A fan fiction story by Melpomene based on the characters and backstory of "Charmed" and composed without permission. No copyright infringement is intended and no monies have been earned.
A full moon hung heavily above the slumbering mansion, its cool light casting weird and wild shadows as a savage wind whipped through the chill air. The shadows danced in a tumultuous riot of dark shades and drug the autumn night into its frenzied incorporeal dance. The Halliwell manor was dark and quiet despite the unrest that battered against its walls, the windows were shut tight against the gusts that rattled the glass panes and stirred dust motes from the sills.
Gallfrec stood beneath the madly swaying limbs of a tree, his lips moving in easy rhythm to the spell he worked to conjure against the occupants of the house. His curse would succeed where all others of its kind had failed. He would single-handedly destroy the Charmed Ones.
“Piper! Sweetie, it’s time to get up!”
Piper started awake, pulled from a tangle of dreams. She rubbed madly at her eyes, trying to clear her sleep-fogged brain from the last vestiges of her dreams.
There was something about the voice, something she couldn’t quite place. Then it dawned on her. It wasn’t Phoebe or Prue calling her, it wasn’t Leo, it was someone else. She jerked the blankets up to her neck as her bedroom door burst open and emitted a tall man draped in a mutiny of bright colors into the room.
“Come on now, darlin’. This has just got to stop.” He stood at the foot of her bed, shaking his head and softly tsking her status. “I just don’t know what to do about you anymore but I refuse to watch you kill yourself.”
She sat up in bed a bit more and cocked her head at her odd visitor. “What are you talking about? Who are you? Where are Prue and Phoebe?” She tried to look behind the stranger to see if her family was playing some strange practical joke on her. “Leo!” she called, tilting her head toward the ceiling. “Leo, get down here right now!”
“Oh, sweetie!” The man’s expression softened and he walked to the side of the bed, sitting down while Piper frantically scooted to the far side of the mattress. “I told you to lay off the booze last night. I’m your best friend…”
“Wait a minute,” Piper said, her memory stirring slightly. “You’re Matthew Fields. We went to chef school together.” Having placed the man’s face, she tried to come up with a reason for his presence in her bedroom.
“Now you’re remembering,” he encouraged. “Yes, we went to chef school together. We’ve been through relationship ups and downs together, when your sisters left town for good we went out a got plastered on gin and tonics…”
“Prue and Phoebe? Gone?” Panic was beginning to override her senses. Prue and Phoebe had left San Francisco? When? Hadn’t they all three been in the mansion the night before?
“Well, I guess it isn’t fair to say Phoebe left town so much as Prue. I mean the who could blame Pheebs-girl for staying in such an amazing place like New York City?”
“Phoebe’s still in New York?” Piper’s head was spinning. What could have happened to confuse reality so much? And where had Prue gone?
“Yes, honey, Phoebe’s in New York and Prue’s in Baltimore. Don’t worry, it’ll all come back to you after you’ve had a shower and gotten dressed. What do you say to a serving of my soon to be world-famous San Fran omelet.”
Matthew peered at her. “Man, honey, how much did you drink last night? You’ve got to start layin’ off the booze, darlin’. I know you hate it when I say so, but you’re gonna wind up killin’ yourself even faster than you already are. If you would just tell those sisters of yours, I bet they would make time in their busy schedules to see you. But yeah, I know, you don’t think your problems are important enough to warrant bothering your precious sisters.” He stood up and walked to the door. “I’ll get the water warmed up for your shower and go start a pot of coffee. You work on those self-esteem problems and try to remember where you are.” He walked into the hall and called over his shoulder, “I’m going to make you one of my omelets, starving yourself to death won’t make them see you any more clearly. I mean, Prue just moved away a few months ago and you were already way too skinny then.”
Piper wrinkled her nose in confusion. The morning was just getting weirder and weirder. She tossed the linens away and swung her legs over the side of the bed before she caught her reflection in the mirror. The vision that faced her took her breath away. The thin gown she wore did nothing to hide the fact that she was in deed wasting away. Too-thin arms and legs and far too prominent bones that jutted out beneath the surface of her pale sallow skin were combined with lank lusterless hair and heavily shadowed eyes.
Her eyes darted around the room. It was at least her own bedroom although she only recognized half of the items it held. There among the framed pictures from her youth and odd bits of memorabilia were other pictures of Prue and Phoebe, pictures she had never before seen much less framed, along with souvenirs of places she had never been. Resting atop her dresser was a stack of postcards and she pulled herself up from the mattress to investigate. The cards were from the east coast, pictures of the Statue of Liberty, Manhattan Island, the Lincoln Memorial, and Chesapeake Bay, among other well known landmarks. She flipped the cards over, trying to read the printed messages that had been smeared by tears. The notes from Prue and Phoebe were brief and filled with excitement and a couple held phone numbers that she noted quickly for future reference but she could feel the loss regardless. They had left her. Abandoned San Francisco and the manor and left her to cope with her own life in whatever terms she deemed fit. Glancing down at her body, she wondered how they ever could have done such a thing.
“Sweetie, don’t tell me you’re still cryin’ over those cards.”
Matthew’s voice startled her and she dropped the postcards, letting them flutter to the floor like leaves from the trees in autumn. Her head reeled. Something demonic was at work and she needed to find out what it was. “Umm… I was just looking for something,” she murmured.
“Yeah, you’re lookin’ for the same thing you always do when you read those cards. You’re wanting to read about how much they miss you, about how they love you and want to be a family again. But honey, it hasn’t happened and it won’t happen. I’m afraid you’re just setting yourself up for eternal heartbreak.” Matthew turned his gaze to the postcards. “They do love you, Piper. They just aren’t very good at showing it. Now come on and get a move on, you’ve got a busy day ahead of you.”
“Do you really think I have any intention of letting you stay in this house for one more day? Really now, I left you on your own for a week now and I don’t think you’ve so much as fallen out of your bed.” He grabbed her hand and gently pulled her to her feet. “You might not think you’re worth anything, and maybe your sisters don’t either, but I do.”
Piper allowed herself to be pushed into the steam-filled bathroom. She needed to check the Book of Shadows to see if she could figure out what had happened, but she would have to wait until Matthew left and his departure didn’t look likely until she could convince him she would be all right on her own. If she could just maintain enough of her cool to find out what forces were at work, she’d allow herself to fly into a full-blown panic attack as soon as she was back in her real life.
“Did it work?”
Darkness abounded with varying shades of black intermingling in a sulfuric haze of tormented winds that swept through the cavern. The conversation ebbed and flowed on the gusts, torn from the mouths of those who were present. Gallfrec had called for the meeting in secret, away from the prying eyes of his colleagues. To destroy the Charmed Ones without assistance was a remarkable feat but having done it without first relieving them of their powers would draw the heated rage of those who lusted after the strength they possessed down upon his head.
“Of course, it worked. Did you doubt my abilities?”
“No,” a hiss said from the depths of the darkness. “But the Power of Three is not yet destroyed, it will remain intact until the bond is severed completely.”
“And it will be, all you need do is wait.”
Bright morning sunlight woke Phoebe, causing her to stir from the sweet dreams of her slumber. She stretched luxuriously while her drowsy mind settled on the day’s plans, or rather, the distinctive lack thereof. For once, there wasn’t a single item on the Charmed Ones’ agenda: not one demon to vanquish, no warlock to search out, not even a work assignment to complete. They had finally managed to wrangle an honest to goodness day off.
She sat up in bed, a thoughtful smile playing on her lips. They could certainly use the break. They had all three been feeling the stress of their interwoven destinies: she had been fighting the almost overwhelming urge to run screaming out of the house and hop the next plane to New York, Prue had withdrawn from them even more than usual, and Piper… Poor Piper had become nothing more than a highly emotional time bomb, ready to explode at any given moment. Hopefully, they would have an uneventful day to regroup and rest.
Wondering if her sisters were awake but loathe to risk disturbing them in their beds, Phoebe headed to the kitchen. The smell of fresh brewed coffee greeted her, as did Prue who sat at the table, the newspaper spread before her.
“Morning, Pheebs. Sleep well?”
“You mean, did I enjoy the sweet sleep of the undisturbed? Yep. I guess Piper’s still konked out?”
Prue nodded and sipped her coffee. “I haven’t heard a peep out of her all morning. She deserves to be allowed to sleep in though; it’s been pretty hard on her these days. How many times can you almost die before the stress gets to you?”
“Oh, probably three or four times less than it’s actually happened recently.”
Prue nodded again, her thoughts drifting up the stairs and to her sleeping sister. “At least we have Leo to patch us up again each time,” she murmured.
Phoebe poured herself a cup of coffee and sat next to Prue at the table. “Yeah, but Piper’s been pushed pretty far this time, you know. First, it was the whole witch gig that she hated, then the Elders start screwing around with her relationship with Leo… I dunno, she just really needs this break.” Phoebe pulled the crossword puzzle out from under Prue’s poised pen.
“Hey!” Prue snatched the puzzle back and laughed as Phoebe stuck her tongue out at her. “But I agree, I think we could all do with a healthy dose of normalcy for a day.”
“I guess you can’t get any more normal than us arguing,” Phoebe chuckled and feigned a grab at the paper again.
By eleven o’clock, Phoebe decided Piper had slept long enough. “She’ll hate us if we let her sleep the whole day away. Besides, she wanted to go out to Half Moon Bay for a picnic,” she said, mounting the stairs. “You pack the basket and I’ll wake Sleeping Beauty.”
She stopped just before entering Piper’s room and knocked softly. “Piper? Are you up yet, sweetie?” When she received no reply, she eased open the door. “Come on now, sleepy head, it’s time to rise and shine.”
Phoebe took three steps into the room before she stopped cold in her tracks. The bed was unmade and her sister was nowhere in sight. “Piper?” She crossed to the window and looked down to see Piper’s car parked in the same spot she had left it the night before. Surely she was simply in the bathroom… but Phoebe didn’t hear the tell-tale sound of running water. She checked anyway, hoping she had somehow missed her in the hall, but she found it vacant as well as the attic.
Worry began to eat at her thoughts and she pounded down the stairs, calling loudly for Leo as she went. Prue, alerted by the panicked tone, met her at the bottom step.
“Piper’s gone but her car’s still here. There wasn’t a note when you woke up, was there?”
Prue drew her brows together. “I would have told you if there had been. Maybe she just went for a walk,” she suggested, trying to quell the rising panic in her own thoughts.
Phoebe shook her head. “No. Prue, when’s the last time you can remember that Piper didn’t make her bed as soon as she got up?”
“I don’t know… never?”
“Yeah, that’s what I was thinking, even when she’s sick she straightens the sheets. I don’t think she left on her own. Nothing’s out of place in her room, but her bed’s still unmade.” Phoebe tried to calm her voice but as the seconds ticked away, she found herself sinking further into a blind panic. “Leo! Get down here!”
“Leo!” Prue’s voice joined her sister’s.
A moment later, the familiar blue lights announcing their whitelighter’s arrival appeared, and Leo materialized before them.
Phoebe jerked back from the anxiety in Leo’s voice. “That’s what we were about to ask you. You can’t feel her anywhere?”
Leo shook his head. “No. The Elders aren’t sure where she could be or who would have taken her there.” He caught the worried looks that were directed at him. “She’s alive, I know that much. I would know if she were…”
“If she were dead,” Prue finished for him.
“I’m going to see if I can conjure up a premonition.” Phoebe turned to go back up the stairs. “If you can’t find her,” she said to Leo, “it’s got to be magical. Piper wouldn’t just leave.” Phoebe stopped at the landing and looked down into her sister’s eyes. “Would she?”
“No, Piper would never do that, she would never leave us, no matter how stressed out she got.”
Leo waited until Phoebe was out of earshot before he voiced his own doubts. “Are you certain, Prue? She hated being a witch for so long and you’ve all been through so much-”
“Piper would never leave us,” Prue said, enunciating each word carefully. “Yes, she had trouble accepting this destiny that was forced on us, but she’s handling it now. She knows how much good we can do, how many innocents we can help and she would never walk away from that. And I know that she would never abandon her family. Never.”
“How can you be so sure?”
Leo’s questions angered her. How could he love Piper so completely and not know her? “It’s her biggest fear, being abandoned by the people she loves the most. It’s why she was so upset when Phoebe moved to New York. It’s why she’s devastated every time she thinks she’s lost you for good. No, Piper would never do this, not of her own free will.”
Piper slowly made her way down the staircase, her hand tightly gripping the railing. Her legs felt so weak, as if her muscles had turned to gelatin overnight. Her thoughts were muddled and she fought to grasp anything that might explain how she had woken up in such a skewed version of reality. She was too weak to even call up the sarcastic side of her personality. Wouldn’t Prue and Phoebe, her Prue and Phoebe, be surprised…
“Hey, sweetheart!” Matthew called as she lightly stepped into the kitchen. He tsked softly to himself at the sight of her in the clothes that should have fit but swallowed her instead. “One San Fran omelet coming up!”
Piper sat at the table and splayed her fingers against the wooden surface. Her stomach turned as the plate of eggs was placed in front of her. She was desperately hungry only her body wouldn’t cooperate and she knew that if she took even a single bite, it wouldn’t stay down for long.
Matthew watched her silent battle for a moment. “How about we start with some juice, eh?”
Piper nodded and shoved the plate across the table. “I think I need to call my sisters.”
Wordlessly, Matthew retrieved a cordless phone. “You do what you need to, honey.”
She stared at the phone and debated who to call first, both Prue and Phoebe’s names were in the speed dial list that was taped to the receiver in her hand. She was close to them both, equally so, but Prue had always been the one she turned to after their mother’s death. Prue had been their mother-figure, Phoebe their rebel, and she had been the responsible one. Piper reminded herself that she had been the one who worked at the bank to help pay the bills and once Grams had died she was the one who made the funeral arrangements, she was the one who was always called on to smooth her sisters’ ruffled feathers after they fought. But which sister could she depend on to smooth her own ruffled feathers? She knew the answer, it was simple. Piper was expected to take care of her own problems.
She closed her eyes and dialed Prue’s number, silently hoping that she had chosen the right one, if there was a correct choice at all.
Piper’s eyes flew open. “Prue?”
“Piper? Oh, and you were doing so well calling me Prudence.” Her sister’s voice sounded strained, irritated.
“Um, I’m sorry.” Piper had no idea why she felt compelled to apologize but the words formed on her lips before she could stop them.
“Yeah, just try to remember the next time. What do you want?”
“I…” Piper realized she had no idea how to explain to Prue what she wanted to tell her. “Do you think, I mean…”
“Look, Piper, I’d love to chat with you but some of us do have a job to go to. You know, actual lives to lead.”
“Prue, I need you.” Honesty was always a good thing. “I don’t know what’s happening to me. I need you.”
“Sweetie,” Prue’s voice softened. “I know it’s hard but I’ve got a whole life here in Baltimore now: a husband and responsibilities. I’ve got a deadline coming up and, well, this is just a really bad time. I can’t just drop everything and fly back to San Francisco just because you want me to. Whatever it is, I’m sure you can handle it on your own.”
Piper’s disquiet at her sister’s words welled up until her stomach rebelled. Throwing the phone out of her hand, she dashed to the bathroom and fell to her knees in front of the toilet until her dry heaves had stopped. When she finally was able to stand again, she slowly made her way back to the kitchen. She found Matthew with the phone in his hand, his back to her so that he didn’t notice her presence in the room.
“I see,” he said acridly, “the fact that Piper’s literally killing herself doesn’t affect you in the slightest. What do I mean? If you’d bother to open your eyes and ears, maybe you’d be able to understand for yourself. The girl’s a walking corpse; she looks like she was just released from Auschwitz. She needs her family. Yeah, I see… I just hope she’s still alive once you’ve managed to clear your busy schedule.”
Piper sagged against the doorway, not for the first time wondering what could have caused so big a rift between where she was and where she had been. Was this their future or just another version of their present? Had they already prevented it from happening or was it like one of Phoebe’s premonitions—a warning of events yet to come?
Curiously, she flicked her wrist in Matthew’s direction. The movement caught his attention as he bent to replace the phone on the table and he gave her a sad smile. “She’s got a deadline she can’t miss,” he sympathized. “But she did say that she’d try to clear her schedule and come as soon as she could. I’m sorry, honey. I was sure that she’d come running as soon as you asked her to. I guess I was wrong.”
She hadn’t been able to freeze him. She had tried, but nothing had happened. “I’m going to lay down in there.” Piper pointed to the parlor.
“Yeah, you go rest up. I’ll bring you that juice I mentioned earlier.”
Piper sat down in a chair, all too aware of the pain that wracked her body. Her body craved protein and was pulling it from any source available, most notably her own musculature.
Tempus. The name crashed through her brain like a runaway train. He’d altered time before; maybe all of this was his doing, his way to destroy the Charmed Ones. But if it were a case of turning back the calendar, she wouldn’t have been taken out of a life she knew and plopped down into an existence she couldn’t comprehend.
Matthew entered the room to find his friend asleep. He set down the glass of juice and lifted her into his arms, steeling himself against the notice of just how little she weighed. Laying her down on the wicker sofa, he draped an afghan over her. “Something’s got to be done, Piper love. And it’s got to happen soon.”
Phoebe walked straight into Piper’s bedroom not wanting to pause and consider what might have happened to her sister. The bed would be her best bet. It was probably the last thing Piper touched before being stolen away from them.
Still afraid of what her imagination might create in the absence of actual fact, she climbed into the bed and pulled the covers up to her chin. When was the last time she had crawled into Piper’s bed? She remembered doing it as a child when nightmares would come to plague her sleep. She’d hurry to Piper’s bedside, tears streaming down her cheeks, and join her sister beneath the rumpled linens. Piper had always known when she was scared, pulling back the covers and inviting her in before Phoebe could say a word. Piper had always made her feel safe and secure and loved. Now it was time to return the favor.
Banishing their childhood memories from her mind, she concentrated on finding Piper. The vision came in a blinding flash that would have knocked her off her feet had she not already been lying down. Piper, or at least a version of her, was standing in the kitchen staring at a veritable feast that was set out on the table. She saw herself enter the room behind Prue. She and Prue were angry, saying things she couldn’t quite hear, and Piper looked even sadder than she had to begin with. The images died away as quickly as they had appeared and Phoebe gasped in shock and agony.
“What did you see?” Prue met her eyes from the doorway, concern etched in the tense lines of her face.
“Oh God,” Phoebe gasped, “she’s dying, Prue, and we’re letting her.”
Prue sat down next to Phoebe on Piper’s bed. “What do you mean? Was there a demon?” As much as the thought of Piper’s death chilled her, Prue needed to get the details of what Phoebe had seen.
“No. I didn’t see anything like that at all.” Phoebe looked at Prue as her eyes brimmed with worry. “I saw Piper, but she looked so strange, like she was anorexic. She had made this huge meal and you and I were there yelling at her. Prue, she was so scared and upset.” Phoebe struggled with her emotions, pushing aside her tears for another time when she would be able to cry on Piper’s shoulder.
“We were mad? Do you know why?”
“No.” Phoebe shook her head mournfully. “I couldn’t hear what they… we were saying. I don’t think Piper really heard either. She was… I don’t know, it almost seemed like she was just fading away. She was there but she wasn’t.” Phoebe thought for a moment, trying to delve into the painful memory of her premonition. “There was a calendar on the wall with tomorrow’s date.” Phoebe’s tone turned curious at the admission.
“Okay.” Prue turned to look at Leo who had joined them. “Is it possible that Piper got pulled into some kind of waking nightmare?”
“I don’t know for sure but there are rumors of a demon who can cross between alternate realities.”
Phoebe looked less than convinced. “So she could be stuck in some kind of ‘what if’ world? How in the hell are we supposed to get to her then? I’m kind of missing the whole ‘being attacked in our own home by demons and warlocks who want to kill us and steal the Book of Shadows’ routine, this trans-reality hide and seek stuff is not working. This is getting way too ‘Star Trek’ for me.”
Leo nodded. “If she were put into a skewed version of this lifeline, one in which the three of you never came into your powers… It’s possible that the demon behind the change could ultimately destroy you all.”
“No Piper means no Power of Three and no Charmed Ones,” Prue agreed. “Leo, go and see if they know anything that could help us find this guy. We’ll check the Book of Shadows.”
They watched Leo orb out of the room and Phoebe climbed out of Piper’s bed. “So much for our relaxing day off.”
Piper awoke with a start. He sleep had been riddled with disjointed images of Prue, Phoebe, and Leo trying to find her. She didn’t know if the dreams were wishful thinking or if they were glimpses of the life from which she had been wrenched but she hoped for the latter while she prepared for the worst-case scenario.
Heavy shadows slanted across the room and she realized she must have been asleep for hours. A note stood propped against an empty vase on the table and she rose and read the short message. Matthew would be back on the following afternoon and he expected her to drink at least some of the juice in the refrigerator. Silently, Piper expected to be long gone before Matthew ever returned.
The Matthew she remembered was every bit as sweet as the one who was so very worried about her. Piper could recall several nights the two of them had sat together in commiseration over their respective boyfriends, mixed drinks and cheesecake their only other companions. They had lost touch with one another eventually, each moving forward with their lives. At least they had until that morning when she woke to find him solidly entrenched in her life again. She shook her head to clear it of the cobwebs; her lightheadedness was making concentration difficult at best and she had trouble conjuring up any solid thoughts at all.
Deciding to worry with something a little closer to the present time, she thought back to her attempt to freeze Matthew when he had been on the phone with Prue. She couldn’t be certain if it hadn’t worked because she was so weak or if she had somehow lost her powers altogether. When she had first woken up that morning, she hadn’t felt any different, but as time progressed, she found herself fading quickly, not only her physical state but also psychologically. Her wandering mind led her to Leo. Maybe, if she could call him, he could straighten everything out.
“Leo!” Her voice trembled but she was still able to shout so she took it as a good sign. “Leo, get down here! I need you.” She waited a few moments, unsure what to expect. If Prue was acting oddly, the chances were good that Leo would too. “Leo!” She squeezed her eyes shut against the sound of her voice echoing back at her in the empty house. She couldn’t handle being ostracized from Leo too, not when she was already so heartbroken.
Phoebe shut the Book of Shadows in utter disgust. She had been reading through the entries for so long that her eyes wanted to cross and she was no closer to finding their elusive demon. She rubbed a hand across her face and looked up just in time to witness Leo’s arrival.
“I hope you got more out of the Elders than I did from this book,” she said in a strained attempt at humor.
“He’s called Gallfrec,” he said without preamble in response to her exasperation. “They believe he travels between alternate realities, that all he has to do is pull whoever his target is out of their reality and into one where they are weakened.” Leo paced in agitation.
“So according to my premonition, Piper’s been whisked away from us to some other place or reality or whatever where we obviously never rekindled our relationship.” Phoebe sucked in a wavering breath. “My only question is, how do we get her back into this reality before it’s too late? From what I saw, it better happen fast. If she doesn’t die of starvation first, she’d way too easy of a target for anything that might decide to attack her.”
“The Elders are looking for a way for us to get her back,” Leo said absently.
“Yeah well, no offence, Leo, but we better start coming up with something on our own.” Phoebe flipped the book open again. “If she’s here, just not in our here, couldn’t we open a portal or a window or something and drag her back? I mean, she’s in a parallel plane or dimension or whatever it is you want to call it, but there’s really only one manor, right? Our biggest problem would be that we wouldn’t be able to use the Power of Three. Prue and I would have to rig a way for the two of us to make it work.” She paused in her renewed search of the book to look at Leo.
“I’ll be back.”
She watched him orb out of the attic and bent her head again in search of a spell that might be able to help guide them to the right answer.
Phoebe bounded down the stairs an hour later with a sheet of paper in her hand in search of Prue. She found her in the kitchen and she stood silent while her big sister dumped their cache of potion ingredients on the counter top. “Um, Prue? What are you doing?”
Prue braced her hands against the counter. “I don’t know,” she admitted.
“Well, as much as it’s amusing, trashing Piper’s kitchen isn’t going to bring her home any faster. It might give her a heart attack when she does come home though.” Phoebe quirked an eyebrow and set a bottle of Henbane upright.
“Did you find anything in the book?”
Phoebe sighed in commiseration with her sister’s unrest. “Not so much but Leo and I did come up with a partial plan. Wanna hear all the gory details? It might cheer you up.”
Leo returned to the girls as Phoebe worked feverishly to whip up a potion she hoped would help open the trans-dimensional portal they required. His drawn features and distraught eyes relayed all she needed to know. The Elders were just as clueless as the rest of them were. She doubled her efforts with her potion.
Prue’s sudden cry drew Phoebe’s attention away from her brewing potion and pulled Leo from his stupor. They watched the doorway and waited for an explanation.
“Sweetie?” Phoebe called when it seemed Prue wouldn’t appear without coercion. “Are you alright?”
“No, I’m not.” Prue entered the kitchen and leaned against the counter next to Phoebe. “I’m so tired of all of this. It isn’t right.”
Phoebe cut her eyes at her sister. “What isn’t right? The spell? The potion?”
“The entire situation. All we wanted was one day. One day to be able to forget about being who we are.” She sighed. “Was that really too much to ask?”
“I don’t know,” Phoebe said, fighting her own feeling of helplessness. “It’ll all work out though. We’ll get Piper back and then we can go back to normal.”
“What’s so funny?”
“You, me… When did our roles get reversed, was that part of the spell that stole Piper? I’m the one who is supposed to hold it all together. I’m the one who says everything will be all right. I’m the big sister, not you.” She grinned at Phoebe.
“This is a special case,” Phoebe quipped before taking on a more serious tone. “You’re worn out, Prue. You needed this day of peace every bit as much as Piper did. Of course it’s going to hit you hard.” She paused for a moment and added, “Don’t worry, as soon as Piper comes home, I’ll go back to being the annoying and irresponsible baby sister.”
Prue nodded, grinning at the comment. “I even tried to astrally project to where Piper is.”
Leo’s head snapped up. “You did what? Prue, you can’t do that, you might not be able to get back to your body even if you are able to get to Piper in the first place.”
“I don’t care, Leo,” she announced bitterly. “All I care about right now is getting Piper back home where she belongs.”
“Yeah, but she’d blame herself if something did happen to you while you were trying to save her,” Phoebe said quietly. She double-checked her scrawled notes before she added a pinch of herbs to the saucepan. “Besides, even if you were able to project to her, you wouldn’t be able to heal her. If she stays there, she’s going to die, the only answer is for us to bring her back here and either hope that she’s okay in this reality or let Leo heal her.”
Prue stared at Phoebe. “Who are you and what did you do with my sister?” she teased. “When did you get so smart?”
Phoebe grinned broadly. “Piper must be rubbing off on me.” She ducked Prue’s playful swat at the slight and went back to worrying with the potion.
“How’s it coming?”
She stepped back from the stove. “It’s done. I just hope it works.”
They stood in Piper’s bedroom after a lengthy discussion of the best place to be in order for their spell to work. Prue had suggested that since a portal had already been opened in Piper’s room, they at least knew it was possible in there. It was not mentioned that whether they could manage to recreate one on their own or not was still up for debate.
“How exactly did you come up with this spell?” Prue asked, looking at the paper and reading her youngest sister’s familiar penmanship.
Phoebe smiled slightly. “I sort of combined a summoning spell with the lost and found one and that spell you and Piper used to create a door when we were all sent into our future lives. I just modified them a little.”
Prue raised her eyebrows. “Okay. Let’s do this.” She took the potion and drew the symbol of the doorway on the wall, wincing when the liquid left a dark stain. “Piper’s going to kill us when she sees what we’ve done to her wall.”
“At least she’ll be here to see it… and besides, I’m not to one defacing her bedroom. She’ll only kill you.”
“Thanks so much for your support.” Prue stepped back from her handiwork and took a deep breath.
Together, they read the words of Phoebe’s patch-worked incantation and looked expectantly at the wall in front of them.
“Candles!” Phoebe cried suddenly. “We need candles.”
Leo exited the room before either Phoebe or Prue could turn around. They listened to him quickly ascend the stairs.
Prue brushed her hair back from her face with her fingers. “We’re going to get her back, Pheebs.”
“I don’t know how, not without the Power of Three.”
“We’ll manage,” Prue said with determination. “We haven’t always been able to use the Power of Three in the past and we still did what needed to be done. We’ve overcome too much now, suffered too much, for it to have all been for nothing.”
Phoebe sagged against the bed, her face obscured by the thickening shadows of the evening. “I miss her. At least when she’s been gone before we knew, more or less, where she was. But this not knowing is killing me.”
“It’s killing all of us. You, me, Leo… I’ve never known him to be so unsure about anything as he is now.”
Phoebe reached out to snag one of Piper’s pillows and hug it to her chest. “She’s all alone, Prue.”
“Not for long.” Prue’s breath caught as she watched Phoebe be pulled into another premonition.
She leaned heavily against the doorframe and paused to catch her breath. It was getting worse but she was determined to not be beaten down by her strange new physical condition or the growing despair that accompanied it and so she had forced her legs to carry her up the stairs. She would allow herself to rest once she was in her own bed.
Leo had never answered her call although she had refused to give up trying until her voice was so hoarse she could barely speak. She had hoped he would come despite her lack of powers, after all, hadn’t he watched her and her sisters all through their childhoods? She remembered him once saying that he had, surely he hadn’t given up on them. They were the Charmed Ones, damn it!
She trudged to the bed, staring down at the lonely expanse of sheets and blankets. She couldn’t remember ever feeling so lost and alone. Not even when Phoebe had moved to New York and Prue was so wrapped up in her wedding plans.
Stepping closer, she turned down the covers. Her bare toes brushed against something solid beneath the dust ruffle. She crouched down onto her knees and pulled the object out into the dim light. She wasn’t the type to sweep clutter out of sight and she couldn’t imagine what she would have wanted to hide from view.
The Book of Shadows.
Tears sprung to her eyes unbidden as she gently brushed her hand across the familiar embossed symbol. She had become so wrapped up in just surviving the day that she had completely forgotten about her earlier determination to research an answer. She turned on the bedside lamp and sat down on the bed with the book in her lap.
“Okay,” she whispered harshly and wiped the tears from her eyes before she opened the book.
Flipping through the book, she found a good number of blank pages but she ignored them. How many times had spells and potions magically appeared on the pages just when they needed them most? She paused at each entry that referred to a demon, scanning what was written before discarding it to move on further in the book. She drew a sudden breath when the book took on a life of its own, its pages rifled by an unseen hand.
Gallfrek. He must be the cause, she knew, otherwise she wouldn’t have been led to the entry. But there was no spell, no vanquishing potion, no means of fighting him or his deeds at all.
“Leo,” she rasped, frustrated beyond reason. What good did it do her to know who was behind her predicament if it didn’t provide her with a solution?
She could barely hear the knock on the front door. Praying that she wasn’t getting her hopes up just to find the newspaper boy on her front stoop, Piper shoved the book aside and staggered toward the stairs. She tripped twice on the steps when her legs threatened to go out from under her, but she managed to catch hold of the railing each time and divert disaster.
She fell against the door heavily and tried to calm her breathing before discovering who her visitor was. She could see a figure standing on the front step but couldn’t tell who it was through the stained glass. Surely it was Leo, who else would pay a visit so late at night except for the whitelighter she had been trying to call all day?
The hinges groaned, complaining of their sudden activity as she swung open the door.
“Damn, girl. You look like shit.”
Piper gaped at the woman who faced her. It couldn’t be who she thought it was, but somehow it had to be. “Pheebs?”
“Sheesh, next thing you know, you’ll be calling Prudence by her old nickname,” the woman said with bemusement in her eyes. “And we both know what that’ll do to her. So, are ya’ gonna let me in or not?”
Piper stepped aside as Phoebe pushed past her and dropped a backpack on the floor of the entry. “What are you doing… here?”
Phoebe tugged a slim hand through her short-cropped white-blonde hair and pinned Piper with a gaze. “I got this completely whacked-out call from some guy named Matthew. He said something about me needing to come back right away because you were in trouble. Looks like you’re way beyond trouble to me…” She walked further into the house. “I told him I couldn’t because I was broke but he paid for the ticket. That’s when I figured it was more serious than some crazed practical joke.”
Piper stared at her little sister. Only one word sprang to her mind, leather. From the micro-miniskirt to the halter-top to the biker jacket slung across her shoulder, Phoebe wasn’t wearing anything that hadn’t started as part of an animal. “Um…” She couldn’t think of a single thing to say.
Phoebe’s eyes lost some of their hardness. “Your Matthew was right, sweetie. You need help. Who was he anyway? A boyfriend?”
“No, just a friend,” Piper answered. “He’s gay.”
Phoebe grinned. “Figures. Come on, I’m starving.” She snagged Piper’s arm to pull her toward the kitchen but flinched when her fingers made contact with the too-thin wrist. “Where’s Prue?” Phoebe asked with a voice that reeked bitterness.
“Um… in Baltimore?” Piper allowed herself to be pulled away from the front door when Phoebe gently kicked it shut. “I called her this afternoon.”
“Guess that figures too. Too busy with Mr. Fortune 500 and that perfect job of hers to come back when she’s needed.” Phoebe snorted in disgust.
“She said she’d try to come.”
“Oh yeah, I’m sure she did. I wouldn’t hold your breath, honey.” Phoebe wrapped an arm around Piper’s shoulder and gave her and gentle hug. “But for what it’s worth, I’m glad I’m here. I’ve missed you.”
Piper closed her eyes and tried to suppress the longing that rose up in her soul for the sisters she had known. “I miss you too.”
Phoebe gasped as the premonition ended and she lifted her face to Prue’s expectant expression. Words failed her in the face of all she had felt; the overpowering waves of deep depression and the sure knowledge that no salvation could possibly exist were crushing to the extreme. “Where is Leo with the damned candles?” she choked out at last.
“I’m right here.”
Both women turned toward the voice and saw the love of Piper’s life clutching a dozen or more tapers and looking as lost as they were.
“I didn’t know which ones you needed,” he explained, tilting his head to indicate the candles.
“Here.” Prue accepted the offering and selected the ones their portal would require.
“I think, there in front of the doorway. If we form a half-circle, it should work in conjunction with the potion. Hurry, Prue, there isn’t much time.”
“You’re not going to tell me what you saw, are you?” Prue gripped Phoebe’s hand tightly.
Once again they stood facing the wall in Piper’s bedroom and read the spell aloud. For a split-second, Phoebe feared they had failed again but then a swirling green smoke enveloped the semi-circle in front of the potion painted doorway, slowly rising until it took the form of the symbol Prue had drawn. In a blinding flash, a hole formed at the center of the image, tearing outward to its edges. A rush of wind threatened to tear Prue and Phoebe’s grip apart until Phoebe felt Prue’s other hand strengthen the physical connection.
“Prue?” she called above the rising wind. She felt, more than heard, her sister’s agreement. Phoebe spared Leo a quick glance. “We’ll be back,” she promised, “with Piper.”
Stepping through the portal was, remarkably, like walking through a simple door. One moment they were in Piper’s room with Leo, the next, they were… in Piper’s room only it was altered slightly and had a scattering of toys across the floor.
Prue and Phoebe paused, taking note of the sudden changes. The bed had been moved, as had the dressing table, new paint covered the walls and the rug they stood upon was as foreign as the little girl who stared up at them with huge eyes from the bed.
The loud cry startled them, as did the sound of hurrying feet in the hall. “Sweetie, Mommy’s not here,” a voice soothed from behind the shut door.
The doorknob turned as the child replied, “But, Aunt Piper, she’s standing right here!”
Phoebe was caught off-guard as the tiny form leapt from the bed and barreled into her, small arms encircling her waist as the girl tilted her face up to gaze adoringly at the startled woman.
“Oh, baby…” the words froze in the air as the woman from the hallway stepped into the room. “Oh my God.” Piper’s hands flew up in an attempt to freeze the trespassers. When her power failed, she looked down protectively at the child before speaking. “Patty, honey, could you go tell Uncle Leo we have guests, please?”
“Okay.” The girl was obviously reluctant to release her grip. Slowly she relaxed the hug and turned to leave, but not before she beckoned Phoebe to lean nearer her small face. “I knew you’d find a way home, Mommy. I just knew you would. Promise you won’t go away again for so long. You were gone a long time, Mommy.”
“I promise,” Phoebe solemnly stated. She looked up to Prue only to see her own questions mirrored in her sister’s eyes.
Once the door was closed and they could hear little Patty’s excited voice racing down the hallway, Piper spoke again. “You shouldn’t have told her that. Who are you? I know you’re not my sisters, you didn’t have any idea who Patty was,” she said, looking directly at Phoebe. “Besides, Phoebe’s been gone for two years. What are you doing in my niece’s room?”
Prue shook her head. “Nothing, we aren’t here for Patty. We’re here, or at least we thought we were here… for you.”
The explanations were slow in coming, hindered by the very complexity of the nature of their predicament. Huddled around the kitchen table with Leo under strict orders to read Patty another bedtime story, Piper kept her distance from the two interlopers. She eyed them warily.
“How can I be sure you are who you say you are?”
Prue glanced at Phoebe. “I guess that would depend on where our realities split. We would have the same memories up until that point.” She paused. “Obviously, you were able to unbind your powers before your Phoebe disappeared. Was it when she came back from New York? Did she read the spell that unbound them?”
Piper narrowed her eyes. “Phoebe never went to New York. She tried… but I went after her and brought her back to the manor. We found the book a few weeks later when we were trying to clean out the attic but Prue, my Prue, read the spell.”
“Okay,” Prue sighed. “That must be the starting point.”
“You stopped her from leaving?” Phoebe asked quietly.
Piper nodded. “Grams had just died; none of us were thinking clearly. I didn’t want to lose my baby sister too.”
Prue placed a reassuring hand on Phoebe’s. “Piper wanted to go after you but I told her to let you go. The question now is, what could we tell you that no one else would know?”
They sat in heavy contemplation and felt the weight of their situation bearing down on them. Finally, Prue broke the silence. “I asked you, before Grams died, to be my maid of honor.”
“You did what?” Phoebe cried, snatching her hand away from Prue’s.
“Yeah, Piper was pretty shocked too but I was closer to her than I was to you then. It seemed to be the natural choice. But now? I think I would just have to have two maids of honor.”
By the time Piper was convinced, Prue and Phoebe had related a good part of their childhoods. With each story, Piper released a little more of her suspicion until she finally demanded they stop.
“I have an idea,” she said after a long silence. “You’re able to open doorways into alternate realities but you aren’t strong enough with just the two of you to be able to pinpoint the exact one you need. If you just keep popping into random ones…”
“We’ll be too late if we do ever reach the right one,” Prue finished for her. “Our Piper will be dead.”
“Exactly.” Piper ran her fingertip along the edge of a child’s rough drawing that lay on the table. “Patty drew this after her nap today. She said she had a dream about her Mommy, that she came back and the Power of Three was restored. She also said that she left again, through a glowing hole in her bedroom wall. See?” She slid the picture across the table. “Patty’s premonitions aren’t always focused, but they’re never wrong and I think I understand this one. We can use the Power of Three to send you to your Piper.”
“You’d be willing to help us?”
Piper turned to Phoebe and smiled. “You’re still my sisters, in some odd way, and as much as I miss my Phoebe, I know you don’t belong here. You aren’t Patty’s mother or the woman I stopped from running away to New York City. I know that you need to leave although it’s going to break my heart to try to explain it to Patty. She misses her mother so much.”
“I’ll talk to her,” Phoebe offered as she rose from the table. “You two can work on the potion.” Phoebe paused at the threshold. “It’s nice to know,” she added softly, “that despite all the changes, all the differences, you’re still… Piper. Even here, in another reality.”
Piper smiled sadly. “There are some things that just don’t change, I guess.”
Prue waited until Phoebe was out of earshot. “Where is your Phoebe?”
Piper closed her eyes for a moment. “The Source has her, he’s had her for two years now. Cole tried to rescue her but… he was killed in the process. We keep trying to find some way to get to her… Nothing works, but we can’t give up, at least not until we know that she’s dead. That’s why Prue isn’t here, we heard about an auction of a mystical amulet that supposedly is able to open a portal between this world and the place where evil dwells. She flew down to LA to buy it. I just hope it really works. Patty needs her mother and I need my baby sister almost as much.”
Prue bit her lip and reached out to take Piper’s hand. “I wish there was something we could do.”
“There is, let me help you find your Piper and take her home. At least one reality’s got to have a happy ending.”
Phoebe took a deep breath before she opened the door to Patty’s room. The little girl sat up in her bed, her eyes huge with expectation.
“You gotta go away again.”
“’S okay. I know you’ll comeback.”
“Yeah, and until then, your Aunt Piper will take real good care of you. She and Uncle Leo love you very much,” Phoebe reassured her.
“Uh huh, just like I was their own baby. Aunt Piper says so all the time.” The sincerity in the little girl’s voice was heart wrenching.
“Your Aunt Piper is an amazing woman,” Phoebe admitted. “And you know she means what she says, don’t you?”
“Aunt Piper would never lie. Lies are bad and they hurt people’s feelings.”
Phoebe smiled. “How did you get to be so smart?”
Patty giggled and snuggled down into the covers. “Aunt Piper says I’m just like you.”
Phoebe leaned over the bed and placed a kiss on Patty’s soft cheek. She watched as sleep came and quickly evened the child’s breathing and relaxed her body. She was still watching her when Leo appeared at the door.
“I’ll move her into our room so the three of you can work in here.” He bent down and gathered the child into his arms before making an exit.
Phoebe was alone when Prue returned, followed quietly by Piper. She looked up, gave them both a small smile, and studied Piper closely. She noted the differences between the woman who stood in front of her and the one she had bid goodnight less than twenty-four hours before. This Piper was on edge, stressed beyond belief by the loss of a sister and the addition of instant motherhood, not to mention the ever-present threat of demonic attacks without the benefit of the Power of Three.
“Don’t worry about us,” Piper said as if reading Phoebe’s thoughts. “We’re going to be fine.”
The house filled with the savory scents of cooking as Phoebe stepped off the bottom step of the stairwell, her shower-damp hair wrapped in a towel and clean clothes on. There wouldn’t be any sleeping that night, despite the all too obvious fact that Piper was completely worn out.
“Okay, Piper? I know I said I missed your cooking, sweetie. And believe me, I do, but…” She quirked an eyebrow and waved toward the veritable feast set out on the table. “I hope you’re expecting an army of guests because there’s no way in hell I could eat all that.”
Piper braced herself against the counter and eyed the mass of food she had piled on the table. Phoebe was right, she had gone way overboard and she wasn’t even sure why she was doing it. It was as if she had become someone else, she couldn’t fight the urge to over-compensate any more than she could manage to make herself eat. “I’m sorry, I just…” And why the hell did she keep feeling the need to apologize?
“Hey, it’s no big.” Phoebe grinned. “Maybe Prue will prove to be human and show up on the doorstep after all. Oh, baby, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything,” she quickly amended when Piper’s face fell at the mention of their eldest sister. “Leave it to me to screw things up and stick my foot in my big fat mouth.”
Phoebe pulled the towel off her head and draped it over the back of a chair before she pulled Piper into a warm hug. Piper wanted to be able to let herself relax into the embrace but found it impossible to do so. For all that the woman sounded and, more or less, looked like Phoebe, she was every bit as much a stranger as the countless nameless people she passed everyday on the street. Even in Phoebe’s hug she felt completely abandoned.
“First thing in the morning, honey, we’re taking you to a doctor. You’re gonna get through this,” Phoebe promised, “even if it means I move back to San Francisco and force feed you your own cooking.” She pulled back and looked Piper in the eye. “I don’t know what I’d do if I lost you too.” Phoebe gently brushed a lock of hair back from Piper’s face.
They were seated at the table, Phoebe scarfing down a plate of pancakes while Piper picked at a muffin, when they heard a knock on the front door. Piper’s hopes rose again, her thoughts willing Leo to make an appearance at last.
“Who could that be?” Phoebe asked, rising from her chair before Piper could make her legs cooperate. “You stay here and keep working up to actually eating that thing. I’ll see who it is.”
Piper listened as Phoebe left and opened the door. The exchange that followed nearly startled her enough to topple her from her chair.
“What in the hell are you doing here?” Prue’s voice rang out in the entry.
“Wow, Piper will feel so privileged that the great Prudence Halliwell-Prescott has deemed her worthy of a visit. Tell me, was it too difficult to tear yourself away from your oh-so-perfect life in order to face the responsibility you have to your sister?”
“Can it, Phoebe. I didn’t come all this way to listen to you bitch. To be completely honest, I wouldn’t have even come if I had known you would be here.”
“Yeah, it’s amazing how easy it is for you to write off both of your sisters. Just screw the fact that Piper in there looks like she’s gonna keel over any minute now.”
“Where is Piper?”
The angry tones resonated through the house, ringing in Piper’s ears like a hurricane of unrest. She clapped her hands to her head in an attempt to muffle the noise and squinted her eyes shut against the sudden bout of dizziness that washed over her. Something was wrong, she couldn’t think straight and the room wouldn’t stop spinning. Somehow, she needed to get to Phoebe and Prue and let them know.
The room continued to ebb and twirl as she slowly stood up. She leaned heavily on the table, trying to focus on the meal in front of her but failed to manage even so easy a task. Even in a house filled with her sisters, she was alone.
Prue barged past Phoebe, leaving her baby sister to chase after her. She walked directly to the kitchen. “You have some nerve to talk about me writing off you and Piper. When’s the last time you bothered to call or visit Piper without wanting something? At least I make sure I call her couple of weeks to make sure she’s still alive.”
“Well, you won’t have to worry about that for much longer now, will you? Tell me, Prudence, just how long has Piper had this problem? How long have you been ignoring it so your life wouldn’t be inconvenienced? When were you planning on telling me? Were you just going to wait until she didn’t answer your call one day and then assume she was dead and gone from your responsibilities?” Phoebe’s anger seeped into the air around her, adding to the already heavy atmosphere.
“Just shut up, Phoebe. You don’t know anything about my life.” Prue stopped short just as she reached the kitchen. “Piper!”
Phoebe looked up in time to see Piper crumple to the floor.
Again, Phoebe and Prue readied themselves before the wall of what was, in their own reality, Piper’s bedroom. But this time, they were joined by a very determined, albeit changed, middle sister.
“Where’s your spell?” she asked, looking to her cohorts.
Phoebe placed the slip of paper in her outstretched hand and offered her a small smile. “I wish there was a way we could help you find your Phoebe.”
“I know you do. Prue and I will find a way to get her back. My only concern is that she’ll be okay when we do finally bring her home. I don’t even want to imagine what she’s suffered these past two years.”
Prue clasped Piper’s hand. “Whatever it is, she’ll be fine. After all, she’ll have her sisters and her daughter to help her. Phoebe’s strong,” she added, offering her baby sister a knowing look, “stronger than even she thinks.”
Piper nodded. “Let’s get this done then, the faster you find her, the faster you can help her. Plus, I’m supposed to be searching for the spell that activates the amulet. I can’t do that until I’m sure you’re in the right reality.”
The portal reopened a moment later, accompanied by the same surge of wind and Prue reluctantly released Piper’s hand.
“Good luck,” Phoebe called as they walked through the supernatural doorway.
“Well, this is a good sign.”
They looked around the room. The bed and dresser were in their rightful places and there wasn’t a hint of a child to be found. Phoebe walked up to the dresser and lifted a photograph from its surface. “Look.”
Prue took the picture and studied it for a moment. The three of them were standing outside the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, tense postures and forced smiles abounding. “Come on. We have to find Piper.”
Piper ached: her muscles, her bones, but most of all her head pounded in agonizing accompaniment with the pulsing of the blood through her veins. Forcing her eyes open, she worked to bring the world around her into focus. Her pain worsened when she saw the peroxide version of her baby sister kneeling next to her. She kept praying she would awaken from the hellish nightmare she seemed to be living, but each time she opened her eyes, she was simply faced with more of the same horror story.
“Sweetie?” Phoebe’s face was a study in concern for her sister from the worry-creased brow to the deep pools of pain Piper found in her eyes. “Are you okay? Prudence went to call an ambulance.”
“No.” Piper said with more force and vehemence than she had thought herself capable of. “No, just let me go to bed and rest a little.” She looked past Phoebe to silently beseech Prue to allow her this one bit of control. “I’ll go to a doctor in the morning. Please, just let me sleep in my own bed tonight.”
Prudence stood, uncertain, in the doorway, the phone clenched in a white-knuckled fist. “You won’t back out again? I’ve heard that same promise before, you know, back before I moved to Baltimore.”
“I swear it,” Piper whispered. She tried to push herself up from the cold floor and was grateful for the strong hands that moved to help her rise. “Thanks,” she said when she was once again standing. “I can make it on my own now. Pheebs, finish your meal. I’ll be fine. Please, Prue,” she added and noticed her elder sister stop herself from issuing a reprimand for her usage of the old nickname. “Stay here with Phoebe. There’s lots to eat… and even more for you two to talk about…”
“Please, I need to do this… alone.”
Prudence relented and stepped aside to let Piper shuffle painfully past her. She made it as far as the hallway before the fight picked up again, sending waves of discord through the house. As she moved toward the stairs, Piper worked to devise a plan, some means of sending a message to Prue and Phoebe, but concentration proved to be a fleeting thing. Bits and pieces of spells they had used in times past mingled in her thoughts like drunken revelers at Mardi Gras, stubbornly slurred and directionless.
When Prue opened the bedroom door, she was greeted by angry shouts that seemed to originate downstairs.
“How could you leave her alone like this?” The voice that was filled with bitter resentment was, without question, Phoebe’s and Prue turned to glance at her baby sister who shrugged. “You knew she was sick and you couldn’t even get past your anger with me to tell me what was going on. I could have come back. I would have come back if I had known, especially since you felt so determined to desert her for your perfect life in Baltimore.”
“I’m not the one who ran away to New York! She said she was fine with me moving to the east coast. She said she wanted me to take the job in Baltimore.” Prue blanched at the venom in the voice she could only accept was her own and Phoebe stepped closer to her and looped an arm through hers.
“Oh, I’m sure she did, and you listened to her real well, didn’t you? Damn it, Prudence, she was just telling you what she knew you wanted to hear. If you had really wanted what was best for her, you would have admitted it then.”
“Okay, so I was selfish? Let’s talk about being selfish. How often did you so much as think about Piper while you were partying in the Big Apple? Huh? How often did you call to check on her, or just to say hello?”
Prue and Phoebe paused on the stairs and waited for some clue as to where Piper might be. Time was short. They needed to act quickly but didn’t want to risk running into themselves for fear of the possible backlash that might create. They stood hesitantly for five minutes more and listened to the raging battle as it continued to escalate.
“This is ridiculous,” Prue muttered.
“I’m just glad that we didn’t end up like that,” Phoebe whispered, edging closer to Prue on the staircase landing.
“Yeah,” Prue agreed, “but if this tells us anything, it shows what could have happened.”
“Talk about your worst case scenarios. They… we… whatever, are so angry that they’re ignoring the reason they’re apparently supposed to be here to begin with. Who’s going to help Piper if they can’t even have a civilized conversation?”
“Prue glanced downstairs. “We can’t afford to wait any longer. We’ll just have to risk it. Come on.”
Phoebe nodded and moved to follow Prue when she stopped dead in her tracks. “Oh my God.”
She lifted one leaden foot to begin her ascent of the stairwell when she heard the gasp from above, barely audible over the roiling argument going on behind her. Piper lifted her face and braced herself for a fatal blow from the demon that had sequestered her in the hellish life to which she had been sent. Her starving mind was taunting her, playing tricks based solely on her desires rather than allow her to witness the disturbed reality that surrounded her.
Phoebe sprang into action and rushed past an immobile Prue in her attempt to reach her missing sister. She didn’t pause even when Piper flinched at her approach, but threw her arms around her in a crushing embrace. Prue joined them both, adding her relieved hug to the mix, once she was able to force her mind past its petrification at seeing Piper.
Piper swayed, suddenly unsteady but kept upright with her sisters’ supporting arms. She looked from one to the other, assuring herself that they were more than a hallucination. “What took you so long to find me?” she demanded gently.
“You know us,” Phoebe quietly told her, “we had to do a little sight-seeing along the way.”
“Sweetie? Can you make it upstairs? We need to get you out of here and back home before…”
Piper studied Prue’s eyes. “Yeah, before it’s too late. Home sounds really good right now.”
Phoebe eased her arm around Piper’s waist. “Leo’s going to be so glad to see you. He’s been worried sick… we all have.”
“I think I’m sick enough for us all. Let’s go home.”
Leaving the sounds of the fight behind them, the three sisters carefully made their way upstairs and into the correct bedroom. A vial of potion was produced and Phoebe’s spell was recited, creating the same wind and smoke of the previous trips.
Disoriented by the portal, Piper swayed uneasily and her vision swam, which would have felled her had Leo’s arms not swept her from her feet. Relief washed over her as she allowed her head to fall to his shoulder. The familiarity of his scent surrounded her and she relished the arms that clutched her to his chest. She was safe and loved and far from alone… at last.
“I love you, Leo,” she murmured just before she succumbed to the encroaching blackness of unconsciousness.
“Leo!” Phoebe urged. She stood alongside Prue and they both watched anxiously as the whitelighter laid Piper on her bed and held his hands over her unconscious body. The soft glow that emanated from his palms entranced them as they waited on pins and needles for Piper to awake.
Prue grinned at Piper’s raspy demand. Her body wasn’t nearly as emaciated as it had been in the alternate reality, but the lack of food for a day or more had obviously had a big impact. “Only the best. Take out or a restaurant?”
“Chin’s in Chinatown, they deliver.” Piper looked at the three who stood around her. “I am so glad to see you.”
Phoebe plopped down on the bed next to her. “Not nearly as glad as we are to see you. And do we have some stories to tell you…”
Piper jerked awake and lifted her head from the tabletop where she had fallen asleep. She heard the telltale jingle of Prue’s keys and the click of her designer heels on the floorboards and she watched the doorway expectantly.
“I got it!” Her elder sister brandished a large, gaudy medallion in the air. “You didn’t run into any problems while I was gone, did you?” she asked, noting the odd look of double-relief in Piper’s expression.
“Problems? No. Although… Patty and I have an interesting tale to tell. Oh, and I think I found a spell that will work, at least I hope it will work.”
Prue allowed a small smile. “Spell first, story after.”
Piper flashed a smile unlike any that had graced her face since Phoebe’s disappearance. “My thoughts on the matter exactly.”
They sprinted up the stairs toward the attic, Leo joining them on the second floor landing. The attic door flew open under their rushed entrance and Prue held the amulet out for Piper to grasp as well. There was no time to spare and they all three took their positions in hurried preparation.
“A sister lost
to foreign hells,
lead us to
where evil dwells.”
Prue quirked an eyebrow and Piper shrugged in reply. Sometimes the most complex problems had the simplest solutions. After they had said the spell thrice, a flash of light blinded them as a vortex opened in the center of the room, a window into the hellish dimension where Phoebe had been held for so long.
Once inside the cavern, they peered into the dim recesses of the room, searching for any sign that would point them in the right direction. At the rear of the room, Piper could just make out the shape of a figure on the floor.
“Phoebe?” She rushed across the floor and dropped to her knees, laying a hand on her baby sister’s cheek. The sharp intake of breath at Piper’s touch was music to their ears. “Leo, orb us the hell out of here.”
Piper and Prue watched the deep shadows for any sign of attack but after two years it seemed the Source had relaxed his guard of his prized Charmed One. Leo lifted Phoebe and quickly studied her grime-covered face, letting out a soft gasp as she opened her eyes.
“I knew… if I could just… wait long enough… I knew you’d come,” she rasped and lapsed into silence as she and Leo were joined by her sisters and the blue glimmering lights of Leo’s power surrounded them.
“Piper? Honey, are you okay?”
“I can’t believe you just let her wander off up here by herself,” Phoebe growled.
“Like you tried to stop her,” Prudence remarked snidely. “You were right there with me, Phoebe. I didn’t hear you try to talk her out of it.”
Phoebe chose to ignore the barb and climbed the last of the steps to the second floor. “Piper?” Her voice caught when she spied the open door to her sister’s bedroom.
The room was dark and when Prudence tried the light switch, they were greeted by a bright flash and pop. “It’s burned out,” she stated needlessly. “Doesn’t she have a lamp in here somewhere?”
“Yeah, on the bedside table.” Phoebe had already crossed the room to locate the lamp when her foot connected with something. “What in the…” She knelt down and gingerly drug her fingertips across the floor until they brushed against something that felt frighteningly like Piper’s hand. “Oh my God. Prudence, help me.” Phoebe felt for the rest of her sister’s body and drug her closer so that she could cradle Piper’s head in her lap.
Frantically, Phoebe pressed her fingers to Piper’s throat, desperately searching for a pulse as Prudence managed to maneuver to the lamp and switch it on. Soft radiance filled the room, chasing the worst of the shadows back into their hiding places and casting unrelenting light on the scene.
“Piper?” Phoebe’s voice shook as her fingers pressed deeper into the soft skin of Piper’s neck. “Call 911, now!” she shouted to Prudence who stood as if entranced by the scene that was unfolding before her eyes.
Phoebe brushed the lank hair back from Piper’s eyes and stared down into the face she had come to depend upon in innumerable ways. How would she be able to go on without Piper to confide in? Then again, she couldn’t remember the last time she had allowed her sister to play anything more than a walk on role in her life. Phoebe had told herself that by distancing herself from Piper, she had been sparing her beloved sister from pain. The truth of the matter was that her very isolation had been far more devastating.
“The ambulance is on its way.”
Phoebe hadn’t even noticed that Prudence had left the room. Her eldest sister’s voice was flat, emotionless from the shock of what was occurring. She knelt next to Piper and lifted her lifeless hand to press it between her own warm palms.
“We did this to her.”
Phoebe’s eyes brimmed with tears and she slowly nodded in agreement. “I never meant…”
Prudence closed her eyes against the raw pain in Phoebe’s voice.
“They’re too late,” Phoebe choked out when she heard the trill of the ambulance siren muffled and displaced by the sudden downpour of rain outside. “She’s… she’s already…”
“Yeah.” Prue marveled at how quickly the heat seeped from Piper’s skin and she pushed away the glimmering feeling of relief that flooded through her mind quickly followed by devastating guilt and grief. There would be no more phone calls to San Francisco; no more internet time spent researching anorexia rather than spending time on her job.
Phoebe had been right to blame her, she had been all too aware of the extent of Piper’s illness and she had abandoned her anyway. She hadn’t wanted to be burdened by it any longer. Hadn’t she been responsible for her family for long enough? She had been frightened by the implication of Piper’s deterioration, haunted by the knowledge that she had failed to protect even the most levelheaded of her sisters. She had run away just as Phoebe had. Now she was faced with the undeniable truth that Piper was lost to them forever.
“Slow down, girl,” Phoebe chuckled. “There’s plenty more. Besides, if you keep shoveling it in like that, you’re going to be sick.”
“I don’t care,” Piper said, her words muffled by a mouthful of lo mein. “I don’t know what I missed more, eating or you guys.” She grinned at the chorus of feigned outrage her comment had elicited.
“Ha, ha,” Prue replied, resting her chin on her fist and watching Piper continue to eat. “Very funny.” She couldn’t tear her eyes away from her sister and it appeared, from Leo’s constant and unwavering attention, their whitelighter was experiencing the same problem.
The kitchen was bright and warm, filled with the sounds of talking and laughter as the Charmed Ones caught up on the events that had occurred during their separation and tried to return their topsy-turvy lives to at least a semblance of normalcy, at least to their own special brand of normalcy.
“Hey, you said you had some stories for me,” Piper reminded Phoebe, reaching for another pot sticker.
“Oh yeah, but I’m warning you, it sounds like a bad science fiction show.”
Piper listened as Phoebe told about the alternate reality, about the other Piper’s assistance and the existence of little Patty. When Phoebe had finished, Piper gazed thoughtfully at the tabletop. “It’s frightening to think of all that could have happened,” Piper said, her voice whisper-soft. “To think we could have ever grown so far apart as we were in the place I was…”
“I wish there was something we could do for the other you… she… you were so sick,” Phoebe lamented softly after listening to Piper’s own story. She idly picked up a fortune cookie and tore open the plastic package it was wrapped in.
“No, there’s nothing,” Piper whispered.
Prue cocked her head and reached out to brush a lock of hair behind Piper’s ear. “Why do you say that? The other you helped us get to where you were, maybe there’s something…”
Piper shook her head. “It’s too late. I knew it when I was there, I could feel it. My heart was, I don’t know how to explain it… I’m just glad we didn’t end up like they did.”
“Never,” Phoebe said as she squeezed Piper’s arm and gave her a dazzling smile. “We know the truth about what can happen now and there’s no way we’ll ever let it get that far.”
The memorial service ended and the last of the attendees departed the manor. The rains had begun on the night Piper had died and had not ceased in their onslaught, bringing a heavy dampness to even the deepest corners of the house.
Phoebe slowly climbed the stairs while Prudence sat at the kitchen table, the phone clutched in a white-knuckled fist, while she explained to her husband what she felt she needed to do before she left San Francisco. Phoebe couldn’t take anymore of Prudence’s deepening guilt-filled depression and had fled upstairs. She listened with half an ear as she neared the second floor.
“I know, but this is my family too. Piper was my sister and I lost her and I’ll be damned if I’m going to lose Phoebe… I don’t care, she’s the only sister I have left… Tell them to shove their deadline and their job if that’s what it takes for me to stay here… And I had a responsibility to Piper that I just ignored. I’m not willing to risk doing that again.”
She let her feet guide her away from Prue’s aching conversation and to the door to Piper’s room. She had avoided entering since the night they had found Piper crumpled on the floor, letting Prudence choose the burial clothes alone. But now… Something drew her to open the door. She could picture her sister sitting on the bed, her long hair cascading down her back as she wrote in her journal. How many times had she barged into Piper’s room as she wrote? How many arguments had begun with her failure to knock before opening the door?
Phoebe saw the old familiar journal resting on the table at the bedside but for the first time she noticed the book beneath it, large and old and looking curiously out of place among Piper’s things. She sat down on the bed and took both books from the table to lay them in front of her.
It was several hours later when Prudence leaned against the doorway. She cleared her throat to draw Phoebe’s attention. “What’s that?” she asked quietly.
Phoebe’s head jerked up. “I don’t know really. Piper found it in the attic. It’s called,” she flipped back a few pages in the journal, “the Book of Shadows. Listen to this…”
Phoebe lifted the journal and began to read aloud. “It’s so quiet here now with Prue gone too. I thought I would try to straighten up in the attic a little and I found some of Grams’ old things. There’s this book, The Book of Shadows. I can’t help but feel that there’s something Prue and Pheebs and I were supposed to do with that book, something very important. I guess it doesn’t matter though, I’m the only one left here.” Phoebe rifled through the journal and stopped at a later entry. “I think the book is filled with spells and demons and potions. I don’t know what it all means but I still can’t shake that weird feeling. It talks about killing demons and warlocks and something called the Charmed Ones and the Power of Three. I wonder if I should tell Prue about it the next time she calls… Probably she’d just think I was trying to get her to come back here to the manor. And I don’t even know how to call Pheebs. I guess that if I am supposed to understand, I’ll figure it out sooner or later. Sooner would be a lot better than later though, just in case anyone ‘up there’ was wondering.”
“What do you think it means?” Prudence asked, leafing through the first pages of the musty old book.
“I dunno, maybe nothing… maybe everything.”
Prudence caught Phoebe’s gaze and smiled slightly. “Come on, let’s get out of here and get something to eat.”
“Okay, how about that restaurant over in Chinatown, the one Piper liked so much.”
Prudence nodded and rose to follow Phoebe out the door. She paused on the threshold for a moment, turning to look around the room once more. “I hope that wherever you are, you’re happy now, Piper. You deserve your peace.”
“You coming, Prue?”
She closed the door and cut her eyes at Phoebe. “Sure, Pheebs… I’m coming.”