rage.

"The American Phoenixes are very different from the European ones," Lydia continued. "They are vengeful and amoral, using their gifts to fulfill the whims of the highest bidder. They were born from vengeance and seek to enact that vengeance on whatever target they're assigned. Our beginnings are shrouded in mystery, and the American Phoenixes prefer not to recognize their cousins, for lack of a better term."

Prue nodded. "American Phoenixes are said to have risen from the ashes of Salem with vengeance in their hearts. They have no allegiance to anyone save their burning anger, and will seek and destroy any bounty they're hired to assassinate, including other Phoenixes." She paused. "Most of this is fallacy. Phoenixes existed in Europe before they ever rose here; American Phoenixes just have better PR."

Lydia smirked. "An interesting way to put it, but essentially true. European Phoenixes are similar to Americans in that we all share some measure of the same abilities, but we're not amoral. We are a very insular community and do tend to segregate ourselves from other magicals, because we're erroneously considered evil due to the nature of our powers."

To demonstrate, Lydia suddenly disappeared from her husband's side and reappeared next to Patrick, lifting Kurt from his arms and taking him into her own.

"That's called shimmering," Prue explained. "It's typically considered to be a demonic power, but that's nonsense. It's merely one of dozens of methods of teleportation. Another common method is blinking, in which someone literally disappears and reappears somewhere else in the blink of an eye. Again, it's usually associated with demons, but I know for a fact that it's also a Wiccan power. A few years ago, my sisters and I went up against a warlock with this power, one he had stolen from a witch. Again, it's all a matter of PR. Magical powers are neither good nor evil; they just exist. It's what you do with your abilities that matters."

Everyone nodded.

Kurt looked at Santana with wide eyes. "Can you do that, too?"

She nodded and disappeared, only to reappear a second later right next to him. She began tickling his ribs and he shrieked with hysterical laughter. Santana smirked at him before both lapsed into giggles. Kurt then demanded that Lydia return him to Patrick. She huffed and complied.

"Shimmering is usually the first ability a Phoenix masters," Lydia said, "and it's considered a defensive power on its own, as it allows the Phoenix to escape dangerous situations."

Kurt, with his arms once again around Patrick, decided to try something. Santana, if you can hear me, look at me, but don't let on that we're communicating.

Santana blinked owlishly and swiveled her head in his direction. Whoa. I didn't know you could do this!

I didn't either, he replied. Does Brittany have a power like yours, so that she can defend herself?

No, Santana answered, her inner voice both sullen and fearful.

Kurt narrowed his eyes. Well, we're going to have to do something about that.

She smirked at him.

"Do all Phoenixes have the same abilities?" Burt asked Lydia, who nodded.

"Yes, but as Robert is also a witch, there's a strong possibility that Santana will inherit other powers. They haven't manifested themselves yet, and I'm not sure when they will, but it's entirely probable. At the present, Santana has one other power." She turned toward her daughter. "Show them, baby. It's okay."

Santana looked at her, considering. Finally, she shrugged her shoulders, moved away from Patrick and her mother, and adopted a defensive stance. She centered herself and then conjured a deadly athame and threw it at the wall. She quickly followed up with two more athames, each of which embedded themselves in the wall only millimeters from the first.

"Wow," whispered an impressed Quinn.

"What other powers will Santana develop?" Kurt asked.

Lydia released a controlled breath. "All Phoenixes are capable of shimmering and conjuration. As Santana matures, she will also develop agility and sensing, as well as the abilities of energy balls and power extraction. She will also be able to reform."

"Reform?" asked a boggled Burt.

Lydia nodded and looked at Prue. "Are you capable of throwing energy balls?"

Prue hesitantly nodded. "It's a whitelighter power I possess."

Lydia nodded once more and steeled herself. "Do it."

Prue swallowed, conjured an energy ball in her hand, and threw it at Lydia, who allowed it to hit her before she disappeared in a swirl of dots, similar to those of a darklighter. A second later, she once again stood hale and whole.

"Sweet Jesus," Burt murmured, shaking his head in wonder.

"Reconstitution," Lydia explained. "It's not always foolproof. I could tell from the voltage that Prue wasn't really trying, which I appreciate. In general, Phoenixes are able to reform after attacks by lower-level and a few upper-level demons. It's a talent which should never be depended on completely. Shimmering away is always the best defense."

Several people nodded.

"As she grows, Santana will also develop the abilities to adjust her physical body to attack, as well as a high resistance to certain powers, usually temporal and molecular in nature."

"Like Piper's freezing ability," Prue mused.

Lydia nodded.

Kurt raised an eyebrow. "So, basically, Santana can kick a lot of butt."

"Yep!" Santana said proudly.

"What about you, Uncle Robert?" Kurt asked.

Robert smiled. "I'm not as powerful as your Aunt Lydia or Santana, but I have the ability of deviation, which means I can return an attack to its sender. For example, if Prue threw an energy ball at me, I could send it back to her without it harming me. I also have the power of cloaking. That means I can make someone, including myself, invisible and unable to be sensed magically."

"That's amazing," Prue murmured. "So you could hide yourself, or any of the children, from whitelighters or other demons?"

Robert nodded. "Yes."

"What's your gift, Uncle Ricky?" Kurt asked.

Patrick grinned at him. "Well, let me put you down for a moment, and I'll demonstrate."

Kurt pouted spectacularly, but allowed Patrick to settle him on the floor.

Patrick moved a few steps away from everyone, then looked at Burt. He waved his hand, and Burt suddenly disappeared.

Kurt looked up at him. "Interesting."

Patrick grinned. "It's called apportation. It's the ability to teleport objects or people through space. I just sent your dad back to your house."

Kurt snorted. "If I were you, I'd bring him back. He's not likely to be happy."

Patrick's smile faltered and he hurriedly returned Burt to the kitchen.

A startled Burt looked around like a scared rabbit. "What the hell was that?"

Patrick quickly explained.

Burt heaved a sigh of relief, much to the confusion of everyone present. "That's good," he said. "That means you can transport any of us in case of attack."

Patrick nodded. "Everyone but myself. For whatever reason, I'm unable to teleport."

Kurt turned to Prue. "You can, however, correct? You could orb Uncle Ricky to safety?" he demanded sternly.

She nodded, amused by her cousin's obvious infatuation with Patrick Pierce.

Kurt nodded and raised his arms. "Up, please," he said to Patrick, who beamed, picked him up, and cuddled him closely.

Kurt laid his head on Patrick's shoulder and blinked innocently at the others.

"Do you have any other powers, Quinn?" Brittany asked.

Quinn shook her head. "Not yet," she said sadly.

"Well," Santana said, "cloning is pretty cool." She looked furious with herself for admitting it.

Quinn smiled shyly at her. "Thanks."

"What's your power, Brittany?" Kurt asked.

The girl shrugged. "I don't really have one. Not one that I could show you, I mean."

"Brittany is what's known as an Oracle, Kurt," Ashley quietly explained. "That means that she's able to see both into the future and the past ..."

"Precognition and retrocognition," Kurt interrupted.

Ashley blinked and nodded. "She's also clairvoyant and clairaudient." She stared at him. "Do you know what those mean?"

He nodded. "Brittany is able to see and hear things beyond the realm of typical human perception."

Ashley smiled. "Very good, sweetie."

Kurt smiled bashfully and buried his face in Patrick's neck.

"She can also commune with Higher Beings and make prophecies," Ashley added.

Prue blinked. Brittany could communicate with Higher Beings? Those who existed beyond the realm of the Elders? Impressive, yet dangerous. It could also be a great boon to them.

"Prophecies?" Kurt suddenly asked, sitting up straight in Patrick's arms. "Like what Quinn mentioned last night?"

Ashley nodded. "Brittany made a prophecy last night before you arrived with your father and Aunt Prue. We didn't know what it meant at first, but after Prue's explanation of what you and the girls are meant to become, we were able to understand some of it."

Prue was now all business. "Did you write it down?"

"Of course," Ashley said, going toward the table and rummaging through her tote, emerging with a yellow legal pad. She handed it to Prue, who read through it quickly, and then went back over it more carefully, paying particular attention to the lines specific to the Charmed Ones.

"I can't say for certain how much of this has already come to pass, but some of it has," she said. "This should prove helpful."

Kurt signaled for Patrick to put him down. The man complied and Kurt walked over to Prue. "I'd like to see it, please."

She smiled down at him and passed him the pad, interested in his take on it.

Kurt took a seat at the table and the girls immediately swarmed around him.

"It was really long," Quinn said. "We should go through it line by line."

Kurt nodded. "I agree. Brittany, will you please read it to us?"

"Okay, Kurty!" She took the pad from him, narrowed her eyes, her tongue poking out from between her teeth. She blinked. "I said all this?" she asked Santana and Quinn, who nodded. "Wow."

"Should we take notes?" Quinn asked.

Kurt nodded. "Would you mind, Santana? You have the best handwriting."

She preened and ran to the island, withdrawing another pad and a pen from a drawer before returning to sit down next to Kurt. "I'm ready."

"They're already working as a team," Burt muttered.

Judy nodded, dazed. "I've never seen Quinn fit in so well with other children." She looked up at him. "I can't thank you enough for that. I thought she would always be alone."

Burt smiled sadly at her. "I thought the same of Kurt until he met Santana and Brittany. They have each other, and they have us. We can only hope it will be enough."

"It'll have to be," she said, her voice shaky yet hopeful.

"How did it go last night?" he asked her.

She shrugged. "Russell wasn't home, which was no surprise. Emily is still asleep upstairs." She shook her head. "I can't believe I was so ignorant about how all of this was affecting her. Quinn has always been strong; it's who she is. Emily, however, feigns her strength. I know she's relieved to be out of that house, but she misses her father."

"Does she miss him, or miss who he should've been?" Burt gently asked.

She sighed. "The latter, I expect."

"You did the right thing, Judy, and all of us will help you as much as we can."

She bit her lip, trying to control her tears. "Thank you," she said, voice thick. "I just feel terrible for placing this burden on you when you've just lost your wife."

He shrugged. "No burden, and certainly not on me. Our kids, though ..."

She nodded. "We will protect them."

"Or die trying."

"It would be a good death," she said quietly, looking down at her hands. "Certainly better than at the hands of my husband."

"We won't let that happen," Burt said staunchly. "Don't worry about that asshole, Judy. We'll take care of you and of each other."

"Thank you," she whispered.

"So the first part mentions three distinct people," Kurt said, after Brittany had read the first stanza of the prophecy. "The Knight; the Seer; and the Warrior Queen, whom I gather is not the Queen referenced by Prue."

The girls nodded.

"The Knight and Seer sound like they're probably mortals, or at least started out as mortals."

Brittany bit her lip. "It doesn't say whether or not the Queen's a witch, just that she's a Seer. Seers don't have to be witches, right?"

"I wouldn't believe so," Kurt said slowly, looking up at Prue for conformation.

She nodded. "I think that's a fair assessment. We'll have to do more research, but I think if she were a witch, she would be noted as such."

"The Knight sounds like he's really close to her," Santana said, "like a best friend or boyfriend, or something."

"It sounds like a lot of bad stuff has happened to them, or will happen," Brittany fretted. "We should help them."

Kurt laid a hand over hers. "We don't know who they are, sweetie, or how to find them. These things could have already happened. The prophecy doesn't offer a sense of time."

She sighed.

"Even if we knew, that doesn't mean we should interfere," Prue said. "Sometimes things have to happen in due course, even if they're bad."

Santana nodded. "Plus, it sounds like these things have to happen in order for the Seer to become the Queen."

Kurt and Quinn nodded, rather dejectedly.

"What about the Warrior Queen?" Prue prodded.

"The Slayer?" Burt wondered.

"That makes sense," Kurt said. "That would fit her duties rather well, a mortal imbued with the strength of a demon to fight other demons. She's a soldier, an inexorable warrior."

Quinn cocked her head. "Then the Knight and the Seer are probably her friends, or at least fight with her. They have to know her, because the prophecy says they walk at her side."

Prue was now glad she had held back a few details from last night's explanation. She certainly hadn't counted on a prophecy, let alone such an informative one. It was obvious the Knight was Alexander Harris; that nickname had been given to him by Angelus, now Angel, the new Champion of the Powers That Be.

That didn't account for the Queen, however. There were multiple possibilities as to whom might fulfill that role: Cordelia Chase, who had already left the Hellmouth for Los Angeles; Anya, the former vengeance demon who was now mortal and in a quasi-relationship with the Knight; Willow Rosenberg, the best friend of both the Knight and the Slayer; and the new witch who was about to join their circle. Prue hadn't been given the girl's name, only that she was coming.

"Then these people are in Sunnydale," Kurt said.

"Not necessarily," Prue said. "The prophecy could refer to people already at the Slayer's side, or people who have yet to join her. As you said, Kurt, there's no sense of temporality in the prophecy."

He sighed and nodded.

Prue was pleased at dodging that bullet. The last thing she needed was four prepubescent children haranguing her to take them to the Hellmouth, especially children who didn't yet have all of their powers or could exercise with control the ones they already possessed.

"We should at least keep our eye on Sunnydale," Santana said assertively. "Watch for news reports and stuff. We should know what's going on there, even if we can't really help."

Brittany and Quinn nodded.

"We really can't help, can we?" Kurt quietly asked of no one in particular. "We're not strong enough yet, and we don't have our Fifth. No matter how bad it is there, we shouldn't interfere. We could accelerate events that aren't yet supposed to happen, or cause halts to things which must occur."

"That's exactly right," Prue agreed. "I know it's frustrating, honey, but that's the nature of this work. It's hard, often thankless, and the waiting is horrible. It's easier said than done, but accepting that you can't save everyone, that you can't always make everything better, is half the battle."

He held her eyes for a long moment, and at last nodded. She could he was convinced, but still unhappy. The girls looked mutinous, but would follow his lead.

"Let's move on and look at the next part," Santana suggested.

Brittany slowly read the next stanza as the others listened carefully to the words and tried to ferret out their meaning

"What about the Hunter?" she asked. "He sounds like the Knight's boyfriend."

"It's possible," Kurt said, shrugging, "but we don't know if the Hunter is male or female. We don't even know what kind of Hunter they are, or what Hunter means."

Quinn groaned. "So we keep going."

"It says the Knight will face Death," Santana said. "Does that mean he's going to die? Because that seems kind of stupid. What's the point of including him if he's just going to die? He has a lot of stuff to do."

"Maybe it's not a literal death," Kurt said, "or perhaps it means he faces Death itself." He looked at Prue. "Is there such a thing?"

She nodded. "Yes, there is an Angel of Death. I've met him."

"Really?" asked a startled Patrick.

"A mortal was assigned to me," she said. "I was to protect him. I took my duty very seriously and tried to intervene when Death came for him." She paused. "I fought Death himself to keep my charge safe, but you can't defeat Death, not really. Eventually, everyone must face him."

"Did Mommy?" Kurt whispered.

"I don't know, sweetie," she said, "and that's the truth. It's very possible that he was in the room last night, waiting for her. I imagine that he was. He probably followed your mother and Cassie until Suzanne's spirit passed into the afterlife."

"So Death isn't bad?" Brittany asked, her nose scrunched.

"No, he's not," Prue said. "Death is sad, but not always bad. Yes, some people die in bad ways, ways we believe they shouldn't, but Death isn't evil. Death is a part of life, a transition from here to the hereafter. Death can bring relief from suffering and pain, as it did with your Aunt Sue. It's sad for us, the people who are left behind, but those who die go on to their next journey."

Brittany stared at her for a long moment. Finally, she nodded. "Okay."

"Well," Quinn said carefully, "it looks like the Knight meets the Hunter after his fight with Death, so I guess we'll eventually meet the Knight."

"Makes sense," Santana said, shrugging.

"But something does happen to him," Brittany argued, "because after it does, the Queen comes for him and makes him better or different or something."

Kurt nodded. "I agree."

"Yay!" she cheered, before reading aloud the third stanza.

"So," Quinn said, "someone in the Slayer's circle will do something stupid, but it sounds like it works out okay?"

Prue held her tongue, positive the line referenced Willow Rosenberg. This was why she hated prophecies, or even general foreknowledge. She knew what Willow would eventually do, but there was nothing she herself could do to stop it. If she interfered, things wouldn't play out in the manner they should, nor in their proper order. She could end up doing serious harm.

Kurt slowly shook his head. "I'm not sure. It really doesn't suggest that things work out well, only that they happen. That could mean anything, really. What I think it's saying is that, no matter the mistake, the Knight, who is now being referred to as the King, and the Queen will attempt to reconcile said mistake."

"Huh?" Quinn asked.

Santana rolled her eyes. "If you're going to hang out with us, you need to learn Kurtinese. He uses really big words, but eventually you'll get the hang of it. Translation: someone does something stupid, and the King and Queen try to make it better."

"Oh," Quinn said, nodding. "Okay, then."

Kurt rolled his eyes as well, snatching the pad from Brittany and rereading the passage. "The Sisters Three shall be torn asunder," he said softly. "I'm sorry, Aunt Prue." The title by which he now addressed her was uncomfortable on his tongue, but he knew he had to become accustomed to it.

She ruffled his hair, ignoring his indignant squawk. "It's okay, honey. There's nothing to be done for it, and everything happens for a reason. The reason for this was to bring me to you and to bring Paige home."

Kurt nodded uneasily. "I would imagine that she is the one who must not be rejected?"

Prue nodded. "It won't be easy for any of them, but Piper in particular will be very angry and upset."

"You two were very close," Kurt said.

"We were. We're so close in age that we always saw each other as sisters, as equals, but with Phoebe, who's younger, we considered her almost our own child. It was a difficult dynamic to master, but eventually we got the hang of it. We all became close, but I was always closest to Piper."

"I can't imagine what she's going through," Burt said. "Piper was the epitome of the middle child, but now she's found herself the eldest of two others, one of whom she doesn't even know." He shook his head. "It won't be easy for her."

"She's always held on to her anger," Prue agreed. "She guards it closely, almost jealously, as if releasing it scares her." She shrugged. "Actually, it probably does. I was always angry, but anger fueled me. It fueled my magic. Anger was my trigger to access my powers, as fear was for Piper. I imagine that will change now."

"And Phoebe's trigger?" Burt asked.

"Need," Prue replied after a moment's thought. "Phoebe has always needed to do good, to be good, either to be better than she believes herself capable of being, or to be better than others perceive her as being."

Kurt slowly turned and looked up at her. "I'm like you."

She nodded. "I know."

"What happened in San Francisco" he demanded, his little face purpling with anger. "Why did you send me away?"

She looked to Burt, who nodded, and sighed. "Five days after you and your parents had arrived, the Manor was attacked by demons."

"Manor?" Santana interrupted.

"Our house in San Francisco is called Halliwell Manor. It's been in our family for generations."

Kurt's eyes turned distant and hazy. "There's something more. There's something about that house that makes it different from any other place I've ever been." He sighed. "I wish Brittany could see it. She would know."

Brittany smiled at him.

"It sits on a Nexus," Prue said.

Lydia and Ashley gasped.

"Truly?" asked an awed Robert.

Prue nodded. "The Charmed Ones are its Guardians, must like the Slayer is the Guardian of the Hellmouth." She then explained the precise nature of a Nexus.

"So it was the power of the Nexus that I sensed?" Kurt asked.

"Yes, which is surprising," Prue said. "Before me and my sisters were made aware of the Nexus, we couldn't sense anything about it. Even after we knew, we never sensed it; we just knew it was there."

"What does that mean?" asked a frowning Burt.

"It means that Kurt is strong," she said. "Very strong."

Kurt dismissed the idea. "What happened when the demons attacked?"

Prue turned to him. "Phoebe and Piper fell first, and then so did your mother."

Kurt glared at nothing in particular.

"Your father was hiding you behind him," she continued. "I had been separated from everyone, fighting three demons in the conservatory."

"What did I do?" he asked, a small trace of fear present in his voice.

"You escaped your father and fought five demons, protecting your mother and my sisters, until I could get to you." She didn't see the need to sugarcoat it.

Kurt stared at her for several long moments. "How? What is my power?"

"Five demons," Lydia said faintly.

Quinn, Brittany, and Santana gaped at him.

"You used your telepathy to predict their attacks," Prue said, "then you countered their attacks with a Wiccan power. Like me, you're telekinetic."

Kurt's brow furrowed. "I see."

Silence reigned for over a minute as Kurt processed the information.

"That's it?" Patrick finally asked as Kurt picked up the pad and began silently reading once more.

Kurt shrugged. "What is there to say? Let's get back to the prophecy."

Burt blinked owlishly then shook his head to clear it.

"The Twice-Blessed approaches," Kurt read.

"We believe that references Piper's future child," Prue said, and then launched into an explanation as to why it might be the case.

Kurt nodded. "And the rest?"

"No idea."

He snorted as Brittany began to read the last stanza.

"The Last Scion rises as the Lioness falls; three cubs surround him, reinforcing his walls."

"Mommy," Kurt whispered.

Prue and Burt startled and looked at each other.

"That makes sense," Burt said slowly. "Kurt is the last of the Bowen family and, until the Charmed Ones have their own children, he is the last Warren witch. Suzie always was a mother lion, and it's obvious the girls are the cubs."

"I have a question," Santana said.

"What is it?" Prue asked.

"Piper is married to Leo, right? He's a whitelighter."

Prue nodded.

"Well, I know how babies are made. Mom told me, and I told Brittany."

"Santana," Lydia hissed.

Patrick and Ashley exchanged a nervous glance.

"But Leo's dead," Santana rushed on. "So how can he make babies?"

Kurt blinked and then looked up at Prue, smirking.

"Um ... " Prue said intelligently. "Magic," she finally said.

Kurt, Brittany, Quinn, and Santana all scoffed.

"Whatever," Quinn said.

"That just means she doesn't know," Brittany said.

Prue blushed and averted her eyes.

"As an angel departs from the hereafter, only the Scion can halt the coming disaster," Brittany read.

"Prue is the angel, and Kurt has to stop the yuckness," Santana said.

"Yuckness?" Kurt repeated.

She rolled her eyes. "Oh, pardon me, but not all of us have swallowed a thesaurus."

Everyone snickered, save Kurt, who buffed his nails on his pants.

"More's the pity."

Prue and Patrick cackled.

Brittany read the final lines and then looked up at Kurt. "Does this mean I can call you Handy?"

He glared. "No."

"But it's your name."

"It is not," he insisted. "I am the Hand."

"You're handy."

"Brittany ..."

"Hi, Handy!"

"I know where you keep your glitter pens."

She gasped and her eyes filled with tears.

"False tears do not work on me."

She hastily wiped her eyes and glared at him. "Fine," she seethed.

"I'm glad that's settled," he said primly.

"Well," Lydia interjected, trying not to snicker, "we worked through most of the prophecy. I really don't see what we can do with the information, other than try to keep up with events in Sunnydale."

The other adults nodded.

Burt wondered why they were treating this prophecy as though it were gospel, but didn't voice his concern. First, it wouldn't go over well were he to question Brittany's power, which he was sure was legitimate. Second, the prophecy made mention of events which had already occurred, specifically Suzanne's death and Kurt being identified as the Hand.

"What do we do now?" Brittany asked, bouncing up and down in her chair.

"We summon the Matriarchs," Prue said, "and give Kurt's magic back to him."

Chapter Text

Burt and Robert had escorted Judy back to her house to gather her things, as well as those of her children. Her daughter Emily, sixteen, had taken the news of her parents' impending divorce even better than her sister. She was worried about her mother, of course, but after being informed about the probable future of her sister and the other kids, all of that worry had shifted to Quinn.

Quinn had convinced Emily that she would be fine and wasn't afraid of anything, least of all something that was yet to happen and couldn't be averted. Emily's response was shrieking, hysterical laughter, and she had never before been so grateful, or so filled with sorrow, that she had no powers of her own. She wanted nothing more than to protect her sister, but she was also terrified - terrified that she would be mourning Quinn sooner rather than later - and cognizant of the fact that she was more likely to end up a hindrance to Quinn than a help.

She knew from magic but didn't understand it. Further, she had never desired to experience it. She had come to understand long ago that magic wasn't for her and she was fine with that. She had grown up knowing her mother was a witch and had a power, but Judy's ability wasn't fearsome. At the end of the day, it amounted to little more than a parlor trick. Quinn's own power was, well, very cool, actually, but Emily had never really given it due consideration. She hadn't thought about why Quinn would need such a power or what would be expected of her, let alone considered that more powers would be added later.

While she was terrified for Quinn, she was terrified of Kurt Hummel.

His eyes haunted her. They were so exquisite, so unique. She had never seen eyes so innocent that were also so ancient.

It wasn't natural for a child to be in possession of such power, and it certainly wasn't fair for the weight of the world to be placed on his tiny, slender shoulders. She had stared down into his angelic little face and simply couldn't posit that this boy was to become the most powerful witch in the world. It was just wrong that whatever sadistic gods or deities or forces that governed the universe had forced him to bear this burden.

Perhaps what was most frightening was how calm he was about the entire affair. He had this eerie yet enviable air of self-possession about him that made her feel inadequate as a person and as a human being. As she had looked around at them, at her mother and her mother's friends and their husbands, at the other children, Kurt Hummel projected an aura which suggested he was the most rational person in the room.

"I will keep your sister safe," he had told her.

The most preposterous thing was that she believed him! She absolutely believed in him, in his power and his goodness.

It hurt her heart to see this child's innocence dying before her eyes. She wanted to protect him and keep him safe, though she knew such an idea was ridiculous. He had already lost so much, would probably lose more and, here she was, putting her faith and hope in a six year old.

She escaped the Lopez house as soon as possible, desperate to lose herself in the mall and cling tenaciously to the few remnants of her childhood.

 


 

While Burt, Robert, and Judy were at the Fabray house, Lydia had gone to the hospital to fast-track Judy's application. She rarely used the influence her position afforded but had decided it was more than acceptable in this particular case.

Ashley had hightailed it over to the Hummel house to assess what needed to be done. Suzanne had been in the hospital almost a month before she died and Ashley was sure the last thing on Burt's mind had been housekeeping. Surprisingly, however, there was little to be done. She suspected that the majority of the chores had been done by Kurt. She wasn't sure how she felt about that.

She ran the vacuum and did a few loads of laundry before heading out to the grocery and stocking up on essentials for Burt, Kurt, and Prue. It wasn't much, but at least allowed her to feel as though she were doing something for them, as well as Suzanne.

Patrick and Prue were left in charge of the children and the dynamic in the house was slightly strained. Brittany and Quinn were somewhat intimidated by Prue, having been told the legend of the Charmed Ones for as long as they could remember. Prue was beautiful and brilliant and had an air of confidence and competence. She was like an adult, female version of Kurt. Santana, well aware of own fabulousness even at such a young age, was not similarly burdened.

Kurt, of course, was much more interested in attaching himself to Patrick and being carried everywhere, and the man was only too happy to comply. He and Ashley had longed to have more children, but Brittany's conception and birth had been difficult; it was unlikely they would be adding to their family. They loved Santana unreservedly, and would probably soon have similar feelings for Quinn, but Kurt was the son they had never, and would never, have.

Patrick's world revolved around his wife and daughter, but he had always planned on having a large family. He and Ashley had talked about adopting, and while they were still considering that option, Patrick was more than happy to lavish attention on Kurt, who lapped it up with abandon. He was well aware that Kurt probably had some juvenile crush on him, but he couldn't have cared less.

Kurt was adorable and loving and so very smart, but there was also a sense of fragility and sadness about him. Kurt had never lacked parental attention or affection, so Patrick understood he was not a substitute for Burt, who was one of the best fathers he had ever known. Kurt was just somehow more relaxed and freer with him than he was with his parents or surrogate aunts. Perhaps it was because Kurt sensed Patrick knew he was gay and was unbothered.

"How are you doing, baby?" he whispered to Kurt.

"I suppose I'm all right, Uncle Ricky," the boy replied. "I think that everyone expects me to fall apart because Mommy died but, for whatever reason, I just can't." He stared down at the floor, not blinking. "I saw her in the hospital after Lila died. I saw her as the cancer took more and more of her away. She was in so much pain, Uncle Ricky. She hurt so badly." He sighed softly. "I miss her - I'll always miss her - but she doesn't hurt anymore."

He frowned and nodded to himself. "That's a good thing."

Patrick was unable to respond.

"And I know that she still exists," Kurt continued. "She lives in me. She'll live in my children. She'll always live, as long as there's someone to remember her."

Prue sat rigidly at the kitchen table as the girls ate the rather pathetic lunch she had prepared for them. She had no idea what to do or say. She wanted to help Kurt, but was completely out of her depth. His experience most definitely did not resemble her own. When Patty died, Prue had buried all of her rage and anger and resentment, holding it tight to her, as though by doing so, she was holding on to her mother.

But that was her and this was Kurt, and Kurt, at six years old, the same age as she when her own mother had died, was far more wise than she had ever been. He was wiser than she was now.

"I'll be able to see her soon," Kurt said with confidence. "I will summon her, or one of the girls will, and she will come." He looked up at Patrick. "Magic is so extraordinary, Uncle Ricky, and I feel badly for people who don't have it. They have to fear and wonder and be angry, but I don't. I feel the loss, but I accept it because I know she continues. The fact that she does, the fact that I still have Daddy, is so much more important than my hurt feelings."

Patrick blinked back his tears and hugged Kurt tightly to him.

Prue said nothing and hung her head.

 


 

Judy, with Burt and Robert, returned to the Lopez house with little more than her clothes and those of her children. As she had packed up her life, she had reached the depressing conclusion she had little to show for it other than her children and her home.

After she had gotten pregnant with Emily, Russell had insisted that she stop working, even though she loved her job and was an excellent nurse. She supposed her first act of rebellion had been keeping her credentials current without Russell's knowledge. Either that, or she had somehow known this day would come. All of her paperwork and jewelry she had deposited in a safe-deposit box at the bank, one under her own name and at a bank which Russell did not patronize.

Packing her children's belongings had been difficult, as she understood that kids tended to value their possessions; still, she knew there was little they would need in the short-term. Quinn had been easier as, outside of her Barbie collection, her youngest had never been much interested in toys; she, like Kurt, far preferred books. As far as Emily was concerned, Judy had packed her daughter's music, books, trophies, and the few stuffed animals the girl had kept. Anything else could be retrieved later.

She was most startled by how easily Quinn and Emily had gone along with everything, which only suggested she had waited far too long to leave. Neither of her girls had expressed so much as a thought that they would miss their father. It troubled her.

Burt and Robert helped her put the boxes in the appropriate bedrooms; she would make the girls unpack their things later. She was so thankful that Robert and Lydia had opened their home to her family, and she thanked the universe they had enough room to do so.

She looked in on the children and found them dog-piled on the sofa in the media room, watching a documentary on Mars. All of them appeared perfectly at ease with their surroundings and each other, no trace of the earlier friction between Santana and Quinn. In fact, Patrick had told her that once Kurt had arrived, the girls had ceased fighting altogether, far more interested in keeping him appeased than in their rivalry.

"How did everything go?" she asked Prue, who sighed.

"Just fine," the woman answered.

Judy raised an eyebrow. "Are you okay?"

Prue blinked and turned to look at her. "Did you ever look at one of your daughters and get the feeling you were the one who knew nothing?"

Judy snorted. "All the time."

"Oh, good," Prue said, sighing again. "Kurt's making me feel very inadequate."

Judy laughed. "I imagine he makes quite a few people feel that way."

Prue was silent for a long moment. "I don't know if I can do this," she finally said. "He doesn't really need me, Judy. He knows far more about himself and the world than I could ever teach him."

"That's not true, Prue," Judy said. "He may not need another mother, and he might not yet need a whitelighter, but he does need his family. Burt told me earlier how much Kurt had missed his cousins, you in particular. He needs to know that there are people like him. He needs to know that he is loved as more than the son of Burt and Suzanne, and more than as an incredibly powerful witch."

Prue nodded, though it was bleak.

Judy bit her lip and shook her head. "No one is expecting you to be perfect, Prue, and you still have a lot to work through, considering what's happened to you in the past few days. All Kurt needs is for you to be there. He needs to know that you will be there for him, that you're not going anywhere. He just needs you to love him, and you already do. That's half the battle. Don't worry so much about what's coming. Focus instead on what's happening now."

Prue slowly exhaled and nodded again, this time with determination. "I can do that." She looked at Judy and smiled. "Thank you."

Judy grinned. "When you feel like you're out of your depth, just remember that everyone can use a big sister. You've been one before, so be one for him now."

Prue beamed.

 


 

At mid-afternoon, they all gathered in the living room, the largest in the house and the one Robert and Lydia used to entertain. They supposed this event would qualify in some capacity.

"What do we do now?" asked a nervous Burt.

Prue smiled and placed a hand on his shoulder. "I'll call upon the Matriarchs, each of whom will bless Kurt."

"Will she be there?" he whispered to her.

"I honestly don't know," she murmured.

He nodded, but looked pained.

Kurt had insisted that the girls be present, and their parents were staying mostly due to curiosity. A Wiccaning was an intensely private ritual, and the fact that Kurt wanted their children, and thus themselves, in attendance made them feel privileged.

"Stay with me," he whispered to Santana, Brittany, and Quinn, each of whom nodded. Several of the adults made to protest, but Prue merely shook her head, ceasing their murmurings. If Kurt wanted the girls in the circle with him, they would remain.

Prue, Lydia, Ashley, Judy, Robert, and Patrick each lighted a candle and stepped away from the circle. Kurt insisted his father light one too, so Burt did. Prue stood before the circle and raised her arms.

"I call forth, from space and time, the Matriarchs of the entire Warren line. Mothers, daughters, sisters, friends; our family spirit without end. Gather now in this sacred place and bless these children with your grace."

Burt swallowed heavily as the ghosts entered the room, far more than the number which had appeared in the hospital.

Judy stared as Ashley's eyes filled with tears. Lydia felt the swell of power enter her home and felt inadequate to host it. Robert was stoic, while Patrick was as weepy as his wife.

Patricia Halliwell was first, followed by her mother Penelope and Suzanne's mother Olivia, all of whom were smiling. The two latter stood three strides apart, with Patty standing behind her mother and slightly to the left.

Laura, Astrid, Helena, and Grace arrived, and then Deborah, Anna, Sarah, and Felicia.

Prue was startled to find herself staring at the doppelgangers of she and her sisters, Phoebe and Piper respectively: Pandora Bowen, Poppy Russell, and Pamela Baxter. They merely smiled and waved gaily at her. Apparently whatever differences they had in life had been resolved in death.

Behind them, other Bowens, Russells, and Baxters appeared, names unknown and whose lines had been lost to history. Prue was shamed by her own ignorance. The ghosts began forming a circle. Prue frowned, puzzled by the positioning.

Charlotte then arrived, followed by her granddaughter, the first Prudence, and then Melinda appeared. She stood directly in front of Penny and Olivia. Finally, at last, Suzanne appeared, looking radiant, healthy and hale, standing next to Patty.

Kurt gasped softly and tears filled his eyes. Until that very second, he hadn't believed his mother's presence would be allowed. Santana and Brittany grabbed his hands, holding them tightly in their own.

"A pentagram," Lydia quietly observed, looking at the five witches who were, by unspoken agreement, apparently in charge.

At once, the other ghosts moved to encompass the five.

"Make that a pentacle," Judy whispered.

"A Pentad of their own," Patrick murmured.

Ashley and Robert nodded.

Melinda smiled gently at the children. "Blessed be."

Brittany gaped, Santana gave a curt nod, and Quinn offered an elegant curtsy.

Kurt merely cocked his head and stared.

Melinda broke the circle and strode toward Kurt, meeting his scrutiny with an equal intensity. She looked down into his eyes. "Such power," she breathlessly marveled.

"You started this," Kurt said. "Thank you."

Melinda blinked. "You are welcome, young one," she said, caressing the apple of his cheek. "I am sorry only that you have been beset with such burdens, but I am confident you will meet and then surpass them."

He nodded. "I will."

His tone was absolute, brooking no argument to the contrary, and it was obvious he had not only accepted his task, but expected to triumph. He wouldn't allow himself to do any less.

Melinda beamed. "Call for your Book, Kurt Elijah. It awaits its master."

He frowned. "I am master over nothing."

"You are the master of your magic," Melinda said. "It is yours to command." She paused. "You must understand this, Kurt. You must not allow your magic to control you, for it will seek to do so. The amount of power you hold is astonishing, far more than any witch in this room has ever, or will ever, possess."

Kurt continued to stare at her for another long moment and at last nodded. He held out his hands, closed his eyes, and silently called for his Book. He almost collapsed from the weight of it when it appeared in a shower of golden orbs.

"My god," Judy whispered, looking upon the Book with awe.

"This is the history of our family, Kurt," Melinda said, voice grave, her eyes once again meeting his. "This is your legacy."

He slowly shook his head. "No," he said, looking past her toward the Matriarchs. "I'm theirs."

The other women smiled with delight at his comment.

Melinda smirked. "You are worthy."

"I will try," he said solemnly, though his voice was tinged with a heretofore unknown vulnerability.

"You will succeed," Melina said staunchly, "and we will help you."

"Thank you," he whispered, clutching the book to his chest.

One by one, the Matriarchs stepped forward, the circle they created moving and shifting like sand, as they blessed Kurt and, at his insistence, Quinn, Brittany, and Santana.

"They are his family," Melinda said to those in the room who doubted Kurt's wisdom in the matter.

"More witchiness can't hurt," Brittany said, shrugging a shoulder.

A delighted laugh escaped Melinda's mouth. "Indeed."

Quinn nudged Santana, who turned toward her and frowned.

"She talks like Kurt," Quinn whispered, tilting her head toward Melinda.

Santana cocked her head and finally nodded, acknowledging that particular truth.

The blessing ceremony ended with Suzanne, who cupped her son's face in her ghostly hands. "You will triumph, my darling."

He nodded solemnly. "Will I be able to summon you?"

"You call me when you need, baby, and I will come," she said warmly.

He frowned. "You have to go."

She nodded. "For now, but I will always be with you."

He looked up at her with large, dewy eyes. "Why doesn't it hurt more?"

"Because you understand that life goes on, and it goes on for all of us. Death isn't the end, Kurt. As I told your father, nothing ends. We go on; we become better."

"Do you miss us?"

Her smile was radiant. "I have no need to miss that which I haven't lost."

He dwelled on her words for a long moment and at last nodded before throwing his tiny arms around her waist. For those few seconds, she became corporeal. "Bye, Mommy."

As they embraced, the others, Burt included, silently observed.

Charlotte, who it could be argued began the line when she birthed Melinda, was stoic. She had borne witness to her daughter's suffering and the losses their entire family had endured. She was proud of them, of course, of their triumphs in the face of crippling adversity, but until this moment, she had never experienced awe of what magic was, of what it could do, and of those who could truly wield its power.

Kurt Bowen Hummel awed her.

Melinda watched with a calculating gaze. This boy was easily the most powerful witch the Warren line had ever produced, yet she didn't fear for him as she had for many of those who had preceded him. She suspected this was, in part, due to the prophecies which surrounded him. Kurt had been bred to hold this power, but he was also determined enough not to let it rule him. This was a rare combination, a delicate balance many witches ten times older than Kurt had yet to realize.

Patty was saddened Kurt's destiny would be as troubled as that of her daughters. She was disgusted that so very much would be expected of him. After her death, after Penelope had bound the powers of the Charmed Ones, Patty had been furious, enraged her mother had so hindered her daughters. Now, however, she wondered if perhaps her mother had the right of it all along, allowing the girls some semblance of a childhood. Were it up to her, she would bind Kurt's powers immediately and spell him back into ignorance.

Penny was enthralled by the entire affair. She could sense the magic within Kurt, could literally see it rolling off him in waves, and it had yet to be released! Such power was unfathomable, yet there it stood before her, housed in the slight body of a child, a very male child. Oh, but this boy was unlike any other she had encountered. He had wisdom and determination coupled with a generous compassion that was not consumptive. Yes, he would do well. She was looking forward to watching him as he matured.

"What happens now?" Kurt whispered to his mother.

She ghosted a hand over his hair. "It's time for you to do your homework, young man. Read your Book."

He looked up at her and nodded. She released him and stepped back.

"To whom will you grant access?" Melinda asked.

"Daddy," Kurt immediately replied, "Prue, and my girls."

Said girls swooned at his proprietary address.

"Not the others?" Charlotte asked.

"No, not yet." Kurt shrugged and dismissed the matter, unconcerned what anyone else might have thought about this or whether or not they were offended. He turned toward Santana. "If you would?"

She blinked.

"An athame."

"Oh. Yeah, okay." She conjured one and handed it over.

He placed the Book on a nearby table, took the athame in one hand, and sliced open the palm of the other. He then laid his hand on the Book, which began glowing. He calmly passed the blade to Santana, who immediately copied him. She then gave the athame to Brittany, who frowned, but nevertheless complied. Finally, it was given to Quinn.

She stared long and hard at it, understanding the commitment she was being asked to make. There was no turning back. If she did this, it was for keeps. The costs would be high. Could she do it? Well, yes, she rather thought so. Did she want to do it?

It wasn't as difficult a decision as she had feared. She cut herself.

The Book glowed mightily and then fell silent. As the children removed their hands, the cover flew open, the pages whipping about, before finally settling on the very first one.

Kurt calmly released a breath and began reading.

"Hear now, the words of the witches, the secrets we hid in the night. The oldest of gods are invoked here. The great work of Magic is sought."

He closed his eyes.

"In this night and in this hour, I call upon the ancient power. Bring that power unto me. As I will it, so mote it be!"

"So mote it be," many of the others softly repeated.

Kurt blanched and pushed the book into Quinn's arms before his knees swung together, pitching him forward.

"Kurt!" Santana yelled, moving toward him.

"No," Brittany said quietly, restraining her with an arm.

Santana glared mutinously but halted her attempt. She knew when to obey Brittany.

The house itself began to tremble: plaster cracking, beams groaning, picture frames rattling, mirrors falling from the walls, vases toppling from shelves, the foundation itself quaking. The chandelier above them began shaking, its crystals clinking together in a cacophony of musicality which was at once both soothing and grating.

Light began pouring through those crystals, though its source was unclear. A riot of rainbows danced around the room, bathing everyone in their prismatic glory before exploding, raining down upon them like diamonds.

"What is going on?" Lydia demanded of no one.

"His power is being unleashed," Melinda murmured. "I have never seen anything like this before."

"We had a small light show," Prue said, speaking of herself and her sisters, "but nothing so extreme."

Kurt raised his head, eyes glowing an eerie white, and screamed.

 


 

Across the country, a young woman screamed in tandem as she watched one of her best friends, though she had yet to acknowledge him as such, sacrifice himself to save the world.

Cordelia Chase had no idea of the gift, and curse, that had just been bestowed upon her.

 


 

Five minutes later, Kurt was standing under his own power and assuring everyone he was just fine, thank you.

"How do you feel?" Patrick asked.

Kurt frowned, considering the question. "Whole."

He waved his hand and everything that had not been ruined during the Wiccaning returned to its proper place.

Kurt cocked his head and nodded, pleased.

Prue gaped. How in the world had he managed that, and on his first try? She'd had to channel her power through her eyes for the first year; it was only in the second that she had been able to channel it with her hands. Even then, she hadn't exhibited the strength or control her young cousin just had. As she looked toward the kitchen, she saw that everything had been restored and had no doubt that applied to the rest of the house, as well.

But that shouldn't have been possible! It was one thing to right that which had been knocked askew, but it something altogether different to knit back together things which had been broken.

Still, was it so surprising? Isn't that what Kurt was doing now, for all of them? Putting them back together in some fashion?

"Projection," Penny whispered. "My god, he has the power of projection."

"What does that mean?" Burt demanded.

Melinda released an unneeded breath. "It means that Kurt's powers are far more advanced than we had anticipated, especially given his age. Projection is the ability to bring forth into reality that which is held in the mind's eye. Kurt wanted Santana's home to be whole, and so he made it such."

For the first time since his mother's death, Kurt was afraid.

Chapter Text

Prue gave the kitchen sink a final swipe with the sponge and looked around with dismay, wondering what other chore she could perform to occupy her time. She really didn't have that much to do anymore.

It had been ten years since she had been assigned whitelighter to her cousin, Kurt Hummel. So much had happened in that time, most of it good, for which she was thankful. She still hadn't been allowed to contact her sisters, though she had managed to keep tabs on some of their more outrageous adventures. She was just grateful they had survived. From what she had learned about Paige, her littlest sister had filled her shoes admirably.

And Prue herself had been lucky enough to be given a new family to love and nurture. She considered Burt the brother she'd never had and sometimes it was difficult to remember that Kurt wasn't her own child. She certainly hadn't forgotten Suzanne, who was summoned with regularity, but it was Prue who had been there for so many of Kurt's firsts. He regarded her as a combination big sister, favorite aunt, and surrogate mother. She was so damn proud of that boy.

Not that he was a boy any longer. He was about to turn seventeen and Prue found herself feeling old. Thank goodness she was dead and didn't age. She had neither the time nor inclination to worry about banalities like Botox.

She hummed tunelessly and sat down at the kitchen table, ruminating on her life since she had arrived in Lima, which had been quite a culture shock for a native San Franciscan. She supposed Kurt's approaching birthday was making her nostalgic. She refused to consider that she was getting sentimental in her middle age.

Speaking of the brat's birthday, she was in a quandary. She and Burt wanted to throw Kurt a massive party, as he hadn't been interested in a Sweet Sixteen, which he had insisted was a ridiculous tradition further degraded by that abominable MTV show. His eighteenth might see him already starting college the summer before the fall semester, so there was no guarantee a party would be had.

That just left this birthday.

The problem was that, two weeks ago, Kurt had received an invitation to attend Piper and Leo's fifteenth wedding anniversary party, which would occur at roughly the same time.

Of course he wanted to go.

Of course Prue and Burt had insisted he shouldn't, for any number of reasons which sounded lame even to them. Kurt was equally unimpressed and it was more likely than not that he would simply ignore their edict and do what he wanted. What he wanted was his family back, all of it. Also, it was no longer necessary to keep Kurt sequestered from the Charmed Ones, for he was more than capable of defending himself and pretty much everyone else.

The ease with which Kurt had taken to his powers, as well as the short window he had required to master them, had been remarkable. He was driven not only to be the best he could be, but to be as prepared as possible for what was coming. He was a perfectionist well aware of an approaching deadline.

There were already portents.

The primary Slayer had died and been resurrected, and then the entire Line had been Awakened. The supernatural world was still reeling from the ramifications and would be for some time. Willow Rosenberg, the Slayer's witch, had called forth all possible Slayers, thus fulfilling part of the prophecy Brittany had made those many years ago: an army will gather to bolster their rule, yet one of their strongest will be but a fool.

Rosenberg was a fool, at least in regard to this specific event. Easily the most powerful of the godlings, Rosenberg had a track record of making snap judgments where magic was concerned, not taking into account balancing her actions.

Natural witches honored that pesky no personal gain rule for a reason. 

The situation in Sunnydale had indeed been bleak, but rather than Awakening the Line, the Slayer and her cohorts should instead have tried to close the Hellmouth directly, not as a consequence of the vampire Spike's rather pathetic and lovelorn sacrifice.

Willow Rosenberg hadn't only Awakened all the Potentials, but, by activating them, inadvertently ensured that no more would follow. Potentials give birth to Potentials, and Slayers didn't conceive after activation. Therefore, while the world currently enjoyed a dearth of Vampire Slayers, as said Slayers perished, there were none to replace them.

And more died every day because they didn't understand their power, were completely unaware of it, or were being actively targeted by demons, who had specifically formed factions to eliminate these new threats.

The worst part about this was that the Slayer's group was unaware of this fact. That they hadn't put the pieces together cast a long shadow of doubt on their purported intelligence. Still, however, it must have been incredibly difficult to locate and monitor so many Slayers, especially as the Council had yet to be reformed. Buffy Summers and her small group were doing the best they could, but they were struggling. Things would only get worse.

Kurt had wanted to approach them but the idea had been nixed by Santana, who felt it wasn't wise to go to the Slayer without some remedy in mind, and Brittany, who had simply said it wasn't time. He had deferred to them, as he often did in matters of tactics and temporality.

Kurt was the unquestioned leader of his coven, but what made him a truly great leader was that he listened to those he essentially governed. Each had their own roles to play and Kurt not only valued their contributions, but encouraged their exploration and deepening of their independent talents. They depended on him to lead, but he equally depended on them to guide.

Quinn was a brilliant strategist, able to devise long-term campaigns which involved complex planning and to spot short-term and overarching patterns most missed. She could connect Brittany's sometimes nonsensical ramblings with world events which had gone unnoticed by mortals. She was straightforward and plain-talking and usually the eye of the hurricane in the midst of a crisis, which always served to focus her.

She was the Xander Harris of their group, but with a lot more self-confidence. She considered Prue her idol.

Santana's forte was tactics, as befitted her Phoenix heritage, and there was no operation she had yet been unable to complete, almost always emerging triumphant. Quick on her feet and even quicker in mind, she could construct attacks and counterattacks on a whim. She always had a sense of what was going on around her, though she didn't necessarily depend on her intuition in the absence of some measure of proof. She was arrogant but grounded and secure in her superiority, though willing to follow Kurt to the ends of the earth, Heaven, Hell, and back again. Her devotion to him was almost fanatical.

Santana was a combination of the late Cordelia Chase and Anya Jenkins.

Brittany was the baby of the group, the little sister, the one every other member defended the most zealously, though she was anything but incapable. She was also the Oracle, the wise woman in clever disguise, uncommonly fair and compassionate in the extreme. She was the negotiator, the peacemaker, and the one the others feared most. Her anger was righteous and a sight to behold, and no one wanted to be in her crosshairs.

She was the new Piper Halliwell.

The Coven no longer feared for Brittany's safety as they once had. After learning that Brittany had no defensive powers and was unlikely to develop any, Kurt and the others had taken it upon themselves to write and then enact a secret ritual - one unbeknownst to Prue, their parents, and Brittany herself - in which each surrendered a portion of their own magic in order to keep Brittany protected. She now had an impenetrable shield at her beck and call, much like the one Piper's son Wyatt enjoyed. She was essentially indestructible.

And, finally, there was Sam Evans.

Sam was the long-sought after Fifth for whom the Coven had waited almost a decade to arrive. He was a combination of the others: intelligent, whimsical, and practical. He could soothe Kurt and go toe-to-toe with Santana. He could understand Brittany's strange chatter and interpret Quinn's silences. He was the ultimate balance and the others were grateful for his presence.

The Coven's powers had matured and increased over the years, but once Sam had been added, there had been a literal explosion of magic.

Kurt had mastered his empathy and telepathy, able to control it at will, as well as his telekinesis, the maturation of which had granted him the ability to teleport. His projection ability had been much more difficult to learn and exercise, particularly once he had entered puberty. Emotions running high and hormones running amok, Kurt's physical maturation was something with which they were still contending. A recent growth spurt, however, suggested that, possibly, things would begin to level off. Still, he was uncomfortable with the power and used it only in dire circumstances, and only as a last resort.

In addition these primary abilities, he had added several secondary ones. His telekinesis had progressed to the point where he could now control the molecules of the air he displaced when using it. He could speed them up to the point of combustion, though this particular differed from Piper's similar ability, which was an offshoot of her freezing talent.

Kurt was now electrokinetic, which meant he could throw energy balls and lightning bolts. It had amused Prue that he had come to match her power for power as well as in intensity. It made her feel so much closer to him and he was very relieved that he had someone who could instruct and help him train these new abilities.

Then there were the ones with which no one had experience, leaving Kurt to figure out their limits on his own. The first was the sonic scream, a defensive power which could be used offensively should the situation demand. Kurt was able to generate vocal sounds of a higher amplitude than a normal mortal, often to destructive levels. It was a power he used rarely and with great reticence, even more so than projection. It unseated him for some reason he was either unable or unwilling to explain.

The second, and perhaps the most intriguing and dangerous, was knowledge absorption. Kurt could absorb intelligence from almost anything, both inanimate objects and people. It actually made sense in a roundabout way. He could absorb information from books by merely touching them, but his eidetic memory also allowed him to recall everything he had ever read. The others questioned if eidetic memory was a magical power in its own right, especially considering Prue had one, as well. Kurt could also absorb knowledge from other people, usually via touch, in what was perhaps an advanced form of telepathy. Sam called him a touch telepath.

The drawback was that he could also absorb pain, likely due to his empathy, and this was a talent which often slipped past his control. Sometimes it were innocuous, as when he would absorb the menstrual cramps from the girls, but given how powerful they were and considering that, due to the amount of time they spent together, they were on the same cycle, the pain could overwhelm Kurt. He just usually didn't care.

Other times, however, he had purposefully put himself in serious danger to ease the suffering of another. Despite the warnings and condemnations, Kurt continued to do as he pleased, as though he had a sense of what he could and could not handle. He most likely did.

Prue fully expected that this particular ability would lead to Kurt becoming an absolute empath, which would in turn allow him to heal others even though he was not a whitelighter. This was a power almost unheard of in natural witches; it tended more to be a godling ability. The downside was that Prue also expected Kurt to develop the ability to absorb the powers of others, most likely during battle, and most likely those powers of demons and warlocks.

She didn't doubt his ability to handle and master them, but was fearful of the early days of such transfers. Despite his claims to the contrary, she knew he was unsettled by the amount of power he possessed. In words exchanged only between them, he confessed he didn't believe anyone should hold that much power.

His final major offensive ability was cryokinesis. Ironically, this was a power Prue herself had enjoyed in her past life as Pandora Bowen, but, as she had no real experience with it, the only advice she could give to Kurt was to practice the power as he did telekinesis, for they were related concepts.

In what could only be considered preordained, the same day which saw Kurt become cryokinetic also saw Santana granted the diametrically-opposed power: pyrokinesis. It was surprising when she had developed the ability, though not terribly so. Given that fire was the element which governed most Phoenixes, it somewhat made sense.

However, the amount of power Santana held within this one ability was staggering. When she used it in battle, flames would shoot from her fingertips before pouring forth from her eyes. When she bellowed her war cry, she screamed flames. Thus, she could both throw and breathe fire. She took considerable pride in the fact that Kurt often called her Draconia, and would blush when Brittany referred to her as my little dragon.

The ability was also considered, erroneously, to be demonic, which was utter nonsense. Just because demons and warlocks often had that power didn't mean the power itself was evil. Power was power; it simply existed. It was what one chose to do with that power which counted. Santana used it for good; ergo, she was good. It was just that simple.

However, other witches might not see it as such, but then they would have to contend with the rest of the Coven.

Santana was only one of three witches walking the earth who possessed the ability. That both awed and humbled her.

Her other powers were more pedestrian, though nonetheless essential. Santana also simply had more internal power at her disposal than most other witches. She was strong - very strong - already perhaps in the league of a Charmed One, and her power would only grow.

Those powers were almost exclusively the dominion of her Phoenix heritage: agility, conjuration, shimmering, energy balls, reformation, and power extraction. She also had developed the ability to adjust, which meant she could resist and fight through attacks by enemies who wielded molecular powers, perhaps a derivative of her father's deviation ability.

After the Hellmouth in Sunnydale closed, the one nearby in Cleveland had opened in response. More and more demons sought it out. They were also in search of the Slayers, who maintained a research and training facility downtown. The sudden influx of demons had spilled over into the surrounding counties.

Despite Suzanne's past belief that Lima was anything but a demonic mecca, demons were now turning up with regularity. They weren't the cream of the crop, so to speak, but they were dangerous and the Coven, outside of simulations, had never received any real combat training. It was one thing to practice and drill and speculate; it was something else entirely to confront the reality.

There had been battles, some of which could have turned deadly. Demons were usually most attracted to Kurt, who, for whatever reason, released a slightly different vibration from other humans. One demon they had captured prior to disposal likened this difference to that of a Slayer. Thus, when encountered, Evil automatically and unconsciously sought it out.

As of yet, Kurt hadn't encountered a demon he couldn't handle on his own but, admittedly, he was dealing mostly with lower-level demons and a few warlocks. But more were coming, stronger in both number and power.

However, once Kurt was targeted, the others would spring into action. They were all much more invested in defending him than each other or even themselves. He had united them in a common purpose, a shared destiny, and their love for him simply wouldn't allow him to come to harm.

Brittany's abilities were somewhat set and all psychic in nature: clairvoyance, clairaudience, clairsentience, retrocognition and precognition, and hypersensation. She also had the powers of prophecy and communion, which meant she could communicate with entities that resided on the different astral planes of existence.

In addition to the shield gifted to her by the others, she had developed two other related powers which were neither offensive nor defensive in theory, but could be used as both: noctephantasmos, or night vision, and photokinesis, with which she could conjure beams of light from her hands.

Prue often wondered if Brittany had developed these photonic powers in some sort of biological imperative due to her constant proximity to Santana. She didn't know, none of them did, and no one cared. They were just happy Brittany could protect herself.

Quinn's abilities had been a surprise. They were few in number but packed a definite punch; some of them rivaling that which Kurt or Prue could deliver. Her cloning ability had remained much the same, but she had also developed two powers which were stunning in their scope.

The first was deflection, which was exactly what it sounded like: the ability to deflect the powers of another. However, Quinn had somehow managed, and no one knew quite how, to take it a step further. When she used it, the power that was deflected was not only sent back to its sender, but affected them the way it was meant to affect her; the original caster couldn't shield themselves from their own power! 

The second, and perhaps the most dangerous, was negation. She had the ability to project a large electromagnetic field which would negate all other magical powers in proximity to her. One the one hand, this was extremely helpful in that, should they be overwhelmed, magic could be taken out of the picture, relegating the fight to a purely physical one. All members of the Coven had at least brown belts in Tae Kwan Do, Aikido, or Karate, and could thus handle themselves in hand-to-hand combat, whereas many demons were too reliant on magic to survive.

Prue and her sisters had learned that lesson the hard way. Phoebe had been a natural at Karate and Prue was a former gymnast, so they had taken to martial arts with relative ease. Piper, however, had been left to cobble together a fighting style she could manage and use to triumph. She had eventually succeeded, but Prue had vowed similar mistakes would not befall her charges.

Kurt had kept up his gymnastics training as well as figure skating, winning several local, regional, and state competitions. He, Brittany, and Quinn had also continued to study ballet, though not with the fanaticism of their younger years. Santana's style of fighting was less elegant but more deadly. She was a street-fighter, a bar-brawler, and though she injured herself more than her friends did, her enemies were the least likely to get back up. Sam's style was similar, but less violent.

Quinn's nullification field also negated the abilities of the other Coven members and she was often unable to control the length of time the field would hold. If they were overwhelmed by sheer numbers, it would give the Coven time to run away, but once they fled the confines of the field, their enemies would once again have their magic.

Her final power was another method of teleportation, one which Prue herself had once enjoyed: astral projection. Quinn could project her form anywhere in the world, provided she had been there before. She could also astral project to someone she knew, regardless of where in the world they were. When the Lopez family had taken a vacation to Mexico, Santana had sprained her ankle and not wanted to bother calling Prue to heal her. But Kurt had felt her pain and asked Quinn to astral project to her, which she did with ease.

The only drawback was that there were warlocks and demons with similar powers, such as astral trapping, who could confine her to the astral plane and thus block her from returning to her body.

As with her deflection power, Quinn had also taken this ability even further.

Using astral projection, she could possess others.

Sam's powers read like something out of one of his beloved comic books. The first was invisibility, which he could utilize without a second thought. An offshoot of this was his power of intangibility; Sam was able to phase himself through solid matter without harm. This was applicable only to his physical body. He could not move other people or objects in a similar fashion.

He also had the ability of power manipulation, meaning he could alter the intended effects of another's magic. For example, if a Darklighter were to attack Prue, Sam could alter the magic of the arrow so that it was harmless to her. Kurt suspected, and Prue agreed, that this power would eventually mature to power channeling. While Kurt would one day be able to mimic or even absorb the powers of others, essentially copying them should they be used on him, Sam would develop the ability to channel, if only temporarily, the magic of others.

This could be a great boon should, while under attack, the more powerful witches of the Coven, namely Kurt and Santana, be rendered unconscious or otherwise incapacitated. Sam would be able to use their attacker's own powers to defend them.

Without Kurt, the other members of the Coven were almost on par with the Charmed Ones. Still, they knew it was wise to remain cautious. Prue had told him of the triumphs and the failures of she and her sisters. She wanted her charges to be confident but not arrogant.

With Kurt, however, they were all but invincible - at least so far. He had a deeper understanding of his magic, an instinctual knowledge of its usages and limits, including what he could push past those limits.

He was the culmination of the most powerful line of witches ever to exist.

Well, except possibly for Wyatt.

That was another portion of the Great Prophecy which had come to pass: the Twice-Blessed had been born and he was the most powerful witch in the world in terms of the sheer number of powers he possessed, but he wasn't Kurt. Wyatt's destiny was grand, but it was also finite, confined to this time in this world in this universe. The effects of Kurt's magic would be felt throughout the entire cosmos, for either good or ill, dependent on how successfully he managed his task.

Prue frowned, still concerned about some chatter she had overheard Up There. While she wasn't technically allowed to converse with other whitelighters, the ones under the control of the Elders, she still had friends amongst their number, Andy Trudeau in particular.

She had been stunned when he had orbed into the kitchen one day, furtively explaining he had managed to overcome the barrier the Elders had placed around her. Prue had been mightily pissed off those assholes had had the audacity to do any such thing and, after her conversation with Andy, which had revealed several key facts about her birth family, she had orbed Up There and blasted portions of their little paradise to bits. They should have realized by then that there would be consequences if they interfered with her mission.

She smirked as she recalled how stunned they were that she not only had every whitelighter power in existence, but that she had them in greater amounts than they did, not to mention that she had retained her Wiccan powers. They were no match for her, even en masse, and they knew it. She knew they hadn't been able to determine for certain she was responsible, but she was their primary suspect. And she was just fine with that. After she left, they had never troubled her again, but they still kept the ban on her sisters summoning her just because they were petulant dickheads.

At any rate, Andy had promised to pass whatever information he could as often as he was able. Typically, it wasn't anything she was unable to learn from her mother and grandmother, but Andy was able to provide insight into how the Elders were thinking and approaching certain events.

Thinking about Andy was difficult. Before her own death, she had finally accepted his. Now they were both whitelighters, albeit with different employers and drastically different goals. Andy had wanted them to start over, to begin again, but Prue had been unable. It wasn't that she loved him any less than when they had been alive, but her priorities were different now. Too much was at stake.

The truth of the matter was that she had fallen in love with one of her other charges, though he was, of course, unavailable to her. And that was okay. It really was. She just wanted him to be happy. He had earned that much, at least, and he had finally found a niche which suited him rather than having to force himself into positions others thought he should fill.

Prue shook her head and sighed. Even if Xander were available, neither of them would have the time to pursue a relationship. They each had important assignments which could not be neglected.

She still didn't understand the concept of the Twice-Blessed and why it was implied it was applicable only to Wyatt. Piper's younger son, Christopher, was also born of a Charmed One and a whitelighter. In fact, if rumor could be believed, Leo had been an Elder when Chris was conceived, thus suggesting that Chris might be even more powerful than Wyatt! She supposed only time would tell. Only Piper and Leo's youngest, Melinda, had been conceived after Leo had been made permanently mortal.

Christopher had brought about another portion of the Prophecy: the Omega will travel but must never dissemble. Chris had traveled back in time to prevent Wyatt from turning evil and subjugating the world to his whims. Chris had succeeded, though he had avoided revealing his true identity until the last possible minute, one which would have seen him never being created.

She had once orbed Up There to spy on her time-traveling nephew and get a sense of him. How her sisters and Leo hadn't recognized him for who he was, was beyond her. He was the spitting image of his mother, in both looks and temperament, only with Leo's eyes.

The last few lines of the Prophecy had also come to pass: Love and Valor will prove themselves true and the Line will spawn magic anew.

Love was Coop, the Cupid whom Phoebe had married. That love had indeed spawned magic anew, namely in Prudence Johnna, or PJ, and Peyton. According to Grams, Phoebe was again pregnant with a little girl. Her name would be Patience, a virtue Prue never expected her younger sister would possess.

Valor had manifested in the form of Henry Mitchell, a parole officer turned San Francisco Inspector married to Paige. They also had three children: Henry, Jr. and the twins, Tamora and Kat.

Prue thought it was far too much of a coincidence that each of her sisters had borne three children; nine total, a number magical in and of itself. She also suspected Phoebe's daughters would become the new Power of Three when it came time for their mother and aunts to retire. If they were allowed to retire, that was.

She had missed so much. She missed them so much.

Her sisters were lost to her, as were her brothers-in-law and nephews and nieces. After Piper and Phoebe, it was Leo she missed most. He truly had been her brother in everything but name. He was the finest man she had ever known next to Andy and Burt, and though Leo had his foibles, many of them, he was a wonderful person.

She also missed Darryl and Sheila, and their son, Darryl, Jr., or DJ, as he preferred to be called. They now had another son, Mikey, whom she had never met and was not likely to meet in the future.

She narrowed her eyes.

Fucking Elders.

She winced when the picture window shattered and then sighed. She hadn't had such an accident in years. It was now incredibly rare for her emotions to slip past her control. Muttering the appropriate spell, she passively watched as the glass knitted itself back together.

"Okay?" Burt asked, wandering into the kitchen.

She turned and smiled.

She loved this man so much. It had never become romantic, though they had shared a few moments which might have turned into more, but they had always kept their relationship as that of best friends, for, indeed, that's what they had become. He was now dating Carole Hudson, a woman Prue found to be similar in personality to Suzanne. She liked Carole and she liked how Carole had loosened up Burt.

Their children did not get along at all, but it bothered no one. Burt and Carole loved each other and accepted that not everyone was meant to get along. Kurt and Finn loved their parents and wanted them to happy, so they forced smiles and played nice, at least in front of Burt and Carole.

"I'm fine," she said. She had said that a lot over the course of her life, but these past years when she had uttered those words, she had meant them. "I was just thinking about everything we've been through, as well as what's to come."

He nodded, crossed the room, poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down across from her. "You're still concerned about letting him go to San Francisco."

She nodded. "I am."

He raised a brow. "Do you doubt his ability to keep your existence under wraps?"

She waved a dismissive hand. "Not at all, nor am I worried about one of my sisters ferreting it out. Phoebe may be empathic now, but she's not nearly as powerful as Kurt."

"So what's the problem?" he asked.

"He won't be able to conceal the fact that he's a witch. That's something Phoebe will recognize almost immediately. And that's fine; he shouldn't feel he has to hide from them, his own family." Her eyes darkened. "But that's the thing, Burt: they are his family."

She held up a hand. "Don't get me wrong. He has you and me, and he's able to call Suzanne whenever he wants. He's made Sam and the girls a family in their own right." She paused. "But they're his blood, Burt. They will want to know him. They will want their children to know him. He will want to know them, and he should be able to do that."

"So?" he prompted.

She pursed her lips. "San Francisco has beneath it a direct entrance to the ynderworld. You've seen how demons respond to him. Can you imagine how they will do so in the environment of the Charmed Ones?"

He paled.

"They will recognize him as being of the Warren line and they will talk. From what I've learned, the Underworld is still in chaos and a new Source has yet to be chosen." She arched a brow. "However, once they learn a witch of Kurt's power exists, they will anoint a new Source in order to restore the balance."

He nodded warily. "This is because of the Rosenberg girl, isn't it?"

"Indirectly. When Willow Activated the Potentials, she caused a power vacuum. It has to be filled."

"Nature abhors a vacuum." His brow furrowed. "Don't you think Kurt and the others are powerful enough to take on any demons that might come here?"

She shrugged diffidently. "I'd like to say yes, but the truth of the matter is that I don't know, and that scares me. Frankly, if Kurt is going to be exposed, I'd feel better if he stayed in San Francisco, near my sisters."

He opened his mouth to protest and just as quickly shut it. "I understand your point," he finally said. "Still, they're only an orb away, right?"

She nodded. "True, but if Kurt reunites with them on a more ... permanent basis, I'd have to be introduced into the equation. I'm his whitelighter. I can't, nor will I, be separated from him."

He frowned in thought. "What about Tara? Couldn't she just pretend she was his whitelighter? She responds to his calls."

Prue thought about that. His suggestion was more than reasonable.

Almost three years ago, when Kurt and the girls had entered puberty and their powers had begun to expand, Sam had arrived. While Prue was more than capable of guiding the Pentad, the Powers had agreed another whitelighter could only help the situation, especially since Prue now had charges outside the Coven, individuals in whom the Powers had taken great interest.

In truth, Prue saw their point. The older the Coven grew, the more they would be tested. If it came down to split-second timing, Prue never wanted to be caught in the same situation in which Leo had once found himself.

He had first saved Piper from Shax and, when he had tried to heal Prue herself, it had been too late. She had understood and held no ill-will. Piper was his wife. She should have been his priority.

Prue was also certain that Leo had never forgiven himself for not being able to save her. She didn't want that regret. She knew she would save Kurt before anyone else, but she loved all of the kids. She had watched them grow, had healed them over the years, had even helped raise them. As much as she loved Kurt, she didn't think she'd be able to live with the guilt if she saved him at the expense of Santana or the others. But she would learn if necessary.

So she had welcomed Tara Maclay with open arms when the Powers That Be sent her.

It was hard not to fall a little in love with the woman. Tara was simply the kindest, gentlest, and most decent soul she had ever known. The entire Coven and their parents had embraced her.

The truth was that the Powers had wanted Prue to focus exclusively on Kurt and Santana, given how powerful they were, while Tara would be the primary whitelighter for Quinn, Brittany, and Sam. She and Tara had discussed it and, after Tara had met the kids and gotten to know them, agreed that plan wasn't going to work. They had split the whitelighter duties evenly, though, when in trouble or need, Kurt would always call for Prue.

The Powers That Be had also insisted, and Prue agreed, that when the worlds of the Warren Line and Slayers collided, Tara would be an invaluable resource, as she would know all the parties involved. Prue could only hope the woman's loyalties wouldn't be divided. Tara had assured her that the Coven was her first responsibility, but a lingering doubt still clouded Prue's mind.

"You don't want that," Burt softly said.

"I don't," she agreed. "I am Kurt's whitelighter. I'm his cousin. I'm his family." She paused. "I love Tara. I trust her with my life and the lives of the children, and while I know I wouldn't be replaced ..."

"You've helped mold him," Burt supplied. "You've helped to make him the amazing young man he's become." He nodded. "I agree, and you're right to feel that way." His gaze burrowed into her. "So what is this really about? Why are you afraid to be reunited with your sisters?"

She looked away. "It's been more than ten years, Burt. They're all married now. They have children. And I'm still ... me. I'm the same age. I'm still unmarried. I have surrogate children, but none of my own." She chuckled. "And, to top it off, I'm now the youngest sister. I'm the same age I was when I died and Paige is now older than me."

He blinked. "Wow."

She laughed.

"Do you think they'll resent you?"

"Wouldn't you, if you were them?" she asked archly.

"Not after you explained to me how important Kurt is," he volleyed. "Once they know that, once they understand that, they'll understand the position into which you were all but forced."

"No one forced me," she said. "I chose this."

"Because you didn't trust anyone else to do it," he replied, holding up his hands, "and, hey, you were right. There's no way we would have gotten this far without you. You held us together after Sue died. You kept Kurt and me from drifting away from each other. You were everything we needed, Prue, and we still need you. We always will."

He shrugged. "Also, it was the Elders who kept you from them. I'd be sure to remind them of that." Finally, his eyes turned cold. "And if, after all of that, they still have a problem, you send them to me. I'll take care of it."

 


 

The first thing Dean Winchester heard as he tumbled through one of the ground-level windows of his brother's house was a revolver chambering a round.

Caught off guard, he flipped onto his ass and scooted out of the way. "Dude, don't shoot!"

"You've broken into my house. Tell me why I shouldn't."

Dean frowned. "Who the fuck are you? This is my brother's house!"

There was an annoyed grunt followed by the overhead lights snapping to life. Dean winced and closed his eyes tightly. When he was ready to open them, he blinked rapidly, confused by the man towering over him.

"Who are you?" Dean demanded with less heat, eyes widening at the gun now in his face.

"Who I am is irrelevant," said the other man. "Why did you break into my home? If you were looking for Sam, all you had to do was ring the bell."

Dean frowned in bewilderment. "I wasn't actually sure he lived here," he said stupidly. "I went to the campus, but some blond chick answered the door at what I thought was his apartment. I asked for Sam and, after chewing me out about whatever for ten minutes, she finally gave me this address." He shook his head. "Dude, that woman was seriously scorned."

The man nodded. "Her name is Jessica. She's a nice girl, but wasn't too thrilled when Sam dumped her for me."

Dean's mouth fell open and, for the first time, he noticed that this dude was wearing nothing more than a pair of boxer briefs. He slowly took it all in, starting from the top. The glossy black hair looked soft and ended just above where a collar would be. Parted in the middle, there was a large, shocking streak of white that fell into his left eye.

Well, if there had been a left eye.

There wasn't. There was only a patch, and Dean was fairly certain this guy wasn't playing pirate.

The face was hard but handsome. The other eye was large and round and puppyish, the iris a dark brown like baker's chocolate. Prominent cheekbones and a Greek nose gave way to a cupid's bow mouth comprised of bubblegum-pink lips and a strong chin.

Not bad. Dean's gaze traveled lower.

The skin was dusky and smooth, like burnished pearwood. Decent body, not overly developed and disproportionate like those of most gym rats, but toned. Solid. The muscles had been shaped by hard work, not vanity.

Finally, there was that bulge.

Dean raised his eyes and smiled. "And who are you?"

The other man rolled his eye in reply. "Sam, tell your brother the only reason I haven't shot him yet is because we just had the floors done."

Dean heard a deep chuckle and turned to look over his shoulder, catching sight of his brother, the first in five years. "Sammy!"

Sam inclined his head. "I've got this, Xander. Dean, you should have called."

"I would've, but I didn't have your number," Dean shot back.

Sam arched a brow and Dean found he had not missed the Eyebrow Thing. Sam had always been too good at it. That damned arched brow always made him feel stupid.

"And whose fault is that?" Sam demanded. "You were the one who went along with Dad when he said no contact. You could've emailed or written or sent a goddamn carrier pigeon, but you never did. Not once in five years. So why are you here now?"

Dean averted his eyes. "Aren't you going to introduce me to your little friend?"

Sam glowered. "Dean Winchester, meet my husband, Alexander Summers."

 


 

Twenty minutes later, a stunned Dean was still sitting on the floor, staring into space. He had heard the husband remark that the floor was where Dean belonged, like any dog.

He heard the approach of two more people, of whispers and shouts, but he wasn't really paying attention.

Sam was married.

To a man.

Sam had married a man.

All Dean could feel was pissed off that he hadn't even been invited. Sure, he and Sam hadn't been in touch, but they were brothers. That was supposed to count for something. That was supposed to be ... everything.

But then he realized he wasn't Sam's everything anymore. This Xander guy was.

What the fuck kind of name was Xander?

Stupid. That's what it was.

Xander was stupid and Sam was stupid and Dean was ... really fucking stupid.

He should have written. Called. Stalked. Something.

How could he have let five years go by without talking to his brother? Sam had been like oxygen to him. Sure, he had believed Sam would be all right at Stanford, safe, which was all he wanted for him. He supposed he hadn't really thought about what would happen after graduation.

Sam would have never come back to Lawrence.

Sam wouldn't travel the country with him and Dad, following and killing spooky shit.

Sam ... had gone out into the fucking world, made something of himself, and found a life.

With another guy.

A good-looking guy. One who was probably at least a good five years older than Sam. A guy who had lost an eye and whose hair was already turning white. A guy whose toned chest looked like it had been clawed by Freddy Krueger.

Christ, what the fuck had done that?

There were other scars, old ones and some not so old. Whoever this Xander was, he was either a gangbanger or ... a hunter.

Dean narrowed his eyes. This suddenly made a lot more sense.

Sam had married their father. Well, a younger version.

So Freudian. So typical. So Sam.

Dean felt a set of curious eyes upon him. He blinked, shook himself from his stupor, and turned to stare at his admirer.

Admirers.

These kids were creepy, like Children of the Corn creepy. The Shining creepy. They looked like Xander, with the cheekbones and chins, but they had startling blue eyes.

"My twin siblings," answered Sam's husband.

Dawn smirked, but Connor merely kept staring. Dean wondered what the hell the kid saw that was so damn fascinating. Sure, Dean knew he was hot - hell, everyone knew that - but the boy was really starting to creep him the fuck out.

And that's when Dean decided he'd had enough. It was time for him to take control of this situation. He scrambled to his feet and glared.

Xander just smiled. "I'm Xander Summers, and these are my twin siblings, Dawn and Connor. We're from Sunnydale, a town in Southern California, which, thankfully, no longer exists."

Dawn beamed. "It fell into a sinkhole we helped create because we're awesome."

Dean cocked his head and stared.

"Sam and I have been married for almost a year, after dating for two," Xander continued. "I'm twenty-seven years old, I own and operate a construction company, and am reasonably well off. Dawn and Connor attend Stanford; Dawn is studying Archeology and Classical Languages, while Connor's majors are Physics and Chemistry. Our mother died right before the twins were due to start college, so after Sunnydale was destroyed, I moved all of us here to Palo Alto. We have another sister, Buffy, who runs a private school in Cleveland for exceptionally gifted girls."

Dean slowly turned to face him.

Xander's eye darkened. "I love your brother. He's my life. I will kill anything that makes him frown, including you. So choose your next words very wisely."

Dean realized the man still held the gun in his hand. Dawn was obviously hoping for violence, while Connor sat rigidly on the sofa and observed events with rapt attention.

"I didn't know you were gay," Dean blurted at Sam. His nose scrunched up. "I feel like I should have known that, but I never even suspected."

"I'm not gay," Sam said evenly. "I'm bisexual." He made jazz hands. "Surprise! We really exist."

"So it's not just fucking," Dean said. "I could understand fucking. I've fucked guys. But marriage? Really? Sam, you're only twenty-three years old."

"I know the arguments, Dean," Sam said quietly. "Xander made all of them for you three years ago and they were tired then" He shrugged. "He's it for me. I only want him."

"He robbed your cradle," Dean barked. "It may be only four years, but people who are his age are very different from those who are yours."

Sam shook his head. "I gave myself to him and he gave me a life. He didn't take anything, not from me and not from you. Age and experience are very different things. Don't forget, you're the same age as Xander, and I'm sure you've been dating outside the range you feel is inappropriate for him and me.

Dean narrowed his eyes in an attempt to blink back tears without appearing to do so.

"I'm still your brother, Dean. I still look up to you. I still love you." He took Xander's hand. "This is my husband." He nodded at Connor and Dawn. "They're my family. So are you. I hope you can be happy for me, I really do, but if you can't, that's okay. I'll still love you, I just won't be able to see you."

Dean reeled back as if struck. He wanted to say a lot of things - scream them, actually - but he realized he didn't really have a leg to stand on. He had loved and missed his brother these past five years, but he had also utterly ignored Sam. He had essentially abandoned his brother just as their father had, so who the fuck was he to piss and moan now because Sam had created a new family for himself?

And a pretty fucking deadly family it was. Xander still had his gun, but now Dean noticed that Dawn had a stake nestled in her waistband and Conner had a dagger strapped to his ankle.

What the fuck kind of family was this, and could he be a part of it?

He sighed. "Sammy ... Sam, if you're happy, it's cool. I don't care that you married a dude, because at least he's hot. I can only hope for your sake that he has a big one. Otherwise, what's the point?"

Dawn howled with laughter as Sam flushed beet red. Connor continued to stare and Xander merely raised a brow.

"Fucking eyebrows," Dean muttered.

Once Sam was past the point where he wasn't going to faint from mortification, he crossed the room toward his brother and hugged him. It took a moment, but Dean hugged him back. Hard.

"I really, really missed you," Sam whispered into his brother's ear.

Dean heard the tears in Sam's voice, the ones he had put there, and felt like a complete asshole. "I missed you, too."

"So why are you here?" Dawn chirped.

Dean pulled back and stared into Sam's eyes. "Dad's missing."

 


 

Piper Halliwell was rooting through the mail, surprised by the large amount she had received. Sure, the house was once again overflowing with occupants, but the children were children and Leo was legally dead, so what was the deal?

Groaning when she realized most of it was bills or mail for her sisters - who, for some reason, despite not having lived in the Manor for years still provided its address as their own - she tossed it on the table in the entryway. She glared daggers at the one piece which had escaped and fell to the floor before bending over to pick it up.

She noted the postmark and her eyes widened to the size of salad plates. She ripped open the envelope and began furiously reading.

"He's coming," she whispered. "He's actually going to come."

She closed her eyes and thought about her younger sister. "Phoebe," she whispered.

A moment later, Phoebe beamed in dangerously close to Piper, who almost fell over. After that nonsense with Billie and her idiot sister, the Charmed Ones had decided they needed to be able to get to each other at a moment's notice. Phoebe's husband, Coop, had fashioned her a ring similar to his own, which allowed her to utilize his method of teleportation, called beaming. Paige, of course, could orb. Piper had learned astral projection. It wasn't second-nature for her as it had been for Prue, but in emergencies, it worked.

Paige just as suddenly appeared. "I felt you thinking about Phoebe," she said in a rush, looking anxiously around. "Is everything okay?"

Their bond had only deepened over the years, especially once Paige and Phoebe began having their children. It hardly took anything for them to summon one another, not even a spell.

"Yeah, it's fine," Piper said thickly. She turned and pushed the envelope into Phoebe's hand. "He's coming."

"Who's coming?" Paige asked. "Also, ew."

Piper rolled her eyes.

Phoebe looked just as confused. "Who ..." Then realization dawned. "Really?" she whispered.

Piper nodded and handed her the RSVP. Phoebe pored over every word.

Paige put her hands on her hips and glared. "Well? Who's this mysterious guest? I hope they're planning to stay here, because there's no room at my inn."

Phoebe wiped her eyes and cleared her throat. "Kurt is coming to Piper and Leo's party."

Paige stared. "Kurt? The Kurt? The kid I've heard about constantly these past ten years? The cousin I've never met? That Kurt?"

"He would be the one," Piper agreed.

"Sweet!"

Phoebe and Piper each winced before averting their eyes.

Paige narrowed hers in response. "What?"

"Well," Phoebe began, "he doesn't exactly know about you, that we have another sister."

Paige's surprise quickly turned to hurt and anger.

"It's not that we ever had any intention of denying you, Paige," Piper said calmly, "but, as ridiculous as it sounds, the truth of the matter is that it never came up. You know that contact with Kurt has always been fleeting."

Paige chewed on her lip before at last nodding. That was true. Piper and Phoebe had often bemoaned that Kurt's father wouldn't allow him to visit. Paige had been filled in on the backstory as to why. She couldn't blame the dude but, still, Kurt was family.

"There's more to it," she insisted.

Her sisters exchanged a glance and Paige knew she was right.

"He was so close to Prue," Phoebe whispered, closing her eyes. She sighed. "That one time he visited ... Paige, he was like her own child. I've never seen Prue react to and interact with anyone the way she did with Kurt. He absolutely adored her and she him. When she died ..."

"He was devastated," Piper finished. "Prue died the day before his own mother did, so in the space of twenty-four hours, he lost two of the most important people in his life."

Paige was still hurt, but she now better understood the situation. "That sucks," she said softly. "How old was he?"

Phoebe swallowed heavily. "Six. The same age Prue was when we lost Mom."

Paige blew out a breath. "That's just plain eerie."

"He was so much like her," Piper said, more to herself than her sisters. "He was so much like Prue. Scary smart, cold, aloof, but family was the most important thing to him, even then." She smiled sadly. "He even has her eyes."

"After the ... incident," Phoebe continued, "Burt and Suzanne refused to return to San Francisco, and though it hurt, we understood. Kurt was all but a baby and those fucking demons tried to kill him!"

Piper laid a hand on her sister's shoulder. "We don't know that's what happened."

Phoebe scoffed. "Well, something did. None of us can remember the events of that day, but Suzanne and Burt were adamant. No return visits. Something happened to Kurt, Piper, no matter what they said. He was put in danger, and he was only in that danger because of us."

Piper set her jaw and looked away.

"And then Suzanne died and we couldn't go because Prue had just died and we weren't able to mourn for either of them the way we needed, the way they deserved." Phoebe sighed. "Then there was Cole and the Elders and all the rest of it. The only bright spot was finding you, Paige."

Paige smiled self-consciously.

"It's not that he won't love you, Paige," Piper said. "He will, absolutely, and he'll likely be pissed off that we didn't tell him about you." She sighed. "After Prue died, contact just sort of ... fell away. Kurt was mourning Suzanne and trying to adjust to not having a mother. Burt was mourning his wife. And then life happened. People drift away from each other much easier than most realize."

Paige nodded. She had drifted away from most of her friends after finding her sisters. She knew also that Piper and Phoebe's worlds were similarly insular. Family was everything. Friends were great, but it was hard to explain why you could never show up to parties or baptisms or anniversaries. Why you had to leave in the middle of dinner. Why you had so many family emergencies. Feelings were hurt. Fences were mended but never truly fixed.

"But he's coming now, right?" she asked. "That's a good thing."

"It is," Piper said slowly, nodding her head. "I just wonder if his father knows about his plans. I wouldn't put it past Kurt to buy his own plane ticket and just show up on our doorstep."

Phoebe shrugged. "He's almost seventeen now, Piper. You remember me at that age. You remember Prue at that age."

Piper winced.

"Yeah, ditto for me," Paige said airily. "Not my best moments. So when does he arrive?"

"I don't know," Piper said. "It doesn't say. He just checked off the box that said he would be attending."

"The party's less than a month away," Phoebe noted. "That gives me some lead time to plan how to spoil him rotten. We've got a decade to make up for, after all."

Chapter Text

"Do you think Dean suspects anything?"

Xander nuzzled his husband's neck. "No. Even if he did, so what?"

Sam whimpered and adjusted his head to give Xander better access. "You don't know him like I do, Xander. If he has even an inkling that things are weird, he won't rest until he uncovers whatever he thinks we're trying to hide."

Xander trailed kisses up Sam's jaw. "And what are we hiding, really?" He nibbled on a delectable ear.

Jesus, Sam always tasted so damn good. He really needed to find a way in which he could keep his tongue on some part of Sam's anatomy at all times. 

Whoa. New research project.

Sam gawped and pushed Xander away. "Seriously? How about the fact that you are ... who you are? Or that Connor and Dawn aren't your brother and sister but a child of prophecy and the skeleton key to the entire universe?" He scoffed. "Or what about your faux sister Buffy and what she really is, what that school is really about?"

Xander's gaze was patient and understanding, and it just pissed Sam off.

"What's really going on here, baby?" Xander quietly asked. "Is it that you don't trust your brother or that you don't trust me?"

Sam frowned in confusion. "I trust both of you with my life. Why would you think I didn't?"

Xander stroked Sam's shoulder. "You've always told me that you were the cerebral hunter while Dean was the instinctual one, right?"

Sam nodded.

"Okay," Xander continued, "so do you really think the truth is so far out of the realm of possibility that Dean wouldn't believe it? If anything, I think it would answer a lot of questions he must have." He paused and waded through Sam's answering, knowing silence. "Do you think he'd abandon you?"

"Of course not."

"Do you think I would?"

Sam flinched and looked away. "Dean can be difficult. He can make things difficult. He tries so hard to protect me because that was the last thing Mom asked him to do. He takes that seriously." He reached over and cupped Xander's face in his hands. "What if he decides he needs to protect me from you?"

Xander pushed himself up, leaned over and straddled his husband, their noses touching. "I love you," he whispered. "I've waited my whole life for you. Nothing is going to take you away from me. Nothing could ever turn me away from you. You're my everything, Sam, and while I respect the fact that Dean is your brother, if he tries to interfere with our marriage, lines will be drawn and I will be the one to draw them."

"And what if, one day, you just decide I'm not worth all that trouble?" asked a bitter Sam.

"Hey!" Xander exclaimed, taking Sam's chin in his hand and forcing his husband to look him in the eye. "What part of you're my everything was unclear? Sam, I will always fight for you. Always. I'm never going to leave. If our marriage should ever end, that will be your decision, not mine."

Sam's eyes searched his for several long moments. "You really mean that," he murmured.

"I will love you until the second I die and then beyond. I will fight everyone and everything for you. I will always find you if we lose each other." Xander smiled. "So are we good, or do I need to sing a cheesy eighties power ballad to appease you?"

Sam rolled his eyes and wrapped his arms around Xander's neck. "It's not so much that I'm afraid of losing you but of losing what we've built. I love our life. I love our house." He dropped his eyes. "I don't want things to change. I mean, I know they're going to, you've always told me they would, but I didn't think it would be this soon. I thought we'd have more time."

Xander stroked Sam's hair. "Time for what, baby?"

"To be together. To be married. To enjoy our family." Sam sighed. "What about the kids? I don't want to lose them. What if Buffy and Angel decide to take them back?"

Xander's eye darkened. "Dawn and Connor are their own people. They're old enough to decide what they want and with whom they want to live. If they wanted to be back with Buffy and Angel, they would be. Until they tell me they want to leave, nothing is going to take them from us." He grinned. "Also, since you're only two years older than them, it's weird to hear you call them kids."

Sam squirmed. "But that's how I think of them."

"How?" Xander asked. He observed Sam closely for a moment. "You think of them as our children?" he whispered.

Sam bit his lip and nodded.

"You...you want to have children? With me?"

Sam nodded again. "I do, and we already have them."

Xander pulled away. "You can't tell her."

"She has the right to know," Sam shot back.

Xander shook his head. "Not now. Not until I explain everything to Buffy."

Sam growled. "Fuck Buffy! This has nothing to do with her!"

Christ, Sam hated her. She had done nothing but interfere in his relationship with Xander from the very beginning, casting doubts in Xander's mind, questioning Sam's powers, obliquely asking if Dawn was safe in Sam's company. The last fight Buffy and Xander had about him had been epic and everyone had chosen sides. Dawn, Willow, and Faith had come down squarely on Xander's side while it was only Spike who stood with Buffy. Angel had refused to take a side, as had Giles.

Xander would no longer speak with Buffy, who blamed Sam entirely. Xander's relationship with Giles had fallen apart but, according to Xander, that had been a long time coming. Xander knew Giles loved him but Giles had never supported him when it truly mattered.  In the end, he always deferred to Buffy.

The results were still being felt. Those Slayers who knew Xander - namely Vi, Rona, Kennedy, Chao-Ahn, and Shannon - and had never liked Buffy followed Faith's example and sided with Xander. They refused to work with or report to Buffy, and while Faith was proud of them for sticking to their guns, she wasn't thrilled that it had more than tripled her own workload.

Then there were the Slayers unearthed by Xander during his time in Africa. As far as they were concerned, he was their true Watcher, regardless that they were later assigned to others. They viewed Giles as little more than a figurehead and while they complied with his directives, they did so on their own terms. Buffy had learned the hard way to steer very clear of them.

Finally, there was Nysa Dicoupoulos, the final Slayer Xander had discovered. The child of Greek foreign diplomats, she had been born and raised in Namibia and was regarded by the Council as Xander's sole protege. She was fiercely devoted to him and had refused on numerous occasions to ally herself with the Council. She viewed Buffy and Giles as interlopers and resented their attempts to remove her forcibly from Xander's side. Said attempts had never worked and only made Nysa despise them all the more.

Xander was equally as devoted to her and their connection was something to behold. Sam had studied closely the relationship between Giles and Buffy; based on his observations, he had believed he had understood it. He was wrong.

All of the Awakened Slayers had, by whatever unknown power, been imbued with memories of the Sunnydale Hellmouth and the key points which had occurred in those seven years. They were Awakened knowing who Xander, Buffy, Willow, Giles, Cordelia, Oz, Joyce, Kendra, Angel, Spike, Faith, Dawn, Anya, and Tara were. Xander often rued that he hadn't done more, hadn't been more, while in Sunnydale, but the new Slayers had a very different view.

He had single-handedly stopped the Hellmouth from being blown open by zombies.

He had stopped Willow from ending the world with nothing more than his love for her.

Xander had brought Buffy back to life. Twice. He was her Heart.

He was their Heart.

He was the Heart of the Slayer. He had twinned the Line. He was the reason Kendra had been Called, and then Faith, the last Chosen Slayer. He was now as intertwined with the Line as the Primitive was, and the Slayers reacted to him accordingly.

That time when the Primitive and Xander had come face-to-face had been stultifying. It was at that moment that Sam truly began to appreciate not only who Xander was, but what he was and what would be expected of him.

Nysa viewed Xander as her savior, as the person who had delivered her to her destiny, who drove her to heights she had never dared believed herself capable. He was her big brother, her crazy uncle, and a surrogate father all rolled into one, but the core of their relationship was very much that between Watcher and Slayer. As far she was concerned, Xander was the only to whom she owed any allegiance and she would surrender her life to protect him.

Those feelings had also been transferred to Xander's makeshift family. She loved Sam, Connor, and Dawn with her entire heart and they loved her in return. Connor and Dawn, though presented as twins for the sake of their cover, were close but felt no real fraternal feelings for one another; however, both viewed Nysa as a sister.

As for Xander, Nysa had been elevated into the rarefied upper echelons of his heart, those places where only Willow, Anya, Cordelia, Prue, Dawn, and Sam himself resided. 

Xander's heart was something of a marvel to Sam. It was so huge, so vast, and Xander held within it a place for everyone he had ever met, encountered, loved, and lost, as well as the entire world. It never ceased to amaze Sam that a heart could be so strong after the many times it had been broken.

Xander loved so hard and so much and so purely that sometimes Sam wondered if that was what had caused the heart attack. Xander's love for him, Cordelia, Anya, Prue, Nysa, the other Scoobies, Giles ... even the vampires ... was incredible to behold. Despite what Xander thought or said, he loved Dawn as his daughter. He loved Connor as a son, though Sam was aware that Connor's love for Xander wasn't quite so innocent.

And then there was ... but that was just bizarre. He would never understand Xander's loyalty to that creature or why he insisted its presence was a good thing.

Granted, Illyria was strangely fascinated by and affectionate with Xander. Must have been the demon magnet thing.

Sam shook his head to clear it, though his anger was surging. He did his best to tamp it down. There was nothing Xander hated more than fighting with someone he loved. He just couldn't bear it.

"Sure, those stupid monks borrowed some Slayer essence which they imbued within Dawn," he continued, "but they didn't create her out of thin air. And who's to say that essence was taken from Buffy alone? What about Faith? What if it was taken from the entire Line? The fact is that Dawn is made of flesh and blood, Xander. Your blood. She's your daughter!"

"I know that," Xander hissed. "I know, I know, I know! But she's not, Sam. Joyce was her mother. Buffy is her sister. I'm...I'm just a donor, and an unwilling one at that. I never knew what those monks did. I never okayed it. What do I say when Dawn asks me how I feel about the fact that my DNA was stolen and used to create a child? What do I say when she asks me if I think of her as my daughter when I'm not even sure I do? What if she asks when I found out, how long I've known, why I told you and not her? What if she asks me who her mother, her biological mother, was?"

"You tell her the truth," Sam promptly replied. "I've heard the stories about what she was like as a teenager, but Dawn's not that little girl anymore, Xander. She's a grown woman. She's smart, she's accomplished, and she's not anyone's victim. Why do you underestimate her?"

Xander cocked a brow. "Why do you underestimate Dean?"

Sam raised a brow in kind. "Touché," he said, after a moment.

Xander leaned forward and touched his forehead to Sam's own. "That was a nice diversion, but I know you and you're afraid of something more than how our family will react to certain details we've kept from them. Tell me what it is."

"What if you have another heart attack?" Sam whispered.

"You're not going to get rid of me that easily."

"Don't joke. Not about that. I've never been more terrified in my life." Sam gritted his teeth. "You were dead, Xander. Your heart stopped. You had no pulse. And those people, your friends, the way they tried to push me aside..."

"And you didn't let them," Xander interrupted. "Never have I been so proud of someone. You pushed back, you did what you knew I'd want, and you told them to take their guilt and shove it. You were magnificent."

Against his will, Sam blushed. "I couldn't go through that again," he whispered. "I still have nightmares about it." He sighed. Even the thought of losing Xander was pure agony. "All I want is some peace."

Xander was silent for a long moment. "We're not in this life for peace, Sam," he said roughly. "None of us is. Not Slayer or hunter or witch or mortal." He paused. "I can't guarantee I won't have another heart attack any more than I can guarantee I won't be hit by a car tomorrow morning when I go out to the curb to get the newspaper. Life is risk, Sam. Getting out of bed every morning is a risk but what's the alternative? Living in a bubble?"

"Would that really be so bad?"

"Our love was a risk," Xander countered, "one which almost everyone we know told us wasn't worth taking. They were wrong. You leaving home to go to Stanford was a risk, but we wouldn't be here if you hadn't. For every risk, there's a reward. You just have to look for it. You have to fight for it."

"I'm so tired of fighting," Sam murmured. "Aren't you?"

"Oh, I'm exhausted," Xander cheerfully said. "You don't know how many times I've come close to giving up the ghost entirely." His eye turned distant. "I've lost so much of my family, Sam. I watched Buffy die twice. Jesse. Kendra. Joyce. Tara." He closed his eye, pain marring his face. "Anya," he whispered. His breath hitched. "Cordelia," he rasped.

And that's when Sam knew he had to back off, because nothing ever good happened when Xander remembered Cordelia. The subject of Anya was almost as painful, but not quite. Cordelia occupied a strange place in Xander's heart, one of extremes. They had hated and loved each other their entire lives.

Cordelia lived within him, even now. Especially now.

He and Xander hadn't been dating very long when Cordelia died. The scales over Sam's eyes had fallen at Xander's reaction.

Pain, such horrific and absolute pain.

It was as though part of Xander had died with her. His mourning was acute and graphic and terrifying. His anger, his rage, his guilt and sorrow: they had been raw, visceral things. They still were.

It had all been happenstance. He and Xander had gone to Disneyland on a lark and, after, Xander had decided to pop in on his childhood nemesis cum favorite ex-girlfriend. After visiting a bombed-out hotel, he had finally traced Cordelia to Wolfram & Hart.

He had been stunned as all hell that she would ever have set foot in that place. In fact, he had argued adamantly against it, saying she must have been coerced. In a manner of speaking, that was true.

He had stormed the law firm, ignored the screeching female vampire who had tried to hug him and pull his hair, and kicked down the door to Angel's office, demanding to see Cordelia.

Angel had stood and looked at him and Xander knew.

He had bellowed for Willow, who had appeared almost immediately, with Buffy and Giles in tow. After Sunnydale had fallen and though they had traveled down their separate paths, in a very fundamental way the Core Four was stronger than ever. They might have their fights and silences, hold their grudges, but when push came to shove, it had always been the four of them and always would be.

As Xander roared at Angel for failing to protect Cordelia, as Willow and Buffy screamed at the others for not even having the common decency to pick up a phone to let them know the woman had died, as Spike had rolled his eyes and Fred had sobbed, Sam's world had fallen apart in the space of five seconds.

Xander had suddenly turned white and then gray, before clutching his chest and falling over.

Willow had tried spells, not knowing - and she still didn't - that, after Kingman's Bluff, magic had no effect on Xander.

Buffy had been lost in memories, too afraid to try CPR, terrified she would injure him further, bleating that she couldn't lose him, not now and not ever.

Spike had wanted to make Xander a vampire and it was only after Fred held a stake to his throat that he gave up that idea. Buffy hadn't even registered that Spike was in the room. She didn't realize he was alive until months later.

Angel had merely stood there, silent, stalwart, and hopeless as he watched the only other person who had loved Cordelia as much he had die before him.

And then Sam had pushed them all out of the way and started chest compressions.

Xander had lived.

"It's coming," he whispered. "Whatever's out there. The First. The Devil. Whatever else there is. It's out there and it's coming for us."

Xander nodded. "It always has been, Sam," he said gently, "and do you know why? Because we're the only ones looking."

"So what do we do?"

"Try to live. Keep loving each other and our family. We do the best we can with the information and resources that we have. That's all we can do, Sam. That's all anyone can do."

"Prue..."

"Prue won't always be able to save me. I'm not immortal, Sam, and I don't want to be. There's a purpose to this life of mine and I have every intention of seeing it through to the final pages, but not everything is in my control. Death comes for all of us eventually. Humans, demons, witches, spirits. It can be interrupted, it can be delayed, but it can't be ignored forever."

"She's in love with you, you know," Sam said, somewhat savagely.

"I know. My days of feigned ignorance are long over." Xander shrugged. "And who knows? If I hadn't met you, I'd probably be with Prue now, but I am with you. I'm committed to you. Prue knows that, she accepts that, and she loves you, too, just as I know you love her."

Sam sighed. It was true; Prue was, in fact, his best friend. "I was stupid to think I could run from this."

"Not true," Xander said. "You could still run. If you wanted to, I would go with you."

"You would?"

"I'd do anything for you. I'd give up everything for you."

Sam shook his head. "I would never ask that of you."

Xander smiled. "I know. That's why you're the best thing that's ever happened to me. You've never tried to change me, Sam. You've never tried to make me better than what I am. You've never put me down in a pathetic attempt to motivate me.

"You just...love me." He shook his head in awe before a beam overtook his face. "No one has ever loved me so purely, so completely, as you have. No one. And though I'll always hold Cordelia and Anya in my heart, that heart belongs to you."

"I'm glad you had them," Sam said softly. "Loving them is what allowed you to love me."

Xander gently caressed Sam's face. "Loving you is a privilege I probably don't deserve, but I give thanks every day to whatever's out there that might be listening, because life without you wouldn't be worth living.

"Don't worry so much, Sam. Just know that, whatever happens, we'll always be together."

"You really believe that?" Sam asked.

"I do. And I like it so much, I even put a ring on it."

Sam rolled his eyes and tried to throw Xander from him, only to snorfle when Xander instead snuggled down deep.

"But right now," Xander whispered, "there's something I need. Something only you can give me."

Sam's heart started thudding. "What?"

Xander leaned down, lips pressed against Sam's ear and curving into a smile. "You inside me."


Dean frowned and looked down the hall. "That a regular occurrence?" he asked the kids.

Connor stared at him. In fact, all Connor had done since first meeting Dean was stare.

Dawn nodded. "About twice a day."

Dean's eyebrows skyrocketed. "Twice a day?" He shook his head. "Damn."

She shrugged. "When you're as hot as they are, you shouldn't have to go without. So they don't."

Dean frowned. "You think your brother's hot?"

"Are you saying he's not?" she growled.

Dean decided he wanted no part of this. He turned to Connor.

"Dude, stop staring. I'm not an oil painting."

Connor said nothing as he continued not to blink.

Dean heaved a tremendous sigh. "What's with your brother here?" he demanded of Dawn.

"He's assessing you," she said simply.

"Assessing?"

"He's determining what, if any, threat you pose to Xander and, by extension, his marriage."

The duh went unvoiced but was evident in her tone.

"And what if I am a threat?" asked an amused Dean.

"I'll kill you," Connor said, voice steady.

A shocked Dean slowly turned to look at the boy.

He had no doubt Connor meant it.


"What will you do if they say no?" Quinn asked.

Kurt shrugged. "Go anyway. I've had about enough of this. They're my family and I have a right to know them. I'm not three years old anymore. I can take care of myself."

Santana glared. "You do understand that you won't be going alone?"

He nodded. "Of course."

"And what are you going to do about that?" she demanded, nodding her head toward the table across from theirs.

Kurt rolled his eyes. "Sam's allowed to have his own friends." He paused. "Even if they're just using him." He shrugged. "Besides, do you really think Sam doesn't know that? He's not dumb. He's playing them too."

Santana glowered at Finn and Mercedes, a couple that made no logical sense,but had been going strong for over a year now. They had tried, both individually and together, to infiltrate the Coven's circle for almost ten years.

The Coven had been a unit since that summer before first grade, inseparable and impenetrable. They had never meant to exclude anyone or cause hurt feelings, but the simple truth was that, with few exceptions, they neither required nor longed to add to their company. They had been complete as they were and would remain as such until their Fifth appeared.

But others had tried to approach, to steal a member away, to start an unnecessary rivalry.

Mercedes wanted Kurt. She didn't understand what he saw in Quinn and especially in Santana. She liked Brittany because everyone liked Brittany. She insisted she and Kurt had so much in common that they should be best friends, but everything they shared was superficial. Kurt was perfectly content to call her a friend but Mercedes wanted to be the only girl in his life.

Finn wanted Quinn back. They had been elementary school sweethearts until sixth grade when Finn demanded that Quinn make a choice. She did and he had no one but himself to blame, except he had blamed Kurt and Santana. He'd always been jealous of Kurt, who was admittedly more intelligent, and thought Santana was nothing but a bitch. Santana had happily agreed with both points, which had only angered Finn all the more.

And then there was...

"Hey, Duchess," Puck said, dropping into the open seat next to Kurt and slinging his arm around the other boy's shoulder.

Kurt turned and beamed. "Good afternoon, Noah. You look particularly Neanderthal today."

Puck's chest puffed with pride. A fresh mohawk, some ratty jeans, and a sleeveless tee meant that he was extra styling. He leaned over and kissed Kurt's cheek, smirking at the catcalls and grunting that erupted.

"I still think we should try dating, just to see what everyone would do," he whispered in Kurt's ear.

Kurt rolled his eyes and pushed Puck away. "Oh, Noah, your need both to titillate and repel our peers is almost endearing, but I have no interest. I'm quite happy with my boyfriend, thank you."

Puck kept the smile on his face, though his eyes dimmed just a bit. He wasn't gay. He wasn't even bi. But there was a part of him that was in love with Kurt and always would be.

He knew his feelings were mixed up with fraternal love and hero worship, but knowing that didn't make it any easier to separate the threads of his feelings for Kurt.

Santana watched him from the corner of her eye.

Puck was...interesting. His relationship with Kurt even more so, especially since Puck was the only mortal who knew they were witches.


It had started not long after Aunt Suzanne had died. That summer, they had been inseparable. Not only the children, but their parents and guardians. Burt had grown very close to both Robert and Patrick, while Prue had fit in seamlessly with the other women. It was as though it had been predetermined, and perhaps it was. Perhaps it was the universe's way of acknowledging what was to come, allowing the children some measure of a childhood.

Then they had started first grade and their social circle had begun to expand in the form of acquaintances. Puck had already been singled out as the bad seed by their teacher and the majority of the class, but he hadn't cared. Neither had the Coven. They never interacted, but neither did they antagonize each other.

Kurt had become friends with Mike Chang that first day, and, after school, went home and told his father that he had just met the boy he would one day marry. Burt had laughed and patted Kurt on the head, but that laughter abruptly ceased when he realized Kurt wasn't joking. So he had smiled and told Kurt he wanted to meet his new friend, and then went racing to Prue to talk him down off the ledge.

She had reiterated Suzanne's arguments. Yes, Kurt was a boy. Yes, Kurt liked boys. Yes, other boys would like Kurt. Yes, Kurt would one day date a boy. Yes, Kurt would have sex with boys. Yes, Kurt would marry a boy.

Amused as she watched Burt breathe with the aid of a paper bag, she asked him why he was so honestly surprised. Burt had spewed forth logical arguments that Kurt was too young, didn't realize what marriage truly was, etc. Prue had calmed him down and reminded him they knew nothing about Mike Chang. Just because Kurt liked him in that way, didn't mean Mike felt the same. Then Burt grew hysterical at the thought of some little bastard breaking his precious son's heart.

Prue had merely grabbed a phone book, placed a call, and three hours later, the Chang family was sitting in the Hummel dining room enjoying a lovely meal. After, Kurt and Mike went off to play while Mary Chang helped Prue make coffee in the kitchen.

"My son came home from school today and told me he met a boy whom he now loves," Mary had said with no preamble.

Prue had regarded her with assessing eyes. "And what do you think about that?"

Mary had been silent for a long moment. "Michael was a gift," she had finally said. "I had been told I would never be able to conceive a child, let alone carry one to term. There was scar tissue. I had waited too long. George's sperm count was too low. We had given up hope and accepted this, for we had tried everything up to and including five rounds of in-vitro fertilization. Nothing."

She had begun opening cupboards, searching for mugs. "And then a miracle happened. I was pregnant. The pregnancy was an easy one. In fact, I didn't even realize I was pregnant until almost the fifth month. In a way, that was a blessing, because it prevented me from panicking, and endlessly wondering, and anticipating something awful. But everything was fine."

She had turned back to face Prue. "I had a child. More than that, I had a son. There is nothing like a mother's bond with her son." She had looked away. "A mother knows."

Prue had said nothing, had done nothing.

"I want his happiness," Mary had whispered. "That's all I want for him, because that's what he's given me."


And Mike was happy. He was happy with Kurt. Ten years later, he still was.

The fact that they were both witches was just gravy.

"Hey," Mike said quietly, slipping into the seat on Kurt's opposite side. He nodded at Puck, though warily. Puck grunted in reply.

"Hello," Kurt softly said, a gentle blush settling high upon his cheeks, as it always did when he was reunited with Mike, even after only a brief separation. "How was your Spanish class?"

Mike made a face. "Mr. Schuester is getting more and more paranoid about Coach Sylvester. Today's vocabulary lesson was about dictators and oppressive regimes." He shook his head. "How was Calculus?"

Kurt shrugged. "I got an A on the exam, but Brittany beat me and Artie. Again."

Mike smiled as Brittany's delighted giggle traveled down the table. His eyes then widened when he felt Kurt's hand on his knee, slowly rising up his leg.

"Don't tease," he whispered.

Kurt's blush turned fierce as he snatched his hand away. "I'm sorry."

"No, no," Mike rushed to say. "I want you to touch me. I want you touch me all the time!" He exhaled. "It's just that, when you do, I get, um..."

Kurt dropped his head, a small smile on his face.

"...and lunch will be over soon and I'll have to stand up," Mike babbled.

"I love you," Kurt interrupted.

Mike shut up as his eyes softened. "I love you, too."

"Fuckin' homos!" shouted Karofsky from across the cafeteria.

Kurt narrowed his eyes and suddenly the tray in Karofsky's hand went flying up toward his face. As everyone laughed at Karofsky, who now had mashed potatoes dripping from his cheeks, an eyeful of mashed carrots, and Sue Sylvester screaming in his ear, Quinn clucked her tongue.

"Personal gain," she hissed.

Kurt turned and regarded her with flat eyes. "It was worth it. Some animals only respond to negative reinforcement."

Her lips twitched and she nodded, smiling when Puck and Santana howled with laughter.

"Good one," Mike whispered, his lips on Kurt's ear. "You're dead sexy when you're being all Witchy Poo."

Kurt turned bright red.

Mike was amused that simple compliments affected Kurt so much, which was why he complimented his boyfriend as often as possible. Besides, it was the truth. Kurt was dead sexy.

Puck suddenly sat up straight and fluffed up his hair.

"The demon approacheth," Santana grunted.

Puck turned and glared. "Knock it off, bitch. Tina's only half-demon and she's awesome. By the way, set any sheds on fire lately?"

She sneered and flipped him off. Part of her really enjoyed the fact that Puck had absolutely no fear of her. He couldn't have cared less that she was one of the most powerful witches in the hemisphere. Then there was the other part of her that really hated him for that.

Regardless, he was right about one thing: Tina was pretty awesome, half-demon or no.


Puck, the boy who once had smelled like puppies, had been brought into their circle one rainy November afternoon. School had just ended for the day and all of the students had raced outside, donning their raincoats and opening their umbrellas, chattering about the upcoming weekend and the holiday break only two weeks away.

Kurt and Brittany had been talking about some book they had read while Quinn and Santana had been engaged in the endless *NSYNC versus the Backstreet Boys discussion. Puck had been just behind them, rolling his eyes and wanting to get home. He had forgotten his coat that morning. He pushed past them.

Little Grace Puckerman, only two, had been delighted when she looked up and laid eyes on her brother, her hero, and her only solace since their daddy had gone away. She looked up at her mother, who was talking with some other lady, and let go of her hand. Then she had toddled out into the street.

"Noah! Noah!"

Puck had looked up and grinned, but then everything turned into slow motion and there was a car and a scream and a squealing of tires...

And Kurt, without thinking, had raised his hand, levitating Grace with it. After the car had skidded and hit the curb, the hysterically sobbing driver had fallen out of her vehicle and been stunned to find the little girl she had almost hit standing in the middle of the road, perfectly fine.

It had all happened so fast, there had been so many people and so much commotion, that, thankfully, no one had seen what Kurt had done.

Except for Puck.

Puck had stared at Kurt in utter fascination. He hadn't known how, he hadn't known why, but he had been positively certain that this little boy, the one who was so much smaller than everyone except maybe Satan, the one that other kids whispered about and teachers fawned over, had saved his sister. His little sister, whom he loved more than life itself.

Santana had watched Puck watching Kurt and she had known even then that Kurt had just inadvertently collected a second shadow.

And that's what Puck became. He wanted to be everywhere Kurt was. If anyone said anything mean about Kurt, Puck clocked them without a second thought. Kurt had always said the gossip didn't bother him, but Puck knew that was a lie, that his friend had been hurt, and if he was in a position to hurt those who had hurt his friend, then he would take it.

Judy Fabray, who had been chatting with Gloria Puckerman that day, had known that damage control was necessary. She had made a great show of fawning over Gloria and Grace, insisting on driving them home. Once there, she had escaped into the bathroom and called for Prue, who had orbed in.

Once told of the situation, Prue had debated how it should be handled. In the end, curiosity won out and she had decided to go with the truth. If it failed, Memory Dust was always an option.

A shaken Gloria had paled even further when two women had emerged from her bathroom. As the children had gathered around Prue, Gloria Puckerman had a sinking feeling that her world was about to turn on its axis.

And it did.

Prue told her everything: who she was, who Kurt was, and who the girls were. A few examples of magic later, and Gloria was deep in thought.

In the end, her daughter was alive, and that was thanks only to the quick-thinking six-year-old boy in front of her. That was all that mattered.

Memory dust hadn't been necessary. Gloria and Puck had accepted everything at face value, too grateful to worry about possible ramifications. Grace had been too young to understand things, so she hadn't been told until much later.

In reality, it had worked out well for everyone. Kurt had made a mortal friend, Grace suddenly had another brother and a bunch of sisters, and Gloria had become part of a coterie of women who supported her, which was what she had needed most after her husband's abandonment.

And life went on.

Puck had accepted Quinn and Brittany easily enough, but had detested Santana, who felt much the same. Still, at the end of the day, they had each other's back when it truly counted. Puck was inoffensive enough when Artie had been added to Kurt's mortal coterie, especially because Artie didn't know Kurt was a witch. It was harder for him to reconcile Mike's role in Kurt's life and what it would one day mean. While they were still children, it wouldn't much matter, but when they got older, Mike would become more important, more essential.

Puck still felt that way sometimes, that he was in competition with Mike for Kurt's attention. He knew he was the only one who thought so; that Mike, in fact, had gone out of his way to make friends with him. Puck knew he was a selfish person. He wanted Kurt all to himself despite knowing he couldn't be everything Kurt needed. So he tried his hardest to be the best friend and heterosexual life partner.

Puck's devotion to Kurt, however, had created unforeseen problems, the primary of which was the unparalleled jealousy of Finn Hudson. Puck had been his best friend, but suddenly that had changed and all Puck wanted to do was hang out with the itty bitty bit of a thing who used big words and looked like a department store mannequin.

Before that, Finn had been a tangential part of Kurt's life in that Finn and Quinn were in the midst of a childhood romance. It had been easy enough to accept that Kurt was part of Quinn's life; Quinn had, after all, made sure he realized that would ever change, that Kurt and Brittany and Santana were everything to her. And that had been fine, because even though he hadn't had the vocabulary to explain it, he knew that Kurt could never feel about Quinn the way he did.

And the truth of the matter was that Finn had thought Kurt was really awesome. He would've liked to have been Kurt's friend, but he had never said so.

Kurt had always been nice to him. He had never talked down to him like a lot of other kids did. Plus, Puck had still looked out for him and they were still boys and stuff, and he had Quinn. So it was okay. But then Puck had become a traitor and suddenly Kurt had everything and it was just so unfair.

He had been so jealous. He had been jealous every time he saw Puck and Kurt holding hands, or Quinn and Kurt hugging, or Kurt running to his daddy when the man picked him up from school, or the really pretty lady who picked him up when the daddy to work. And, for some reason he had never been able to figure out, he was also jealous of Quinn and Puck ... for having Kurt.

It had made his head hurt a lot.


It still did.

Finn glared over at Kurt's table, sneering at Puck, who was whispering in Kurt's ear, who was laughing and resting his head on Mike's shoulder, who was looking at Kurt like he was everything, who was being watched by a creepily happy Santana...

It just went on and on.

Last year, he thought he'd finally been able to start over. He had started going steady with Mercedes Jones, who, while bossy, wasn't nearly as bossy as Rachel Berry, who he had dated in freshman year. Besides, Finn sometimes liked being bossed around. Plus, Mercedes didn't like Santana or Quinn, not after they had her thrown her off the Cheerios.

And, okay, Finn felt they might have been right to do so, because all Mercedes had done while part of the team was bitch about the number of practices and how cruel Coach Sylvester was and everything else. Finn didn't know a lot about cheerleading, but he did know about teamwork. Quinn and Santana often fought but they always united when it counted; Mercedes, for whatever reason, couldn't do that.

Finn thought she'd be a lot happier if she had a girlfriend who she could talk to about girl stuff, because he didn't really understand girl stuff. But Mercedes had always been kind of a guy's girl. She had been a tomboy when they were younger and more interested in playing football with the boys than taking ballet with Brittany and ... Kurt.

That was something else he didn't understand, why Mercedes was so obsessed with having Kurt for a friend. Sure, Kurt was nice to her, he was pretty much nice to everyone who didn't call him names, but he already had a best friend. Several of them. It wasn't that he was rejecting Mercedes; he just didn't have room for her in his life in that way.

Actually, Finn thought Kurt had always been kind to Mercedes about that. When he had parties, he always invited her, but then she would never go because the other girls would be there, the Cheerios would be there, someone she didn't like who didn't like her would be there. But Kurt still kept inviting her.

Mercedes was, for whatever reason, convinced that Kurt would be the only best friend she would ever need and vice versa, that Kurt wouldn't need the other girls if he just had her. He was gay, so he understood girl stuff, but he was still a guy, and she was only really comfortable with guys. Sometimes it made Finn really sad that Mercedes was so lonely, but, then again, she didn't try to do anything about it, and that wasn't Kurt's fault.

At the same time he had started dating Mercedes, a new kid had transferred in and Finn had thought Sam Evans was really cool. He had thought that just maybe he'd get a new best friend.

But no.

On Sam's second day, he and Finn were in the sophomore hall, their lockers relatively close together. They were talking about football and that Sam liked to sing and he might be interested in Glee, and then the doors had flown open and the Bitches of Eastwick had stormed inside.

Kurt was in the middle, as always. That day he was flanked by the Blond Bookends, Quinn and Brittany, while Santana brought up the rear. In fact, she had been noticeably ogling Kurt's rear and hadn't given a shit what anyone thought about it.

That day was also one of those in which they had coordinated outfits. Kurt and Brittany were wearing white Oxfords, Brittany's tied above the navel, and black leather pants. Quinn had a fitted white Oxford and a modest leather skirt with knee-high leather boots. Santana, of course, was wearing a shirt like Brittany's, paired with a leather miniskirt and hooker boots. They were all wearing the same Aviator sunglasses.

They had stalked down the hall like it was a runway, their gaits perfect in sync, their hips set on maximum sway.

Sam had turned around to stare and Finn wondered which of the girls he was considering. Brittany and Santana were together, of course, but they sometimes invited a guy to join them once and a while. Quinn had a steady boyfriend.

Halfway down the hall, a reshuffling occurred. Santana moved up front and walked next to Brittany; Quinn was joined by her boyfriend, Matt Rutherford; Puck inserted himself between Quinn and Kurt while Mike squeezed in between Kurt and Brittany.

Sam had made a disappointed squawk and Finn had been shocked to realize the other boy had been looking at Kurt.

"Forget it," he had snapped at Sam. "Kurt and Mike have been dating since first grade. No joke, either."

But then Brittany had suddenly come to halt. Immediately, so had the others. She had then pushed her sunglasses up on top of her head and smiled at Sam, who beamed back. She waved him over and, just like that, Sam was lost to him.

Kurt had won yet again.

Oh, sure, it had been Brittany who had taken Sam but Kurt had kept him. And it was pretty damn obvious to everyone that Sam was in love with Kurt. The kicker was that he was also in love with Mike. Everyone was taking bets on when the Unambiguously Gay Duo would become the Outrageously Gay Trio.


Finn sighed and looked down at his empty plate. Had he really eaten all the fries?

His feelings for Kurt had changed a lot since their parents started dating. He and Kurt didn't necessarily like each other, but they didn't hate each other. They could get along well enough as long as they weren't exposed to each other for too long a period of time. Both of them wanted their parents to be happy and Finn hadn't seen him mom this happy in years. Plus, Burt was a really cool guy.

Maybe he and Kurt could become friends, but he could never get Kurt alone. One of the girls was usually always with him. If they weren't, then Mike or Puck or Artie or Matt or some combination thereof was surrounding him.

Kurt and Artie had the geekiest bromance in the world because they were both so brainy, even though Kurt often kept his nerdaliciousness on the down-low. It had only intensified when Artie had begun dating Rachel this past year. They were a surprisingly good match, but often fought. When that happened, Kurt was, for whatever reason, drawn in the middle. He would listen to both sides and try to negotiate a peace. Artie was grateful and Rachel adoring. That Kurt couldn't stand Rachel made no difference to her.

Matt was usually around because he was Mike's best friend and Quinn's boyfriend, but Matt and Kurt were actual friends in their own rights. They both read a lot of books and liked talking about them; Brittany often joined them. In fact, Matt used more words with Kurt than with any other person. Of course, Mike and Matt had never really needed words, and Quinn and Matt had other uses for their mouths.

Speaking of Matt, Finn repressed the glare threatening to erupt when Matt slid into the seat next to Quinn and gently kissed her cheek. He still couldn't believe they were dating. He still couldn't believe her mom had allowed it. Although, Mrs. Fabray was actually pretty nice. She had mellowed out a lot and was much happier since the divorce. Quinn had often told him how happy she had been when they had left her father.

It was Quinn's father who was the racist. And the misogynist. And the homophobe.

Damn. Finn really hoped he wasn't the second coming of that asshole.

But he couldn't be racist, right? He was dating a black girl and he really loved Mercedes.

Misogynist? He sure hoped not, but Quinn had called him that more than once. He didn't know if Mercedes also thought it was true, but she usually would tell him flat out when he pissed her off or when he needed to shut up.

Homophobe?

He didn't want to be homophobic. He didn't think he was homophobic, but he wasn't sure. He wondered how he would have reacted if Kurt or Mike or Sam had ever developed a crush on him. He hoped he wouldn't have been a dick about it.

Then he wondered why gay guys didn't crush on him. Wasn't he hot enough? Mercedes thought he was hot. Quinn and Rachel had too. Was he not hot enough for guys? And why the hell was he even thinking about this?

His eyes narrowed at Puck, his ex-best friend. Puck was laughing and having fun with his girlfriend Tina and Kurt and Quinn and everyone else, even Santana.

Finn then realized that Mercedes and Sam were staring at him.

"Hi."

Sam sighed, stood up, and crossed the room to sit at Kurt's table. Finn flushed as he watched Mike slyly stroke Sam's arm.

Why did it bother him? Okay, he was still hurt that Sam hadn't been the new best friend for which he'd been hoping, but...

Mercedes watched him with appraising eyes. "You stare at them an awful lot," she said evenly.

Finn knew he had to play this carefully. "It's different now that Mom's dating Burt. I have to ... think more, especially before I say words. Kurt and his dad are super close and I don't want to piss off Kurt by accident and then Burt hears about it and decides to break up with Mom because he's mad at me." He shook his head. "She's really happy and she deserves to be."

Her eyes softened. "You're a lot smarter than you realize, baby."

He blushed for an entirely different reason.

No, he might not have the close friendships Kurt and Puck and the girls enjoyed, but he was happy. He loved Mercedes, he was the quarterback, he was passing his classes, and his mom had finally found a good man.

He just had to work on not being so jealous all the damn time and focus on remembering all of the good stuff he did have.


"Are you sure?" Tara Maclay whispered, anxiously looking around.

"Don't worry," Anya assured her. "We're safe, at least for the moment."

Tara quietly exhaled. "What about the others?"

Anya nodded. "Ready to offer their help as soon as they're asked."

Tara closed her eyes. "I can't believe this is happening."

Anya snorted. "Really? You understand balance, Tara. That was what always made you a superior witch to Willow, though she has more innate power."

Tara stared at her. "Do you really think we can win?"

Anya shrugged. "We've taken on a god before."

"And Buffy died."

Anya blinked. "True, but the world survived, which wouldn't have happened if Buffy hadn't been willing to sacrifice herself."

Tara cocked her head. "I've never heard you sing Buffy's praises before."

Anya soured. "I'm not. I'm just lauding her one unselfish choice. I always liked Dawn better, anyway. Besides, I'm still unsure just how unselfish that jump was. You know as well as I do that Buffy's always had a death wish."

Tara gave her a reproachful glare but neither did she deny the charge. Anya's words, while brutal, were not necessarily untrue.

"There's more Slayers now," Anya continued. "There are the Charmed Ones, the Pentad, and all the others from Brittany's prophecy."

"Including Xander?" Tara asked gently.

Anya merely blinked again. "You don't have to whisper his name as though we're in a church. I'm perfectly aware of his marriage and I even approve. Besides, we all thought he was just a bit gay."

She shrugged again. "He loved me, Tara. I never doubted that, only his ability to love himself. Because of Sam, he can do that now and that makes me happy. I have no reason to be angry at or jealous of Sam Winchester. Besides, I've been able to witness their frequent and vigorous intercourse, and that makes me happy too. It is well and truly spectacular. I taught him well."

Tara burst into laughter.

"We're going to be okay, Tara," she insisted. "All of us will be okay. When has Xander ever failed? And there is Kurt to consider, after all. He's pretty much Xander: The Sequel."

Tara nodded, though her anxiety was apparent.

Anya looked up. "The Queen doth approacheth," she said, smirking, "and if you think Cordelia Chase is about to put up with shit from anyone, god or otherwise, think again."

Chapter Text

 

Mike had no idea what was happening, what he had said or done to piss off Kurt, but it must have been truly epic.

 

He had to admit that he usually got a kick out of Kurt when he morphed into a raging bitch; it was always an awesome sight to behold. That said, he'd never before been the focus of such bitchery and was finding he most definitely did not enjoy it.

Even the girls had sensed it and left, abandoning the Hummel house and leaving a terrified Mike alone with his stupidly powerful boyfriend. A part of Mike wanted to kick his own ass because Kurt's frightening glare was making him hard. Jesus, what was wrong with him?

But Kurt was so sexy, so fucking sexy, when he let himself go and allowed his insecurities to fall away.

Kurt suddenly whirled to face him, finally falling quiet though he breathed heavily.

"Stay out of my head," Mike snapped. "You know I can't stand when you do that!"

Kurt was honestly contrite. "I'm sorry," he said quietly. "I didn't mean to, really. You were just broadcasting very loudly."

Mike rushed forward and pulled Kurt into a hard embrace. He knew he had a tendency to treat Kurt as though he were made of glass. It wasn't because he thought Kurt incapable - Kurt could actually be pretty fucking terrifying - it was just that...Kurt was so precious to him. He couldn't - he wouldn't - imagine life without Kurt by his side, because that would be no life at all.

"Please tell me why you're so upset with me," Mike pleaded. "I'm not telepathic. I don't know what I did that's made you so angry. How can we talk about it if you won't tell me?"

Kurt stilled in his arms and pulled back slightly, looking up at him.

Mike was startled at the reminder that he and Kurt were almost the same height now. For so long, Mike had towered over him and he had kind of dug that because it made him feel like some big protector, even though Kurt could pretty much wipe the floor with, well, anybody.

Kurt had grown up.

Oh.

Oh.

"Why do you pull away every time I try ..." Kurt trailed off, averting his eyes and cursing his furious blush. "Do you not ... am I not ..." His frustration overcame him and he fell silent, grinding his teeth.

Mike felt like the world's biggest asshole. "You're everything to me. If you don't know that, it's my fault. Of course I want us to have sex. You are the most beautiful person I've ever seen, male or female, witch or mortal. There's no one who could even compare to you.

"I love you so much, Kurt," he whispered. "I've loved you since we were six years old, since the very moment I met you. I knew then that I would have no life without you in it. Remember when Brittany married us under the jungle gym in second grade? That was real for me. I really do think of you as my husband."

Kurt blinked owlishly. "Really?" he murmured.

The disbelief in Kurt's voice broke Mike's heart. He sighed.

"Maybe I've just romanticized it for too long. I think I'm ready, you've said that you're ready, but how do we really know? We've seen what happens to other couples when they have sex. I want it to be perfect, but I know it probably won't be. I know that we'll both be nervous and scared and unsure. I know that it will probably be over far too soon. We're...we're such virgins, Kurt, and I'm scared that I won't be good, that I won't be good for you. I don't want you to regret anything."

Kurt took his face in his hands. "I had no idea you felt that way." He smiled sadly. "Despite what you believe, I can't always read you, Mike. The moments I most want to know what you're thinking are the same moments denied to me. I don't know why. Maybe that's just magic's way of keeping some mystery in our relationship."

He gently traced the apple of Mike's cheek. "We've waited a long time, longer than most of our friends, and if you want to wait longer, that's fine. It really is. I feel I'm ready, but I don't want to pressure you. I never want to do that. I never want you to resent me. I'm not worried about what it will be like, because the only thing that matters is that it will be with you."

Mike bit his lip and blinked harshly to hold back the tears that had suddenly filled his eyes. Why did Kurt have to say stuff like that? Why did Kurt have to be so ... so ... Kurt? He closed his eyes and touched his forehead to Kurt's own.

"I'm scared," he admitted. "I know how it's all supposed to work, but actually doing it? We don't even know ..."

He blushed furiously.

"Don't know what?" Kurt prompted. "Tell me, Mike. We should be able to discuss this. Are you scared in general, or are you scared of me?"

Mike's eyes snapped open. "Of course I'm not scared of you!" He sighed. "I'm just...I'm so nervous. What if I hurt you? What if you hurt me? And that's another thing: who's going to top? Do you want to? What if I don't like being the bottom? What if you don't either? What happens then?"

"Whoa," Kurt said soothingly, "calm down, honey. Let's just take this one step at a time, okay?"

Mike nodded tightly.

Kurt exhaled. "Okay, first of all, just because we're gay doesn't mean we're required to have anal sex. If you don't want to, for whatever reason, then we won't."

"Do you want to?"

"Yes," Kurt said frankly. "I want to feel you inside me."

His bluntness, the immediacy and truth of his words, made Mike's heart skip, his stomach flip, and his cock hard. He ran his tongue over his suddenly dry lips. "You want that?" he asked, voice husky and filled with longing.

Kurt's eyes widened. "Are you kidding me? Do you have any idea how often I've dreamed of you bending me over the closest horizontal object and fucking me until I lose consciousness?"

Mike started panting. Kurt didn't say words like those often, if at all. To hear them now, in this context, with Kurt so obviously wanting him...

Wow.

Wow.

"But what if I hurt you?" Mike demanded. "I don't know how to do ... that. How to do it right. I want to make you feel good. I don't want to cause you pain." He frowned. "And what if I want you to ..." he trailed off, tasting the word on his tongue before uttering it "... fuck me?"

He swallowed with great difficulty as he watched Kurt's eyes darken with desire, lids growing heavy, and suddenly he had images in his mind of Kurt fucking him against a wall, in a car, in an elevator, in a grocery store.

Whoa.

Then the scenarios shifted and he was fucking Kurt in the Cheerios' locker room, in the dressing room at Marshall Fields, on a swingset.

Okay, so maybe he wanted to try anal.

And then Kurt was back in his arms, pressed up against him tightly, and he could feel how hard Kurt was. He could feel how hard he had make Kurt. He felt an absurd sense of accomplishment. But he wanted to feel a lot more. He groaned.

"I want you so much, Mike," Kurt whispered, pressing a gentle kiss to the corner of his boyfriend's mouth. "Every morning I wake up and I'm hard like this because of you, because I've been dreaming of you all night, dreaming of having you in every possible way."

Mike inhaled sharply.

"I meant what I said before. I don't want to rush you. I don't have a problem with waiting. But can we at least make our relationship a little more ... R-rated? Please?"

Mike's breathing increased rapidly. "What ... What did you have in mind?"

"Blowjobs."

Mike groaned again, dropping his head on Kurt's shoulder.

"I want you in my mouth," Kurt whispered before nibbling on a delicious earlobe.

"Kurt," Mike whined.

"I want to taste you. I want to swallow you."

"Oh, god. Oh god, oh god, oh god."

"Can we at least do handjobs?" Kurt begged. "Please, Mike. I, I just ... I need to touch you. I need to feel you. I know that we're more than sex, more than hormones and proximity and convenience. You're it for me. I'm not trying to use sex to validate us, but I need something."

Mike winced. He hadn't realized just how much his constant rejections had hurt and frustrated Kurt. He had thought he was doing the right things: not rushing, taking their time, waiting for that special moment; and he was glad they had waited, but did they really need to wait longer?

They had taken their time. They had taken more than ten years. They were hopelessly in love with each other, they had that going in, and it was possible that sex would only deepen their connection. Now that he was forced to stop and think about it, he no longer felt rushed. Sex was the next logical progression of their relationship. Yes, he was nervous and scared, but so was Kurt, and at least they would face everything together.

"Is anyone else home?"

Kurt's eyes widened to the size of saucers as he frantically shook his head. "No! Dad's at work and Prue's over at Aunt Ashley's."

"Can ... can we take it slow?"

Kurt's eyes softened. "We can do whatever you like, Mike. You set the pace."

Mike shyly began unbuttoning his shirt, blushing furiously at Kurt's sharp gasp when he removed it.

"You're beautiful," Kurt whispered, his eyes reverent. "You're so beautiful, Mike. You're perfect."

Mike didn't feel perfect. He felt awkward and nervous and ...

"You're perfect to me," Kurt added. "You're perfect for me."

Mike's smile was blinding. "Will you hold me?"

And then Kurt was in his arms, pressed so tightly against him they were almost one.

"Take your shirt off," Mike murmured, sucking on the pulse point right behind Kurt's ear. "I want to feel your skin against mine."

Kurt shuddered and moaned deeply in his throat, the vibration of which caused Mike, impossibly, to harden even further. Kurt quickly divested himself of his top layers and then both hissed at the bare contact. Mike maneuvered them over to the bed.

"Pants?" Kurt hesitantly asked after they had settled.

Mike slowly nodded. "But that's all for right now. Please?"

"Of course."

Then they were in their underwear and Mike closed his eyes in bliss as Kurt's silky skin glided all over his body. It was the most erotic sensation he had ever experienced. His senses went on overdrive as Kurt's natural scent, sandalwood, as well as his grapefruit shampoo, overwhelmed him. God, Kurt always smelled so good.

"I love you," Kurt whispered in his ear. "I love you so much, Michael."

Mike bit his lip. Other than his parents, only Kurt ever called him Michael and his connotation was entirely different from theirs. There was something so seductive, so fucking hot, when Kurt used his insufferable Hermione Granger voice, all bossy and proper with veiled impatience.

Mike very much enjoyed when Kurt took charge, as it was somewhat rare. Yes, Kurt was the unquestioned head of their coven and he led the charge in every magical situation. In private, however, when it was just them, Kurt was shy and somewhat reserved, preferring Mike take the reins. Mike would make and set up their dates, including times and places. Mike would choose what movies they watched, the restaurants at which they dined, the stores they visited in the mall.

Frankly, Mike was sick of it.

He liked when Kurt assumed command. He liked when Kurt made choices for them. He liked when Kurt wasn't reticent or anxious about making a decision or asking a question. They'd been together for over a decade, yet Kurt was often so apprehensive where their relationship was concerned.

Why?

Why was Kurt so terrified that he would be left?

Mike knew that if he and Kurt ever broke up, it would be Kurt who would have to initiate it. He would never leave Kurt by choice.

Both of them arched their backs when their clothed erections came into contact. Mike's gasp was smothered when his mouth was assaulted by Kurt's own. His eyes rolled back into his head as Kurt sucked on his tongue.

Everything was now so intense: scent, sight, taste, colors. It all felt so much more real; they both felt more alive than ever before.

And then Kurt was grinding against him and nibbling on his collar bone and licking the hollow beneath his Adam's apple.

Jesus Christ, how had he gotten this far in life without experiencing Kurt Hummel feasting upon him? What had he been thinking by delaying this so much?

Kurt's fingertips mapped every inch of Mike's body, memorizing every little sigh and gasp that escaped during his ministrations. He was meticulous in his exploration, nothing mattering more at this moment than Mike's utter satisfaction.

"I love you," Kurt breathed into his ear. "I love you so much, Michael. I can't even imagine a world without you in it, and I don't want to."

Kurt made the name Michael an adjective of all things holy.

"I love you, too," Mike murmured in between moans. "You're my everything, Kurt. You're my first thought when I wake up and my last when I lie down. You're in every dream I have and you keep all of the monsters at bay."

They then locked eyes and Mike couldn't remember when he had ever seen Kurt look so gorgeous. His face and upper chest were flushed, sweat dripping from his brow, pupils blown, hair tousled from sweat and Mike's fingers.

And Mike had made that happen. Kurt looked like that - like a sexy, wild, craven man - because of him.

Mike Chang was debauching the most powerful witch who had ever walked the planet.

He shuddered in ecstasy, his body convulsing as his orgasm approached. Inanely, he was annoyed that he hadn't brought Kurt off first. After all, Kurt was doing most of the work; Mike was just laying there and going boneless. If it was this amazing - and they hadn't even taken off their underwear - he was fairly certain Kurt would kill him when it came time for actual sex.

"Come for me, Michael," Kurt pleaded. "I want to see your face when you come."

That was all it took.

Mike was then shrieking as his orgasm was ripped from him, crying out in rapture, before sinking his teeth into Kurt's shoulder.

"Harder!" Kurt encouraged. "Mark me, Michael. Make me yours."

Mike couldn't stand it anymore. He rolled them over, pinning Kurt underneath him, and thrust his hand into Kurt's jock.

"Oh, my god," Kurt whispered, eyes closing.

"Keep your eyes open," Mike hissed.

Kurt immediately complied.

"Look at me. I love you so much. You're my life. I was a fucking idiot for making you wait."

"No," Kurt slurred. "I under..."

"Fuck understanding!" Mike scowled, fisting Kurt's slick cock in his hand. "You mean everything to me and I denied you because I was scared, because I was terrified that once we did this, you wouldn't want me anymore."

Kurt was confused and aghast and shaking his head in denial.

Mike buried his face in Kurt's neck.

Fuck, how could Kurt still smell so goddamn delicious after all this? He started lapping at Kurt's neck, smiling when Kurt released a keening wail.

"Only you, Mike," Kurt mumbled. "I only want you."

And then he spilled over into Mike's hand before pulling Mike down on top of him, his arms and legs wrapping tight around Mike's body and holding him in place. If he could have crawled into Mike's skin, he would have. He had never been this close to anyone and he didn't want it to stop.

"You're amazing," he whispered into Mike's ear.

Mike pressed kisses to Kurt's chest, but he was also suddenly aware that this was about a lot more than taking their relationship to the next level. This was about love, yes, absolutely, but there was also something ... contrived about it. Kurt was trying to make a point, take a stand, and, as usual, Mike had cottoned on after the fact.

"What about Sam?" he asked.

He knew it was a mistake as soon as he heard Kurt's intake of breath.

Kurt released him, pushed him away, and turned his head to the side, slowly drawing the sheet up over his body.

"I'm not enough for you."

"That's not true at all!" Mike bellowed, sitting up. "You're everything to me!"

"I'm not," Kurt said, voice dull and tinny. "You want him, too."

"Don't you?" Mike asked in confusion.

"Not more than I want you," Kurt whispered. "Not more than I wanted this. I wanted this to be for us, to be about us."

Mike slowly exhaled. He had taken a lot for granted where Sam was concerned - and Kurt, too, frankly. He had just assumed that Kurt had been on the same page, but he obviously wasn't. Not at all.

The truth of the matter was that while Mike loved Sam, he didn't love him in the same way he loved Kurt. He never could. He could live a life without Sam - he didn't particularly want to, but he could - but he could never live without Kurt.

And he knew Sam felt the same way.

From the moment - the very moment - Sam had caught sight of Kurt, he had fallen hopelessly in love. Mike knew that Sam loved him, but Sam's love for Kurt was on another level entirely.

Mike and Sam had fallen for Kurt instantly, but their love for each other had taken much longer to develop. At first, Sam had been extremely cautious and Mike very territorial. Sam's connection to Kurt had been apparent from that first day and Mike knew he couldn't interfere with that, that he shouldn't, that Sam had been given to Kurt for a reason.

And he was scared. When Brittany had revealed that Sam was the Fifth, Mike knew that, regardless of their feelings for Kurt, Sam wasn't going anywhere. At the end of the day, the Pentad was more important than Mike Chang.

Kurt wouldn't have agreed, of course. If Mike had asked, Kurt would have banished Sam from their circle and the Pentad would never have come together. The girls would have gone along because Kurt's decisions were absolute when it came to stuff like that. Besides, even though Sam was friends with Brittany and Santana, and best friends with Quinn, the girls loved Mike like they would a brother.

Mike knew that Kurt would have pushed Sam away, but he could never countenance it. He knew how important Kurt was, what would soon come to be demanded of him, and he wasn't going to let Kurt go out into that terrifying world without every weapon in his arsenal available to him.

Sam was important to Kurt and thus important to Mike.

Once Mike had accepted that, he accepted Sam. It was easy, really. Sam was a truly awesome guy, the kind of guy you read about in stories who has it all but never gets the girl or guy because he's too nice. Sam really was a nice person.

Sam was what Mike wanted for Kurt.

And then Mike and Sam had grown closer. Their conversations became deeper and their casual touches became softer. And then they were in the locker room after a game and couldn't stop staring at each other while they showered.

He liked Sam. He wanted Sam. He loved Sam.

But definitely not more than he loved Kurt.

So if Sam was what Mike wanted and Sam was also what Kurt needed, then Mike intended to make sure Kurt had Sam. He could share. It was worth it. Kurt was worth anything.

Somehow he had neglected to ask Kurt just what it was that he wanted, which was an asinine thing to do. Mike knew how insecure Kurt was about interpersonal relationships. He didn't necessarily know why Kurt was so insecure, but he knew that he was. It never even crossed his mind that Kurt might feel jealous or hurt because of Sam.

Especially because Mike knew - he absolutely knew - that Kurt was also in love with Sam.

This was about something more he had originally thought. He also believed that Kurt was deliberately trying to manipulate him into feeling guilty, to make him feel as insecure as Kurt himself was feeling.

"Look at me," Mike said softly.

Kurt ignored him and kept his eyes focused firmly on the far wall.

"Look at me!" Mike thundered, wincing when Kurt flinched and cautiously peeked over his shoulder, huge eyes meeting Mike's own.

"I love you," Mike repeated. "I want to be with you. That is never going to change."

He warmed when that delectable blush started across Kurt's cheeks.

"Tell me, right here and right now, that you're not in love with Sam and I'll never bring this up again. I'm not going to let him or anyone else come between us, Kurt. You're too important to me. I can't live without you; I won't. But I need you to tell me that you don't love him. I also need you to tell that to him, because whether or not you believe it, whether you or not you want to acknowledge it, you know that Sam is in love with you."

Kurt dropped his eyes, his blush deepening.

"It's okay that you love Sam," said a gentle Mike. "I love him, too. No, I don't love him the way I love you. There is no one I could love the way that I love you." He took in a deep breath. "I can live without Sam. I cannot and will not live without you. So if Sam is a deal-breaker, then I can let him go with little difficulty, but you also have to do the same for him. It would be too cruel to allow him to continue to love you and not tell him that nothing will ever come of it."

A sinking feeling began settling in his stomach. He drew in a sharp breath as tears gathered in his eyes. "And if you want to be with Sam instead of me," he whispered, swallowing heavily, "then I under..."

"No!" Kurt yelled, sitting straight up. "No! Never. I will always want you, Mike. You're mine until the day we both die and then for the eternity after that." His eyes darkened. "You. Are. Mine."

Mike shuddered, Kurt's possessiveness reawakening his cock.

Kurt turned away, his face pensive. "Why can't I ... I just want to be normal. I want one thing in my life to be normal. I don't always want to be the Hand. I don't always want to be the leader of the Pentad. I don't want to be the subject of prophecies or know that, if I don't make the right choices, I could help bring about the end of existence as we know it. Being in love with two people is not normal.

"You're my normal. You make me sane when everything is crazy. You make remember that I'm Kurt, that I'm an actual person, not just a construct or a ... or a thing that exists to placate the whims of others."

Mike reached over and pulled Kurt toward him, not caring when Kurt fought. He knew that Kurt would eventually settle in his arms and, soon enough, he did.

"You're Kurt Hummel," Mike whispered, kissing Kurt's ear. "That's who you are to me. I don't care about the rest of it. That's just biology. It's forces beyond our control. When I look at you, I see that boy from the very first day of school who looked at me shyly and told me he liked the way my hair shined."

Kurt said nothing for a very long time, content, for the moment, to be held. "I do love Sam," he finally whispered, "but I shouldn't. It's not right. It hurts my heart. You're my everything and that should be enough. There's something wrong with me that I won't let you be enough."

Mike sighed and gently began rocking them. "You're looking at this the wrong way. Sam being given to us is a blessing, not a curse. It's the universe's way of balancing the scales somewhat for everything it has planned for you. You deserve love, Kurt. Your love for Sam takes nothing away from your love for me."

He paused. "If you're lucky, you'll find one true love in your life. Your parents had that. Mine have that. Brittany and Santana have that. But we have two. That's amazing."

Kurt sighed.

"Prue is hopelessly in love with a man who's happily married to another man," Mike continued. "Puck and Tina are happy for now, but he's in love with you and she's in love with Santana. We both know that Quinn and Matt aren't going to last. Eventually the fact that he's not magical is going to come between them. As much as Quinn loves him, and I know that she does, she needs to be with someone who is able to share her entire experience, not just parts of herself."

"What about you and Matt?" Kurt asked gently, rubbing Mike's arm.

"It's not the same. I trust Matt with my life. He's my best friend. He knows I'm a witch and it doesn't scare him. I know that he will never betray me. I know that he loves you because I do. I know that he will always love Quinn. And I know that he knows they're not meant to last. He helped her get over Finn and she helped him come out of his shell. That's enough for them."

"Why do you think Quinn hasn't told him?"

"Because, at the end of the day, magic is more important to her than Matt is, and that's okay. It's good she realizes it and doesn't string him along. You and Sam mean more to her than Matt ever will, and it's not because she doesn't love him, but because you're her best friends. You know everything about her and love her anyway. I honestly don't know if Matt could handle it. Sure, he could deal with the fact that she's a witch, but that's she's a fifth of the Pentad? No."

"I feel like it's my fault."

"That's bullshit. Kurt, Sam and the girls have their own destinies. The fact that those destinies overlap with yours is not your responsibility. If anything, be grateful that the Powers saw fit to grace you with people you love and trust. Imagine having to go through all of this and being saddled with someone like Karofsky or Rachel."

Kurt made gagging noises. "Point taken," he said after several long moments.

"Look how close you are to Artie," Mike added. "He arguably knows you better than anyone outside of the circle, but you haven't told him."

"I can't," he whispered. "I'm scared. What if he wanted me to use magic to..."

"To make his legs whole?" Mike quietly asked.

"I don't know if I could do that," Kurt painfully admitted. "I'd want to, but I don't know if it would be the right thing. My healing ability is new and mostly untested. I don't even know if I'd be allowed to heal a mortal. Artie wasn't injured fighting evil."

"I thought those were rules only for Whitelighters?" Mike asked.

Kurt shrugged. "No one knows, and that's what scares me. Personal gain is a real thing. Spells backfiring are a real thing. I don't want to hurt Artie anymore than he's already been hurt."

"You can't be everything for everyone, baby," Mike said. "You're the best person I know. You're kind and caring and compassionate, even to those who don't return the favor, but you're not omnipotent. You don't control this strange world. You're strong, yes, and ridiculously powerful, but you're still human, Kurt."

"Am I?" Kurt whispered.

"Of course you are! Kurt, you're the very definition of humanity. You have this almost insurmountable task set for you and you have never once flinched in the face of it. You've never run from it or abandoned your comrades, even though you could; you have the power to do it. But that's never even occurred to you. You love this world and the people in it. You want to protect them and you're planning to do just that.

"There's nothing in it for you. You know better than to expect some grand reward. You know very well that you could die. You know ... you know we could lose some or all of our friends."

Kurt gasped and turned his head, burying it in Mike's neck.

"But will you let that stop you?"

"No," Kurt answered, voice small. "I can't. Too many people are depending on me."

"Don't do this because of other people, Kurt. Do it because it's the right thing to do. This is a good fight and I'm glad to be a part of it. There's nowhere else I'd rather be than standing at your side."

"I wouldn't survive if I lost you."

"Yes, you would," Mike said staunchly, "because you know what's at stake and you know I would want you to go on and kick this thing's ass, whatever it turns out to be. And we both know you will never lose me. We might be separated for a while, but we'll always find our way back to each other."

"Do you really believe that?" Kurt asked in wonder.

Mike pressed a soft kiss to Kurt's cheek. "I believe in you."

Chapter Text

It was six in the morning and Connor was surprised yet not when Dawn stormed into his room.

"What the hell is wrong with you?" she demanded. "And don't tell me nothing is when I know something is!"

He gave her a bland look.

She scoffed. "Really? You're going to try that passive-aggressive shit with me, really? You know my sister, right?"

He grimaced. It was a good point.

She sat down on his bed and placed her hands on his knees. "You were upset all day yesterday," she said quietly. "I know we're not really twins, but sometimes ... sometimes I forget, you know? We play the hell out of being brother and sister, but you're more to me than a brother. You ... you're my other half."

He blushed and looked down. He wanted to tell her he felt the same but he didn't because he didn't know how. Sometimes he was still so confused about who he was, what he felt, the name to which he was supposed to answer.

Once the spell had been broken, he was no longer Stephen, but neither was he Connor. Instead, he was this strange amalgamation of the baby raised by Angel and Cordelia, the boy raised by Holtz, the man Stephen could have been, and the angry young man who had returned, tried to kill his father, and ...

He forced away the images of Jasmine, of what she had made Cordelia do, of what he had been manipulated into doing to her.

And now he was supposed to be Connor Summers, the faux brother of Dawn and Buffy and Xander. It was a difficult sell. He loved Dawn; she was his best friend and, in a very real way, his soul mate - if he believed in such things, which he wasn't sure he did. He didn't like Buffy and never would; the feeling was entirely mutual. He didn't have feelings about Darla one way or the other, but thought it ridiculous Buffy so disliked him simply because of who his mother had been.

As for Xander, well, those feelings never had been and never could be entirely fraternal.

"Is this about Xander?" a knowing Dawn gently asked.

He sighed. "No," he whispered. "I know Xander and Sam belong together. I'm reminded of that every time I look at them." He gave her a watery smile. "It hurts less now. I think it hurt so much before because I love them both and I didn't know how to reconcile my feelings for Sam with his place in my life."

She raised a brow. "And have you?"

He ran his tongue over his lips. "I heard ... "

"I know about the enhanced abilities, Con," she said, rolling her eyes. "How long have we been living together?"

His smile was brittle. "I overheard them talking yesterday afternoon before the, um, the sex. When we were in the living room with the brother."

Dawn quirked her lips. She found it amusing Conner refused to refer to Dean by name, regarding him only as an unwelcome interloper. "Well," she said, eagerly leaning forward, "don't keep me in suspense!"

He paused. This was verging into territory he wasn't sure was his business. The revelation regarding Dawn's paternity was shocking only in that he hadn't before realized it. He should have. The signs were clearly there.

He sighed and decided to table that avenue of discussion for the moment, placing his hands atop hers.

"Sam told Xander that he thinks of us as their children."

Her wide eyes grew impossibly wider and she said nothing for several long moments. "Really?" she finally whispered.

He understood; he felt the same. Dawn had never had a father, not really; her memories of Hank Summers had been created to satisfy questions which might later arise, but her sense of his abandonment of her and Buffy was quite real. She had loved Joyce dearly but the woman had died when Dawn was still a teenager. According to Dawn, and several other people, she had been a total brat then and had often, sometimes intentionally, alienated her mother, never thinking she might lose her. Until she did.

As for himself, Holtz had never been a father but more of a mentor, and a horrible one at that. He didn't consider Angel his father, not really, and he couldn't remember Cordelia as his mother, surrogate or otherwise. He tried not to remember Cordelia as much as possible.

He bit his lip and nodded.

Dawn exhaled. "Sam's only two years older than us."

"I know, but that's what he said. It's what he feels."

"He ... he loves us? That much? Like a father would?" She tried, but couldn't really wrap her head around the idea. "He wants to be our father?"

"Sam said that he thinks of you and me as their children. Xander asked if Sam wanted to have children with him. Sam said they already had children together."

"Us?"

He nodded.

Dawn was quiet for another long series of moments. Finally, she began to voice her thoughts, speaking slowly, as if testing the words for their veracity as she uttered them. "I understand, you know, your feelings for Xander. I had them too. He was the only man in my life for a very long time."

She looked out the bay window. "Even though my memories from when I was a child are false, they still feel real to me and Xander was a huge part of them. Hank was never interested in me. I was more of an irritant to Giles than anything else. Riley and Spike both thought of me as a little sister, an extension of Buffy. But Xander ... "

She turned back to face him. "He was always there for me. He's the one I remember babysitting me when I was a kid because Buffy couldn't be bothered or was too wrapped up with Angel. Xander taught me how to play video games and count cards and make awesome sandwiches. He's the one who taught me how to ride a bike and who interrogated my first date and who always understood me when I couldn't understand myself.

"He was there."

She shook her head in frustration. "I know that doesn't make sense, but ..."

"Yes it does."

She stared into his eyes and nodded before turning wistful. "He became my ideal. At first, I thought of him as my older brother and desperately wanted to trade Buffy for him. Then he started dating Cordelia, who was just so cool. She was always nice to me, made time for me, helped me with homework and clothes and boys." She smirked. "That she didn't like Buffy was just a bonus."

She sent an anxious glance his way.

"It's okay to talk about her," he whispered. "I like when you do. It helps me remember that she was a person, that she existed before I ruined her."

She grabbed his chin. "That was not you, Connor. That ... that thing ... used you both. It ... it raped both of you!" She shook her head. "This is something I've never told you because I wasn't sure how you'd react ..."

He unconsciously leaned toward her.

"Willow wasn't the only person with whom Cordelia stayed in contact. By then, I was, well, real, I suppose, in that I existed. She had memories of me, either because she was included in the original spell or she was given memories to keep up the façade. She and I used to talk a lot, about Xander," she swallowed, "and about you."

"Me?"

"She loved you so much, Connor. You have to believe that, all right? Because it's true. She loved you because you were you, not just because you're Angel's son or in spite of the fact that Darla was your mother. She loved you. When you were taken, well, she had to be strong for Angel, but I remember those early months when she would call me and tell me how much she missed you, how much she loved you, that she ached for you."

She closed her eyes. "I can still hear her sobbing. She couldn't talk about you with Angel and she didn't trust Wesley, not where you were concerned. She wasn't in contact with Xander and she certainly wasn't going to confide something so personal to Willow, so she told me."

His breathing became very shallow as his eyes filled with panic.

"So please trust me when I tell you that, had she survived, she never would have blamed you for what happened. She would have fought anyone and everything for you. She never would have allowed Angel to do that stupid spell. At the end of the day, you were her child and she loved you. She still does. I know that, I feel that. I still feel her. She's all around us."

His angry, bitter tears spilled over.

"I loved my mother with everything inside of me and I always will, but I would be lying if I denied that I hadn't often wished Xander and Cordelia were my parents."

He bit his tongue to hold his silence.

"For so long, my feelings for Xander were confused and I took that out on a lot of people." Her eyes filled with tears. "Especially Anya," she warbled. "It wasn't until Xander left her at the altar that I began to see her as a real person and we became very close. She told me ... she told me that she understood how I felt, about my confusion. She had been a demon for over a thousand years and then suddenly was just thrust into this mortal life without any instruction or help."

She smiled. "Do you know what she said?"

Connor shook his head.

She closed her eyes as the memory washed over her. She opened her mouth and spoke the words Anya had murmured all those years ago: Suddenly you're thrown into a world that you don't understand. You don't know how things work and no one will it explain it to you. There are rules in place you think are stupid, but you're helpless to change them. People make decisions for you, ones you disagree with; they don't ask you, they don't even make suggestions, they just inform you.

Her eyes opened.

We're human, Dawn. It doesn't matter who brought us here or how we came to be. We have souls. We love. We are loved. We are real.

"Wow," he breathed.

She wiped her eyes and nodded. "Yeah. When she died, it was awful. Xander was a such a mess and neither Willow nor Buffy were much help. They tried, they did, but they never liked Anya. Xander knew that and he also remembered how they had treated Cordelia." She sighed. "Sometimes he would talk to me, but more often than not, he would just sit in a darkened room and try to remember to breathe."

Connor frowned. "Until Sam."

"Well, not just him," Dawn said. "There was also Prue and Africa and Nysa." A corner of her mouth raised in a hesitant smile. "But mostly Sam, yeah."

"I don't think I'll ever have anyone like that," he admitted. "I don't think anyone could ever love me so much."

"That's ridiculous," she countered, rolling her eyes. "We've been through a lot, Con, but we're still young. We're so young. Love will find you, but you have to let it." She raised a brow. "That means letting go of some stuff."

He drew up his knees and set his chin on them. "I know, and my feelings for Xander aren't like they were. I mean, I love him, I do, and it's weird that I can say that. I probably couldn't say it to his face and I still can't say it about Angel." He cut her off when she opened her mouth to interrupt. "I don't blame him, Dawn. Nothing that happened to me is really his fault and I know he's done everything he could to help me, even if they weren't necessarily the right things, but I don't feel any connection to him."

"Maybe you should stop trying so hard," she suggested. "You can't force those feelings, Connor. Either you have them or you don't; maybe you'll develop them or you won't. Stop feeling guilty. Angel knew you needed help he couldn't provide, which is why he sent you here in the first place, just like Buffy did with me."

He snorted. "You, I can understand. You've always had a relationship with Xander and Buffy loves him like a brother, but why did Angel send me here? He hates Xander."

Dawn dropped her eyes and looked away. "There's a thin line between love and hate."

His mouth fell open and he stared at her for a long time. "No way," he denied.

She sighed. "No matter what they might say or do, Angel and Xander are connected, even if neither of them desire it. They have feelings for each other. I don't know what those feelings are and I don't think they do either, but they're real. Maybe once, a very long time ago, something might have happened. What I can tell you is that I've never seen either one react to another as they do to each other."

She shrugged. "Xander took you in, Connor. He didn't have to, he didn't owe Angel anything, but he took you because he wanted to help you. Sure, he's come to love you as the awesome guy you are, but initially? It was because Angel asked. That's a lot of trust and responsibility going both ways, though they'll never admit it. If Angel didn't trust him, would he really have given him his child?"

He chewed on that for a moment. "Sam was worried that we would leave them, go back to Angel and Buffy."

She scowled. "Not going to happen," she proclaimed. "Not for me and not ever." She paused. "You?"

He slowly shook his head. "I want to be with Xander and Sam. And you."

She grinned and once again took his hand. "So what do we do?"

"They love us, Dawn," he said quietly. "They want to be our parents, so I say we let them. We could do a lot worse."

Her eyes widened. "What do you mean? Like, make it official or something?"

"I think we're too old to be adopted," he said, "but they've been my parents for three years now. I love them. I want to be with them. I think it's time I told them that."

She bit her lip and nodded. "Then let's go wake up our dads."

 


 

Dean stumbled out of the guest room and into the kitchen in desperate search of coffee. He hadn't yet acclimated to the time difference and thought nothing of appearing in just his boxers. He pulled a face when he heard light singing and came to an abrupt halt just before the kitchen island, blinking blearily at the hot piece before him.

"Whoa," he rasped, "I didn't know Sammy had a sexy maid. Awesome. I'll take three eggs sunny-side up."

The girl looked up with a cocked eyebrow and flashing eyes. "I know you didn't just call me a maid."

His eyes widened. "Sorry. Is there a proper term or something? Domestic? Housekeeper?"

Her lip curled. "I live here, jackass."

"Oh. So ... you're a live-in maid?"

"Xander's my guardian, you asshole!"

He blinked again. "Huh?"

She snorted. "You must be the brother," she spat. "You really suck at making first impressions."

"Guardian?" he dumbly repeated.

Nysa pursed her lips and debated what to say. She knew that Dean was unaware of all the Slayer stuff, so she wasn't sure how to phrase this, that Xander was her legal guardian. She couldn't just come out and declare him her Watcher. As she bit her tongue so sharply she drew blood, Sam thankfully wandered in and saved her.

"Morning, Dean," he said, yawning, before sidling up to Nysa and kissing her cheek. "Good morning, honey. You didn't have to start breakfast; it's my turn."

She smiled. "It's no trouble, Sam. I'm happy to help."

Dean narrowed his eyes at the affection and easy familiarity. For some reason he couldn't explain, a protective streak surged up his backbone - for Xander.

"What the hell is this, Sammy? You have a husband in the next room but you're in here creeping on his ward?"

Nysa grabbed a knife and brandished it before her. "Oh, no, you did not!"

Sam grabbed her shoulder. "Easy. It's our fault for not explaining everything to him."

She snarled and glared at Dean, who was now wisely backing up. "First he assumes that I am your maid and now he is insinuating I am your mistress? I do not care if he is your brother. He must die!"

She threw the knife, which embedded itself in the wall mere centimeters from Dean's head.

Dean was confused by the sudden proper diction and thick Greek accent. And then there was the knifeplay. "Who the hell are you, lady?"

Sam sighed and forced Nysa's arm to the counter. Well, forced was a misnomer. He couldn't force her to do anything. Slayer strength and all. He rolled his eyes when she grabbed another knife.

"Dean, Nysa is Xander's cousin, a distant cousin, but his only family other than Buffy and the twins. Nysa was born and raised in Namibia to foreign diplomat parents."

He looked at her with a silent question in his eyes.

She gave him a terse nod.

"They were killed three years ago during an insurgence in Libya. Xander arranged to have her come here and live with him."

Dean was frowning and at last nodded. The more he heard about Xander, the greater the respect he was beginning to form for the man. At the very least, his new brother-in-law was devoted to family. That counted for a lot where he was concerned.

"I'm sorry," he said sincerely, holding out his hand. "I'm sometimes particularly stupid in the early morning. I'm Dean Winchester. It's nice to meet you."

She eyed him with suspicion but at last grunted, grabbing his hand and pumping it once, squeezing harder than was necessary. "Nysa Dicopoulous."

She released him quickly and returned to making breakfast.

Dean sighed and sat down on one of the stools, figuring he had once again fucked up Sam's new life.

"Everything go okay last night?" Sam quietly asked Nysa, who nodded.

"Nothing to report," she muttered.

Dean assumed she must have had a date, one that probably didn't go well, and decided to keep chewing on his foot currently in his mouth rather than inserting the other one. His hand still ached from her grip. Wow, was she into isometrics or something?

Xander breezed in wearing nothing but sleep pants, nodded at Dean, kissed Nysa's cheek in greeting, and wrapped Sam into his arms.

"Morning, baby," he said softly, trailing kisses across Sam's jaw.

Sam smiled, leaned down, and pressed a gentle yet passionate kiss to Xander's lips. "Hi."

Dean watched this with interest and envy. He usually found such easy intimacy to be annoying and cloying, but this ... Sam was so happy. All he'd ever wanted for Sam was his happiness and if Xander gave that to him ... well, he admitted to himself he'd been kind of a dick last night, so he had a lot to make up for. He wasn't going to push, though; he'd let Sam set the pace.

He smiled when Nysa rolled her eyes at Sam and Xander then looked to him and shook her head.

It was at that moment Dawn and Connor bounced into the kitchen. Well, Dawn bounced; Connor sloped.

Dean looked around and wondered what kind of Brady Bunch bullshit this was supposed to be. He wanted to deny it touched him. He stomped down the feelings which demanded he wanted this for himself one day because that shit was corny.

"Morning, Dads!" a cheerful Dawn exclaimed, somehow managing to strangle both Xander and Sam with her hug. Indeed, both men choked, though for different reasons.

"Wha?" Xander said dumbly.

"Dads?" Sam blankly repeated.

She nodded. "Connor overheard you telling Dad Number One that you thought of us as your kids." Her eyes misted. "That really meant a lot to us."

A horrified Sam peeked over at Connor who was smiling blindly at him. That was even scarier.

"So we've decided you're our dads," she said as though it were a foregone conclusion. "In that spirit," she added, holding out her hand, "give me money."

He rolled his eyes.

Dean sniggered. Now this was entertainment!

"I wasn't kidding. I need knew books."

"You don't need new books!" Xander insisted. "You're worse than Giles!"

She wrinkled her nose. "Clothes?"

"No, Buffy," he said, grinning.

She growled. "That was low, Dad."

Xander tried in vain to swallow the lump in his throat. "Dawn," he said quietly, "your father ..."

"Is right here," she interrupted. "Hank Summers was never my father, neither in thought nor feeling."

"In terms of consecutive parenting," Connor said quietly, "you and Sam have been there for us longer than anyone else."

Xander bit his lip in an effort to quash his own hope. "Connor ..."

"No," the boy said. "You and Sam are my parents. The end."

"It's only logical," Nysa said, rising to their defense as she often did. "If I wasn't the same age as Sam, I would make you both adopt me."

Xander and Sam balked.

Connor stilled. "Can we actually do that? I thought we were too old."

"Sure we can!" Dawn said. "You and I are adults, Con. We can make our own decisions. I'll have Lindsey draw up the papers."

"Do not contact Lindsey," Xander growled.

Her eyes widened and, chastened, she nodded and backed off. "Sorry," she whispered. "He's the only lawyer I know."

"Dawn, you know he has to stay under the radar. If the others even thought..."

She nodded again. "I know. I'm sorry."

"What the fuck is going on here!" Dean roared.

Three hours later, he could honestly say he wished he'd never asked.

 


 

Piper was racing around the club like a chicken with her head cut off and loving every minute of it. Somehow, and she wasn't quite sure how, she had forgotten how much work went into hosting a private party, even if it was for her own family.

Part of her still thought this was a bad idea. Getting her entire family together in one location was never a smart thing to do, but she was tired of having to plan family celebrations based around whatever demon du jour was temporarily in charge. Beyond that, however, was that it was technically illegal for her to have her children and nieces and nephew in P3 at all. If the police ever found out, her liquor license would be yanked immediately.

Still, it was her anniversary party, she absolutely wanted her sisters with her, and there was no one they trusted their children with, outside of Darryl and Sheila, who of course were also invited guests. Actually, they were the only guests. She had learned a while ago that inviting mortals to any congregation that involved magic - even if only tangentially - was a certified recipe for disaster. Granted, Darryl and Sheila were the exceptions, but that also meant the kids would also have to attend.

She paused in stacking the crates of champagne in the back room and sighed.

Didn't she and Leo have the right to one day? One measly day to celebrate their union? Their wedding had had to be forced on the sly, their honeymoon had turned into a disaster, the births of their children had been fraught with anguish ...

She shook her head and snapped out of her maudlin thoughts before she could talk herself out of this altogether. She was having this party and that's all there was to it. If demons wanted to attack, she would kill them. If patrons wanted to complain, she would ban them from the club in perpetuity. If her family had doubts, she'd hit them with a stick.

Satisfied, she nodded and grabbed her clipboard before charging back out into the main room where she promptly stopped in her tracks.

Some little boy was sitting at the bar patiently waiting for who knew what.

That vanishing liquor license suddenly became an all too real possibility.

"Excuse me," she said sharply, "but you can't be in here. This club is for persons twenty-one and older. I don't know who you are or what you're doing here, but ..."

He whirled around on the stool to face and silently contemplate her.

Whoa. He was cute.

She shook her head to clear it as the theme from Mrs. Robinson echoed loudly inside her head.

"But I'm an invited guest," he chirped.

She scowled. Paige and her foster care kids again. Honestly, she admired and respected the social work Paige had thrown herself into after the birth of the twins, but she couldn't have her sister just letting random children into her club!

He cocked his head and smiled. "I know it's been a very long time, Pippy, but I have to admit it stings a bit that you have yet to recognize me."

Her clipboard clattered to the floor.

The only person who had ever called her that was ...

"Kurt?" she whispered, not even daring to hope. But then she noticed the eyes and the hair and the cheekbones and the voice and oh god ...

"Hi, Piper! How's tricks?"

She choked on a sob and, before she knew it, was in his arms. How could he be so tall? How could he be so tall and so thin? That was really unfair. And his arms were so strong and he smelled so good and he was family.

"I missed you too," he whispered, burying his face in her neck as he ran his fingers through her hair.

She released a wet laugh. "I know it's only my anniversary, but why does it feel like my birthday and Christmas all wrapped up in one amazing package?"

"Because my stunning wardrobe makes everything classier."

She honked and pulled back, taking his face in her hands. "Look at you," she murmured, smiling through her tears. "You're all grown up."

He pouted. "And quite without an awesome cousin."

She blushed and turned her head. "Prue was the awesome one."

"You're all awesome. Always have been, always will be. Truly I was born into the right family."

She didn't understand why she couldn't stop laughing. Or crying. "Phoebe will be so happy to see you."

He nodded. "And I'll be happy to see her and all of my little cousins."

Her eyes lighted. "The kids! They'll be so thrilled to meet you!" She released him and stepped back. "Paige! Paige!"

Kurt raised a brow and said nothing, interested in how she was going to play this.

Paige appeared almost immediately with Phoebe in tow.

"What is it?" said a harried Paige. "A demon?"

"Better!" Piper cooed.

Paige stared.

Phoebe frowned. "Piper, what's wrong?"

Piper said nothing, merely stepping to the side.

Kurt threw a sheepish wave. "Hey, Pheebs. Surprise?"

Phoebe gave an exaggerated blink, her mouth fell open, and she then released a scream that, for Piper, recalled exactly why her sister had been selected to be a banshee all those years ago.

Then Phoebe actually levitated across the room to Kurt's side, blushing and stammering when he literally had to pull her down into his arms.

"Oh, Kurt!" she gushed, eyes spilling over with tears. "I can't believe you're really here! We thought you might not ... " She shook her head. "Forget it. All that matters is that you're here now."

"I am," he affirmed, "and nothing will separate us again." He pulled away and smiled before turning to Piper. "Incidentally, you may want to remember for the future about having people orb into your club when you're unsure as to whether your company is aware of magic."

Piper turned white.

"Since the Cleaners have yet to put in an appearance," he continued, "you may assume that I am. Aware, that is."

Phoebe blinked owlishly. "Are you ... I mean ..."

Kurt grinned. "We're all Warrens here, lady."

Her eyes lighted with glee and she screeched a shout of triumph, all but tackling him.

"You're a witch?" Piper breathed.

"I'm the witchiest," Kurt said. A raise of his eyebrow and every stick of furniture rose six feet off the ground, Piper and Phoebe with them.

"I'll say," Phoebe marveled. "When did you get your powers?"

"Oh, I've always had them," Kurt said offhandedly, "or, I should say, I've always been aware of them. I didn't receive them fully until after Mom died and the binding was dissolved."

"What happened?" Piper suddenly demanded. "All those years ago? Why were we separated?"

He exhaled. "We were at the Manor and demons attacked."

The sisters gasped.

"You and Phoebe were knocked out and Prue had been cornered in the conservatory." His eyes darkened. "Then a demon went for Mom."

"But she didn't have any active powers!" a horrified Phoebe shouted.

"I did."

They stared and moved closer.

"What did you do?" asked a worried Piper. "Were you hurt? Was that why we couldn't ... "

"No," he said quickly, averting his eyes. "I held them off until Prue could get to me and vanquish them."

More staring.

"Kurt, you were three," Phoebe protested.

Embarrassed, he blushed. "Yeah, well, I'm kind of stupidly powerful." He gave a diffident shrug. "They were attacking my mother."

Piper's eyes lighted with fierce pride.

He sighed. "At any rate, once it was over, I had passed out from exhaustion and you and Leo starting arguing with Piper and Prue. That's when Dad intervened and called for Mom's whitelighter, Cassie. She decided, along with my parents and Prue, to give all of you memory dust so you would forget I was a witch."

Piper frowned. "Why would they do that?"

Phoebe groaned. "What did I do?"

Piper snickered.

Kurt gave her a wry smile. "You and Leo wanted to take me from Mom and Dad and raise me at the Manor with you and the sisters."

Phoebe balked. "I would never do that! I would never separate a child from his parents! I'm a mother! There's no way ... " She trailed off and gave a dejected sigh. "I totally would have done something like that because I was selfish and arrogant."

"You were concerned," Kurt said sharply. "You were afraid the underworld would learn about me and come after me and that Mom wouldn't be able to protect me."

"That is not a good enough reason," she hissed.

Piper was cradling her head in her hands. "Please tell me I was against this."

He nodded. "You were. You and Prue were adamantly opposed, which set you against Leo. Eventually Prue took control. She led Mom in the spell to bind my powers and then dosed you both, as well as herself, with memory dust."

Phoebe's eyes were filled with tears. "That was Prue," she said softly. "Protecting family at all costs."

Kurt nodded. "Speaking of family, I believe there's a cousin I've yet to meet, though I've been looking forward to it for years." He turned and smiled. "Hello, Paige. Can I just tell you that you're absolutely gorgeous? You're definitely ours."

A blush ascended from her chest all the way up to her hairline. "How did you know about me?" she asked shyly. "Phoebe and Piper thought you didn't."

He waved a hand. "They should've known better. I have them on Google Alerts, so when it popped up that a long-lost sister had taken over Prue's share of the club, I put two and two together."

He walked past a sputtering Phoebe and Piper toward Paige, who, though anxious, held her ground.

"I'm so glad you're here," he said. "I'm so glad I finally have the chance to tell you that."

She giggled and shrugged. "That's me! A happy accident."

He smiled and shook his head. "You weren't an accident. You were ... a surprise."

"What's the difference?" she asked, forcing a smile.

He stepped closer. "An accident is something that, if you had it to do over again, you wouldn't, but a surprise is something you didn't even know you wanted," he took her face in his hands, "until you got it."

Her breath hitched and tears began rolling down her face.

He pulled her toward him. "Welcome home," he murmured into her ear.

Before she could think twice of it, she had thrown her arms around him and was clinging to him as though her life depended on it. "I can see why they missed you so much."

"Not half as much as I missed them," he whispered.

"All right, break it up, you two!" Phoebe barked through her tears. "There will be time enough for massive cuddles later." She stepped in between them and turn toward Kurt with excited eyes. "Your powers, what are they?"

He swallowed heavily, which didn't go unnoticed by Paige, who frowned.

"Telekinesis," he said.

Phoebe nodded, eyes gleaming. Piper stilled.

"Astral projection."

Piper inhaled sharply.

"Cryokinesis."

Phoebe took a step back. "Those are Prue's powers," she said in a shaky voice. "Well, except the cryo stuff. That was past!Prue."

He licked his lips. "Empathy."

She startled.

"Telepathy."

"I get what you meant about stupidly powerful," muttered a wide-eyed Paige.

He eyed her. "There's more."

"How can there be more?" Phoebe demanded.

He winced. "I'm going to need some help explaining that one. We should probably go to the Manor."

Piper blinked. "Why? Do we need Leo?"

Kurt cocked his head. "He might be able to help with this, yes."

Paige blew out a breath, nodded, and held out her arms. "Grab on."

Her sisters raced to do just that.

Kurt winked. "Race you."

And then he was gone.

Phoebe stared. "What the f ..."

Paige had already orbed them out.

 


 

Buffy reluctantly let Angel into the compound. She wasn't exactly thrilled by his presence; having Spike there was already more than enough. She still couldn't believe he had shown up after Wolfram and Hart had fallen, wanting to Do Good.

Willow, Faith, and Giles had definitely been against it. As usual, she had acted first, overruled them, and was now suffering the consequences. Spike didn't understand why they couldn't pick up with their relationship as though nothing had happened.

Faith, despite her deep love for Angel, couldn't stomach the idea of a Slayer and vampire together, and loudly proclaimed this whenever the mood struck her, which was often. Willow was neutral with Spike, but his presence unsettled her. She kept looking around for Xander to intercede when Spike became a handful, which was with great frequency. Then she remembered that Xander wasn't there, why he wasn't there, and then she got frustrated with Buffy all over again.

Giles was ... Giles. He was furious with himself for once again siding with Buffy over Xander, even if there hadn't been an explicit disagreement. Xander, as was his wont, had cut off all communication with everyone but Faith. He refused to speak with Buffy or Giles, and Dawn had followed suit. He barely spoke with Willow, and only after she had spent weeks harassing him. The schism had only been exacerbated when Angel sent Connor to Xander.

Along with Nysa, Xander had formed the New Scoobies and the old ones were feeling the loss rather keenly.

And now Angel was here and it was just going to stir up everything again.

Buffy sighed as she walked Angel to the main building, consciously disregarding the glares the fledgling Slayers practicing their drills on the grounds were leveling her way.

"Let me guess," Angel muttered. "Pro-Xander?"

She snorted. "Who isn't?"

He pursed his lips.

"Don't get me started," she snapped. "I know I was wrong and there's nothing I can do about it until he consents to speak with me." She sighed forlornly. "I was stupid."

"You were worried."

"I was jealous," she spat. "Sam's arguably the best thing that's happened to him and I refused to see it because I didn't want to admit that we've lost too damn much in this war."

"Anya's death was not your fault."

Her laugh was bitter. "You telling me that doesn't make it true. I put her there and she died for it." She shook her head. "I don't want to talk about it anymore."

He nodded and fell silent.

She threw open the door and stormed inside. "Angel's here!" she announced to no one.

Predictably, Faith was the first to fly down the stairs, tackling Angel with a hug.

"What up, Fang!" she cheerfully screeched.

He smiled and kissed her cheek. "Hello, Faith. How are you?"

"Five by five. Just got off the phone with your kid."

"How is Connor doing?" he asked after a beat.

They both ignored Buffy's sudden stillness.

"Cool," Faith said. "He's cool and Pip's cool and ... the rest ... are cool. Sam's brother just got into town. Con's thinking they're going to have to clue him in on the family secret sooner rather than later."

Angel shrugged. "He's a hunter, right? He should be okay with it."

She nodded. "That's what I told him."

His eyes narrowed. "What is it you don't want to tell me?"

She blew out a breath, glanced at Buffy, and turned back toward him. "I'm really not sure you want to know, Fang."

He sighed. "Faith, I sent Connor to Xander for a reason. Despite everything - or perhaps because of it - I trust Xander with the life of my son. I know he'll do right by Connor."

She turned defensive and had no idea why. "And what if doing right means more to Con than you ever thought it might? What if it means Xander is the one he calls daddy?"

It was like a physical blow. He stepped back, devastated. "Does he?"

Faith blinked and nodded worriedly. She was probably overstepping here, but she rather Buffy and Angel attack her than show up at Xander's house and all hell breaking loose. "He overhead X and Sam talking. Sam was all torn up you and B would try to take Con and Pip back. He told Xander ... " she swallowed " ... he told Xander that he knew Dean showing up now meant things were going to change."

Angel and Buffy stood at attention.

"We've all known it was going to happen, that there was something beyond the First, or would rise in its wake," she said. "Sam and Xander think Dean's arrival means it's going to happen sooner rather later." She cleared her throat. "Anyway, Sam said he just wanted more time with his husband and kids."

Buffy flinched. She was still desolate that she hadn't even been invited to her best friend's wedding.

"I wasn't invited either," Angel said, rolling his eyes.

Buffy scoffed. Did Angel really think Xander would have invited him regardless of their current circumstances?

"You couldn't have been there anyway," Faith said. "No one could."

"You were," Buffy seethed.

Faith flipped her off. "At the reception, yeah, but not the actual wedding. Not allowed."

Buffy's brow furrowed. "What do you mean you weren't allowed?"

Faith hesitated. "No one was," she finally said, slowly and carefully. "Only the grooms, the wedding party, and the kids."

Angel frowned. "That doesn't sound like Xander. He would never exclude Willow from his wedding."

Buffy scowled.

Faith looked at him, then at Buffy, and then gestured toward the front door. She opened it and stepped out. They wordlessly followed.

"Food!" Faith screamed.

All of the Slayers stopped whatever training they were doing and raced inside.

Faith began walking, trusting the others to keep up. When they entered the woods adjoining the property, Buffy and Angel exchanged an anxious glance. After they had walked about a hundred yards, Faith stopped and turned toward them.

"This doesn't leave these woods, got it?"

They nodded.

"Wait," Buffy said. "You said the wedding party and the kids. I just assumed Connor was Xander's best man and Dawn was Sam's, well, best woman. They weren't?"

Faith bit her lip and shook her head. "Naw, Dawn and Connor were the only guests. The, uh, the best man was some dude named Jesse McNally."

Buffy's eyes widened. "And Sam's attendant?" she whispered.

Faith averted her eyes. "Anya," she said tersely. "She approved. And, um, their moms walked them down the aisle."

Buffy frowned. She knew Sam's mother had died when he was just a baby. She thought it was incredibly sweet that, in their bizarre lives, that she could be there for him on his big day. But ... "When did Xander's mother die? He got them out of Sunnydale before the fall."

"It was Joyce," Faith murmured. "She walked Xander down the aisle."

Buffy turned and clutched her stomach.

Faith shook her head again. "Look, just let me say this, and let me tell you upfront that I won't be answering any detailed questions because I really have no fucking clue what's going on, okay?"

More nodding and Buffy turned back around. Angel wisely said nothing.

She sighed. "It wasn't that Xan and Sam didn't want people at their wedding; it was that no one else could physically attend because it didn't take place here."

"In the country?" asked a confused Buffy.

"In this dimension."

"What?" asked a floored Angel after a long moment of silence.

"The wedding didn't take place in this dimension," she reiterated. "It couldn't, because of who performed it."

Buffy threw up her hands. She was tired of Truth and Consequences. "Who ... "

"Queen C."

Angel stumbled backward and fell on his ass, staring up at her with huge, wounded eyes.

She dropped her head and sighed. "When Xander had the heart attack and was in a coma, remember what we ... well, we all know what we thought," she said roughly.

Angel nodded dumbly as Buffy choked on a sob.

"The reason it took so long for him to come out of it was because he wasn't here. He was with Cordelia."

"Oh, my god," Buffy whispered.

"Yeah," Faith said, nodding, "that's a big part of it." She was being purposefully oblique and hoped Buffy and Angel would dwell and think upon her words later. She couldn't trust that someone or something wasn't eavesdropping.

"Faith," Angel said lowly, "what happened to Xander?"

She shifted her gaze. "He came back with something ... extra."

"Not like I did, right?" trilled a worried Buffy.

"No," Angel said, shaking his head, eyes remaining on Faith. "If Cordelia officiated his marriage to Sam, it means theirs is a holy union, one blessed by the Powers That Be."

Buffy's eyes bugged.

"As a Higher Being, she's their representative even though she can't manifest her form in this dimension." His eyes narrowed. "She intervened, didn't she? He wasn't supposed to survive."

Faith inhaled sharply, eyes watering. "No," she said softly.

Buffy bit her lip and choked down a gasp.

"Is he an agent of the Powers That Be?" he demanded.

"No," she said honestly, "he's something else."

"Do you know what that is?"

She shook her head. "No." She hesitated. "Well, not exactly. He wouldn't tell me. He said it was safer if I didn't know."

"Why wasn't he supposed to live?" Buffy barked. "Who decided that?"

"Something beyond us," Faith answered, "but they're nothing when compared to the power Queen C wields, so she grabbed Xander when she had the chance to make sure they couldn't get their hands on him."

"Who?" Angel growled.

Faith looked at him. "The Elders."

He hissed and drew back. "I wondered," he said. "I'm surprised they haven't interfered until now, given how powerful Willow has become."

Buffy threw her head back and sighed. "Who or what are the Elders and what would they want with him?"

Angel regarded her. "There's a lot you don't know about magic, Buffy, and you wouldn't necessarily know if you didn't know the questions to ask. As strong as Willow is, she's a dilettante. She really has no idea about magic or its ramifications and, quite frankly, it's almost criminal that Giles hasn't done more to educate her." He looked back to Faith. "How much do you know?"

"Not much," she admitted. "X knows that Red isn't always that ethical when it comes to her mind-reading deal."

Buffy colored. She'd had more than her share of experience with Willow peeking into her mind and didn't care for it at all. "But she can't always control it," she offered halfheartedly.

"Yes, she can," Angel said. "She simply chooses not to." He sighed. "Look, I love Willow, Buffy, but she's arrogant. She's incredibly powerful, too powerful, and doesn't respect what magic is and what it can do. She hasn't bothered to learn her limits and therefore mistakenly believes she has none. She's wrong. Eventually there will come a reckoning."

Buffy considered his words. "It's already started, hasn't it?" she asked Faith. "We haven't found a new Slayer since Xander left Africa. There's a reason for that."

Faith nodded slowly. "She activated all the Potentials, B. Thing is, Potentials give birth to Potentials, so if there are no more Potentials ... "

All of the color bled from Buffy's face.

"This ain't your fault," Faith said roughly. "It ain't. We were on a deadline and did what we had to with the cards we were dealt. If we hadn't, the world would have ended. It's that simple." She exhaled. "So we have a new problem. Okay. We'll deal with it like we always do."

"Is this why Xander separated from the group?" Angel asked. "So that Willow couldn't take this information from his mind?"

"No," Buffy said immediately. "It can't be. After Kingman's Bluff, her magic doesn't work on him." She startled and then blinked. "Does any magic work on him?"

"No," Faith whispered.

"What are the Elders?" Buffy asked.

"They're in charge of whitelighters, who are guardian angels for witches."

"Then why doesn't Willow have one?"

"They don't deal with her type of witch." Faith held up her hand. "There are two types: natural witches, who are born with their powers, and godlings, who borrow powers from gods."

"Willow's a godling," Buffy guessed. "She and Amy were always calling on that Hecate lady."

Faith snickered but quickly sobered and nodded. "Yeah. Anyway, the Elders deal only with natural witches."

"What do they want with Xander?" Buffy wondered. "He's not a witch." Her eyes widened. "Is he?"

"No. See, the Elders assign whitelighters to natural witches and ... future whitelighters."

"So Xander's a, what, future whitelighter?"

Faith nodded. "At least I think so. That was my guess, and he didn't say it was wrong. But that doesn't really mean anything."

Angel pressed his lips into a very thin line, not liking where this was going.

"Are you telling me they engineered Xander's heart attack?" bellowed a shrill Buffy. She was definitely in the mood to slay some Elder ass.

"No," Faith said, "but they had something in store for him. See, whitelighters are, well, they're dead. They're witches and mortals who die and then become whitelighters, assigned to look after new generations of witches."

"It was Cordelia," Angel deduced. "She got wind of their stupid little plan and gave Xander a heart attack to call him to her."

"It was the only way," Faith argued. "Like you said, she can't manifest her form here. If she had used a third party, the Elders would have been alerted that she knew what they were up to. So when Xander temporarily died, the Queen snuck in there and scooped his tight ass up so they couldn't get their hands on him."

She curled a lip. "They already tried once." She glared out at the dense copse of pines. "They got Anya instead."

Buffy roared, picked up a boulder, and sent it hurtling into the forest.

"What about this something extra?" Buffy asked.

Faith sighed. "As you said, magic don't work on One Eye, but the Queen gave him this gift with purchase deal. It's called communion. It means he has the power to interface with Higher Beings, specifically Cordelia, and, through her, the Powers That Be."

"He's a Champion," Angel said.

Faith nodded proudly.

"So something's coming, Cordelia knows what it is and is trying to stop it, and she's selected Xander as her agent."

"That makes sense," Buffy said. "She trusts him more than anyone else."

Angel scowled.

"You know it's true," Buffy snapped. "If that stupid kiss with Willow ... " Her eyes widened. "Oh, shit."

"Yeah," Faith whispered. "That was all planned."

"What was?" Angel asked. "That kiss in the factory? She planned to break up Xander and Cordy? Why? Over a crush?"

"Not Red. Jasmine."

He reeled back as if struck as Buffy hissed.

"That fucking bitch had zeroed on in the Queen being her ... host ... back in the Dale. If that was going to happen, she needed the Queen in LA with Fang, not on the Hellmouth with X. She needed Queen to bond with that demon to make her strong enough to carry the pregnancy to term. She had that fucking asshole Skip convince Cordelia it was the only way she could stay with you, Fang, and still help people. He told her the price for doing that was her humanity and she paid it because she was one totally fierce bitch."

Buffy hoped that Skip was still alive so that she might kill him. Killing something sounded really awesome right now, be it demons or Elders. At this point, she wasn't sure there was a difference.

"So that fucking she-demon had picked her mommy, but if the bitch was going to be born, she needed a daddy too, so she brought about the prophecy concerning Connor. That fucking whore raped the both of them!"

Buffy shuddered with a secondhand violation so profound it stole her breath.

Faith began twisting her hands. "You know how this shit works, right? How the Powers act when something like this happens?"

"Balance," Angel snapped. "Goddamn Oracles!"

She nodded. "So if a child of two vampires was created to facilitate such an evil, then another child had to be created to balance it out; a child of power, of prophecy, who would be entrusted to a Champion who would oversee it."

Buffy brought a shaking hand to cover her mouth. "Dawn," she whispered through her fingers.

Faith nodded again. "But you can't just conceive a human out of thin air. Yeah, Fang and Darla did the nasty and she got knocked up, but Dawn wasn't conceived - she was created. For that to happen, those monks had to have some preexisting genetic material."

"What the hell are you saying?" Angel whispered.

"They borrowed some Slayer essence to help reinforce the body to hold the power Dawn possesses." She ran her tongue across dry lips. "They took that from me, B, not you."

Buffy stared. "So you're her sister," she said dully.

"No," Faith hotly denied. "You are. You're her family. Don't ever be confused about that."

Buffy blinked back tears. "But why you? I'm not trying to antagonize you; I just don't understand. Why make her from you and then give her to me? Dawn probably would have been a lot safer with you. Angel could have hid you both in LA and it would have been a lot harder for Glory to find her there than on the fucking Hellmouth."

"Because of who her father is," she whispered. "Because he created me like they created her."

"Xander," Angel whispered.

Buffy shot him a quizzical look, further confused when Faith nodded.

"He created the Second Line. There had only ever been one Slayer, but the Primitive sees all and saw what would happen with Sunnydale and what Red would do, so She made a contingency plan. When Xander resuscitated Buffy, he spawned a new Line through Kendra. I'm of that Line."

He cocked his head. "So, conceivably, that line could be extended if you had a child."

"If I had a daughter," Faith muttered, "but it's a moot point and I would never get knocked up and curse some little baby with all of this bullshit. That ain't right and it's not fair."

"No, it's not," Buffy seethed.

Faith turned toward her. "It's true for you, too. When you died the second time, Red might have had the mojo to bring you back, but she didn't have the Heart."

Buffy inhaled deeply. "Xander brought me back. Again."

Faith chuckled darkly. "Yeah, saving Slayers is kind of his thing."

"So Buffy's no longer part of the Original Line," Angel surmised. "When Xander brought her back, he essentially spawned a Third Line."

She nodded. "Again, as far as I know."

Angel was concerned that Faith was going out of her way to stress these were conclusions only she had drawn. He sensed she was trying to make a point.

"But what does this have to do with Dawn?" asked a confused Buffy.

"Xander's the Father of the Second and Third Lines, B," Faith said patiently. She raised a brow. "If the monks took essence from me to help make her, it stands to reason that, as the Father of the Slayer ... "

Buffy reached forward and grabbed her shoulders. "What are you telling me? Are you saying Xander is Dawn's father? Her biological father?"

"Yeah, and those monks, like Jasmine, didn't bother asking if he wanted to be a parent."

Buffy closed her eyes. "Oh, god. Oh, my god."

"Then who's her mother?" Angel asked.

Faith kept her eyes on Buffy. "Other than him, who was the person closest to Dawn?"

Tears spilled forth from Buffy's eyes. "T-Tara," she warbled. She released a harsh sob. "After Xander talked Willow down off the ledge and we got back to the house, Dawn was in the bedroom, cradling Tara's body and singing some lullaby Mom used to sing us. She was just sitting on the floor, Tara in her arms, singing and staring out the window, not seeing anything beyond it."

She closed her eyes. She could still see Tara lying on the floor, her hair spilling across Dawn's lap like a halo of liquid gold, the gaping hole in her chest, those wide blue eyes staring sightlessly at the ceiling above. She could still smell the pool of blood. She had always smelled it in the room for the rest of their time in that house. It reeked of iron filings and copper pots.

Bile splashed up against the back of her throat.

"Is Dawn a witch?" asked a disturbed Angel. "Willow told me Tara inherited her power from her mother."

"I don't know," Faith said. "I guess it's possible."

"Dawn has an instinctive feel for magic and spells. I thought she had learned it from Anya, but ..." Buffy murmured. "Does Xander know?" she asked, voice haunted.

Faith nodded. "So does Sam."

Buffy cringed as she thought about all of the times she had intimated that she was uncomfortable with Sam being around Dawn. Now she knew that Xander was Dawn's father, that Sam saw Dawn as his own child, she was sickened and deeply ashamed.

"Back to the Elders," Angel interrupted, desperate to piece all of this together. "They want Xander because they've deemed him a future whitelighter. Obviously something was to have happened to him that would have resulted in his death, as that's the only way for him to become a whitelighter. Cordelia intervened, giving him a literal death while keeping him out of their clutches. He's now able to speak directly with her."

Faith nodded. "It's the Queen's Crusade and X is her Knight Templar."

"The White Knight," he murmured.

"It's got to be more than that," said a decisive Buffy. "There must be tons of future whitelighters, so what's so special about Xander? Why would they bring about a plan that would basically murder him all so that he could turn around and be the therapist for some random witch?" She shook her head. "There's a lot more going on."

Faith nodded. "I think so, and so does X, but we don't know what and neither does the Queen. She might technically rank above the Elders, but that doesn't mean she knows all of their secrets." She smirked. "Not yet."

"Let's think about this," Angel said slowly. "Consider who Xander is. He's the Father of the Line and the Heart of the Slayer. He's the champion of a Higher Being. What else?"

Buffy studied Faith. "What did you mean before when you said it was a moot point?"

"Huh?"

"When Angel said that if you had a child, it would most likely be a Slayer. You said you weren't going to get pregnant just to make a new Slayer, but you also said it was a moot point. What does that mean?"

Faith's complexion mottled. "If I tell you this, you will never tell it to anyone else. EverEspecially not Xander."

"Okay," Buffy said slowly. She was already regretting asking.

"I can't have kids," Faith muttered. "Not after we fought. The knife ... I had a hysterectomy while I was in the coma."

Buffy began backing up, shaking her head in denial.

"Aw, knock it off," Faith complained. "Look, it happened. I was fucking crazy and was trying to blow up all the shit. I'd tried to take out the fucking Champion to the Powers That Be. If you hadn't put me down, someone or something else would have and I probably wouldn't be here to tell you all of this."

"It about more than that," Angel said quietly.

"Shut the fuck up, Fang," Faith warned, closing her eyes as her body trembled.

"You were pregnant when you and Buffy fought, weren't you?"

"Goddamn it, fuck you!" Faith screamed, throwing a left hook and sending him sprawling and crashing into a tree.

"Is that true?" Buffy whimpered. "Were you pregnant, Faith? Did I kill your baby? Did I kill Xander's baby?"

Faith exhaled slowly, opened her eyes, and turned toward her. "No," she said with surprising compassion, ignoring Angel as he reapproached. "You didn't kill my baby, Buffy." She fixed her mouth into a grim line. "That was Quentin Travers. When I was in the coma, the Council assumed control of my ... affairs, I guess you could say. I was a minor. My mother's dead and I have no fucking clue who my pops is or if he's even still alive. Travers ordered the pregnancy terminated."

Angel and Buffy growled.

"Why!" Buffy screeched.

"That's why he came after you in LA," Angel hissed.

"I don't want to talk about this anymore."

Buffy cautiously nodded. That was fine. Faith didn't have to talk about it. She didn't need the details. Buffy herself was going to talk about it extensively with Giles. There were rumors that some of the Council had survived the First's little assassination coup and were trying to regroup under the leadership of Travers.

They had mostly been ignoring it because they posed no real threat. Giles has seized control of the assets and formed the New Council. The current Slayers knew of Buffy and Faith's trouble with the Old Guard and wouldn't be lining up to take orders from a bunch of old farts who pontificated from on high as if they were the beginning and end of all things.

But if Travers was alive, Buffy was going to find and kill him very, very slowly.

"Did Cordy give him any defense?" she asked, bowing to Faith's wish to change the subject. "Other than being able to communicate with her, I mean?"

She stepped on Angel's foot - hard - when he looked as though he were about to redirect the conversation back to the previous topic.

"She gave him his own whitelighter," Faith said, "and we're talking about one seriously scary and protective witch." She looked at Angel and raised a brow. "Ever heard of the Charmed Ones?"

His eyes widened. "Oh, fuck."

Chapter Text

The sisters had no more materialized in the dining room of Halliwell Manor, Kurt waiting patiently for them, when Piper's middle child crashed into her.

"Mommy!"

Air was forced from her lungs in a whoosh. "Chris, I wasn't gone that long!"

"Yes, you were," he argued, mumbling into her midsection.

She held him close and kissed the top of his head. In a way, she was pleased that he was so clingy with her. After her future son's trip to the past, she had despaired that her relationship with Chris was doomed to fail. Instead, the new timeline he had created ensured they were closer than ever, for which she was incredibly glad.

Wyatt and Melinda were sometimes jealous, but Leo always reassured them they loved their children equally. Only once had anyone ever said anything untoward about Piper's relationship with Chris; Phoebe had warned her sister that she was turning her younger son into a mama's boy. Leo had become so enraged he refused her access to the Manor for an entire month, a punishment Piper wholeheartedly supported.

After her sentence was over, Phoebe admitted she had thought long and hard about her words, coming to the realization that she was jealous of Piper and Chris' relationship because she had never had the opportunity to develop such a bond with her mother.

Piper understood, but it had pissed Paige off. She never said anything, but Phoebe, being an empath, realized she had stepped in it once again. Eventually she and Paige had returned to solid ground.

The boy was suddenly conscious of an unfamiliar pair of eyes upon him and he cautiously turned toward them, peeking out at the unknown stranger. "Hi," he whispered.

Kurt was at once both charmed and uncomfortable. He didn't really know how to relate to children. He hadn't when he was a child himself. Brittany and Quinn had always taken the lead in social situations, with Santana being surly and Kurt himself aloof.

"Hello, Christopher," Kurt said, struggling to interject some warmth in his voice. In truth, he was very happy to meet this new little cousin. Outside of his father and the sisters, the next generation of Halliwells were his only biological family.

Chris wrinkled his nose at the formal address. "Who are you?" he demanded.

Piper swatted him. "Manners, young man! This is Kurt, your cousin."

Chris' eyes widened. He'd heard of Kurt, of course, but usually it was because his mom or Aunt Phoebe was missing him terribly. He'd always been a little jealous of Kurt because Mommy had known Kurt a lot longer.

Kurt wasn't sure what to do. He thought perhaps he should lie very still and then Chris might sniff him and leave him alone. Deciding that wasn't really the protocol for which he should be aiming, he hesitantly held out his hand.

Chris took and shook it in a practiced manner, as though it had been drilled into his head on numerous occasions. "It's nice to meet you!" he chirped.

"It's nice to meet you," Kurt returned, smiling. "I've been wanting to meet you for a very long time."

Chris then turned shy and buried his head once more in Piper's stomach.

Kurt was nevertheless pleased, suddenly very aware that he shared a biological connection with this child. That seemed so desperately important.

Wyatt came storming in from the kitchen, a milk mustache already drying on his face. "There's someone in the house!"

Piper smiled. "I know, sweetie. He has our permission."

Wyatt cocked his head and stared at his mother, finally nodding. "He feels like family."

Piper and Phoebe exchanged an interested glance, wondering if Wyatt was perhaps displaying some unconscious empathic abilities.

"That's because he is," Paige chirped. "He's also awesome."

"Chris!" a voice called. "Did you tackle your mother again?"

A lanky blond man turned the corner from the living room, his mouth open to reprimand his younger son, his daughter latched to one of his legs. He blinked owlishly.

"Look who dropped in to say hi," said a giddy Piper.

"Hi, Leo," Kurt said bashfully.

"Kurt?" he asked in disbelief.

"It's good to see you again."

Leo stared for a moment before holding out his hand and then shaking his head and pulling Kurt into a hug. "Welcome back."

"Thanks," Kurt said softly, voice thick with emotion, returning the embrace with equal force before abruptly withdrawing. His eyes darted around. "It still looks the same," he said almost reverently. He had truly missed the Manor. He drew in a sharp breath. "I still feel her here."

And he did. She was present in every stick of furniture, every baseboard, every book.

"Prue?" Phoebe whispered.

He nodded. "She's everywhere."

It was a decidedly surreal experience. He was keenly aware of how badly the sisters, including Paige, missed Prue; he didn't need to be an empath to feel it. He felt like a heel that he'd had the woman almost all to himself for his entire childhood, watching over and protecting him every minute of every day, but her sisters and their children were denied that comfort.

It wasn't fair and made him very conflicted. He wanted nothing more than to tell them that Prue was still with them, missing and still loving them, but it wasn't his story to tell. He had no idea the ramifications such an admission would cost him, his mission, and Prue herself. It wasn't his place to interfere, an unwanted lesson that he'd had to learn religiously and painfully over the year.

Despite his power, he was not the final arbiter. It was humbling. It always was.

He was startled from his thoughts by a tug on his sleeve. He looked down into the wide eyes of Melinda.

"Did you know Aunty Prue?" she asked sweetly.

He leaned down and smiled. "I did, and you remind me very much of her. You must be Melinda. I'm your cousin, Kurt."

She looked up at her father and then her mother, both of whom smiled and nodded.

"Up, please," she said, raising her arms aloft.

Kurt remembered himself in the same position all those years ago in the hospital when Prue came for him after his mother had passed. He bent over and scooped Melinda up into his arms.

"What was she like?" asked an awed Wyatt. All of his life he had heard of his Aunt Prue but had never really known her. Once he and Chris had tried to summon her, but they hadn't been able and Aunt Paige had almost caught them. They weren't allowed to practice magic unsupervised.

"She was very smart and very brave," Kurt said softly. He smiled. "She was also funny. She made me laugh more than anyone ever has. She was kind. So kind." He turned toward Chris. "You look a lot like her, you know."

"Really?" asked a surprised Chris. He'd never heard this comparison before.

Kurt nodded. "You have her eyes; my eyes. You have her cheekbones and her hair and her lips."

Piper and Leo looked askance at each other and considered the words, startled to find they were true. When Future Chris had traveled back to their time to save Wyatt, they had kicked themselves for not recognizing him as their own. Never had they considered he also looked like Prue, but the description was apt.

Perhaps, Piper reasoned, she had purposefully blinded herself to the reality. She still didn't like thinking about Prue. It only opened wounds she knew would never close. She then looked more closely at her cousin and noted the resemblance between Kurt and Prue, never before noticing it, though it was plain to see. Looks alone could have proffered a successful argument that Prue had birthed Kurt herself.

And now he had her powers.

It was eerie and probably foreboding.

"We weren't expecting you for another two weeks," said a happy Leo.

"I thought it best to do a test run, so to speak," Kurt said. He smiled. "Piper wasn't very thrilled to find me unattended in P3."

"You're underage, mister," Piper griped.

"Yeah, and then there was the whole witch thing," Paige said.

Leo's eyes widened. "Paige!"

"It's okay, Leo," Kurt said, grinning. "There are no secrets from family."

"Kurt," said a worried Leo, "you need to understand ..."

"He's a witch, Leo," Phoebe interrupted, very serious. "And I think there's even more."

"There is," Kurt said, "which is why we're here. I can't stay long. They'll feel my presence."

"Chris, Mel," Piper said, snapping to attention, "go with your brother and keep yourselves occupied."

The children began protesting as Leo sighed. "Come on, kids. Let's go play a game."

Kurt's arm reached out. "I need you for this, Leo. Wyatt, too."

Leo gave him a surprised look and then a slow nod.

"I can call Coop," Phoebe offered, closing her eyes and summoning her husband, who appeared a moment later.

Kurt openly stared. "Whoa."

Phoebe snickered. "You have no idea."

"I'd sure like to," Kurt whispered to her.

Coop looked around in confusion. "What's going on?"

"Uncle Coop!" Chris shrieked, throwing himself at his favorite relative.

"Hey, Little Man!" Coop cooed, picking Chris up in his arms.

"Where are the girls?" Melinda asked her second-favorite uncle. Henry was her favorite. He was Wyatt's too.

"They're with your Aunt Billie. Would you like to pop over and say hi?"

"Yay!" Melinda cheered.

Chris soured. "Girls."

"You know you love Aunt Billie," Coop countered.

He crossed his arms and gave a disdainful sniff. "Aunt Billie's not a girl. She's a woman."

"I'm going to tell her you said that."

"And she's going to tell you I'm right."

Phoebe gave her husband a quick hug and kiss. "Long story short, this is our cousin Kurt. We need to catch up on ... family business ... and we need Leo and Wyatt. Can you watch the Chris and Mellie?"

"Of course," Coop said, frowning, before turning to Kurt. "Oh, my god," he whispered. "You're ..."

"Yes," Kurt whispered, "and now I have to explain it to them. It's nice to meet you, Coop."

Coop gave him such a sorrowful look, it almost broke his heart.

"What the hell is going on here?" Piper demanded.

Coop took that as an opportunity to grab the kids and fade out to his and Phoebe's apartment.

"Kurt," Phoebe began, "what is it my husband knows that we don't?"

"Who would feel your presence?" Paige added. Her eyes hooded. "Demons."

"They've been quiet," Piper hissed. "Too quiet."

Kurt pressed his palms together and slowly drew them back. A second later, his Book appeared in his hands.

"What is that?" asked an enthralled Paige.

"The Bowen Book of Shadows," Kurt said, "but I think you're more apt to be convinced by your own Book." He looked up toward the ceiling. "Is it still in attic?"

And then he disappeared.

Piper growled as Paige grabbed them all and orbed.

 


 

"What did you want to discuss, Buffy?" asked a wary Giles.

Ever since Angel arrived, Buffy had been more on edge than he could ever recall. It was actually rather horrifying, to be honest. She was no longer one to rattle easily.

"Dean Winchester has made contact with Sam and Xander."

He removed his glasses and began polishing them. "Ah. Well, we knew it would happen eventually. I assume, then, that he has been informed."

She waved a careless hand. "Faith thought it would be sooner rather than later, but that's not the point. His arrival has set things in motion."

Giles frowned. "What kinds of things?"

She exhaled. "Things only Xander knew, or at least suspected." Her hand shot out and punched through the nearest wall. "And he would have told us if I wasn't such a stupid, selfish, myopic little brat."

"Enough of this," he said, sighing. "Buffy, your schism with Xander has hurt us all, but the blame does not lie solely with you. As suspected, Xander has been keeping secrets, potentially devastating ones, and rather than show some of the maturity I know he possesses, he has been petulant and juvenile."

Buffy arched a brow and burst out laughing. "Oh, come on! You don't really believe that." She shook her head. "Look around, Giles. Out of all of us, Xander is the only one who's married, who's created his own family. He built his home with his own hands. He has a real job. Hell, he's even got his own kids!"

"What?" he asked in confusion.

"He and Sam think of Connor and Dawn as their children, Giles. Faith says the kids are now calling both of them Dad."

"Sam is barely three years older than them," he argued. "Xander is only five years their elder."

"They don't care. Angel and I sent them to Xander so he would watch over them and he did. He and Sam became the fathers they never had. Sam was terrified Angel and I would come back to claim them until Dawn said that was never going to happen because she would never agree."

He blew out a breath. He silently admitted he believed Dawn was being somewhat childish in this whole affair, perhaps because when he thought of her he still saw a young girl, not the accomplished woman she had become.

She set her jaw and averted his eyes, slowly and haltingly explaining Dawn and Connor's origins.

Giles was horrified. "And he knew? Xander knew all this time that Dawn was his child and never said anything?"

"What was he supposed to say?" asked a tired Buffy. "He was used as some supernatural lab rat when he was eighteen and suddenly had a teenage kid? Who was going to believe him? Not me. How about you?"

His silence spoke for itself.

She groaned. "Now I understand why he was always so desperate to keep her safe at all costs, why her friendship with Spike so appalled him." She swallowed. "Why he wanted to bring me back. It was for her."

"But then why was Dawn given to you and Joyce?" he wondered. He blinked. "Was Joyce her mother?"

She shook her head. "Tara."

He stared. "Dear god," he murmured as he sat down. "I take it Willow is in the dark." He sighed. "How long as Faith known about this?"

"I don't know. She didn't say and I didn't ask. There were more important things to discuss."

"That doesn't sound good."

"It isn't." She explained about Cordelia.

His eyes misted over. He doubted his guilt over that girl would ever lessen. For three years, she had fought at their side, complaining all the while yet had been an invaluable resource. She had then moved to Los Angeles, continued to fight, and arguably had paid a higher cost than any of them.

He had thought of her as his daughter, as much as he did Buffy or Willow, but had always held her to a higher standard, much as he had Xander. He knew it wasn't fair, that it was wrong of him, and that it had perhaps damaged his relationship with Xander beyond repair. Cordelia, however, had always seemed so far above the others in certain aspects and he knew she had never required his approval. Still, she'd had it and he had never told her. It haunted him now and always would. He had failed her.

"But none of you know precisely what Cordelia is after?"

Buffy shook her head. "The only one who might know is Xander. The fact that he's been able to keep it from us just shows how much he's changed."

He scoffed. "Does it? You'd do well to remember that Xander was always notoriously secretive about his relationship with Cordelia. They were together for months before we had any idea, and had we never known, they might be together still. We all interfered in that relationship."

Her brows gathered. "How did you interfere?"

"I didn't tell him to fight for her. I thought he would reach that conclusion on his own. I thought he would realize that when two people loved each other that much, the glory was worth the agony."

He shook his head. "But he didn't. I handled Xander very badly, Buffy. I never understood the depths of his self-loathing, of his lack of confidence. I interfered by not interfering at all."

He looked away. "For all intents and purposes, that man is my son, but I have never told him how much I love him, how proud I am of him, and both he and I have paid for my silence. I was too consumed with you and Angel, with Willow and her magic, with whatever, er, Big Bad we were facing that week. I never made time for Xander."

"Is Quentin Travers still alive?"

He regarded her with speculation, startled by the abrupt change in topic. "There are rumors."

"Not good enough. I want facts and I want them now."

"Why?"

"Because I'm going to kill him and, once I tell you why, I think you'll want to help me."

He raised a brow.

"When I put Faith into that coma, she was pregnant. Travers ordered the pregnancy terminated and then went one step further and had her sterilized. He spayed her like an animal. He killed Xander's child. So now I kill him."

She watched as he turned stark white before color slowly rose his in his face, turning his complexion florid. His eyes brightened with pain and loathing and outrage. It was the most beautiful and awful thing she had ever seen. She'd never told him, could barely admit it to herself, but there had been moment these past almost fifteen years in which Giles terrified her far more than any vampire or demon.

She understood his fury. Regardless of what her relationship with Faith had been back then, she would have viewed that child as a niece or nephew. Giles would have considered it his grandchild. Travers had stolen that from them, and he would pay.

Finally she would be able to do something for Xander other than ignoring him and praying every night he wouldn't go away.

 


 

"There's something I need to tell you," said a guilty Connor to his ... fathers.

Xander and Sam edged closer to him, the former wrapping an arm around the boy's shoulders. "You know you can tell us anything," he said.

A concerned Sam nodded.

Dawn was much more interested in watching Dean try to assimilate all of the information they had unloaded upon him, painfully reconciling it with what he already knew about the supernatural world. It was pretty funny in a terrible way. She let Nysa take the lead in answering his questions.

Connor exhaled. "I called Faith."

Sam and Xander exchanged a glance.

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry," Xander said quickly. "We know how close you are to her and we're just glad you have someone to confide in."

"She's never lied to you," said a gentle Sam, "and we all know how much you need someone you can trust absolutely. I have that with Dean. Xander has it with Prue. It's okay, Connor. It really is. We'll deal with any blowback."

Xander smiled, proud of his husband.

"She's probably told Buffy and Angel everything," Connor warned.

Xander forced a shrug. "It was coming sooner or later, honey. In the end, our personal conflicts don't much matter in the face of things." He sighed. "I love Buffy. I always will. These years apart were a long time coming, but I can't say I'm not glad it will soon be over. No matter how much she and I might disagree on, well, a heck of a lot of things, I've missed her a lot."

He took a breath. "But things have changed and I think she realizes that. She's not my first priority anymore; she can't be. That's you, your sister, Nysa, and Sam. We're family. That always comes first."

Sam said nothing, but knew that despite what Xander thought, things would change. However, he was no longer sure they would be for the worse. He could say a lot about Buffy, and he certainly had, but he knew how much the woman loved Xander. Their relationship was unique and frustrating and he knew there a lot of jealousy on his part.

He could never be for Xander what Buffy was, but he hoped Buffy had finally realized and could respect that he, Sam, was now a permanent part of the equation.

"What do you think she'll do?" Dean asked.

Sam turned and gave him a concerned look. "Are you okay?"

"Fuck no, but I'll get there. I'm in this now. I'm with you always, Sammy. I hope you know that."

"It's no longer just me, Dean," Sam said quietly.

"And that's fine," Dean said, looking around and meeting the eyes of Xander, Connor, Dawn, and Nysa. "They're your family, so they're my family. We take care of our own."

And the others got why Sam had so keenly missed his brother.

 


 

Leo, Wyatt, and the sisters rematerialized in the attic to find Kurt standing before the Book.

He looked up at the ceiling. "How about it, Aunt Pen?"

The girls felt their grandmother's presence as the pages of the Book began rapidly turning until they finally settled. A silent Kurt stepped aside and the sisters hesitantly approached the podium.

"The Hand?" asked a confused Paige.

Leo ceased breathing for a moment, his wide eyes landing on Kurt who met them unflinchingly. Wyatt watched them with anxious concern.

Piper quickly scanned the entry and then waited for her sisters to catch up. She turned around to face her cousin. "Okay," she said briskly, "obviously this is what you wanted to tell us. This Hand is coming and you're in its crosshairs. If you need help, we're there. It's just that simple."

Phoebe and Paige offered resolute nods.

Kurt smiled, but it was pained.

"You're the Hand," Leo whispered.

Kurt nodded.

Piper sucked in a breath. Phoebe and Paige were horrified.

"Are you absolutely sure?" Paige asked.

He nodded.

"When did you find out?" Phoebe whispered.

He looked away. "The night Mom died."

Piper winced. "This is not fair. This isn't right. This is too much to expect of one person."

He gave her a sad smile. "And how many times have you said that to yourself over the years? How many times have you said that when you looked at him?" he asked, tilting his head toward Wyatt.

Piper gave a broken laugh and a gruff nod. "Yeah, well, at least we were all adults. To put this on a kid is really fucked up."

"Mom!"

"Sorry, baby," she said insincerely.

"How can we help you?" Phoebe asked her cousin.

Kurt reared back in surprise.

Paige frowned. "Did you really think we wouldn't?"

Kurt shook his head. "I just want you to be aware of what comes with associating with me. I need you to be on guard. I cannot and will not ask for your help. This isn't your fight."

"The hell it's not," Phoebe argued. "You're family. We do for family. Otherwise, what's the point of living?"

His face was pinched. "You have children now. You have more to consider than me."

Piper shook her head. "You're not getting this. Kurt, you're our family. We're not about to let you deal with this on your own. The bottom line is that this could have been any one of us. It could have been any one of our kids."

"I'm just your cousin!" he protested.

"You're our family," said a passionate Wyatt. "Other than each other, you're all we have. Of course we're going to help you in any way we can."

Piper and Leo were so proud they were fit to burst.

Kurt looked to Paige to interfere.

She smiled. "Nope. I'm on board, honey. The moment you put your arms around me, it was decided. Family is everything."

He blinked back tears and turned away. "There's more."

"Well, of course there is," said a reasonable Piper. "There would have to be. Now tell us everything. We need to know what we're up against."

 


 

Santana sauntered into Mike's house as though she owned it, Brittany in tow, both girls waving hello to Aunt Mary and Uncle Peter before heading up the stairs to Mike's bedroom.

Santana threw open the door and pranced inside, startling Mike, who dropped the book he was reading.

"What the hell!" he yelped.

"Please," she said, rolling her eyes and plopping herself next to him. "Tell us everything."

His confusion was obvious. "About what?"

"You and Kurt totally did it!" Brittany squealed.

Mike's mouth fell open. "No, we didn't!"

"Well, you did something," Santana insisted. "We all felt it."

"What!" Mike screamed.

Brittany shrugged. "Kurt's the Hand. We're his Pentad. When something that major happens, we know. We could feel his happiness, his completeness." She tilted her head. "What else could it be?"

Mike blushed to his hairline. "We did ... some stuff."

Santana sidled up next to him and bumped his shoulder. "And?"

"It was amazing," he admitted. "He's amazing."

She studied him for a long time. "I'm really happy for you," she finally said. "And for him. It sure took you both long enough."

Mike flushed further. "I didn't know ... I mean ... "

"That you were hurting him," Brittany said.

Mike sighed. "Is there anything he doesn't tell you?"

"Of course not," Santana said.

He sighed again. "It was wonderful to be that close to him. We didn't do everything, but we did some things. I ... I didn't think it was possible to love someone so much that you don't know where they end and you begin."

The girls exchanged a fond smile.

"We also felt his anger," said a hesitant Brittany.

Mike scowled. "That was my fault. I, uh, kind of brought up Sam at the wrong time."

She winced. "Ouch."

"What the hell were you thinking?" Santana demanded.

He glowered. "I was thinking that as much as I love Kurt and want to spend my life loving him, Sam feels the same way about him. I was thinking that if Kurt didn't and could never feel that way about him, he needed to let Sam go, because it's not fair to let him live in that kind of limbo."

Santana opened her mouth but Brittany cut her off.

"And you're right," she said. "So what did you decide?"

Mike gave a slight smile. "Kurt admitted he loved Sam, too, but was afraid. He was angry with himself for loving Sam, that it somehow meant he loved me less."

Santana rolled her eyes. "What a martyr."

"So are you three together now?" Brittany asked.

Mike shook his head. "We agreed to let things settle a bit between us before talking to Sam. Kurt needs to be sure. I mean, he already is - we both know it - but I don't want him to feel pressured or rushed."

"Would you be doing this if you didn't love Hot Lips too?" Santana asked.

He eventually nodded. "I'd do anything for Kurt. My loving Sam is a bonus, an awesome one, but I'd do it regardless. If Kurt only wanted Sam, then I'd step aside. His happiness is more important than my own."

"No," Brittany said, "it's not, and that kind of thinking is probably why Kurty is upset."

Mike frowned. "What do you mean? I'm doing this for him."

"And that's why he's mad." She shook her head. "Mike, can't you see? Can't you see what the rest of us do when we look at the two of you?"

"Hot Lips being Pentad might have been divinely directed," Santana said, "but so were you and Tink. He's loved you from the moment he first saw you. Sam aside, that's never going to change. You talk about stepping aside if Sam is who Kurt wanted, but don't you get it? There's no world in which Kurt doesn't want you, Mike."

He gave her a startled look. "But I'm just me. He's ... he's ..."

"He's just a boy who loves another boy," Brittany said, smiling. "You're his one true thing, Mike. Kurt and Sammy wouldn't be an automatic if you weren't in the picture. You and Kurt are the destined ones."

He blinked rapidly. "Did you see that?"

"I felt it. We all have. Trust in his love for you, Mike. Being loved by Kurt Hummel is one of the greatest gifts of this world, so be worthy of it. You don't have to worry about how Sam will fit in. As long as you both want him, it will work out."

"Kurt thinks it's weird."

Santana sighed. "Kurt, despite being gay and prissy and brilliant, is very puritanical about certain things. I don't know where it comes from because Uncle Burt and Aunt Suzie were never like that, and neither was Prue, but Kurt, as much as he says he doesn't care what society thinks, still believes in some of its traditions."

"Three people in one relationship scares him," Brittany added, "and he's probably worried that you and Sam might come to love each other more than you do him, and then he would lose you. He's terrified of losing you, Mike. He always has been."

"But why?" said a suddenly enraged Mike. "I would never leave him! He has to know that!"

"Mike," Santana said roughly, "you need to understand what he's dealing with. For as long as he can remember, he's been able to read the thoughts and feelings of everyone around him. That's a huge thing and it's taken a big fucking toll on him. For years he wasn't able to separate out his thoughts and feelings from those around him.

"He finally mastered it, but it rears up again when the people involved are close to him. He probably feels the love you and Sam have for each other and is scared he won't fit in, that there's no real place for him. Losing Aunt Suzanne really messed him up for a long time. Yeah, he had therapy and he talked about it with all of us, but there's always going to be a large part of Kurt that he keeps hidden from everyone else. And that little boy in his head is still waiting for his mom to come home from the hospital."

He dropped his head, blinking back tears.

"It's nothing you've said or done," said a gentle Brittany, "and he understands that Aunt Sue was sick and needed to go, that magic can't fix everything, but he's so powerful, Mike. He feels guilty. He feels he failed his mother somehow.

"He's more powerful than anyone and he feels this tremendous responsibility to the world around him, but he can't fix everything. The problem is that he believes he should be able to do that. He wants to keep us safe. He's terrified something will happen to one of us. If it does, no matter the circumstances, he'll blame himself. That's just who he is."

Mike gave a forlorn sigh. "So what do I do?"

"Do what you've always done," Santana advised. "Just love him. That's all he's ever needed from you."

"And Sam?"

"Sam knows the score," she said, "and he understands nothing might ever happen. He knows that, if it does, Kurt will have to set the pace. And he knows that Kurt is always going to love you in ways he'll never be able to love him. He's okay with that. It doesn't mean Kurt would love Sam any less, just in different ways. That's why it's good that you and Sam have hot homo love between the two of you. Knowing you love Sam too will help Kurt realize it's okay to love him."

"Thanks," he said.

"Sure!" Brittany tinkled. "Just make sure when you three finally have sex, Sanny and I are there to see it. We'll even wear our Cheerios uniforms!"

Mike blanched.

Santana leered. "Or nothing at all."

Chapter Text

John Winchester was sitting on the floor, staring at the scene before him, honestly having not one fucking clue what had just happened.

He had been fighting with the demon, the one who killed his Mary and set him on this path over twenty years previous, and then his sons and a bunch of people he didn’t know had burst into the abandoned cabin. There was fighting and John was down for the count much sooner than he would have liked or anticipated. Christ, he was old.

He wasn’t just getting old. He was old.

His eldest, his soldier, had taken on the demon, but that sick fuck had known just what buttons to press to make Dean a sobbing wreck. Sam had immediately intervened; John noticed Sam had hesitated at first, but once Dean was attacked, he rushed in with guns blazing.

It hurt. It hurt to know his son wouldn’t risk life and limb for him, but would without question for his brother. John supposed it was his own fault. He and Sam had never been close. When the boys were growing up, he had always left Sam in Dean’s care and Dean had stepped up the plate, being the father Sam needed, the one John knew he could never be.

He had also noticed the demon had a peculiar interest in Sam. It hadn’t surprised him. He had always known since that night that Sam was a desirable target. He didn’t know what that thing wanted with his boy, but he knew there was something.

And Sam had fought with everything inside of him. John had been so proud and Sam had been so disgusted with him. The demon had preyed on that, whispering to Sam how John only loved Dean because Dean was the son John wanted. Sam had believed that.

There was truth in the words and John felt like the biggest asshole in the world. He loved his boys, he did, but he had always related to Dean better than Sam. Dean had admired him, idolized him, wanted to be him; but Sam had always looked at John and seen the truth behind the façade. John wasn’t brave. He didn’t fight for the sake of it or because he wanted to do the right thing.

He wanted plain and simple revenge, even at the expense of himself and his sons. He would have deemed them worthy deaths so long as they had taken the demon with them. He thought they would all die that night.

But the other people with his sons had different ideas. The man with the eyepatch had led a coordinated attack with the youngest. The girl, some kind of witch or sorceress, had set up a ritual to banish the demon back to Hell, at least temporarily, but her ritual apparently required a set amount of time. The Patch and the boy fought the demon directly while it possessed Sam.

Patch appeared to be in actual physical pain at the thought of fighting Sam, but the boy was phenomenal. His skills were tremendous and his attacks were designed to immobilize and incapacitate, but not kill. Patch was beaten pretty badly but never surrendered. John had to admire that.

Finally the girl was able to exorcise the demon and banish it to some place called the Nether Realms. John had no idea what that was and he was fairly annoyed she had gotten rid of the monster before it could be killed.

“You’re an idiot,” she hissed at him before rushing to Patch.

“Dad!” the boy cried, rushing over to Sam, who was collapsed on the floor.

“What?” whispered a baffled John.

“Connor, take care of Dad. I’ve got Daddy.”

John's eyes bulged.

The boy nodded and began taking inventory of the wounds. John was relieved the kid appeared to know what he was doing. Sam turned on his side and coughed violently, swimming back into consciousness.

“Xander,” he croaked.

“Dawn has Daddy,” the boy murmured. “Let’s just take care of you.”

“I’m fine!” Sam insisted.

“You’re not,” Connor barked. “So lie there and let me help you. Don’t fight me, Dad. You won’t win.”

Sam sighed and did as he was bidden. “The demon?” he grunted as Connor poked a particularly sore spot.

“Not a break,” Connor muttered. “Dawn managed to banish it for now, though I’m sure it will be back.”

“Fucker,” Sam seethed. “Dean, you okay?”

“I’m fine, Sammy,” Dean said quietly, embarrassed and humiliated the demon had defeated him so easily, mortified that Sam had sacrificed himself.

“Dad okay?”

John frowned when the question was posed to Dean rather than him. He noticed Dean giving him a measured look.

“He’ll be all right.”

“This is beyond what I can do,” Dawn whimpered, unable to rouse Xander. She pulled up his sleeve and absently rubbed a runic tattoo. “We need Willow.”

“No!” Sam yelled, choking on his own blood. “Call Prue! It’s her job.”

Dawn’s eyes widened with dismay. “Too late.”

A moment later, a light so bright the others had to shield their eyes erupted.

“Xander!”

John watched in confusion as a redhead burst into tears when she laid eyes on Patch. The blond with her grimaced and, with one hand, pushed a large table in her path through the wall of the cabin, sending it skittering out into the forest beyond.

What. The hell.

“What happened?” the blond demanded of no one in particular. “Who did this?”

“It’s gone,” the girl said, refusing to meet the blond’s eyes.

“P-Prue!” Sam croaked. He gathered his strength and cleared his throat. “Prue!”

Soft twinkling lights appeared just beneath the ceiling and then another young woman materialized. John had never seen anything like it outside of Star Trek.

She was a tiny thing but radiated absolute control and a ridiculous amount of power. Long ebony hair cascaded over her shoulders and rippled down her back. She was dressed in worn, fitted jeans and a purple V-neck. She had killer curves and, if the look in her eyes was any indication, some killer moves.

She dismissively brushed past the blond and redhead and fell to her knees beside Patch, holding her hand above his head. A gentle golden beam descended from her fingers and, to John’s utter astonishment, Patch’s blood seeped back into his wounds. Tissue began knitting together and violently purple bruises vanished all before John’s eyes.

What on earth was she? What kind of magic was this?

This woman, this Prue, gave a satisfied nod and scampered over to Sam, repeating the process. Sam was almost immediately on his feet and at the side of Patch, taking the man’s hand in his and whispering words lost to everyone else.

John was suddenly aware of Dean extending him a hand. He took it and got to his feet.

“That’s Xander,” Dean said, as though that explained everything, “Sam’s husband.”

 


 

“You want to run that by me again?” John said not a scant ten seconds later, still unable to process the information.

Dean sighed. He really wasn’t up to explaining all of this to his father, but knew Sam had no real interest and he figured he owed his brother one.

“Xander is Sam’s husband. The twins are Connor and Dawn, their kids.”

John blinked owlishly. “Unless the fucking TARDIS has become a reality, along with some amazing advances in reproductive endocrinology, that’s not possible.”

Dean just shrugged. “Dawn and Connor are Xander’s brother and sister. The mom, who they apparently loved a lot, died about seven years ago. The dad was never really in the picture.”

John winced. That hit a little closer to home than he would’ve liked. He noticed Dean’s fleeting smirk and guessed his son felt much the same.

“Anyway, Xander had been raising them, but since he and Sam got together, they’ve both been on the job. Done pretty well, too. The kids are awesome. A little too grown and, at times, really fucking scary, but awesome.”

“And the others?” John asked, eyes sliding toward the newest arrivals.

“Don’t know.”

“How long have they been married?” he whispered.

“Almost a year; were together two before that.”

“Sam is too young for this.”

Dean snorted. “Yeah, walk over there and tell him that. I’m betting you’ll get the same reaction I did.”

“Which was?”

“I was politely told to fuck off. Sam said I could either get on board or get out. I chose my brother.”

John decided to let that sit for a moment, understanding what Dean was really saying: he would always choose Sam. It was sobering, but he was proud. “What are they?”

“More than you can imagine. More than I ever thought there was in this world. But they’re the good guys, Dad. I have a lot of doubts, but not about that. Sam’s not so far gone he would take up with someone compromised or evil. From what I’ve seen and heard, Xander is some kind of hunter. Not what we are, but similar and even more involved.”

John sighed. “I didn’t know Sam was gay. Looking back, I guess I should have seen it.”

“Yeah, don’t go there,” Dean warned. “Sam made it pretty clear he was bi and that the distinction was important to him. He chose Xander not because Xander’s a man, but because he’s Xander.”

“What do you know about him?”

“He’s been in the life for half of his, since he was a kid really. Lost an eye saving a girl. Lost the two women he loved. Lost his home. Lost everything. Then he found Sam.”

He scratched the back of his neck. “Look, Dad, you want to tread lightly here. Sam came, but only because Xander insisted. Don’t get me wrong, Sam wanted to help, but from a distance. He’s been really happy. He graduated last term with a perfect GPA. His first year of law school, by the way.”

Jesus. His kid had graduated from fucking Stanford and he hadn't known. Hadn't know his kid had gone on to professional school. It was embarrassing. “He can afford that?”

“He earned another full-ride, but if he hadn't Xander could and would pay his way.”

“How?”

“I don’t know the particulars and really don’t give a fuck. He’s taking care of Sam, the twins, and his ward, a cousin who was orphaned a few years back.”

“What’s he do?”

“Construction. Pretty remarkable, what with the lack of depth perception. He built their house. It’s amazing.”

“Where’s he from?”

“Some place called Sunnydale. Bit the dust a few years back. They don’t miss it.”

John’s eyes widened. “Oh, shit.” He stepped forward and stared at Xander for what seemed like minutes. "You’re Alexander Harris.”

Xander blinked and then grinned, nudging Sam with an elbow. “Hey, check me out. I’m famous!”

 


 

Prue kept a watchful eye as she communicated telepathically with Tara, warning her fellow whitelighter to stay away as she doubted Willow was ready to be confronted with this knowledge. She also wanted Tara to update Kurt and the Coven with everything that had happened. She would not have her charges blindsided.

She chose to ignore the confused and speculative looks Willow and Buffy were shooting her way, preferring instead to make small talk with Connor and Dawn, with whom she got along well. She’d wait for Xander to make the introductions if he deemed them necessary.

“How do you know Xander?” Sam demanded of his father.

John gave his son an incredulous look. “Everyone knows who they are,” he replied. “At least, those who know what lies behind the veil.”

Xander frowned. “Like a wedding veil?”

“Not now,” Sam hissed, slapping him upside the head.

“I thought we agreed spousal abuse was beneath us,” said a forlorn Xander.

Sam huffed and rolled his eyes. “I was so worried,” he whispered. “I can’t go through this again, Xan, not after last time."

Xander wrapped an arm about his husband’s waist. “This was an outside force, it had nothing to do with my heart. I’ve been killing demons professionally for almost fifteen years running, Sam. It will take more than some pesky phantom to take me out.” He paused, his eye searching Sam’s own. “What about you? That thing possessed you. Are you okay?”

“It used me to hurt you,” Sam seethed. “No, I’m not okay.”

Xander said nothing. He knew Sam wasn’t experiencing guilt; he understood he had been powerless to stop the demon. It was that exact powerlessness that left him feeling so helpless and angry. He held Sam tighter.

“I’m okay,” Xander repeated. “We’re okay and the kids are okay. It’s okay.”

“What’s this about your heart, dude?” asked a worried Dean. He’d already accepted Xander as Sam’s husband, so therefore Xander was like another brother. Family mattered.

“I had a heart attack a few years ago,” Xander said quietly, knowing even mentioning it would only further upset Sam, “but I’m fine. I’m completely recovered.”

One look at Sam and Dean knew his brother wasn’t convinced, but this wasn’t the time to press the issue.

Sam sucked in a sharp breath and released it slowly before turning back to his father. “You were saying.”

John shook his head. “They’re the Guardians of the Hellmouth, Sam. Of course I know who they are.” He looked at Xander. “Alexander Harris, also known as the White Knight and the One Who Sees.”

Xander’s brow furrowed. “How do you know that?”

Buffy and Willow tensed.

“All hunters, at least the ones who are unafraid to look beneath the surface, know that. You’re prophesied.”

Xander pulled a face and shook his head. “I’m not Prophecy Guy. All that stuff pertains to Buffy,” he said, pointing to her.

“Not exactly,” Prue murmured.

“Say what?” Xander asked sharply.

“Who are you?” Willow barked.

“Beyond you, honey,” Prue snapped back. “If you’re as good as you think you are, you know by now you’re no match for me, so back off.”

Willow shut her mouth, though her fair skin purpled with rancor.

Buffy looked between Xander and Prue, deciding she had to approach this as an adult. She would not spoil her reunion with her best friend by reassuming that autocratic air she had donned back in Sunnydale.

“We’re just concerned,” she said. “We didn’t mean to offend.”

An outraged Willow turned toward her, mouth dropping open in fury, but one look from Buffy ensured her silence. Xander gave Buffy a glance fueled with approval and gratitude, almost causing her to burst into tears. It had been so long since he had looked at her that way.

Prue studied her for a moment and at last nodded. “None taken. You’re just looking out for your friend and I understand that, but you must understand that I don’t answer to either of you. You have questions? Ask your friend.”

Buffy turned toward Xander, who was still staring at Prue through narrowed eye. Finally he shook his head to clear it.

“How about a hug first?”

Buffy’s breath hitched, tears falling from her eyes faster than she could register, and she flew into his arms. How on earth had she managed to survive this long without him? She didn’t know. She never wanted to know.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered, laying her head over his heart and reassured by its strong beat. In these years since they had parted, she had often wondered if her own heart had stopped from his absence, but now she could hear it thundering in her ears. It would strong, and it was the most beautiful sound she had ever heard.

“I know,” he said, “and I always knew this moment would come, but we couldn’t force it.”

She closed her eyes and nodded.

He maintained his hold while releasing one arm and opening it toward Willow, who raced toward him and was soon again in tears.

Prue watched this passively, wondering if anyone else present could see the aura that surrounded them. It was unlike anything she had ever seen. She would have to compare notes with Tara when she returned to Lima.

“Buffy Summers and Willow Rosenberg,” John muttered. “The Vampire Slayer and the Crimson Witch.”

Willow wiped her eyes and looked at him. “Huh?”

Prue was done with this. “Where did you hear the prophecy?” she asked. “There were only five witnesses.”

John was puzzled. “Years ago, but it was written down centuries before.”

“That’s not possible,” Prue said tightly. “It was made only a decade ago.”

He shook his head. “It was spoken by an Akkaddian oracle before Babylon fell.”

Her thoughts raced as she tried to correlate this with what she knew. Granted, she and Tara hadn’t spent a lot of time researching other prophecies, instead focusing on the one Brittany had made the night Suzanne died. Things weren’t adding up.

She frowned. Unless …

“Do you remember the phrasing?” she pressed. “The exact words?”

“No, not really.” He looked at Dean. “Bobby showed it to me years ago before the Hellmouth fell. It was only after, when the news got out, that he realized who it referenced.”

“So the prophecy to which you are referring,” Prue said, “deals only with Xander, Willow, and Buffy?”

He nodded. “And the Watcher.”

She blew out a breath. Okay, well, that explained why she had never before come across it. She hadn’t been looking for prophecies pertaining outside the Coven. Conversely, that also meant Xander played more of a role in this than they had figured, which made sense, given the keen interest the Powers had taken in him. Clearly they wanted him as more than the agent of the Queen.

“But that’s not the prophecy you were talking about,” Xander said to Prue, “is it?”

She locked eyes with his and slowly shook her head.

“Well, shit.”

“But the prophecy of which you’re speaking also refers to my husband?” asked an anxious Sam.

“Yes,” Prue admitted. “It was spoken almost eleven years ago by a powerful witch who is also an Oracle.”

“Was that why you were assigned to him?”

“Yes.”

“So you knew about this prophecy before you even met Xander,” Sam barked, “but never saw fit to tell him?”

“Easy, son,” John cautioned. “Prophecies are tricky things and often self-fulfilling. If she didn’t tell your young man, she was probably right to do so. She was protecting him.”

Sam transferred his sullen glare from his father back to Prue, who nodded. He blew out a breath, his anger thawing. Rationally he knew Prue would stop at nothing to protect Xander, so his father was most likely right.

Xander studied her. “This has to do with your other charges, doesn’t it? The ones you can’t tell me about.”

She sighed and cradled her head in her hands. “I never wanted to keep secrets from you, Xander. I know how much you hate it and, frankly, so do I. That was never how I operated and I think you know that, but you also know that while I might be an independent contractor, I have superiors to whom I must answer.”

He nodded. He did know that and didn’t fault her for it.

“What the hell is going on?” Buffy interrupted, feigning ignorance. “Who is this woman? Xander, are you okay?”

He hesitated and looked at Prue.

“It’s your decision,” she said. “We trust each other and I know you trust them. If you want to tell them, you should.”

He bit his lip and turned to Sam.

“I’ll support you no matter what,” his husband said, “but you need to be sure about this. You can’t take it back. Once they know, they become a part of it, for better or worse. You might not be able to protect them.”

Buffy and Willow’s Protect Xander At All Costs antennae immediately shot up.

“I think you should do it, Daddy,” Dawn said quietly.

Buffy blanched at hearing her sister address him in that manner. Willow noticed and filed it away to puzzle over later.

Connor shrugged. “Faith knows more than they do and hasn’t blabbed. It’s really your call, Dad.”

Buffy then realized how much a chance Faith had taken by telling her and Angel what she had. Faith had few true friends; Buffy would not be the reason they turned against her. She decided to play dumb and not say anything until Xander raised the first of what she suspected would be many horrifying conversations.

“Do you have any fucking idea what’s going on?” John hissed at Dean.

“Not a clue,” Dean said easily, “but it’s probably super weird with the potential for awesomeness.”

Xander stared at Buffy, who realized Faith had kept him in the loop. The other Slayer really was a true friend.

Buffy wrung her hands. “Faith did tell us some things.”

“Oh, really?” demanded a cross Willow. “Like what, and why wasn’t I told?”

“She told me and Angel some things,” Buffy amended.

“And I’m assuming you told Giles?” Willow prompted.

Buffy flushed. “I didn’t want to put you in the middle again.”

Willow narrowed her eyes. “What the hell, Buffy? I’ve never understood this crap with you treating Xander like a toddler. I mean, I get it to a point. He’s my best friend, of course I want him safe, but he’s not some fragile petal you need to wrap in cotton wool.”

“That’s not what it’s about,” Connor said.

Buffy blinked and turned surprised eyes on him.

“It’s more than just keeping him safe. It’s about keeping him alive, because you can’t imagine your life without him. It’s not that you’re incapable of picturing it; you refuse to do so. He’s what tethers you to this life and, if he were gone, you’d just float away. You wouldn’t even fight it. If he were gone, you’d have nothing left to fight for. He’s why you fight.”

She swallowed heavily and nodded. “I think I’ve underestimated you.”

He gave her a wry grin. “I get that a lot.”

“But he never did, did he?”

“No,” Connor said, “he’s always had my full measure. He’s always had everyone’s.”

“It’s kind of his thing,” she agreed.

Xander blew out a breath. “How much did Faith tell you, Buffy?”

Buffy’s face became grave. “The Elders want you for something, but she didn’t know what and doesn’t believe you do either. She insinuated they were responsible for Anya’s death and, if that’s true, I’m going to slay every last one of them.”

“Who the hell are the Elders?” Willow screeched, eyes bleeding black. “What do you mean they killed Anya?”

“Rein it in before I do it for you,” Prue said.

Willow slowly exhaled. “I still don’t know who you are.”

“But Buffy does.”

Willow glared at Buffy, who averted her eyes.

“You’re Prue Halliwell, Xander’s Whitelighter.”

“Whitelighters are real?” John marveled.

Buffy ignored him. “And you were a Charmed One.”

Prue gave a curt nod as Willow gasped.

“What the hell is a Charmed One?” Dean asked.

An excited Willow babbled at length about the prophecy concerning three sisters that culminated with the Charmed Ones, the most powerful witches this world had ever seen.

Dean examined Prue and deemed her worthy of respect. Not only was she ridiculously hot, but she kicked a lot of ass. He totally dug that.

“When I was alive and we were at our height,” Prue said, “my sisters and I were the most powerful, but that’s no longer true.”

“You don’t mean Willow, do you?” Buffy asked.

“Willow is the most powerful of her type of witch,” Prue said, “but, no, I was not speaking of her. I was arguably the strongest of my sisters and, after I died, that passed to Piper, but then our cousin’s powers were unbound.” She turned to Xander. “He is now the most powerful witch in the world, though he doesn't yet realize it, and may eventually be surpassed by Piper’s son, though that's not certain. My cousin is my other charge and the one the prophecy heralds.”

“How old is he?” Xander whispered.

Prue closed her eyes. “He’s about to turn seventeen.”

“So young,” Buffy said sadly. “Too young.”

Prue gave her a wobbly smile. “You’re perhaps the only one who could understand what it’s like when the weight of the world is placed on your shoulders. I know some of it, but not like you do, and even you could never imagine what is expected of Kurt.”

“Which is what, exactly?” Buffy asked. “How can we help him?”

Prue stared. “What?”

“You’re not the only one who’s died, Prue,” she said gently. “I know what it means to leave and come back. I wasn’t given the choice, but eventually I became so grateful for the chance. You chose willingly and I can’t imagine anything less than a global apocalypse could convince you to give up such utter serenity.”

Tears appeared in Prue’s eyes as she struggled to form words. “You were fifteen when you were Called.” She paused. “Kurt was six.”

Buffy choked on a sob as she raised a shaky hand to cover her mouth. She squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head. Connor scowled and turned away, shoving his fist through the nearest wall. Dawn retched and only barely managed to keep from vomiting.

“That is the sickest shit I’ve ever heard,” Dean spat. “Who the fuck does that to a little kid?”

“He’s needed that badly?” John asked softly.

“It’s not just another apocalypse,” Prue murmured.

She then launched into her now memorized spiel about the nature of the world, of all the worlds, of the dimension and the beings that governed it.

Willow wondered how she knew none of this. Surely there were portents she should have seen, chatter in the realms she had visited. How had she missed something of such monumental importance?

“You’re talking about the end of existence,” said a numb John. “Not just this world, but of all worlds. Humanity itself.”

She nodded.

“Who is your cousin?” Willow asked. “Who is Kurt?”

Prue looked at John and then at Willow, assuming they would know the legend. “The Hand.”

John, eyes wide and wild, stumbled back and tumbled to the floor, staring up at her in complete terror.

“The Hand is just a myth,” Willow insisted.

“No.”

Willow pressed her lips together in an effort not to cry.

“He was six?” asked a devastated Dawn. “Did he know then?”

“Kurt had specific, demonstrable powers from the time he was at least three,” Prue said. “At that age, he and his parents were visiting me and my sisters when demons attacked our home. My sisters were incapacitated fairly quickly and most of the demons focused on trying to finish me, but a few went for Kurt’s mother, also a witch, only she had no offensive powers.”

“But Kurt did,” Xander surmised.

“Yes.”

“He fought off demons at three years old?” Dean marveled. “This has to be the most bad-ass kid ever.”

“What do you mean about specific powers?” Dawn asked. “What did you mean before, about Willow being the strongest of her kind of witch?”

“Natural witches are those born with access to their magic,” Xander said. “As they age, more powers are given to them until they reach their maximum. Then they must master those powers.”

Dawn blinked. “Okay.”

“Witches like Willow can access magic, but they’re not magical in and of themselves. They channel the magic of others.”

Willow frowned. “That’s not true.”

“Yeah, it is. You had no powers before high school, Will. You opened yourself to magic by ensouling Angel and increased it with constant use, but that power was given to you. It’s not yours by right. In the beginning, you always had to call on another to enact your spells. When you killed Osiris, you absorbed his magic, sure, but you weren’t born with your own. Prue and her sisters were.”

Willow’s frown deepened as she dwelled heavily on his words. She didn’t want to believe them true, but they made a certain amount of sense, so she couldn’t outright deny them. Her mind was already collating this information and reconciling it with her history with magic.

“How do you know all of this?” Sam asked. “Did Prue tell you?”

Xander shook his head. “Anya did. She was a natural witch. That’s what attracted D’Hoffryn to her all those centuries ago. It’s what made her the most successful vengeance demon in history. The necklace boosted her powers, yeah, but she had a well of her own.”

He looked back at Prue. “Why Kurt?”

“Why Buffy?” she countered. “Why Faith or Willow or you? Fate has no rules, Xander, and it doesn’t entertain questions.”

He gave a tight nod.

“What happened when he was six?” Dawn asked. “Why then?”

Prue exhaled. “His mother died. I myself died the day before.”

“His mother bound his magic,” John guessed, “and the binding dissolved with her death.”

She nodded.

He shrugged when the others looked at him. “Makes sense to me. His magic would have made him a target. His mother protected him as much as she could.”

“Can you tell us what his powers are?” Connor asked.

“Telepathy and empathy, but those are passive powers unless he chooses to employ them offensively. Kurt is also telekinetic, and that segued to cryokinesis and then electrokinesis.”

Willow gasped.

“What does that mean?” Buffy asked.

Dean snorted. “Kid throws lightning bolts.”

Prue nodded and demonstrated the ability, bolts forming in her own hands. Willow, Buffy, and John stared in awe.

“Prue,” Xander began hesitantly, “those are your powers, at least some of them.”

She nodded. “He shares another: astral projection. Kurt has managed to focus that power and his telekinesis, channeling them into a form of teleportation. I might have done the same had I lived. Powers tend to run along family lines. Once I died, I had no need of them, so they passed to Kurt. However, the Powers rekindled them within me to make sure I had every weapon in my arsenal to protect him.”

They all suspected Kurt was far more powerful than she was letting on, but didn't press her.

“You know the Powers?” Dawn asked. “You’ve met them?”

“I work for them, at least obliquely.”

“What is the Hand?” Sam asked. “What does it mean?”

Prue began to recite the prophecy given by Brittany all those years ago. “The Knight of White, the Seer of Truth: He pure of Heart; She, Sayer of Sooth. Born of the Light yet Dark with great pain, the joint Ascension shall herald a New Reign.”

"Xander,” Buffy whispered.

“Cordy,” he said.

Prue nodded. “We weren’t sure at first. The fact that Cordelia was the Seer was unknown to the supernatural world at large in order to protect her. As you know, Seers are hunted for their eyes. Then other possibilities presented themselves in Anya, Tara, and Dawn. Even Faith after her redemption. Potential Slayers were considered, but ultimately discarded. The prophecy refers to Xander and Cordelia.”

“It … it was always them, wasn’t it?” Willow asked.

“It was always all of you,” Prue corrected. “Blind to each other so shall these two be, until she comes along, a Warrior Queen.”

Buffy inhaled sharply.

Her path shall they walk, at her side yet alone. From her despair, the Light shall they glean.

Xander cocked his head. “So Buffy brought me and Cordy together?”

“Didn’t she?” Prue volleyed.

He nodded, a sad smile on his face, before turning toward his best friend. “I guess I owe you more than I ever knew.”

“You don’t owe me anything,” Buffy denied. “I did this to you both.”

“No,” he said flatly. “No, Buff. That’s the thing I’ve always liked least about you, because it reminds me so much of myself. You’re not responsible for the choices of others. I chose to stand by you. So did Will. So did Cordy. We have never regretted that.”

She looked at him as though she couldn’t possibly believe his words.

“It’s true,” Willow insisted. “You might have opened our eyes, Buffy, but we didn’t walk blindly to you. You were Chosen; we chose. You weren’t given that luxury.” She smiled and shrugged. “I think we got the better end of the deal. We know how hard it’s been for you.”

Xander nodded.

Buffy sighed and closed her eyes.

“Go on,” Sam whispered to Prue.

She took a deep breath. “The Knight will face trials of incredible breadth: a father, a witch, a daughter and Death.

Xander, Sam, Buffy, and Connor looked at anything but Dawn, who was so busy trying to analyze what came before, she missed the point.

“You did die,” Willow whispered.

“Sam brought me back!” Xander chirped.

Dean and John stared.

“Well,” Sam began, blushing, “you bring back Slayers and save the world a lot. We all have to do our part.”

Willow and Buffy burst out laughing.

“I guess I’m the witch it references,” said a rueful Willow. “Not my finest hour.”

“You had cause,” Dawn seethed.

“No, I didn’t,” Willow said sharply. “Grief is no excuse. We’ve all lost people we love. I tried to end the world and used my best friend to do it. There was no excuse.”

Dawn rolled her eyes and turned away. She had never gotten over Tara's death and suspected she never would. She had certainly never shed tears for that asshole Warren. She was glad he was dead/

Buffy stared at Xander, thinking about his first trial.

“Don’t make me say it.”

“I think you need to,” she whispered. “I don’t want to hear it, but you need to say it.”

“Did you know?” he demanded.

“I had suspicions,” she admitted. “Well, Mom did. She told them to me but I couldn’t believe them. I couldn’t believe anyone would willingly hurt you.” She choked on a sob. “I couldn’t believe you wouldn’t tell me someone tried.”

“Xander?” Willow asked in a strange voice. “What’s she talking about? What does she mean?”

He looked at Prue. “Do you know?”

“Know what?” she asked blankly.

He stared at the ground and held his silence.

“Your father beat you, didn’t he?” Buffy asked, tears streaking down her face.

“W-What?” Willow said.

“Is that true?” asked a horrified Sam.

Dawn and Connor involuntarily inched their way toward each other until they were at last able to grasp hands.

John hesitated only a moment before pushing past Dean and coming to stand before his newest son, giving a warning glare at an enraged Sam.

“He did more than that to you, didn’t he, son?” he said gently.

Buffy blinked slowly, her world suddenly narrowed to two single points of colorless light. Then it turned red. Violent, dripping red.

Willow’s mind raced with an implication she simply couldn’t posit. This couldn’t be happening. It just couldn’t. Why hadn’t he told her? Why hadn’t she known? What good was all of her vaunted power when she couldn’t protect the one person who meant more to her than any other?

“Daddy?” asked a broken Dawn. “Is that true? Did he do that you?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“The fuck it doesn’t,” hissed an outraged Dean. “Where is he?”

“Gone.”

“Dead?” was the disappointed response.

“He’s not dead!” Willow shrieked. “Why did you get him out, Xander? You should have left him to die with the other demons!”

“Did anyone know?” Buffy whispered, unable to bear the thought he had kept this horrible secret to himself all of his life. “Did you ever tell anyone?”

He closed his eye. “Cordy knew. Faith knows.”

Willow gave him a strange look. “Why Faith?”

“Because she knew.”

“Knew what?”

“She knew.”

Buffy shook her head as her eyes swam with tears. She took a step back, turned, leaned over, and vomited.

“And now you all know,” he said dully.

It distressed him to realize he was now regarded by his closest friends – his family – as a victim.  He had never thought of himself as one and now could do little else. It was almost worse than anything his father had done to him.

Sam carefully placed a hand his husband’s shoulder, flinching and quickly withdrawing when Xander stiffened and momentarily ceased breathing.

Forcing himself to inhale, Xander slowly leaned against Sam and rested his head upon the other man’s shoulder, closing his eyes and focusing on his respirations until he could get himself back under control. 

“I’m okay.”

Everyone doubted that but were unsure how to proceed.  Each was afraid to push him farther than that for which he was ready.

For the first time in a very long time, Willow felt completely impotent and absolutely despised it. She despaired that Xander had confided in Cordelia but not her, then castigated herself for trying to make her best friend’s pain about her.

Buffy swallowed with great difficulty. “And Cordy? Did her father … ?”

Xander set his jaw and eventually shook his head. “Mine. She fought him off.”

She closed her eyes. “Oh, god.”

Willow turned the color of chalk before her complexion went florid. That miserable son of a bitch had not only attacked her best friend, but also her ... other friend? Yes. Goddamn right, Cordelia had been her friend. She had been Team and that mattered.

Willow had been too wrapped up in her own pain and wants to realize it then, as they all had been, but how many times had Cordelia saved their lives? She was owed, certainly better than she ever received. Someone had to pay!

Xander's eye shuttered. “I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”

Buffy’s head echoed with Faith’s similar stance that day in the forest. “You don’t have to.”

Prue didn’t know what to say, so she said nothing. If Xander wanted to talk, he knew she would listen without judgment, but he had to come to her. Too long had he minimized his own pain to take care of others; she would not do that to him.

“Maybe we should finish with the prophecy,” Sam suggested, wanting to draw attention away from this discussion – one he fully intended on having with his husband sooner rather than later, and in private.

Xander heaved a sigh of relief and nodded.

Prue forced down bile and gave him and Sam a sad yet hopeful look. “His Heart shall shatter again and again, and only the Hunter shall cause it to mend.”

Xander smiled. “Cool. I’m kind of digging that my marriage was cosmically preordained.”

“You don’t feel manipulated?” Willow asked, cocking her head.

“Nope. I did have my heart broken a lot, but I was never broken. Sam never once looked at me and saw my failures. He saw my strengths, my triumphs. He didn’t try to fix me. He just loved me. That was everything. Still is.”

John blinked furiously. If nothing else, he was completely convinced his son was in love with this man and, no matter what he himself thought about that, he couldn’t argue that Sam hadn’t chosen wisely. It was obvious Xander Harris adored Sam.

Sam gently wrapped his arms around Xander’s waist and put his head on his husband’s shoulder, grinning when Xander didn’t pull away, but leaned over and pecked his cheek.

“You two are disgustingly in love,” Dean sneered. “Gag.”

Connor raised a brow. “Maybe if you learned how to control your gag reflex, you’d have a husband of your own.”

Dean flushed as Dawn and Willow cackled.

Buffy smiled with approval. “You got your sense of humor from your father,” she said, nodding at Xander.

Connor blinked and offered a shy smile in reply. “Thanks.”

“The next part of the prophecy deals with Cordelia,” Prue said softly. Her eyes turned to Buffy and Willow. “How much did Angel tell you about what really happened to her?”

Willow cocked her head. “What do you mean?”

Buffy said nothing.

Willow turned on her. "What do you know?"

"More than you, but probably not as much as they do. I learned a while ago to take what Angel says with a grain of salt. What Faith told me ..." she closed her eyes, her breath ragged, "... is unbearable."

Xander was incredulous. “You don’t know why she died?” he asked Willow.

“She was in a coma,” Willow said slowly. “Angel didn’t tell us much beyond that, other than the visions had taken their toll on her body.” She grimaced. “I knew I should have pressed him. I knew he was holding something back, but he was so hurt, so devastated about the others, I let it go.”

“You’re not alone,” Buffy said darkly. “I thought he was just being oblique because he was in love with her and didn’t want to hurt me, so I let it go because I thought it was what he needed, but I sensed there was more. ”

She looked at Xander. “Faith and Angel told me Cordelia is now a Higher Being.”

Willow choked. John gave an exaggerated blink.

Xander pursed his lips. “That’s all he said?”

She gave a brusque nod. “Faith then told us why we couldn’t be invited to your wedding, that it took place in another dimension and was officiated by Cordy and blessed by the Powers That Be.”

“It was what now?” asked a confused Dean. “What’s a Higher Being?”

Xander looked at the floor. “Cordelia is now, in essence, holy.”

Dean’s eyes bugged.

“She stood in for the Powers and blessed our marriage.” He paused. “You hear about things like soul mates in romance novels and bad Harry Potter fanfiction. You shake your head and scoff, all the while hoping that it just might be true, that there’s someone out there who was made to love you and only you.”

He turned toward John. “I love your son. He’s my life. He’s everything. But I didn’t need anyone or any power to lead me to that conclusion. I arrived at it all on my own, and I’m damned proud of that. I was born to love Sam. I will love him until the second of my death and the eternity beyond. Nothing – not demons, not magic, not apocalypses, or even the Powers That Fucking Be – will change that.

“If it ever comes down to it, I will protect and defend Sam at the expense of everyone I love and my own life.”

John held his gaze for a long time before at last nodding. This … this was a man he could respect, even grow to love as another son.

Xander nodded in kind and turned to Dean. “It’s not really possible to define what a Higher Being is. Human language simply lacks the capacity for it.” He frowned. “It’s similar in theory to some religious dogma. The Powers would be considered akin to the Holy Trinity, with Higher Beings as saints. It’s not really analogous, but that’s as close as I’m able to describe it.”

Dean blinked. “So you dated a saint?”

Xander laughed. “Cordy would be the last person to describe herself that way. In fact, she’d probably take offense to it. But she was the most honest and most self-possessed person I’ve ever known. She knew who she was and didn’t apologize for it. She didn’t care whether or not you liked her. She demanded and received respect. She was brutal in her assessments, but usually right.

“It wasn’t easy,” he murmured, “being her, being the lone voice of truth in situations where lies were so much easier. She not only spoke the truth, she lived it. She forced others to confront their own. She had the full measure of everyone she ever met and, no, it wasn’t easy or pretty to listen to her words, but if you ignored them, you only had yourself to blame when the shit hit the fan. And it always did.”

Dean shrugged. “Sounds like a first-class bitch, and I mean that in the most awesome way.”

Xander laughed.

Buffy swatted away her tears. “Faith also told us that the Elders planned to kill you, to turn you into one of them, but Cordelia thwarted them with the heart attack and they killed Anya instead.”

“What?” Prue hissed.

“I didn’t tell you because it was over,” Xander said, “and I didn’t want you to put yourself at risk again by going after them. You decimated their realm once, Prue, and though I don’t know why, I trust you and I’m sure it was probably for a damned good reason.”

She glared at him.

“You exposed yourself to them,” he continued, “and I’m still not sure that a risk you should have taken. Yeah, they probably knew you weren’t in the heavenly dimension with the rest of your family, but that gave them confirmation. If you did it again, well, you might be beyond their reach, but your sisters aren’t.”

She deflated and at last nodded. “I can’t believe the Powers didn’t tell me.”

He looked away.

She stared at him. “Do you know why they didn’t?”

“I can’t tell you,” he whispered.

Her eyes sparked with rage.

“I can,” a voice thundered.

Xander closed his eye in defeat. Sam gathered Connor, Dawn, and Dean to him as the opposite wall exploded.

A woman, or at least something that had a female form, stalked through the hole she had obviously just created, her head tilted and eyes focused on Xander.

“I felt your distress and knew you had been damaged, yet you appear whole. Explain.”

“What the hell is that?!” Buffy exclaimed.

Willow reared back her head. “Fred?” She frantically shook her head. "But Fred is dead! Drop Dead Fred!"

“Not Fred,” Xander whispered.

The woman turned toward Willow. “The Crimson Witch. You were briefly acquainted with the shell who once inhabited this vessel. The shell is gone, sent into oblivion during my resurgence.” She frowned. “Your grief is offensive. Your power is puny yet you glow with hubris. I should crush you beneath my heel.”

Chapter Text

“You will do nothing to Willow or Buffy,” Xander growled.

Illyria sneered and studied those she did not know. “Biological forebear and fraternal unit,” she said, glancing at John and Dean. “Slayer,” she noted, looking at Buffy.

Finally, she turned back to her ward. “I demand you explain this to my satisfaction, Alexander.” She scented the air. “This domicile and your mate reek of the befouled.”

“Sam was possessed by a demon. Dawn was able to exorcise it and sent it to the Nether Realms.”

She nodded. “It will return. We must prepare.”

“Uh, Xander?” Willow prompted.

He sighed. “Will, Buffy, meet Illyria.”

Willow snorted, annoyed he thought his explanation was in any way acceptable. “Why is she wearing Fred’s face? I thought Fred was dead.”

“The shell is dead,” Illyria said. “I assumed control of this vessel and, while initially inadequate, it has proven serviceable. Have you never stumbled upon my glorious name in all of your delving into the true history of this world, witch? I am an Old One.”

“Jesus Christ,” John whispered, backing away and slamming himself against the wall. His eyes were wide and terrified. “Holy shit.”

She looked at him and laughed with derision, pleased by his fear.

“I don’t know what that is,” Buffy said, “and I don’t care. All I care about is whether or not you’re a threat to Xander and his family.”

“And if I am?”

“I’ll kill you.”

“You would die in the attempt, but I suppose it would be a noble death. Regardless, your threats and posturing are useless and boring. Desist. I pose no threat to Alexander and his clan.”

“She’s telling the truth,” Prue said.

“Why should we believe you?” Willow barked.

“Alexander,” Illyria hissed, “this offal has cast aspersions upon the Guardian. She must be eliminated.”

He sighed again and rubbed his face with a hand. “Will, you’re not being helpful here, okay? There’s so much more going on here than you could ever understand.”

“And whose fault is that?” she asked, tone venomous. “You’re my best friend, Xander, and I don’t even know who the hell you are. You cut me out of your life, went off and married someone I don’t know, this … that horribleness with your dad, you took Dawn from Buffy …”

“Now wait just a minute,” Dawn interjected, “you don’t get to trot out some big bag of bullshit just because you’re pissed off, Willow. Daddy didn’t take me from Buffy, she sent me to him and you know that.You defended it, saying I’d be better off. Daddy didn’t cut you out of his life; you did that. Yeah, you might have sided with him and against Spike over me, but you stayed at the compound. You made your choice, so don’t whine about it now.”

Connor snarled. “You don’t talk about Dad. Ever. Someone you don’t know? How about someone you never tried to know? When they got engaged, that should have clued you in on just how serious it was. You could have come to Daddy at any time, but you couldn’t accept that he had moved on. You didn’t just stay with Buffy; you stayed away from him.”

“Do you need them to fight your battles?” an arch Willow asked Xander, dismissing those she still thought of as children.

“No,” he said. “We’re family and we take care of our own.”

Connor and Dawn immediately stepped to their fathers’ sides, joined by John and Dean.

“I thought we were family,” she whispered, realized just how badly she had gambled and lost.

“We are, Will, but all families have their secrets and silences.”

Buffy frowned. “You were trying to protect us.”

“You both have enough on your plates. I didn’t want to add to it.”

She gave him a sad smile and shook her head. “Xander, I am so sorry if I have ever made you feel like you’re not as integral to all of this as Willow or Giles. You’re essential. We’ve only gotten this far because of you. I’m only alive because of you.”

He ducked his head as Willow began crying softly.

“I love you so much, Xan, and I know how much you’ve given to this fight and how much you’ve lost because of it. Yeah, this … this schism hurt, but I’m glad it happened. I’ve missed you every single second of every single day, but I’m so happy you’ve created the life you always should have had.”

His breath hitched. “Do … do you really mean that, Buff?” he warbled.

She stepped forward and took his face in her hands. “I was jealous of Sam, of the love you share and the connection anyone who has ever been in your company can see. I was selfish because I wanted you with me, forever and always, even though I knew it was unfair, that it was slowly killing you. You needed to see that you could stand on your own and I needed to do the same.

“I am so grateful to you. I am so grateful to Sam. You are everything that Dawn needed that I couldn’t be for her, everything I couldn’t be for you.”

“Buff, no …”

Yes. I did so much wrong by you, Xander. Cordy, Anya, Sam … I saw them, all of them, for who they were. I saw how much they loved you, how much you loved them, and I knew I could never be that for you. No matter how much I wanted to be."

Willow and Sam gasped as Xander's stare intensified. He knew how much it had cost Buffy to make that admission, and he loved her dearly for it.

"You picked me up off that bathroom floor," she whispered. "You’ve given me everything, Xander, even your breath.”

“And I’ve taken a lot, too.”

She shook her head. “Angel, the Hyena, that stupid love spell … those things don’t matter anymore. If we had been honest with each other, if we had listened to each other, things might be very different now, but that doesn’t mean they’d be better.

“Giles once told me that everything happens for a reason. I believe that now. I believe that everyone we have ever loved was meant to come into our lives and that we’re better people for having loved them. And the bad things? They had to happen so we could learn from them, and learning isn’t always easy.”

“She’s right,” Willow said, swallowing heavily, greatly bothered about what had happened on the bathroom floor. “I’m sorry, Xan. That premature articulation thing? Still working on it.”

He choked out a laugh.

“Tell us what you can,” Buffy encouraged. “Tell us what we need to know so we can help you.”

“You will need them, Xander,” Prue said. “We still don’t know what’s to come, what’s expected of us, but inevitably they will be part of it. Keeping them in the dark won’t do them any favors.”

He hung his head and sighed an acceptance.

Prue nodded at Illyria.

Illyria looked at Willow with disdain, but appeared more thoughtful when she considered the Slayer. “The balance of this world has shifted precariously due to the consequences of your triumphs. The Awakening spell allowed you to thwart the First but was still ill-conceived.”

Buffy nodded. “No new Slayers.”

“W-What?” Willow asked.

“This is something I only sensed, but couldn’t really understand. Faith figured it out, though. When we activated the Potentials, we activated all of them. Potentials birth Potentials, so if there are no new Potentials …”

“Oh, goddess,” Willow breathed, the full force of Buffy’s words crashing down upon her. “What do we do?”

“I don’t know,” Buffy said honestly. “We’re still hit and miss with finding new Slayers. The most successful at it was Xander during his time in Africa. Girls are dying every day, killed because of what they are, and I don’t know how to help them. I also don't understand why there hasn't been some upper limit for the spell. It can't be perpetual.”

She held up a hand. “I’m not blaming you, Will. No one is blaming you, okay? All of us were on board with the spell. We didn’t even think it would really work. It was a last-ditch effort that bought us some time, but the First is eternal. It can outlast us.”

She shook her head. “I won’t do to anyone else what was done to the Primitive. That was sick. It was … it was an obscenity.”

Willow nodded. She couldn’t even posit it.

“A vacuum has been created,” Illyria continued. “Nature abhors a vacuum and will seek to fill it. The fall of the Wolf, Ram, and Hart, though prophesied, happened sooner than it should have. There is no logical reason for the triumph of the half-breed.”

“We think someone interfered,” Prue said.

“Who would have that kind of power?” Buffy asked. Her eyes narrowed. “The First?”

Prue was betting on the Source, as the previous was still alive during the battle for Los Angeles, or some other unknown entity. They would need to catch Team Slayer up on the new players.  “We don’t know but, whatever it is, it’s coming for us. For all of us.”

“And this has to do with the prophecy about your cousin, right? And about me, Xan, Will, and Giles.”

“I think so.”

“Cousin?” asked a quizzical Illyria.

Prue averted her eyes. “My cousin Kurt, the Hand.”

Illyria’s eyes widened impossibly. “The Hand has been Called?”

Prue stared. “You know of the prophecy?”

“The Hand was prophesied long before the fall of my kind.”

“How is that even possible?” Xander asked. “You predate humanity.”

“My brethren saw far. It is why the Deeper Well was created.” She turned to Prue. “I demand to know the contents of this prophecy.”

Prue reiterated what she had already revealed.

“And the rest?” Illyria barked, eyeing Xander with concern.

Prue gathered a breath. “As I explained to the others before you arrived, the next part deals exclusively with who we now know is Cordelia.”

“Speak.”

The Seer’s path will be no less dark and she will lose much before finding her mark. A fall through space and one from grace, a martyred life will begin her race.”

“Doyle,” Xander whispered, noting the looks of confusion of some. He explained about the half-Brachen demon who had bequeathed his gift to Cordelia.

“A fall through space,” Willow muttered before closing her eyes. “The factory.”

“It was all engineered, wasn’t it?” Buffy asked, struck by revelation in way she hadn't been while in the forest with Faith and Ange;. “What happened to Cordelia, whatever Angel refused to tell us, because I do think he was holding back, began that night. Jasmine, or whatever is beyond her, wanted to separate Xander and Cordelia, and used Will and Spike to do it.”

“Daddy,” Connor whispered, “is that true?”

Dawn wrapped him in her arms, placing her head on his chest.

Xander walked over and put his hands on his son’s shoulders. “What was done to Cordelia was perverse, Connor,” he said, tears slipping from his eye, “and had absolutely nothing to do with you. You were used. She was used. Angel and Darla were used. That … that bitch raped both of you.”

“What!” Willow barked. “Cordy and Connor were raped? What did this?” 

Connor bit his lip and looked down. He couldn’t face his father.

Xander was having none of it and chucked his son’s chin with his hand. “Look at me,” he said quietly. “We’ve had this discussion too many times; you, me, Sam, and Dawn. I know Angel told you this, too. It wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t. No one blames you.”

“Cordelia …”

“Does not blame you.”

“How can you know?” Connor whispered.

“Because she told me.”

A sob broke free from Connor’s throat as he threw himself into his father’s arms, dragging Dawn with him. Sam engulfed them from behind.

Xander smoothed the back of his son's head. "You've never listened before, but I need you to listen to me now, Connor. The reason I took you in is not because Angel asked. Regardless of whatever happened between him and me, regardless of what he did when he lost his soul, regardless of Buffy or anything else, I took you for your sake, not his. I didn't take you because Cordelia thought of you as her son. I didn't take you because I bore any kind of grudge against Darla for what she did to Jesse. I wasn't trying to be the bigger person or the better man."

"Then why?" Connor whispered.

"Because you deserve to be loved, Connor, and I loved you the moment I saw you."

Connor buried his face in Dawn's neck and sobbed.

Xander turned and looked at Prue over his shoulder. “The fall from grace. Cordy’s descension?”

She gave a tight nod.

He sighed and looked at Buffy and Willow. “After Cordelia Ascended …”

“I’m sorry, what?” Willow interrupted.

He told her of the toll the visions had taken on Cordelia, of her first coma, of Skip and the monstrous choice he had given her. How she had been tricked into becoming half-demon and then into Ascending the Higher Realms.

“Cordelia’s price to keep fighting was her humanity,” Sam said roughly. “She paid it.”

Dean shook his head in wonder. This was a chick he wished he could meet.

Illyria looked at Buffy and Willow with something akin to approval. “You stink of rage and vengeance. You desire to punish those who committed this sacrilege against your former comrade.”

“Yes,” Buffy seethed. Willow gave a gruff nod.

Illyria turned to Xander. “Though only pathetic mortals who suffer the plague of humanity, they might be worthy of you, Alexander.”

He rolled his eye.

“Why do you call him by his full name?” Willow asked.

Illyria glared. “Do you know your Greek, little girl?”

“I can read Greek!”

“Then what is the meaning of his name?”

“The defender of man,” Willow promptly replied.

“That is who he is, foolish child! Words, names, have power. Few bearers live up to it. He does.”

“Why you are here? Why are you involved?”

Willow was becoming alarmingly shrill, much to Buffy’s concern, as Illyria’s disdain for the offal intensified. Who was this insect to challenge the wisdom of an Old One?

Buffy put a restraining hand on one of Willow’s flailing arms. “I think what she means to ask is how Xander earned your loyalty. No slight against him, but you’re obviously the most powerful entity here. Why concern yourself with humans?”

Illyria paused and considered the question, for it was reasonable if inelegantly phrased. “The Deeper Well has been obliterated. My brethren are gone and I lingered in purgatory for untold eons.” She fell silent for a moment. “If this world falls, I go with it. Powerful? Yes, but not enough that I would survive the Gloaming.

“Alexander has proved himself useful. After the final battle with the Wolf, Ram, and Hart, I was untethered. Lost. My human pet perished in the conflict. He had been my guide in this strange new world, one which I still do not understand. At first I railed against my fate, but Fate is a force to which we all must eventually answer.

“Yet Alexander has thwarted Fate many times. He violates the natural order because he refuses to accept being subjected to the whims of outside forces. If he is predestined to stand against what is to come, I would be foolish not to stand at his side. I am not foolish.”

Buffy nodded slowly. Illyria was protecting her own interests, seeking to ensure her survival. She had no love for humanity but greedily wanted her life and decided Xander was her best bet. Buffy could understand that.

“The half-breed is vain and broken,” Illyria said, “too enamored of his own redemption that he has tied it erroneously with the agenda of the Powers That Be. When he sent his offspring to Alexander, I accompanied him and appointed myself Paladin.”

“You’re Xander’s bodyguard?” Buffy clarified.

“Wesley introduced me to chess, a bastardized infantile war game that is nevertheless moderately interesting. He often sought to liken our roles to pieces, forgetting the pieces have fixed movements. Chess is finite and contained. This war is not. Nonetheless, the metaphor has practical applications. We are but one of many worlds and, in their abject stupidity, the forces that exist beyond us have neglected the harmonic resonance we emit.”

Buffy barely understood the first part and was hopelessly confused by the rest of it.

“So you’re his Rook?” Willow asked.

“His Knight,” Illyria corrected. “The Guardian is the kingside Castle.”

“That’s you, right?” Buffy asked Prue, who nodded. “Tell us the rest of it.”

When the Knight falls, the Seer descends. Reclaiming her throne, several hearts will she mend. The Knight will acknowledge only his Queen, and only through him can she ever be seen.

Xander frowned.

“What the hell does that mean?” John asked.

Willow studied her friend. “It means you work for Cordy, right? Only you can see her.”

He bit his lip and nodded. “Well, I’m the only one who can summon her.”

Buffy’s brow furrowed. “So if you did, we could all see her?” she asked, voice hopeful. “Talk to her?”

“I don’t really know. Cordy can’t physically manifest herself in this realm.”

Willow blinked. “You mean like the First?”

He shrugged a shoulder. “It’s similar, I guess, a consequence of holding so much power. What I’m able to see is kind of like a hologram or an astral projection, but it doesn't work all the time.”

Buffy turned to Prue. “Have you seen her?”

The woman shook her head. “It’s better if I don’t.”

Willow frowned. “Why?”

“Because of who Cordelia is, of what she will become. There are several fronts in this war, Willow, and not all of them should be known to those involved. It’s safer that way.”

Willow’s frown deepened as she fought the desire to ask more, to know everything, before finally deciding Prue was right.

Prue opened her mouth though no sound emerged. She tilted her head, brow furrowing.

Xander cautiously stepped forward. “What is it?” he asked softly.

“I don’t know,” she whispered, looking up into his eye, “but it’s not good.”

 


 

Brittany stood to use the bathroom but suddenly stumbled backward and collapsed on Mike’s bed.

“Brit!” Santana howled, rushing to her side.

“What’s happening?” asked a worried Mike. He had been witness to Brittany’s visions before, but this was something altogether different.

“I don’t know,” Santana huffed, “but this is … weird. Get the others.”

He closed his eyes and held aloft his hands. A moment later, Sam appeared with Quinn, and then Tina with Puck.

“What’s wrong?” Quinn demanded, glancing anxiously about the room before hurrying over to Brittany and checking her pulse.

Sam quickly crossed to Mike and wrapped his arm around the other boy, earning a side-eye from Puck, who had long ago sensed Kurt’s ambivalence about expanding his relationship with Mike to include Sam. Puck was all about multiple partners but, at the end of the day, Kurt was his boy. This usually meant he always sided with Kurt and had no problem talking – loudly – about the things Kurt was too shy or reticent to voice.

“Call for Prue,” Santana hissed at Sam.

“She’s with Xander,” Quinn gently reminded her. “You know what they’re discussing and how important it is.”

Santana growled but nodded. “Tara?”

“She’s in one of the heavenly realms trying to find out what Prue doesn’t know.”

“What are you talking about?” asked a confused Sam.

Quinn and Santana exchanged a measured look. Tara had always believed the Powers were playing both sides against the middle. It only made sense they would have a contingency plan in place. Prue was their agent, yes, but her primary concern was her family, which now included all of them. It made her blind to some things, things which Tara, a more impartial observer, had gleaned.

She had only confided her worries to Quinn and Santana. Prue and Kurt were so close, sometimes too close. They had never believed or acted as though their tremendous well of power made them better or any more important than the others, but they were the acknowledged leaders and completely dedicated to advancing their line in this war. It would not do to have their focus divided, something on which Tara thought the Powers were counting.

“Where’s Kurt?” Sam asked.

“San Francisco,” Quinn said quietly.

His eyes widened. “Is now the best time?” he asked hesitantly.

“It doesn’t matter.”

“None of this matters,” Santana barked. “Mike, call Patrick.”

Mike closed his eyes once more and Patrick Pierce popped into the room, looking around wildly. His eyes fell on his daughter and he flew to her side.

“Call Uncle Burt,” Santana hissed. “He’s not magical so Mike couldn’t summon him.”

Patrick was too busy fussing over his child to listen.

She placed a strong hand on his shoulder. “This is no coincidence. Whatever is happening to her was planned and Kurt, Prue, and Tara are all conveniently out of reach.”

He narrowed his eyes and turned a glare her way so furious that she automatically recoiled. “I know where Tara is, but you should have called for Prue regardless!”

Santana averted her eyes, knowing he was right.

“I just tried,” Sam said quietly. “Something’s blocking me.”

Quinn stood and whirled on her heel, staring at him with terrified eyes. Never before had this happened. They had always been able to summon her regardless of the circumstances, Santana and Kurt even while unconscious. Who or what had the power to block their communication?

“She’s crying,” Tina whispered, staring forlornly at Brittany, who indeed had tears flowing from her closed eyes. She curled against Puck and buried her head in his chest. “What is she seeing?”

Patrick threw up a hand and Burt stood before them dressed in coveralls and covered in grease. He looked around as he absently dug in his pocket and retrieved a handkerchief, which he used to wipe his hands.

“Report.”

Sam quickly explained the situation.

Burt’s scowl was thunderous. “Santana is right. This was a coordinated attack, which means Kurt and Prue might also be targets.” He bit his lip, his worry for his son obvious, before he nodded. “Kurt and the sisters should be able to stand against whatever’s thrown at them, but Prue … we don’t know what kind of situation she’s walked into.”

He hesitated only a moment before nodding again, this time with certainty. “Quinn, astral project to Kurt and tell him what’s going on. We need him here before we go after Prue.”

The girl nodded and closed her eyes, head dropping.

 


 

Kurt sat on the settee in the middle of the attic, the girls and Leo gathered around him. Wyatt had been sent to his brother and sister, who were being minded by Coop.

“This is Mike,” Kurt said softly, voice filled with love and admiration, as he pulled up a picture on his iPad.

“He’s very handsome,” Piper noted. She turned and smiled at him. “Your boyfriend?”

He gave a shy nod, biting a lip as he blushed.

“So cute!” Phoebe squealed. “How long have you two been dating?”

“Since first grade.”

Paige gave a gentle laugh before sobering after realizing Kurt hadn’t joined in. “Wait, seriously?”

He nodded.

“You and Mike are sixteen and have been together ten years?” asked a flabbergasted Piper.

Kurt smiled. “We met on the first day of first grade. When I went home, I told Dad I had met the boy I was going to marry. I meant it then and I mean it now.”

“That is so romantic,” Phoebe bleated, hearts in her eyes.

Paige gave her a look. “Pull it in, sweetie.”

Phoebe huffed and rolled her eyes. Her face cleared when she felt Kurt take her hand in his.

“There’s something I’d like to talk about with you later, if there’s time.”

“Of course, honey. You can always talk to me.”  She startled when his breath hitched and tears appeared in his eyes. “Oh, baby, what is it?”

“I’ve missed you so much. I’ve missed all of you so much.” He looked over his shoulder and smiled at Paige. “You too. We might not have known about you, but we felt your absence.”

Paige swallowed heavily and looked at her sisters, both of whom nodded.

Kurt cleared his throat and wiped his eyes. “This is Santana,” he said, pulling up another picture. “She’s … well, she calls herself my First Lieutenant.”

The sisters and Leo stared at the fearsome girl looking back at them from the screen. She was very powerful, they knew, all but glowing with it.

“And what does she call you?” asked a smirking Paige.

Kurt fidgeted. “HBIC.”

She guffawed. “Hot Bitch in Charge, huh?” She laughed. “I think it’s safe to say it fits.”

He pursed his lips and glared at her before turning and sticking his nose up in the air, which only made her laugh that much harder. He continued to scroll.

“This is Brittany,” he said with reverence in his voice. “She and Santana have been together even longer than me and Mike.”

“She’s adorable,” Piper cooed. The girl’s sweetness and kindness was apparent even in a digital photograph. “I can’t believe how different Santana looks in this picture.”

Kurt nodded. “Brittany brings out the best in her. Well, the best in us all, really. We love her and are very protective of her.”

“What are their powers?” asked an interested Leo.

Kurt gathered a breath. “Santana is a Phoenix. I presume you know what that entails.”

Piper nodded, thinking of Bianca and the havoc she caused when she followed Chris from the future and into their own time. She hadn’t liked the girl on first sight and Bianca’s behavior had only proved her right. Regardless, she had read enough about Phoenixes to know Bianca wasn’t a worthy representative.

“She’s also pyrokinetic.”

Phoebe released a low whistle.

“Isn’t that a demonic power?” asked a confused Paige.

“No,” Leo said. “It’s often associated with demons, but powers in and of themselves aren’t good or evil. Intention is what matters.” He looked at Kurt. “If she’s your second, then she must be incredibly powerful.”

Kurt nodded. “She is. She’s also my anchor.”

“Hers is the one mind you can’t read,” Leo murmured. “You must be so thankful for her.”

“Very,” Kurt said heavily. “I don’t know what I’d do without her. I can’t even posit it.”

“And Brittany?” Phoebe asked.

“She’s an Oracle,” Kurt said softly. “I know how difficult the gift of premonition can be, Phoebe, but it’s even worse for Brittany.”

Phoebe’s eyes filled with pain and alarm. “How?”

“Like you, Brittany can see into the future and the past, but she’s also clairvoyant, so she can see into the present as well.” He sighed. “Not only that, her visions aren’t confined to this world alone. She sees into every reality.”

He closed his eyes as Phoebe’s filled with horror. “She has no control over her abilities. She’s constantly downloading information and reconciling it with what she knows, sometimes guided by the prophecies concerning us, doing the best she can to lead us on the right path.”

He heaved another, deeper sigh. “But it changes with every decision we make and, though our coven might appear small, that’s a lot choices for which she must account. It occupies so much of her time that she can appear spacey.” He shook his head emphatically. “She’s not. She’s the most brilliant I person I know. How she’s treated by our peers, many of whom think and have said to her face that she’s retarded, is infuriating.”

Phoebe snarled before being overtaken by sadness. “The poor thing. It must be so difficult to her.” She looked at her sisters. “The next time I bitch about a premonition, remind me of this.”

“Does she have any other powers?” asked a concerned Piper.

“Hypersensation,” Kurt replied, “which means she can look at a person or object and divine what magical powers they possess, if any.”

“That’s not enough,” Paige said. “She needs to be protected!”

Kurt nodded again.

Piper narrowed her eyes. “What did you do?” 

He flushed. “When we were ten, we wrote and enacted a ritual without Brittany’s knowledge.” He shook his head in wonder. “How she didn’t see it coming, I have no idea.” He looked away. “We each surrendered a portion of our magic to her,” he said quickly.

“Say what?” Paige barked.

“Kurt,” Leo said quietly, though his tone was chiding, “even at that age, you had to know how dangerous it was.”

“We did,” Kurt said fiercely, “but it was worth it. Brittany is worth anything.”

“And this was just allowed?” asked a disbelieving Piper. “You must have a whitelighter, Kurt. They didn’t stop it?”

“We might have distracted her,” he admitted, being purposely vague and wincing as he remembered how Prue and Tara had hit the roof when they discovered what had been done.

“Magic always has consequences,” Leo said.

“It wasn’t for personal gain, Leo,” Kurt said sharply. “It was a sacrifice we willingly made and would make again.”

Leo bit his lip, frowning.

Phoebe shrugged. “I think it was a good idea.”

“Phoebe!” Piper scolded.

Her sister was defiant. “Well, I do. I won’t apologize for it.” She looked at Kurt. “What was the outcome?”

Kurt smiled. “Brittany can now create an impenetrable shield for herself, much like Wyatt.”

Phoebe nodded with satisfaction. “Good." 

Piper and Paige rolled their eyes, but remained silent. The past couldn’t be changed and, they supposed, in the end, it hadn’t been their decision.

Kurt suppressed his grin and continued. “This is Sam.”

“Damn!” Paige exclaimed as she leaned over to get a closer look at the gorgeous blond.

Piper raised a brow, smirk plain on her face. “Do you often take shirtless pictures of your coven members, cousin?”

Kurt flushed. “Sam’s shirtless more often than not.”

“I can’t say as I blame him.”

“I’d like tickets to that gun show,” Paige muttered. She chanced a look at Piper and rolled her eyes. “I’m married, not dead.”

Phoebe had looked at the picture and was now studying her cousin, who was noticeably avoiding her gaze. “Is he what you wanted to talk to me about?” she asked gently.

Kurt clutched the iPad to his chest and nodded.

“Is Sam in love with you?”

He nodded again. “And Mike,” he whispered.

“So he loves you both,” she surmised. “How does Mike feel?”

“The same,” he said reluctantly.

She put her hand on his. “And what do you feel, honey?”

He closed his eyes as his tears spilled over. “That it’s wrong. That Mike should be enough for me.”

“Is he?”

Yes.”

“Okay,” she said softly. “Kurt, baby, answer me this: do you love Sam?”

He turned away and hung his head, his silence answer enough.

She nodded. “If Mike wasn’t in the picture, would you be with Sam?”

He said nothing.

“Does Mike know how you feel?”

He gave a brief nod.

“So Sam is in love with both of you and so is Mike. I’m assuming they both want to be with you and each other. You’re in love with both of them. Everyone involved is aware of their feelings and no one is being hurt. Is there any jealousy? Any resentment?”

“No,” he whispered.

“Then I don’t see the problem,” she said kindly. “Sure, it may not be conventional, but love isn’t meant to be that, Kurt. It’s meant to overwhelm, to keep you off balance and on your toes.” She smiled. “At the end of the day, this world suffers from a lack of love, not an abundance. Grab it when you find it and don’t ever let it go. Don’t let anyone take it from you. Fight for it, Kurt, fight for it with everything you’ve got.”

Piper, Paige, and Leo exchanged a glance but said nothing. This really wasn’t their area of expertise while Phoebe was widely considered to be a guru. Perhaps it wasn’t, as Phoebe said, conventional, but that didn’t make it any less noble or true.

Kurt gave Phoebe a wobbly smile filled with both relief and gratitude. “And this is Quinn,” he said, scrolling to the next picture.

“She’s lovely,” Leo said.

Kurt frowned. “Santana is my best friend and Brittany, in many ways, is my life partner, but if I had a sibling, it would be Quinn. I don’t think I can explain it better than that.”

Piper laid a hand on a shoulder of each of her sisters. “You don’t need to.”

Suddenly the girl in question appeared.

“Quinn?” asked a confused Kurt. He shook his head and jumped to his feet. “What’s happened?”

Her breath hitched, eyes suspiciously red. “Something is … attacking … Brittany. We don’t know what it is, but it’s lasting longer than any vision she’s ever had.” She then realized they weren’t alone and her eyes widened. “Oh! Uh, h-hello,” she said to the others, throwing a tiny wave.

Kurt shook his head to clear it. “But what …”

“One whitelighter isn’t available,” she said carefully. “The other … Kurt, we can’t call her! Sam tried first, but said something was blocking him. We’ve all tried since and we’re all blocked!”

His eyes narrowed. “This is a coordinated attack.”

The sisters and Leo stood.

Quinn nodded. “That’s what Santana and Uncle Burt think.” She gasped sharply. “What do we do? We can’t reach Tara, and …”

“I’ll go,” he said shortly. “I know where she is.”

Piper grabbed his arm. “You’re not going alone.”

“No, I’m not, but none of you are going either.”

“Now wait just a damn minute!” Paige barked.

“This isn’t your fight,” he said, “not yet, and there are things you don’t know. You can’t just walk into this blindly. There’s too much at stake.”

Leo gave him a considering look. “He’s right, but we want to know what the hell is going on, Kurt.”

Kurt nodded. “Soon, I promise, but not now. I have to go.” He turned back to Quinn. “Where are you now?”

“Mike’s house, in his bedroom. The others are already waiting, including Uncle Patrick and Uncle Burt.”

“Burt knows about, well, everything?” asked a surprised Piper.

“He’s my father,” Kurt said. “Quinn, get back now. I’ll be there in a moment.”

She nodded and faded out.

He looked at his family. “I have to go. There’s a lot you don’t know, but I promise to answer your questions. Just … not right now.”

Leo placed a hand on Piper, who was about to object. “Go help your friend.”

Kurt was gone.

“Why did you let him go?” Piper seethed. “We could have helped him.”

“No,” Leo said. “He has his own path, honey, and he has to walk it.”

She shrugged him off and turned to Phoebe. “Were you able to read anything from him?”

Phoebe blew out a breath. “Concern, anger, fear. The usual suspects.” She paused. “He had to be very upset. That was the first and only time I’ve felt anything from him today.”

“What the hell are we supposed to do know?”

“We wait,” said a helpless Paige. “What else can we do?” She paused. “I think we’ve all known for a while that something was coming, something bigger than the Source.”

Piper’s brow furrowed as she turned away. She walked over to the Book and reread the page she now knew referred to Kurt. “We better start getting ready.”

 


 

Kurt appeared in Mike’s bedroom, falling into his boyfriend’s arms. “What do we know?”

“Not much,” Mike whispered. “She came out of it right before you got here.” He nodded toward Brittany, who was sitting up in his bed and wiping her eyes, Santana and Patrick fussing over her. “How did it go?”

“Pretty well until this,” Kurt said. “I’ll have to go back later and explain. Will you go with me?”

“Sure. I’m with you always.”

Kurt smiled and kissed his cheek before leaving the comfort of Mike’s arms and crossing to Brittany. This time his smile was forced. “Hey, lady. What happened?”

She sniffed and looked up at him, waving off her father and Santana, making room for Kurt at her side. “A lot,” she said, voice thin and scratchy. “I don’t know where it came from, or even what it really was … but … if I had to guess, I think it was a warning.”

He sat down. “A warning of what?”

The others fell silent, waiting for Brittany to answer. She looked down at Mike’s bed, picking absently at the comforter. She didn’t know how to tell him this. She knew he would be furious, and rightfully so, but it wasn’t confined solely to him. There were going to be massive ramifications and not even she, who saw so much, could see the outcome of this.

“They lied, Kurty,” she hissed. “The Powers That Be lied to Prue, to you, to all of us.”

Kurt squeezed himself next to her, holding her hand. “What did they lie about?”

“Her mission was only a distraction. If she had passed into the heavenly realms, she would have known.” Brittany shook her head. “They can’t have that. They knew the prophecy I made. They sent it to me! It was only a false trail, meant to blind us to the reality.”

“Which is what?” he carefully asked.

“Words,” she murmured. “What do words matter now? Imprecise and inefficient, and they take too much time. I’m trying to hide us from them, but we don’t know who’s listening.”

His breath became shallow. “Tell me what to do, Sweetness. Tell me how to fix this.”

“It cannot be fixed,” she said in a voice not entirely her own. “It cannot be stopped, which is why I bypassed the Powers altogether by sending the vision myself.”

Kurt blanched and inched away. “W-Who are you?”

Santana gasped and made to dive on the bed, held back by a stunned Burt and Patrick.

“I am your Queen, Kurt Hummel,” she said, eyes swirling to brown, “and you are my Hand.”

 


 

“Dear god,” Sam murmured, stumbling into Mike, who caught him and held him steady.

Kurt cleared his throat. “And my mission?”

She assessed him for a long moment. “For once, a prophecy got it right. You’re strong enough, Kurt, but this will tax even you. My King is about to fall once more, and only you can stop it.”

“How? I don’t even know who the King is. We never learned.”

“Prue never told you, but she has known for quite some time.”

“Xander,” Kurt whispered. “That’s why the Powers assigned her to him. He’s not really meant to be a whitelighter, is he?”

She laughed. “Oh, the Elders want him, they just don’t know why. They know he’s special, but they don’t know his destiny.”

“And Prue does?”

“Of course not. The Powers know, which is why they want Prue watching him, but not too closely. That’s why they won’t allow her to interact with her family.”

Kurt looked away, eyes narrowing in confusing. He then gasped.

“That took much less time than I imagined.”

“What do I do?” he demanded.

She held out her hand. He took it hesitantly.

“I know you don’t enjoy your absorption power, but it’s needed now.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to give you the vision I gave the Oracle.”

 


 

They gathered around the bed, staring at Kurt, as he sat stiffly on its edge, staring into space.

Tears fell from his eyes and rolled down his cheeks unchecked. They never stopped. He made no sound, no movement. He simply sat, stared, and wept.

“What is he seeing?” Burt whispered.

“A vast conspiracy,” said the Queen, “one which was planned and enacted against your family long ago. He is seeing the truth and he is devastated.”

“Where is Brittany?” Santana barked.

“She is here with us, just beneath the surface, watching, waiting, for when she will be needed again. That time is coming soon. The time of your coven is coming soon.”

Her head slumped forward and she released Kurt’s hand. He immediately stood and walked toward the door.

“Kurt!” Burt called. “Kurt, where are you going?”

He turned and ignored the gasps, staring through his father. “To put right what was made wrong. Quinn, Sam, I need you with me.”

“Kurt, your eyes,” Mike whispered.

“What I have seen cannot be unseen, and I will see no more until everyone sees the truth.” He held out his hands. Sam and Quinn each took one. “I’m going to get Prue. Mike, I love you, forever and always. Oh, and Dad? While I’m gone, I want you to think about why you never told me you and Mom had a child before me. Be prepared to defend yourself.”

Burt’s mouth went slack as his eyes rolled back in his head. He then fainted.

Half the room stared at Burt, the other half at Kurt. Before anyone could say anything, Kurt had teleported away himself, Quinn, and Sam.

 


 

“What is it?” a concerned Xander asked Prue.

“Do you feel that?” she whispered.

“An influx of magic,” Willow breathed. “Stronger than anything I’ve ever felt before. Something’s coming.”

“Right,” Xander said, nodding. “Connor, Dawn, protect your father.”

They moved to either side of Sam.

Xander turned. “Illyria, I’m trusting you with the rest of my family.” He nodded toward John and Dean, who soon found themselves standing behind the Old One, her arms held aloft to keep them from moving past her.

“Willow, protect Buffy. She has no defense against magic.”

Willow nodded cautiously, ignoring Buffy’s protests. “What about you?”

“I have Prue.” He paused and looked up. “Jesus, I feel it now, too.”

Buffy, Sam, Connor, and Dawn all nodded.

“It’s familiar,” Prue murmured, frowning.

They all screamed and turned when an enormous ball of light materialized in the center of the room. John and Dean pulled their weapons as Buffy withdrew a stake and Willow mentally ran through a list of spells.

But all Xander could do was stare, because there was something about this magic he recognized. “Cordy?”

“No,” said a voice as the light began to die away, “but she sent me.”

Prue gaped. “Kurt?”

 


 

Willow discreetly assessed the new arrivals. The blond bookends were powerful, incredibly so, with abilities she knew she could never wield. She might be able to take on one, but not both. It was the boy in the middle, however, who occupied her thoughts. Never before had she seen or encountered anything like him. His power was incalculable.

“The Hand,” whispered a reverent Illyria. “He is magnificent.

She could see the power rippling off him in waves, roiling down into and being absorbed by the earth. only for it to feed itself back into him. Not once since her return had she ever sensed any creature like this. She was as much frightened as she was enthralled.

“Hello, gorgeous,” Dean whispered, staring at Kurt.

Sam turned, eyes filled with fury, and snarled.

Dean immediately held up his hands. “No offense. I always go for the hot first, not that you aren’t tasty yourself, Adonis.”

Quinn slowly turned her head and pinned him with her eyes. “I will destroy you.”

Dean didn’t doubt her. No one did.

Prue was bothered by how much Kurt’s appearance frightened her. She stepped forward, only to be met by his sightless stare, opalescent eyes gleaming.

“What’s going on?” she demanded. “Why are you here? It’s dangerous, Kurt!”

“Call the Matriarchs.”

“What? Why do you …”

“Now, Prue. We don’t have much time.”

Nervously she stepped back and held up her hands. She knew not to argue with him. She had the feeling it wouldn’t even be allowed. She closed her eyes and took a breath.

I call forth, from space and time, the Matriarchs of the entire Warren line. Mothers, daughters, sisters, friends; our family spirit without end. Gather now in this sacred place and bless those present with your grace.

Everyone stood agog as twinkling golden orbs rushed through the walls into the room, swirling, spinning, and coalescing into countless spectral forms dressed in fashions of the past four centuries. A final flash of light erupted and then died away, leaving an army of concerned ghosts in its wake.

“Holy shit,” Dean whispered.

“Prue?” Patty asked, at once crossing to her daughter’s side. “What is it, honey? Why did you summon us?”

Prue slowly turned and met her mother’s eyes. “I was commanded by the Hand.”

Patty’s eyes widened as she searched her daughter’s face. Finally, she and the other Matriarchs turned toward Kurt, his magic drawing them to him. Several gasped and inched away from him, but Melinda strode forward. His appearance startled her, even terrified her, but he was blood, and that was all that mattered.

“Kurt, you called and we have come. How may the witches of the Warren line assist the Hand?”

His eyes panned the room before at last meeting hers. “We have been deceived.”

“Deceived how?” asked a hesitant Penny.

“Not yet,” Kurt said. “Quinn, go outside and erect a null field. Sam, go with her.”

Quinn bit her lip. “Are you sure that’s a good idea, Kurt?” she asked, wincing, knowing she probably shouldn’t be questioning him right now. He was her leader, her witch, and she should obey.

“Don’t be frightened of me, Quinn,” he said softly.

“Don't be be stupid! I’m not frightened of you; I’m frightened for you.”

“Wise girl,” Melinda murmured.

Quinn cleared her throat. “Kurt, if I do this, we all lose our magic for at least an hour. If there’s an imminent threat, we are undefended.”

Willow squawked. Lose her magic!

“That’s why you will need Sam,” he said. “You have to work together. You create the field, Quinn, and Sam will manipulate it so that only our magic is unaffected. If anything magical tries to breach this space, they will be sorry.”

Sam paled. “Kurt, we’ve never done that before. I’m not even sure we could! What if it doesn’t work?”

“Then we have a Slayer and an Old One among us. I trust them to protect us if necessary.”

Illyria stood before him and dropped to one knee. “This I so swear.”

Buffy thought all of this was crazy, but she gave the scary witch boy a gruff nod.

“Arise, Old One, god-king,” Kurt said. “You have no need to kneel to me. It is I who require your aid, for there are powerful forces who have colluded against your charge.”

Illyria immediately stood and narrowed her eyes, quickly checking to ascertain her Alexander was in fair health. “What has been done, and how were you made aware of the perfidy?”

“The Queen took possession of my Oracle and explained to me the design.”

She nodded, fascinated, and stepped back.

Kurt turned to Quinn and Sam. “Go.”

They scurried out the large hole in the wall.

“Matriarchs!” he bellowed. “Long before Melinda fell in Salem and gifted to our family this legacy, even before the prophecies of the Hand were recorded by mortals, our family was foreseen. And we were targeted.”

Furious whispers erupted from the ghosts as they debated his words and their meaning.

Suzanne Hummel said nothing as she stood aside her son and waited for him to continue, her own mother standing just behind her.

A confused Buffy and a terrified Willow cautiously moved over to Xander, next to whom stood his husband, in-laws, and Dawn and Connor. They huddled together and tried to appear as innocuous as possible.

Kurt slowly tilted his head. “It worked.”

Sam and Quinn ran back inside, panting. “I think it worked!” they both exclaimed.

“Be sure,” Kurt said.

Sam immediately turned invisible and Quinn produced two clones.

“The fuck?” Willow whispered.

Sam reappeared and the clones melded back into Quinn.

“Please test your powers, as well, godling,” Kurt said. “They might be needed.”

Willow frowned but complied. In a moment, golden light began spreading from her feet, moving across the floor and up the walls, covering even the massive hole Illyria had made, before meeting at the center of the roof.

“Wards,” she said unnecessarily.

“You do excellent work, Crimson Witch.”

“Thanks. What the hell is going on?”

“Will,” Buffy sighed, “can you not be obnoxious to the overpowered bad-ass, please? I’m not as young as I used to be.”

Willow flushed and fell silent.

“Is it safe?” Suzanne asked her son.

He was silent for a moment and then his eyes reverted to their natural color. He gasped and leaned over, grabbing his knees and panting.

“I think so,” he wheezed. “Wow, she packs quite a punch.”

“Who?” Prue demanded.

“The Queen,” he said. “She was within me, but now she roams free, tethered to my magic until I can tell you what she told me.”

“Cordelia’s here?” Xander whispered.

“Yes,” Kurt said, smiling at him. “I can feel her love for you, Alexander, and it is stunning in its scope.” He nodded to himself. “And now, using my magic, I can do for you what she has been unable, what Prue could not.”

“Uh, which is what, exactly?”

Kurt teleported to him and held his hand up before Xander’s face. A moment later, small orbs the color of lightning began trickling from his fingers and were absorbed by Xander’s eyepatch.

“What are you doing to my dad?” Connor screamed.

“Righting a wrong that should never have been allowed to happen.”

Xander breathed through the pain and confusion. “Why? Why are you doing this for me?”

“Because you have sacrificed too much and are still needed, Alexander. You are the One Who Sees, and much has been missed because the First commanded you be blindsided. If you are to See what is to come, you must See with both eyes.”

Buffy burst into tears, pushing away from Willow and running to her best friend. Hesitantly, her hand trembling as if with palsy, she reached up and yanked the patch away. Staring back at her was a perfectly healthy eye, one of a pair that had been the most beautiful she had ever seen. She sobbed and threw herself into his arms, looking at Kurt over her shoulder.

“Thank you,” she cried. “Thank you!”

“It wasn’t your fault, Buffy,” Kurt said softly. “The First hurt your Heart to hurt you. That wasn't the only reason, but it was the primary one.”

Willow frowned.

“Baby?” Sam whispered as he walked over.

“I can see you,” Xander gasped. “I can finally, truly see you. My god, you're even more beautiful than I realized.”

Sam grabbed him, and inadvertently Buffy, in a tender embrace. “You always saw me. You’re the only one who did.”

Buffy nodded miserably.

Kurt back up until he was in the center of the room. “Stand back.”

He put his hands to the sides of his head, closed his eyes, and focused.

A moment later, he screamed in anguish as he tried to remove his hands. Quinn had to hold Sam in place so that he wouldn't rush the other boy. Slowly, Kurt's hands began to pull away and, with them, came white-blue strands connected between his fingers and his head.

His hands shook just above his shoulders and, with all his might, he gave one final last wrench, the tendrils snapping free from his skull and waving in the air.

Grunting, he began forcing his hands together, the tendrils resisting the motion, waving more frantically as if in protest. He screamed again and clapped his hands together, the tendrils coalescing into a glowing orb, much like a ball of yarn. The orb took shape and solidified as dozens of runes began to etch themselves onto the surface.

Illyria stared, enraptured. Never before had she seen such magic. She had never known humans were even capable of this. The Hand was remarkable. She would never forsake Alexander or his kin, but she desperately wanted to remain in the company of this man-child for as long as possible.

Willow had never been so terrified in her life. This was ancient magic, she knew. She could feel it in her bones, which ached with the witness she bore to such power. She could feel the earth tremble beneath her feet.

Kurt stood, one hand raised in the air, the glittering orb now resting in his palm. “Many years ago, two children were born nine months apart, each with a very unique destiny. What few know is that, in matters of utmost importance, the Powers That Be work closely with the Elders and the Source to ensure balance is maintained at all costs.”

He ignored the gasps and shouts of outrage. The worst was yet to come.

“The forces governing this dimension knew these children were special and would one day keep company with others just as special, and thus sought to sever familial lines they had no right to cut. Using their knowledge of what was to come, they created a tertiary line of defense to be a last resort, should the Hand, the Slayers, and the Charmed Ones fall.”

“What?” Prue breathed as Buffy narrowed her eyes.

“Paige Matthews is the secondary line for one division, and Kendra Young was created by Alexander for the other.”

Buffy, Xander, and Willow bowed their heads with tears in their eyes as they remembered Kendra and how she had been taken from them.

Kurt threw the orb into the air, where it suspended itself and began spinning. Light poured forth from the runes and projected outside of it a holographic cube.

He looked at Prue. “The Powers lied.” He turned to Patty. “The Elders lied.”

They stared at him in horror.

Paige’s face appeared on every side of the cube, allowing everyone to view the picture unimpeded. She was very young, riding in the backseat of a car, arguing with two people in the front. Those who understood the situation, assumed they were her adoptive parents.

Kendra then appeared, taking the place of Paige, and everyone watched as the girl was Called into a life of unappreciated servitude. They watched as she lay waste to hundreds of demons driven toward her by the unique vibration she emitted.

“But the First and the Source have their own Seers and Oracles,” Kurt continued, “and their own agents, and they were determined to eliminate any force that might eventually move against them, even it caused their own downfall. Make no mistake, they want this world to survive, for if it falls, they go with it. However, they are, at their core, venal creatures. Foresight, no matter how terrible, are only whispers of suggestion to them, not guides. And so they acted.”

Kendra was then replaced by Paige, who was still arguing with her parents, when, unnoticed, a Darklighter appeared in the middle of the street, the car barreling toward him. He grinned, unsheathed his bow, pulled an arrow, and lined up the shot. He took it and then orbed away, a satisfied smirk on his face.

The front driver tire blew out and the man lost control of the car. As it flipped over, Paige, who sensed what was about to happen, unconsciously orbed herself from the car, finding herself in the middle of the street with no idea how she got there.

She looked around in confusion before turning and watching as her parents’ car flip over and burst into flame. She screamed and screamed as bystanders raced to her, unable to do anything, for there was nothing to be done. Paige watched helplessly as her parents died in front of her.

“Oh, my baby,” Patty sobbed, held tightly by her mother and Suzanne.

Prue stared, mouth fixed in a grim line, as tears gathered in her eyes. She refused to allow them to fall. Lightning bolts appeared in her hands. The demon who had done this, the Darklighter who dared to try and kill her sister, would be found and eliminated.

“Paige was, of course, profoundly affected. She was later found by her sisters, and though she grew into a powerful, cunning witch, who saved the world repeatedly, part of her died that day.”

Scenes from battles in which Paige engaged played out on the cube. They watched as she defeated countless demons and saved innumerable innocents. They watched as she, with Piper and Phoebe at her sides, took the Hollow into herself to defeat their most dangerous enemy. They watched as she married Henry and then birthed her children.

“She is so strong, so powerful,” Kurt said quietly, “but she is terrified every minute of every day, because for everything she’s defeated, at her core is the girl in the middle of the street. Only now she waits for her sisters and her husband and her children to be taken from her. Because, for all the triumphs, she still believes she is destined to lose everyone she loves.”

Patty screamed her tears, shaking her head in furious denial.

The scene melted away and was replaced with the library of Sunnydale High School. It was in a shambles, with broken shelves littering the floor, tables upturned, and books scattered everywhere. They watched as Willow fell. They watched as Xander held off the vampires so that Cordelia could escape. They watched as he finally succumbed.

Then Kendra arrived in a blaze of glory, dispatching vampires as though they were nothing but gnats, until she encountered the one vampire fated to dispatch her. They watched as Drusilla slinked toward a guarded Kendra, whispering words they could not hear. They watched as Kendra’s eyes dulled and she began swaying in time with Drusilla. They watched as Drusilla reached out and slashed the girl’s throat with a fingernail.

They watched as Kendra’s consciousness reasserted itself, as she desperately raised a hand to staunch the flow of blood. They watched as she realized she was going to die, as the light in her eyes dimmed for the final time, and she fell to the floor dead.

They watched as the scene shifted to the parking lot, where a grim and determined Cordelia stared at the school with dead eyes. They watched as she stomped on the accelerator and held it in place before disengaging the brake. They watched as she aimed her car at the Mouth of Hell and blew right towards it.

Scene change. They watched as a smirking Drusilla slowly turned and locked eyes with a horrified Xander. They watched as she held a finger to her lips and made the universal bid for silence. They watched as she surveyed with satisfaction the destruction she had wrought. They watched as she waved goodbye to her Kitten and skipped from the room.

“You were conscious for it?” Buffy whispered as she held Xander tightly to her. “You saw her die?”

Xander said nothing as Willow sobbed and Sam punched the wall behind them.

“It had to be him,” Kurt said. “He brought her into this life and he had to be the one to watch her leave it.”

“I did that to her,” Xander mumbled. “I killed her myself.”

“No, Xander,” a voice called.

They turned and Kendra orbed into the room, standing next to Kurt. She quickly crossed to her friend and took his face in her hands, smiling and nodding at Buffy, who began sobbing.

“You didn’t take my life, you gave me life. Just as you’ve done for Buffy, for Faith, for countless Slayers and innocents, for your husband and your children. This is something you have never understood. You make us better, Xander. You make us matter. We may lose our fight, but we never lose the love and courage you so unselfishly gave us.”

She smiled. “I’ve carried it with me all of this time, and it will still be with me even when I cross into eternity.”

She pressed her lips to his and kissed him softly, chastely. “You are the Heart, Xander. Not only for Buffy, but for every Slayer who now walks the earth. You are friend, you are Watcher, you are lover, and you are Father. Do you understand yet, Xander? Buffy wasn’t sent to the Hellmouth. She was sent to you.”

Buffy wept and clung to Xander, burying her face in his chest.

“And because of you, I was Called, and then Faith. Heroes aren’t born, Xander, we’re made. You made us. You made Buffy and me and Faith. You made Willow and Tara. You made Anya. You made Dawn and Connor. And you made Her.”

Xander sobbed. “Is she here? I can feel her. Can I see her?”

Kendra’s eyes turned distant. “She cannot manifest her form, but she loves you now as she has always done. Love doesn’t die unless we kill it. We all live, we all love, because of you.” She laid her hand over his heart. “We will always live because you keep us here, safe.”

“I just want to hold her one last time,” he whispered.

“You have forever to hold her,” Kendra said, smiling, “but until then, she sends you a gift.”

She turned and looked over her shoulder before stepping to the side

Xander cried out and fell to his knees, taking Buffy, Willow, and Sam with him.

“Hello, my Viking.”

Chapter Text

Willow's legs trembled as she took a step forward, her mouth moving, though no sound emerged. So many regrets. So many horrible things said she wished she could take back. Now, when the opportunity presented itself, she found herself speechless.

Dawn had no such hesitation and ran toward the woman, arms flung open in exaltation. “Anya!”

Anya caught her effortlessly and held her in a tight embrace, her fingers combing through the girl’s long tresses. “I always liked your hair.”

“Oh, Anya,” Buffy whispered.

Anya looked at her over Dawn’s shoulder. “It wasn’t your fault. You didn’t kill me, Buffy, and it’s past time you knew that. Your guilt is useless and has been holding you back.”

“I put you there,” Buffy insisted. “That makes me responsible.”

Anya glared and Buffy was surprised by how much she had missed it. Only Anya, and Cordelia before her, had ever been so unflinchingly honest. Xander almost always told her the truth, but he tried to soften it so to minimize the emotional fallout. Cordelia and Anya had said whatever they wanted and didn’t care how it resonated.

With some years and wisdom now behind her, Buffy found she respected and appreciated that in ways she had been too unsophisticated to understand back in Sunnydale. And she knew better than anyone that sometimes she needed to be hit over her head with a crowbar before she could see sense.

“Then you make my death a mockery,” Anya said. “You didn’t put me anywhere, Buffy. I chose to stand with you at the school and would do so again. I helped save the world. Don’t take that from me.”

“I’m sorry,” Buffy murmured.

“Don’t be. For the first time in my mortal life, I didn’t run. I walked forward toward danger with my eyes and heart wide open, and I will never regret that.” She released Dawn and looked down at Xander, who was still on the floor. She shook her head. “Always so lazy. There’s no time to be resting on your impeccable glutes, Xander Harris! There’s important stuff to do!”

She walked over, reached down, and pulled him to his feet. “There isn’t time for recriminations and regrets. Cordelia is in incredible danger, Xander. Do you understand me? They’ve learned who she is.”

“What are you talking about?”

She gave him a sunny smile, pleased he still could immediately focus when someone he loved was in jeopardy. “I’ve missed your clueless affability, Viking.”

“I’ve missed everything about you." Even though she had been at the wedding, the entire experience had seemed so surreal, almost like a dream. It had been intangible, so though the feelings were real and he had said things he had always wanted to say, he had never been able to hold her.

She shrugged a shoulder, though she was deeply touched. “There’s no need to miss what you haven’t lost, Harris. I’m with you always.” She looked at his husband and smirked. “You’ve done well for yourself, Xander. You should thank me for sending that hunk your way.”

“What?” asked a confused Sam. “You sent me to Xander?”

Anya grinned. “Ever thought about why you were so attracted to the building site of the new anthropology wing? Why you couldn’t stay away? And why, after you met Xander, you never felt the urge to return?”

He blinked. “Thank you,” he said sincerely.

She waved a hand. “Sure. Thank you for providing my afterlife with so many exciting opportunities to view your vigorous intercourse with my former fiancé. Trust me, I am the envy of many a spirit.”

Sam blushed and looked down, but Dean was really digging this chick. Plus, it said a lot about Xander that not only were hot chicks lining up to protect him, but returned from the fucking dead just to say hi.

“How did you know Sam would choose me?” Xander asked her.

She looked into his eyes and smiled. “Because who wouldn’t choose you, Xander? Look around. Haven’t we all chosen you at one time or another? Perhaps not at the right time, but we chose you. As for Sam, well, I might have helped things along, but I didn’t choose you for each other; the two of you did that. I’m just happy you were both at the right point in your lives to make the correct choice.”

Xander held out his hand, breathing a sigh of relief when it was immediately grasped in Sam’s own.

“I’m so glad you’re happy, Xander,” Anya said quietly. “It’s all I’ve ever wanted for you. You just needed to find the right person.” She gave him a sad smile. “That wasn’t me, and it wasn’t Cordelia, but I like to think we helped you on your path.”

“You did,” he warbled. “I did love you.”

“Oh, baby, I know. I always knew that.” She nodded to herself and cleared her throat. “Right, time to pick up where that gorgeous homosexual left off,” she said, pointing at Kurt. “He’s the one to trust, Xander. Always remember that. You can always trust what Kurt tells you. He doesn’t lie.”

Xander gave her a lopsided grin. “Sounds a lot like two ladies I know.”

She giggled. “And now it’s time to get the show on the road. Like I said, danger is coming.”

“What is this danger?” Illyria demanded, stepping forward. “How do I protect my charge?”

“Kurt will explain,” Anya said. “Kendra and I have to leave.”

Her words were met with immediate and vociferous protests.

“We don’t belong here anymore,” Kendra said kindly, “and we have our own missions which demand our attention. Trust the people here. If you have true need of us, Kurt, Prue, or any member of their coven can modify the summoning spell to call us.” She smiled. “Farewell.”

She orbed out.

Anya nodded. She and Kendra would have to get together later and compare notes. “This isn’t the end, Xander. There is no end. We go on, and we become better.” She gave a loving smile to her friends. “I’ll see you again when it’s time, at which point I'll be demanding a threesome with you and your hot husband, and your extremely large penises.” She glared once more. “That time is not now, unfortunately, so don’t die.”

Then she was gone.

Sam held Xander tightly as he sobbed, for once grateful that Buffy and Willow were here to help him comfort the only person they had in common.

Xander swallowed painfully and looked to Kurt.

“It’s going to get worse, Xander, but there is hope. And where there is hope, there is love and home.”

“How can you be so calm?” Buffy asked. She looked at Xander and Willow. “Were we that calm when we were their age?”

“I’m not that calm now,” Willow said. “I don’t think it’s in the cards for me.”

Xander nodded in agreement.

“The First is aware of this meeting,” Kurt said, “and is making its way to the Source.”

“How do you know?” Prue demanded.

He frowned. “I’m not entirely sure. I just know.” He cocked his head. “I can’t fully explain it, but I still feel Cordelia within me. It’s as if I know what she knows.”

“Perhaps her proximity and the sharing of powers has connected you on a deeper level,” Quinn suggested. “She called herself your Queen; she said that you are her Hand. How could you fulfill that role if you didn’t know what she needed you to do?”

He nodded. It made as much as sense as anything, he supposed.

“What the hell is the Source?” Dean demanded. “The Source of what?”

John appeared similarly confused.

Kurt nodded. “Like Team Slayer and the Charmed Ones, you also have been fighting a war, but on a different front. Buffy’s primary antagonist is the First, the genesis of all evil across all dimensions. It uses primarily demons and vampires as its agents, its Hand. For whatever reason, the First is preoccupied with this world. For eons it was content to remain behind the curtain, not truly interacting with its agents, but now that it has been defeated by Angel, and then more spectacularly by Buffy, it wants revenge.”

Illyria barely repressed a shiver. The First had always been a terrible thing, something feared even among her brethren. Logically, they should have worshiped the First, but the Old Ones were too proud and vain ever to bend to an intangible construct who sought only to displace their dominion.

“The Charmed Ones have the Source, its own version of the First, which is unique to this particular dimension. It has countless upper-level demons and warlocks at its disposal. It holds no fealty to them yet demands it of them, so there’s often unrest in the Underworld. The Source is a primordial essence, yet it requires a host to enact its schemes.

“And, finally, there are the demons that you fight, Dean, along with your father and brother. Those are the agents of Lucifer, this world’s counterpart to God, who has fallen asleep once more and placed all of creation in jeopardy.”

Dean stared. “Please be joking,” he begged.

“My sense of humor is far more cultured,” Kurt sniffed. “The reason this is happening now is because those separate worlds have begun to bleed together. This moment was never meant to have happened, though it has been long feared. The trials of the Slayer and the Hunter and natural witches were supposed to have been confined; separated, but forever connected.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I don’t either, not really. We each had our duties, and our failures and successes went a long way in balancing the cosmic scales, but there are powers beyond our world, Dean, and, in many ways, they are quite similar to us. They have ambition, they have greed, and they have desires. They are no longer content with overseeing their piece of the pie.”

Pie! Dean’s eyes lighted with understanding as the theme from The Jeffersons blared in his head. “They want the entire pie for themselves.”

Kurt nodded. “And they no longer care if one individual piece is eaten, because their longing for the whole has made them hungrier than ever before.” He paused. “But they can’t manifest themselves in this dimension without a host, which only the Source has. They hold too much power, power which can’t be confined in a human or demonic body. But they want what we have, Dean. They want to be made flesh.”

“Why?” Willow asked. “Why would beings of infinite power want to be human?”

“Not human,” Kurt corrected, “but flesh. They want to know what we do, Willow, and what we know is love and passion and desire. They want to know hate and envy and fear. They want to know touch. They want to know sex. It’s only natural to want what you cannot have. They want the experience. Who wouldn’t want to know the kind of love Xander and Sam hold for each other? To experience the depth of trust and friendship enjoyed by you and Buffy?

“And power, especially the type we’re discussing, is a great aphrodisiac. It’s addictive. It is craved and it is coveted. You know this.”

She bit her lip and nodded.

“For all their power, they do not know love.” He smiled. “Balance, remember? It’s all about balance. You can’t know love without hate, or peace without violence. These beings are powerful, absolutely, but what has it given them at the end of the day? Nothing more or less than utter indifference. Imagine that being the sole purpose of your existence for all eternity.”

She shuddered.

“Prue told me something long ago that affected me profoundly: you cannot ascribe a human morality to these beings, as they are not human.” He sighed. “The Powers That Be, the Elders, the First, and the Source. They understand only their function, for they were created to be nothing else. Yes, some are good and some are evil, but there is no real emotion driving those functions. These beings are merely automatons, but now they want more.”

He turned to Prue. “You know the Elders. Very few began as humans, and those who did have been so long removed from their humanity that it’s only a distant echo to them. They didn’t allow Piper and Leo’s marriage because they’re magnanimous; they were afraid to lose the Charmed Ones. They knew that had the marriage remained forbidden, you and Phoebe would have sided with Piper.”

She nodded. “Of course. She’s our sister.”

“But they don’t understand those bonds. All they understood was that a prophesied force for Good might turn from them. All witches know you and your sisters, Prue. If it were revealed that the Elders interfered to that extent in your mortal lives, who would follow them? What reason would they have for their continued existence? In the end, it was easier to capitulate and keep you and your sisters on board.”

Her eyes darkened. “They knew about Paige the entire time, didn’t they?”

Patty gasped as Penny curled a lip.

“Yes,” Kurt said, looking down. “They keep tight control over their magic. Of course they realized when that magic reproduced without their authorization. They knew Patty feared them, what they might do, and they knew that fear would cause her to surrender her child. Why? Because they knew Paige would one day be needed to reconstitute the Charmed Ones.”

Prue sagged. “They knew I was going to die and they never said a word, not even to Leo.”

“Paige is half-whitelighter. The Elders assumed they would have more influence over her than they ever did you. You were the eldest, the Superwitch, and were mostly indifferent toward them. They knew this. Had you ever turned from them fully, Piper and Phoebe would have followed.

“But they also knew you never would, because you understood what Leo meant to Piper. They played on your feelings and, when the opportunity to be rid of you presented itself, they stood back and watched it unfold. They knew the Powers got to you before they could. Your death was fated, but could it have been avoided? Perhaps. I don't really know, but I have suspicions.

“Had they been able, they would have made you a whitelighter if only to ingratiate themselves further to Piper, who, by then, was the new leader of the coven. Leo’s grief over your death, a terrible thing from which he has never recovered, and his inability to save you gave the Elders even more control over him, and thus your sisters.

“So when the Powers took you from them, the Elders did the only thing they could: the ban. They couldn’t control you, but they could control your access to your sisters. And all of these actions were undertaken devoid of emotion. It’s all about balance and maintaining control.”

Melinda was pacing in anger as the other Matriarchs hissed obscenities and vows of retribution.

“Paige and Kendra are only the first pieces,” Kurt said. “There’s much, much more.”

He waved his hand and the cube swirled to a roiling darkness.

“As I said,” he continued, “two children were to be born who would serve as a tertiary line of defense.”

“Do you know who these children are?” Buffy asked.

“Yes, and so do you.”

The cube projected another scene, this one familiar to some of those present.

“That’s my bedroom at Halliwell Manor,” said a startled Prue.

Kurt nodded. “But it wasn’t always yours and now it belongs to Piper and Leo. There is much love and history in that room, and it’s time you knew the secret it holds.”

The scene came into focus and, on the bed, lay Patty Halliwell, writhing in the heavy pains of labor. Penny stood on one side of the bed, gripping her daughter’s hand and shouting words of encouragement. Her other hand was held by a man who gazed at her with love and adoration.

“Sam,” Patty whispered.

“There’s too many Sams in this situation,” Dean announced. “It’s getting confusing.”

Sam Winchester and Sam Evans looked at each other and blushed, tentative smiles on their faces.

“Your brother can be Sam,” Kurt said, “and my Sam will be Sammy.”

“Sammy?” Sam Evans repeated.

Kurt shrugged. “At least when we’re all together. Besides, Sam Evans. Sam E. Sammy.”

Sam rolled his eyes but his flush deepened. “Your Sam?”

Kurt took his hand and held on tightly. “Mike and I decided that you're ours.” He looked up into Sam’s eyes. “Is … is that okay?”

Tears fell from Sammy’s eyes. “It’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

Dean whooped and shot a fist into the air. “Threesome! Awesome!”

Kurt sighed. “Remind me not to put him and Noah in the same room.”

Sammy shivered and nodded.

“Is that Paige being born?” Prue whispered in awe.

“Yes,” Kurt said. “Aunt Patty is going to need you now, Prue. Go to her.”

Prue frowned in confusion but complied, crossing to stand next to her mother and holding her hand.

“Why is this necessary?” Penny demanded. “We were there. We know what happened.”

“No,” Kurt whispered, “you don’t.”

She gave him a thunderous scowl before looking at her pale daughter in concern. She was soon at her side, wrapping her arms around both Patty and Prue.

Patty screamed as another contraction overwhelmed her. This would be her fourth child, yet she had never experienced a labor such as this. Perhaps she shouldn’t be surprised. Prue, despite being her eldest, her first, had been the easiest and fastest delivery. Of course, Prue always had her own schedule and insisted others must adhere to it. Piper had been more difficult, most likely because she didn’t want to come out, not knowing what awaited her. And Phoebe had been the worst, fighting her all the way and then screaming her rage when she had been born and realized she had to share the spotlight with her sisters.

She panted out a thank you when Sam wiped her forehead with a cool cloth. He was being so sweet about all of this, and that was the only reason she hadn’t killed him for doing this to her. She had never planned on another child and was devastated she would be forced to give this one away, but she had to keep her baby safe. She couldn’t even imagine what the Elders would do were they to learn of this.

The midwife advised that the baby had at last crowned and one more big push would see the birth of her baby. Patty bore down, her mother and Sam offering their encouragement, and she screamed in agony as she rode out the contraction, pushing with all of her might, bursting into tears of joy and relief when she felt the baby pass into the midwife’s hands.

“It’s a girl!”

Penny sniffed. Of course it was. Warren witches were always female!

The baby was quickly swaddled and passed into the waiting arms of her emotional father, who kissed her forehead and presented her to her mother. Patty took her baby with reverence, her heart already breaking with the separation she knew was coming.

 

“Kurt Elijah,” Melinda said, “you have already addressed Paige’s role in this war, so why are viewing this event? What does this have to do with the two children you earlier referenced?”

Kurt ignored her and continued to stare at the cube. Melinda huffed and followed suit.

 

Patty cuddled the baby closely to her bosom before gasping in pain, quickly passing the baby to her mother, who frowned in confusion. What on earth was this? The afterbirth? But she still felt as though she were in hard labor! She screamed in agony and knew, though she didn’t understand how, that she had entered into yet another labor.

At once, the midwife was again stood at the end of the bed.

 

“What?” Patty whispered. “What is this? This didn’t happen. Mom?”

“I have no idea, my darling,” Penny whispered, her eyes fierce, “but I promise I will find out.”

 

Patty panted and grunted, though this birth was considerably easier. She still didn’t understand. She’d had a sonogram, more than one, and only one baby had been detected! How could she not have known! She had hardly gained any weight! Surely she would have been as big as a house if she were carrying twins.

She delivered and watched as the midwife swaddled the new arrival. She anxiously held out her hands.

“It’s a boy,” the midwife announced.

Penny glared in consternation. Impossible!

“I have a son,” Sam whispered with longing.

“No, you don’t,” the midwife said. When she turned around with the baby in her arms, her eyes were yellow.

“Demon!” Penny screamed, holding Paige tightly in one arm while she raised the other to defend.

She was made helpless when the demon blew memory dust into her face, before turning and doing the same to Sam. They stood there helpless, waiting for instructions.

“What are you doing?” Patty screamed. “Give me my son!”

The demon laughed. “You have no son. The Halliwell line is already too strong. This is one witch you won’t miss.” She then blew memory dust at Patty. “All of you will forget this child. As far as you know, Patty only gave birth to one baby, a daughter, whom she will regretfully give up to keep her off the Elders’ radar. We can always trust a Warren witch to do what is right.”

She quickly packed up her supplies. “All of you will wake in five minutes time and remember only the female child. You will remember I left immediately to assist in another birth. And you will never see this boy again.”

She then blinked away.

 

Patty screamed and fell to her knees, bringing shaking hands to cover her face. “A son. I have a son whom I never knew. A son who was stolen from me!”

Melinda’s hands twitched with tremors, desperately longing to eradicate something which might ease this outrage.

John stood watching from a corner of the room, tears rolling down his face. Patty Halliwell’s anguish was crushing, crippling, and he couldn’t imagine her pain, though he felt it almost secondhand, like some sort of empathic echo. Of all the evil he had seen, this was perhaps the most vile.

Patty quickly wiped her face and jumped to her feet, turning on Kurt. “Where is he? Where is my son? You know, don’t you?”

He regarded her with breathtaking compassion and pointed to the cube.

She slowly turned to watch what, she assumed, would be even more hell on earth. Her mother and daughter held her tightly.

 

The demon blinked into the nursery of a hospital, looking down with indifference at the infant who laid dead in an incubator. Humans were such weak, fragile things. Their offspring perished all the time, so what was one more.

She waved her hand and the dead child was gone. She carefully placed the baby in her arms into the incubator and regarded him with detachment.

“I do not envy you. Your life will be hard, but it will make you strong, and that strength will be needed for what is to come. Your mother would have given you away regardless, so what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her.”

The baby gurgled and opened his wide eyes, staring at her.

The demon frowned and waved a hand above his body, her palm facing her. Her frown deepened.

“Odd. You have a magical signature, but you don’t register as even a partial Whitelighter.” She smirked. “Oh, my, it seems as though your mommy was a little bit free with her love. Your father is mortal. He must be the ex-husband. From what I gathered, she never was able to stay away from him for very long.” She sneered. “The course of true love never did run smooth.”

 

“Victor is the father,” Penny whispered, looking askance at her daughter.

Patty hung her head. “I loved Sam, I did, but I always loved Victor. He was the love of my life.”

Prue was absolutely stunned. Even while she was alive, despite mending fences with her father, despite knowing her grandmother had kept him from them, she had never before realized just how much or how deeply her parents loved each other. How different would her life have been had they remained together?

Penny looked away. She had done everything in her power to drive Victor from that house and it had worked. She had never fully accomplished separating him from Patty, but she had kept him from the girls, ensuring they would be raised as proper Warrens.

She now deeply regretted her actions, wondering if the Victor she knew was his true character, or if she had made him into a man who had abandoned his daughters. What havoc had she wrought by keeping his children from him? How badly had she hurt her own daughter by trying to spare her the pain of love?

Prue’s mind was racing as it tried to put together the pieces. She had a brother, a full brother, who had been stolen from her. Her mother had been forced to forget her own child. Her father had never known his son. Whatever demon had done this would be found, and she would destroy them utterly.

“Where is he, Kurt?” she croaked. “Where is my brother?”

“Don’t you know, Prue?” he asked. “Can’t you feel it?”

The cube swirled once more.

 

The demon carefully examined the chart hooked to the edge of the incubator and snorted.

“This should work out just fine.” She looked at the baby. “The child you are replacing had fetal alcohol syndrome, which explains his prematurity and subsequent death. That should be helpful. Natural witches don’t react well to the energies of the Hellmouth, so this will explain your eventual clumsiness and incompetence while masking your magical signature. No one will find you here.”

She replaced the chart. “Good luck, Alexander Harris. You’re going to need it.”

 

Prue stared at the cube before turning to stare at Kurt.

“You felt it as soon as you met him,” he said quietly, "remember? You told me the first moment you laid eyes on him, you knew that he would become one of the most important people in your life.”

She turned slowly, her movements robotic, and looked at Xander. Her brother.

“You wanted to protect him,” Kurt continued, “from that very moment. You said it was like when you were sent to me, that you knew you would do everything in your power to protect Alexander as you protected me. Your blood and magic recognized me as family, just as it recognized him.”

She flushed in agony. Her feelings for Xander had been anything but sororial.

“The Powers interfered, Prue. They assigned you to Alexander because they wanted you to keep an eye on him, to get to know him, to come to predict his thoughts and actions, but they couldn’t run the risk of you discovering just who he was to you. So they twisted the love already there into something else.”

Prue hung her head as Penny moaned low in her throat. Patty was in severe shock, unable to posit any of this in a rational manner.

“But part of you knew,” Kurt said, “because you didn’t allow those feelings to rule you, any more than he did. You both laid aside those manufactured emotions and instead built your relationship on what you knew to be true: you love each other deeply and purely; you depend on each other in ways you do no one else; you would sacrifice your lives for each other, and gladly.

He walked over and took her hand. “You’ve fought at each other’s sides for years. You’ve healed him as he often has you. You helped him realize he is important not because of Buffy or Willow or Cordelia, but because he is Xander, and being Xander is all that was ever needed.

“You embraced Sam. You never considered him your rival; instead, he became the best friend you never had while you were alive. You were so happy to have a surrogate brother, never realizing your own was standing before you all that time. Xander was taken from you, Prue. He was taken from Piper and Phoebe. He was taken from your parents. He was stolen from his twin, and there is part of Paige which has always been somewhat cognizant of that loss.

“You have stood by his side, always supporting him, always believing in him. That in turn helped to allow him, finally, to believe in himself. You have not failed. You have always been the sister he needed.”

She burst into tears and tried to protest when he began walking her toward Xander, who was standing amongst his friends, his eyes blank and mouth slack.

“Alexander,” Kurt said softly, “this is your sister and, right now, she desperately needs her brother. She has made so many things okay for you, and now she needs you to do that for her.”

Xander gave an exaggerated blink, staring down at Prue in confusion. He tilted his head and looked at Kurt, whom he now realized was his cousin, and, slowly, the words began to solidify in his mind. He bent down and picked Prue up off the floor, holding him tightly to her.

She wrapped her legs around his waist and sobbed into his neck.

“I felt it, too,” he whispered, “from the moment I saw you. It was the first time in my life I have ever felt completely safe. That’s still true. This pain is for what we missed, not for what we have, what we’ve always had. That love, that trust, isn’t going anywhere. All that’s changed is that we now have one more reason for it.”

Sam wrapped his arms around both of them. “You have been the greatest friend of my life, Prue,” he murmured, “and now I have the honor of calling you my sister.”

Willow was curled into Buffy, crying her eyes out, joyous for Xander and devastated for Patty Halliwell and her family.

All Buffy felt was anger. The demon who had done this, who had taken her friend from his rightful family and left him with those people, was going to pay. She had watched. She had paid attention. She needed to call Giles.

No, she then told herself. No. She had to be smart about this. She had to think things through. Xander was in danger. These prophecies, whatever was happening to Cordelia, this fantastical reveal of his true family. There was too much happening and she needed to be rational, otherwise she would be of no use to him.

She bent down and put her lips to Willow’s ear. “I need you to bring Giles and Faith here. Can you do it?”

Willow hiccupped and nodded. It wouldn’t be easy, translocational spells never were, especially because she didn’t precisely know where they were, but she agreed with Buffy that Giles was needed. Faith, too, for that matter. More muscle couldn’t hurt.

She slowly leaned away from Buffy, closing her eyes and centering herself. She murmured under her breath and felt the magic leave her.

A moment later, a disturbed Giles and a wild-eyed Faith stood before them.

“Crap,” Buffy muttered.

Willow cracked open an eye and winced.

She hadn’t meant to include Angel.

 


 

“What the fuck was that, yo!” shrieked an hysterical Faith. “Don’t ever do that shit to me again, Red!”

Giles sighed and began polishing his glasses. “Faith, do stop carrying on. Yes, it’s disconcerting, but by now you should certainly …”

Bump that, Jeeves,” she spat. “I ain’t no witch, dig? When I travel, it’s by fucking plane, okay? With peanuts, booze, and some in-flight movie with an SNL douche.” She anxiously looked around. “Now, where the fuck am I? What the fuck is this? I see a lot of shit that don’t make no goddamned sense. I want answers or I start knocking heads!”

She turned. “B! What the hell? Why is my boytoy crying? Why is some hot bitch straddling him while his stud is just standing there like a tool? What the fuck is wrong with Pip and Con? What’s with the Smurf? Why does she look like Mouse? Who the hell are the rest of these people? Why are there so many fucking ghosts? Where the fuck is Jennifer Love Hewitt? What’s next? We all see a big white light? I’m not ready to cross over!”

Buffy burst out laughing, which Faith was not expecting, but it served to calm her down faster than any half-assed explanation.

Faith grinned. “So there’s no great impending doom? Score!”

“Well, not yet,” Buffy said, “but it’s coming.”

“Ah, fuck.”

“Um, why am I here?” Angel asked.

Willow gave him Puppy Eyes, never as effective as Xander's own, but still cute. “Sorry, Angel. I grabbed Faith and Giles, but I guess you must have been with them and were swept up in the spell.” She bit her lip. “Oops?”

He quirked up his lips, pleased when her eyes twinkled. He never could stay mad at her. His eyes dimmed when he noticed a startled Connor step behind Sam, his son's wrapped around Sam’s waist. His heart broke when he saw Sam’s hand settle on his son’s.

Angel blinked. “Xander,” he whispered, “your eye.”

“Yeah,” Xander said, scratching the back of his neck, “I got an upgrade.”

“Holy hell!” Faith screamed, launching herself into his arms and throwing Prue out of her way. “Boytoy! You have two sexy eyes again!”

Xander laughed. “Is anything not sexy in your world?”

She pulled back and leered. “Not if you’re in that world.” She hugged him again. “I’m really happy for you,” she whispered. She skipped away, tackled Connor, gave him a noogie, and chirped nonsense at Dawn.

Buffy and Willow wondered why they had never seen this side of her. Maybe they just hadn’t been looking.

“Buffy, what in the world is going on here?” Giles demanded.

Buffy looked helplessly at Kurt, who sighed and slumped his shoulders. He restarted the cube, feeling it would be easier than a long and drawn-out explanation. The picture started at Kurt, Quinn, and Sam’s arrival and played through everything they had learned until Willow summoned the newcomers.

 


 

Faith, Giles, and Angel watched silently, paying close attention to every word Kurt imparted about the Powers That Be.

Faith’s hands were curled into fists and, every so often, one would punch her thigh as yet another emotional bombshell was dropped. Tears began falling from her eyes the moment Kendra appeared and, for the first time in a very long time, Faith found herself ashamed. She had been given Kendra’s power and abused it, twisted it, shaming both herself and the Slayer she had followed, who had died so that she could be born. When Anya arrived, Faith hung her head and sobbed.

Angel mumbled under his breath, but otherwise made no sound or movement.

Giles was highly agitated, which, in Buffy’s estimation, never meant anything good. She watched nervously as he prowled around the room, watching things unfold on the cube while he studied the magic that made it possible. He visibly flinched at many of Kurt’s explanations, obviously trying to reconcile the many threads of events which had led to this night.

He was stoic when Kendra appeared, but choked on a sob when he saw Anya. Buffy cried as she watched him raise his hand, trying to touch Anya’s face on the cube. He was enraged by the reveal of Xander’s paternity, of how he had been stolen before his mother could even hold him, and apoplectic by the demon’s speech in the hospital.

“Well,” he said lowly, once it was through, “may I suggest that we step outside and allow Xander some time with his family? I believe he’s waited long enough.”

Penny turned and dismissed the Matriarchs with a wave of her hand before turning toward her daughter. She kissed Patty’s forehead. “Spend these moments with your son. I’ll be waiting when you return.” She looked at Kurt. “We’re very lucky to have you in this family, young man.”

“I’m the lucky one.”

She smiled and orbed away.

“I guess …”

“No, Mom,” Kurt sharply hissed. “We aren’t finished yet.”

Suzanne blinked and somewhat recoiled at his anger, but said nothing. She nodded.

“We’ll wait outside for you,” Sam said softly to Kurt, leaning down to kiss his cheek. At the last possible moment, Kurt turned and met Sam’s lips. Sam startled, but his eyes soon fluttered closed. He groaned when Kurt deepened the kiss. Finally, he pulled away.

“You and I have much to discuss, Mr. Evans,” Kurt said primly, “but we will wait until Mr. Chang can join us.”

“Okay,” Sam whispered, smile wide and face scarlet.

Quinn rolled her eyes. “Let’s go, Romeo.” She dragged him outside.

A stunned Suzanne watched all of this with wide eyes.

Willow was hanging off Xander until Buffy pulled her away and hugged him herself.

“Talk to your mother, Xander,” she whispered. “Do it for all of us who wish we had the chance.”

He nodded and looked at the floor. Buffy dragged Willow and Faith away, the brunette Slayer winking at Dean and making lewd gestures with her hands.

“That’s my kind of woman,” said an admiring Dean.

“Who isn’t your kind of woman?” Sam asked.

“Stay with me?” Xander whispered. “The kids, too.”

Sam raised a brow. “I wasn’t going anywhere, honey, but Dean and Dad can take a walk.” He looked at them and nodded at the hole in the wall.

“Yeah, yeah,” Dean sniped, rolling his eyes and pushing his father outside.

Giles hesitated only a moment before striding up to Xander and engulfing him in a hug. “No matter what happens here or what is said, you will always be my son and I will always love you.”

Xander stood there, not sure what to do or say, before instinct overtook him and he slowly raised his arms and returned the embrace. “I love you too, Giles.”

Giles held him tightly for a long moment before disengaging. He pulled off his glasses and began polishing them. He nodded at Xander, made some suspicious sniffling noise, and quickly left.

Xander stared after him, heart beating out of his chest. He had waited over ten years for those words and they touched him just as deeply as he had imagined. He cleared his throat and turned to Illyria. “Please protect them. I can’t lose them now.”

She gave him a careful nod and marched outside. He grinned when he heard her shouting orders. He laughed when Illyria put the blond girl witch in charge, Buffy and Willow loudly protesting the decision until Giles told them both to shut up as Faith cackled.

He tensed as he watched Prue escort her – their – mother towards him. What the hell was he supposed to say to her? He watched with stunned eyes – holy shit, eyes! Plural! – as the ghost turned corporeal after crossing out of the circle Prue had erected.

He couldn’t even imagine her pain, learning you had a child you didn’t remember having, only then to watch as that child was stolen from you? She must have been in agony. All he could think of how it would feel if someone took Connor or Dawn from him, for ever since Sam had voiced his feelings on the matter, Xander couldn’t think of them as anything other than his children.

Finally she stood before him, looking completely destroyed and unable to meet his eyes.

“Hi, Mom.”

She burst into tears and stepped forward, taking his face in her hands. “Oh, my baby,” she sobbed. “My sweet, beautiful baby. How lovely you are.”

He blushed as his hungry eyes roamed her face, memorizing all of it, every single detail.

“Are you all right, my darling?” she begged. “Are you well? Are you happy?”

“I’ve got two eyes again, so I’m pretty good.”

Her own eyes clouded. “What happened?”

“Oh. I was blinded by some crazy preacher who ran around killing Slayers and being pesky. He stuck his thumb in my eye. Buffy cut him half with this really cool scythe thing.”

She stared at him in horror.

“Sunnydale humor is not for right now, Daddy,” Dawn chastised.

He blushed and fell silent.

Patty blanched and turned to stare at the girl. “Daddy?” she whispered. She looked back at Xander. “Daddy?

“This is my daughter, Dawn, and my son, Connor,” Xander said, gathering them to him. “And this is Sam Winchester, my husband and the love of my life.”

Sam stood behind Xander and rested his chin on his husband’s head, looking at Patty and wondering how in the world Xander was coping with this. There was a part of him that was jealous. He would give anything to meet his mother.

Patty smiled, reaching up to caress Dawn and Connor’s cheeks. “Hello, my darlings. It’s so wonderful to know you.”

They smiled and blushed, ducking their heads and snuggled deeply against their parents.

She looked at Sam and arched a brow. “I guess it is this family’s destiny to fall in love with men who bear that name. First me, then my son, and now Kurt.” She turned toward Prue. “And when did that happen?”

“That’s been happening for a long time, Mom. Sam fell in love with Kurt the moment he laid eyes on him.”

“Been there,” said Xander’s husband.

She laughed. “Mike was the next to fall, but Kurt was a harder sell, even though it was obvious he had fallen just as hard. It’s taken a while, but I think they’re finally on the right path.”

“They’re going to try and make it work? A true triad relationship?” asked a skeptical Patty. “It won’t be easy.”

Prue shrugged. “Nothing worth anything is, and my money’s on them.”

Patty looked back at her son. “I want to know everything, every last detail, but I have the feeling there isn’t much time.”

Xander nodded.

“I need you to listen to me closely, Xander, because I don’t believe anyone has thought about the implications of this.”

His brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”

“That demon took you to the Hellmouth for a reason. Do you remember what it said?”

He frowned. “To hide my …” His eyes widened. “My … oh, no.”

She nodded. “Your magical signature. You, like your sisters, are a witch.”

“Holy shit. Wait, what? Holy shit.”

“This makes sense, Daddy,” Dawn insisted. “That’s why every demon in Sunnydale wanted to bed you or have you for breakfast. They were drawn to you because of your power.”

He shook his head. “No, Dawnie, I have no power. I’m Normal Guy, remember? And I want to be Normal Guy. It took a long time for me to make peace with that, but I did. I can’t be someone else now.”

“You’ve never been normal!” she said.

He raised a brow and stared at her. “No, I guess I never have.”

Sam frowned. “I think your magic must be very strong.”

Patty turned toward him. “How do you mean, Sam?”

“Well, Xander spent seven years on the Hellmouth, he helped close it permanently, and the worst injury he ever had besides the eye was a broken arm. That doesn’t sound normal.”

“No,” she said quietly, looking at her son, “it doesn’t.”

“That doesn’t mean anything,” Xander denied. “Giles and Dawn were never badly hurt.”

Sam sighed. “Really? Okay, let’s go with that for a minute. First of all, and no offense to Giles or Dawn, who are accomplished fighters in their own right, they were never on the front line like you were.”

“True,” Dawn chirped.

Sam grinned. “Second, you lasted seven years – seven years, Xander – of fighting almost every single night, and you went largely untrained.”

Patty was thunderous. “You were never trained?” she shrieked.

“Third,” Sam said loudly, “the broken arm thing. Xander, I listen when you tell me things. Willow was in a coma; Faith, a Slayer, was in a coma; Cordelia was in two comas. Jesse died, Kendra died, Jenny died, Joyce died, Tara died, Anya died, Cordelia died, Angel’s entire team died, and Angel died. Buffy died twice.” He paused. “You had a broken arm.”

Connor turned wide eyes upon Xander. “I never thought about it like that.”

Dawn shook her head and Patty stared.

“Oz …” Xander tried.

“Werewolf,” Dawn interjected.

“Riley …”

“Fought with highly specific weapons developed by the government,” Connor said.

“Broken arm,” Sam repeated.

Xander sighed. “Can we … I can’t deal with this right now, okay?”

“That’s fine, sweetheart,” Patty said, “but the time will come sooner rather than later. That usually happens once one becomes aware of their magic, so you have to accept that it’s coming. Prue can help you with that.”

Xander looked at Prue. “Other than the hubby and kids, you being my sister is the best thing ever to happen to me.”

She smiled at him, tears shining in her eyes.

Patty took no offense and turned to her eldest child. “He will have to go to the Manor in order to access the Book. He needs to meet his other sisters. They have the right to know him.”

Prue frowned. “Do you honestly think I would try to stop that from happening?”

“Of course not, but you can’t be the one to take him. The ban is still in effect.”

Prue grit her teeth, her anger at the Elders reasserting itself. “Kurt can take him.”

Patty nodded. “That should work, and the girls can summon me if necessary.”

“Piper used the spell to call a lost witch in order to summon my spirit,” Prue said slowly, “and got Paige instead.” She looked at Xander. “I wonder why the spell didn’t work on you?”

“I have no idea,” Xander admitted. “I usually run away from spells when they’re cast.”

Sam quickly did the math. “If I have the timeline right, that was right after Buffy died the second time. You wouldn’t have left Dawn on the Hellmouth no matter what mystical force called for you.”

Xander nodded. “That makes sense. I remember I was very … restless … during that time. I felt that I should be doing something else, but I wouldn’t leave Dawn, and Willow wouldn’t let me take her with me.”

“What?” Dawn demanded.

He shrugged a shoulder. “Willow hadn’t told us about the resurrection spell yet and she knew she’d need Tara and Anya to sell me on it …”

“And that’s another thing,” Sam said. “That spell, the fight with Adam. Your magic had to be part of those, Xander. I know Willow and Tara are powerful, but to resurrect someone who had been dead for months and was nothing but bones? And what about after Adam, that dream with the Primitive? She wanted you, and she wanted you away from Buffy. There’s a reason for that.”

Xander shook his head. “But …”

“Broken arm.”

Xander sighed. “Whatever. I didn’t want you on the Hellmouth, Dawnie. Buffy was known as the Slayer and there were enough demons who knew where she lived. I wanted to leave and move to Los Angeles. Cordy had been trying to get me down there since the girls started college.”

His brow furrowed. “I remember … I remember trying to call her during that time, but I couldn’t get a hold of her. When I called Angel, he basically blew me off, saying Cordy was on vacation, but he wouldn’t tell me where she was or when she was coming back.”

“It must have been around the time I was taken,” Connor whispered.

Xander sighed again. “Probably, yeah.”

Patty started crying. “I have to leave. Spirits can only remain earthbound for so long.”

“No!” Xander blurted. “I mean, I just …”

“You can summon me whenever you wish, my darling,” she said. “Until you can do it yourself, Prue or Kurt can do it for you. I will always come.”

She drew him into a quick embrace, pulling back slowly and dropping a gentle kiss on his forehead. “Always remember that I love you, Xander.” She swallowed heavily. “I’m just so sorry that …”

“Not your fault,” he interrupted. “I might not know you, but I know what Prue has told me. You’re a great mom who was taken from her children. You sacrificed yourself to save Prue and all the other kids at the camp. I know you would have found me if you had been given the chance. I absolutely believe that.”

Patty released a slow breath. His absolution was, she felt, more than she deserved, but she was so very grateful. Still, her soul raged with the knowledge she had yet another child she hadn’t been allowed to raise. She suppressed a grimace and looked over to her cousin, frowning when she saw Suzanne and Kurt whispering harshly at each other.

Odd. They never fought. What was happening here?

Suzanne reached out for him, but Kurt stepped back and shook his head.

She looked down at the floor. “What are you going to do?” she whispered.

“I don’t know,” he grudgingly admitted. “They obviously have to be told, but this isn’t the time.” He sighed. “I’m not angry at you, Mom. I’m sorry if it seems as though I am. I’m angry at the situation. I know you and Dad aren’t to blame. It’s just … I can’t believe this is even happening, especially now.”

“What’s going on?” asked a cautious Patty.

Suzanne startled and quickly wiped her cheeks as Kurt turned away to collect himself. She slowly turned to her cousin. “December.”

Patty looked at her in confusion, though she understood the reference. Then she truly thought about it, reconciling it with what she now knew. Her mouth dropped open and her eyes filled with horror.

“No!” she whispered.

Suzanne sighed, covered her eyes with a hand, and turned her head.

“I’ll summon you when I’m ready, Mom,” Kurt said quietly.

“Oh, baby, I’m so sorry! This shouldn’t have to fall to you! You have enough on your shoulders.”

Kurt slowly exhaled and straightened his shoulders. “And what was done to you and Dad, and to Xander and Aunt Patty, is the definition of Evil, which I have sworn to fight. I don’t know if I can save this world, Mom, I really don’t, but if it’s destined to fall, I’m first going to right as many wrong as possible.”

 


 

Quinn had slipped into Alexis Colby Mode, in which her face appeared frozen so as not to betray any emotion, and her mind raged with emotion. All of them.

She was angry. No, she was furious. She was furious at what had been to do Xander and Patty. She also suspected, given Kurt’s words to Uncle Burt, that something similar had happened to her best friend’s parents. Thus, Kurt was not only tasked with breaking hearts in order to help heal them, but his guts were probably churning at the idea of his own missing sibling.

She couldn’t imagine it. She remembered those first years after Suzanne had died, as Kurt mourned the baby she had lost almost as keenly as he did his mother. Kurt loved and adored Uncle Burt, but he had always been so lonely, and that loneliness had never been healed. Not by her, not by Santana or Mike or Sam; not even by Brittany.

She was annoyed by the Crimson Witch, who kept staring at her with a look bordering on disdain. Quinn knew the woman fiercely resented not being in control of the situation and was humiliated a girl almost half her age had been appointed by an interloper.

Quinn didn’t understand why Illyria had passed her the torch, but she didn’t much care. Someone needed to be in charge and it was obvious how much Illyria respected Kurt. In this situation, Illyria had deemed her a sufficient substitute. Had Santana been present, Quinn was sure Illyria would have chosen her, and that was fine.

She was simultaneously intrigued and repelled by Buffy. She sensed the Slayer was an inherently good person, yet she was also inhabited by a demon. On one level, Quinn was offended; but on another, she thought Buffy must be an amazing person to have lived as long as she had, to have triumphed as much as she had, with that force inside of her.

Her feelings were similar with regard to Angel. She sensed the soul, but also the demon, and they did not come across as harmonious as what lived inside Buffy.

“What are you thinking?” Sam quietly asked.

Quinn tilted her head, perfectly aware the others were now paying careful attention. “That it’s going to get worse before it gets better; that what Kurt revealed about Xander is only the tip of the iceberg; that, for the first time since all of this began, I’m beginning to wonder if we can actually win.” She faked a bright grin. “You?”

“Yeah,” he said quietly. “Mostly worried about Angel.”

“What?” Angel asked. “Why?”

Sam frowned. “Huh?” He blinked. “Oh, right. The vampire with a soul. Sorry, I mean my Angel; that’s what I call Kurt.”

“He looks like one,” Dean said.

“Sings like one, too,” Sam said, smiling. He then frowned. “Don’t perv on him. It’s gross.”

Dean rolled his eyes.

Quinn raised a brow. “You do know we’re sixteen, right?”

He winced. Okay, yeah, it was gross. “Sorry,” he muttered, flushing with embarrassment.

John just shook his head.

Illyria was perturbed by these ridiculous ramblings. “The Hand is extremely powerful. I am familiar with the Guardian’s power. They are kin. Are their powers similar?”

Quinn nodded. “To an extent, yes. Like Prue, Kurt is telekinetic. He mastered the ability and then focused it so that it allowed him to teleport. Prue never managed that, probably because she was killed before she got the chance. As a witch, she could project an astral form.”

She frowned. “Theoretically, Kurt might be able to do that, but because I developed the ability early on, he never bothered. Teleportation is more useful.”

Illyria nodded.

“Kurt is electokinetic, which means he can throw energy balls. Prue throws lightening bolts, which is an Elder power given to her by the Powers That Be. Somehow, and no one quite knows how, Kurt can throw lightening too, but only when he's enraged or severely stressed. We’ve never tested it, but I believe Kurt’s energy balls are probably of a similar … voltage, I guess you could say, to her lightning. His lightning is far stronger and more dangerous, because he can't control the ability. He also has the power of cryokinesis.”

“Cryo what?” Buffy asked.

“It’s like Superman’s freeze breath,” Dean chimed in.

“Okay, wow.”

“Kurt is also telepathic,” Quinn said. “There is no mind he cannot read except that of our friend, Santana, who is his anchor.”

Illyria frowned. “That ability is often unreliable.”

“It can be,” Quinn acknowledged, “but there is no mind save Santana’s that is able to block him. That includes demons.” She looked at Angel. “And vampires.”

Angel raised a brow. “That shouldn’t be possible. Buffy was briefly telepathic and she couldn’t read my mind.”

“She’s not a witch,” Quinn said easily. “There’s a distinct difference between an ability and a power. An ability is something that may or may not develop. Kurt was given this power and has had it since he was at least three years old. What's interesting is that he insists it's not a Wiccan power, nor is his empathy. There are mortals who also have these abilities, though not to this degree, and Kurt believes he inherited them from his father/ Incidentally, Melinda Warren has previously hinted that it's very likely Burt descends from a magical line, probably with a godling forebear."

Willow blinked. So it was entirely possible that Kurt was also part-godling, which might further explain the amount of power he wielded. 

"Kurt didn’t develop those powers; he had to develop shields against them.”

“Fuck,” Faith murmured. “Doing that as a kid? Must have been hell.”

Quinn nodded sadly. “It was very, very hard on him. There are some things children just shouldn’t know.” She sighed. “Prue’s sister Phoebe is an empath, but she’s not as powerful. Kurt is what is known as an absolute empath. He not only feels what you do, but he can take it from you, into himself.”

Buffy tilted her head. “What do you mean?”

Quinn smiled. “There are three girls in our coven, including me. Every month, Kurt takes away our cramps. He feels them so we don’t have to.”

“Wow.”

“I think we just gave Xander cramps,” Willow mumbled as Faith snickered.

“Prue feels Kurt will eventually be able to channel his empathy into healing,” Quinn said. “We’re not sure exactly how it will work. Whitelighters can only heal if the wounds are a result of a confrontation with Evil, but Kurt has done minor healing for years. Cramps are evil, but they aren’t caused by Evil.”

“I think that’s debatable,” Buffy said.

Quinn laughed.

“These powers are interesting and perhaps mildly useful,” Illyria said, “but there has to be more.”

Quinn nodded, her face serious. “He also has the power of projection. That means anything he can imagine he can make manifest. It also allows him to move backwards and forwards through time.”

“Holy shit,” John said.

She nodded with a gusty sigh. “Finally, there’s absorption. It’s an offshoot of his telepathy and empathy. He can absorb the knowledge from anything he touches, animate or inanimate. He can put his hand on a book and know everything inside of it, but also how to use that knowledge. We believe this will eventually lead to him being able to absorb the powers of others, both witches and demons.”

Willow stared. When she had surrendered to the darkness, she had been able to do that, but the magic had controlled her; she hadn’t been able to control it. From everything Quinn had told them, it wasn’t just Kurt’s power that was phenomenal, but his ability to control his power. That level of sophistication and finesse had often eluded her. It still did.

"What you have to consider," Quinn continued, "is that the number of powers Kurt possesses doesn't truly matter. What does is the sheer amount of power he holds. Brittany believes that, eventually, Kurt won't need spells or powers. His thoughts will be enough to manifest whatever magic he needs or desires."

Illyria gave an owlish blink, which startled Angel.

Sam looked over his shoulder. “They’re done. We can go back in.”

Most of them shrugged their shoulders and returned inside.

Giles and Illyria remained, looking at each other warily.

“Watcher,” she said slowly, “do you believe we will survive what is to come?”

He looked into her eyes. “No, but we will fight. There is no other choice.”

She then understood why her charge considered this bag of meat his father.

Chapter Text

Once again gathered in the cabin, the others looked at each other restlessly, waiting for their leaders to decide how to go forward. That person was Kurt for Prue, Sammy, and Quinn. For Team Slayer, including Faith and even Angel, Buffy was their unacknowledged captain. The rest were waiting for Xander to announce their next steps.

“This happened sooner than I expected,” Kurt admitted, “and I’m not prepared.”

“There was no possible way to anticipate this,” Buffy said. “Your hand was forced by both sides.” She looked around. “Frankly, and whether or not you like it, this is your show. You know more about what’s really going on than any of us. For what it’s worth, I’m happy to follow your lead.”

Angel, Willow, and Giles stared at her, filled with disbelief that Buffy was not only willing to step aside, but to cede control to someone she didn’t even know. Xander appeared proud and Illyria thoughtful. This Slayer was very interesting.

Kurt slowly blew out a breath. “If I’ve learned anything these past years, it’s that neither side ever has any real advantage. We may have only just found out who Xander is, but I’m betting others have known for quite some time.”

“Like who?” asked a frowning Willow.

He paused and cocked his head. “From what I suspect and have overheard, I would say Sineya is an obvious choice.”

“The First Slayer?” asked a surprised Angel.

Kurt nodded. “I heard Sam tell Xander that, after an adventure with someone called Adam, the Primitive kept appearing to Xander and warned him away from Buffy.”

Buffy turned toward Xander with wide eyes. “She did? But why?”

“I don’t know,” Xander confessed. “I never listened because she freaked me out. I just pushed her down, along with the others until, eventually, I couldn’t see her anymore.”

“What others?” Willow asked.

Xander exchanged glances with his husband, children, and whitelighter.

“The Soldier,” he finally whispered, “and the Hyena.”

Giles gasped. “They’re still within you?”

Dean and John furrowed their brows in confusion, as Buffy and Willow fought instinctive feelings of betrayal.

“And I think there’s a reason for that,” Kurt interrupted, “as well as why they were attracted to him in the first place. I don’t think those were coincidences.”

“There’s no such thing as coincidence,” Prue affirmed.

Buffy slowly turned back toward Kurt, her mind racing to connect these disparate pieces. “You think Xander was Chosen.”

“Wasn’t he? He’s the subject of at least two prophecies we know. I think it’s more than probable he was selected, along with me and you, farther back than we could ever hope to know. We were all Chosen, but by whom and for what true reason, I don’t think anyone knows.”

“I’m not sure what you mean,” Buffy said.

“You are the longest living Slayer on record, Buffy. You’ve defeated things previous Slayers couldn’t even contemplate, let alone fight. Even if we lay aside your deaths, it doesn’t change the fact that you are the Ultimate Slayer.”

Faith offered a stoic nod. “It’s true, B. I know it; the other Slayers know it. I knew it when I first laid eyes on you. There was something different about you, something special, and, yeah, I was mad jealous.”

An uncomfortable Buffy fidgeted.

“And if we’re going on what we know, or at least suspect,” Kurt continued, “a force as strong as you would require a force of equal strength to challenge you. As Kendra said, you weren’t sent to Sunnydale. You were sent to Xander.”

Connor tilted his head. “So it follows that Daddy would need to be at least as strong as Buffy. That’s why the possessions?”

“I think that was the goal,” Kurt agreed, “but whoever made the call underestimated Xander, just as they did Cordelia. At the end of the day, no possession or Ascension is more powerful than their humanity, and I believe it was more than just Jasmine who wanted them kept apart.”

Buffy scowled and began breathing heavily though her nose as Faith cracked her knuckles, while Angel and Giles growled.

“You suspect this goes beyond the prophecy,” Illyria charged to Kurt.

He was silent for a very long time.

“I think,” he finally said, “that great care and thought went into activating each and every one of us. I think the people we lost were specifically chosen to break us. I think this would be a very different Game had Xander and Cordelia remained together.”

He frowned. “I think the prophecy was ultimately a warning. The question, of course, is for whom? It’s too specific and contains knowledge that neither side would prefer we possess. So, yes, I think most of this revolves around Cordelia and Xander.

“He still has the power of the Hyena and the knowledge of the Soldier, but he hasn’t used them aside from the initial possessions. He was strong enough, and secure enough in his relationship with Buffy, to lock them away.”

What Kurt didn’t say was that he was beginning to suspect someone knew Xander would do exactly that and counted on it. The Soldier was human, and probably knew little more than they, but the Hyena was a primal force. He wanted to talk to it.

“So the Soldier wasn’t responsible for graduation?” Xander asked faintly. “I always assumed that was him.”

“You’ve always underestimated yourself, Xan,” Buffy said. “I mean, maybe Soldier Guy did help, but only because you let him.”

“You’re saying Xander was possessed by the Soldier to give him knowledge, and by the Hyena to give him power,” Willow said slowly, “but then why wasn’t that ever explained to him?”

Kurt shrugged. “He probably wouldn’t have believed it.” He raised a brow. “Would you?”

“I guess not,” she murmured.

“I think that ties in to what Dad was talking about before,” Dawn said, “about Daddy never being as hurt badly as the rest, minus me and Giles.” She looked at her sister. “You died twice. Willow and Faith fell into comas; Cordelia, two. Most of the rest, minus Oz, died. Even Angel died.”

She turned toward her father. “Broken arm. I think the Hyena has been giving you strength, or at least accelerated healing without you realizing it. I wasn’t around for the possession, but from everything I’ve heard, when the Hyena was in control, you were at least as strong as Buffy.”

Buffy nodded.

“It could also be your magic, Xander,” Prue said. “It wouldn’t function properly on the Hellmouth, but there’s no reason to assume it wasn’t trying to help you, even passively.”

“Magic?” Willow repeated.

“Xander’s my brother,” Prue said. “He’s a witch. He won’t receive his powers until he reads the incantation from the Book, but he’s a witch.”

Willow’s eyes bulged.

Giles cleared his throat and looked at Kurt. “And you believe Xander was, er, created to walk alongside Buffy?”

“I think they were always meant to walk together. I believe the four of you were predestined for this, though separate from the destiny Xander and Cordelia share. Before Buffy, no Slayer operated as part of a team. As often as Slayers fall, so to do Watchers. Buffy and Faith each lost their first Watchers before they were assigned to you.”

A startled Faith turned toward Buffy. “You had another Watcher?” she whispered.

Buffy closed her eyes, but the tears still fell as she nodded. Even now, a decade later, the pain of Merrick’s loss still haunted her.

Faith now better understood why Buffy had so resented her, as well as why she had been so protective and possessive of Giles. It somewhat bothered her that Buffy had never reached out, knowing Faith had lost Linda, but Buffy had always held her true emotions tightly to her chest. One look at Giles suggested Buffy had never discussed her other Watcher with him and Willow was just as obviously in the dark. But Xander had known, she realized.

If Buffy had told anyone, it was her best friend, big brother, and spiritual lover.

“As Buffy is the most successful Slayer on record,” Kurt said to Giles, “so too are you the most successful Watcher.” He paused. “As much as I know this will hurt you, it has to be said. At the end of the day, it’s you four. Everyone else in your circle has either left or been killed.”

Willow drew in a sharp breath as Buffy flinched and Giles scowled.

“Except for the Higher Being,” Illyria said, more to herself than the others. “I argue her Ascension was yet another mechanism to ensure her separation from Alexander, which suggests they had been destined to find each other again.”

Buffy slowly nodded. “That makes sense.” She looked at Xander. “Why didn’t you go to Cordy? Anya aside, and I understand now how awesome she was, I always thought you’d go back to Cordelia. I know she would have welcomed you.”

Dawn looked at Angel with narrowed eyes. “And so did you, didn’t you?”

He looked away.

“What the hell does that mean?” Buffy barked, glaring at Angel.

Dawn set her jaw. “Daddy said after Buffy died that he wanted to take me and leave Sunnydale.”

Buffy’s eyes widened. It made total sense. Of course Xander would’ve wanted his daughter off the Hellmouth.

“Not just me,” Xander said quietly. “Anya wanted to leave, too. We were too well known and Buffy was dead. We were the only ones who didn’t have powers to protect ourselves, and Anya knew the others would protect me before her. She thought we should go to Los Angeles. No one knew us, we could blend in, and would have Angel for backup if we needed.”

“Solid plan,” Buffy said, nodding.

“But Angel wouldn’t let him speak with Cordelia,” Dawn said to her sister. “He said she was on vacation, but it’s obvious now that was a lie. She was in the coma.” She turned to Willow and Faith. “Something you both conveniently didn’t tell us.”

Faith put up her hands. “None of you were that hot to talk to me when I got back to the Dale,” she protested before shrugging. “How was I to know Red didn’t tell you the deal?”

“That’s fair,” Dawn conceded. “Willow?”

Willow shook her head. “When I was in Los Angeles, I talked to Cordelia. She wasn’t in a coma then.”

“It happened after you left,” Angel admitted. “When Xander called, I didn’t tell him what was going on because there was so much I still didn’t know. I knew that someone or something had plans for Cordelia, and it wasn’t safe to assume that died with Jasmine. I didn’t want to put Xander and Dawn in more danger. Wolfram and Hart had files on them.”

Xander blinked. “What? Why?”

Angel sighed. “They knew who Dawn was, Xander. They would have known the instant she arrived. I couldn’t chance it. As for you, well, your file is as long and as detailed as the one they maintained on Buffy. Neither Willow nor Giles were watched as carefully as you.”

“Well,” Buffy said after a beat, “that’s scary as fuck. Did you read it?”

He nodded. “I read what was available, but either it was heavily redacted or I was given a fake. Knowing what we do now, I have to believe the firm knew more than what was in that file. What I read only pertained to Sunnydale. Nothing about the Halliwells or Xander being a witch or any prophecy. Most of it revolved around him being the One Who Sees and speculation about what that meant.”

“Well,” Faith drawled at Kurt, “back to the earlier upheaval. Here’s a question for you, cutie: who’s the real Watcher? Because I’m thinking it’s not Jeeves.”

Kurt ignored the protests of the others and smirked. “You’re good.”

She smirked right back at him and turned toward Buffy. “Think about it. Kendra said you were sent to Xander, but so was Giles, kind of, and Red was his all along.”

The four in question looked at each other.

“So Xander is … the Ultimate Watcher?” asked a skeptical Angel.

Kurt shrugged. “Just a theory, but it does make sense. Mister Giles is an incredibly skilled man, but he loves Buffy like a daughter and has often blinded himself where she’s concerned.”

He turned toward the Slayer. “But Xander never did.”

She bit her lip and slowly shook her head.

“I think the spirit that animates Buffy, that animates all the Slayers, saw far. She saw Xander and what was to come, so she guided her last Chosen, her final daughter, to the man who could best protect her.”

“I’m not the last Chosen,” Buffy softly protested. “Faith is.”

“No,” said a gentle Kurt. “When you died the second time, Buffy, no other Slayer was Called in your place. Sineya waited for you because she knew you would return. She knew your Watcher loved you too much to let you go.”

Buffy choked on a sob and quickly covered her mouth with a hand.

“I was selfish,” Xander admitted. “If I had it to do over again, Buff, I would let you go. You’ve earned your peace.”

Kurt shook his head. “Prue has told us both often enough, and we’ve told others, that we’re not in this life for peace. You brought Buffy back because you knew she was still needed. You knew that as well as you know her soul, Xander, and I think regardless of the serenity Buffy lost, she would have willingly given it up to protect her sister. The First wouldn’t have been defeated by any other. Just as no other Slayer could have defeated Acathla, the Mayor, Adam, or Glory.”

Quinn pushed Xander and Buffy out of the way, stepping in front of Kurt and staring into his eyes. “That’s not the whole truth.”

He grimaced. “No, it’s not, but the rest isn’t germane to the discussion.”

She shook her head. “Long ago you told me and the others that we are always to question you whenever we have doubts. We are always to demand you answer to our satisfaction. That’s what trust is, Kurt. I trust you more than anyone, even my mother and sister, and you’re holding back.”

He looked down and sighed. “This will bring no comfort.”

“I want to know,” Buffy insisted. She looked at Faith, who nodded. “We need to know.”

Kurt closed his eyes. “After you died battling Glory, Brittany had a vision. What I said before was true: Sineya waited for you, Buffy. Everything that has happened was meant to happen, and you were meant to be at the forefront.”

“But?” Xander prompted.

“Just as you created the Second Line with Kendra, Xander, you were meant to spawn a Third Line after Buffy’s second death. That’s why Sineya was appearing to you. You are the Ultimate Watcher; as she lives on in her daughters, she still requires a Watcher of her own.”

“Me?” Xander whispered.

“Yes. You were to create another Slayer using the power of Sineya already within you, but circumstances arose which precluded that.”

“And that wasn’t a coincidence,” Buffy said darkly.

Kurt shook his head. “The conspiracy against Xander reaches out far beyond his birth parents, Buffy. Our family was targeted, but we were targeted because Xander was foreseen, so other forces intervened.”

“How?” Willow demanded.

Kurt hesitated.

“I need you tell me, Kurt,” Xander pleaded, grabbing his husband’s hand as Dawn and Connor drew tight against them. “No more secrets.”

“Who was supposed to be the third Slayer?” Giles demanded.

“It was Cordelia, wasn’t it?” Angel whispered.

“Yes,” Kurt admitted.

“That actually makes sense,” Buffy said after a beat. “Hell, she’d be my choice.”

Xander, Giles, and even Willow nodded.

“Why didn’t it happen?” Connor asked.

“Because Cordelia was on Pylea when Buffy died,” Kurt replied, “and no matter how strong the Call, it can’t cross dimensions. The Slayer is of this world only. When Cordelia returned, Jasmine had already made her next move, which was manipulating Wolfram and Hart into resurrecting Darla, which led to Connor’s birth. By then, Buffy had returned, Cordelia had become a half-demon, and the window was lost.”

“So it was deliberate,” Angel spat. “Jasmine must have known that Cordy was to be Called and she stopped it because she knew if Cordelia became a Slayer, everything that happened … wouldn’t have happened.”

“Of course,” Giles said softly. “If Cordelia was already half-demon, the demon that created the Slayer wouldn’t be able to inhabit her.” His face darkened. “And if Cordelia was the Slayer, she would have had enhanced strength and healing, which means the visions never would’ve taken the toll on her that they did. She could have kept the visions and still been a Slayer. We could have sent Dawn to her and Angel, keeping her off Glory’s radar.”

“Fuck this,” Faith hissed. “No, seriously, fuck this. Goddamn it!” She whirled on Kurt. “How can you say we have free will when this bullshit happens all the damn time?”

He gave her a helpless look. “Free will doesn’t guarantee a happy outcome. You make the best choices you can with the information you have in the situations you’re dealt. Faith, what’s happened is none of your faults. You all did the best you could.”

“That’s not comforting.”

“It wasn’t mean to be,” he shot back, “but it is reality.”

She grunted, but gave him a sharp nod. She knew he was blameless and appreciated his candor.

Kurt took a deep breath. “Willow, Jesse, and Cordelia were always meant to be a part of your life, Xander. When Buffy arrived in Sunnydale, it set off a chain reaction whose ramifications are still being felt. You’re her Heart, and the Powers needed you irrevocably bonded to her. Her mission had to become yours if she was to succeed.”

He exhaled. “And if the cosmic game of chess in which we have found ourselves, the one to which Illyria earlier alluded, was to continue to maintain the balance, the first pawn had to be sacrificed.”

Willow gasped and clutched her chest as Xander blanched.

“Jesse was more than that,” he spat.

“Of course he was,” Kurt agreed, “to you and Willow and Buffy. But to everyone else? He was a pawn, just like you were at the time. And it worked. From the moment Jesse was taken and you learned who Buffy was, what she was meant to do, her mission was yours. And when Buffy lost a friend, when she saw what that did to you and Willow, she couldn’t walk away as she had planned.”

“That is seriously fucked up!” Faith barked as she held a sobbing Buffy in her arms.

“Yes, it is,” Kurt said. “It’s just as fucked up as you and Buffy both losing your first Watchers, and Giles losing Jenny, and Buffy losing her mother, and Xander losing Anya, and Willow losing Tara. It’s just as fucked up as me losing my mother and Prue losing her life.”

She stilled and gave him a respectful nod, silently acknowledging his team had their own losses.

“Jesse’s death left open a space on the board,” Kurt said, “and it was quickly filled by Oz. Buffy’s first death and resurrection got her to the Queening Square, and she returned to the board no longer a pawn, but a Queen.”

Giles blinked. “And Buffy as pawn was replaced by Cordelia.”

“Exactly, and this is where it starts to get especially heinous.”

 


 

 

“Buffy’s first death activated several new pieces,” Kurt continued, “including Kendra, Oz, Angel, and Jenny Calendar, but the paramount of these was Cordelia, and her arrival did not go unnoticed.”

“What did they do to her?” Xander seethed.

Kurt began pacing. “All of you now know why Cordelia lost her life, but few, if any, understand what brought her into this.”

“The prophecy,” Quinn whispered.

“Yes. Everyone, including us, never really cottoned on to the importance of that, despite theoretically understanding just how important Cordelia is. We’ve been considering it in the context of Xander and his role as Ultimate Watcher, never realizing that Cordelia’s role is equal, if not greater.”

“I don’t understand,” Angel said. “How could we not know this? I mean, I understand better than anyone just how important Cordelia was and how we’ve all suffered from her absence, but why didn’t we know this prophecy before? Why wasn’t it made when it could have been of actual use?”

Xander nodded. “Good question.”

“That has an easy answer,” Kurt said. “If you were made aware of who Cordelia really is prior to this moment, the balance would have been shifted far sooner than it has been. We wouldn’t be alive to discuss it.”

“You used the present tense,” Dawn noticed. “Whoever or whatever Cordelia is or is supposed to become hasn’t happened yet.”

“Correct, but like Anya said, Cordelia has since been discovered. All sides are now aware of who she is, and the timetable has been moved up exponentially. They will be coming for us, and for her, perhaps faster than we can even anticipate.”

“And what is she?” Xander demanded. “Who the hell is Cordy, really?”

Kurt stared into his eyes. “She is the Power Soon To Be.”

 


 

 

Angel and Giles kept stumbling into each other as they paced, desperate to make sense of Kurt’s words. Faith and Buffy were hysterically babbling to each other as Willow frowned in concentration, mentally reviewing their entire history to determine if there had been clues she had missed due to inattention or her disdain for Cordelia.

A shocked Xander was held in place by his husband and children as John and Dean felt impotent and useless. Illyria found an unwelcome appreciation for this level of obfuscation. Truly the forces of the universe were far more deceptive and sadistic than she had ever contemplated.

“As soon as Cordelia became an active participant,” Kurt said, “forces sought to thwart her before she could realize her destiny, and they’re still trying. What Xander and Willow said earlier wasn’t strictly true. Yes, they chose to stand with Buffy, and free will is a very real thing, but so too is predestination. They answered the Call, but they were still Chosen, as was Mister Giles.

“The Powers removed Jesse to tie Xander and Willow to Buffy. Others came and went, but those decisions were based primarily on love for the players, not the Game. Only one truly chose to take their place on the board.”

“Cordelia,” Connor whispered.

“She was deeply offended by the very idea of the Hellmouth, not just what it represented and the actions undertaken by its agents. Cordelia Chase, whether people want to admit or not, truly was the Queen of Sunnydale. That this supernatural entity dared to violate her world order and dominion, that it actively sought to rule and execute her subjects, was something she could not abide.

“She knew Willow and Buffy hated her. She knew Mister Giles thought her a nuisance. She knew Angel, at that time, considered her little more than cannon fodder. The only opinion, other than her own, that ever mattered to her was …”

“Mine,” Xander said.

“She knew she could die at any time. She knew that, as someone without any supernatural assist, she was the most likely candidate. She knew Buffy, Willow, and Giles would elect to save Xander, the other token Normal, before her. She accepted that because she felt the risk was worth it. She never could have lived with herself had she done nothing.”

Kurt turned toward Prue. “Finish the prophecy.”

She quickly wiped away the tears beginning to fall and nodded. “An army will gather to bolster their rule, yet one of their strongest will be but a fool. As the Queen is anointed, the Knight becomes King. Beacons of hope, the bells of Heaven will ring.

“What does that mean?” asked a helpless Dawn.

“If Cordelia is indeed to become the New Power,” Giles said, “that means this war has more fronts than we realized. Not only are we to battle the First and the Source, but Cordelia has her own battle to lead in the heavenly realms.”

“Anya and Kendra,” Xander murmured, his eyes glazing over.

Buffy and Willow inched toward him, recognizing the look on his face. Key Guy.

“That’s why we’ve had more players than any other Game,” he whispered to himself. “It’s why we’ve lost so many. They’ve been taken to hurt us, to demoralize us, to force us to stand on our own two feet, but there’s another force at work here, something beyond the Powers and the Elders. That’s what has them running.”

Sam took his husband’s face in his hands. “Tell me what you’re thinking.”

Xander met the unflinching stare. “Our fates might be tied to those that govern this world and this dimension, but there’s something else. There’s something more. The Powers used our friends and took them from us, but when they entered the heavenly realms, they were no longer pawns. They reached their own Queening Squares and returned to the Game, just on another level.”

His grin was savage. “By trying to control us, the Powers inadvertently gave Cordelia her own army.”

They stared at him.

He looked at Prue. “Our mother. Our grandmother.”

He turned to Kurt. “Your mother. The entire Warren line, the most powerful line of witches ever to exist.”

He turned to Buffy, Willow, and Giles. “Jesse. Joyce. Kendra. Jenny. Tara. Anya. Merrick. Linda. All of the Potentials we lost. All of the kids we grew up with who died, the ones who acknowledged Cordy as Queen.”

He looked at Angel. “Doyle. Wesley. Gunn. Harmony.”

He looked back at Sam. “Your mother.

“Cordelia isn’t alone. What she needs is for us to narrow the field, here, so that she can concentrate on her own war. If it’s now understood that she’s to be the New Power, then she already has been anointed.”

Kurt smirked. “And the Knight becomes King.” He inclined his head. “The One Who Sees.”

“Jesus Christ,” whispered a shaken Faith. “He’s right. I can feel it.” She looked at Buffy. “Can you?”

Buffy offered a somber nod. “But what if we don’t survive?”

“I think that might be a scheme in and of itself,” Prue said. “Whether or not we agree, we’re the strongest. That’s why we’re still here. The Powers, the First, and the Source don’t want us to enter the heavenly realms just yet, because our combined strength would tip the balance in Cordelia’s favor. We’re the distraction.”

“Holy shit,” Dean moaned, cradling his head in his hands.

“Finish it,” Illyria said to Prue.

The Last Scion rises as the Lioness falls. Three cubs surround him, reinforcing his walls. As an angel departs from the hereafter, only the Scion can halt the coming disaster.”

“We already know Kurt is the Last Scion,” Sammy said. “The cubs are Quinn, Santana, and Brittany. Kurt’s mom, Suzanne, was the Lioness, and Prue is the Angel.”

The others nodded.

The Queen will awaken, Her transformation complete, and Judgment at Her Hand shall the world meet. Her pronouncements are final; Her words resolute. The tainted will tremble at her rebuke.”

There was such power in those words that all those present felt it in their bones. It was a magic of its own.

And the Scion shall be Her Hand. The Pentad approaches.”

“The Pentad!” Illyria, Giles, and John all shouted.

Kurt nodded as Quinn and Sammy waved.

“Santana and Brittany make up the rest of the Five,” Prue said, turning to Buffy and Faith before they could even ask the question. “The Pentad is the most powerful coven of witches that has ever or will ever exist, more so than even the Charmed Ones.”

They blinked.

“What’s going to happen now?” Dawn asked. “What’s the next move?”

Everyone immediately turned to Kurt, who seemed to withdraw into himself.

“You can do this,” Sammy said quietly. “Everything leading up to now has just been a warm-up. This is where you truly begin leading.” He smiled. “I’ve never felt in safer hands.”

Quinn nodded.

“We are yours to command,” Illyria said imperiously.

Kurt shook his head. “I command nothing and no one but myself. I may be a figurehead, but my coven has always been a democracy. That doesn’t change because more have been added to our number. The bottom line is that I’m sixteen years old. I have the power, but not the wisdom or experience. I want to hear what you think, what you have to say, and I promise I will always listen.

“You heard Quinn before: I want to be challenged. Don’t accept what I say at face value. Ask your questions. Demand answers. This will never work if we’re not unified on every front, because they will seek to divide us. The natural witches know the Source, and Team Slayer knows the First, but the Powers are something altogether different. If Xander was right before, and I truly think he is, there is something beyond even them we now must consider, and that doesn’t include God and Lucifer, who will send their own agents.

“We’re talking about at least five different fronts coming for us, and it’s possible there may be more. We need to start being proactive and not reactive.”

Faith nodded in full agreement. “What the first step?”

“Protecting Xander,” Kurt said. “He might be the King, and that’s all well and good, but you have to remember the basic objective of the Game is to kill the King, who happens to be one of the weakest pieces on the board. That’s why he was taken from Aunt Patty and hidden on the Hellmouth. That’s why he was given to the Harrises, who abused him. That’s why …”

“I beg your pardon!” Giles thundered. “Abused? Abused?

Xander winced, realizing that part of the explanation had been left out of the retelling after Giles, Faith, and Angel arrived.

Faith said nothing as she slid toward Xander and gently took his hand in hers.

Giles looked down at the joined hands and then at their faces, his own slowly draining of color as realization crashed into him. Angel just looked furious as a previously unknown piece fell into place. He didn’t understand why he hadn’t seen it before.

“You weren’t meant to,” Kurt quietly answered. “The veil the Hellmouth throws over its denizens can also apply to demons.”

Angel grit his teeth. “Xander,” he said heavily, “we have never been friends, but I swear to you, if I’d had any idea, I would’ve protected you.”

“I believe you,” Xander whispered. And he really did.

“So let’s protect him now,” Buffy said, looking at Kurt. “How do we do that?”

Kurt nodded. “We have to assume the Source always knew who Xander truly was, but left him alone because, without access to his magic, he was no real threat. It was easier to let the First deal with him.”

“But that never happened,” Buffy protested. “Xander was the only one to whom the First didn’t appear.”

“Why?” Giles wondered.

“Because Xander would have seen through the lie,” Willow whispered.

Kurt nodded. “However, now that Xander knows he’s magical, that he will receive powers, the Source will focus on him, just as it did Paige.”

He looked at Xander. “I know you want to be normal, Xander. We all want that for ourselves but, for whatever reason, it’s just not in the cards for us. If you were just normal, the Hyena and Soldier never would have hung around. You have to stop and think for a minute about why they did. They elected to stay with you. They want to be with you.”

Xander balked.

“But even they’re not enough to protect you from the Source, whose agents are strictly magical. You have to claim your powers if you’re to stand any chance. I know you don’t like it, I know you don’t want it, but it’s no longer just about you. The Source has access to unlimited intelligence and knows everything about you.”

Kurt looked at Sam, Dawn, and Connor. “Including how to hurt you the most.”

Xander’s eyes hardened as his face flooded with color.

“You have to claim your magic and learn to use it,” Kurt insisted, “and your other sisters are the only ones can help you with that.”

“Why not you and Prue?” Xander whined.

“Because I have duties of my own and Prue isn’t allowed to see Piper, Phoebe, and Paige. You have to access their Book – your Book – to claim your powers. And you need to spend time with them, get to know them, their spouses, and their children. You’re owed that, Xander, just as they’re owed the chance to know your family.”

Xander nodded.

“They’re also the best ones to protect Sam, Connor, and Dawn should the Source target them. I’m allegedly the most powerful witch in the world right now, but they’re the Charmed Ones and Piper’s boys are Twice-Blessed. Phoebe’s girls will probably be the next Charmed Ones and have their own power on which to draw. Piper, Paige, and Phoebe know and understand the Source far better than me or Prue.”

Prue nodded. “Halliwell Manor also sits on a Nexus, a mystical convergence similar to a Hellmouth, but a Nexus can be used for good or evil. You and our sisters might be able to find a way to keep you all off the radar of some of our enemies.”

“You should also take your Slayer with you,” Kurt added. “Nysa, right? If the First does try to come after you, she’ll be the first to sense it.”

Buffy and Faith tried to argue.

“Save it,” Kurt snapped. “You have your own missions, which I’ll get to in a minute. I know you think of Xander as your brother, and I respect that enormously, but this is something he needs to do for himself. You have nothing to fear from the Charmed Ones. Rather, you should fear what they will do when they learn what has been done to their brother.”

Prue winced. “Piper will go insane.”

He nodded. “I’ll take Xander and his family to the Manor, stopping off on the way to grab the Slayer. The sisters will need to hear it from me, otherwise they won’t believe it, not even if they summon Aunt Patty and Aunt Pen. Besides, I owe them some answers.”

She nodded.

“And I’m going to tell them about you,” he said softly. “They need to know, Prue. They deserve to know, and they have to wonder why, after more than a decade, they’re still not allowed to summon you. When they learn the truth, they’ll be furious, and I’m going to have to talk them down. Otherwise they’ll start antagonizing the Elders, who don’t need interfering in our business right now. We have to put them off for as long as possible.”

“But won’t that put you in their crosshairs?” asked an anxious Buffy.

“They know about me,” Kurt said, “I’m sure of it. If they didn’t before, they discovered it after I visited the Manor earlier today.” He shrugged a shoulder. “They know I belong to the Powers, who have a vested interest in maintaining me as a resource. If I can turn them against each other, I certainly intend to do so. Besides, we don’t want the Elders using whitelighters to send their charges after us.”

Quinn’s eyes widened. “Do you think that could happen?”

“I think the Elders could paint a very vivid picture that we’re a threat to their worldview and world order. I think they’d manipulate other natural witches into targeting us. We’re strong enough to defeat them eventually, but would probably be initially overwhelmed by sheer numbers. During that time, we could lose one of our own and the Pentad would be broken.”

He curled a lip. “Although they would probably first be sent after Mike, Noah, or Tina.”

Sammy blew out a breath. “Okay, so you’ll take Xander and his family to the sisters. What about the rest of us?”

Kurt was silent for a moment as his mind raced.

“This is what I need you to do …” he finally said.

 


 

Leo threw open the doors to the Manor and was surprised to see a sheepish Kurt standing there.

“Why are you ringing the bell? You’re always welcome.”

Kurt smiled, but shook his head. “It’s not my home, Leo. Family or not, I have too much respect for you and Piper to just teleport myself inside. I don’t even do that at Mike’s house.”

Leo grinned, grabbed Kurt’s hand, and pulled him across the threshold and into a hug. “Not a social call, huh?”

Kurt sighed and rested his forehead on Leo’s shoulder. “Unfortunately not.”

“Do you need all of them?”

“Yes, please, and you as well. You might have some insights I desperately need.” He pulled back and looked gravely into Leo’s eyes. “Fair warning. What I’m about to tell you all is not going to be easy to hear. We should probably do this in a room where Piper can’t break all the things.”

Leo’s brows gathered. “It’s really that bad?”

“It’s both very good and very bad. The very bad is very, very bad.”

“Shit.”

 


 

 

Leo had decided on the dining room, after removing all the breakables, as it was amongst the largest in the house. He then went upstairs to tell Piper that Kurt was here and needed to talk with her. She knew from the tone in his voice that it wouldn’t be a pleasant conversation.

“Honey,” he said quietly, “whatever this is about, Kurt’s worried about how all of you, but specifically you, will react.”

She frowned and stared at him, aghast. “Are you saying my cousin is afraid of me?”

“I think he’s afraid you’ll blame the messenger.”

She bit back the smart retort aching to break free, instead taking a moment to consider the validity of her husband’s statement. She knew she had a tendency to blow up first and ask questions later, but she would never do that with Kurt. That Kurt would even worry about it suggested that his news would be unwelcome. Still, that wasn’t his fault.

“I promise I’ll listen,” she said. “If I get angry, I’ll make sure he knows it’s not at him.”

Leo nodded with relief.

“Is it really that bad?” she whispered, more to herself than him.

“I think so. Kurt looks like something the cat threw up. It’s not only this news, but something else. Something happened after he left here. He’s downstairs in the dining room, trying to pull himself together. He asked that when we gather, you bring the Book.” He paused. “He also said that he will submit to any truth spell you and your sisters demand.”

She chewed on her lip, appalled Kurt thought she would ever subject to him to something like that. “Should I call the others?”

“Kurt asked for everyone. Your sisters, as well as Coop and Henry. I’ll talk to Wyatt and Chris about staying up here and looking after the little ones.”

She nodded absently. “I’ll go call Paige.”

 


 

Ten minutes later, Paige had orbed her family to the Manor, while Coop beamed in Phoebe and the girls. Almost immediately, Phoebe fell to her knees and gasped.

“My god,” she panted. “I can feel his distress. It’s overwhelming. He’s not even bothering to try and suppress his emotions.” She shook her head. “I don’t think he could if he wanted.”

“We knew something was coming,” Paige said quietly.

Henry immediately corralled all of the kids and shepherded them to the room Chris and Wyatt shared.

“Are you sure Henry and I shouldn’t stay with the kids?” asked a concerned Coop.

Piper shook her head. “Leo said Kurt was adamant. He wants all of us there. Billie is on her way. Wyatt can protect the kids with his shield if it’s necessary, but from how Leo described Kurt, I think the more pressing concern is how we’ll react to the news, not the news itself.”

Phoebe narrowed her eyes. “Kurt’s afraid of us? That’s ridiculous! First of all, we would never hurt him. Second, he’s stronger than all of us put together.”

“Shooting the messenger,” Leo said.

Paige and Phoebe startled.

Piper rubbed her forehead. “Let’s get this over with. I’m a lot more worried about him than whatever it is he has to tell us. Paige, please call for the Book and let’s get down there.”

 


 

“Kurt, honey?” Phoebe softly called from the foot of the stairs.

He paused in his pacing and literally jumped more than a foot in the air, his eyes wide and terrified.

Now spooked herself, Phoebe eased her way into the room and then stopped, waiting for him to acknowledge her before she ushered in the others.

“Sorry,” he said with slightly hysterical laughter.

“Baby, what’s happened?”

He swallowed heavily as tears sprung to his eyes.

Phoebe ran toward him and grabbed into a hug. “Don’t cry, honey. There’s no reason to cry. Whatever you need, we’re here for you.”

He pulled back and choked on a sob. “No, Phoebe. I’m here for you. I’m just … I’m so sorry.”

She blanched.

Piper decided she’d heard enough and stormed inside, dragging the others with her. “That will be enough of that, young man,” she said briskly. “It’s obvious whatever you have to tell us isn’t good, but I sincerely doubt that you have done anything for which you need to apologize. So let’s sit down and talk it out, okay?”

Kurt nodded and the sisters sat on one side of the table, while their spouses sat at the other. Kurt stood at the head, his Book open before him.

“This isn’t going to be easy to hear,” he began. “Believe me, it was no better for me.”

“So you just learned about this today?” Paige asked. “Was it after you left?”

He paused. “Some of this I’ve known for quite a while, at least in very vague terms.” He cleared his throat and looked down at the table. “I left this afternoon because I believed that Brittany was under psychic attack.”

“And was she?” asked a desperate Phoebe, already attached to this unknown girl who shared her power.

“It wasn’t an attack per se, but it was a warning. A serious one. This was not a normal vision. There isn’t anything normal about this. Brittany was possessed by a Higher Being.”

An incredulous Leo stared.

“What?” Coop breathed.

“What’s a Higher Being?” asked a helpless Henry.

Leo briefly gave an outline of the forces governing the world and its dimension. Henry handled it well. Mostly.

“What was the purpose of this?” Piper asked her cousin.

“As you know, Brittany is an Oracle, which means she has visions of the past, present, and future, not only of this world, but across all realities in this dimension.”

Leo and the sisters nodded as Coop and Henry shook their heads in disbelief.

“Before I go any further, I need all of us to be on the same page. I can’t afford to waste time with side lectures.” He looked at Henry. “Really no offense, sir. It’s just that there’s a serious timetable at work.”

“None taken, and don’t call me sir,” Henry said.

Kurt grinned and winked. “Can I call you Daddy?”

Henry smirked and turned to his wife. “I certainly see the family resemblance.”

Paige snickered.

“Girls, I want you to review the entry on the Hand and the Pentad in your Book. The gentlemen can use my own Book.”

He held out his hands and a golden shower of sparks erupted before his Book dropped into them.

“Wow,” Henry whispered.

As the girls read again what they already know, Kurt opened his Book to the appropriate page and slid it toward the men.

Most of this was information of which Coop and Leo were at least aware, but this was all new to Henry, who felt his wife had undersold her first meeting with her newish cousin. When everyone was finished, they looked up at Kurt in expectation.

“For those who don’t know, which I believe might only be you, Henry, I’m the Hand.”

The man’s eyes became the size of saucers. “You’re a boy. You’re just a kid.”

“No,” Kurt said, “I’ve never been allowed to be that. I found out what I was when I was six, the night my mother died and my powers were unbound.”

Henry’s eyes shined brightly as he gritted his teeth, furious some other poor kid had been handed shit on a platter and been expected to eat it up with a smile. Fucking Elders. Fucking Powers.

Kurt blew out a breath. “I needed you all to understand just what the Hand is, because everything I’m about to tell you revolves around that piece of information, even if, at first, it doesn’t look like the pieces fit together.”

They nodded.

“Right before my mother died, Brittany made a prophecy about me, about our coven, and about all of you.”

“All of us?” asked a skeptical Henry.

Kurt nodded. “The girls, Leo, you and Coop, and some of the children.”

“Fuck,” Henry murmured.

“My thoughts exactly,” Paige said darkly.

“I understand now why you and the others have tried so hard to protect Brittany,” Phoebe said softly. “If it was known she could make prophecies, she would be a highly desirable target.”

Kurt set his jaw and nodded.

“Are you going to tell us what the prophecy is?” Piper asked.

“Yes, but first I need you to answer a few questions so that I know how best to relay this to you.”

She nodded. “Ask away.”

“Probably only Leo and perhaps Coop would be familiar with this, but have any of you heard of the Slayer or what is called a Hellmouth?”

Paige put her head in her hands. “Please don’t tell me you’re talking about a literal mouth of hell.”

“Sorry,” he said insincerely.

“I’ve only heard whispers of legends,” Leo said faintly, “of who the Slayer is and what is expected of her.”

Kurt nodded. “I thought as much. There’s actually a reason you don’t know more, and it has to do with how those that rule the dimension interact with each other. The Powers That Be are in contact with the Elders, as well as God and Lucifer.”

“Oh, hell no,” Piper said, shaking her head. “Nope.”

Kurt sighed and launched into Prue’s patented lecture of the true nature of the world. When he finished, the tension in the room was so rife, it could have been filleted.

Henry frowned. “If you’re a natural witch and know of the Slayer, that means the worlds have begun to collide.”

Kurt blinked. “Yes!” he unintentionally shouted, surprised yet heartened that someone made the connection without him forcing it.

“And what is this Slayer?” Piper asked.

Kurt turned solemn. “Thousands of years in ago in Africa, when demons still freely roamed the earth, a group called the Shadowmen decided to take a more proactive stance in that war. They found a young girl in a small village, the strongest and smartest of the children. Her name was Sineya. They kidnapped her, chained her to the earth, and summoned a demon to possess her. They made her their defender.”

Piper and Paige were outraged and began mumbling threats and invectives under their breath. Phoebe was disgusted, but more interested in where this was going.

“The demon gave Sineya certain abilities: superior strength, accelerated healing, and enhanced senses to ferret out where the demons were and when they were approaching. The Shadowmen eventually became what was known as the Council, and one of them became the first Watcher, the man who watches over the Slayer and trains her.”

Piper shook her head as Paige folded her arms across her chest and glared at nothing.

“The merging between human and demon was so complete, when Sineya was felled in battle and died, her spirit, along with the powers of the demon, were passed onto the next Slayer. How that girl was chosen is unknown to me but, ever since, a Slayer has walked the earth.”

“That’s revolting,” Paige said flatly. “The very idea that some group of old men preyed on some little girl to fight their battles is reprehensible. That countless girls have died and this travesty still continues is mortally offensive.”

“I agree,” Kurt said, “but that’s not the hot issue here. Regardless of how the Slayer was created, the fact is she exists, and the supernatural front she is destined to fight is now crossing over into our world.”

“Why?” Phoebe asked.

“The Gloaming.”

“Oh, shit,” Leo whispered. “Shit!”

“It’s real?” Coop whispered.

Kurt nodded. “The Gloaming is something you won’t find in any prophecy or written down in any apocryphal text. It was only ever postulated, a concept suggested might one day occur in order to maintain the balance of the universe. It’s no longer a hypothesis.

“This isn’t just another apocalypse. It’s the apocalypse. It is the destruction of this world, its mirror worlds, and its alternate worlds, across this and every other dimension. It is the fall of the Powers, the Elders, God, and Lucifer. It’s the extermination of humanity.”

He paused. “Take a moment to take that in. I’ll wait.”

He had to wait nearly fifteen minutes.

“What do we do?” Piper whispered.

“As ridiculous as it sounds,” Kurt said, “the answer is elegantly simple: we stand or we fall.”

“I’m in,” Paige said immediately. “I didn’t go through all of this bullshit to get a happy ending, only for it to be blasted to oblivion because some super-powered paper-pushers fucked things up!”

She was supported with nods from the others.

“And that’s why the Hand was prophesized?” Henry asked Kurt. “It’s why you were activated?”

“Yes, me and my coven, known as the Pentad. We are currently the most powerful group of witches in the world, even more than the Charmed Ones. I don’t know if we can win, but I’m willing to die trying. If I fail, if I die and even by some miracle the world survives, the problem will only be passed on to the next most powerful witch.”

He turned to Piper. “Wyatt.”

She blanched and then frantically shook her head. “But that’s not right. That’s not fair. I don’t want that for my son, no parent would, but to ask you …”

“You didn’t ask me to do anything,” Kurt interrupted. “No one did. It was a choice I freely made long ago, knowing what could happen to me. I’m fighting for the world our mothers died to protect. I’m fighting for my father. I’m fighting for my friends and family. I’m fighting because, as cliché as it sounds, it’s the right thing to do.”

“You’re a good man,” Henry murmured, wincing when Kurt burst into tears.

“I’m so scared,” Kurt sobbed.

The girls and Leo were on him in a flash, cooing over him and stroking every part of him on which they could gain purchase.

“Kurt,” Coop said softly. “I’m a Cupid. Do you know what that is?”

Kurt hiccupped and nodded.

“Then please know I’m speaking nothing but the truth when I tell you that I am utterly in awe of you.”

“Huh?”

“Kurt, do you really believe any other person, knowing what was expected and what the costs would be, would have made the same choice? You could have run. You could have buried your head in the sand, wiped your memory, relinquished your powers, and gone on your merry way. You didn’t.

“At six years old, on the night you lost your mother, you made a choice to defend this world and its people at the expense of what could be your own life. That is the bravest, most unselfish thing I have ever heard. It’s amazing. It’s momentous. My business, my whole reason for existing, is to spread love throughout this world. No one I have ever met or will ever meet is more loving than you.

“So many people forsake love, believing that if they do so, they will also forsake fear: fear of loss, fear of pain, fear of loneliness. What they never realize is that the only thing that exists in the absence of love is fear. Yes, you’re afraid, and that’s natural, it’s perfectly reasonable, but you’re not letting your fear rule you. Instead, you’re letting your love – for your father, for us, for your friends, for the world – guide you.”

Phoebe shook her head in wonder. Her husband had just earned at least a dozen blowjobs.

“Thank you, Coop,” Kurt said softly, “but I’m no better or worse than anyone else. Everyone here has chosen to fight, knowing they could lose their lives and loved ones by doing so.”

Piper took his face in her hands. “You were six when the weight of the world was put on your shoulders. It was unfair and it was cruel, but you accepted it because protecting the people you love was more important to you than your own life. Of course we’re going to fight for you, and for our family, just as hard as you have been fighting.”

“There are things you don’t know,” Kurt whispered.

She laughed. “Oh, I’m certain, just as I’m certain I won’t like them, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love you. You’re just the messenger, Kurt. I think we’re all aware of just how these forces have conspired against you, so it’s no surprise they’ve done the same to us. But if the end game really is approaching, then I want to know everything you do before it’s too late.”

He nodded. “Okay.”

Paige blinked. “Hey, did you find your whitelighter? This afternoon, Quinn said she was blocked from you.”

“I found her. Her other charge needed to be healed.”

“Her other charge,” Leo slowly repeated. “As in only one? You and this other person are her only charges?”

“She was appointed to us by the Powers, not the Elders.”

“Only the Elders can make someone a whitelighter,” Leo insisted.

“Not true, Leo. In fact, there are many untruths about the Elders that have been circulating for quite some time. I’m just sorry that I have to be the one to tell you.”

Leo shook his head. “Don’t be. I don’t wear the blinders I used to where the Elders are concerned. I know how diabolical they can be.” He shrugged. “I’m just glad you have a whitelighter of your own. You definitely need and deserve one.”

Kurt stared down at the floor. “She came for me right after Mom died. She helped raise me. She taught me how to use my powers and how to control them. She became another mother to me. She was there not only for the big things, but for every little thing. I trust her completely. I love her beyond measure. She is one of the most important people in my life. I have almost no memory, good or bad, that doesn’t include her.”

Piper smiled tearfully. “I’m so happy you have her.”

He began crying again. “And I’m so sorry they took her from you.”

She stilled.

“They knew she was going to die, Piper. The Elders and the Powers knew, and they did nothing to stop it. Not even a warning. The Elders wanted her gone. She was too powerful, too strong; too willful. They wanted you to assume control of the family. They wanted to use the guilt Leo suffered for her death to control him, and by extension you. Because if they could control you, they would control the Charmed Ones.”

She began shaking her head.

“That’s why the Elders enacted the ban. They knew the Powers took her before they could get their claws into her, but they didn’t know why, and they were too afraid of what she would tell you if you were able to summon her. She’s tried so hard and for so long to get back to you. Every spell, every incantation, every potion you can think of, she’s tried. The Pentad tried. We wrote new spells, created new potions, wrote new rituals, but nothing worked.”

“Oh, my god,” she whispered.

“Aunt Pen, Aunt Patty, the Matriarchs … they all knew, but were forbidden to tell you. The Elders would have taken Leo and permanently recycled him, throwing him across space and time to make sure you could never find him. They would have taken your children. They would have taken Phoebe and Paige. They would have banned everyone from our family who has passed. Until I reach the height of my powers, and I don’t think I’m quite there just yet, you’re the most powerful witch in the world. They could still use you, even if you weren’t Charmed.

He put his hands on her arms. “They lied, Piper. The Elders lied.”

“Prue is your whitelighter?” she sobbed.

He nodded, closing his eyes and waiting for her to lash out. When nothing was forthcoming, he cautiously cracked open an eye.

She rolled hers in response, even as she continued to cry. “Why would I blame you for that? You were a child, Kurt. You had just lost Suzanne and your sister. I’m glad Prue was sent to you. Thank god she was! Thank god you were given someone who had the strength and courage to see you through this.” She paused and nodded to herself. “It even makes sense, since the two of you share so many powers. I’m betting that was no coincidence, either.”

“You’re not mad at me?” was his flabbergasted response.

“Of course not!” the sisters shouted.

“The Elders, though …” Paige hissed, eyes narrowed to slits. “I’m going to orb Up There and destroy all the shit.”

Kurt winced. “Well, Prue already did that, although the Elders don’t know it was her. Maybe now they do.”

“That was her?” whispered a stunned Leo.

“Aunt Patty and Aunt Pen couldn’t tell you about Prue, but they made sure to keep us informed about all of you. When Prue learned what the Elders had done to Chris, to Future Chris, and then to you, Leo, she was incensed. That really doesn’t even begin to cover it. I was terrified of her in those moments. I blinked and she was gone. She orbed Up There and unleashed a nuclear holocaust.”

Paige smirked as Piper purred with contentment.

“She wanted to be here,” Kurt said quietly, “but she still can’t get past the ban and the Powers have refused to override the Elders, but we are working on it, I promise you.”

“We believe you,” Phoebe said, taking his hand. “Thank you for telling us. We know it’s a huge risk you’re taking.”

Piper and Paige, who honestly hadn’t considered that, began fretting anew.

“Don’t worry about the Elders,” Kurt said. “They have no power over me, no matter what they choose to believe. My only concern is what they might do to you.”

“We’ll cross that bridge if and when we come to it,” Leo said darkly, “and I’m pretty sure they don’t want to alienate us just yet.”

“They’ve done more than just keep Prue away,” Kurt whispered, “but first I should tell you the prophecy.”

Everyone nodded before the girls surrounded him.  In a strong, clear voice, he began speaking the words Brittany had uttered so long ago, stopping after each interval to explain the players and their roles. Needless to say, what was learned was horrifying, and everyone felt deep sadness for Xander and were absolutely appalled by what had been done to Cordelia.

“Here’s the part that directly references you: the Sisters Three shall be torn asunder, their line broken by a temporal blunder. The Call of Two will be answered, though not as expected. Another one comes who must not be rejected.

“We were torn apart when Prue died,” Piper said. “Parts of us died with her. Even Paige felt it, though she didn’t yet know she was our sister.”

Paige offered a sheepish grin. “Hey, thanks for not rejecting me!”

“Smartest thing we’ve done yet,” Phoebe said, wrapping her in a hug.

The Twice-Blessed approaches and the heavens will tremble,” Kurt continued. “The Omega will travel but must never dissemble.”

Leo set his jaw. “So the Elders knew Piper would give birth to the Twice-Blessed. They feared his power, but mostly because he might turn us from them.”

“Not just Wyatt, Leo,” Kurt said. “Remember, when Chris, the Omega, traveled back and altered the timeline, he was conceived while you were still an Elder. He’s also Twice-Blessed.” He smirked. “The Elders didn’t see that one coming. In fact, I don’t believe it’s yet occurred to them.”

Piper snickered.

Kurt turned toward Coop and Henry, smiling. “Love and Valor will prove themselves true, and the Line will spawn magic anew.

Coop beamed as Henry blushed and ducked his head. Their partners gave them a fond look.

“The final part deals with Mom, Prue, me, and the rest of the Pentad,” Kurt said before iterating the final stanza.

There was silence and somber looks when he finished.

“This is only the tip of the iceberg, isn’t it?” asked a numb Phoebe.

“Yes,” Kurt said, “and for this last part, I need Uncle Victor here.”

Piper frowned in confusion. “Dad has something to do with this?”

“He is perhaps the most directly affected,” said a somber Kurt. “It’s very important you remember this, Piper, because as hurt and as furious as you’re going to be – and you will – in the moment you want to act out, you’ll need to stop and breathe and think about how this impacts your father.”

“Will the children be safe around me?” she asked quietly.

“I would move them,” Kurt advised. “Do any of you know if any of them have empathic or telepathic abilities yet?”

“We’re not certain,” Coop said, speaking for himself and Phoebe.

“Kat and Tamora have a very strong twin bond,” said a nervous Paige, “but if there’s more to it than that, we don’t yet know.”

Kurt nodded. “And Wyatt and Chris have whitelighter sensing abilities.” He looked back at Piper. “I can tell you now, Piper, that you will be angrier than you have ever been in your life. I know you have excellent control of your powers, but we know our powers are tied to our emotions. I guarantee your emotions will run the gamut.”

Coop stood. “I’ll beam them back to our apartment. Billie will follow.”

Phoebe and Paige nodded in thanks as he left the room, while Piper was lost in thought, terrified of what Kurt was about to reveal.

“Paige,” Kurt said, “will you please go get Uncle Victor?”

She nodded and orbed away.

 


 

Five minutes later, the children were safely away from the Manor and Paige reappeared with Victor.

“Girls?” he asked expectedly of his daughters, which included Paige, for whom he had come to love a great deal.

“Hi, Daddy,” Piper said tremulously.

Victor immediately went on alert. It wasn’t like Piper to be so despondent. He doubted it heralded anything good.

“Hi, Uncle Victor.”

Victor blinked and abruptly turned around, eyes flying wide open. “Kurt?”

Kurt smiled and nodded. “It’s good to see you. We have a lot to cover.”

Victor sighed. “It’s great to see you, honey, but looking at all of you, this is going to be one of those life-altering moments, isn’t it?”

“I’m afraid so,” Kurt said. “I need you to read this.”

He pushed forward his Book and waited patiently while Victor read about the Hand and Pentad.

“I’m the Hand,” Kurt said, once his uncle was finished. “My coven is the Pentad.”

Victor closed his eyes, sighed, and shook his head. “Jesus.”

“Years ago, there was a prophecy made,” Kurt continued, “concerning everyone here.” He retold the prophecy, with the others jumping in and out of the conversation to explain the final points.

Victor was predictably horrified by its contents and worried terribly about how it would affect his family. Kurt then explained that Prue was his whitelighter. Victor was outraged the Elders would dare keep his daughter from their family, but took comfort that Prue continued in another form and had been allowed to guide her young cousin.

“And now the final bomb drops?” Victor blithely asked.

Kurt smirked. “I always liked you. Prue never realized how much like you she is, and when I’d point it out, she was both amused and proud of it.”

Tears filled Victor’s eyes.

Kurt moved forward and sat down next to him, taking his hand. “When my mother was dying, Prue summoned the Matriarchs to the hospital room to tell them I was the Hand. Aunt Pen predictably ranted and raved about the evils of men and how we didn’t deserve magic or power.”

Victor heaved a great sigh as Piper and Phoebe rolled their eyes.

Kurt smiled. “Do you know who Melinda Warren is?”

“Of course.”

“She took Aunt Pen to task and said something that deeply resonated with Prue. Melinda said that while Phoebe was your youngest, Prue was your baby. Aunt Patty, Aunt Pen, and all the others were watching in the aftermath of Prue’s death, and they were devastated in particular by your reaction. No parent should ever outlive their child.”

Victor inhaled sharply and his face crumpled, as huge sobs were ripped from his throat. Piper and Phoebe surrounded him and trapped him in an embrace. He quickly pulled himself together and nodded to Kurt.

“There’s a lot I need to tell you, but it would be easier and far more efficient if I just showed you.”

“You can do that?” Paige asked.

“I can now. After Brittany was possessed, the Higher Being transferred the vision to me before then possessing me …”

“I’m sorry, what?” Phoebe howled.

“I’m fine,” Kurt insisted. “At any rate, I’m not sure what you would call this power, but I can show you past events to which I have borne witness.”

Piper gave an uncertain nod and then blanched when Kurt put his hands to his head, unleashed an unholy scream, and pulled beams of light from his temples, which then coalesced into a ball which he threw toward the ceiling. A cube formed and projected the same scene on every side. Everyone stood and moved forward as the memory began to play.

They watched as Kurt, Quinn, and who the sisters knew was Sam arrived in a condemned cabin already occupied by several people, one of whom was Prue. As soon as they caught sight of her, Piper, Phoebe and, surprisingly, Leo burst into tears.

They watched as Kurt was immediately noticed by Warrior Smurf, who acknowledged his title and was awed by his presence.

Kurt paused the picture. “Illyria. An Old One.” He resumed play.

Leo and Coop gawped. They might have only known snippets of the Slayer, but the history of the Old Ones was spoken of in every supernatural circle. Coop in particular wondered why he hadn’t heard of an Old One walking the earth. Surely it would have been hot gossip. He could only assume there was much more of a disconnect, perhaps a purposeful one, in the upper echelons of the magical communities than anyone realized.

They watched as Kurt commanded Prue to summon the Matriarchs. Everyone who knew Prue was surprised she raced to obey, signifying to them that even she had nothing but the utmost respect for Kurt and his position. She may have been his guide, but he ran the show. They were also worried and fearful by how he appeared. Opalescent eyes usually didn’t mean anything good.

They watched as the Matriarchs of their family appeared, Victor’s breath catching as it always did whenever he saw Patty. She had been dead more than twenty years, yet she looked as young and beautiful as she always had. He had known of magic for more than half his life, but was always surprised when he witnessed just what it could accomplish.

The sisters in particular noticed their mother and grandmother; Suzanne Hummel and her mother, Olivia; the doppelgangers, the three cousins whose past lives had once haunted them; countless Halliwells, Baxters, and Bowens; and, finally, Melinda and her mother, Charlotte. It was a coven whose power radiated even through a projection and they were humbled once more by the legacy into which they had been born.

They watched as Quinn and Sam demonstrated powers they had never conceived and how an Old One had pledged fealty to their cousin, who shrugged it off like water rolling off his back.

They watched as a redheaded witch used magic in a way totally unfamiliar to them. They wanted to know more. How many other witches were like this girl? What were their capabilities? Where did their allegiances lie?

They watched as Kurt healed the eye of the man they now knew as Xander Harris, at whom Piper frowned and stepped forward to study his face more closely.

“How are you able to heal?” Leo asked. “Natural witches don’t have that power, Kurt. That’s why they have whitelighters.”

“I didn’t have the chance to explain to you the full extent of my abilities, Leo,” Kurt quietly said. “In addition to the powers I share with Prue and Phoebe, there are others. One is projection; the only other witch to have that power is your friend, Billie. Another is absorption, which is how the Higher Being was able to give me Brittany’s vision.

“Until then, it was limited to knowledge absorption through touch, primarily of books, but I don’t believe that’s the case any longer. Prue has long believed it would eventually develop to the point where I could absorb knowledge from people directly, and that it would segue to me absorbing the powers of others. That, coupled with my empathy, allows me to heal.”

Leo stared at him.

“Don’t be scared of me,” Kurt begged.

Leo shook his head. “I’m not. I know you would only ever use your powers for good, Kurt, but were talking about a ridiculous number of abilities, some of the strongest in existence. I’m not scared of you, but I’m terrified of what this could do to you.”

Kurt ducked his head. There was nothing he could say. It was a fear he lived with daily.

“Do you have other powers?” Henry asked.

“Yes,” Kurt said, not looking at anyone, “but they’re not germane yet. We have a timetable.”

They watched as Kurt told them how their family was targeted long before Melinda fell; how the Powers and the Elders had used them in their capricious schemes.

Slowly, the identities of the others, as well as their relationships to each other, made themselves known. In addition to Xander, they learned Buffy was the Slayer and that the strange witch was named Willow. They also learned Xander had a husband, another Sam, and two children, Dawn and Conner. All of the sisters knew this was odd, that Xander simply wasn’t old enough to have children that age, and Phoebe in particular realized these children were also magical, though in ways she couldn’t yet ascertain.

They watched as Kurt announced two special children had been created specifically as backups should the rest of them fall. When Paige heard her name, her brows furrowed and her mouth pulled into a moue of confusion.

There was nothing special about her, as far as she was concerned. Even though she was a Charmed One, she was still little more than a replacement for a sister she’d never known. Despite everything she had accomplished, she often felt like an imposter. Prue’s legend was such that she had long ago given up the idea of trying to meet it, while Piper and her inestimable strength still awed and humbled her.

They watched as Kurt spoke of another girl, Kendra, who was somehow specifically created by Xander. They didn’t know how that was possible.

They watched as Paige’s face filled the cube within the cube. Paige paled and her eyes filled as she immediately recognized the memory, one which still played on a loop in her mind all day, every day. She had been given the privilege to speak with her adoptive parents after they had passed, but she still believed she had caused their accident by being a brat. She would probably always carry that guilt with her.

Her sisters attempted to comfort her, but were pushed aside by her husband. Paige sank into Henry’s arms, eternally grateful that he always knew when she needed him. Sometimes the Power of Three just wasn’t enough.

The picture then changed to a lovely girl they assumed to be Kendra, before shifting again to the accident that resulted in the death of Paige’s parents. Her sisters watched stoically as she stood outside the car, just as helpless as Xander had been, able to do nothing more than watch the people she loved die before her.

Paige was startled by the depth of Patty’s reaction. Her mother had never gotten the chance to raise her, had only come to know her through summoning spells, but she could feel her mother’s love for her so strongly right then. Paige, now a mother herself, had a better understanding of what her mother had been forced to do. She couldn’t even posit surrendering one of her children. Even if she’d had no choice, her love for them wouldn’t have died just because they were with someone else.

Her mother loved her, had always loved her, and Paige no longer experienced the bitterness that had always accompanied that realization. It was very freeing.

The bitterness was now felt by her eldest sister, the sister she had been denied and desperately wanted in her life. As she watched Prue watching her most painful memory, the grim set of Prue’s mouth and the angry tears lining her eyes, she knew Prue loved her.

That was everything. Kurt, this cousin she barely knew and had more problems than she could even contemplate, had just given her everything she had ever wanted.

The scene changed back and Kendra burst onto the scene in a blaze of glory, dispatching vampires of the like the Charmed Ones had never seen. Frankly, they were glad for it. They doubted that, had they been destined to fight these demons, they would have survived. These vampires were too strong and too fast to rely only on magic to bring them down.

She was amazing in battle. Her movements were so graceful and fluid, yet obviously propelled by a strength that was more than human. They watched in particular as Kendra’s eyes often darted over to check on Xander, guessing her feelings for him were more than friendship.

Then a female vampire appeared, who looked like she had just stepped out of an Anne Rice novel. They stood stupefied as this vampire appeared to mesmerize Kendra with her eyes, some kind of thrall that left the Slayer little more than a swaying doll, and when that fingernail reached out to slit her throat, all of them felt a keen sense of loss they couldn’t explain.

They watched as Kendra again turned and locked eyes with a horrified Xander, a boy who was helpless to do anything but watch his friend die. This particularly affected Phoebe, who didn’t quite understand how her empathy could react so strongly to a third-hand memory of an event from more than ten years ago.

It ended when Xander passed out, either from pain or loss, just as the girl they knew was Buffy came racing into the library, falling to her knees at Kendra’s side, her mouth frozen in a silent scream.

Finally the pain of memory ebbed and some much needed information began to come to light.

“You were conscious for it?” Buffy whispered as she held Xander tightly to her. “You saw her die?”

Xander said nothing as Willow sobbed and Sam punched the wall behind them.

Piper raised a brow, noting that even a group as close as this one sometimes held their secrets, even from each other. She felt terrible for Xander, who seemed so familiar to her, that this raw agony he had locked away was now coming to the surface.

“But it was necessary,” Phoebe said quietly, her heart breaking. “He carried that with him for too long, blaming himself when there was nothing he could have done.”

Paige nodded, feeling a strange kinship with Xander and all he had suffered.

“It had to be him,” Kurt said. “He brought her into this life and he had to be the one to watch her leave it.”

The sisters looking at Kurt, who shrugged.

“It’s the truth, as you’ll come to see. Yes, it was harsh, but he never would’ve gotten there on his own, and he’s too important to continue blaming himself for something he couldn’t stop and was absolutely not his fault.”

Piper and Henry nodded their agreement.

“I did that to her,” Xander mumbled. “I killed her myself.”

“No, Xander,” a voice called.

Kendra orbed into the room.

Leo and Paige frowned. They didn’t recognize Kendra and, if she had been made a whitelighter just after her death, they should have.

“She’s not under the control of the Elders,” Kurt said. “Like Prue, she was made a whitelighter by the Powers.”

“Why?” Leo asked.

“I don’t know,” Kurt admitted. “There’s still so much I don’t know.”

They watched as Kendra comforted Xander, explaining to him that her death was not his fault, but merely the result of forces colluding against them all. She told him just how important he was, that it was him who made the Slayers what they were because of his love for them.

Phoebe was incredibly touched by such unselfish feeling. And then Anya orbed in, and Phoebe was sent to her knees, completely overwhelmed by the love and regret these people held for a former demon. She had believed she’d mastered her empathy years ago, but the depth of longing these people felt made her feel like a neophyte all over again.

They watched, some amused, as Anya delivered several verbal bitch slaps to these people, her friends, and got them back on the right track. Paige in particular appreciated this woman and her complete lack of pretense. This Anya was a bitch for the right reasons, and Paige couldn’t help but admire her for it.

Anya then proceeded to make several lascivious remarks about Xander and his husband, with which the Charmed Ones fully agreed, because wow. Xander and Sam were totally hot, and the Charmed Ones, and Prue, had always been fruit flies of the highest order.

A lot more was said and exploding emotions were on full display, but the one thing everyone noticed was that Anya told Xander that he could always trust Kurt, that Kurt never lied.

It was something Piper and Phoebe already knew, but the confirmation soothed the others. They already believed Kurt, but independent verification was always nice.

That’s when the heavy dialogue truly began, as Kurt made clear just how far the Powers, the Elders, the Source, and the First had gone in order to fuck them over. The sisters and their husbands were just as disgusted and outraged as those in the cabin.

Then the conversation was only between Kurt and Prue, with the latter asking every question of the former her sisters had put to him less than an hour ago. The sisters watched in fascination as their eldest put the pieces together much more quickly than they had. Some of that was a given, considering how involved Prue had been in Kurt’s life, but it was also just who she was.

Piper and Phoebe, though they loved her desperately, had always felt inferior to Prue. She had been the eldest, the smartest, the most beautiful, and the most powerful. Prue had had the most time with their parents and grandmother. She had always been the leader and, though Piper had since assumed the mantle and done incredibly well, they couldn’t help but wonder how different their lives would be had Prue lived.

Prue and Piper had built a relationship as friends much sooner than Prue and Phoebe, who had always felt the need to rebel against authority and saw her eldest sister as little else. Piper became the confidante and Phoebe the antagonist. It wasn’t until after they reclaimed their powers that their bond as sisters, and as friends, had been cemented, which made Prue’s death all the more terrible.

Paige watched Kurt and Prue’s body language as they talked and couldn’t help but resent her cousin. Prue was for him what she should have been to Paige herself: the ultimate big sister. She didn’t blame Kurt, he had been a child, but she envied the time he’d had with Prue.

The sisters were so wrapped up in memory and anger and sadness, they only barely noticed when Prue dropped a bombshell: the Elders had known about Paige the entire time.

“What?” Paige whispered.

They all, but particularly Victor, could look at nothing else but Patty’s reaction. She’d given up her child for nothing. She had sacrificed being a mother to her baby in order to keep her safe, to give her the best life possible, when it hadn’t been necessary. They felt the agony and despair she radiated, as well as the absolute fury Penny was experiencing.

They listened with half an ear as Prue realized she had been Dead Woman Walking and the people who had been in a position to do something about it just couldn’t be bothered. They listened as Kurt exposed the perfidy of the Elders, who sought to use Prue’s death and Leo’s subsequent guilt to control him, the Charmed Ones, and their children.

The entire Manor began quaking from the bottom up.

“Piper, stop!” Phoebe shouted, tugging uselessly on her sister’s arm. “You have to stop before the Manor collapses!”

But Piper couldn’t hear her. The Elders had taken the most important person in the world from her and tried to lay the blame on her husband, all the while keeping her baby sister from her. She remembered everything the Elders had done to her: stealing Leo from her multiple times; recycling him; threatening Wyatt; Gideon; everything they had done to Chris.

Waves of betrayal washed over her only to be replaced by impotent rage at her own inaction. She had known all along the Elders were fickle, manipulative assholes drunk on power that was never theirs and never would be.

Oh, how that must have stuck in their craws. They feigned benevolence and kindness, but fiercely resented those who held the actual power, those on whom the Elders depended to keep them going. She was responsible for maintaining their control and, all the while, they had been plotting against her!

“For all things, there must come a reckoning,” Kurt said quietly.

Piper reined herself in and slowly turned toward him, eyes narrowed to slits, and cocked her head.

“It’s not over, Piper; there’s more to come. Believe me, you haven’t even begun to feel their treachery, but always remember that balance must be maintained. For every loss, there is a gain.”

She breathed heavily through her nose and looked around her. Phoebe was racing around trying to comfort everyone. Henry held a sobbing Paige in his arms as outrage shined in his eyes. Coop looked so lost, probably wondering if his own bosses were as miserable. Leo was utterly destroyed.

She wouldn’t allow this to happen. She wouldn’t let the fucking Elders take anything else from her or her family. There would be a massive and eternal recompense.

“I will not settle for anything less than their total annihilation,” she hissed.

Kurt nodded. “Then get ready, because what comes next will only add fuel to your fire.”

As one, they looked back up at the cube. Piper frowned in confusion as her own bedroom stared back at her. Suddenly, her mother, Paige’s father, and her grandmother were in the room.

“What is this?” Paige demanded.

“Your birth,” Kurt said.

She stared at him with wide eyes and then looked back at the scene in morbid fascination.

No words were spoken as they watched Patty deliver Paige. They felt her love and joy, her pride in her child. They felt the same from Sam and even from Penny. And then another contraction hit.

“What?” asked a stunned and confused Piper.

Patty entered another labor and delivered a son.

“What the fuck is this?” Phoebe screamed.

Before her question could be answered, they watched as the midwife shifted into a demon, dosed everyone with memory dust, and kidnapped the baby boy.

“I have a brother,” Phoebe whispered in wonder.

“I have a twin brother?” asked a stunned Paige. Was that why she had always felt there was a piece of her missing? She had thought it was from being given up by her birth parents, along with never knowing Prue, but now she knew the truth. “Where is he!” she roared at Kurt.

Victor was devastated. Whatever his relationship with Patty, he had and always would love her. It hadn’t been easy to accept Paige existed, but he had come to love her as another daughter, regarding her children as his own grandchildren. He knew Patty would never have given up her child had she not utterly believed it was for the baby’s own good.

Now he knew she had been deceived, and as heartbreaking and awful as that was, causing him to question if she would still be alive had she kept Paige, the idea that there was another child who had been stolen from her, his memory erased from everyone as though he were nothing, was outrageous. This, he determined, was true evil.

Still, he couldn’t help but wonder why Kurt had asked for his presence here tonight. What was he to contribute?

They snapped out of their fogs when they heard a desperate Patty beg Kurt to tell her where her son was, and then the cube swirled and they watched as the demon put their brother into an incubator in some random hospital. It performed some magical scan and peered down at the newborn in confusion.

She then announced the baby had no trace of whitelighter power. Because Victor was his father.

Victor began hyperventilating and clutched his chest, which was suddenly tight and aching, his left arm numb and tingling.

“I have son?” he sobbed. “I have a son?”

Kurt was at his side in an instant, propelled by some force he knew wasn’t from within. He held out a hand, which was now glowing a soft golden color, and held it against Victor’s chest.

“Uncle Victor,” he said quietly, “you’re having a heart attack. I need you to calm down so I can fix the damage.”

He didn’t even know how he was doing this. He could never control this power, could never command it when he wanted. He suspected Cordelia’s involvement.

“You’re not a whitelighter,” Victor panted.

“Who cares? Do you want to be petulant, or do you want to see your son?”

Victor stared at him with hope and longing. He stopped resisting.

Kurt healed him and stepped out of the way so the girls could slobber over their father.

The demon then spoke of natural witches and Hellmouths and hiding magical signatures before announcing him as Alexander Harris.

“It’s Xander?” Piper asked. “Xander is our brother?”

Kurt nodded. “There’s more, and you can watch it later if you so choose.” He paused. “If Xander allows it. I don’t know how he’d feel. His reunions with Prue and Aunt Patty are their own business.”

“Oh, Mom,” Phoebe sobbed into her husband’s chest. “I can’t even imagine.”

“The Elders knew about Xander,” Piper seethed.

“Yes,” Kurt said, “but they considered him a nonentity. He was simply another Halliwell that might give them problems. As he was male, he was useless to them. The Charmed prophecy specifically states the power would be be given to three sisters. I’m sure the Elders were happy Xander was taken to the Hellmouth and were hopeful it would rid them of him forever.”

He smirked. “Instead, they now have a very powerful, very focused, and very pissed off man who wants nothing more than to destroy them.”

“Where is he?” Paige begged. “I need to see him, please.”

“I would never keep him from you, Paige,” Kurt said. “Xander is here in San Francisco with his family and he very much wants to meet all of you, but asked that I prepare you in advance, as well as laying down some ground rules.”

“Ground rules?” asked a shrill Piper.

Kurt hung his head. “Before I arrived in that cabin, Xander had been the topic of discussion. I was filled in later. What I’m about to tell you won’t be easy to hear. I don’t want to have to do this, but Xander asked that I would so that you wouldn’t press him later. There are certain topics you must avoid if you want to have any relationship with him.”

“What happened to him?” Victor whispered. “What happened to my son?”

Kurt sighed and sat down, taking Victor’s hand in his own. “You heard the demon say Xander wouldn’t have an easy life, and he hasn’t. The people to whom he was given – his adoptive or foster parents, or whatever you want to call them – were not good people, Uncle Victor.”

He looked away. “Xander was abused throughout his childhood by the Harris man, both physically and sexually.”

Paige threw up as Victor moaned low in his throat and collapsed on the dining room table.

“Kurt,” Phoebe said lowly, choking on bile, “are you saying our brother was …”

“Raped,” Kurt finished, closing his eyes. “Yes, Phoebe. For years. He never told anyone. Not Buffy, not Willow, not even Sam. I can only imagine how humiliated he was for it to come out then, in front of all of them, but particularly Connor and Dawn.”

Great heaving gasps were torn from her throat as she cried.

“Where is this man now?” Piper demanded.

“Prue will see to him,” Kurt said shortly, “and I won’t let you take that from her, Piper. You don’t know what the Powers did to your siblings. They knew Xander was your brother and assigned him to as Prue’s charge, never telling her who he really was. Instead, they manufactured romantic feelings between them to tie them together. Thankfully, Prue and Xander were strong enough to overcome it before any lines were crossed.”

That was all it took for Phoebe to vomit. Piper sat down and put her head in her hands.

Paige wanted to kill everything.

Chapter Text

Immediately following Kurt’s dramatic exit, Burt roused himself and temporarily shrugged off his son’s warning. He decided it paramount to gather all of the adults for a debriefing. Patrick gave him an incredulous stare, absolutely refusing to leave Brittany after her ordeal. Brittany, as Burt suspected, was having none of it. She insisted she was fine and that her father was to tell her mother what had just happened.

Patrick received assurance from both Mike and Santana they would guard Brittany with their lives and, while he believed them, was still loath to have his daughter out of sight. He argued it made no sense for the adults to convene until Kurt, Sam, and Quinn returned.

Burt grimaced but acknowledged with a gruff nod that Patrick was right. There was no point in gathering the parents when he had no real answers to give them. It would only make everyone that much more upset.

Puck and Tina were in the corner of Mike’s bedroom, discussing what they had learned. They actually knew very little, even after the display, for the coven had always been circumspect about involving them too deeply. Their conversation mostly consisted of debating who or what had possessed Brittany, as well as Kurt’s lost sibling. The latter bothered Puck tremendously, for he knew how badly Kurt had always wanted a brother or sister.

Tina wasn’t sure what to think, wondering if she had been meant to witness what she had. The coven were her dearest friends, but she was half-demon, something of which she never lost sight. She knew they trusted her, but she had always felt somewhat removed from them, as if it was demanded by her very nature. She wasn’t evil and had never used her powers for evil, but she was always cognizant the potential existed.

Kurt had told her that was true for all of them; that it was their choices, and not their powers, that defined them. His words were something she held close to her heart every single day.

Brittany, Santana, and Mike were clustered together, trying to reconcile what they had learned with what they already knew, as well as how it all related to the prophecy, for they were now positive it had been triggered. Now that Xander had been positively identified as the King, so much more made sense, such as the fact that Cordelia was most probably the Queen. They had long suspected it was true, but there was a difference between thinking and knowing.

Mike’s parents, Mary and Peter, had also joined their number, racing upstairs because of all the yelling and screaming. They were still wary about magic, about what it meant. They had accepted their son was a witch, though they didn’t understand how it was possible, for there was no history of magic in either of their families as far as they were aware.

Mike’s abilities were relatively benign and they knew Kurt did his best to keep him out of the fray, but they also know Mike and Kurt were in it for the long haul. There was nothing that could tear Mike from Kurt’s side.

They were grateful for that, happy that Mike had found his partner early in life. They appreciated how utterly devoted they were to one another and had come to love Kurt like a second son. They often wondered if the reason Mike had been given magic was because he was destined to walk through this life at Kurt’s side. They now believed that to be true, and they were awed and humbled by it. They loved the girls as the daughters they never had.

They did worry about Sam and what his presence meant. Their son had been very open, more than they would have liked, about his feelings for Sam and his hope Kurt would agree to include Sam in their relationship. They knew Kurt was resistant and dearly hoped he wouldn’t draw a line in the sand which meant they would lose him.

But they also knew their son had always known his heart and what it wanted, and if Kurt was truly uninterested in or indifferent, Sam would not be an issue. All they could hope was that Mike wasn’t pressuring Kurt to make decisions he wasn’t ready to make.

Both Peter and Mary held a tremendous amount of respect for Burt and Prue. Being a minority in Lima was not easy, but from the moment Kurt and Mike had met, they had all become a family. They appreciated Burt’s no-nonsense attitude and Prue’s fearlessness.

In those early years, they had often gone out to dinner and would draw second and third looks from those unused to seeing whites and Asians openly socializing, as if it were like witnessing a blessing of unicorns frolicking in a field.

The boys’ obvious affection for each other, particularly as they grew older, eventually drew darker looks, ones which were met with bellowing from Burt and unspoken threats from Prue. Mary and Peter were surprised, both by the prejudice and Burt and Prue’s refusal to let it pass. They then realized that Burt and Prue were also including Mike in their protection. Kurt and Mike loved each other, which was all Burt and Prue needed to know.

It wasn’t much longer before Mary joined Burt in his shouting while Peter became Prue’s partner in intimidation.

They were still so grateful to Prue and Burt for intervening when Mike began displaying signs of magic. They had taken time to explain what they knew of magic, which, though voluminous, barely scratched the surface. Prue had helped Mike explore and master his powers. It was far more than they ever would have learned trying to muddle through on their own.

Perhaps that was the greatest gift of all: true partnership. Mary and Peter felt they had not only gained a son, but a set of in-laws they actually liked. Burt taught Peter how to work on cars and gave them free service. Prue had helped not only with the magical side of things, but had also run a combination daycare and rigorous homeschooling program.

Both Peter and Mary had to work and were more than happy to have their son in the trusted care of one of their dearest friends. Mike, who had a tendency toward laziness his parents abhorred, developed a strong work ethic not only because of Prue’s insistence, but because he wanted to keep up with Kurt. Mary and Peter had run the weekend activities, catching up on quality time not only with their son, but with Kurt, who had become part of their family, almost as if he had always been there.

Then the girls were added, for wherever Kurt was, you would be sure to find Brittany and Santana. They had adored Brittany immediately, but were unused to how forward Santana, even at the preposterous age of six, could be. She was argumentative, foul-mouthed, and didn’t care what anyone, save Kurt and Brittany, thought of her. It had taken a while for Mary and Peter to come around, but once they did, they embraced her with a ferocity even they couldn’t explain.

At the core of it all, however, was Kurt. From that very first day, they had seen just how much Kurt loved their son, all but worshipping Mike, and it was apparent that if they ever separated, it would be because Mike demanded it.

That had been difficult to see and it worried them for a number of years. The boys were so young when they had met and committed themselves to each other, but Mary and Peter had always understood that their son was everything to Kurt. They fretted that, as the boys aged, Mike’s attraction would change or his attention would wander, but it never did. He had remained just as steadfast and devoted. It filled them with pride.

Still, in the back of their minds, there was always the sense they didn’t know everything, that there was so much more to the magical world than they had ever suspected. They had been let in on the secret that Robert and Lydia Lopez, as well as Patrick and Ashley Pierce, were also witches. They had felt somewhat left out, but took comfort in the presence of Judy Fabray, who had only a minor talent and wasn’t as invested as the others.

Then Sam had arrived and the dynamics shifted. It was subtle yet noticeable. He had fit in seamlessly, as though the others had been waiting for him. He was a beautiful boy, athletic and intelligent, and very well-mannered and respectful. Peter and Mary were happy to include him.

They hadn’t suspected anything for months, until Mike had come to them and confessed he was in love with Sam. Unfortunately, that was all he had gotten out when his parents exploded, quickly reducing him to heaving sobs. He had then stuttered out that he was still in love with Kurt, wanted to marry Kurt, and would never forsake him. Apparently Sam was in love with both their son and Kurt, and it was his and Mike’s hope they could all be together.

It was difficult for Mary and Peter not to resent Sam’s interference. For almost ten years, it had been clear that Kurt and Mike were destined for one another. Then, along had come some boy threatening that promise. But the more they had come to know Sam, the more they loved him, and the more they could see how well he fit with Kurt and Mike.

They weren’t comfortable with it, mainly because they knew there would a backlash, but they had resolved to wait and see what Kurt would do. They had also become close friends with Scott and Savannah Evans, who, like them, had no magic. The two couples became a support group for each other. Stacy and Stevie Evans became yet another surrogate daughter and son.

But now, everything had changed. They didn’t understand how or why yet, but they knew it to be true. They were also terrified of finding out why.

 


 

Their quiet whispers and mutters fell to a standstill when Quinn and Sam appeared. Sam was obviously emotional while Quinn appeared utterly pissed off.

No clues there.

“What happened?” everyone demanded.

Sam and Quinn looked at each other and he took a step back, ceding the floor to her. It was apparent from the narrowing of her eyes that she didn’t exactly appreciate his surrender.

She cleared her throat. “Many things happened, most of them disgusting. Sam and I need to freshen up and then we’ll have a meeting. Everyone should be there for it.”

She turned on her heel and stomped off to Mike’s bathroom, slamming the door shut behind her and locking it. Seconds later, they heard her crying.

“Quinn doesn’t cry,” Santana said evenly, bothered by how much she was bothered. “What the hell is going on?”

Sam gave her a measured look. “The entire game has changed and the timetable has been moved up.”

She stood at attention. “Did Kurt relay orders? And where the hell is he?”

Sam sighed. “He did, and he’s off handling another family emergency.”

“What does he need us to do?” Brittany asked.

“Tell our parents everything,” Sam said, “and then make plans accordingly.”

“What the hell does that mean?” Burt barked.

“Kurt, Xander, and Cordelia have been exposed, to more than just the Elders, and the easiest way to get to them is by going through the people they love.”

Burt startled and looked away.

“Where is Prue?” Patrick asked.

“She has a mission of her own,” said an evasive Sam. “Kurt also gave orders to the Slayer, her witch, and a freaking Old One.”

Santana’s eyes widened. “And they obeyed.”

He nodded.

“When is Kurt coming back?” Mike softly asked.

“I don’t know,” Sam admitted.

 


 

Buffy and company were surprised by their relatively light landing, as it was not their experience with Willow’s teleportation. Giles in particular was impressed that Kurt had managed to send them home as an entire group, particularly when the boy wasn’t familiar with the location of their base.

“What do we do now?” Angel asked.

“We have our orders,” Buffy said.

“And you’re going to follow them?” asked a skeptical Willow.

Buffy turned toward her. “That would be a duh. This is for keeps, Willow. Kurt and his group are our only shot of staying alive, and I have no intention of straying from his course.”

Faith nodded. She was totally on board.

“But Buffy,” Giles interjected, “surely you don’t believe …”

“Save it, Giles,” she snapped. “Stop theorizing and start feeling. I don’t know about the rest of you, but Faith and I were more than aware of how much power Kurt holds.”

Faith shivered and nodded again.

“I could feel it, too,” Willow said, “but that doesn’t mean …”

“Of course it does! Stop looking at their ages and instead look at their resources. They’ve been on the case for ten years. They know more about what’s going on than anybody. Trying to override Kurt would mean we’re left in the dark. We have an entire compound of girls we’re sworn to protect. I’m not risking them because I was too arrogant not to know when to step down.”

A humbled Giles bowed his head. “I agree. I fear I had forgotten we are no longer alone on the Hellmouth. We are now the Council and our charges must come first. Think of what might have happened had we known of the coven before the First came to call.”

“That’s exactly my point,” Willow said sharply. “Yes, they’re powerful. Yes, they know more than us. They also know us, and Kurt’s little lecture on the First and the other Big Bads of the universe suggests they’ve known about us for some time. Why haven’t they offered help before?”

“It’s a legitimate question,” Angel said. “Buffy’s earlier point that we have to look beyond their age was correct, but their age has to be considered. When Sunnydale fell, Kurt and his friends would have been, what, nine or ten?”

“More like eight,” Faith muttered. “It’s bad enough we were drawn into this when we were, but kids younger than we were then? Fuck that.”

Buffy nodded and then sighed. “Look, Will, I’m hearing you, I really am, and I think you’re right to be wary. We need to keep frosty, but here’s the bottom line: what happens to us if we second-guess or alienate them? We can’t afford to be kept out of the loop.”

Willow deflated and nodded. “I just wish we knew more about them. Maybe then I wouldn’t feel so uncertain.”

“Then we must extrapolate,” Giles said. “To begin, we know that Kurt is the Hand. He is the most powerful of his coven.”

Angel and Willow nodded while Buffy and Faith shared a glance.

“It’s way beyond that,” Faith said. “Way, way beyond. I don’t know about the rest of you, but Buffy and I felt his power.” She shook her head. “I’ve never experienced anything like that in my life. I mean, all the First could do was try to get in your head, using your own thoughts against you. It definitely gave me the creeps, but that kid’s mojo scared the hell out of me. I wasn’t scared of him, but the idea that so much power could be held in one skinny little mortal? Yikes.”

Buffy nodded. “It was terrifying. Kurt’s not only the most powerful witch in his coven, but he’s the most powerful anything I’ve ever encountered. More than Angelus, more than Adam, and even more than Glory.”

Giles stared at her.

“Are you serious?” Willow whispered. “I mean, I knew he was more powerful than me, but …”

“Will, an Old One genuflected and pledged obedience to him.”

She startled.

Angel was agog, knowing it must have happened prior to his arrival. He supposed he must have seen it replay on the cube, but hadn’t been paying conscious attention. He could not even contemplate Illyria doing such a thing.

“Yes,” Giles muttered. “Well … yes, that does rather put things into stunning perspective. What else?”

“The Charmed One,” Angel said.

“You mean Prue?” Buffy asked.

He shuddered. “She’s much more than her name, Buffy, just as Illyria intimated was true of Xander. You have to understand that the prophecy of the Charmed Ones was made before I was turned. By the time I was, it had slipped into legend. Demons already feared their coming.”

She blinked. “Oh.”

“And I don’t just mean vampires like me or Spike, or even elders like Darla. The powers of the Charmed Ones could take us apart with ease. I’m talking about the upper-level demons, the ones handpicked by the Source. When I was in Los Angeles, I heard about the exploits of the Charmed Ones. Do you know how many Sources they’ve killed? The power it would take to effect that even once is incalculable.”

“She’s a hardass, but I definitely didn’t get any sense she was evil,” Faith argued.

“Neither did I,” Angel said, “but that doesn’t change the fact that she’s enormously powerful. She was the strongest witch in the world when she lived, with her sisters just behind her. Even though Kurt will soon inherit that mantle, we can’t forget that Prue is no longer just a witch. She may have died, but not only did she retain her powers, she was given even more.”

“What are you saying?” Buffy asked.

“Just one of her lightning bolts would cut through a line of vampires like me like a knife through butter, but she’s already dead, Buffy. The only thing I know that can kill a whitelighter is the poison of a Darklighter’s arrow, and I somehow doubt it would work against Prue. I don’t think it’s too far out of the realm of possibility to suggest she’s immortal, and she answers only to Kurt.”

“Dear god,” Giles whispered.

“We don’t know that,” Buffy said reasonably. “What the Powers give, they can also take away.”

“But they haven’t,” Angel countered. “They know everything we do, we have to assume that, yet they haven’t moved against her or Kurt.”

Willow stared. “Are you … are you saying the Powers are on our side?”

“I wouldn’t go that far, but perhaps we’re right where they want us. For now.”

 


 

Piper and her sisters paced the parlor as they waited for Kurt to return with Xander and his family. Their spouses watched them as they would caged predators. Victor was consumed with the idea that he had a grown son he had never met, a young man who had been so denigrated by the very people meant to protect him.

“What do we know?” Piper demanded.

“Not enough,” Paige said, shaking her head, “and part of me is wondering if this is just a happy distraction.”

Phoebe cringed. “Honestly, I’ve been thinking the same. I want to meet Xander more than I’ve wanted anything in my life, but why is this happening now?”

“You think Kurt was holding back?” Piper asked with a raised brow.

“Of course he was,” Leo said. “He’s holding the cards, but I don’t think he has all of them. I do believe he’s made more suppositions than he shared with us.”

“Why wouldn’t he just tell us?” Henry asked.

“Because he’s terrified,” Coop said. “I could feel his fear, and I know Phoebe could, too.”

His wife nodded. “Coop said all the right words earlier, but have we stopped to think what Kurt’s life must have been like these past ten years? Yes, that the onus of saving existence was put on him is reprehensible. That he stepped up to the plate at six years old is remarkable. But think of the cost. He’s not only trying to save the world, but his family. He knows he can’t do both. He knows he’s going to lose some of us.”

“He’s doing the best he can,” Coop continued, “but he’s frightened he’ll make a mistake. He doesn’t believe he’s infallible, but from what I saw in that memory, almost everyone else does. His coven will follow him with nothing more than a glance. Probably their parents, too. You saw how Prue, the Matriarchs, the Slayer, and the Old One rushed to obey. It’s one thing for Kurt to accept this as his burden; it’s something else entirely to know everyone expects him to win.”

Piper sighed and bit her lip. “This is so wrong. I’m so angry. When he told us that if he failed, this would fall to Wyatt, in my heart I wanted – no, I needed – Kurt to win, whatever the cost. I didn’t want to think about Wyatt in his position. I can’t even imagine how Burt has coped with this. That the Powers or the Elders or whoever just decided to kick back and stick this on the shoulders of a little boy is disgusting.”

Victor stared at the ground. “Is it any more disgusting than what was done to the three of you? Or to Prue? To Patty? To Xander? To Buffy and the other Slayers? Yes, Kurt’s young, but he’s intelligent and cunning. He’s probably smarter than most of us put together. It’s not about whether he’ll win, but whether we’ll stand by and watch him fall.”

He stood and shook his head. “I’ve been standing by long enough. I lost your mother. I lost Prue. I lost the son I never knew I had. I never knew you existed Paige, but I would have loved you. I won’t lose you and my grandchildren. I know I can’t do much, I’m not magical, but I can try. That’s all we can be expected to do. Kurt doesn’t even expect that of us, which is unacceptable. Coop was right before: the only thing that exists in the absence of love is fear. I’ve been afraid for too long, and now that’s over.”

Piper crossed toward him and looked into his eyes. “What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know, but even if I’m nothing more than a human shield, I’ll do my best to protect our family.” He looked around. “Let’s face it: we’ve all been lucky. Yes, you girls have tremendous skill and a wealth of experience behind you, but you’ve also been lucky. Sooner or later, that’s going to run out, and I am determined that I will not die a coward.”

“We have to tell the kids,” Leo said, holding up a hand when some of the others began to protest. “We’re facing the possibility of the end of everything. Maybe we can’t prepare them for the reality of that, but we need to do something. If we fall, then our enemies will target our children. I won’t leave them undefended.”

Piper nodded. “You’re right. I just … I don’t understand why neither Wyatt nor Chris made no mention of any of this during their numerous trips to our time.”

Paige shrugged. “Maybe we won. Or maybe things didn’t unfold in the same way. They never said anything about Kurt, and we have to assume they at least knew of him, even if they didn’t know him. Maybe they couldn’t say anything because of Future Fucking Consequences. Maybe the Elders and the Powers were never exposed. I don’t know. Does it even matter?”

“I suppose not,” Piper said quietly, wringing her hands.

 


 

“It’s okay to be nervous.”

Xander gave Kurt a fond look, surprised by how easy it was to love this kid already. “Nervous is my default state.” He cocked an eyebrow. “What about you? How are you doing?”

“I’ve been better, but this isn’t about me.”

“Kurt, in case you missed the memo, we’re cousins. We’re family. You can talk to me.”

Kurt offered a pained smile. “I think you have more than enough on your plate right now, but thank you.”

Xander gave him a measured look. “As long as you keep it in mind.”

“I will, I promise. Believe me, I plan on picking your brain eventually.” He smirked. “I just thought I should leave it alone and let it heal a bit.”

Xander scowled before breaking into laughter. “Thanks for springing for the hotel, but I do have money.”

“I know.”

Xander repressed a sigh. He didn’t know Kurt well, if at all, but he knew his cousin was dealing with something major, something beyond what had happened in the cabin. It was hard to believe it was only a few hours ago. So much had happened, so much had been revealed, his head was still spinning.

Not only did he have a new cousin, but Prue was his sister. He had three other sisters he was about to meet, one of whom was his twin, not to mention their spouses and children. And his father. His real father.

“Have you thought about what you’re going to tell them?” Kurt asked.

“About what?”

Kurt snorted. “Well, about your kids, for one thing. I know who Connor and Dawn are, Xander. Telepathic, remember?”

Xander frowned in concern. “How much do you know?”

“I know Connor knows more than you realize. Dawn is your daughter, Xander.”

Xander swallowed heavily. Connor knew? Given how close the kids were, he was truly surprised Connor hadn’t said something to Dawn. Or had he?

“You need to think about what that means in light of everything you now know.”

“What are you talking about?” demanded a defensive Xander.

“I’m talking about our family legacy. You’re a witch, Xander. Your sisters are witches and so are their children. Chances are, your daughter is, too.”

He stared at Kurt for what felt like hours. “Well, shit.”

 


 

Sam was anxiously pacing the floor of the hotel room. Xander was sequestered with Kurt, no doubt for a debriefing, while Connor and Dawn, always hungry, had gone off in search of food. He was conscious of the stares leveled his way, but knew Dean and their father wouldn’t speak to him until he was ready.

Nysa, however, was a different story.

The Slayer was still trying to process everything she had been told, and wasn’t having an easy time of it.

“Prue is Xander’s sister?” she asked, seemingly only of herself. “His other sisters are the Charmed Ones?

“Yes,” Sam said in a curt voice.

“I don’t understand. What is the point of this subterfuge? Why would the Powers not tell them? What is the advantage?”

Dean snorted. “It’s obvious, isn’t it? They wanted to make sure her loyalties weren’t divided. They made her a Whitelighter to protect Kurt. If she knew Xander was her brother, she would have focused more energy on him.”

She shook her head. “No, that’s not who Prue is. Given what is expected of Kurt, and considering his age and that his relationship with Prue is more developed, she would never risk having him out of her sight. She always puts family first, yes, but Kurt is her family too. She would never leave him undefended. Something else is going on.”

Sam halted his pacing and stared at her, head cocked. “What are you thinking?”

She blinked, suddenly realizing she had put herself on the spot, and swallowed heavily. She loved Sam like a brother and got along well with him, but she never lost sight of the fact that Xander was her Watcher. She loved him with every fiber of her being. Her ultimate loyalty was only to him. Yes, she would die to protect Sam, Connor, and Dawn, but she would kill for Xander.

She raised her eyes and looked into his. “I think they wanted Xander and Kurt kept apart.”

His stare intensified. He couldn’t posit exactly why, but her words rang a note of truth within him. “Go on.”

She fidgeted. “Everything you recollected for me of your earlier meeting, you quoted verbatim, yes?”

He nodded.

She licked her lips. “Kurt said two special children were born exactly nine months apart, correct? And that their destinies would be intertwined with that of others just as special?”

Sam nodded again. “Paige and Kendra.”

“No, Sam,” she said softly. “I am a Slayer. I have read all the Slayer journals, including the one Kendra wrote. Mister Giles was able to secure it from Mister Zabuto after Sunnydale fell. Paige and Xander are twins. I know his birthday just as well as you, and we have no reason to suspect the date was altered, given the demon deposited him on the Hellmouth the same day he was born.”

“What’s your point?” asked a blunt John.

Her eyes remained on Sam. “Kendra Young was born five months after Xander and Paige, who is one month younger than Willow and one month older than Buffy. Whoever this second child is, it is not Kendra.”

He offered an exaggerated blink in reply.

“You’re sure?” Dean pressed.

She nodded with annoyance.

“Then who the hell is it?” he demanded.

“I do not know, but I am betting Kurt does.”

 


 

“I don’t need your help.”

Illyria offered a blank stare. “I offered none.”

“Then why are you here?” Prue seethed, turning toward her.

“The swine who lives in this domicile defiled my Alexander. I would see him punished.”

Prue raised a brow. “You don’t wish to do it yourself?”

“Very much,” Illyria said placidly, “but it is not my right. You are Alexander’s kin. This odious creature violated your brother in the most heinous manner possible. You should draw first blood. If there is anything left of him, I would be most grateful, but I am just as content to witness his destruction at your hand.”

Prue gave a gruff nod and returned to staring at the dilapidated hovel before her.

Illyria stepped forward, almost with reticence. “The truth of the matter, Guardian, is that there is little difference between demons and humans. We might not have your morality, but we have honor, especially amongst clans of consanguinity. Half-breeds such as vampires have no loyalty to their clans, but they are the exception rather than the rule.”

“I don’t feel particularly moral just now,” Prue said quietly.

“You are confusing morals and ethics,” Illyria said, tone sharp. “Ethics are rules provided by an external source. I have never understood the purpose of striving to meet them. In the end, we must all answer to our own consciences, regardless of good or evil. Your morals are your principles regarding what is wrong and what is right.

“This wretch raped your brother, an innocent child, for years. Does he deserve to be punished?”

Prue blinked. “Of course.”

“And your system of laws, would they produce an acceptable outcome?”

She looked away.

“This man deserves death. It is not only your right but your duty as the eldest sibling to deliver it. It is most probable he committed this abomination against others. Alexander admitted the man had tried to coerce the Higher Being. In all likelihood, this is how he subjugated Alexander for so many years, by threatening his true family: the Slayers, the Crimson Witch, the Golden Witch, the deposed Goddess, and the Key.”

Prue’s eyes grew huge with rage as lightning bolts appeared in her hands.

 


 

“I have the research you requested, Mister Giles.”

“Thank you, Andrew. You are excused.”

Offering a forlorn sigh and sending worshipful eyes at Spike, he quickly left the room.

Giles looked carefully at the papers before staring at Buffy, Willow, Spike, and Angel in turn. “Willow, seal the room. Faith is currently patrolling and it is essential she does not learn what I am about to impart.”

Willow gave him a speculative look, suddenly very uncomfortable with the idea of excluding Faith from something so obviously important. Still, Giles must have had his reasons. He always did. She pursed her lips and warded the room.

“He’s alive,” Buffy surmised.

Giles gave her a short nod.

She shook her head. “I’m going to kill him.”

Willow cringed at the sibilant tone. It was quiet yet filled with such menace. Never before had Buffy so scared her. “What’s going on?”

Spike held his tongue, though he was similarly discomfited.

“Willow,” Giles said sternly, “it is imperative you never reveal this information to Xander or Faith.”

She slowly began shaking her head. “I can’t keep secrets from Xander. I won’t.”

He sighed and pinched his nose. “I understand and commend you for your loyalty, but I must insist. This intelligence will do nothing but hurt him, Willow, and by that I mean complete and utter devastation. This is knowledge that, should it fall into his possession, I believe might very well destroy him.”

She paled.

“If you cannot …”

“It’s that bad?” she whispered.

Buffy placed a hand on her arm.

Willow turned and looked into the gravest eyes she had ever seen.

“It really is,” Buffy said.

Willow exhaled and held her tongue for several long moments. “All right,” she said finally, “I won’t say anything, but if Xander asks me directly, I won’t lie.”

Giles set his jaw and offered a quick nod. “That will have to suffice. Buffy?”

Buffy turned and stepped before Willow, placing her hands on her friend’s shoulders. “This is going to hurt.”

Willow braced herself and nodded. “Then do it quick.”

Buffy nodded in kind. “When I put Faith into that coma, she was pregnant with Xander’s child. Quentin Travers assumed custody of Faith because she was still a minor. He had the baby aborted and Faith sterilized. Xander never knew. When Faith woke up, you remember how she was, what she was like. And now we know why. Travers had her spayed like a dog. He killed her child. When the wetwork team came for her in Los Angeles, he told her I was responsible.”

Willow’s mouth trembled with emotion, but could form no words.

Spike was in a similar state. For all of his bravado and words to the contrary, he did care for Xander in his own way. He understood what this child would have meant to them all, but particularly the boy. This was unacceptable and vengeance would be demanded. He wished only the demon bird was here to deliver it.

“Travers is alive.”

Willow stared at Buffy with dead eyes. “Not for much longer.”

Chapter Text

Connor and Dawn were still off in search of food, or possibly catfishing some older man or woman. Xander was thankful for the breather.

He had always known it would come to this, that he would have to tell her, but he honestly hadn’t expected it would be under these circumstances. If Kurt was right, however, and Xander suspected his new cousin usually was right, he could no longer put it off.

Especially because it wasn’t just a secret between he and Sam. Kurt knew, and had told him Connor was also aware, thanks to a little inadvertent eavesdropping. Xander didn’t blame Connor; he and Sam shouldn’t have been discussing it while Connor was in the house, as the kid couldn’t often control his extrasensory powers.

Faith knew, and had known since before it began. She had recently told Angel and Buffy, which Kurt had been able to glean from Buffy’s mind. He hadn’t intruded, but Buffy had been broadcasting very loudly while in the cabin, believing her thoughts were safe. Xander had no idea why Faith had told them, and neither did Kurt, but he was sure there was a good reason.

He trusted Faith to keep his secrets, as he had kept hers.

Xander assumed Buffy had told Giles, for she told him everything. After Sunnydale had fallen, Buffy realized the dangers of keeping secrets from her Watcher. Willow didn’t know, or at least Kurt hadn’t read it from her.

Now it was time to tell Dawn. Xander was terrified, but she deserved to know. He had to do this before he met his sisters because, as Kurt pointed out, it was more than possible Dawn was a witch whose magic would awaken alongside that of her father.

 


  

He had gathered the others in his hotel room. Dean, John, and Nysa had no idea what was happening, but they could sense change on the air. They said nothing, patiently waiting for him to make the first move. Xander decided not to tell them until Dawn and Connor returned. Too many people knew already, and Xander didn’t want his daughter to feel she was being ambushed.

“I should have done this years ago,” he muttered, wincing when he realized he had spoken the words aloud. God, shouldn’t he have learned to control his mouth by now? He was almost thirty years old. It was embarrassing.

“You had sound reasons,” Sam gently insisted, taking his husband’s hand in his own.

“Or was I just a coward?”

“There are many things you might be,” Dean said, “but that’s not one of them.”

Xander offered a pained smile. “You don’t know me very well.”

“I know what I need to know.”

Sam appreciated his brother’s defense, acknowledging it with a look and a nod.

John and Nysa kept to the corners of the room, passively observing.

Xander sighed and cradled his head in his hands. Having two eyes again was pretty awesome, but he had a raging headache, unused to depth perception. He felt Kurt’s eyes on him and looked up.

“Does Cordelia know?” he asked.

“She does. We didn’t tacitly discuss it during the possession, but the knowledge was there.” Kurt paused. “What’s surprising, at least to me, is that she had suspected it before she died.”

Xander was thunderstruck. “What?”

“I don’t know how,” Kurt said. “I’ve been aware of her for years, of course, but I never knew her. I still don’t. The possession lasted only minutes, really, and caused a sensory overload. There are snippets of information I gleaned that I’m still trying to understand, but what most struck me was the idea that she had put several pieces of this together before she Ascended.”

Xander didn’t know what to say to that and guessed Kurt had no answers, so he remained silent.

Kurt dropped to his haunches and looked into Xander’s eyes. “What can I do, Xander? How can I help you?”

“Got a TARDIS handy?” Xander joked.

“It wouldn’t help.”

Xander sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. “I know. I wish Buffy were here for this.”

He had been missing her for years but, until tonight, he hadn’t realized just how much. He likened it to a person suffering with chronic pain; someone who had been in pain for so long, they just accepted and buried it. Being reunited with her earlier tonight had healed something within him he long thought never would.

“Hell, I wish Illyria were here for this,” he added.

Kurt stood. “I can help with that.”

Xander looked up and blinked in confusion as Kurt’s eyes suddenly turned distant. No one had any idea of what was going on, so they said nothing. Ten seconds later, Buffy appeared. Illyria quickly followed.

“Okay,” Buffy said, “what I want to know is why this isn’t so discombobulating when you do it. Can you give Willow some tips?”

Kurt grinned.

Illyria nodded in agreement. That had been perhaps her smoothest and easiest experience with magic since her return. She said nothing, however, and would not until Alexander explained why he had requested her presence. She was pleased, of course, but after two years together, she could sense the turmoil within him. She did not do well with human emotions, particularly the maudlin ones, but she would lend him her strength and support without words.

Frankly, she was more interested in where the Guardian had gone. Prue had been righteous in her extermination of the violators, but then announced she had another mission that demanded her attention. Illyria was curious, but not about to admit it.

Buffy smirked at Kurt before crossing the room and curling up next to Xander, who was sitting on the bed, Sam on his other side. “Hey.”

“Hey,” he warbled.

“Guess it’s that time, huh?”

Xander closed his eyes. “I’m so scared.”

She said nothing, wrapping her arm around his waist and laying her head on his shoulder.

Illyria then gleaned what was about to occur. She had never confronted Alexander, but had known upon meeting both he and Dawn that the latter was the former’s offspring. What she had never quite figured out was if Xander was aware of the connection. He never hinted he was, so she had left alone.

She was suddenly very startled by how much she missed Wesley and the many lessons he had taught her.

“How did you do that?” Dean asked Kurt, who shrugged.

“When I met Buffy, I read her … signature, I guess you could call it. My telepathy is such that, if I know someone, I can reach out with my mind and find them wherever they are. I, well, I kind of … knocked? … to let her know I was there, what was going on, and if she would agree to come. She said yes. I did the same with Illyria.”

“I am yours to command,” she intoned.

“No,” Kurt said. “We are allies, Old One, and I hope perhaps one day we will become comrades and confidantes, but you are not my servant. I don’t believe in them, and I value your presence and knowledge too much to ascribe you such a lowly title.”

Her eyes flared with something no one could easily discern. Perhaps pleasure or pride.

Dean shook his head to clear it and turned to Buffy. “Don’t you live in Cleveland?”

“Yep.”

Dean pondered this for a moment before looking back at Kurt. “So if something happened to someone you knew, you could find them?”

Kurt tilted his head. “Conceivably, yes. It’s a little tricky because of the powers involved, which limit what I can call to my side. It’s a weird vocabulary, but essential to understanding this. First, when witches talk about summoning, it pertains only to the dead, either magical or mortal.”

Dean nodded.

“Whether or not the dead wish to heed the summons is up to them, but any magical witch can perform a summoning. In my personal experience, like attracts like. A magical is more likely to answer the call of a magical. Mortals who have passed into a heavenly realm usually resent their rest being disturbed.”

“Is that the same as a séance?” Sam asked.

“No. A séance refers to a ceremony at which mortals gather to summon a spirit through a medium. Mediums are mortals, not witches.”

“Wait,” John said, holding up a hand. “So you’re saying there are mortals who have magic … but aren’t witches?”

“Well, that’s an even more complicated conversation,” Kurt hedged, “and one we can discuss later, but it’s not germane to this conversation.”

John grumped but nodded. Illyria was concerned and somewhat appalled; she had never heard of such mortals. Nysa was running through her mind various scenarios, wondering if she had encountered such humans, if she had recognized they were slightly different from other mortals.

“Anyway,” Kurt continued, “it’s possible for me to find anyone I know as long as some conditions are met. First, they have to be living; my telepathy has no effect on the dead. Second, they have to be on this plane of existence; they can't be in the Underworld or the whitelighter realm. Third, they must be conscious; in a way, I trace the thoughts back to a particular individual, but if they’re unconscious, they’re not actively thinking.

“Some bonds do transcend this barrier, but even then there are limits or qualifiers we just don’t understand. Prue can find any of us, whether or not we’re conscious. It’s a whitelighter ability, called sensing, no one can actually explain. If the members of our coven are unconscious, however, we can’t summon her. Well, except for me and Santana. The others can’t.”

“Do you know why?” Buffy asked. “It’s kind of the same with us and Willow.”

“We’re not really sure. There are so many possibilities. It might be because Prue and I are biological family, and ours is one of the strongest magical families ever to exist. Along that train of thought, it might be because we’re also the strongest of our line. Remember, Prue retained her Wiccan abilities, so she probably has more collective power than any Warren witch.”

“Including you?” asked a skeptical Illyria.

“Again, we’re not sure. Prue does not believe herself to be more powerful than me, but she’s also cemented in her idea the Hand simply must be more powerful than everyone. However, you have to remember no one like Prue has ever before existed. She’s, well, new. She was made a whitelighter by the Powers That Be, not the Elders, and they returned her magical powers to her after they had passed to me, essentially copying them.”

He arched a brow. “Frankly, I often wonder if they made her far more powerful than intended.”

Her eyes widened.

“The same would hold true for Kendra and Anya,” said a thoughtful Kurt. “I just don’t know how Kendra being a Slayer would alter the ability.”

He looked at Buffy. “You can sense demons, right?”

She grimaced and nodded. “Cramps.”

“Migraines,” Nysa said, sighing.

“Ouch,” Buffy said. “That sucks.”

Nysa shrugged. “Slaying helps.”

Buffy nodded slowly. That made sense, of a sort. She was well aware that Nysa didn’t like her and held no respect for her as the longest-serving Slayer. Nysa was the last of the Slayers whom Xander had unearthed in Africa, finding her not long after her parents had been killed.

After traveling together from Namibia to South Africa, where Nysa would then fly to the States to train with the New Council, Nysa had simply refused to leave Xander’s side, appointing him her Watcher. She had told Giles to go stuff himself, and had nothing but disparaging remarks for Buffy and Faith. Faith had taken it all in stride, seemingly unaffected, declaring that if she could choose her own Watcher, she’d choose Xander, too.

Buffy and Giles hadn’t taken well to Nysa’s caustic remarks, foolishly trying to force the issue and unintentionally calling Xander’s abilities into question. He had coldly told them both to go hell, announced he would be Nysa’s Watcher, and the schism which began prior to Buffy sending Dawn to live with Xander fully took root.

Buffy often wondered why Nysa so disliked her. The easiest answer was that Xander had told the girl about their misadventures in Sunnydale, but that seemed too pat.

The African Slayers were a curious breed. They were of different races, colors, creeds, and nationalities, but all were united in their devotion to Xander. They grudgingly accepted assignments from Giles, but asked relentless questions and demanded explicit answers. It was well known they consulted Xander on almost everything. In fact, all information about Xander these past years had filtered down to the Council through his Slayers.

And they were his. The Slayers had made that abundantly clear.

They also despised Nysa and fiercely resented her for having Xander as a Watcher.

“But Santana isn’t your blood relation,” Xander said, “so how can she summon Prue while unconscious?”

Kurt nodded at the question. “She’s my Anchor.”

Buffy shook her head to clear it, rejoining the conversation.

“What does that mean?” asked a curious Sam.

“Hers is the one mind I cannot read,” Kurt answered. “It’s completely closed to me. I’ve tried to do it before, at her insistence, to test the limits of what we know or at least suspect, but it doesn’t work. Not only can I not read her, I can’t sense her mind at all.”

He paused. “Everyone unconsciously broadcasts their thoughts or emotions to varying degrees. Some are able to exert a measure of control over this. They close their minds or suppress their emotions; for some, it’s a natural skill, but for others, it’s a learned art. It’s not easy and it can’t be taught. It boils down to strength of will.

“I’m what is called an absolute telepath. My empathic abilities are at an equivalent level. There is no one I cannot sense, no mind I cannot read. Except for Santana.” He paused. “And Mike, my boyfriend. Sometimes I get flashes of what he’s thinking or feeling, but mostly it muddled, which is why we try very hard to communicate well with each other.

“Was that planned?” Nysa asked.

“We believe so.” He looked down at his shoes. “Mike and Santana are my respites, my literal eyes in the hurricane. People think mind-reading is a nifty parlor trick or a cool superpower. It’s not.

"Think back to when you were a child, how you absorbed every new experience and lesson." He paused. "Now imagine what it would have been like were you able to read the minds of those around you, knowing what they thought, truly thought, gleaning information they intended to keep private, that should have been safe in their heads. You're unable to distinguish your thoughts from theirs, and you're never allowed a moment of silence within your own mind."

Sam was horrified, as was Dean. John was unable even to contemplate how taxing it must have been for Kurt, still so very young, or how he had managed to stay sane.

"You don't even know it's strange," Kurt continued, "because you've always been able to do it. You don't understand how set apart you are from everyone and everything."

He looked down at floor. "You start to realize how different you are in very small ways; so small, you're not even paying attention at first. You answer unasked questions. You know trivial things you were never told. You know that people are beginning to avoid you, but you honestly have no idea know why, so you look inside yourself, cataloguing what you believe are deficits to explain their distaste or indifference."

He shook his head. "At first, when you finally realize what’s happening, you don't believe it. Even if you grow up with magic, like I did, telepathy is one of the rarest gifts in the world. Finding that out is unhelpful. Already set apart because you're a witch, you then learn that even among the so-called special, you're more special. It's a very ... unwelcome gift-with-purchase.

"Your mother sits you down and explains that people will be jealous of you, will be scared of you, because you can do things they can't. Even amongst your own kind, you will be singled out because of jealousy or fear. You shouldn't take offense, you shouldn't blame them for what they feel, because they can't help it any more than you can."

"Jesus," Xander roughly muttered.

"You learn things too quickly; things about love and hate and hope and envy and betrayal and sex. You learn the vocabulary before you’re able to contextualize the ideas. You learn the most intimate secrets about complete strangers, and you come to prefer it to learning those things about the people closest to you."

Tears streaked down Buffy's face.

"You're never quite sure about what you know or how you know it. You don't know if the knowledge you possess, if the feelings you're having, are your own or those of someone else. You think you're going crazy. Sometimes you wish you were, because it would actually be easier to bear. You're forced to grow up so quickly, and even if you're able to hide your deepest secret, you can't hide everything. You mature intellectually before all of your peers, and they resent you for it. They fear you fear for it. They ridicule you for it.

“I am so blessed to have such a close group of friends who love and support me unconditionally. They know what I can do, they don’t fear or resent me, but all of us are always aware that they are, to me, completely open books. I’ve managed to help them safeguard their minds as much as they’re able, and while I deeply respect them and their privacy, sometimes thoughts are broadcasted and received without intent. I’m fortunate they don’t blame me.

“But others do.

"So you learn to play it off. You tell people you have hunches. You allow them to believe you're somewhat psychic. You sometimes deny it completely, denying yourself in the process. You start to hate what you can do. You start to hate yourself. You start to hate your magic, and you curse the people responsible for giving it to you.

“And those are just the thoughts. The emotions are even worse. We all tend to censor our thoughts somewhat, chastising ourselves for our cruelty, but emotions, particularly when unspoken, can be devastating to experience, even second-hand.”

“How can you stand it?” Dean asked. “How can you be so strong?”

Kurt gave him a sad smile. “Because I have to be. There’s no other option. I could surrender my magic, but what about the people I’m supposed to help? What about the world I’ve sworn to protect? Should I let it fall because it makes my life hard?”

He shook his head. “No one is born strong, Dean. Strength is bred into you, either through your words and actions, or those of others. Look around you. This room is filled with heroes, and heroes aren’t born; we’re made.”

Dean swallowed heavily. He certainly didn’t feel like a hero.

“But you are,” Kurt insisted, “because you chose to stand and fight for something greater than yourself. Whether you fight for Sam or your father or your mother is irrelevant, though people may claim otherwise. The same is true for your brother. As for Buffy and Nysa, yes, they were Chosen, but they also chose. They chose to answer that Call. Not all Slayers do. Not all of them are successful, either because they don’t believe in themselves or their powers.”

“Do you really believe that?” Buffy whispered.

“You are the longest-serving Slayer in over eight thousand years, Buffy. Think about the enormity of that, of what it says about you. Yes, you had help that other Slayers never did, and that certainly can’t be discounted, but neither is that help the sum total of your success. In the end, it’s down to you, and you have triumphed.”

“Not always.”

“That’s true for everyone. Failure doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It’s how you pick yourself up after the failure that matters.”

“He’s right,” Nysa said quietly.

“You don’t even like me,” Buffy murmured.

“I don’t have to like you to respect you. I don’t have to like you to admire you.” She sighed. “It’s not that I don’t like you, Buffy, it’s that …” she trailed off, looking at Xander, who frowned in confusion.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

No one else noticed when Dawn and Connor slipped into the room.

Nysa pursed her lips. “There’s something I never told you, only because I didn’t want it to interfere. I know the other African Slayers dislike me because I’m your charge, and I know the rest of the New Council finds it peculiar how loyal we are to you, but there’s a reason for that.”

He blinked. “There is?”

She swallowed and nodded. “I'm pretty sure Sam knows. I never told him, but there have been moments in which I've let slip things I shouldn't know. As intelligent as he is, I'm sure he put it together."

Xander eyed his husband, who gave him a placid gaze.

"He never confronted me with it," she continued, "for which I'm grateful. He knows how special you are to me and didn't want to interfere in our relationship."

"I love you, too, Nysa," Sam said.

She blushed and ducked her head. "When you came to find us, Xander, we already knew who you were. We were waiting for you. Didn’t you think it odd none of us ever challenged anything you said about what a Slayer was or that we had been Chosen?”

“I … I never really thought about it.”

“Because you were trying to save as many lives as possible while working against a serious time crunch. When we were Awakened, we saw everything that happened during your tenure in Sunnydale.”

“What?” he breathed.

“Through your eyes. Everything you experienced, everything you endured, everything you lost, we saw. Jesse. Kendra. Cordelia. Joyce. Tara. Anya. Every Big Bad. Every apocalypse. We saw them as if we were you.”

His eyes filled with horror as he paled and drew in on himself.

She shook her head in sadness. “You’re ashamed. Why, Xander? After everything you’ve accomplished, why are you ashamed?”

“Because it’s humiliating. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, Nysa. I was just trying to survive.”

“Exactly,” she snapped. “You survived. How many others can make that claim? Even amongst your cohort, Xander, you are unique. You had no supernatural assist to aid you, no Calling of your own. You made your own calling, answered it, developed a code of morals and ethics, and did the best you could to save your people. You never wavered. Not ever. That is brave. That is noble.”

Buffy took his hand. “She’s right. She’s absolutely right.”

He shook his head. “I made so many mistakes.”

“And you learned from them,” Buffy said, “as you insisted we learn from our own. You did some wrong things, Xander, but never out of malice.”

“Perhaps," he demurred, "but I'm no saint or martyr, Buffy. Malice? No. Spite? At times, very much yes. Regardless, the wrong thing done for the right reason is still the wrong thing.”

Kurt sighed. “Xander, you’re holding yourself to a standard that absolutely no one could meet. You don’t hold your friends or family to it, so why do you insist on demonizing yourself for making mistakes?”

“Mistakes that cost people their lives,” Xander hissed.

“Is that not true of Buffy? Of Faith and Willow and Giles? Of Angel and Anya? Xander, everyone …”

Not everyone,” Xander interrupted.

Kurt studied him for a moment. “Ah. Cordelia.”

“She never lied. She never cheated. She never stole. She had no supernatural assist while on the Hellmouth, and no one will ever convince me the one she received in Los Angeles was any kind of help or reward. I know about those visions, Kurt. They were killing her. She had already fallen into one coma before Jasmine got her hooks into her. Cordy paid that price so that she could keep helping people. She saved countless lives. And what did it get her? Humiliation. Agonizing pain. Rape. Death.”

“And you know she would do it all again if she could,” Buffy said, “because that’s the kind of person she was.”

She gave him a reproachful look. “I knew her too, Xander. Not as well as you, I’ll grant you, but I knew her. Angel told me about those damn visions. She saw firsthand what they did to Doyle. In that fake world Skip created, she saw how the visions drove Angel insane. She knew what might happen to her, and she made her choice regardless, not because of them, not because of me or you or anyone else, and not because of anything we did or said to her, but because of who she was.”

Illyria swiftly crossed the room and stood before him. “Do not make her a victim, Alexander, or a martyr. Do not take away her agency. Cordelia Chase was a hero because she chose to be. That is her legacy. Honor it.”

Xander nodded, tears swimming in his eyes. A pregnant silence followed.

“Um, what’s going on?” Connor quietly asked.

“And what’s Buffy doing here?” Dawn demanded. “Why does it feel like you all know something we don’t?”

“Is it really that bad to see me?” Buffy asked.

Dawn soured. “Of course not, but twice in less than two days after years of nothing? Something major has happened. Again.”

“Well, she’s got us there,” Dean said.

She gave Connor a shrewd look. “You know what’s going on.”

He winced. “I just learned a few days ago, and by accident.”

She turned to face him, silently reading his eyes, the set of his jaw, how his lips pursed. “Is it about me?”

“Yeah,” he said, with no hesitation.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because I didn’t think you’d believe me and I have no proof. It’s also not my place.”

She gave him a long, considered look, and at last nodded. Connor didn’t lie on principle, and he would never lie to her. She wasn’t so dogmatic to consider omission of information a lie. There was a time and place, and apparently it was now.

Her eyes panned around the room. “Anyone else know?”

Buffy began wringing her hands. “Faith told me and Angel before the cabin. I told Giles, but no one else.”

“Anya knew,” Xander murmured.

“She did?” asked a gentle Buffy.

“I told her everything, for better or worse.” He cleared his throat. “Okay, Dawn Patrol, it’s time you knew what was going on. I probably should’ve told you a long time ago, but there were reasons I didn’t. You may or may not agree with them, and that’s okay. You may not want to be anywhere near me after this, and that’s okay, too. I’m not going to tell you what or how to feel.”

Dawn frowned. “Okay, let’s pause. First of all, I don’t care what this is about, because there is nothing you could ever do or say that would alienate me from you, so let’s just drop that line of bullshit, because I’m not buying. Second, before you spill the beans, I want some context. Why does everyone know whatever this is and I don’t? How did it start?”

Xander nodded. Fair question. “Okay, context, then. Do you remember when we told you about the dreams we had of Sineya after we defeated Adam?”

She nodded. “Yeah. Pretty scary stuff. Primeval Slayer and all.”

He fidgeted. “Well, I spent a little more time with her than I disclosed.”

She searched his eyes and then gave a slow nod. She well knew Xander kept secrets, but only to protect other people. He had no problem telling someone about themselves, but he was circumspect until the right time. So the time was now, which suggested something major, something to do with her, was about to go down.

“You indicated as much in the cabin,” she hedged.

“Right, and I held nothing back. Everything she told me in the dream I’ve told all of you, except something that happened later, but it is related. Remember Buffy had that dream of Faith and they were making a bed?”

Dawn pulled a face and nodded.

Buffy pursed her lips in concentration, trying to recall the dream. It was mostly symbolic and Faith had spoken in riddles. She hadn’t understood it then, and barely did now, but she did hone in on one phrase. “Lil sis coming,” she breathed.

Xander swallowed heavily and nodded.

“Faith knew who Dawn was before we did?”

“You know that powers vary from Slayer to Slayer,” he said. “Faith has always been more attuned with the prophetic dream stuff. She doesn’t know how she was pulled into your dream or how she knew what she knew, but, yes, she knew Dawn was coming.”

“And she didn’t say anything?”

He raised a brow. “Would you have believed her? Would any of us?”

She nodded. “Fair.”

“Did you dream about Faith, too?” Dawn asked him.

“Yeah, but what she told me made no more sense than what she spouted at Buffy. There was a purpose to that. The obfuscation was from external forces who didn’t want us to know.”

“The Powers?”

“I don’t know. Maybe it’s the Elders. Maybe it’s someone else. Giles theorized there were more players in this game than we realized, and I think that’s true. Faith retained the knowledge of what she imparted – well, some of it – but when she tried to speak of it to me, she couldn’t. She couldn’t tell Angel, either, though she tried.”

Dawn nodded.

Buffy tilted her head. Well, some of it. What the hell did that mean? Did Xander know something about all of this that Faith didn’t?

Xander took a deep breath. “You know that in order for the Key to be made flesh, a vessel strong enough had to be created to hold your power.”

She nodded again. It was shaky. She didn’t like being reminded she was once the Key. She didn’t like thinking of Glory or that fucking parapet. “Slayer essence, taken from Buffy.”

“Not from Buffy.”

She blinked. There were only two Slayers at that time, which meant … “Faith.”

“Yes.”

She thought about it briefly, and then shrugged. “Okay, so I’m made from Faith. That doesn’t change the fact that Buffy is my sister or that Mom was … Mom.”

“That’s right,” he said, “and I want you to remember that.”

She narrowed her eyes.

“The Slayer essence imbued your physical body to withstand your power, but in order for you to be made human, the monks required genetic material to make that happen.”

It was odd, she thought, that she had never before considered that. Obviously it made sense.

“You have Buffy’s blood, and Joyce’s blood, but that’s not all.”

Buffy startled, and was then overcome by a wash of relief. Dawn was still related to her.

“You’re not talking about Hank, are you?” Dawn breathed, pieces fitting themselves together in her mind more quickly than she could ascertain.

He shook his head. “No.”

“He’s not my father, is he?”

“No.”

They stared at each other.

“Are you?” she whispered.

His breath caught in his throat. “Yes,” he warbled.

She placed a trembling hand on his shoulder and closed her eyes, breathing heavily. She was grounded when Connor placed his arms around her waist. “Okay. Okay, I’m dealing.”

Xander’s eyes widened. “You are?!”

Against her will, she smiled. “Of course not, but it seemed the right thing to say.”

They each burst into hysterical, hyena-like laughter. When it trailed off, Xander remained silent, watching her, waiting for her to correlate the pieces, and ask her questions. This was her time, and he would take his cues from her.

“You said I have Mom’s blood,” Dawn said, “but she wasn’t my mother, was she?”

“In every way that matters, she certainly was,” he barked.

“But not my biological mother,” she added, disregarding his sudden rancor.

He slowly inclined his head.

“Do you know who she was?”

He nodded again.

“Do I know her?”

Another nod.

She stared at him and waited, sensing his pain, his fear, realizing how terrified he was that he might lose her. He loved her so much, she suddenly understood in a way she never had before.

She flashed back on all of the quiet moments they shared on the Hellmouth. When he babysat her. When he taught to her to play poker. When he sat there suffering through her inane taste in music and movies, content to spend time with her. She had thought then he was doing it because no one else would or wanted to, but now she understood.

He had been loving her the best way he knew how. He had been there for the real stuff, the everyday stuff. He had helped her with her homework. He had taken her shopping. He had made meals for her when Mom had to work late. It had been to him she had gone, whining about the travails of teenage life. He had listened. He had counseled. He had held her when she needed and without her needing to ask.

When she felt unloved and unworthy, he had opened a vein. When he swore to protect her at the expense of his own life, she had believed him.

He had been her father.

He smiled, reaching up to cup her face with a hand. “You look so much like her, you know. Your eyes. Your mouth. The shape of your face. They’re all hers. She was so beautiful. I had never before met someone so powerful who was so unassuming. You get that from her, as well as your kindness and compassion. She was so proud of you.”

At once, she knew. Her eyes filled and spilled over as she wrapped her arms around herself. She didn’t need to hear the name. She didn’t want to hear the name. It was enough to know.

And now she understood the deprivation she had felt in her bones since that day. Haunted. Bereft. She still had dreams of coming home and finding the body, of holding her and singing to her, long after her spirit was gone.

Now she understood why she had always favored her over Willow, though she had known Willow longer and better, or was supposed to have, at any rate. She now understood why she had felt most at peace with her. She now understood her desire for vengeance, for an almighty reckoning, for cheering on Willow in her thirst for revenge, despite Buffy telling her it was wrong.

But it hadn’t been wrong. It had been righteous. And Xander had agreed with her.

She wished she could have killed Warren. She still often wished she had.

She now remembered how the light in Xander’s eyes had dimmed after that day. How the cracks in his friendship with Willow had deepened. How he had taken custody of her from Buffy without a second thought.

“Does Willow know?” she asked.

His eyes darkened. “No.”

"It was when she tried to turn me back in the Key, wasn't it? That's when you really began distancing yourself."

"She did what?" Buffy blurted. "Willow did what?!"

Xander nodded again.

“It must have been so horrible for you,” Dawn said softly, “that first year, when I ran off to Spike whenever the mood struck. How I proclaimed him the only one who ever truly understood me. How I baited you with him at every turn. How I used him to make you jealous. And you let me.”

“He was what you needed,” Xander whispered, “and he did love you.”

“When you looked at me with him, did you see Buffy and Angel?”

Buffy gasped. Xander turned his head away.

“Is that why you chased after me all the time? Is that why you picked fights with him over me? You were scared it would all happen again?”

“Didn’t it?”

“That’s why you told me Spike tried to rape Buffy. To shock me into shaking off the blinders.”

Nysa inhaled sharply. She hadn’t known this, and she was sickened.

Xander sighed and wiped his face with his hand. “He was obsessed with her, and I was afraid that obsession would spill over to you. He didn’t go to that demon to get his soul back, Dawn. He went to get the chip out, so that he would finally have a way to kill Buffy. The soul was a gotcha, the price for his wish.

“Don’t think I didn’t see the good in him. Don’t think I’m ungrateful for all the help he gave you; for all time he spent with you; for how he was willing to die for you. I’ve thought a lot about him over the years, and I absolutely believe he loved you in a way he never loved anyone else. I know he adored Joyce and was devastated by her death. I know he loved Buffy, and some of that love was pure and purely felt. I hope he’s a better man now, or vampire, or however that works. I hope he’s found peace.

“But, at the end of the day, I cannot and will not forget that he served us up on a platter to Adam. I will never forget that his actions, ignorant as they were, played a role in my breakup with Cordelia. She almost died because of him, and I won’t forget that. He tried to kill all of us multiple times, and I will never forget that, either.

“I will never forget that my friends, my family, forced me to admit him into my home. That chip could have stopped working at any time. That invitation never expired, and no one bothered to perform the revocation spell. He could’ve killed me, and no one cared, because, at the time, he was more useful than I was. But when Anya became a demon again, when she did what D’Hoffryn required of her, everyone called for her death.”

Buffy burst into tears.

“I was jealous of Angel. I freely admit that. I let it color my every interaction with him, to both of our detriments. What bothers me, what has always enraged me, is how much leeway both Angel and Spike were given by everyone else, as if a soul is the yardstick by which we should measure worth. A soul isn’t a harbinger of good intentions. Soulless beings can love, we’ve all seen that, but there are many with souls who are incapable.”

They were all struck by that profundity.

“Angel and Spike were very real threats. They each tried to kill us multiple times. I’m not saying they didn’t love us in their own way; I’m not saying they didn’t try their best; I’m not saying they didn’t save the world. What I am saying is that the possession of a soul shouldn’t override all they’ve done to harm us.”

“And you’re right,” Dawn said.

“You are,” Buffy whispered.

“Did Tara know she was my mother?” Dawn asked.

A thunderstruck Kurt felt his mouth drop open. Tara? His Tara? His whitelighter Tara?

Not yet, he heard in his mind. I will appear when she’s ready, but that’s not now. Hold your knowledge, my friend. It will keep.

“She did,” Xander affirmed. “Not until much later. She was furious I hadn’t told her sooner, but she understood. It was … utterly surreal, Dawnie. We were your parents, but we were only four years older than you. We never could have done the phenomenal job Joyce did. We couldn’t take you from her, or her from you. You had lost so much, been put through so much, we couldn’t take even more from you.”

“And Anya?”

“She knew. That’s why she never took offense to, well …”

“My sheer bitchery where she was concerned?” Dawn asked, voice thick with sorrow. “I was horrible to her. I treated her like … like …”

“A wicked stepmother,” Xander said with a crooked smile. “She understood that, Dawnie, and she loved you anyway. She always did. And when I almost destroyed her, it was you who stepped in. It was you who stood at her side. It was you who gave her a sense of worth. Thank you for that. Thank you so much.”

She took his hand in hers, interlacing their fingers. “I loved her. I still do. I wish I had told her.”

“She knew, Dawn. So much of this world was confusing to her, but everyone misconstrued that confusion. It was modernity that confused her, not humanity. She once was human. She had a family, parents and siblings she loved and lost. Yes, she was a demon for over a thousand years, but she never forgot how she began her life. What she didn’t understand was why people no longer said what they thought; why they valued false security over truth, and words over action.

“Anya wasn’t facile, but she was simple. She said what she thought and meant what she said. She was blunt, but she wasn’t glib. She wasn’t unfeeling, but she didn’t believe in allowing emotion to override common sense. She never forgot she was once human, or what it meant to be human. What she forgot was the pain that comes with being human, of our foibles and how deeply our connections run. She was devastated when Joyce died. She never got over that.

“She was brave when it mattered. She was honest, always, and often to a fault. She was mercurial, but flexible in huge ways.” He grinned. “Everyone always wondered how I could love her. I wondered how anyone couldn’t.”

Sam wrapped his arm around his husband’s shoulder, dropping a soft kiss on Xander’s temple.

Dawn nodded and wiped her eyes. “Were you ever going to tell me?”

“Yes,” Xander said. “I wasn’t sure when, but Tara and I did want to tell you. We wanted to tell Joyce and Buffy first, though, so that they could help you, but then Joyce …” he trailed off, looking away.

He cleared his throat. “Tara was worried about her family, about what they would do if they ever learned of you. I was terrified of my father finding out.” He grimaced. “For obvious reasons.”

Rage lighted in Dawn like nothing she had ever experienced. “I’m going to kill him.”

“The creature is dead,” Illyria intoned. “The Guardian disposed of it.”

Xander’s eyes widened. “Prue killed my father?”

She glared. “The Guardian killed your rapist,” she corrected. “That insect was never your father, and he deserved to die. I know you, Alexander, and I know that had he been the father of anyone else in this room, you would have ended his execrable existence without a second thought. Do not tell me he did not threaten the Slayers or the witches with his actions against you. He attempted to defile the Higher Being in order to hurt you, to compel you to keep in line. Death is a far greater reward than he ever earned.”

Buffy's eyes shot sparks. That piece of shit pseudo-father had use her name and those of her friends as threats to attempt to make his son complicit in his own rapes! Asshole! She too wished she had killed him.

Xander looked down. He couldn’t deny the relief he felt, or the satisfaction that his supposed father met his fate at the hand of his true sister. He nodded and pushed the horror away, and then cleared his throat.

“We were going to tell you, Dawn, but something always got in the way, and then when Tara died, well, I honestly didn’t know what to do. How to say it. How to give you another mother only to take her from you.”

She studied him. “But that’s not all, is it?”

He licked his lips. “I had already lost one child, Dawn,” he gasped. “I couldn’t have borne losing another.”

Buffy paled dramatically. Illyria snarled in rage.

“What?” Sam murmured. “What!”

Xander put his hand on his husband’s knee. “I never told you, and for that I’m sorry, but I never told anyone. It wasn’t safe. And the pain … it hurt so much, Sam. That’s why I always resisted when you pushed me to tell Dawn. I couldn’t stand the thought of losing her, too.”

He broke down in sobs. Connor began pacing the room, muttering furiously under his breath.

“Oh, my god,” Dawn whimpered. “What child, Daddy? How did you lose a child? Anya?”

He shook his head, unable to speak.

“Faith,” Buffy whispered. “Faith was pregnant with Xander’s baby when she fell into the coma.”

“What!” Dawn thundered. “The injuries from the fight? Did you …”

“It wasn’t Buffy!” Xander screamed. “It wasn’t her fault! It was that sadistic bastard Travers! He aborted our baby and had Faith spayed like she was a stray dog! That’s one asshole I’m glad is dead. I’d piss on his grave if I could. If I had the power, I’d resurrect him just to kill him myself!”

Buffy said nothing, and would say nothing. She wouldn’t run the risk of Xander making good on his promise. They didn’t know what his magic would be, what it would be capable of doing, and she wouldn’t let him run amok only for his actions to devastate him later.

“Why would he do that?” Kurt hissed. “Why would he abort the child? To hurt you, to hurt Faith?”

Xander cackled. “How would that work? He never told anyone. I only knew because I used to visit Faith in the hospital while she was comatose. I read her file. When I saw the redactions, I knew something was wiggy, but I also know a hospital has a bottom line, and they bill for everything. So I broke into the Billing Department and saw what Travers had done.

“Why did he do it? Because he didn’t understand how it was possible. Potentials give birth to Potentials, but Slayers aren’t supposed to get pregnant. Nikki Wood had already given birth to Robin before she was Called. So how did Faith conceive? That’s what Travers wanted to know.

“In all likelihood, our daughter would have been a Slayer. What was his goal? Cellular replication and cloning. If he could create a Slayer, or an army of them, aligned with his philosophy, he could do away with Faith and Buffy altogether and start over from scratch, with his word as Council law. He stole my child so he could steal Buffy and Faith’s legacy.”

Nysa collapsed as Buffy raced to the trash can with a hand clamped over her mouth. She vomited.

Xander gave Kurt a fierce grin. “But I stole her back.”